BookBin2015: Born with Teeth

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Kate Mulgrew will cut you.

Okay, that’s not true. Maybe. Possibly. She’s played characters who would cut you, though. Or place a used tampon in your English muffin if you insult her cooking (and, yes, I see what she did there). Or fire you out of the torpedo tube if you get in the way of her first (or any) cup of coffee. She’s made a career of playing tough women who know that the show goes on with or without you, so you best be ready to keep playing your role. After reading Mulgrew’s memoir Born with Teeth, I definitely believe that she takes on roles like these because she’s made of the same mettle (and metal) as every single one of her most memorable characters. You think Captain Janeway was tough? You don’t want to get on Red’s bad side?

Wait ’til you meet Kate.

Seriously, though, Mulgrew possesses an enviable dedication to enduring, both professionally and personally. She has experienced a full range of successes and failures that have chiseled her into a person of many gorgeous facets. She also delivers a memoir stripped to its essence. Mulgrew is not flowery or discursive. She remains on point and sharply honest. I got the impression that there were gaps in her timeline, not because she had forgotten those things or even that she wanted to paint over them. Rather, she isn’t ready to speak of them with the level of honesty she wanted for this book. And it does come across as honest. And I honestly love that.

Final Verdict: Since I’ve already mentioned this book in my review of the recent Sally Ride biography I read, it’s a safe bet that I’m keeping this book. I did pre-order it the day it released on Amazon. I adore Kate Mulgrew, even more now that I have read her memoir. If you are a fan, then I can happily recommend this book to you. I believe you will be pleased.

BookBin2013: Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison

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Earlier this year, I found myself under a barrage of questioning from friends, both nerdy and non, all asking me the same thing: “Are you watching that new Netflix show, Orange Is the New Black?” It was weird and somewhat unnerving that people from all angles of my existence were asking about this show and showing utter shock when I responded no.

I hardly watch any television anymore. I mean, sure, I still watch CSI…because Jorja Fox and Elisabeth Shue. Otherwise, I typically tend to shy away from getting into TV shows. They just seem to constantly disappoint me. I’m far too critical for my own good sometimes. Also, why on earth would I want to watch a show about an upwardly mobile, city-dwelling Whiter-than-Casper yuppie who is suddenly faced with serving time in a federal prison for a crime she committed almost a decade prior? Sounded like a recipe in cliches and stereotypes that I didn’t think sounded interesting at all.

However, this constant questioning and surprise over my lack of participation caused enough curiosity that I finally looked up this Netflix show, just to figure out why everyone was asking me about it. And the obvious answer was?

Galina “Red” Reznikov. Known in my world as Captain Kathryn Janeway.

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Oh, yes. This was something I needed to watch.

I typically don’t like things that pique the interest of the Hype Machine (which this show obviously was doing), but I put those reservations on the back burner because of my lifelong devotion to Kate Mulgrew. For the most part, I’m incredibly glad that I did. First, the expected nitpick from me: The show was created by Jenji Kohan, who created the Mary-Louise Parker-helmed Showtime series Weeds. Minus the first season, I hated that show. It took turns so dark and twisted, I finally gave up watching, for fear of ODing on Dramamine just to keep up. Kohan’s MO seems to be giving you characters that you love, instantly like, or even love to loathe…and then making them thoroughly hate-worthy in the least enjoyable ways.

I really hope she doesn’t do that with the characters of OITNB, although the first season ended in such a way that I’m beginning to wonder. Truthfully, though, the primary character, Piper Chapman, is probably the least likeable character of the whole cast. No, the strength of this show lies within the capable hands of one of the most amazing ensemble casts I have ever witnessed in any series. I’ve made note of this before, but it bears repeating that it’s a shame that many of these incredibly talented actresses couldn’t finally catch the break they deserved until being cast as prisoners. Yay for diversity…behind bars.

Seriously, though, the women on this show are amazing: In addition to Mulgrew and Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman, there’s Danielle Brooks, Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, Samira Wiley, Dascha Polanco, Taryn Manning, Michelle Hurst, Natasha Lyonne, Yael Stone, Selenis Leyva, Constance Shulman…they are all so amazing in their roles. You’d think with a show with so many “moving pieces” as this one, it would be easy to overlook characters or forget certain ones in between appearances. Not so with this cast. Each of these actresses brings something so delightful to her character that you remember her, no matter how often or infrequently she appears.

But what does all this have to do with a book review? Glad you asked. After watching the first season and hitting a raging case of withdrawal upon finishing, I put myself on the library wait list for the book on which this series is based. There actually is a Piper, although her real name is Piper Kerman:

With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money 10 years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to 15 months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear ‘down the rabbit hole’ of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.

As is usually the case, reading the book was a completely different experience from watching the cinematic take on the source material. As much as I really did enjoy the first season of the show, I found the book to be far more satisfying and far more meaningful than the show. The first major difference is the fact that Piper Kerman is actually a likeable person (or at least really skilled at selling herself as likeable). Kohan decided to make Kerman’s series counterpart one of the most irritatingly predictable and subsequently boring/annoying characters possible (I assume this was the great red herring of the series: Tell the brass that it’s about a White woman’s wacky adventures in prison to get the greenlight and then use the series as a means to showcase some truly talented Black, Hispanic, and Latina actresses; good on ya for that, but did you have to make Chapman such an irritating little princess?).

Piper Kerman is in actuality quite decent and down-to-earth; another person who made really bad decisions when she was younger and who now must pay for those decisions. She becomes, literally and figuratively, another number in the books. This memoir is full of observations on so many aspects of the American penal system that need serious reform. Our prisons are filled with people who simply should not be incarcerated, punished for crimes that shouldn’t be crimes (let me bend your ear sometime on my thoughts about the legalization and regulation of drugs and how this would solve so many problems).

The book also is full of stories about wonderful women Kerman encountered (it was such a joy to stumble across people Kerman mentions throughout this book and realize that there really was a Taystee or a Sophia or a Pennsatucky!) who, while walking their own path and dealing with their own pain, still reach out and extend kindness and support. The book is amazing. Even if you don’t want to watch the show, I would highly recommend giving Kerman’s memoir a chance. It does drag on a bit toward the end, and it ends in a surprisingly abrupt way; otherwise, however, it’s definitely worth the read.

Oh, and for the record, Kate Mulgrew’s character is frightening as hell. And wonderful. And I can’t wait to see more. And I will never accept an English muffin from her. EVER.

Final Verdict: I’ve added this book to my wish list. It’s a quick, interesting read, and I can use it as a reference to identify new characters in the second season of the show.

BookBin2013: N0S4A2

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I suppose it was inevitable that I would finally encounter a work from my latest literary heart-throb that simply didn’t enrapture me in the same ways as his other works. I just wasn’t expecting that moment to come so quickly in our relationship. Yet so it went with Joe Hill’s latest offering N0S4A2.

In this particular world of Hill’s devising, there are people who are able to create conduits to other places, either real or fictional, through the power of their minds. For young Victoria “Vic” McQueen, she learns that she can find missing items for people by using her ability to create conduits thanks to her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike and the “ghost” of the Shorter Way Bridge that once stood in ruins near her house. On the flip side, there are people like Charlie Manx, who uses his ability to create a conduit through his connection to his Rolls Royce Wraith (a rather possessive possessed car, if you ask me, Christine) to steal children away to “Christmasland,” a place of his own devising that allows him to drain the children of their life rather vampiristically (in a metaphorical sense) while letting them live in what he considers to be the perfect childhood utopia…a place where it is always Christmas, always happy, always festive. Of course, McQueen and Manx cross paths early in the novel (it only makes sense since one is a stealer and one is a finder), and cross paths again years later, to settle the score from the previous encounter.

Hilarity…well, you know the drill.

I’m not really certain what exactly didn’t click with me with this newest tale from Hill. I enjoyed the fact that the protagonist was a strong-willed girl with a wicked imagination and a pretty fascinating secret ability…and who would grow up into a flawed but still likeable, still imaginative young woman, damaged by that ability and seeking respite from the scars of that damage.

The supporting characters were also quite interesting and multifaceted, for the most part. I think, though, that the ultimate failing of this book, for me, was in both the story and its antagonist. First, I’m kind of through with vampires. And while this book isn’t exactly a vampire tale, the invocation of vampirism through the slightly-too-cute-for-its-own-good title forces me to envision Charlie Manx’s draining of life from the children he kidnaps as akin to the actions of that fabled creature of the night. Plus, there’s the hook teeth and the only traveling after dark that really hit it home.

Really, though, more than vampires, Charlie Manx slowly began to evolve into one particular character in my mind, based on descriptions of his physical appearance, his age, his mannerisms, his olden-days slang…halfway through the book, I realized that I was picturing Manx as an even more ill-tempered C. Montgomery Burns.

I’m willing to bet that Hill would not think this was excellent at all.

Of course, I then began to imagine Manx’s latest henchman, Bing Partridge, as a cross between Smithers and Barney. I even started picturing Vic McQueen as sort of like Lisa Simpson. Unfortunately, I also started to picture her lover as Comic Book Guy (for reasons that are quite obvious if you read this book). Again, all this was not helping at all with the horror element.

Worst. Comparisons. Ever.

Plus, there’s the fact that Hill crammed as many in-jokes as possible into this book, both in reference to his own previous books and most definitely in reference to his father’s works. N0S4A2 contains a panoply of Kingian references and allusions, which I admit both amused and irritated me. I’m glad that Hill is starting to be a little less tetchy about people knowing he is King’s son. However, a few times his “wink-wink” throwbacks to some of his father’s greatest hits (Cujo, Pet Sematary, Christine) teetered very, very close to too cute. I don’t want “cute” in a horror novel.

It wasn’t until after I read the book that I learned that I probably should have looked for the audio version instead. The entire book was read by none other than Kate Mulgrew. You have no idea how intriguing and frightening this is to me. I feel like I need to experience this story as narrated by Captain Janeway. I will absorb her powers and make a nice Kiev (and if you get that joke, Red’s got a place on her kitchen staff just for you).

Final Verdict: I’m still very much enamored of Hill as a writer, but I definitely did not consider this to be one of his better offerings. Still, if I can get my hands on a copy of Kate Mulgrew reading it? You bet your sweet Cujo I’m gonna give that a whirl.