Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chirping Crickets

Sorry it’s been as quiet as a library around here! I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my CPC homework so I can send it off to NYC (with best wishes) tomorrow morning. To hold you over until my next post, here’s an excerpt from my publicity assignment that ended up on the cutting room floor:

“Not to be confused with the protagonist of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, Y__ is both Frankenstein and his monster, the result of his own hubris.”

As you can see, I had a lot of fun sinking my teeth into everything. Now, onto Assignment Round 2…Fight!

Friday, May 27, 2011

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me

Slowly working my way through this anthology of reworked fairy tales. (What a delicious title: My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me) It’s actually perfect for right now, as I’m crazy busy with CPC homework and moving. I can just pick it up before bed, read a few tales, and put it back on the shelf. No urgency, no guilt.

I’m probably not going to be able to review this in my usual manner, but I have to say this. Gregory Maguire (of Wicked and other reworked fairytale fame) wrote one of the most enchanting and vital forewords I have ever read. (He’s giving On Writing a run for its money, and it has three!) Seriously, it’s worth picking up this book just to read his ode to the magic of childhood and the wonder of “Once upon a time.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Reviews: "Inspired By" Stories

Two more reviews for you! Both of these titles are descendants of previous works, but one is vastly more successful than the other.

In the category of paranormal romance, we have Firelight by Sophie Jordan. The tale revolves around a girl who can turn into a dragon, a mortal boy whose destiny is hunting dragons, and their forbidden love. Jacinda is a beautiful flame-haired draki, the first fire-breather in her clan for generations, and she has no interest in socializing with humans or fitting in. Will’s whole family hunts dragons and he’s a talented hunter, but he’s never really liked it. The pair meet cute in a cave as Jacinda (in draki form) is being hunted by Will’s family. He hides her presence from his family, sparing her life, and the two share an electrifying cross-species touch. Later, they end up at the same school and are irresistibly drawn to each other. Other stuff happens. A love triangle. Some family drama. An evil dragon hunter with Jacinda in his sights. It’s not important.

So, a powerful non-human being falls in love with someone whose basic nature is to kill their kind but doesn’t. Switch around a few words and…Remind you of anything? Twi—I mean, Firelight. The similarities don’t end there. In Twilight, it is Edward’s impossible good looks being described ad nauseum. In Firelight, it is Jacinda’s transformation into a draki. The mythology is such that draki revert to their dragon form when scared or excited. (It’s a survival mechanism, apparently, though that seems silly if the point is to remain hidden.) Basically, every time Jacinda sees or touches Will in any capacity, her throat gets hot, her skin glimmers, and she starts BREATHING STEAM. No one notices. No one. Also, sometimes her face starts shifting when she’s kissing Will, but what ultimately gives her away is her purple blood. Yeah, OK.

In the dystopian corner, we have an updated Handmaiden’s Tale in Lauren DeStefano’s Wither. When people in the future started messing around with their genes, they introduced a condition that kills all female offspring at age 20 and all males at 25. Of course, this illness led to human trafficking, particularly so wealthy young men can procure young wives and procreate. Our heroine Rhine, along with two other girls intended to be her sister wives, ends up in the home of Linden. She resents the kidnapping, though her new situation is extremely comfortable, and plots escape to return to her twin brother Rowan. While getting to know her new surroundings, Rhine is wary of Linden’s genetically healthy father Housemaster Vaughn and intrigued by a servant boy named Gabriel.

Each girl (ages 13, 16, and 18) comes to the estate with their own story and personality. The relationships forged in the captivity of the mansion blossom organically and are complicated by a whole mess of conflicting feelings. Cecily, Jenna, Gabriel, and other household members keep the setting from feeling claustrophobic. Villains Linden and Vaughn are respectively sad and terrifying. The plot may be a bit derivative, but this book still feels like Rhine’s story. Her world is fairly thought out, even if the illness makes very little sense. Take it on faith though, and just enjoy the characters. There are even some fun outfit descriptions! Very much looking forward to the next in the Chemical Garden trilogy.

Ultimately, the characters and their evolving relationships elevate Wither and make its source material seem fresher. The dilemmas are internal and external, but both carry a weight. Firelight’s characters seem flimsy and petty in comparison, and so I couldn’t muster up enough worry over “will they or won’t they?”(I could make some crack about the quality of the source materials, but I’ll restrain myself.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

An Additional 25 Favorite Books

I promised a follow-up list to my Top 10 Favorite Books, and here it is! (Again, the first books in a series stand for the whole.) Without further ado, the 25 Favorite Books that didn't make it on the first list:

---Alcott, Louisa May: Little Women. (Duh. Seriously, duh. I identified with Jo, but also a little with Amy. I was named for her after all.)

---Alexander, Lloyd: Time Cat. (Such a sneaky, perfect way to teach history. That the writing of this novel led Alexander to The Chronicles of Prydain is just a bonus.)

---Barron, T.A.: The Lost Years of Merlin. (This series fed my need for Arthurian legend. A fresh exploration of some well-worn territory.)

---Brashares, Ann: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (I grew up with Bridget, Lena, Tibby and Carmen, and they were the sum of my experiences. Brashares wasn’t afraid to tackle the complicated issues of being a “normal” suburban teenager.)

---Bray, Libba: A Great and Terrible Beauty. (Seeing a lot of boarding schools, magic, and bodices around YA, but this is one of the first. I love when genres I love get muddled up in each other for the better.)

---Cashore, Kristin: Graceling. (Cashore populates her fantasy world with complicated characters, using the setting to enrich the people and vice versa. Her prose is phenomenal, and even better, she’s evolving as a writer. Fire shows her growth, and I can’t wait for Bitterblue.)

---Coville, Bruce: Into the Land of the Unicorns. (Scary villains, likeable protagonists, clever supporting cast, an alternate realm where unicorns exist, portals they use to cross over into our world…Yes, please.)

---Dokey, Cameron: The Storyteller’s Daughter. (It opens with one of my favorite prologues ever, which you can check it out on Amazon with the “Search inside this book” feature. Pair it with Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner for another perspective on Scheherazade.)

---George, Jean Craighead: Julie of the Wolves. (I think these books are why I like werewolves better. Wonderfully researched and presented.)

---Henry, Marguerite: King of the Wind. (Though I read and loved many of her horse books, I think this is my favorite. Also have fond memories of Black Gold, Born to Trot, and San Domingo.)

---Jacques, Brian: Redwall. (I can’t say enough about this series. His death was a sad day for me.)

---Lowry, Lois: The Giver. (The grandfather of dystopian YA and still one of the best. I’m seeing shades of it everywhere now, which says a lot about the staying power of its ideas.)

---Konigsburg, E.L.: A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver. (I loved the Eleanor of Aquitane of I read here, and I kept searching out powerful women in history/historical fiction.)

---McCaffrey, Anne: Dragonflight. (The Dragonriders of Pern series was fundamental in forming my love of science fiction/fantasy. It also taught me how to keep a dynastic cast of characters with similar names straight. So useful.)

---McKinley, Robin: Beauty/Rose Daughter. (Two different retellings of “Beauty and the Beast” by the same author, though Beauty may have the edge.)

---Nix, Garth: Sabriel. (The Disreputable Dog and Moggat are some of my favorite “animal” characters ever. The system of necromancy and bell magic is an impressive feat of imagination.)

---Pierce, Meredith Ann: The Darkangel. (One of the best vampire trilogies out there. Not “sexy,” but scary, mythological, and so, so lush. She has a knack for character arcs, surprises, and resonance, especially for making certain characters feel ancient and powerful.)

---Pullman, Philip: The Golden Compass. (What can I say that hasn’t already been said? He has a magnificent mind. Lee Scoresby is one of my favorites.)

---Rawls, Wilson: Where the Red Fern Grows. (A boy and his dogs. Tears. Big, big tears. Heartbreak, sorrow. Did I mention crying?)

---Rinaldi, Ann: Wolf by the Ears. (As a native Virginian, I was caught by this story of Thomas Jefferson, his mistress, and their child. I remember this book contained one of the first “racy” scenes I’d ever read, a tense attempted rape. It was shocking, but so was the idea of slavery. A formative book for me about race, history, and humanity.)

---Staples, Suzanna Fisher: Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind. (I’ve had an affection for camels ever since. Something about this glimpse into the desert was spellbinding.)

---Taylor, Sydney: All-of-a-Kind Family. (I couldn’t tell you how much it meant to see a Jewish family represented in longer-form fiction. Of course, I read fantastic Jewish picture books like Hershel and the Hanukah Goblins, but this book was so important in making me feel secure in my identity. I have a huge affection for this immigrant story. It’s my Little House!)

---White, E.B.: Charlotte’s Web. (I think it can be best described in its own words: “Some Pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble.”)

---Williams, Margery: The Velveteen Rabbit. (Can’t read it without tearing up. Who hasn’t had a stuffed animal they’ve made real?)

---Yep, Laurence: The Dragon of the Lost Sea. (This series was my crash course in Chinese mythological symbols, and it opened me up to books flavored with Eastern cultural influences. Shimmer and Thorn were an incredible team, flawed with pride but still loveable.)

(Ed. Oversight: I realized I forgot Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Dune by Frank Herbert. I have a feeling I’ll be adding more to this list later.)

So, there you have it…35 of my favorites, available to peruse. I haven't even touched “adult” books yet, but that is for another time. (If you can't get enough of my lists, you can check out my 10 favorites of 2010, plus another 5. Still looking forward to seeing your lists.) Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reviews: Assorted Love Stories

Since I mentioned these four books all together, I feel like it would be a shame to separate them now. (I’m kind of hungry, so I think I’ll assign them dessert ratings.) Let’s get cracking…

One Day by David Nicholls: Did I cry big old leaky tears? Of course I did! (Oh, Dex and Em, Em and Dex.) This is a classic case of “the course of true love never did run smooth.” The conceit—checking in with this couple on the same day of the year from 1988 to 2007—initially made me a bit nervous. I wondered how this brief window could possibly show the nuances of age and maturation. Not to worry! Nicholls has a firm hand on his plot and is smart enough to cluster interesting events around St. Swithins Day (or at least allude to them). Yes, Emma was a bit self-righteous and Dexter was more than a bit of a cad, but together they were good. I love the intersection of their lives, which I suppose was the point. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the intrusions of other characters. I most certainly did. Nicholls has a knack for describing all sorts of people, and he takes special care with their faces, giving almost photographic detail. He also has an ear for dialogue that is both funny and true, which makes for blistering conversations and an excellent (drunk!) epistolary exchange. I cringed with recognition at his cutting, fond observations about human habits, but that’s what happens when you have the full portrait of two people. A banquet of desserts: sometimes lemon tart, sometimes chocolate torte, all very delicious.

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story by Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman): If you’re a reader of Ree’s blog, you’ll like this book. If you’ve never heard of The Pioneer Woman, you should head over there now and have a looksee. You’ll also like this book. Ree is such a winning presence on the web and on the page. I rooted for her every step of the way as she fell in love with Marlboro Man. (He’s a rugged cowboy, not a smoker.) She’s a charming fish-out-of-water on his cattle ranch, and the evolution of city girl to ranch wife is fascinating. Though everything is brushed with a rosy sheen (even postpartum depression) and her descriptions of Marlboro Man can veer into Bella-levels of adoration (your knees give out every time he kisses you?), these glosses can be forgiven. It is a true story after all, and a hopeful one at that, even if it reads more like fiction. An old-fashioned comfort food of a romance! Apple pie, for sure.

Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott: A cute set-up (girl striving to be normal as a reaction to her decidedly public parents) and some ideas worth perusing. Hannah experiences a love triangle, but in a stunning bit of real-life restraint, both guys are not “perfect” for her. She figures out (with a little help) how to tell the real guy from the phony one, and that was a nice resolution. Unfortunately, this path to realization took a turn for the wacky close to the end, almost invalidating the very practical lesson. By wacky, I don’t mean her estranged Hugh Hefner-esque dad or her washed-up webcam mom. They were fun diversions. (Here’s where I admit to loving the reality TV show The Girls Next Door, so I was jazzed by Hannah’s trip to New York to see her dad.) Kind of a cotton candy book.

The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman: I think I’m developing a sixth sense for David Levithan. Is that weird to say? Every time a book starts breaking my heart in a particular way, I get suspicious and flip to the acknowledgements. Why, hello there! The Big Crunch has a bare minimum of plot to follow, as it’s more of a meditation on the trials/tribulations of the first big connection. Hautman seems intimately familiar with the cozy cave of first love, that tunneling down of existence where only one other person matters, and he lets us explore slowly along with the couple, admiring the sights. Wes and June have a meandering emotional path, but the details are worth the journey. (The cover is so great. I sort of wish an alternate graphic novel form existed.) Tastes like ice cream, a sweet spectrum of melty feelings.

And there you have it! Romance in all different flavors. (My tummy is rumbling. I’m going to settle down with a hot chocolate book and some hot chocolate.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Top 10 Favorite Books of All Time Ever

I’ve started to work on my CPC homework (found in the PACKET)…It is not easy! These assignments are certainly meant to challenge my abilities to the fullest. People call the program a “publishing boot camp,” and today, I read an article calling it the “West Point of publishing.” Then, of course, there’s this tweet. (Should I be worried that all of these metaphors revolve around war?)

Still, there is one assignment I found unbearably pleasant, even if it wasn’t any kind of easy. I had to list my top ten favorite books and give <25 word description of each book’s significance. Though I do have acute list anxiety, the task was so much fun. I reminisced and ranked and agonized over what books would make the cut, but I’m supremely satisfied with my choices. (The 25 books I couldn’t fit on this list will appear later in the week. Also, I used the first book in a series to stand in for the whole thing, even if I might have loved later books more.)

My Top 10 Favorite Books of All Time Ever (in alphabetical order by author’s last name):

---Alcott, Louisa May. Rose in Bloom. (For letting me watch the Eight Cousins grow up and for making morality go down easy. Mac Campbell, the bookworm, was my first literary love.)

---Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising. (A series that fed my obsession with mythology and taught me about growing up. Children always have more power than they know.)

---Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth. (For teaching me to love whimsy mixed with wisdom and to understand “reread value.” This book never condescends, no matter the age of the reader.)

---Leaf, Munro. The Story of Ferdinand. (There are so many lessons inside such a slim book. The illustrations and Ferdinand’s sweetness have a permanent place in my heart.)

---L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. (A colorful cast, fantastic elements, and a heroine I could embrace shaped my taste for years to come. I voraciously consumed L’Engle’s body of work.)

---Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted. (Retellings aren’t easy to do right, but Ella is pitch-perfect. The details fit and transcend Cinderella, injecting the fairy tale’s heroine with new life.)

---McKinley, Robin. The Blue Sword. (Harimad is the predecessor to Katniss and Katsa. McKinley swept me away with this book, and it was the gateway to her other works.)

---Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (I grew up with Harry and will never forget the experience. Books are the most magical things of all.)

---Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince). (On each reread, I love new things. In English or French, it reminds me to see an elephant inside a boa constrictor, not a hat.)

---Wrede, Patricia C. Dealing with Dragons. (Skewering the fairy tale genre was never more fun. Cimorene, Morwen, and Kazul are remarkable female characters—active, smart, and powerful.)

Let me know what you think of my list in the comments…I’d also love to read your Top 10 if you leave a link!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The PACKET (Alternate Title: ALL CAPS)

The PACKET came today. I have been waiting for the PACKET (uppercase properly conveys my excitement) since I got my CPC acceptance a month ago. I’m going to say it again because I like the way it sounds: PACKET.

Yes, I am a planner. (My to-do list is legendary in my circle of friends.) I also have a knack for packing. (Sorting! Folding clothes precisely! Labeling!) Moving is not my favorite, but I get it done efficiently. (Strong like bull. Lift with knees.) Since I finished my last day of work today, I have a lot of this ahead. However, the PACKET has certain information that I’ve been looking forward to even more than my elaborate cardboard box Jenga games.

I HAVE HOMEWORK! I know I should not be this excited after my Great Escape of 2010, but I love school like Hermoine loves…Well, school. My brain needs puzzles and hypotheticals with a purpose. It craves simulation and useful work. (Check out the Marge Piercy poem on this topic: “To Be of Use”) I could not be happier to dive in, to start down that path marked “career” and not just “job.”

I do learn best by doing, and this is a lot of doing. My pleasure reading might take a hit, but please bear with me. (I plan on some serious Belle-level multi-tasking.) Maybe I’ll even share some fun tidbits with you all.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Boo, Bro

Not cool, Blogger. Not cool at all.

So, my hosting site went down yesterday and took the post I wrote with it. Hopefully, it will be back soon. Until then though, Blogger's getting the old stinkeye.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Darling, My Darwin

I’ve been a busy little bookworm! Finished four books this past week—a cowboy/city girl romance, a twenty year relationship saga, a quirky YA love triangle, a contemporary slow-build-to-first-love tale—and now just need to write them up. (Let’s not mention that lingering review left over from forever ago.)

Though the plotlines of these four books were all quite different, they had one thing in common: evolution. The characters were forced to see themselves/their partners in a new light to grow, cement, and sustain their initial interest. Since I was thinking about this concept as I wrote the outlines for my upcoming reviews, it was a short leap from evolution and love to evolution and blogging.

I’ve matured so much as a reviewer since I started SLB. My first review was a bit of a rambly mess, even if the sentiments expressed still hold true. Any kind of writing is an exercise, and I was flabby. Now I’ve tightened up a bit. I’m quicker. I’m less emotional/wordy, more analytical/concise. I know the right questions to ask. I definitely feel more in shape. Teaching myself to read on an elliptical might have something to do with it. (OK, so my sense of humor has stayed the same. Let’s just call that a vestigial structure.)

PS. I’m interested to see if anyone can guess which books I read from their brief descriptions. I think the first two out of four are medium-easy if you’ve been following publishing news. Prove me wrong/right?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Lauren Oliver's Delirium

Another day, another dystopian down. Not that I’m complaining! I love an alternate future as much as the next gal, and though Delirium is reminiscent of several existing novels, I enjoyed the personal touches Lauren Oliver slipped in.

In a future where love is treated as a disease (amor deliria nervosa), adulthood is marked by an operation that inhibits the feeling of love. Since the operation occurs at eighteen, its looming shadow is easily recognizable as “high school graduation” in disguise. (There’s even an SAT-esque assessment for teenagers to freak out over, though this test helps the government choose their future mates.) Oliver uses these rituals to deftly capture the end of adolescence, the particular feeling of change and the friction it brings. Parents are needed yet pushed away. Classmates turn into strangers, and closest friends grow apart. A future is waiting, worried about and yearned for with equal force.

Lena as a heroine is refreshing. I didn’t really want to like her, but time and time again, she made choices that drew me toward her. She comes into her rebellion slowly, lacking the initial fire of Katniss or curiosity of Cassia. Still, the character arc of a fearful, law-abiding girl is interesting to watch. Lena tries so hard to escape the legacy of her never-cured mother, but it’s clear she is her mother’s daughter.

Since this book is about the systematic destruction of love, the most compelling parts deal with Lena’s relationships with others. Lena and her best friend Hana’s shared history, forged despite their differences, gifts them the protective bond of sisters, allowing for both jealousy and admiration. Alex, the love interest that “infects” Lena, was as dreamy as a poetry-spouting rebel can be. (Imagine hearing banned love poems for the first time ever from someone you love!) Of course, there are other touching links Lena discovers, but I don’t want to give away too much.

Oliver’s prose contains consistent gems of description to stumble over. She is an incredibly sensory writer, fully inhabiting her characters as she spins out their story. Though I did some skimming, it was only because I wanted to find out what happens! I was getting anxious as I saw the pages dwindling, and BAM…A trilogy. I should have known better.

I will be reading on, as I want more of the characters and of the societal backstory. How did such an efficient overhaul take place? On that note, I loved the chapter epigraphs from “The Book of Shhh,” the dominant religious text, and other sources—nursery rhymes, children’s chants, academic tomes, scientific reports. (As in Ally Condie’s Matched, there are a lot of censored/reinterpreted creative works. For instance, Romeo and Juliet is read as a cautionary tale rather than a love story.) This extensive cultural reimagining assures me that however Oliver’s dystopian future reached its current state, there’s a really good story behind it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Split by Lightning

The first time I read Marge Piercy, it was electrifying. Of course, I’d read and loved women poets before—Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Edna St. Vincent Millay—but they were always in a classroom setting. Stumbling across Piercy was different. She spoke to me in a voice much like my own (or what I wish my voice would be): contemporary, practical, fearless, and even a little bit silly.

I fell into her poems about women, about men and women, about sex and bodies and all of the concessions we make. Piercy writes triumphantly and incisively and inclusively, shedding light on the ordinary and the extraordinary in the ordinary. She rages little and large, and she does not shrink.

I can’t pick a favorite, so here is a collection of her work that is available on the internet. I encourage you to explore the full extent of that archive, but before you do, have a taste:

A Work of Artifice
by Marge Piercy

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

…Give me more! More women poets! Tell me some of your favorites.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Perfect Ten + A Meditation on "Should"

So I didn’t make it to twelve or even to eleven, but I did make it to ten. Here was the final list in the order they were read (plus reviews!):

1. Scumble by Ingrid Law
2. Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund
3. Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
4. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
5. Room by Emma Donoghue
6. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
7. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
8. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
9. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
10. Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I’m pretty proud of how much I accomplished. Let’s see some stats, shall we?

Duration: 4/2/11-4/30/11
Books Read: 10
Reviews Written and Posted: 8
Reviews Outlined: 2
Pages Read: 4384 (making the average length of book read 438 pages)

Some eagle-eyed readers might notice I didn’t get to Freedom or A Widow’s Story. I had them scheduled, but I just couldn’t make myself read them when the time rolled around. Memoirs about dying and “great works” are not to be read casually. You have to commit to them, and I didn’t feel up to it. I’m not worried though. They’ll still be there when I want to try again.

I think sometimes people (myself included) get caught up in all the things they “should” be reading or doing or watching. We want to be in the know, to gain access, to be on the inside. We want people to like us by validating our choices. We want to be tastemakers, good conversationalists. So we consume the things we “should,” whether or not we want to, and profess to like the things we “should” like, whether or not we actually do. Giving “should” up was the best lesson to come out of my April reading boot camp.

Thing is, we’ll never read or watch or eat or experience all of the things we “should.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have aspirations or a mile-long to-do list, but it does mean we should be gentle with ourselves. Sometimes, a YA dystopian will win out over Literature. (The heart wants what the heart wants!) Keep up with what you can and consume what you love. No matter what, you’ll find people who compliment your choices and who want to talk with you about your thoughts. Genuine enjoyment is more magnetic than every “should” under the sun.