December 6, 2011

A Wicked Children's Book

Plain Kate
Erin Bow
Young Adult Fantasy


As you can tell by my recent lack of posting, the time I've allotted in my life for reading hasn't really been up to snuff lately, not that I sit back and allot time for things in my life, but you get what I mean (hopefully). My plan has been to remedy that with audio books listened to while working (don't worry guys, I'm a hard worker and even better multi-tasker, my work performance is in no way affected by whatever I listen to during the day...thought I'd throw that disclaimer out there). This resolution has led to several recent trips to the library, which is convieniently located just across the street from my work building...
I read (listened to --) this book by accident. As it happens, they do not have 'adult fiction' and 'young adult fiction' sections of audio books at my library, which is where I was when I noticed this book - in audio format - obviously. I had already picked two other books, and was tentatively browsing for a possible third when I saw the colorful, interesting cover of this one. I read about half a sentence of the synopsis on the back - "Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic." - and added it to my pile of auditory literature. For no reason in particular, I chose this of the three to listen to first. (WHY do I always have to explain the entire story of how I came to read something? How lame am I for doing this??)

 So about the book - I had somewhat of a hunch this was a young adult fiction book before I started it, but was hoping it wasn't. It's not that I have anything against YA, but I've grown up and out of that stage, though I enjoyed reading the angst-y dramatic soul searching morals of that genre up until a few years ago (and still enjoy a really good one every once in awhile if the writing is good enough to compel me). 30 seconds into this book and I pressed pause to re-evaluate my choice. 

First, let me distinguish a distinct difference between actually reading a book and listening to one. You cannot see the pages of an audio book. You have the freedom to look at whatever you choose while you listen, which can cause much more distraction if you are not careful, but I think there is just something fundamentally different between reading to yourself mentally and being read to. (This subject may lead to it's own blog post soon.) Recalling specific details is more difficult. When I think back on a certain passage, it, for whatever reason, helps me to picture the words on the page, which I can't do if I've never seen the page. It is one of those things you don't notice until it isn't there, like the noise of your fish tank running at night, or the noise of anything electronic, really. Read any poetry and you'll know, things don't sound quite the same in your mind as they do read aloud. Keep this in mind if you are considering an audio book.

The justification for that brief divergence of topic - this book sounds a little kiddie. The sentences were short, and simple language was used. This would be okay if the subject matter were a little bit less, uh, frigging horrific. I kept thinking to myself during the book - this author needs to pick her audience a little better, the writing is geared toward younger readers, around ten I would say (from how it sounded, I didn't actually see the words, which is probably enormously helpful when making an assessment such as this, but take it however you will), but the subject matter of human cruelty, starvation, being orphaned, loneliness, death, trickery, references to blood everywhere (needed to work powerful magic spells), and witch burning - I thought was not fit for such young people. 

The story is about a young girl who loves her father. He teaches her carpentry with which she later supports herself (to a point). Her father dies in a plague people say is caused by witches, which in turn causes people across the country to persecute and burn persons suspected of witchcraft. Kate is orphaned and forced to leave her home and sleep in a drawer. She finds some cats, and miraculously she survives four years without starving. Townsfolk start gossiping that she may be a witch and she is forced to leave. A real witch barters her shadow for her secret wish, which is to have someone to talk to, and all of the sudden her cat can talk. The rest of the book is spent with Kate trying to get her shadow back, and I guess there is something of a mystery involving the witch who took her shadow (and nearly every other character Kate conveniently meets on her journey). Also, this book was set in a Scandinavian-esque country - but there weren't many ways you could tell throughout the writing, though at the same time it was made blatantly obvious. For example - Plain Kate's last name is Svetlana (full first name is Katerina). The country's name is Samilae (had to look up this proper spelling since I'd only heard it sim-a-lay). 

So many reviews I just browsed over on goodreads.com gush about how they cannot believe this is Erin Bow's first novel, while to me, it screamed inexperienced from the first track. I know most of you who read this blog wouldn't be interested in YA, but if by happenstance someone who is looking for good YA to read and has ended up here, this is for you: I would not recommend this book. There are so many other good books out there it's ridiculous. If you happen to love books about magic and hardship and cheesy mysteries, go ahead and try Plain Kate, it seems plenty of other people have enjoyed it (the average rating on goodreads.com is 3.83, which is somewhat high -- I gave it a 2 -- seriously, it baffles me how many people loved it). Here is a list of YA books to consider instead of this one: 
Ender's Game - Orsen Scott Card
This Lullaby - Sarah Dessen
The Giver - Lois Lowry
The Hunger Games series - Suzanne Collins
His Dark Materials series - Philip Pullman
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - Ann Brashares
HARRY POTTER series - Jo Rowling
Hatchet - Gary Paulsen.


Hope to have new reviews up soon. Thanks for reading!


November 8, 2011

Update, and What I'm Reading

It seems a lot has been going on lately. I haven't blogged as much as usual lately, and I feel bad about it!

I've been hoping for early snow this year, as I've been more excited for the fall/winter seasons this year. Last week, my wish was granted. After weather in the 70s all week, temperatures plummeted Tuesday night, and it snowed 14 inches by Wednesday mid-morning. The next day it was 50 and then back up to 70s again, until this last Tuesday night the exact same thing happened, except not as heavy and destructive. Welcome to Colorado! Generally when we have a forecast of 3-6 inches of snow, we are lucky to get enough to cover the grass and sticks around past the afternoon. This time, we got double or three times more than expected. It was wet and heavy with incredible packing power (perfect for making forts and snowball ammo for kid snow days), but unfortunately the trees and power lines couldn't handle this massive dumping of powder from above. A third of the town was without power for more than a day (some places up to three days), and our phone line was cut. We (and about everyone else in town) lost huge branches and entire trees, because they hadn't yet lost their leaves, and the weight was just too much. The second snow didn't do much damage, but a few more branches fell. All the havoc out there happened, but it was covered in a beautiful blanket of snow :-)

Also, I was sick. It had been coming on a few days before the first snow, but I thought it would pass. Instead, about 11:30 on snow day central, I went back to bed and could not muster the energy to do anything until after 7, when my fever finally broke. I didn't even want to get up to look for medicine, so when my boyfriend got home to take care of me, he scrounged around for some. All we had is some Dayquil that expired in 2003. EIGHT YEARS AGO. I think it's time to go shopping, yikes!

We also had a busy weekend that week. Bar Friday, hockey game Saturday (GO EAGLES), and a movie on Sunday night. Which film, you ask? The Three Musketeers.



A brief history:
Once upon a time a movie came out about a book. It had a man who'd played Jesus in it (Jim Cavezel, if anyone was curious), and The Time Machine Guy (Guy Pearce), so a girl's mother bought it and took it home. The movie was The Count of Monte Cristo, and though neither of them knew it was based on a book at the time, they both loved it. Fast forward several years. The girl grows up and becomes a book blogger/enthusiest, and finds out a bit about Alexandre Dumas. Although she has wanted to read his work, she has been intimidated by the size and length of his books. The Count of Monte Cristo was always at the top of her list, with the Musketeers a scant second. Though she found an adorable edition one day she couldn't pass up. Then, she saw the movie.

All in all, I liked the film. Seemed much more steampunk that it probably should have been, and it was a typical modern action movie (think Sherlock Holmes esque). But I didn't believe the movie had the story right AT ALL. I mean, it's called the THREE Musketeers for a reason, right? This conundrum running through my mind-the sabotage (I thought) of a great story, motivated me to finally pick it up.

So far I'm about 200 pages in, but I realized as soon as I picked it up that I was wrong.




I LOVE this book. I'm telling you guys, I didn't expect to. Nothing about the story or description or times ever really interested me. So I'm glad I saw the movie - otherwise I don't' think I'd have caught on quite as fast (which is grounds to quit reading early on for me, in big books such as these). Also, I'd have NEVER pronounced D'Artagnan correctly, I took Spanish, not a lick of French.

One drawback, I know NOTHING of French history. I will try to read a bit of that on the side, but I plan on doing more than one post on this book, since it will take me awhile to read (it's only a few pages less than a thousand). I think finishing a book of this length (which I can't actually remember ever doing), will boost my confidence to tackle more larger books. Believe me, I have enough door-stops on my shelves to fuel my reading for probably two years (if that is all I read...and even then, maybe up to five years! I have a lot of books!).

Hope you guys will bear with me while I digest this one, and maybe next time read a big 'un with me :-)

Hope you are all well, keep reading, and I'll see ya next time :-)

November 6, 2011

R.I.P. Challenge Wrap-Up

October has faded, and we're now into another November, which means the R.I.P. Challenge has come to an end.



This was my first year participating, and I kind of took a loose approach to it. I did read several books that fit into the challenge's parameters:

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (audio)


Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (audio)


The Gunslinger by Stephen King (Dark Tower I)


The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King(Dark Tower II)


As I've posted before, I think reading books set in the same season/mood as you're in can not only enhance the story for you, but also emphasize your surroundings - which is why I absolutely wanted to include myself in a challenge based on that same principal. I had fun, and really enjoyed the books I read in the last two months. I look forward to participating again next year :-)

November 5, 2011

Reread: This Book Is My Best Friend

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Historical Fiction


The fact that I went back and read this book for a second time is significant for me. I'm not usually a big re-reader. Though I think that is changing. I've started getting 'cravings' for good books I've read. Some stories are just magical. 

Each time I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I took my time. The book is a collection of letters, and each one stands alone as something special, something to treasure. In a time of instant communication, reading a book told entirely through letters is incredibly refreshing and reminiscent of a slower (seemingly) more meaningful time. Very sentimental. While I cherished reading the letters, I mourned after I finished each one, because I knew that the book does eventually end...and while it has a complete and lovely ending, I still find myself wanting more. There were several dramatic points in the story, and 'plot twists' per-se, though I never found myself truly surprised by anything that happened (except perhaps by Isola's mysterious letters *wink*wink*)

The story captured me immediately and completely. We follow a woman of thirty-ish, Juliet Ashton, who has worked as a journalist during WWII in London. Now that the war is over, she wrote a book, and is at a loss now, of what to write for her second one. Scrambling for ideas, and feeling terribly war weary, she receives an unexpected letter in the post. The letter is from a man, Dawsey Adams, from Guernsey who has happened to end up with a book that used to be hers. He is writing explaining his love for the book and the author, asking her politely if she would be able to get him in touch with a bookstore where he may order more books by Charles Lamb. Juliet is delighted and sets to work right away, but their friendship has already started. She is intrigued by something he mentioned in his letter, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and asks how in the world something as such came about. The letters fly back and forth between Dawsey and Juliet, Juliet and her dear friend Sophie, Juliet and her publisher, Sidney, and various members of the literary society, as she becomes acquainted with them. Juliet decides she is going to write an article about the occupation of the channel islands by the German's, using her new friends in Guernsey as sources of real facts and little known events. Without realizing it at first, the letters serve as Juliet's beacon of light that help her pull out of her war weary slump. She finds herself falling in love with the people through their correspondence, and you can't help but fall for them yourself. 

The author's splash vivid personalities and humorous situations against the backdrop of post WWII England. Each and every character in this book has a personal and devastating experience directly related to the horrors of the war, though they have tried desperately to bring out the best in things and keep their spirits shining brightly. 

This book is about and between good friends, it makes you feel good to read it. You feel like one of them (hence the title of this post). When I finished, I almost turned to the beginning of the book to read it again. Seriously. It's been about a month since I read it (I know, it's taken me forever to get around to this review), and writing about it again makes me want to read it. It's an absolutely perfect book to read if you're feeling lonely - while you read it, I promise you won't be anymore!

This book is no-question one of my favorites. I think it is a 'modern' classic, in it's own right. Not only does it capture the mood and some lesser known events of World War II in England, it lets you in to some beautiful character's hearts and minds. I've read this book twice so far, but I'll be reading it again...and again and again.


October 23, 2011

Photo Blog: Seasonal Reading??

There is nothing better than a bouquet of freshly picked flowers for your house in the springtime --



Or feeling the cool grass between your toes in the summer.



The humble smell of heaters turned on for the first time, and fireplaces burning is the smell of October--



A Warm cup of cocoa never tasted as good when the snow is falling outside your window.




For me, similar sentiments can be had with books.

In the summertime, the books I want to read tend to be lighthearted, funny, and relatable. Humor and Romance genres are my GOTO summertime/warm weather reads. There is a reason there is practically an entire genre dubbed beach books.

Once the temperatures start to drop, the trees begin to turn their beautiful autumn colors, and I want to start reading more serious books. Autumn is the time to get some of the warmer weather books finished and start lining up the cool weather books I want to read (and that exact opposite for spring).

Cool weather time is the perfect time to read bleak and abstract literature -- literature you don't necessarily relate to. Wartime books and Russian literature usually appeal to me this time of year. Most classic novels also fall under the cool weather time-frame for me, depending, obviously, on subject matter.



While I'm not completely driven by these 'weather criteria', I think it does have a big impact on what I finally decide on reading -- but at the end of the day, I read what I feel like reading. Too much planning always puts me off....

* Speaking of which: An occasional challenge (a very loose-ended, or very specific one book challenge to be specific) is alright every once in awhile. But my favorite are the seasonal book challenges, like the R.I.P., which is why I decided to go ahead and participate - it is exactly my kind of challenge :-)

Do any of you find yourselves reading certain types of books at certain times of the year? 
How does it compare?


Disclaimer: None of the photos in this post were taken by me, though I did put the Seasonal Reading Collage together :-) 

October 21, 2011

Looking Back: Palo Alto

Palo Alto
James Franco
Short Story Collection/Fiction


Youth is a turbulent time, its undisputed.
If you think twelve year olds going out at two a.m. and shooting anything and everything with paintball and bb guns, affairs between soccer coach/teachers and 14 year olds (consensual), acting violently and irresponsibly after hearing a girl you like is with someone else (as in driving twenty miles over the speed limit drunk), occasionally running people over, or pimping out a new friend to everyone in town, all within one community, actually within the same group of friends, then you will probably love Palo Alto, the first short story collection published by James Franco.
I was interested in this book because of a blog I read somewhere of someone who went to one of his first readings from it, but I really bought it because, frankly, who doesn’t want to see if a celebrity is actually good at more than one thing (instead of just doing the things anyway because they have nothing better to do with their money). Turns out, James Franco IS good at more than one thing, but perhaps not what you’d think. Could it be juggling? Dog breeding? A musical instrument of some kind? …Writing (seeing as this is a review of his recently released book)? Sadly, no, none of these, not yet.
Was that enough suspense? The two things are, acting (presumably), and being a student. Not only does Franco have a master’s degree of fine arts from an ivy league school, he’s also taken fine arts classes at OTHER ivy league schools, just to learn. I respect that. I can relate to the desire to constantly absorb new ideas and hone a craft. The gathering of knowledge is invaluable; this, also, is undisputed.
Now, I’ve never taken fine arts classes, or even known anyone who has, so maybe I’m just out of the loop. If you are a fine arts master/major and love this book, great (although you should probably stop reading this).
When I started this book, I immediately hated it. Not fair, you say? Let me explain. I thought, ‘alright, there are probably three to five stories here’ (based on other short story collections I’ve read of about the same length, specifically The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel, which I liked a lot, you can see my review on my old blog, here), and I already heard it had a dark tone, so that is what I was prepared for. What I didn’t expect were stories five pages long told in first person, short, choppy sentences. I forgave the first story, thinking it was an alright perspective for the material covered. I was thinking it was maybe the introductory story, to get the reader prepared for the rest of the book, by putting the worst stuff in the beginning. I thought perhaps the first story was some sort of ‘the incident’ scenario and the rest of the stories would branch off from there (think, Crash, which, if you haven’t seen already, do so immediately). Instead, it was a jumbled assortment of friends living in Palo Alto (which, if this book is based on any sort of fact, I recommend anyone who lives there with children or a will to live in peace, move from…immediately).
The stories were too similar. All of them were told in the same odd sentence style as the first story, and all of the characters were basically the same person, differing only in their motivations. I can see clearly what he was trying to do. The book is split into two parts, each section consisting of stories by different members of the same group of friends (one group in the first section, and a different, though similar, group in the second section, to be clear).
Some of the themes throughout: consequences, peer pressure, and recklessness. For being told in the first person, I don’t think we saw enough of what the characters were thinking, we saw virtually only what they did, and what they did was bad. The writing wasn’t bad, per se, it was obviously stylistic and done on purpose, I just wasn’t feeling it. Like I said, I don’t think it did much to distinguish the characters by making them all tell stories the same way. In a book of first person stories, I think the sentence structure and voice of each character should be differentiated, because people don’t think the same, no matter that they grew up together or how much time they spend together. In my opinion, that was the biggest fault.
I was thinking of reading another serious short story collection to review together with comparisons, specifically Full Dark, No Stars by the talented Stephen King, which I may still do when I read it (sittin’ on my shelf), but then I watched my friend Dean’s latest book review video (Here’s a link to his channel, prepare yourselves!). The review was of Dubliners by James Joyce, which I had honestly never heard of. Listening to him talk about it though, reminded me of what this book wanted to be. Take a listen.
I wouldn’t recommend anyone to read this book, because I didn’t enjoy it, and I don’t think it contained any universal truths about life that need to be heard. I think the thought behind the story wasn’t a terrible idea, just needed a little bit more thought and a bit more practice. Maybe I’ll read his second book, if it comes to that.

October 20, 2011

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

I'm not sure how many of you out there are writers as well as readers (we all try to be both, don't we?) - but I thought perhaps some of you would be interested in National Novel Writing Month. 

The month of November is National Novel Writing Month. I'm not sure how many of you are writers as well as readers, but I thought I'd mention it here in case some of you haven't heard of it, as I just discovered it last year myself. 



The concept is simple - write 50,000 words in 30 days. 
It doesn't matter how good or terrible it turns out to be
if you stick it out to the end and reach the goal, 
you are a NaNoWriMo WINNER. 
(In case you're wondering, I lost. I gave up at around 11,000 last year)

You can write about anything you want - 
Fiction, Non-Fiction, Erotica, or Victorian Romance. 
Fantasy, Steampunk, Time Travel, or Bigfoot. 
You could probably even write a 50,000 word diary,
if that's what you will stay motivated to complete. 

It runs off the honor system, largely.
On the WEBSITE there is a place to input information about your 'novel'
and keep track of your word count progress.

You are thrown into a regional category
everyone in your area competes against people in other areas 
for the biggest word count -- No pressure ;-)



I will probably sign up to participate again this year, though I may set my personal goal a lot lower than 50,000 in 30 days. I have a full-time job this year, but still want to take part in this great program. I hope that some of you will consider taking part in any way you can as well. If you sign up, we can be NaNoWriMo buddies!


It begins November 1st (about 1,666 words a day, an omen of the difficulty of finishing right there!), so get brainstorming!!

October 19, 2011

A Voice to Soothe You to Sleep

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman
Fiction/Young Adult
To Buy Amazon - Barnes & Noble


I'd first heard of The Graveyard Book as I was browsing for another of Neil Gaiman's books, and stumbled across a 'meet the author' video interview on a bookseller's website. The interview was about his then-new book, The Graveyard Book. A play on The Jungle Book(s), The Graveyard Book tells the tale of a boy not raised by animals in a jungle, but by ghosts (and other paranormal creatures) in a graveyard.

Originally I was under the impression that it was a children's book. I actually continued to think that as I picked it off the shelf of my local library (audio-book form, narrated by @neilhimself), but chose it anyway, because what the hell, nothing else looked better, and I know I loved Stardust (movie) and Neverwhere (audio, review a few weeks ago), so it wasn't really a risk.

The book begins with murder. Actually he's killed everyone just before the book begins, but there is intention for more immediate bloodshed. Red Flag. Doesn't seem like a children's book after all. Don't be put off, it isn't all completely evil and terrifying - it is actually the tale of the boy he intended to kill, but couldn't find - Nobody 'Bod' Owens - The Graveyard Boy. 

I've gushed about Neil Gaiman's narration before, but seriously guys, if you like his stuff...have him read it to you (this is where free library lending comes in handy...audio-books are expensive). As usual, Gaiman's writing is dripping with Gothic style writing, and is driven by plot. It reminded me a lot of Neverwhere actually, though they are definitely different stories - they had a lot in common (though maybe it is just his particular style of writing and taste in stories).

Interesting fact (hold your breath): About half through, the story gave me a MAD craving for some Harry Potter....

The Graveyard Book is about a boy. The boy has mentors and makes mistakes. He is not thrown, in this case, into a world he does not know, but he is curious about it, and slowly ventures outside of his own (despite many warnings). He has a safe haven, and there is something evil after him. There is magic and ghosts and bullies and friendship. This isn't a rip-off of Harry Potter, many of these traits are of young/adolescent boys anyway, and the other traits are of interesting plot. It's just a good story. 

Since there are some things in this book that could be frightening, I recommend it for people thirteen and older, though it is always a personal decision. If you are thirty and still get nightmares from images of ghouls, you probably shouldn't read this. If you have a nine year old who eats ghouls for breakfast, by all means...

You get what I'm saying...

Read this one, or read something else - but do yourselves a favor and read something.

October 17, 2011

Warning: Big Fat Waste of Time...Mostly

The Egyptologist
Arthur Phillips
Novel of Correspondence/Mystery/Audio-Book


Another Audio-Book guys, but this one was disappointing for me after listening to a gem like Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. The Egyptologist is told in a series of letters and journal entries - the journal from the early 1900s, and letters from 'present' day.

I was a little bit skeptical about the book having several narrators, but that was before I knew the book is told as a correspondence. As it turns out, it worked out very well that way: An Englishman for the 'focus' character, an Australian as the Snoop, and an American for the Bostonian girl. 

But...

It was boring. 3/4 of the book consists of boring over-detailed journal entries from the main character who is engaged to said Bostonian girl, daughter of his financier, and is on a 'dig' in Egypt for an Ancient Egyptian King who may or may not have existed. This man is both annoying and slightly insane (progressively more-so throughout the book). I found myself looking forward to the 'Snoop's letters. You know from the beginning that he starts out looking for a man who has gone missing in order to give him a large inheritance, and ends up stumbling onto a double murder. The mystery is who died and how. I wasn't sure who, or how, but I had a hankering feeling - hoping there would be a twist from what I expected, though I was right. Maybe that is part of the reason the end didn't justify the means. Perhaps if I didn't know what was going to happen at the end, I would have enjoyed it more. The ending was carefully put together.

Also, I liked the girl, though she was an opium addict. Her narrator's voice was very interesting. Like she was hiding an exotic accent. Also, the Snoop being Australian was pretty neat. Not too often I get to hear that :-)

All in all, I wouldn't recommend this book. It is pretty long for a standard fiction book, and the payoff wasn't worth the time. As an audio-book it wasn't so bad, but near the end I almost couldn't stand the insanity of the English-guy. Good Lord. I think the author probably could have made it 200 pages shorter with no consequence. Eh, at least it's over now.

October 16, 2011

Not to Mention the AWESOME Cover...

When you are Engulfed in Flames
David Sedaris
Collection of Essays



This is my second experience with Sedaris, having previously read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk last year on new years eve. I enjoyed both. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a parody on real life situations and their absurdity, anthropomorphized. When you are Engulfed in Flames was much more personal, and relatable - to me, at least.

I wasn't sure, when I started reading, if these were all true essays about situations in his life, or another parody, or short stories put together to mock a collection of essays (Palo Alto, anyone?). It is the first, and it is excellent.

I can relate to David Sedaris, only I'm less funny, less rich, and less daring (drugs are mentioned more than once). Many things that made me laugh about this book - were like little inside jokes that I was in on, where someone else - more charismatic, less worried, and less interesting - wouldn't understand.

Here is an excerpt that perhaps we can all relate to:


"I will walk out the door and never look back, never return his calls, never even open his letters. The pots and pans, all the things that we acquired together, he can have them, that’s how unfeeling I will be.
Thirty minutes of pure rage, and when I finally spot him I realize that I’ve never been so happy to see anyone in my life.
“There you are,” I say. And when he asks where I have been, I answer honestly and tell him I was lost."

It is the text in between those lines that I found so much of myself in. Finding yourself completely reliant on a person after so many years - perhaps everyone has that, but It felt especially resonant with me. 
After I got through a bit of the book and started seeing characters returning after a few essays, I decided I loved that effect. Since these are real people, they are more beautiful to me - and by seeing them in many stories, you really get a better feel about who they are. Seeing them in this situation, and then this one -- it's more like real life. When you meet someone, you don't follow them around inside their head all day, you see them in the little situations you find yourselves in when you happen to be hanging out. 
Reading this book made me finally pick up a blank notebook (as I'd been meaning to do for quite awhile) and begin chronicling my life - in thoughts, events, and emotions - as a journal. 
I find in the end, this is a top contender on my shelf for re-read. Sedaris is so (brutally at times) honest, and you can rely on him as your narrator through these tidbits of life. Since I started with his most recently published book, and then his second more recently published book (which happened completely on accident), I think I will continue this pattern and read Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim next.

October 10, 2011

Looking Back: Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
Fiction/Thriller/Young Adult
To Buy Amazon - Barnes & Noble



The story of The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins begins with an introduction to Katniss, her family, and her district. The story of Katniss’ life is revealed a little at a time in skillful doses, and we find we know just enough to fully understand the consequences of every situation.
The day is Reaping Day, a day that terrifies the Districts but is masked in mild celebration, where one boy and one girl between the ages 12 and 18 are randomly selected to take part in the Hunger Games each year. The Hunger Games are a barbaric gladiator-esque public masquerade which are mandatorily viewed by the entire kingdom, including the victim’s families. I use the word victim because the children are put into an arena and forced to fight to the death. The games to not end until there is only one child remaining. It is commonplace for ‘tributes’, for that is what the contestants are called, to starve, freeze, drown, or burn to death, as well as strive to kill one another, in order to survive themselves. The gamemakers are utterly in control of all aspects of the arena, using natural forces to herd the tributes wherever they want in order to put on an amusing show for the rest of the kingdom.
We are informed about the rebellion that happened about 75 years previous, which led to the founding of the games, as a punishment to the districts and a reminder of the Capitol’s power and influence over every aspect of kingdom life. I find it interesting that Collins uses the term ‘Reaping Day’, which implies a harvest, or a gathering of profits. Gathering the child sacrifices to battle on ‘live television’ to their gruesome deaths.
The set up of the country Katniss is a part of reminds me of a kingdom. The Capitol is the Castle in this scenario, housing a portion of the population who is close to the ‘king’, and take part in the castle lifestyle, which is separated from the rest of the kingdom. It follows that districts 1-12 then, house the serf population. A serf is one who rents a space from the noble, the head of the castle, to live with his family with meager means, paying whatever taxes the noble sets, which can include a portion of whatever crops the serf’s land yields, leaving the serf and his family with barely enough to survive.
Castle hierarchy directly correlates to the conditions the people of the Districts live, with ties to communism also. The men in District 12 have to work in the coal mine with no choice to do otherwise, and they do not get to keep any coal but what they happen to drag in on their boots. The people in Rue’s district, District 11, have to work in the orchards and fields, but do not get to keep any of the delicious food they harvest. They get paid a meager wage that can barely support their families, most need assistance from the government (which racks up their chances to be chosen for the games), and people regularly starve to death in the streets, though no one in a place of power will acknowledge the fact (never listing starvation as cause of death). They even have a mayor, though it does not become clear what role he or she plays in the District, it is only revealed that they are better off financially than their struggling counterparts.

This book is PACKED with social commentary and governmental features that really make you sit back and think, because, as we know, this is a work of fiction, but within these pages, this world is absolutely plausible. To me, this is the best part of science-fiction - taking you into a world that you could see developing from the structure we currently have. I could go on forever about these details, but I don't want to spoil everything.
The games Katniss and Peeta participate in stands apart from any either of them have ever seen. For one, Katniss and Peeta form a strategy of teamwork rather than competitiveness toward each other, spending as much time together during training as possible, while others have their minds set against their adversaries, knowing they’ll have to kill them, or be killed themselves.
Katniss and Peeta are both utterly terrified of the Games, Katniss worried for her family who depends so much on her, and Peeta, because he has no confidence in himself to win. After declaring his crush on Katniss, Peeta sets the standard of a Hunger Games guaranteed to entertain more than most. Torn between each other, and the impossible task they are faced with, the Hunger Games is a novel you will not soon forget, and will leave you wanting more.
It may be a young adult novel, but, like any futuristic dystopia, The Hunger Games makes us all open our eyes a little bit wider to the world around us and what we can do to help prevent a harsh and unforgiving future.
Another reason to adore the hunger games: it puts a name to a feeling we’ve all had at one point or another: Hollow Day: A day when no matter how much you eat, you still want more.
While this synopsis seems to portray a very bleak and hopeless novel, I promise you, it is full of as much love and hope and friendship as it is with sorrow and fear. We quickly fall in love with our leading lady, Katniss, and she never ceases to surprise.
Clearly well written, I waited all of three minutes before downloading the second and third installments onto my Nook after completing The Hunger Games. Already I am a hundred pages into book two: Catching Fire.
Do yourselves a favor and pick this one up. You won’t be sorry.

October 7, 2011

Spoke Too Soon!

Oh, I should have known. 
Just as soon as I posted my first In My Mailbox,
I go grocery shopping and see on the shelf
a book that I've been curious about,
for some time now.

The book is:
Miss Peregrine's
HOME FOR
Peculiar Children
By Ranson Riggs.

I've been curious about this book because
It os a mix of my two loves:
Literature & Photography

I bought it.
No surprise.

-------

THEN,
two days later...
a woman from work hands me a
thank you card.
Inside is a
TWENTY-FIVE DOLLAR
gift card, to B&N

So the books I buy with that
don't count
....right?

October 2, 2011

And if there were another, magic side to your city...

Neverwhere
Written and Narrated by Neil Gaiman
Fantasy/Fiction



I once saw a movie about a quest for love that included falling stars, magic, adventure, murder plots, flying pirates, and cross-dressing. It was an adult-suitable fairy-tale, and it was wonderful [and I got it in a $5 bin!]. I did not know until recently that the movie, Stardust, is based on a book written by Neil Gaiman. Since I learned of the connection, I've been curious to read some of his other work. Then one day, I was walking through the audio-book section at the library in a happy coincidence and I caught Neverwhere out of the corner of my eye - the author's selected text, read by himself - how sweet it that?!

I went home and immediately loaded it onto my Zune [microsoft's version of ipod], and that week, I listened to this amazing story at work [do I have the best job ever, or what]. From the start I loved it. Well, that isn't surprising to me, since I'm a beginnings kind of girl, but this beginning is even better than most. Is it because the characters were 100% authentic because Neil himself [his twitter handle, I'm so clever] wrote them and therefore knows how they said each thing he wrote, and does an incredible job with accents - perhaps; but I certainly recommend listening for yourself.

In case you have no idea what this book is about, basically this guy has a mediocre life that he thinks he quite enjoys, until he meets Door. She is laying in the middle of the street bleeding like mad, and he, being the great guy that he is, takes her home to care for her. She introduces him to a whole new side of London, one he can't seem to escape. The story is incredibly imaginitive and pokes fun of many of the London subway stations' names [like that is a selling point...come on Em]. The version I listened to was 10 discs and took me three of four days to get through. I almost decided to listen to it again before I did this review, but couldn't really justify that, even to myself [its that good].

It is so hard for me to put into words how good this story is. His characters [in both Neverwhere and Stardust] are clearly defined and have their own agendas, and they each have a purpose in his story. And he is a masterful story-teller, my friends. I almost tried to resist reading his books because he is so immensely popular - but his status among readers is very well deserved, and I find I've jumped right on the bandwagon. If you read my In My Mailbox post, you know I just got American Gods. I actually ordered it before I found Neverwhere at the library. Now I'm definatly glad I got it [any of you read American Gods? How is it? How does it compare to Neverwhere?].

Gaiman has also written a whole mess of graphic novels, if you like those, and is a skilled screenwriter. He also has a twitter [as I so cleverly mentioned before] and a tumblr and his white german shephard makes frequent appearences on both. I am sure being so active in the online community does nothing to quell the devoted fans obsessions. But seriously, check him out.

In My Mailbox, September

My first, and hopefully last [for a long while anyway] in my mailbox entry. This month I only placed ONE book order for the whole month, and one trip to the thrift store. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT??

...Yes, you probably can, since I've only had this blog set up for about one month anyway. You just have to believe me when I tell you that I have a book buying addiction. When I moved out of my mother's house two and a half  years ago, I only had a handful of books. Maybe twenty, max. To put that in comparison, I bought nearly that many just this month, and I consider that considerably better

I am trying to stop buying so many books, at least until I get a good chunk of them read, because honestly, I'm running out of room, and most of the books on my shelf are unread. I'm trying to put together a self-challenge that will help motivate me to read what I already have. I was thinking about some sort of alphabetical thing, but then I realized I have multiple books for quite a few letters that I want to/need to read and for several other letters, I have no books and would have to end up buying new books anyway, completely defeating the purpose. I thought about reading by 'theme' also, but eh, I don't think that would work long term either. I think for now, I will just stick to buying few, if any, new books so I have to read the ones I have. This ban will continue at least until we move somewhere more permanent, because moving all these boxes of heavy books is probably not going to be very fun. 

On to my new books!

Amazon:

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath - Been meaning to read this since I was 15.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction, J.D. Salinger - Salinger. How could I resist.

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides - Loved Middlesex, so I'm curious if I'll love all of his stuff, or just that book.

American Gods, Neil Gaiman - I just listened to the audio book of Neverwhere, and loved it. Hopefully this is as good [or better, I will always take better].

When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris - I'm reading this now. It's hilarious and touching at the same time. I've also read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by the same author.

The House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski - An assortment of pages, Blair Witch style, that is supposedly, like, the scariest book ever. Hoping to start it this month.

Persuasion, Jane Austen - Planning on reading Emma as my first Austen, since that is my name! But I figure I'll have to read them all sometime.

Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris - Read a review on this, and now I can't remember what it said, but it made me want to buy it myself!

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov - forgot I had this and accidentally bought a second copy.

Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut - Bought because of THIS review on youtube.


Thrift Store:

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen - Heard a billion things about this book after it came out, and I found it for three dollars. Can't beat that.

In the Devil's Snare, Mary Beth Norton - A story about the Salem Witch Trials. Supposedly encompassing more history of the time than anything previously. Should be interesting.

The Invention of Air, Steven Johnson - Something about Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America.

Look out for reviews on them [sometime in the next year, or few! :-( ]

Tell me if you guys prefer pictures

September 27, 2011

Sherlock Holmes at His Finest

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Arthur Conan Doyle
Classic/Mystery


I read a book once, called The Thirteenth Tale - I didn't like the book much, as far as that goes, but there was an interesting concept in one passage. The bookish young woman struggles with the tale the old woman is telling her, and she comes down with a sickness. The butler diagnoses that she has read Jane Eyre too many times and too much Jane Austen - and the traits attributed to all female characters of those stories had become increasingly prominent in her (I haven't read much of that genre, which I plan to remedy soon enough) - and he promptly prescribes lots and lots of Sherlock Holmes, to counter-balance the ideas running through her mind. 

-   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -

I bought this copy of The Hound of Baskervilles because I really like these magnificent cloth bound Penguin Classics edition series of books. I have a few of them now: Tales from 1,001 Nights, Oliver Twist, Treasure Island, Middlemarch, and the one pictured above, which I just finished reading last night, sprawled out on the carpet at the foot of my bed. 

I have read a few very short Sherlock Holmes stories (on my nook), and of course, was vaguely aware of the cultural ambiance that is Sherlock Holmes, as we all are. The writing is very straight forward. The tale is told by Watson, Holmes' famous sidekick, as a record of exactly the events that transpired. In this particular case, Watson played a big part by living with the person the case revolved around. This enabled for a bit of muti-media in the story; one chapter was a series of letters Watson had written to Holmes, describing what he notices, and another chapter is comprised of several entries from Watson's diary, though they also, don't reveal much more than exactly what happened. Of course, every loose end you could possibly think of is resolved through the adventure, and if it isn't, is in Holmes' soliloquy at the end, describing, in detail, how the events came to be in the first place, and any other particulars that otherwise didn't come out within the story. There are not many emotions simply expressed - only observed, which can make the reading a bit dry for some readers, but Sherlock Holmes, is Sherlock Holmes - so brilliant his faults must be overlooked. 

I highly recommend that everyone read some good 'ol Sherlock Holmes (doesn't have to be this book in particular). This kind of reading is always good when, like in The Thirteenth Tale, the drama in your real life is at an all time high, and you just need something to make complete unquestionable sense. 

This book also fits very neatly into the R.I.P. Reading Challenge, as a classic mystery tale. Didn't bring out the 'October' smell, and longing thoughts of snow, frost, and pumpkins, but I am glad I read it. 

September 25, 2011

Looking Back: Hemingway of the Sea

The Old Man and The Sea
Ernest Hemingway
Classic/Fiction


The Old Man and the Sea is a short, but beautiful and meaningful story that is told in simple, non-cluttered sentences. The story follows an elderly fisherman living in extreme poverty in Cuba. He begins by introducing a boy who used to come and fish with the old man, and still cares greatly for him. The old man taught him everything he knows. The boy’s parents made the boy stop fishing with the old man, because he was not very successful fishing on his small boat, they wanted him to fish with the fisherman with better boats and equipment. The old man hadn't been catching anything for several long days before the story begins, but he never gave up.

The story is about the day the old man goes to sea, and meets his match in a fish with a spirit and fight just like the man himself. If you are interested in picking stories apart for their literary devices (as I've been known to do every once in awhile), this one would be great a great example to start with. I'm not saying it is formulaic or predictable, but when you start looking closer at the details you can see some classic examples hidden beneath the surface. I really enjoyed this book, but then again, I pretty much love everything I've read of Hemingway's. This is a short read though, and I think everyone could find the time to slip it into their to-read lists. Like all classics though, take time to process and evaluate the material, and don't begin with judgments or ideas about the book beforehand.

If you've read it, let me know what you think in the comments!

Won my first Giveaway!

I want to thank Kate Weber from Simply Kate for hosting the Digital Scrapbooking My Memories Suite 2 Giveaway. I am super excited to get started creating some great memories in a digital format. I just recently started playing around with picnik.com and editing photos and creating collages, so this is a great next step for me. It is super easy to browse, buy, and download new material, and the price is right for new sets (not to mention the amount of material to select from!). I will probably play around a bit with the software, and revamp my blog page with some images from there, so look for that in the next few weeks!

Thanks again, Kate! You can find her blog page here.