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. 


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
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.


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

So the books I buy with that
don't count

October 2, 2011

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

Written and Narrated by Neil Gaiman

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!


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