Friday, August 30, 2013

Snips and Specs and Stick Shifts

I have been to the edge and back!  I have spent the last couple of weeks driving across our fine country, seeing the national parks, camping under the stars (and clouds), dipping my feet in both the Atlantic and Pacific, and driving back.  It was fantastic.  

Pretty much.
But this is not a travel blog, so why mention it?  Well, despite my great anticipation for this quintessential American experience, I was kind of dreading the 13 hour drive across Minnesota and South Dakota and the inevitable bickering with my copilot that was certain to ensue out of grumpiness.  And no surprise here, but BOOKS SAVED US FROM THIS FATE!  

SD is gorgeous!! What was I worried about??
I’ve always harbored something of a superiority when it comes to audiobooks.  “Audiobooks are for people who multitask when a book should be given the respect of your full attention!”  “Audiobooks are for people who don’t really like to read!”  But now I take it all back!  While I don’t think audiobooks will replace the joy of holding a book in my arms and making up the voices myself, I realize I have been unjust toward this form of presentation.  

I'll never let you go
As Kara and I made our way through Harry Potter after Harry Potter (and a Little House on the Prairie for good measure) I developed a great appreciation for the readers, their stamina, their ability to remember voices and transform themselves through voice alone into the characters I love.  I even looked forward to the long driving days.  It felt like discovering the book for the first time again, reading/hearing it in this different form.  And maybe it’s the crazy I’ve-been-in-this-car-too-long part of me talking, but Jim Dale started to feel like a friend. At the very least, I think I could pick out his voice anywhere now.  Especially the way he says “Oooooo, Haaarryyyyyy!” as Hermione.

Being able to contrast Jim Dale with the reader of Little House, Cherry Jones, also gave me an appreciation for how very important the reader is to the enjoyment of a book.  While Cherry certainly had charisma, she seriously lacked volume control.  When someone is yelling in a book, you don’t need to literally yell at me out of the car speakers.  And as much as I loved Jim, I wondered how different an experience it would be if J.K. Rowling herself read her book aloud to me.  I wondered if her accents, her inflections, her cadence would make her reading of Harry Potter a totally different experience from Jim’s Harry Potter performance. (From what I am told, btw, Madeleine L’Engle has read at least some of her audiobooks herself- that I’d like to hear!).

Oh Jim Dale!
Any readers out there like to mix it up with an audiobook now and then?  Any other must-hear audiobooks I should think about picking up from the library?  Any gawd-awful readers who have ruined books for you (I once heard a chapter of Twilight read aloud- yeesh!- that voice did NOT work for me!)?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Top 10 Most Memorable Secondary Characters

This week’s topic was lots of fun, and full disclosure: I had lots of help from my lovely, YA-loving boyfriend, Paul, who even guest-wrote about one of HIS most memorable secondary characters! So we present some of our all-time favorite secondary characters, the good, the bad, and the weird (weekly feature courtesy of The Broke and the Bookish).

How Bean got his name. From

1. Bean from Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
In a sci-fi novel about child soldiers who must save the world from aliens, Bean is definitely one of the standout characters. Nicknamed Bean for his diminutive stature, he is nonetheless a force to be reckoned with in the Battle Room thanks to his brilliant tactical mind. Readers found Bean so compelling that Card even wrote a sequel all about his backstory in Ender’s Shadow!

By Ciclomono on deviantART
2. Sirius Black from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Definitely one of my favorite characters from the series. He was descended from a pureblood family but turned his back on them, imprisoned in Azkaban for a crime he didn’t commit, escaped, and found his way back to Harry, his best friend’s son, to offer him a loving home. Oh, and did I mention he’s Padfoot?

I, too, want a giant polar bear friend. By SinaGrace on deviantART
3. Iorek Byrnison from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Iorek, the giant talking polar bear, or Panserbjorne, was pretty much the reason I got hooked on this series in the first place after I saw him on the cover. Initially living alone and full of anger (he has lost his throne, been exiled from Svalbard, and is being blackmailed into working as an ironsmith for humans), his friendship with Lyra shows him to be fiercely protective of those he loves.

4. Haymitch from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
He’s a bitter survivor who has watched many around him die, but Katniss' fighting spirit gives him hope. In Catching Fire we learn that Haymitch has some hidden depths, but ultimately his best friend and escape is always the bottle.

Derp. By Raphooo2013 on deviantART
5. Gollum/Smeagol from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Smeagol was just a poor Stoor-Hobbit who was so corrupted by the One Ring that he killed his friend Deagol for it, and things got a lot worse from there. I've always found Gollum super pitiable and maintain my belief that all he needs to set him straight is a hug.


Magnus and the Chairman
6. Magnus Bane from The Mortal Instruments/Clockwork series by Cassandra Clare
I mostly include Magnus for Kate, since he’s one of her all-time favorite characters. Luckily Cassie Clare knows how many readers love him and has included him in BOTH of her published series to date. Magnus is an immortal warlock who often uses his powers to come to the aid of Shadowhunters. And when he’s not doing that, he wears glittery eyeliner, throws birthday parties for his beloved cat, Chairman Meow, and also he likes boys.

Creepy half-vampire child by 4Steex on deviantART
7. Renesmee from Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
Okay. Renesmee is my LEAST favorite part of the entire series, but you gotta hand it to the girl, she IS memorable. Bella actually KILLS herself in order to give birth to the unprecedented half-human/half-vampire child, but hey, that’s a mother’s duty, right? And it's totally normal that Jacob falls in love with her -- right?!

Paul’s Pick:
By Oboe on deviantART
8. Mandorallen from The Belgariad by David Eddings
In Eddings’ brilliantly realized world of gods, monsters, and everything in between, it’s no surprise that one of the standout secondary characters lands exactly there. This series is rife with colorful and memorable characters, each tugging, in turn, on different heart strings throughout their quest, but it’s Mandorallen who (barely) wins. Clad in the heaviest and finest of armors, boasting no magic powers – unless of course you count an unwavering conviction, codes layered upon codes of honor, honesty, chivalry, and loyalty to country and companions, and the charmiest of “charm”ing rhetoric and stature as “powers”…well then, yes, he’s pretty magical. Oh, and he also has no fears…of anything…and he wrestles a lion and wins.

By Mrs.Graves on deviantART
9. Severus Snape from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
I probably could have written my whole list based on memorable secondary HP characters. Snivellus can definitely be an absolute jerk to Harry, but it turns out to be a good life lesson for Harry in showing him that people are not black and white, good or bad; people are complicated. Snape made some mistakes, but he spent the rest of his life atoning for them as best he could. He’s now widely recognized as one of the series’ unsung heroes.


Coke's just not as good.
10. Mr. D from Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan’s modern interpretations of Greek gods and heroes are all pretty hilarious, but Mr. D, or Dionysus, is more so than most. He’s the director of Camp Half-Blood for demigod heroes, but not by choice. Forbidden by Zeus to drink the wine that is his godly domain, he takes to chugging Diet Coke instead. 100 years without wine? I feel your pain, Mr. D.

What do you think of my picks? Did I miss anyone? Who did you include?


Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: "Small Avalanches" by Joyce Carol Oates

In which Sam rants AND raves about a series of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates called Small Avalanches, and muses on the nature of YA fiction.

There is a small but important distinction between Young Adult (“YA”) fiction and fiction about young adults. When I picked up Small Avalanches, I was nearly positive the book was in the former category. It had all of the indicia, in my mind: a cover featuring a young, possibly teenage girl, alone on a path, potentially on some sort of journey; a book jacket describing the stories within, featuring protagonists like “a high school girl” and a “jealous teen;” and a summary under the ISBN number on the inside cover proclaiming “Adolescence – Fiction” and “Youth – Fiction.”

Friday, August 23, 2013

Snips & Specs & Sex

...Yeah, I said it. Sex. Such a frequently taboo subject in YA fiction, although perhaps less so in recent years.

When I was about 10, I was fascinated by the books that featured a college-age Nancy Drew -- you know, the ones where she made out with boyfriends and stuff. My mom didn't want me to read them, but I'd stash them away in my room somewhere and sneakily read them under my covers with a flashlight. They were such a thrill to me!

In hindsight, my mom was probably right to say this wasn't worth reading.
 When I got a little older, I discovered the writing of Tamora Pierce, author of The Song of the Lioness, Wild Magic, Protector of the Small, and various other awesome Tortallan adventures featuring female protagonists. The Protector of the Small series (First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight) in particular was a revelation to me -- as Kel grew up, she started having sexual encounters with male partners! And they weren't even married, or going to be together forever! And it was consensual and respectful and fun regardless!

My idol.

Young adult fiction was one of the first outlets I had for thinking about my own sexuality as a teen. I'm guessing this may be true for others of you out there, too. Yet recently in the news is a Queens mother who successfully pressured her son's school into removing Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (which our own Kate recently read and reviewed) from its required reading list, all because it (briefly) mentions masturbation. In fact, she dismissively referred to the award-winning novel, which tackles other tough issues such as poverty, racism, and alcoholism, as "Fifty Shades for kids."

Womp womp.

Kelly Jensen at Book Riot does an excellent job breaking down this issue further, and also provides a list of YA books that explore sex in some way, ranging from the consensual to sexual abuse to prostitution. As a future high school English teacher, I fully intend to incorporate (when appropriate) books that address sexuality into my curriculum, or at least not to disinclude them for that reason.

And to that worried mom in Queens, I would suggest that your son probably already IS curious about sex, and although it may be awkward to have those conversations with him, YA fiction can help lay the groundwork in an important and healthy way.

But what do YOU think? Is sex ever appropriate in novels intended for young adults? If you have kids, or intend to in the future, do you/will you monitor what they read for "mature" content?


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things That Make Your Life As A Reader/Book Blogger Easier

In which Sam rants about law school, raves about some nifty reading/blogging aids, and gives new meaning to the term "Throwback Thursday". 

As always, this feature brought to you by the fabulous Broke and Bookish Blog!
So as you may have guessed, I am back for my second-to-last semester of law school and already behind at posting my Top Ten Tuesday Thursday list. I'll be working out the kinks of my new schedule, but for now, please enjoy a belated throwback Thursday to this week's super-practical TTT :)

10. Lending Library Shelf

Notably, I have yet to make any significant headway in The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy
There's nothing better than lending books from friends. You'll get reads you never would have picked up yourself, and in lean times it's a great way to keep yourself awash in fresh stories without much cash! Just remember that you also have to be willing to lend out your books, too :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review of The Elite by Kiera Cass, or, Why Kate Is a Sucker For Book Boys

WARNING: If you have not read The Selection and don’t want to know anything about this series, stop reading now and read this instead.

I was left with mixed feelings upon finishing the Selection, the first in a trilogy chronicling America Singer’s adventures in a Bachelor-esque competition to win the heart of Illea’s Prince Maxon, and the issues I had with The Selection continued into The Elite.

This is how I imagine America-
clearly someone else on Tumblr does, too
I struggle with America as a main character.  She strikes me as a “taker” while the others around her all seem to be “givers.”  She describes her close friend and ex-boyfriend Aspen, for example, as havingsacrificed sleep for me, he risked getting caught out after curfew for me, he scrounged together pennies for me.”  Maxon, too, seems to understand what America needs and wants, and always provides those things (freedom to walk outside in the gardens, pants, seeing that her best friend was safe, money for her family, time to decide what she wants).  Even with one of the other competitors, Kriss, America agrees to an open conversation about their respective relationships with Maxon and after Kriss spills all and America gets her answers, America backs out, stating that she’s a private person and would really rather not discuss. That feels like a cheap, unfair move.  America always seems to get what she needs from people, but I rarely see her offering anything in return.  America is shocked, for example, three-fourths through the Elite to hear that Kriss gave Maxon a present.  The idea never occurred to America to give back.  

America is also a very rash character.  When she proposes as her philanthropy project to get rid of the castes, and is questioned how exactly she proposes to go about doing that, she replies, “Well, I don’t know. I haven’t gotten that far.”  That’s not a very solid research proposal, then, now is it?  She reveals secrets when she thinks it will best serve her, or just because she feels like it.  And while a girl’s got the right to be confused about love, it’s unfair to make promises to each man and recant at the slightest suggestion of hardship.  An indecisive, impulsive, unprepared girl does not a good wife/friend/queen make.

Yet...despite these rather critical reservations, I will definitely be tuning in for the final installment.  The reason, in a word: Maxon.  Cass really hooked me with this character- I wish the entire series could be told from his perspective.  Maxon is the character that I can sympathize with and that I am most anxious to know the fate of.  He’s a good guy who really wants to do what’s right, who is thoughtful, creative and more than any other character feels the weight of his actions. He has also undergone the greatest character development; from self-conscious “I’m so out of my league trying to figure out how to date on live TV, please can I kiss you?” to confidently self-aware “I’ve got a lot on my plate and I’m balancing it quite well, but you need to step up and quit playing games with my heart.”  Even though I’m 95% sure he and America end up together, I’ll be reading to see if America becomes deserving.

P.S.- There's talk of the CW making a TV Series based on the book!
Yay or Nay?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Snips & Specs & Surveys!

In which Sam rants about Mockingjay, raves about Hemingway (surprise?), and reveals everything you may or may not have wanted to know in a tell-all survey!

Thanks to the marvelous Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner for this fantastic feature!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Top 10 Books in the World War II Setting, or, How to Get Nightmares In 10 Easy Steps

I’m confident I’m not the only reader who went through a WWII phase, consumed a large number of memoirs (I Promised I Would Tell, The Cage, I Have Lived A Thousand Years, Diary Of A Young Girl, Night) and proceeded to have much-too-vivid nightmares.  There is something so ghastly about World War II that even the history books read more like fiction than fact.  How could something so horrible actually have happened to someone just like me?

1. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
An imaginative novel of modern day New York and 80-year-old Leo’s memories of the girl that motivated his will to live during the Holocaust.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Narrated by Death, this follows the story of a young girl adopted into a small, poor German town and the young Jewish man her foster parents hide in their basement.  The two unlikely friends find some liberation through the written word.

3. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
A young man visits Ukraine to uncover the secrets of his grandfather’s past the woman who hid him from the Nazis.  If you’re familiar with this author, you know what a strange, disorienting, non-linear and fantastic read this is.

4. MAUS by Art Spiegelman
A unique and symbolic take on the author’s father’s experience during and after the Holocaust.  The art in this graphic novel is as powerful as the words.

5. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Briar Rose was the only bedtime story Becca’s grandmother ever told her.  After her grandmother’s death, adult Becca searches for meaning in her grandmother’s unusual version of the fairy tale that leads her to Poland.

6. The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal
Simon Wiesenthal recounts a brief moment in his Holocaust experience when he was asked by a German soldier for forgiveness.  Wiesenthal poses the question: What should he have done? And receives dozens of essay responses from theologians, scholars, and religious leaders.  This is a fantastic exploration of forgiveness and justice.

7. Atonement by Ian McEwan
A novel of the dire consequences of a misunderstanding.  And this dress.

8. Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
A satirical novel like only Vonnegut can write, following fatalistic Billy Pilgrim through a prisoner of war camp & the firebombing of Dresden.

9. Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
A novel about race, equality and sport, in South Africa.  The beginning of the book addresses the impact WWII has on Peekay and those close to him.  Peekay’s tutor, a good and gentle soul, is thrown in prison for being German while the German-descended Afrikaners torture English Peekay when he is sent to boarding school.    

10. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
A young girl and her family participate in the Danish Resistance, risking their lives to save the country’s Jewish population.

**Reviewing my list, I’m noticing a serious dearth of books about the Pacific theater, and nothing about the Internment of Japanese citizens in California.  Anyone have any suggestions?

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