Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top 10 Things on My Bookish Bucket List

Create the perfect reading nook

Own a house with a library

Color coordinate my bookshelf

Read the complete works of Austen, Steinbeck, Ibsen, Forster, and Shakespeare

Have a drink at one of the cafes Hemingway frequented

Visit Jane Austen's England: Bath & The Lakes District

Drive across the country (because of Kerouac and Steinbeck)

Be a test reader before a book goes to print

Transcribe my favorite quotes- or a whole chapter- on some tucked away nook

Learn to book bind.


Top 10 Things on My Bookish Wish List

Deviating from, by inspired by the feature by The Broke and the Bookish

This book mug for my tea

Library kit- You *will* return my books when I lend them!

Cursive typewriter- two of the best things
To write my reviews (and fan-mail)

Book pillow- camoflaged against my bookcase

This super awesome edition of Fahrenheit 451

This dual book rest & lamp!

This book holder thingy
So I can read on the train even when I don't get a seat!

Some book pride apparel

This litograph poster of the first chapter of Walden

These bookends!


Monday, March 24, 2014

Book to Movie: Divergent

Please be warned that this post has spoilers for both the book and movie Divergent.

Every book fan wants to see a respectable, faithful interpretation of the story. There are movies that excel in this endeavor (Hunger Games forever!!!) adaptations that fail (Narnia movies just didn't do it for me) and films that positively crash and burn and make fans pretend it just didn't happen (I'm looking at you, City of Bones). For me, Divergent belongs in the first column. 

Sure, they opened with an unfortunate voice-over exposition (necessary, I suppose for those who haven't read the books; for the rest of you, just focus on the impressive post-war Chicago scenery). And there were a number of casualties to the editing room floor that I could enumerate (no chocolate cake; Tris was never temporarily eliminated from the initiates; the kiss didn't happen in the chasm). But I prefer to focus on the many many things the filmmakers salvaged- little details that make this feel like a true adaptation. Things like Four approaching Tris in the Pit after he's had a few drinks; Tris's first meal being the mysterious hamburger; Four walking away from the fight as Tris loses consciousness. So many details and moments I was surprised and pleased made it to the movie.

An empowering film that makes me
want to buy a punching bag
Maybe I'm so jazzed because my expectations going in were so low, though I should not have doubted Shaileen Woodley, who seems to be starring in every YA novel adaptation this year (for a while there it was Spectacular Now, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars trailers on rotation during commercials; Shailene everywhere!). I was already mighty pleased with her portrayal of Tris (and Theo James's Four, my new unattainable crush--- gah! his voice! those lips! that jaw!) but the scene where Four is under simulation and she flips the gun around to her forehead; damn, that was a well acted scene. Her murmurs of "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay" were just so powerful. Also powerful was the zip-lining scene- and if you've already read Allegiant, you know why (*emotion*).

Most thought provoking was Tris's fear landscape during the final initiation test. In the book, Tris, raised in Abnegation where physical contact and open affection are at a minimum, has a deeply ingrained fear of intimacy. Being raised in Abnegation is like being raised with Catholic guilt! Makes me feel a camaraderie with Tris. 

Is it getting hot in here?
In Tris's (book) fear landscape, she's alone with Four in a bedroom.  It's Four, he's hunky, he wants to do a little more than kissing and she's tempted, but just not ready.  Sex is everywhere and its meaning diminished by its prevalence.  But sex is a big deal.  It's okay to be nervous, it's okay to say no.  So often in YA there's some supernatural reason why two characters don't have sex because it's going to kill one or the other (Mean Girls moment: You will have sex, and you will die). That's not a good message for readers, because none of these characters is really making a decision or making up their mind; the situation is deciding for them. Young readers need to be taught to make an informed decision about sex based on their thoughts, feelings, and open communication with their partner. And they need to know that it's okay to wait.  I like that in Divergent, there's nothing keeping Tris and Tobias apart except for their decision to wait until the time is right for them. 

Just because they've decided to go slow
Doesn't mean they won't have a fantastic kissing scene
In Tris's (movie) fear landscape, things start out the same, until a fear of intimacy becomes something more violent- a fear of partner rape.  This really changes the nature of Tris's fear.  Whether for better or worse... that's in the eye of the viewer.  But since it happened, I was happy with what they did with it. Acquaintance rape is a legitimate fear; largely because many perpetrators don't recognize their actions as rape.  It doesn't matter if you're in a relationship, it doesn't matter if you've done things together in the past, it doesn't matter what your expectations were.  I loved the way Tris wouldn't let her "No" go unheard- she unappologetically owns her body and unwaveringly stands by her decisions.

While I hope this is empowering to women watching, I also hope it affects any guys in the theater.  Real-life Four stops when Tris says stop; he's a highly desirable, attractive man who knows that consent is sexy.  Simulation-Four doesn't stop; what he's doing (physically and verbally pressuring Tris) is NOT okay- and he gets his ass kicked.  Rape culture will end when we empower the vulnerable and educate the ignorant.

What did you think? Anything you were disappointed didn't make the cut? How did you feel about Tris's fear landscape? Were you also a little weirded out to when the guy who plays Caleb is was also in the preview for The Fault In Our Stars as Augustus Waters?

Augustus? Wait, shouldn't you two be in love?


My Fear Landscape

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, or, Finally Someone Who Understands Me

Rainbow Rowell makes me feel understood. She understands what's important in a quality boyfriend. She understands how having a sick parent matures you beyond your years. She appreciates the stress an introvert experiences when forced to participate in an extroverted world. And she understands bookish people who love to read and reread and discuss and read the book some more and then bury themselves in fanficiton because they just can't bear for the experience to be over.

There is a lot going on in Fangirl (as there usually is in life) and no single issue that we can label as THE PROBLEM that this book is going to resolve, because that's not how things work in life (at least, not in my life!). There are a multitude of road blocks, flaws, and mistakes that all take turns being THE PROBLEM throughout the book. Sometimes all Cath can think about is whether or not her dad is on the brink of a mental collapse, panicking that her sister is talking to their absent mother, agonizing over the embarrassment of criticism from a professor or figuring out where you stand with the boy you like (but let's agree: THE PROBLEM is mostly what's going to happen to Simon and Baz next). Life is revolving set of problems and I appreciated Rowell's recognition of this, and that while change and improvement takes place gradually over the course of the book, pretty much nothing is fully RESOLVED. The characters felt realistic to me (they even take bathroom breaks!), so much that even though I went to school far far from Nebraska, I could picture them all on my Alma mater's campus.

Cath and I would definitely be friends (did all readers feel this way? Probably.). We'd be hanging out in our dorm room on Friday nights, having spontaneous emergency dance parties, and spending much too much time treating fictional characters as if they are real people (this sentence is itself an example of what I mean). Being a devoted member of a fandom is usually something I only share with my close friends (who already love and accept me). It's always a little bit of a thrill to find someone else who knows what fanfiction is (I've had to explain it so many times, and never as well as Cath does to Levi). AU, OTP, OOC, slash and shipping are foreign terms to most of my friends. I don't know why reading fanfiction is so embarrassing (okay, I do know why: it's because most of it is poorly written literary porn, but that only makes it more exciting to find a good author) but it makes perfect sense for anyone who has ever felt strongly about a book; why would I want to leave that world? And if the story didn't end the way I wanted it to, then here is the perfect way to explore and re-explore the way things might have been. Fanfiction readers unite!
From Simini Blocker's profile on Behance.net
And if I was friends with Cath, she might be able to introduce me to one of Levi's friends... who could be exactly like Levi, please. Levi isn't perfect- he wouldn't turn heads on the street and he's got some boundary issues with those protein bars. He's human and believable and he panics and says stupid things after a kiss. And yet he's more than human, or at least, he's the best kind of human. I am so drawn to his endless generosity, his delight in being there for other people and making them happy. There are a lot of authors who think that physical attractiveness or eternal youth is enough to make someone a worthwhile life partner, or who think that kindness is more valuable when it's rare. And sure, we all like a bad boy who is only vulnerable for us, but as I was reading Levi's character, I felt there was something more beautiful and desirable in a man whose goodness is apparent and available to all, and that someone so universally good would choose me to be around.

General warm feelings, Rowell, that is what you have given me with Fangirl! And I'm not ashamed to say I've already scoped out what fanficiton is available for this book.

So what do you think? Are you fanfiction readers (if so- recommendations for good writers, please!)? Did you identify with Cath? What's on your emergency dance playlist? I hope to hear from you!



The New Best Friend Badge
The I’d Marry You If You Were Real Badge
The Good Writing Badge

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review of Abandon by Meg Cabot, Or, Tea, the Last Weapon of the Desperate

In a Nutshell: Abandon is about 17-year-old Pierce (our modern Persephone) as she moves to a new town and her many interactions with the keeper of the Underworld who appears in her life at critical moments.

That doesn't look comfortable
I recently read Defy by Sara Larson which was a book that aimed higher than it delivered.  The cover and description lead me to believe this would be a kick-ass woman warrior novel, and instead I got a weak and unsupported love story and a heroine who blushed and cried more than a beauty queen on pageant day. 

So when I saw Abandon's cover depicting a supine, pretty but nondescript brunette and a tagline of "She knows what it's like to die" I anticipated an overly-dramatic teen who took herself too seriously and fainted frequently.  I was delighted to be wrong.   Meg Cabot is an author who knows this was to be read by 14-year-old-girls and kept the tone light and fun- at times passing over in a paragraph situations that would provide enough fodder for a half a dozen Lifetime Channel movies.  Cabot draws in her readers in the first few chapters with strategic comments about a scandalous "incident" and a creepily nuanced question from Pierce's grandmother in a cemetery.  And of course I knew that at some point there would be a death and a resurrection and some sort of romance with the god of death, but being a big fan of retellings, I needed to know how Cabot was going to do it.

No relation.
Despite an unfortunate name (every time I read it I thought of the New Hampshire born, unremarkable 14th President of the United States), I really liked Pierce.  Maybe it was her naive honesty (she bluntly tells her best friend, Hannah, that she can see evil now, and she'll protect her, and is somehow surprised when Hannah decides they need to spend some time apart).  Or her quirks, like her puzzling hatred of tassels.  But probably it was my appreciation that she didn't take herself too seriously.  Since I has been anticipating a heroine who cried alone in her room a lot and thought the world might end because she couldn't sort out her feelings, it was refreshing to read Pierce whose general attitude seemed to be "Oh well, that didn't work out as planned.  Moving on..."

I also can't help but like Pierce's reaction to John Hayden.  He's handsome, tall, and dressed all in black, so we know that despite his moodiness and lack of screen time he's a worthwhile guy who will eventually capture the heart of Pierce (because only a hero is described in those terms).  I like that Pierce isn't afraid to call him a jerk when he is one (see above, "naive honesty").  That no matter how attractive he is in those dark jeans, that does NOT make it okay to kidnap her.  That even though "he's just trying to keep her safe" Pierce knows that her life is hers to live and risk as she sees fit and won't think he's being sweet and protective.  The first time she was faced with spending an eternity with him in a castle-bedroom, she had the common sense to freak out, know she was way to young for this, and have wherewithal to throw tea in his face and escape.  

What did you think of Abandon?  Did you like Pierce as I did, or was she too much of a space cadet for you?  How does this compare to Cabot's other novels?  Were you also happy that the cemetery sexton had a partner and it wasn't a big deal- as it shouldn't be?  I look forward to reading your thoughts!




Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR List

This is a feature of The Broke and the Bookish

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I’ve already started reading this one, and I’m in love! Fangirl is about Cath, one part of a set of twins, headed off to college for the first time and trying to balance making new friends, her twin’s new steely coldness, her father’s mania and loneliness, and her all-consuming love of the Simon Snow fandom.

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M. G. Buehrlen

I can’t resist a good time-travel story- mostly because I love history and I would be beyond psyched to have that super power and get to experience history first hand! I’m excited to read about Alex, a high-schooler who frequently has visions of the past, only to find out these are not visions, but memories of her past lives- and a mysterious blue-eyed boy appears in each one of them (of course- there’s alway a boy).

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Kestrel has to join the military or get married- limited options for a girl in this imaginary world. When she buys an attractive man-slave, Arin, she thinks he could be the key to living a life beyond society’s limitations.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Ava is just like the rest of us- she wants to fit in and be accepted. Unfortunately for Ava, she was born with the wings of a bird (due to the foolish love of her ancestors), which makes this desire a little more difficult to achieve. 

Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

I’m told this is Bones meets Fringe- so I’m in! Nearly, despite her name, is not the daughter of a celebrity. She lives in a trailer park. Her mother is an exotic dancer. And if that didn’t make high school hard enough, she is able to feel the emotions of others when she touches their skin, which makes her the only person who can solve the serial murders of her fellow students.  

Half Bad by Sally Green

Witches, a male protagonist, and a cool, bloody cover is enough of an enticement for me.

 The Only Boy by Jordan Locke

In a future world where all the men have been annihilated (probably keeping a few for breeding purposes?), one boy has managed to escape discovery and is living in a conclave of girls. Having just read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, I in the mood for another gender-segregated society novel.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two boys are trying to beat the Guinness World Record for longest kiss, and are becoming an inspiration for other young boys accepting themselves and their sexuality. I’m disappointed by the lack of same-sex relationships taking center stage in YA novels and I want to try to read more of the books that are available.

 The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

About this time last year, I visited the historic house with Miss Meg, and promised myself I would read the novel by this time next year! Well, it’s next year and it's time to make good on that promise!

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

The movie is coming out, and while I’m not sure it looks like a good movie yet, I know I’m going to see it eventually, so I’d better have that book read in preparation!

Please- warn me if you think I'm wasting my time on any of these!  I look forward to seeing what's on your TBR list!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Review of Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Or, Stop Sniffing Pillows and Get Back To the Plot

I had a lot of issues with this novel, which I had such high expectations for; proof that a beautiful cover does not equal beautiful writing. 

Gorgeous, Right?
 Writing a convincing time-travelling novel is no easy feat. There are a lot of complications in a time-travel plot (even J.K. Rowling did not do it to my satisfaction; why didn't Hermione just take a nap? Who would trust such a valuable tool to a 13 year old just so she can overload on courses?). 

Hermione, make better use of that thing!

Rather than focusing on uncomplicating a complicated plot feature, McEntire decided to distract from the plot to have Emerson fall in insta-love not once, not twice, but three times in the novel (Michael, Kaleb, Jack). Unfortunately an interesting "ghost" and time-travel story took backseat to a sub-par paranormal romance (wherein all the characters, regardless of age, talked and acted like worldly 35 year olds). 

I found it frustrating that all Emerson knows about Michael is that he's hot (anyone man who wears a tight all-black ensemble with motorcycle boots sounds like a an eye-roll), smells good (so much so that even in her darkest moments Emerson can be distracted by burying her face in his man-scented pillow) and rich (what kind of sophomore in college can afford two apartments, sports car and tux?) but she's willing to tell her traumatic story to him and trust him with her life? I question her judgement.

The only thing really binding Michael and Emerson together when they first meet is their mutual ability to see things they should not. These ghosts/rips/shadows of the past were the most interesting part of the plot line, and not nearly enough time was spent on them (not even in between heavy sighs and almost-kisses). Why do they disappear when Emerson touches them? How were these people chosen to be "rips"? Why aren't the rips scared of the horseless carriages or shocked to see such an inappropriately dressed female? In future books I would expect that the reason all of time is running parallel and the lines are starting to bleed together will be explained. Unfortunately Hourglass just didn't drive enough interest for me to finish the series.

Emerson doesn't take full advantage of talking with people of the past.
I'd have a lot of questions, personally.

On top of being dissatisfied with Emerson's tendency to be attracted to (and attractive to) every man with abs in the novel and a dissatisfying time travel plot (so why did Cat open the time warp again? And did they seriously just do the evil-villan thing of explaining all their evil plots? Villians! Word of advice: shoot first, explain later. You'll never be foiled that way.) but I could not stand Emerson as a character. I don't know if the author was southern, or just thought it would be quaint to set her novel in the south, but none of the characters complied with what I know to be basic southern behavior. The southern women I know are very hospitable, chivalrous, and polite. Southern charm is about making those around you feel at ease and I didn't get that sense even once from Emerson who proved to be one of the most selfish characters I have ever read. It was subtle, but still affronting to someone who was raised better. 

Let's note some of her offenses:

1) She was just hired for a new job (faulty and illegal hiring practice, by the way) and either left work early or simply no-showed every single time

2) Her brother and sister, who have essentially become her parents for the last 4 years, are having a kid and the best she can do it a muttering of "you'll be a great mom"?  Take some interest! Get excited over those baby clothes! As questions about how they'll design the baby room or what names they're thinking about choosing. I know this won't push the plot along, but it would make Emerson a more likable character.

3) You're a guest in someone else's home and you're just going to hop up and sit on their counter and eat their fruit as they slice it- and not even offer to help? That comes across as awfully rude to me.

4) The worst offense of all was SPOILER ALERT when a certain character died, Emerson could only think me, me, me. How could I possibly lose the man I've known for a whole week! In such a dramatic state that everyone in the house has to comfort Emerson. It doesn't even occur to Emerson that Kaleb has just lost his best friend and honorary brother. NO, let's just focus on Emerson's needs. END SPOILER

But that summarizes Emerson for me- a girl who can't see past herself and her own problems. That is not a character I can like and not a character I want to read more of.



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