Monday, June 28, 2010

A Fortuitous Find

I was escaping the 100 degree heat by hiding out in a used bookstore today. I like used bookstores because the books are cheaper (you'll remember that I am a cheap person), the people are friendly, and I can often find old favorites. Which is exactly what happened. You don't know this about me yet, but Vivian Vande Velde is one of my favorite authors. Her books are pretty much Middle Grade and the younger end of Young Adult. But I started reading her books when I was just a wee lass and her storytelling has always drawn me in; she has a way of making me FALL IN LOVE with both the protagonists and the love interest. I know some people are kind of lukewarm about her writing. Which is cool. We just can't be friends. (KIDDING).* Anyway, long story short, I don't own ANY of her books, despite loving almost all of them. But today I came across not one BUT TWO copies of The Rumplestiltskin Problem (Why do I need two? I don't know. But they were like $1).

Anyway, the book is six retellings of Rumplestiltskin, and my favorite is probably "Straw into Gold" which is about the miller's daughter, Della, and a noble, quiet elfin version of Rumplestiltskin who is oddly handsome. I also like this book because it's updated, but also has that old-timey fairy tale feel. AWESOME.

Have you ever run across a book you love in a place you didn't expect? What was it?

*I am kidding, promise. ^_^


Sunday, June 27, 2010

How Many Books Do YOU Read?

I just came across this article (from 2007, I know, I am so behind) that says one in four people read no books in 2006. Last year, I managed to read 36 books (which I know from looking around at some other blogs is like what some people read in a week) and it made me curious how many books ravenous readers generally plow through in a year. How many books did you read last year?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Guess What!

My attempt at using Artweaver! It is a mushroom house. I live there.

Book Review: Into the Forest

Into the Forest (1998) by Jean Hegland

Back Jacket: Eva, eighteen, and Nell, seventeen, are sisters, adolescents on the threshold of womanhood—and for them anything should be possible. But suddenly their lives are turned upside down, their dreams pushed into the shadows, as sickness and anarchy rage across a country on the brink of collapse. In a time of suspicion and superstition, of anger, hunger, and fear, Eva and Nell are left to forage through the forest, and their past, for the keys to survival. They must blaze a new path into the future as pioneers and pilgrims—not only creatures of the new world, but creators of it. Gripping and unforgettable, Into the Forest is a passionate and poignant tale of stirring sensuality and profound inspiration—a novel that will move you and surprise you and touch you to the core.

Review: I chose to review this book because even though I read it at the beginning of last year, it’s one of those books that had me thinking about it far longer than the time it took me to actually read it. Since dystopian novels are really popular right now, this fits nicely with the trends (though I'm not sure it's exactly dystopian)but might not be on readers’ radars (har har) given that it’s twelve years old.

What’s really powerful about this book is the way Hegland shows how Eva and Nell go from living like we do now (CD players, washing machines, Internet, microwaves) to living in hunger and fear and fighting for survival. Which makes it extra eerie, of course. She is a master at the slow build, where things just keep getting worse and worse and you are only vaguely aware of it until BLAM! You are the frog in the boiling water.

Hegland’s portrayal of the sisters is nuanced and precise, following them as they change and disagree and grow over time. It’s a powerful testament to the strength of sisterhood. As harrowing as this book is (AND IT IS HARROWING, I DO NOT LIE)* it’s also markedly hopeful. Narrated by Nell (she keeps a notebook), the writing is beautiful and quiet:

It’s strange, writing these first words, like leaning down into the musty stillness of a well and seeing my face peer up from the water—so small and from such an unfamiliar angle I’m startled to realize the reflection is my own. After all this time a pen feels stiff and awkward in my hand. And I have to admit that this notebook, with its wilderness of blank pages, seems almost more threat than gift—for what can I write here that will not hurt to remember?

You could write about now, Eva said, about this time. This morning I was so certain I would use this notebook for studying that I had to work to keep from scoffing at her suggestion. But now I see she may be right. Every subject I think of—from economics to meteorology, from anatomy to geography to history—seems to circle around on itself, to lead me unavoidably back to now, to here, today.

And this excerpt, which I thought was a striking example of character development combined with excellent writing:

Last week I read in the encyclopedia about an indigenous tribe in Baja for whom meat was such a rare delicacy that they would tie a string to a scrap of animal flesh so they could chew it, swallow it, and then haul it back up, to have the pleasure of chewing and swallowing again. I was embarrassed when I read that, because it reminded me of myself, unable to let go of anything more, unable to face even the smallest loss.

That just stands out, doesn’t it?

One of the most interesting concepts in the book is that of the “fugue.” Determined to continue her studies, Nell learns the term from an encyclopedia’s description of amnesia (which suggests that some amnesiacs begin a life unrelated to their previous one because they simply cannot remember) and uses the term to describe their state of no gas, no electricity, and no grocery stores as “the lost time between the two halves of our real lives.” By the end, however, Nell has a very different opinion of which part of life is actually the fugue state.

Conclusion: 4/5 This book is powerful and haunting and hopeful. It has several layers to it, and multiple dynamics throughout. Hegland deals with consumerism, family, sisters, our relationship to nature and one another, survival, and love. I bought this book on a whim from a little used bookstore (hello, bookstore!) so I’ll be keeping it around. I probably won’t re-read it (who needs to live through that terror and anxiety twice??) but it definitely stayed with me, the way really good books should. And that cover is gorgeous! You can read several pages at Amazon here.


*Don’t do what I did, which was to read Into the Forest (Jean Hegland), Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins), and Goldengrove (Francine Prose) one after another. It sent me into a panic. I’m actually not kidding; I had to walk around shaking off the nervous energy and try to calm myself down.

FTC: I'm not affiliated with the author, publisher, or other corporations associated with this product. This includes Amazon.

How Old is Too Old?

During a five hour drive, interrupted only by the dulcet tones of Justin Bieber, I got to thinking about ages in YA fiction. Specifically, age differences between the protagonist and her/his love interest (since I rarely read a book without at least a little romance!) Obviously there’s the example of Edward and Bella,* clocking in at 108 and 17, respectively. But when people nitpick Twilight, that is not generally the first thing they glom on to (at least in my experience). Perhaps it’s excused** by virtue of the fact that Edward is 1) a vampire and 2) looks perpetually seventeen.*** So when both characters are of a more mortal persuasion, how old is too old?

I guess, personally, I’m all right with a slightly older love interest. I think there’s a lot that can be done with that (and it might be more interesting to me now that I’m older??) But I know when I was sixteen I would not have felt comfortable dating a twenty year old. If the protagonist is sixteen or seventeen (as a lot of YA protags are), how large a gap are you comfortable with? 18? 19? 20? Older? And if you’re comfortable with nineteen but not twenty (or any other ages), what pushed it over the line? Does the line change if it’s a same-sex couple you’re reading about?


*Do I write about Twilight way too much?

**“Excused” is maybe not the word I’m looking for.

***If Edward didn’t look seventeen, would we be having a longer conversation about why an old, old man is dating Bella? (And pairings in other books as well, that I am perhaps not aware of at the moment).

****Could I HAVE more of these things? /carried away


P.S. The little box has been fixed. ^_^

Monday, June 21, 2010

How Did This Happen?: On Visiting Forks

You guys. After my last post talking about how I'm not a fan of the Twilight series, I traveled through Forks on my way to the Olympic rain forests of Washington. Of course I ended up stopping at their Dazzled by Twilight store. I have a friend who likes Twilight and thought I would pick her up a sticker or a magnet or a key chain (CAN YOU TELL I AM A CHEAP, CHEAP PERSON?) and I got kind of carried away. I don't know how it happened. But this was basically me:

I started thinking, "Well, I need to get something to commemorate the moment for myself, too. Ironically, of course. Hmmm, here's a nice mug! Oh, and look at that button, how funny! I should get this magnet, too."

I am not even kidding. I don't know why it happened, or how it happened. Or why I'm one of those people who thinks it's okay to buy something ironically. But I bought me some Twilight gear and have been lugging that crap around in the car for the past three days. I blame it on the fact that I was assaulted by all things Bella and Edward and beaten into a dribbling state of submission by the glittery cardboard cut-out of RPattz. Also, the black-lights made all the tags glow in the dark and KStew's cutout was skulking in the back and I turned into a fangirl. I'm afraid it's because there is a small, secret part of me that kind of likes Twilight even though I also am angry, angry, angry at it.

Forks itself was small and rainy and full of nice people. I'm glad they've been able to make Twilight work for them, even though I kind of wonder if some of them hate it. Secretly.

Have any of you been to Forks? Port Angeles? What was your experience like? Also, did anyone go on the Dazzled by Twilight tour? I didn't do it, but I wonder what it's like.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Review: The Book of Awesome

The Book of Awesome (2010) by Neil Pasricha

Inside Jacket: Sometimes it's easy to forget the things that make us smile. With a 24/7 news cycle reporting that the polar ice caps are melting, hurricanes are swirling in the seas, wars are heating up around the world, and the job market is in a deep freeze, it's tempting to feel that the world is falling apart. But awesome things are all around us--sometimes we just need someone to point them out. The Book of Awesome reminds us that the best things in life are free (yes, your grandma was right). With laugh-out-loud observations from award-winning comedy writer Neil Pasricha, The Book of Awesome is filled with smile-inducing moments on every page that make you feel like a kid looking at the world for the first time. Read it and you'll remember all the things there are to feel good about.

Review: While visiting Canada, I came across this book in a Chapters store (which is like a Barnes & Noble). It was on their "Perfect for Dads" display, but in my not so humble opinion (I'm kidding, I'm always humble)*, it's perfect for everyone. This book is a fantastic reminder of all the little things that make living life awesome. It's written in short snippets that are restricted to one awesome thing each. (Kind of like blog posts! Which is probably because it was inspired by Pasricha's blog, 1000 Awesome Things). It's perfect if you want a pick-me-up, because you can either enjoy it a page at a time or sit down and read for several joyful hours. Topics included are fixing electronics by smacking them, popping bubble wrap, and when cashiers open up new checkout lanes at the grocery store.

Bonus: The cover is uniquely rubbery and the letters kind of bump up. Hours of textured fun! I just sat there rubbing it until they made me buy it.**

Conclusion: I give this book a 4/5. I can definitely see myself returning to it to read particularly exceptional snippets and remind myself that simple things can be the best things. I'm aware that it's not fiction, and that it doesn't have a plot or characters, but it's lighthearted and funny and will make you FEEL GOOD ABOUT LIFE. Which makes this book AWESOME.

*Don't believe things you read on the Internets!
**I am kidding, I don't do things like that. >.>

FTC: I'm not affiliated with the author, publishers or other corporations associated with this book. This includes Chapters.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Just a Quick Note...

Posting will be limited, due to a family vacation. I'll be back soon, with lots to talk about!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why I'm Grateful for Twilight (Even Though I Don't Like It)

For those who know me IRL, it is no secret that I have been nursing a distaste for all things Twilight over the past four years. Originally, I read the series and enjoyed it--to some extent. But every time I closed the back cover of each successive book, I was left unsettled. I had the sense that something was not right about the books. I quickly pinpointed several things contributing to the issue: First, Edward was abusive. Second, there was a part of him--and I didn't know how large that part might be--that reinforced things like The Patriarchy and rape culture. Third, he was portrayed as a swoon-inducing romantic with whom Bella was somehow IRREVOCABLY IN LOVE.*

Often, it makes me feel something like this:

So why am I grateful for Twilight? I am grateful because it brings all sorts of issues that I am interested in (gender, race, class, feminism, power) into discussions about other things that I am interested in (books! YA! Pop Culture!). Twilight is probably the biggest cultural phenomenon I've witnessed in my life time (well, Harry Potter, but that was different, even though I'm not quite sure how. Was it not as...rampant?) So having Twilight bring issues like gender and power into the mainstream is AWESOME. It's given me many hours of quiet fun (just like coloring books!) and reading all the blogs and discussion boards written by smart, hilarious, thoughtful people gets me so excited!**

Twilight has also made YA books a big deal again--which increases the chances of really awesome books being found and read, right? (I hope, I hope, I hope).

So, in some ways, Twilight also makes me feel like this:

Thoughts? Agree or disagree, I'd love to hear from you!


*This refers to the (famous?) quote from the back of Twilight.
Including, but certainly not limited to cleolinda, Seduced by Twilight and feministing posts. More recent ones include a post at in which a girl reads.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review: Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine, Called Birdy (1994) by Karen Cushman

Back Cover: “Corpus Bones! I utterly loathe my life.” Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man—any rich man, no matter how awful. By wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call—by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all. Unfortunately, he is also the richest. Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, piglike lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father? Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!

Review: The year is 1290, and Catherine is fourteen. She loathes spinning and sewing, likes birds and Perkin the goat boy, and will tolerate writing an account of her days if it frees her from the torture of stitchery.

Catherine is a force to be reckoned with. Every time I’ve read this book, I love Catherine more. She is real, relatable, and far from perfect. Her dramatic personality and cleverness are immediately apparent, even in just the first two sentences:

12th day of September

I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.

Cushman is a master with the diary-entries. They are never boring, and she expertly weaves necessary exposition into Catherine’s humorous accounts without ever making it obvious or losing momentum, as in this passage:

24th day of September

The stars and my family align to make my life black and miserable. My mother seeks to make me a fine lady—dumb, docile, and accomplished—so I must take lady-lessons and keep my mouth closed. My brother Edward thinks even girls should not be ignorant, so he taught me to read holy books and to write, even though I would rather sit in an apple tree and wonder. Now my father, the toad, conspires to sell me like a cheese to some lack-wit seeking a wife.

What makes this clodpole suitor anxious to have me? I am no beauty, being sun-browned and gray-eyed, with poor eyesight and a stubborn disposition. My family holds but two small manors. We have plenty of cheese and apples but no silver or jewels or boundless acres to attract a suitor.

Corpus bones! He comes to dine with us in two days’ time. I plan to cross my eyes and drool in my meat.

The book is light-hearted and fast, but that doesn’t make the reader any less invested in Catherine’s well-being. When the stakes are raised by the gruesome suitor from the north, my reaction every time is “NOOOO, GROSS, GET IT AWAY, CATHERINE YOU CAN DO THIS, COME ON!”

One of the reasons I like this book so well is because Catherine is such a strong character. She is multi-faceted, and develops and changes over the course of the book in believable ways. Her ingenious schemes to keep suitors away (and the way she describes them) are often ROFL-worthy.

This book is probably considered Middle Grade, but it would be a tragedy to miss it, no matter your age.

Conclusion: This book is excellent. It is well-written, memorable, and Catherine’s unique voice makes it stand out in the crowd. 5/5 FOR BEING AWESOME. (Click here for an overview of my rating policy).


P.S. You can read several pages at Amazon.

FTC: I am in no way affiliated with the author, publishers, or other corporations associated with this product. This includes Amazon.