Monday, December 31, 2012

Arabian Nights...Fairy Tale Adaptions

The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey is about Shahrazad, the legendary storyteller of a thousand tales that astounded a king and stayed his hand from murdering her. Although most of us are familiar with the stories, Aladdin, Ali Baba, Simbad, no one knows the story of the king and the woman who enchanted him with her wit and voice. Until now…

Here is the story of a King who was betrayed by the woman he loved and turned his heart to stone so he would never love again. In his anger, he declared that he would take a bride every night and kill her at dawn. What he did not anticipate was that a woman would present herself who would make him question himself and his convictions.

Shahrazad is a beautiful young woman who turned away from a world who did not accept her, but who possesses a rare gift that saves many lives. If she can save the king, she might also be able to find love herself.

Dokey’s story is written as if it were being told by a storyteller, that storyteller being a much older Shahrazad. This was a fun nuance in the book that I enjoyed. It is a very short read and that has value, but at the same time, I found it hard to believe that the couple would fall for each other so quickly. The Arabian Nights are 1001 tales and the book was barely 200 pages long! A bit more story would have been preferable given the depth and richness of the tales the storyteller relates. Given the length and the complexity of the original story, I think Dokey did a decent job with this novel even though it was short.

You will fly through this book, so be prepared with another. If you enjoy Dokey’s short novels and alternative takes on fairytales, try Beauty Sleep, a retelling of “The Sleeping Beauty”. Gail Carson Levine is also a wonderful author who writes fairy tale adaptions and fantasy books.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Manly Classics...Beer and Bulls

Ernest Hemingway. That name stirs up thoughts of Key West, drinking, and misogynistic bastards. Oops did I just say that? Well anyone who knows anything about Hemingway probably knows he isn’t exactly kind or favorable to his two dimensional women.

Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises is about hedonistic ex-pats living in Paris. Our main character is Jake, a newspaper writer. This was Hemingway’s first novel and as with the other novel I read, seems kind of useless. Things happen, but with emotions that linger beneath the surface and thoughts that are never spoken. Hemingway uses his words sparingly, and sometimes it makes the story seem pointless.
The characters are complicated. What they want, where they come from, why they are who they are is never explained. The reader is thrown into their lives and is taken through their current daily happenings. All the characters seem to do is drink and party. They travel all the time and have lovers, some sort of writing careers, and are almost unbelievable. The thing that saved them for me was all of their flaws. One of the men was not particularly popular with the group. Most of them had money troubles, yet continued to spend. They were all overly indulgent with liquor, but seemed to know how to enjoy a good wine and a fabulous meal.

Hemingway’s writing style is stark. He was not one to over explain or get overly detailed. This is what he is known for. He was a newspaper writer prior to being a novelist, and one can see the influence of that profession upon his novel writing. Get to the point and don’t be overly wordy about it, seems to be his motto. The events and things that Hemingway does emphasize are significant to him. These are the things that are important to life; appreciating a good wine, a sporting event, the sun and sand on a beach.
As for the recurring woman in this book, she’s not much to call home about. Brett is a heart breaker and someone who doesn’t seem to care who she hurts as long as she gets her way. She’s a bitch. Her relationship with the men in the novel is complicated. She has been intimate with at least two of these men and then goes on trips and meets other men, yet she is engaged. I did not understand how she functioned and why her behavior was so confusing. Why would her fiancĂ© remain with her when she publicly goes off with other men? Why would she stay in the relationship when she is involved with other men and says she is in love with Jake and he with her? She isn’t realistic. The thing is she actually was based on a woman in Hemingway’s life. As much as I hear Hemingway is a misogynist, his novels always seem to focus around a woman. Maybe he doesn’t understand the female sex, but he sure does enjoy their presence and writing about them.

Jake is a good ole boy. He’s easy going and adventurous. He’s a man who seems to make friends easily and knows what he wants. Jake is always helping Brett out of her complicated situations, which was another one of my annoyances. Brett, for all her independence, was unable to function without a man at her side. Hemingway’s men are men. They have emotions and will be private with their sentiments, but are adventurous, drinkers, and love taking life by the throat. However, most of them, as stated before, don’t have themselves together.
This novel is known for the bullfighting. Jake and his friends travel to Pamplona for the annual fiesta and running of the bulls, an event that still occurs to this day and my father won’t let up on my sister about not seeing when she was in Spain. Anywho, this is where some characteristic violence enters the scene and Hemingway’s testosterone does a manly dance (I couldn't explain said dance to you, but I hope you know a man who dances and can base your manly dance on him). Description of the bull fights, the matadors, and violence on the scene, although not grotesque, are finally talked about towards the end of the novel. I suppose I expected a bit more emphasis on the bull fighting since I thought this was a novel about that subject.

Hemingway was one of his own characters or his characters were him. Whereas many authors’ novels are more enjoyable and adventurous than the author was themselves, Hemingway is known to be everything and more that he wrote about. He lived a full life of adventure, love affairs, violence, and in the end tragedy. Hemingway believed in writing the truth, so all of his novels are based on real life events or people.
If you enjoy the straight to the point style that Hemingway crafted, Joan Didion has a similar sparse style. If you’re looking for more of the man-man writing that is so fundamentally Hemingway, try The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. This is a novel about a soldier’s emotional and physical well-being during the American Civil War. Crane was also a journalist, but his style is more detailed than Hemingway.

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Poetry as Medicine

I always find myself running to poetry whenever I have some sort of deep hurt. Novels fail me because they are too drawn out and I want a quick remedy. Poetry gets to the point and I have to concentrate on the words to pick out meaning and meter. In this way, it’s a small respite for my sore heart. O how poetic of me.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
So off the book shelf flew T.S. Eliot, Robert Browning, and Victorian poetry. I scrounged through Eliot, but found that although masterful at his craft and a favorite, he was not what the doctor ordered. I then turned to Browning and although he has many poems that would work, I did not feel like scrounging through the dense volume to find something. So onto my Victorian poetry anthology. And it was Tennyson who caught my eye. His ‘In Memoriam’ is a series of poems about his dear friend who passed away. Actually it’s one very long poem made up of 133 cantos. The poem tracks Tennyson’s grief for over a decade. It took him a while to write. It is a beautiful requiem to his friend and one can see the stages of grief he goes through by reading some of the cantos.

I found solace in the cantos. The questioning of fate and God, the acceptance of loss, the anger at loss, the sorrow and hurt all encapsulated in these verses is so lyrical and beautiful that one cannot help but feel they've never known pain in the way Tennyson felt the loss of his friend. Basically, the poem was just the punch I needed to realize my hurt is not great, my pain is not uncommon, but loss is loss and all suffer it in one form or another.

Poetry can be tedious and hard to understand, but poetry is like a shot of alcohol. You don’t pussy foot around; you just get straight to the damned point. The difference being that you have to be able to pick out the meaning of a poem, whereas a shot is pretty self-explanatory.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holiday Reading: Christmas!

The holiday fiction reading display is out at the library, thus it is time to start reading Christmas books. Well I’m not much of a cozy reads kind of person, but I decided that for my seasonal reading project I would read one of those heartwarming cheesy holiday books. So who should I choose other than the unofficial storyteller of Christmas, Debbie Macomber! And within that frame of reference, I went for Mrs. Miracle.

Seth and Reba are two people dealing with tragedy and hurt in their lives. These are old festering wounds that neither are able to move on from. Seth is the father of two young twin boys, whose mother died four years ago. The twins moved back in with Seth after staying with their grandparents following their mother’s death. Seth is trying to learn how to be a single father, but is having lots of issues. It doesn't help that every housekeeper quits on him and the agency is all out of options for new ones to send. Reba owns her own travel agency, but her hurt comes from the betrayal of her sister and loss of her former fiance, which happened four years ago. These two broken people might have remained hurt if not for the saving grace of one spirited and oddly knowing housekeeper.

Mrs. Miracle arrives on Seth’s doorstep to be his new housekeeper, and automatically the children take to her. Things start looking up from their and a relationship that neither Seth nor Reba saw coming suddenly starts spinning itself into existence.

My reaction to this book upon first opening it was “Wow, this is a Hallmark movie in book form”. As a matter of fact, they did make it into a Hallmark movie, so I was right. The characters' flaws are obvious, but they are loving good people all the same. The story is transparent and everything falls into place a little too perfectly. All in all, it’s not believable, but who wants believable this time of year? These books aren't made to be believable, they’re made so that you feel warm and snugly inside. Sometimes you just need something that goes right in this chaotic world, and books like Mrs. Miracle provide an outlet for a happy ending. Although there may be tragic circumstances that happened in the past and drama during the book, these books aren't violent or shocking. Mrs. Miracle also has Christian themes running throughout it. There are a couple of side stories that are attached to the main story within Mrs. Miracle and I thought they were fun to read and provided some diversity to the book.

I must say I didn't care for the characters because they were unrealistic. Sure they had problems and issues, but they said the right things all the time and provided the perfect amount of drama while making up for their shortcomings in the end. Another thing I found unbelievable was that all the other housekeepers thought the twins were so out of control, and this one woman, within an hour, calms them down. Honestly, they didn't seem any more rowdy than other seven year old boys, so why are housekeepers who are used to working with children having such a problem?

All in all, Mrs. Miracle is good for what it is, a potato chip read. It’s doesn't have any nutritional content, but it can be so yummy. This is a nice little story about forgiveness and family, all surrounded by the Christmas holiday. If you want something with Christian undertones about family and Christmas this is a quick and easy choice. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holiday Reading: Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a fantastic holiday. You gather to enjoy a delectable meal (so long as whoever cooks it is a good cook), you relax, watch football or movies, and give thanks for what you have. No worries about buying presents or having to prepare more than just the meal. It’s truly a lovely holiday.

Well for Thanksgiving, the first book I read was An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott. Alcott, the author of Little Women, sets a quaint scene of family life in early 1800s New Hampshire. The Bassett’s are in the midst of preparing for the Thanksgiving feast that will occur the next day. The girls help their mother cook, while the boys do chores and care for the animals. Suddenly, mother gets word that her mother has become very ill and she must rush away with Papa to be by her side. This leaves the children alone at the house with the oldest child being 16 year old Eph and 14 year old Tilly in charge of all the kids. Now unlike today’s children who would probably run rampant, these children do their chores and maintain the house. The next day, Tilly decides to continue with the Thanksgiving feast anyway because Papa is supposed to be coming home for dinner. Thus her and the girls start cooking their mother’s recipes from memory, which, of course, ends up being a bit of a culinary adventure.

This is a sweet story. It gives the reader a descriptive sense of home life during the time and introduces a loving family. The story reminded me a bit of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories in the Little House on the Prairie series. The way the family divvies up chores and interacts with one another is similar to Wilder’s accounts. It’s always fascinating to me to hear about how people lived when they had to make most things themselves and live a self-sustaining life. This is a very short account of that.

The story is about fifteen pages long, so yes it is very short. Think of this as a good story to tell your children on the Eve of Thanksgiving. It’s warm and easy to get through. Some of the language is outdated, but remember this takes place in the early 1800s and was written in the 1800s, so it’s no wonder some vocabulary and syntax are old fashioned.

If you enjoy adorable things and family events, then sit down for 20 minutes and read this story. If you regret it, it was only 20 minutes!

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Different Kind of Alyss

I’m coming to the realization that I love fantasy fiction. I do not like giving myself that title, because I lump fantasy in with sci-fi and I don’t enjoy sci-fi. But I love fairies, magical lands, and fairytale-esque storylines. The little princess in me screams for her dresses and Prince Charming. ClichĂ©? Yes I know. Actually I prefer the magic and adventure over the marrying, but sometimes a little romance is fun too.  

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor is my latest fantasy read. Based on Lewis’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Beddor takes the idea of Wonderland to a whole new level. Actually this book is a combination of fantasy and sci-fi, but we’ll get to that later.

Alyss Heart’s seventh birthday is quite the celebration in wonderland. The Princess who will one day secede to the throne of Wonderland is beloved by the people and shows a lot of promise as a practitioner of imagination, but her Aunt Redd has other plans. The rival sister to the queen, Redd has been in exile because of her practice of black imagination, but she has built up her forces and on Alyss’s seventh birthday, Redd overthrows her sister and takes control of Wonderland. Alyss witnesses her mother’s death and barely gets out with her own life. The only way for Alyss to survive is to takeher chances in another world with Hatter, her mother’s body guard. But things go terribly wrong and Alyss and Hatter lose each other. Alyss ends up on the streets in Victorian England, while Hatter makes it his mission to find her. In Wonderland, things are going poorly with Redd’s rule, but after many years, Alyss finally makes her way back to Wonderland. She must learn once again how to wield her powers and stop Redd.

Beddor created a Wonderland that is both magical and technical. The card soldiers and more like robots and there are a lot of devices that fall into the sci-fi aspect of fiction. The story is interesting to see the twist from Victorian children’s fiction to what Alyss’s reality was in Wonderland. The characters were a little shallow for me. Motives and desires were easy to see and I didn’t feel there is a lot of depth to their personalities. The story is engaging and adventurous. It is a storyline that has been done hundreds of times before. Bad guy takes over and reeks havoc, so hero must step up to right things.

All in all, this is an easy read and entertaining. It is the first and a triology along with having offshoots of graphic novels devoted to Hatter. I am not itching to read the next two books, but I may pick them up at some point.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Holiday Reading: Halloween

Well Halloween is a couple weeks gone and we are well into the Thanksgiving hype, but I need to talk about my holiday read for Halloween. This year I read Death Makes a Holiday: a cultural history of Halloween by David J. Skal.

This is a book of essays about different events, history, and paraphernalia of Halloween as we know it today. There were essays on events like, the candy man, Halloween parades, horror films, and haunted houses, along with a short history of the holiday and how witches came to be a symbol of Halloween. All the essays were informative, entertaining, and researched. Skal makes it easy to get into the spirit and see this spooky holiday from an industry and eerie perspective.

I have read other nonfiction books on Halloween and its origins, but this book focuses on the current celebration of Halloween while nodding its head at where we derived these traditions from. I thought the book was fresh and fun.

For those of you who are Halloween lovers or enjoy reading about societal trends, this is a good choice

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Casual Vacancy

O my dear friends. How very much I want to tell you how much I loved JK Rowling’s new book The Casual Vacancy, but alas I never finished it. Rowling, as I’m sure you all know, is the author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling wanted to venture outside of the children/teen book sphere to a new arena…ADULTS! Thus she wrote her first adult book The Casual Vacancy.

 The town of Pagford recently lost of member of its council. Barry Fairbrother died leaving the town in shock at his untimely departure and a spot open on the council. Pagford, supposedly a lovely little town, is now undergoing a war with itself. Who will get the spot on the council and change the fates of Pagford?

 What I expected was something sort of cutesy. A small town life with some cranky neighbors shaking their fists at each other, but still baking pies for the neighborhood bake sale. O no, no. Silly me. Rowling is a real writer. Although I did not finish the book, I can tell you that she holds strong and proves that she can certainly make the leap from children’s to adults’.

 Pagford is thought of as an idyllic hamlet by some of the people who live there. It’s tucked away behind hills and has a monastery to boast of. But the town is divided. Real life has intruded on the picturesque surroundings and low cost housing developments have driven in some not so savory new neighbors. There are those on the council who want nothing more than to kick out these loafers and see their town restored to its former glory. Yet others, like the late Barry Fairbrother, don’t want to kick out a whole set of people just because they don’t meet certain standards. The story is complicated and Rowling outlines, underlines, and sheds light on her characters in all their glory and ugliness. Rowling shows the humanness of these people and gives the reader an almost objective look at the lives of the townies. Rowling does not back off from the ugly aspects of life and the human psyche. No one is a saint because there are no saints in life. People can be mean and bad, even if they have a smiling face and friendly demeanor.

 I did not get through this book because it is a tedious read. Capping in at 512 pages, the book was not picking up for me after the first 100 pages, so I decided to let it go to patrons who were waiting for it. I like a book that is character-driven, but that felt like all this book was, driven by characters. Nothing else was happening. Maybe it picks up, but I hit my wall and backed away. Again, if you like character driven books and you’re not afraid to put some time in and be confronted with reality, please, please, please read this (then tell me what happens).

 Sorry to disappoint with a non-fully read review, but I still wanted to state my opinion on the piece.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Always Blame the Husband..."Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

On their five year anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife, Amy, goes missing. The police are phoned and Nick cooperates with them as much as he can, but his lack of emotion about his wife’s disappearance seems a bit fishy. Coinciding with Nick’s account of the disappearance, Amy’s diary tells the story of the couple’s meeting, engagement, and marriage. At the end, Amy does not paint a pretty picture of their marriage. What really comes into play is the reaction from the media and how quickly they blame Nick and jump on top of the coverage. This book tells the story of a couple who seemed so perfect for each other, but had lately fallen into dire straits and a husband who cannot seem to tell the truth and is suspected of his wife’s murder.

The chapters in Gone Girl alternate between narrating from Nick or Amy’s perspective, so the reader hears both sides of the story, but one must question if the narrator is a reliable source. Split into three sections, the book frustrated me in the first and densest section. Nick comes off as cold, unfeeling, and an ass. Amy seems intelligent and likeable if not a little stuck up. Their relationship was falling to pieces according to Nick’s discussion of it, and Amy’s diary paints a picture of Nick as miserly and threatening towards the end. This is a toxic relationship and it was difficult to read. I hated the first section because the way it depicted marriage made me question if anyone should get married. How well do you really know your partner anyway? Their marriage sucked the life out of me and I dragged my feet through section 1.

However, this book took a turn for me in sections 2 and three. They are shorter and read faster. A lot of action and incident happen within these parts instead of just interior dialogue and relationship building/deconstructing. These sections made the book click together and create a unique and interesting plot. The ending will leave you wondering what will happen in the future and perhaps with a bit of frustration.

This might be a love/hate book, but I didn’t love or hate it (except for the first section, which I did not like). Flynn writes her characters well. You feel what they feel and get frustrated over their actions. The intelligence of them rolls off the page and I enjoyed the level of language they used.

Although not going to become a literary classic, this is an extremely popular book at the moment and like other good books, it sticks with you after you’ve closed the back cover. I’d recommend this to people who enjoy a good suspense story

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


While perusing the children’s section a few weeks ago, up popped The Squampkin Patch by JT Petty with a Halloween sticker on the spine and a bunch of pumpkins on the cover. How can an autumn/Halloween lover resist? She can’t. That’s the surprising answer (I know, you’re shocked).  I took it home with me, let it sit around for a week, started reading and then trudged through.

The Squampkin Patch is the story of the Nasselrogt children whose parents go missing in a department store, so the two end up in an orphanage. As fictional orphanages go, this one is pretty typical, save for the fact that the head of the orphanage makes the children work in his zipper factory. Well, Milton and Chloe refuse to become zipper factory workers, so they run away and end up in a small town. There they discover the Argyle house and bakery which are now abandoned, and an extensive pumpkin patch. As Chole and Milton get acquainted with the house and the neighbors, they stumble upon the previous owner’s journal called “The Pumpkin/Chocolate Trials”. From reading, the children discover that the pumpkin patch is actually a squampkin patch, a hybrid pumpkin and squash variety. But the patch seems to purr, and move. There are strange events surrounding the patch. On Halloween night, the children discover that the patch is not only growing, but coming to life and after them.

The writing is indicative of Lemony Snicket’s writing in The Series of Unfortunate Events. The narrator is a bit pompous and, at the beginning, defines words for you. The writing has the stuck up air of Snicket’s works, and considering I’m not a fan of his series, I was not thrilled when I began reading JT Petty’s work. Although I must admit that the book is written well and I think it challenges kids. Milton and Chloe are children that you feel you could meet anywhere and they were easy to read about, but I was not attached to them. The story itself was multifaceted, but I was not compelled by it. My favorite part about the book was that at the bottom of each page was a drawing of a growing squampkin and it was a flip book, so that you could “watch” it grow.

The book was fine, but I almost just put it aside because I did not find the story intriguing and there was not enough mystery and superstition as what I anticipated. If you like The Series of Unfortunate Events, maybe JT Petty’s work will appeal to you, but for me, I’ll avoid it in the future. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wicked Witch and Cozy Mysteries

Happy October! O goody my favorite month of the year! Fall leaves, chilly weather, pumpkins, hearty soups, HALLOWEEN!! It’s such a lovely and homey time of year. This year I decided to create a reading project for myself. I will read books corresponding with different holidays and seasons. The project was inspired by another friend who is currently reading books about all different religions. I decided to read about how people celebrate the seasons and get myself revved up for the changes and festivities.

Well seeing as autumn and Halloween are two of my favorite seasons/celebrations, I was all too ready to jump into fall/Halloween themed books. The superstition and magic surrounding Halloween are what always make me feel like a kid again, so this holiday I am ready to keep the spirit alive and learn a little about Halloween and harvest.

Wicked Witch Murder by Leslie Meier was my first seasonal read. Lucy Stone is a small town Maine newspaper reporter, mother, and small time sleuth. In this novel, Lucy must find a murderer, plan the Halloween party, and keep up with her reporting. Over the summer the town acquired a witch. Lucy first meets Diana, the Wiccan priestess, when she goes with some girlfriends to get their fortunes read. What Diana reads in the cards, Lucy blows off as mere superstition and guessing, but the cards never lie and soon, Lucy finds that Diana might have been onto something. A burnt body is found in the woods and nobody knows who the killer is, but Lucy’s neighbor, Ike, sure seems ready to blame Diana for all the trouble in town. In a time when we like to think of ourselves as civilized and above silly superstition and judgment, Lucy soon finds that the town may be on a witch hunt!

The “Lucy Stone Mysteries”, as Meier’s series is called is classified as gentle reads or, since this is a mystery, cozy mysteries. Think of it like “Murder She Wrote”, that great ‘90s TV show with Angela Lansbury. There’s a quaint small town with an adorable downtown area, friendly neighbors, and a main character that is affable and recognizable. Hey, she goes to farmers’ markets just like I do! Cozy mysteries involve some sort of a crime, an amateur crime solver, typically, and a charming location. Cozies don’t involve violence, or gore. They usually talk about home life and make you feel warm and fuzzy, making them perfect fall/winter reads.

Meier’s Wicked Witch Murder has all the elements of a cozy mystery. Lucy is easy for the reader to sympathize with. She holds down a job while being a mother and wife. The town is cute and picturesque. The mystery propels the story along and allows for other plots to be pursued. There was enough talk about magic and Wicca to make it a fall book, but if you are looking for something more focused on autumn and Halloween, this may be a bit off. I learned a few things about the Wiccan religion, but seeing as it's autumn, I wish it were set in fall instead of from summer into fall. 

All in all, the book is enjoyable for those looking for something light and easy. The mystery was not terribly intriguing or riveting, so if you are a true mystery lover, this might be too tame for you.

If you enjoy this book, another similar book also about a witch and Halloween, is Blackwork by Monica Ferris. If you like cozy mysteries, some popular authors are Rita Mae Brown, M.C. Beaton, and JoanneFluke.

Well onward and upward toward Halloween! 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dropping in on Jane Eyre: A Science Fiction book with a literary backbone

Set in an alternate reality during the 1980s, Thursday Next , is part of the government’s Literatec SpecOps team. You see in this version of England, literature is not just admired by a few, but fought over. Hordes of Baconists, those who believe Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays, act like Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on people’s doors to promote their cause. Criminals attempt to reproduce original copies of works or forge never before released poems by Byron and Shelly on a daily basis. Baroque-ists, Reformists, and Renaissance-ians fight against modernists. Thursday is part of the unit protecting literature and keeping counterfeits off the street.

 A mass murderer, thief and most wanted criminal with unknown powers, Acheron Hades, decides not only to steal original manuscripts of revered English literature, but also use a newly invented Prose Portal to travel into the books, steal characters and change the narratives forever. Thursday is recruited by a higher level team to help catch him because she’s the only person who knows what he looks like. Way leads to way, and Thursday ends up chasing Acheron across England and Wales, through time, and into novels.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is a crossover novel; it spans genes, as a lot of novels tend to do. This one is very intriguing to me, however. At my library, it is in the mystery section. The novel is a police procedural with a detective at its heart, but in my humble opinion, the Sci-Fi aspect trumps the mystery aspect. Without the science fiction aspects, this novel would not exist. Time travel, strange powers, and an alternate reality are essential to the life of this novel. You could take out Thursday being a detective, and the novel could still stand on its own two legs.

Being that I’m not much of a Sci-Fi kind of person, I did not stumble upon this title on my own. It was on the top of a Sci-Fi booklist (another one of the lists my coworkers and I competed over, I lost) and it was about Jane Eyre and literature. I was immediately intrigued. Let me tell you right off the bat that this is not for everyone. It’s not a beginner’s novel. One needs some prior knowledge and tastes to appreciate it.  First, you should at least tolerate science fiction. Second, you need to appreciate police procedurals. Lastly, you need to have an understanding of English literature. At the very least know a bit about Shakespeare and Jane Eyre. See?! It’s a bit demanding.

Personally I was a bit confused by some of the time travel aspects. Other than that I followed along and found it enjoyable. Thursday is a fun character. She’s tough, but personable. The master criminal, Hades, is decidedly evil, but very fun to watch in action. There’s action, a love interest, and intrigue outside of the main plot. Everything a good novel needs. I found myself reading this at a leisurely pace. It wasn’t my favorite mostly because of the sci-fi aspects, but I’m also not huge into police procedurals.

This is a novel I would suggest, but the crowd I’d give this to is a rather defined group (see list above). This is the first in The “ThursdayNext” series. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Banned Books Video

Here's the Banned Books video I helped create for my library.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Speak"ing about Banned Books

Perfect timing for a banned book seeing as September 30-October 6 is Banned Books Week!

As a high schooler, one is forced to read all sorts of books; textbooks, classics, assigned reading, and papers/articles galore. It gets tiring and you resent all these books, even if, like me, you adore reading. So when you grow up and you see an assigned reading book that you never had to read, a little light goes off in your brain: DO NOT READ. The book was probably boring or preachy. There’s a reason it was on a syllabus and it wasn’t because teachers thought kids would want to read it.

While having a small competition between myself and my coworkers on who read the most books off of several different reading lists (top banned books, top YA novels, etc.), I noticed that Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was on a couple lists. Now I’m a secretly competitive person (I lose a lot, so I pretend that I don’t really care about competitions) and I was upset that I missed out on marking this book off while everyone else got it because it was assigned. It also sounded like an interesting book, so I decided to read it. A coworker lent me her copy and I dug in.

Imagine walking in to a high school cafeteria and having no one to sit with. Not only do you have no one to sit with, but your best friends hate you, and other high schoolers who don’t even know you hate you, all for the wrong reasons. If only they knew the truth. Melinda is not about to tell anyone the truth about that terrible night she was raped and no one is reaching out to her anyway, so she stays clamed up. While other ninth graders are making new friends, getting asked out, and figuring out the rest of their lives, Melinda is trying to keep herself together by disconnecting from her old life. She observes , hides, and keeps quiet. Her grades fall, her parents get mad at her, and yet none of it fazes her. She has greater demons to deal with.

Speak is a darkly humorous, poignant piece that addresses a horrific event through the eyes of the victim. Anderson creates a character who is real, scarred, eccentric, confused, hurt, and haunted. Melinda is not a melodramatic character. She deals with the rape as many people deal with tragic events they don’t know how to address; she holes up inside herself.

The novel was well done. It was a very quick, compelling read. The book is meant for the YA audience and does a great job of not skirting around the issue. Speak has been challenged at high schools and libraries across the nation for the reference to the rape. An associate professor from Missouri State University called this book “soft porn” because of the scene dealing with the rape. That statement is completely outrageous to me. There is nothing pornographic about the way Anderson writes about the rape and it is disgusting that anyone would think of the rape as “soft porn”. This isn’t a lurid romance novel with details about everything that happened. And if this man thinks that addressing the issue of rape and talking about assault is “soft porn” he needs help. Denying children and teens books that talk about subjects that are uncomfortable or unhappy is to deny them those emotions. We are supposed to feel hurt, let down, depressed, enraged and you cannot shield a person from tragedy. It is a part of life and at least fiction gives children a way to see how others deal with these emotions and lets them know they are not alone and it is natural to have emotions.

I’m a librarian, so my responsibility is to give the public the freedom to explore, seek their interests, do work, and gain access to the world of information and keep their pursuits private. Shutting down avenues for people to explore denies the public freedom of information and I’m against that. Do I think that certain materials don’t belong in the library? Sure. Porn has no place in a public setting. But I don’t believe that novels and information that some people disapprove of should be taken out to please those few. If we suddenly start denying entrance of materials because of challenges to them, where would the library be? Where would the public go to seek information? Religious books and writings would be banned because one religion disagrees with the other. All sorts of novels would be taken away, books about sexuality or even anatomy because they show nudity, biographies about controversial people, etc, etc. There is no end to the banning and challenging once you open that door.

I just ranted for a while there. So deep breath! All in all Speak was a great example of powerful young adult literature. I highly recommend it.

 Now go practice your right to read! Happy Banned Books Week!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Plantagenets

Philippa Gregory is known for her historical fiction. Many people know about her because of “The Other Boleyn Girl” a book that became a movie, but she found her nitch in the historical fiction arena, with a focus on English monarchs, more accurately, the women behind the crown.

In The White Queen, Gregory explores the Plantagenet’s, an extended family of English royals and wanna be royals who fought for the crown for years on end, brother against brother and cousin against cousin. In these civil wars known as the War of the Roses, the Lancasters, the red rose, and the Yorks, the white rose, both claimed their family should inherit the throne. Thus begins a war for power.

The White Queen refers to Elizabeth Woodville, a widow who becomes the queen of England by marrying Edward of York. Elizabeth is a descendant of a water goddess, Melusina, and the story weaves this tale throughout it. The magic and Sight that Elizabeth and her mother have are a big part of who they are and their power. It makes for two very independent, for the time, intriguing women. At a time when being called a witch could easily get you killed, Elizabeth, the queen, was proud of her magical lineage and her mother was a proclaimed witch. These are some ballsy women! If you don’t know the myth/legend of Melusina, there are some interesting poems and stories about this mermaid-esque woman who gave up her magic and essence for a mortal man she fell in love with, and this story makes a beautiful juxtaposition with Elizabeth's story.

Elizabeth is a strong woman willing to fight for the man she loves, her family, and her children’s inheritance. Throughout the book you see her grow in ambition and courage, even while she loses and is shamed.

Plots, murder, and war are central to the story. The reader gets a sense of the unease and rockiness of the time period when family cannot be trusted and even in times of peace and harmony, someone is plotting to overthrow the king.

Gregory is a historian. She does her research and weaves as much of the “reality” of the situations in with her own style. Seeing as these events took place over 600 years ago, the records are a bit hazy and there isn’t much information. Gregory admits that she fictionalized a lot of it, but based many of the plots, overthrows, and speculations off of popular theory and what records indicate.

I dove into this book with gusto. The storytelling is beautifully done and engaging. Gregory writes healthy sized books (400 pages), which can be intimidating to me, but I enjoyed reading about the drama and plots. However, I found that around page 300, I started slacking a bit. The plotting, overthrow, and instability during this period becamet overwhelming. Why can’t we all just be friends!? The ending left the book open for sequels, and guess what, there are currently four books in what has come to be called, "The Cousins’ War" series. I look forward to reading the next book, The Red Queen, but think I’ll give myself some time in between.

If you are into historical fiction, you should certainly check out Philippa Gregory. She has made a name for herself with this genre and for good reason. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Urban Witchery

“Once a Witch” by Carolyn MacCullough

Tamsin is a normal girl in a family of witches. She’s an outcast in a family of outcasts. Her grandmother predicted that Tamsin would change the fate of her family and would be the most powerful witch in generations, but it seems she was wrong. Luckily, Tamsin goes to boarding school in New York City and can at least be among people like her, those without Talent, and away from a family that makes her feel lacking. But with the family’s ancestral home in upstate New York, their pull is never far away. While back at home for the summer, a stranger comes around asking for the family’s Talent in locating a lost object. As she’s the only one present, Tamsin decides that she will find what the man wants by herself and prove to her family that she is an asset even without magic. But what starts as a ploy to impress the relatives, turns into a course of events that may bring back old enemies and ruin the family forever.

“Once a Witch” is an urban fantasy. Tamsin is a typical YA character, Angsty, upset with her lot in life, but likable. She drinks and smokes on occasion and is not perfect, but has ambition to make her own way in life away from her family, thus she is relatable. What adds to the novel are secondary characters Rowena, the perfect one in the family, and Gabriel, the hunky childhood friend. There were times I found myself not wanting to put this book down. It is short and flies by, so part of the appeal is finishing it quickly and finding out the ending. The plot has some points to build on, with the family history and all the Talents, but is not puzzling and is simple to follow. Overall it was nothing thought provoking, but a fun YA novel. To those who like urban fantasy, and modern day magic practices, give this a try. There is also a sequel to Once a Witch called Always a Witch. Another YA urban fantasy series that might be worth your time is Blue Bloods by Melissa De La Cruz about New York's wealthiest family and their blood sucking secrets...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Jane Austen Mystery

I have a penchant for Jane Austen and material inspired by her or her works. Can’t help it! Her novels hit home for me and I’m not alone in this view. She is a literary mastermind and has made a killing in the literary and film community, even if she doesn’t reap the benefits these days seeing as she’s six feet under. Jane Austen fan fiction is fun to read, but hardly EVER done right. How do you imitate an author with a voice from a different era and a distinct understanding of her characters and society in an accurate manner? You don’t. You shoot for the moon and land among the stars.

Well, Death Comes to Pemberley  by P.D. James is the Jane Austen wannabe up for discussion this week. Eight years after their marriage, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam plan to hold their annual October ball. On the eve of the ball, a dark and stormy night of course, tragedy ensues. George Wickham is back at Pemberley as a suspect to one of his friend’s murders.  Could murder be another item to add to his rap sheet? The novel takes place over several months as the case is taken from Pemberley, to the local courts and then to London where a decision is to be made on Wickham’s guilt or innocence.

First let me start by informing you that PD James is a mystery/thriller writer. She wrote the book The Children of Men, which some of you might remember as a Clive Owen movie. But for the most part, she does mystery and is not a Jane Austen fan fiction writer. The novel is apparently meant as more of a mystery with the backdrop of Pemberley, than a Pride and Prejudice fan fiction with murder.

Small amounts of what has happened since we last left off with our characters is given, but mostly, the novel dives into the present. The novel jumped between characters, following Elizabeth sometimes and Jane others, but mostly it stuck with Darcy. He is the male and thus decorum dictates that he is in charge of making sure the proceedings of the murder and the ensuing trial are arranged. Not work for the ladies. Jane Austen has a heightened sense of understanding of character and although I felt James started off well, I did not feel attached to my characters like I do in Austen’s novels. I was disappointed by the way James portrayed characters like the Colonel.

The epilogue felt so misplaced. It went from the wrap up of the murder to Elizabeth and Darcy talking about the past and mistakes they made when they were first getting to know one another. James tried to have it both ways, as a mystery and Pride and Prejudice follow up, but the take on the characters and their lives now just wasn’t there and the epilogue felt like a cop out trying to give Jane Austen fans a little of their favorite book.

Jane Austen’s voice was slightly present, but the ensuing novel felt more like a gimmick to draw in a certain audience than a tribute to one of the great English writers. If you like mystery and police procedurals, than perhaps you should try this, but I don’t even think it’s that interesting as far as mystery novels go.

Verdict: Disappointing, but not unreadable. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Weakness for Princess Books Falls Flat

“The Princess and the Hound” by Mette Ivie Harrison

Magic use to run freely in the kingdom of Kendel, but after a legendary prince was turned into a bear, animal magic is banned. Animal magic practitioners, who can call on animals, talk to them, listen to them, and even change others into animals are cast out and hunted down inquisition style.

Centuries later, Prince George is born and as he grows he learns about his own animal magic. This is a secret he must keep for fear of death. But keeping the secret costs him his health and happiness. After his mother’s death, the young prince plunges himself into his duties and hiding his magic.

Princess Beatrice comes from a neighboring kingdom that has a rocky relationship with Kendel, so a marriage between the Princess and Prince George will hopefully help create a better relationship between the kingdoms. Beatrice is said to be odd and always have her hound by her side. There is something off putting about this woman, but George feels pulled to her and her dog.

Secrets always have a way of getting out and when Prince George’s father, AKA the king, falls ill, the relationship between the Prince and Princess takes a few turns.

The cover and title of this book made me think of a Beauty and the Beast type story, and it wasn’t too far off to assume that, but unlike the fairy tale, I did not find myself pulled into the story. Here’s an example of why I should not judge a book by its cover.

Although written well, the story never took off. When action and adventure should have occurred I found myself sloshing through this book like walking through muck in a swamp. Sure it was no “Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire”, but the characters were boring. Harrison created beautiful back stories for them, but the characters themselves had no charisma or charm. She relied too heavily on setting up Prince George’s childhood, which explained his issues when he is a teen, but diving into his past did not help with his future. The idea of animal magic is not something that I’ve seen put into words like that, but the idea is somewhat stale. Magic that is banned is not exactly new. It was a fresher take on the idea, but it wasn’t interesting enough to tempt me into reading the second and third books (“The Princess and the Bear” and “The Princess and the Snowbird”). I dislike disliking princess books. Wah, wah, wah.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Story a Day Keeps the Doctor Away...Storytelling and Humanity

Jonathan Gottschall sets out to show how humans are tied to stories and fiction in his nonfiction work “The Storytelling Animal: How stories make us human”. They are essential to everyday life, play, and mental attitude. You may be thinking, well that’s just silly! I don’t tell stories and I don’t hear storytellers, or even read all that often. Well, Gottschall will tell you you’re not looking at a wide enough angle.
Storytelling is everywhere. Through the thousands of years human beings have been on this earth, we have made stories essential. If, as some claim, fiction and stories are wasteful and unnecessary, then why did they not evolve out? No we might not all sit around listening to our parents recite Sleeping Beauty for the hundredth time, but we function on a daily basis in the realm of the story. 

As Gottschall explains, the mind is a storyteller. We dream nightly, even if we don’t remember, creating events in our head. Dreams help us work out life situations and see the endings to different scenarios. One argument that Gottschall presents for why we dream is because we need to practice. Dreaming gives us the chance to see the endings to different scenarios, feel what it’s like to punch that person you hate without the ramifications of so doing. Then there are daydreams. Living in our heads and telling ourselves fictions about what we want and how we get it. 

When we are unable to explain our world, we fabricate stories. We find explanations because the human mind does not respond well to having no answer. Our minds are created to lie, to fib, to tell stories. In split brain patients, when the left (reasoning, speech center) side of the brain saw an image, then picked the object that was associated with said image and explained why they picked that object. However, when the right (creative) brain saw an image and picked the object associated with the scene, the left side of the brain could not explain why that object was chosen because the brain was not connected to the other side, and the left (communication) side was unable to comprehend what the right side saw. Instead of saying ‘I don’t know’ the patient’s brain made up an explanation. 

Humans are supposed to tell stories about themselves. We need to alter our memories to be more favorable to ourselves, make us be the protagonist of our own story. Gottschall says, “A healthy mind tells itself flattering lies. And if it does not lie to itself, it is not healthy…positive illusions keep us from yielding to despair.”

In the end, Gottschall talks about the future of fiction and how many say it is dying. Quite the opposite is happening in his opinion. People crave story more than ever. Movies, TV show, videogames, even books. He cautions the reader that the problem in the future isn’t losing our stories and wandering away from fiction, it’s getting lost in it and forgetting to live in reality. Virtual realities, MMORPGs, LARP are already popular, but think about when we get better technology, when we can nearly live inside of these worlds with our senses intact there. As Gottschall says, when you’re playing God, why would you ever want to stop?
Jonathan Gottschall gives a fascinating, well researched, convincing look into how storytelling is not dead, and is essential to humans. This was an easy book to consume and a very interesting subject, at least to me. His writing style flows from paragraph to paragraph and he links his ideas throughout the book. In the end, his conclusions draw the book together and give a description of where we are heading. I recommend this book for writers, storytellers, readers, psychologists, and homo sapiens.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

MYSTERY!!! But not so much intrigue…

As I will readily admit, I am a huge fan of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. After bewailing my lack of “Deadlocked”, the latest of the series, a coworker told me to try the Lily Bard series. This is another of Harris’s series about a young woman who lives in the southern town of Shakespeare. The first book in the series is “Shakespeare’s Landlord”.

Lily Bard is a mystery. She’s moved around for several years to try and escape a past that haunts her and finally settled in Shakespeare where she has become a cleaning woman for many local residents . Similar to Sookie, from the Sookie Stackhouse series, she is a strong willed woman working a blue collar job. Lilly practices martial arts and keeps herself separate from her neighbors. But when Lilly witnesses someone dragging away a body, she decides she can help figure out who the murderer is.  

I expected the book to have a few more references to Shakespeare or something that tied it more to the iconic bard. Instead what I found is another kick ass southern woman, but without all of the intrigue of Sookie. The only reasons I really kept going were to figure out who did it, and because it was such a short read. I don’t feel a need to continue with the series. Lilly was too off-putting, and that has a lot to do with her past, but I still could not recognize with her, which is something that’s essential for me to get into a book. There was not a lot of action either. The mystery itself was bland. Perhaps I was expecting the fun supernatural elements as in the Sookie series, but those are missing as well.

There are shelves of mysteries out there; ones with women with an ugly history looking to start over and ones with women who kick butt. I’d suggest you take a look into those in place of Lilly Bard. 

Fairytale/Folktale Adaption: Part 2 "The Snow Child"

First, how do you like the new look? I decided it was time for a change.

Second, back to my fairytale adaptions! I love a good adaption, and I hope you do too dear reader.

"The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivey

Jack and Mabel dreamed of a child. A little one to run around, help with the farm, create chaos, and be the most loved and cherished blessing in their lives. Unfortunately, fate had not been kind to them in this respect.

Alaska, 1920. On the frontier, Jack and Mabel started a new life, but after a couple years of attempting to live off the land, they have not gotten far. Isolated from the outside world and a quiet couple as is, Mabel finds her days lonely and Jack, ever aging, is finding the land more and more difficult to work. The harsh winters and even harsher landscape make living a chore and the wilderness bites at them. One night, on a whim, the couple builds a snow child with Mabel’s scarf and gloves. The next day, the snow child is destroyed, but wandering around the woods is a beautiful little girl with pale skin, hair as white as snow, and icy blue eyes who is wearing the scarf and gloves. Mabel and Jack slowly form a relationship with this young girl and build on it throughout the years until they think of her as their own child.

Intertwined in a story of heartache and wonder is a beautiful tale about a mysterious child and the couple who love her. This is a wonderful retelling of an old Russian folktale that is rich in atmospheric detail and runs beneath the surface. Here is an adult folktale come to life and Ivey does a beautiful job of showing the reader what frontier Alaska is like on a daily basis and how this couple came to be there, stay there, and eventually call it their home.

Although the novel is a bit slow, especially at first, it is worth a read. This is a story that will stick with you and make you shiver from the descriptions of the cold, dark days of Alaskan winter.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Crazy Lady or Unjustly Accused?

So I must admit, I've never read Margaret Atwood before. Well there are a lot of other books out there and I'm a busy girl! I finally got around to it and read Alias Grace. A friend told me this was one of her favorites and I find it both intriguing and annoying when people tell me to read their favorite book unless I know we have similar taste. It's awkward when someone hands you a book and you can't get through it or dislike something that they adore. It could break up a friendship in extreme circumstances (Fitzgerald and Hemingway were frienemies because Hemingway didn't like Fitzgerald's writing-or-because he thought Fitzgerald was a pansy-don't quote me on that).

Just so happens Atwood is a fantastic writer. A good portion of the story is told as Grace, the main character, talking to a psychologist about her past. A very tricky thing to do well, but Atwood weaves the story's present in with the storytelling. Luckily, I will not be losing a friend on this one. It was a good recommendation.

Grace is a quiet woman and as you get to know her, she starts opening up. The story is based on true events. There was a Canadian woman murderess who killed her employer and the housekeeper. Grace is that woman. Through a back and forth between Grace's narrative and what is happening in the psychologists life, the audience is unsure about what the truth is or if Grace is an anti-social, psychotic murderer. While getting to know the character, it's hard to think of Grace as a murderess. She is well mannered, but strong in spirit. She takes her predicament in stride and carries her burden with...well, grace.

As I believe is Atwood's style, the story has a bit of a supernatural twist. You can pick it up from the beginning, but it's not meant to be a sci-fi novel and it certainly is not a central focus of the novel. Towards the end, it kind of threw me off because the novel was set so much in the rational and scientific look at the human brain and manner, that adding a supernatural element felt a bit out of place. Judge for yourself.

All in all, I would recommend this to the patient reader. It is a bit longer (480 pages) and takes some patience to invest in, but it is a wonderful piece of historical fiction. This is a character-centered book, so if you want to delve into the human psyche and get to know a famous murderess, give this a shot.

Also, if you have recommendations for me, I'm always more than happy to hear them. I love hearing about new material. Just take it with a grain of salt, because I might not read it, or, God forbid!, I might not like it. Hopefully, we can remain friends even if your favorite book rubs me the wrong way:)

Happy Reading.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I fight for my Whiskey like I fight for my country! RRRRRR!!

Ok so my title sounds like a pirate and this story is backwoods, not open ocean, but it just felt right. The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss is on the docket today and what a case it makes for itself!

I tend to get a wee bit nervous with adult historical fiction. It can seem more like nonfiction sometimes and just be tedious. When I originally heard about The Whiskey Rebels my original thought was the above, that it would be boring and long, but it was about whiskey...and it had to have something good going on between those covers. One weekend while traversing the great Midwest in my loyal green stallion (also known as my Sebring), I decided to partake of this book on CD instead of drinking in the glorious Midwestern landscape...of corn fields, and flat ground. Sixteen CDs later, I fell back in love with historical fiction.

The Whiskey Rebels is taken from two different perspectives. One the disgraced former American spy, Ethan Saunders, who finds himself caught up in the affairs of his former love that leads down a long and winding road and Joan Maycott, the strong willed, intelligent, determined woman who began a plot to get the justice that is owed her. Both characters have stories that keep the pages turning and plots that move the reader along. Through a labyrinth of historical figures and settings, the reader learns about life on the frontier and life in the city post-Revolution. The underlying plot of this story is rich, detailed and well thought out. Not only does the reader get a sense of the era, but they become engrossed in the characters.

Ethan Saunders is a rogue. At the beginning of the novel, he seeks only escape from his life through sleeping around and drinking, but he is clever, sly, intelligent, cunning, and usually, pretty damn funny. All in all, you love the guy. He has a moral code that bends to his will, but he is an honorable man even if society does not see him that way.

Joan is a determined woman from the moment the audience meets her to the end. She is candid, intelligent and bold for a woman of her time, but she knows what she wants and she goes for it. I envy her ability to know her own mind. She has morals and values that she sticks to, and when wronged, she is determined to make those who ruined her pay the price that a corrupt system would not extract. Vengeance is a dish best served cold and Joan is brilliant in her method.

The first thing that got me was the quality of the reading and production. There was music at the beginning and the end of each CD that fit perfectly and the actor who read, Christopher Lane, did a brilliant job portraying each character in a different way that made them all distinguishable. Just like in film, audio actors make all the difference between a good book and a disaster. Lane has a commanding, masculine voice that never got old. Truly enjoyable to listen to.

The book keeps moving and although there were times when Joan explained an economic practice that I zoned out a bit, I was always avidly listening. I truly liked the characters and thought the plot was well constructed. It is a lengthy read and the author probably could cut some of the writing out, but I did not think he was long winded or overly explicative. I will certainly be looking for more David Liss books in the future.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back to the Blog!

Well it has been ever too long since I last posted. Life gets in the way and I haven't felt much like writing lately, so I have ignored my blog. Well I suppose it's time to start writing about what I've been reading. I'm supposed to be writing this for my own good, so I have a source to look back at when I need recommendations and ideas. Here we go then!!

I've read/listened to two books recently that were not as satisfying as I hoped. Don't you hate it when you're looking forward to reading something and you get all the way through it and think "well I won't remember that one!" Me too. After both these books I had to go back to a classic that I knew wouldn't disappoint and I could breeze through, so I could move onto a new (perhaps risky) read.

Well book one was Empress Orchid by Anchee Min. I love royal historic novels. They're exotic because of the difference in era, culture, and the royal court. I was so looking forward to the tale of a normal woman who ended up as Empress of China and her climb to power. I don't know much about China and don't often read novels focused on Asia, so this was definitely exotic for me.

This novel starts with Orchid's poor family. Her father, a governor of a poor district, has just died and they can hardly afford to take him to Peking and bury him. The family ends up staying in Peking, and while there, the call comes for all Manchu women with family in the governing class and above can try there luck to become one of the Emperor's brides or a concubine. From here, Orchid makes her way through the process and into the Imperial court where she must seek the Emperor's attention, work her way through the intricacies of court life, and conquer political enemies. On top of all of this, however, Orchid is still a woman, and later a mother, who craves the attention of a man and the love of her child. She wants a life that she gave up, but must try to make the best of a glamorous life that is crumbling apart as China fights off outsiders.

I expected a dramatic, lush, exciting drama about court life in China and a female who takes the lead. In this novel, you certainly get details about court life and you see the start of a woman who is taking charge, to be continued with The Last Empress, but I didn't feel as connected with Orchid or the story as I hoped. I thought the text skipped around and within a section, it would suddenly allude to something that was going to happen, but even when that event happened it was not as dramatic as originally implied. There would be details thrown in that did not fit or were superfluous to what was going on. Keep it simple and make what you put in the text good. Although I thought this was a fine read, I didn't think it was great, and I won't remember it down the line.

Next I listened to the book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. I saw this on the staff recommendations at my library and I've heard about it around the web.

Welcome to the world of magical realism. The genre of magical realism is characterized by one thing being supernatural, magical, or out of the norm. Typically only a few characters or maybe only one has a special ability. The world is the exact same as what we live in. Think of movies like "Practical Magic" or "Chocolat". Well I was very excited about The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake because I thought it was going to be kind of chick lit-ish and light. Not so much.

Rose was a pretty normal girl until her ninth birthday when she tasted her mother's lemon cake. Instead of tasting the sweet and sour flavor of her favorite cake, she tasted sadness, depression, and self doubt. From this day on, Rose can taste the feelings of those who cooked the food she eats. She does not seem to be the only one with a strange gift. Her brother is harboring a secret that ends up affecting their whole family.

This book is more about the family relationship. It's about Rose growing up and figuring out who to tell and how to deal with her difference. I was not expecting this to be so serious. It was not a light read at all. Although parts of the book can be probing and question our relationships and feelings, for the most part I just didn't feel it. It wasn't terribly deep or new. An annoyance in the book was that Rose would skip occasionally from the present to future or past happenings. It was hard to follow these instances, perhaps because I was listening and couldn't see any breaks between paragraphs, but I was confused by the jumping between different time frames. On top of that, Rose would say things like "that was the last time I saw him", but later on she talked about seeing that person again. Again it might have been a flashback, but it was terribly confusing when the author jumped back and forth.

All in all, those two books, not my favorite. I will proceed to ax them from my memory to make room for more important things.

Until next time my dear reader.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Wandering Falcon

Just so you, my dear reader, knows, I originally wrote this post for my library's adult services reading blog. I cannot lie to you, but I also wanted this on here, mainly for my own purposes:)

Afghanistan and Pakistan are areas that are in the news...a lot. The Middle East has its problems, but what about its culture and traditions? In Jamil Ahmad's book, The Wandering Falcon, the reader gets a short glimpse into the Tribal areas of the border lands between Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Through a weaving train of stories, the reader gets to know the culture of wandering tribal families and individuals. The story starts after WWII, by my calculations, with the birth of Tor Baz and the tragic story that accompanies his earliest years. From this point the story wanders along with different individuals who work for the government in these lands and people looking out for their family, themselves, and their tribes. It's about outcasts and people trying to make it through life in the mountains and plains, finding happiness in those around them or disappointment in the lot life hands them. Ahmad loosely ties these stories together through a "Where's Waldo" with the character Tor Baz. He shows up in almost every story playing minimal roles or just sticking his head in. 

Ahmad is a storyteller. He knows how to introduce characters and situations without much back story and flag down the reader's interest. Although the names could be confusing, it was not hard to follow. The stories were short and to the point without much pomp and circumstance. Often these stories abruptly ended, but Ahmad made it work. As the reader, perhaps you never figured out the full story, but maybe you're never supposed to. The characters are surprising. In many stories, the women speak their minds and are unguarded. You meet people who are looking out for what's best, and some who are looking out for their best interests. I found myself surprised and amused unexpectedly throughout the book.

The physical book is a little thing, small enough to fit in your back pocket (not quite, but close) and about 250 pages in length. For those who enjoy literary short stories, want a look into tribal life in the Middle East, or are curious readers, give this book a read. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fairy Tale Adaptions: Part 1

Fairy tales, folktales, and legends are a bit of a cherished area of mine. I love how old, yet relevant and historical these tales are. They are magical and although I know most people scoff at them when they're adults, there is a TON of value in all of these stories. Stories like Cinderella and Aesop's fables were oral traditions, passed down from generation to generation. I've heard it said that language was the result of storytelling. People wanted to tell each other what they did that day or the *tall* tale of how they killed the largest mammoth in all the land, so language was born. Even though the stories may seem childish or grotesque in some cases, they are artifacts from past ages that still resonate throughout our culture with themes of love, greed, jealousy, and justice. Originally these tales were not collected for their appeal to children, but as an anthropological study of cultures. Maybe people don't understand the art of storytelling, but it's a lot more prevalent today than we think. Everyone has that friend or relative who is just captivating when they speak and they tell their stories in a way that makes you want to listen. That is a skill that is hard to come by, but that is what all of those ancient tales are about. One person mesmerizing an audience with a story. That is only part of what I ADORE about fairy/folk tales.

As part of a series of posts I will start, I will review fairy/folk tale adaptions.

One of my favorite folk/fairy tales is "East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon" from the Nordic lands. This is a story about an ordinary, yet determined, young woman who saves an enchanted prince from marrying a troll. Well another thing I love is fairytale adaptions and that is where East by Edith Pattou comes in.

East is an adaption of this fairy tale. It is a young adult novel about 500 pages long. Rose is an adventurous young girl who is determined to explore the world. She gets her chance when a great talking white bear comes and promises to solve her family's problems if only she will come away with him. Away she goes to a castle in a mountain where she must stay with the white bear. This is no average bear, however, and at night, Rose has a companion who lays beside her, but whom she is unable to lay eyes on. Her curiosity gets the best of her and she finds a way of seeing the stranger's face one night only to discover that by so doing, she has broken the enchantment...for the worse. The white bear/man is swept away by the troll queen to a land east of the sun, west of the moon. Rose refuses to let her mistake stand, so she goes on a great journey, searching for the white bear.

One nice thing about fairy tales is that they are short. This can be an annoyance when you really want to learn the motivations behind people's actions, or more of the story. I enjoyed East for the most part, but thought it was a little long winded. Not knowing all the details leaves some magic and mystery in the story, but I felt that this rendition overdid it. The story is broken down into chapters written by a few characters, which gave the reader a good break to hear different sides of the story and different voices. All in all, it was a bit too lengthy and not as captivating as I was expecting.

I will continue reading folk/fairy tales and their adaptions because I want to hear what happened and know more of the story. Isn't that the sign of a good story, that you always want more? What stories stand out to you?

Monday, January 2, 2012

A bleak beginning to the new year

After deciding it is time to read some adult books, I chose one with a title and cover that I really liked. Not always the best idea, but Oprah reinforced this one, so you know it's good *sarcasm*. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III is a bleak read. Taken from the point of view of two people battling for ownership of a house, this is a book that forces you out of your comfort zone and into the middle man position.

Kathy's husband walked out on her and all she has left is the house her father left her brother that she now lives in in California. Colonel Behrani is an Iranian immigrant who fled with his family to America during the Islamic Revolution because he was in the old regime's military. He works hard to support his family, but has a plan to start flipping real estate. The new house he moves his family into, just happens to be Kathy's house that the county wrongfully took from her. As Kathy fights to stay off the streets and get her home back, the Colonel fights to make his family feel normal again and lead them into a better future. Things start taking a turn when Kathy and a local cop, Lester, get involved. Soon the passive aggressive struggles over the house turn into full out war.

This is certainly not a beach read, but it is engaging. There is a steady under current of suspense that makes you want to know more about the characters and what will develop. The Colonel and Kathy both have broken pasts, albeit for very different reasons. The reader may identify with the characters, but they are not particularly heartwarming people. The writing style is a strong suit in this novel. The characters have distinct voices and the Colonel's sections are written in dialect with words in Farsi and the sentence structure of someone whose first language is not English. This can be a risky move, but it paid off.

This is a read for those looking for something real and unfiltered. It shows the perspectives of two people who are living hard lives and trying or attempting to get out of their situations and regain some semblance of a normal life. For read alikes, I would say Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck or As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.