29 October 2012

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

Apparently this is a Very Popular Children's Series? I don't know, I missed it somehow. Although I do have a vague memory of someone giving me a copy of The Dark is Rising when I was young and thinking it had a scary title and cover so I never read it. Possibly also because it says "Book 2" on the cover and we all know how I feel about jumping into things in the middle.

The Dark is Rising sequence falls into the category of YA extremely popular in the early-middle 20th century in which a group of children - usually brothers and sisters - goes on a Quest for Whatever Reason. Which can be done very well (I'm looking at you, Pevinsie and Alden children!), but it's tricky. The kids can't be too smart, the parents/guardians can't be too involved [orphans are useful here (looks at Alden children again)], and there should be one or more of the following:

- An Uncle, either big and brash and mysterious or scholarly. Possibly a Great-Uncle; unrelated is acceptable.
- A map or mystery of some sort
- A beautiful girl/woman who turns out to be evil
- An undiscovered country/part of town/etc.

So far, Cooper is 4/4. Also, you know how we (meaning I, of course) about "where are the parents/guardians? Who's watching these kids?!?" Well, props to Cooper again, because someone actually DOES care where the children are and tells them not to do the stupid, reckless things that children in YA novels usually do.

"Today my job is relevant!"
So good on ya, Susan Copoer. Way to keep the adults in the game, but not let them overpower the story. And extra points for the Arthurian business - I dig it.

And now, on to book 2 for The Estella Society's Top 100 Children's Book RAL, which I am joining impossibly late due to my gold-medal performance in the Procrastination Olympics.

7.5 of 11 Mysterious Uncles

23 October 2012

Code Name: Verity - Elizabeth Wein

One of the reasons I don't tend to read mysteries is that I like to talk about plot, and it's difficult to do so when one-third of a book is about "Lo, a mystery!" and the other two-thirds are about "Let's solve this (preferably with witty banter and possible sexytimes, a la Castle and Bones)!" And then one has to dance around the plot, not Giving It All Away, much like a great aunt warning you against sexytimes of your own while "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" plays sadly in the background.

And while this book is not a mystery, it presents many of the same discussion difficulties that a mystery might.

This book is...

I want to talk about...

And then there's this other thing...

Well, there is ONE thing I want to talk about. This book is set in the 1940s in England (mostly), and it's written in the first-person, which means that the characters should speak as if they were in that time period. And if I am not very much mistaken - which I am not - the convention of speaking forcefully being expressed in ALL CAPS, shouty-internet style, is fairly recent.

I know that complaining about all-caps usage by an author makes me a huge hypocrite. Trust me, I'm aware.

But it bugged me.

Especially because I tend to read sentences in all caps in a very specific type of shouty style - probably due to the book blogging friends I hang out with - which looks very much like this:

"...SO EMBARRASSING..." (p.1)

BUT aside from that, this is a Very Good Book and you should all read it and if I go on much longer I will Give It All Away, which as we've all learned will lead only to singing sad doo-wop tunes in the shower.

The best accolade for this book I can give is this: I think Connie Willis, High Dame of Alternative WWII History, would like it.

9 of 11 Muppet Flails, Aviatrixes!

19 October 2012

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

Soooooo this book is all about atmosphere. It's beautifully conceived, and the author is clearly super-creative, which I am... not. At all. This is why I majored in art history instead of art. I like the scribblings and paint splashings of other people, but not my own.

Pretty sure this is how Raych's Sister of the Art paints.
Did you ever get into the FIMO/Sculpy clay thing? People were making all of these incredibly elaborate creations, and I was the kid in the back going, "lookit what I made!" and my mom would be all, "oh... that's a nice mud-colored blob, dear. What is it?" And I'd answer, "it's a RAINBOW!"

This is how I feel criticizing highly imaginative work. But someone's got to before Pinterest goes all crazy with The Night Circus-themed weddings, y'know? Oh, wait...

With all of that said, I feel like it was missing... something. Like maybe actual main characters? The Circus itself was uh-mazing, and all the secondaries were wonderfully realized, and the whole thing just oooooozed imagination like... I dunno because I'm not imaginative.

But I didn't dig the love story, ducklings, and I don't know why because I luuuurve a good tragic love story. Except it wasn't tragic and I felt like the lovers didn't really love one another so much as they loved their images of one another, and that always ends in tears.

I am totally That Girl who Side-Eyed this book.

6.5 of 11 flaming cauldrons full of ghosts

17 October 2012

Grapes of Wrath RAL - part Not Really

So you know how last week I was a mere nine chapters behind and I thought that was okay because I intended to catch up in time for THIS week?

Yeeeeaaaaa, that didn't happen. And please ignore that it's Wednesday and not the Laura-sanctioned TUESDAY designated for GoW RAL posts.

Instead, I moved into an apartment of my own and will now attempt to distract you from the paucity of my reading with pictures!

Day 0! Observe how clean and tidy everything is!

Day 1: Moving makes me feel like a hoarder.

Day 2: What you don't see is the giant stacks of boxes in the corners.
And today I got internet (as you may have noticed) like a Real Grown-Up. And have enough room in my kitchen to make actual dinner, which will end up being an apple, some sausage, stoned wheat thins, and wine. I might cook some macaroni and cheese if I'm feeling adventurous. (This getting fed at work thing has put a huge damper on my desire to cook.)

But wait! I do have gifs for you, and a personal story (tm).

 During the move, I parked my car in a neighbor's parking spot so we could unload the moving van directly into my house. And there it sat until yesterday afternoon because it refused to start.

And then the AAA guy listened to it and said it was probably a starter problem, which is something I can afford to fix even though I moved, so maybe things are okay? So he towed it to a mechanic whom my apartment manager recommended. I called this morning and again the afternoon: nothing except the threat of a blown head gasket, which will cost more than the car is worth to fix, not to mention more dollars than I currently have access to. AND THEN I looked said mechanic up on Yelp and he's fairly well-known for dickish mechanic behavior, so I might have to have AAA tow my car to another mechanic down the road.

See, I didn't need to do the reading to experience the Human Condition.

Bravo, 2012. YOU WIN AGAIN.

12 October 2012

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Douglas Adams

I consider myself to be a moderately serious Anglophile - particularly when it comes to books. I mean, I've been to a couple of Jane Austen events, seen several Andrew Lloyd Webber productions, memorized Bridget Jones, and had high Victorian tea at a big hotel in London that I've since forgotten the name of - the Regency, maybe? I don't remember because I was 13 and at that age all I could think about was how desperately I wanted to sink into the floor in a puddle of my own hormones.

This is how it feels to be a teenager. 

So imagine my surprise and dismay when I realized that I'd skipped Douglas Adams' entire catalogue! I promptly ordered Dirk Gently from my library and put Hitchiker's Guide on my Classics Club list, and I was super-excited to start; after all, I was a theater/sci-fi nerd in high school!

And dudes, I... I think maybe Douglas Adams is not my thing? Just in a very overall sense, not in the "I hated every minute of this book" sense, which I most assuredly did NOT. Much of it was quite clever. But I feel like Adams and Pratchett are similarly enamored of their own cleverness, so the plots don't quite line up? Even though there are lines like these:

"He had extracted himself from the Cambridge one-way system by the usual method, which involved going round and round it faster and faster until he achieved a sort of escape velocity and flew off at a tangent in a random direction, which he was now trying to identify and correct for." (p. 96)


"Dirk turned away and sagged sideways off his chair, much as the sitter for 'The Thinker' probably did when Rodin went off to be excused." (p. 217)

OKAY I CHUCKLED AT THAT. I am, after all, an art history major with a keen appreciation of art-y stuff, and also an appreciation of how Adams chose his joke carefully so that people on pretty much any part of the art-understanding spectrum would find it funny.

But can we talk about Chapter 26, which miiiight be my favorite chapter ever with the possible exception of Chapter 13 of The French Lieutenant's Woman? Because it starts on a train with a bunch of drunks and turns subtly into the beginning of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." When I realized what was happening, I wanted to get up out of bed and run around the room like Rocky, except it was the middle of the night and I was cozy so I settled for a book nerd wriggle.

Don't tell me you don't know what those are. You know you do.

7.5 out of 11 hitchikers, Fnordlings.

09 October 2012

Grapes of Wrath RAL - The Annoyance

Well helloooooo, Steinbeck, you old stick! We haven't spent as much time together as some other people ::coughEveryoneinthisread-a-longcough::, but I'm sure you'll forgive me. You see, I got distracted by being in California's wine country, which I'm sure you will agree is an acceptable reason not to read anything except terrible romance novels. I'm not sure how this book will end - although people keep threatening tears - and I really canNOT handle tears while I'm drinking wine.

SO. Let's discuss your first three two* chapters and overlook the fact that I am obviously still That Girl in class who never did the reading and got an A anyway. My future PhD in Lit Crit is virtually assured by my ability to bullshit my way through just about any literary discussion using the double-barrelled shotgun that is Betty Friedan and Sylvia Plath. But I digress (shocking)!


In which things are grey and dreary and pre-Oz black-and-white, and then there's this amazing, almost Biblical description of  how people survive under such conditions without some ruby shoes:

"Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust. The men were silent and they did not move often, And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men - to feel whether this time the men would break." 
UGGGHHHHH the bleakness and the stillness and the general depressiveness gives me a pre-emptive sad because technically NOTHING HAS HAPPENED YET.

Bring it, JStein.


In which a guy skilfully entraps a truck driver into giving him a ride in a truck that says, "No Rides" right on the window, and then reveals that he (the hitchhiker) is a murderer, sentenced to 7 years but "sprung in four for keepin' my nose clean."

Okay, Steinbeck. You got me. I skimmed through the first 19 pages again today in order to write this post, and found myself stopping to actually read over and over again. I was planning to play video games tonight because it's Tuesday, but I think instead...

*I opened my book to my bookmark and found it in the first page of chapter 3, meaning I stopped 19 pages in and didn't even get to the land turtle. Honestly, this is just embarrassing.

08 October 2012

The Book of Blood and Shadow - Robin Wasserman

I am compelling and mysterious! There is a shadow in my blood-colored eye! GET IT??
So now I have a library card and the books are starting to filter in - generally too fast for me to read in anything resembling a timely manner according to the library, which also (as it happens) objects to me making notes in the margins of its books. Library, I blame you for my newfound obsession with Post-It page markers. 

Ok, focusing on this book. I enjoyed this book much more than I... well, not more than I expected to. The nice thing about reading a hundred+ book blogs every day with the library request page open is that books just magically appear and I'm pretty sure I'll like them because otherwise I wouldn't have put the book in my queue. But I digress (shocker). I like this book because even though the heroine can translate Latin on the fly, she has a legit reason for learning to do so - and not just because she was home-schooled as a cancer kid (::coughJohnGreencough::).

I do, however, take SERIOUS ISSUE with the teenagers-solving-ancient-mysteries thing. Granted, the author gave us a moderately reasonable story here - information came to light that no one had seen yet, and the kids' professor hoarded it so they knew What Was Up. But still; as a general rule, I am almost as tired of this trope as I am of the two-rockin'-guys-one-clumsy-girl love triangle (TwilightandHungerGamesIamlookingatYOU!)

Make no mistake, there are many things Wasserman did right here. The aaaaaaangst of teenaged love is hard to watch, even when the participants to speak fluent Latin (unlike me who has had Wheelock's and sundry workbooks for years to no avail...). A few lines stuck out to me, and this one in particular:

"So Thomas had left her behind, alone. She had given him her heart and, apparently, he'd taken it with him as a parting gift." (p. 72)
Girl, I have BEEN THERE.
And then there's this totally legit point about how the author of the letters was writing 3 years post- Romeo and Juliet, and how can she accurately describe love without books like Pride and Prejudice or Gone with the Wind (not actually a love story)? Which makes me think that there must have been some equivalent that is lost to the ravages of time, so what were they? 

There's a buncha stuff that happens that I enjoyed but I can't tell you about because

(Alice that one's for you)
 But I liked it and you probably will too. 

7.5 of 11 Latin Translations (the hilarious dirty kind)

02 October 2012

Grapes of Wrath - The Perplexment

The Cult of Wilkie is branching out into other authors (I KNOW!) and Laura over at Devouring Texts is hosting and I am, as per usual, late to the party even though I have been anticipating this read-a-long for weeks and Laura and Alice have been reminding me via Twitter that I need to buy the book.

Which I did! And only at the Best Bookstore Ever, thankyouverymuch.

And while at that bookstore I also bought some other cool stuff like more books and a blank notebook with a snarky quote by Oscar Wilde (is there any other kind?) which I then crammed into my suitcase and squished the dress I wore to my cousin's wedding, which I then had to IRON!

But it's okay because some guy at the wedding said I looked amazing in polka dots (I was wearing stripes) and then stared at my boobs the entire time we danced, which was most of the night because everyone else was already married.

Clearly the ironing was worth it.

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about how we feel about STEINBECK!* I'm hedging mightily because it turns out I managed to avoid Steinbeck in both high school and college, and so my opinions can mostly be summed up as "I went to Cannery Row in Monterey once and got drunk with my best friend."

It was a positive experience and I have a soft spot for Monterey because my mom lived in a teeeeeeny tiny red house there when she was "my age" (meaning before she married my dad and had kids, which means around 22. I am no longer 22).

Laura has promised that this book will rock my world. My hooks: they are tentered.


*I was originally going to read all the rest of your posts and then poach from them, but I thought that would be lame and make my post late(r). Also, I just got back from the aforementioned wedding and had 500 meetings to schedule instead of blogging at work. Don't they understand I have a blogging calendar to maintain? RUDE!