25 February 2013

Ruby Red - Kerstin Gier

Well hello there, Young Adult Novel Cover. You’re looking very pretty today! Oh, what? You’ve got an interesting story between your covers?  Well don’t we all, sweetheart.  Don’t. We. All.

The way time travel works in this book is similar to the way time travel works in The Time Traveler’s Wife except for the minor difference that this book is awesome and that other book sucked. What I mean to say is that in this world, if you have the time traveling gene, you will travel in time without knowing where you’re going or when you are going there, so it makes living a regular life a wee bit difficult.

Especially when you don’t know you’re the one with the gene, and your snooty cousin has been preparing for her time travelling future for her entire life while you’ve been watching movies with your friends.

Someone at some point in time

created a chronograph that allows time travellers to  burn off their need to be in a different time in a safe place – or, y’know, in 18th century London. Whichever. But it’s powered by the blood of the time travelers, and there are mysteries, and a creepy dude with mind powers, and it’s just pretty great.

It turns out that Kerstin Gier is a big chick-lit novelist in her native Germany, and the Ruby Red trilogy is her foray into young adult literature. And foray she does, meinen damen und herren. I thoroughly enjoyed this one – enough that when my cousin [who emigrated to Germany and married a Czech guy – she’s very international (hi Paige!)] asked for book recommendations for her sister, I suggested this one without knowing about Gier’s German roots. Paige hauled off and read ALL THREE BOOKS in German, which I feel is distinctly unfair as the third book isn’t out in English until next year.

And speaking of translations, a HUGE shout-out to Anthea Bell, whose translation is utterly flawless. I tip my fan to you, madam.

8.5 out of 11 Fancy Feathered 18th Century Hats 

21 February 2013

Harry Potter HFriday - Post the GOBLET OF FIRE!

BOOK FOUR! Goblet of Fire was the first Harry Potter book I waited for, having jumped on the bandwagon after book 3 was published. When it came out, I was assistant stage managing my university’s production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – which incidentally is a phenomenal play and a truly brilliantly cast movie that I used to watch on repeat with my dad and so have Very Positive Associations with.

Also Gary Oldman was in it, so, topical!

Anyway, I had ONE JOB in the middle of the 3-hour show, which was to make sure the 30-foot steel doors opened so the king and queen could sweep majestically downstage and greet our titular heroes, and I can’t tell you how many times I nearly missed my cue because I was brain-deep in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. 

I got a B in that class.

So you know what’s great about the first ¼ of this book? Pretty much everything except the ACTUAL Quidditch. JK is fleshing out her world nicely, and with as subtle a hand as she can when three-story purple tents with live peacocks are involved.

The gang has settled in to Hogwarts at this point, and Harry gets to see the sorting – did anyone else feel like Rowling rushed this scene even though she knew we hadn’t seen one since book 1? – and the hat gets a new song, which was a charming surprise when I read this the first time and which I skipped every time after.

OH! And as for last week’s discussion on population, I’ve decided that each house has not 10 but 30 new students per year, which would push the student population to somewhere around 800+, which is close enough for Ministry of Magic work to the JK-quoted 1000. And if there are 30 per year per class, then for the purposes of Care of Magical Creatures with the Slytherins or Herbology with Hufflepuffs, maybe they split each class so they can mix up the houses?

Seriously, I am getting NO sleep until this read-a-long is over.

Ron makes a classic 13-year-old "Uranus" crack that still makes me giggle, and Hermione discovers a nasty wizard secret in the form of house elves – we will argue more about this later! (Kreacherrrrr). The Tri-Wizard takes over Quidditch for the year – even JK must have been bored of writing about it after the World Cup – and the twins are beginning to come into their own.

And Harry has a crush on someone who is NOT GINNY because he is a boy and therefore dumb as a box of hair.

Not that I'm biased.

18 February 2013

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

My experience with reading Gone Girl was long and sporadic. I got the book from my library's 7-Day Checkout shelf back in July, then returned it unread because I didn't want to read anything disturbing. I put my name in the hold queue (#65 of 65) and forgot about it. Then in December it showed up again on the 7-Day shelf, but I had to stop reading 90 pages before the end because I have a very wibbly relationship with time. And then 2 days ago, my turn in the queue came up and I got to finish the book, so yay serendipity?

Megs has read this, and so has Alice. I think mostly everyone has? But for those of you who have not, I am declaring this post AND the comments a Safe Zone for Spoilers, because  I want to talk about the rampant Whiskey Tango Foxtrot that happened in this book and no one else has been able to do it.

You've been warned.

All right, People Who Are Left. What a roller coaster ride that was. I think I might have whiplash. 

First, we sympathize with Amy because she’s smart and trying so hard, isn’t she? How sad it is that her relationship is so different from how it seemed. And then BAM! Somewhere around page 140 we find out she’s the elected president of the Democratic Republic of Liarland and we start to sympathize more with Nick, who after all isn’t really thaaaaat bad. And then Desi comes along and we’re like, holy shitballs, that guy has a Bates complex and his Mommy Dearest is a little overbearing, isnt’t she? But he’s not sooooo bad – just a minor character who’s a little obsessed, and who hasn’t been a little obsessed with someone, y’know? Remember when she threw herself down the stairs?

And then Amy gets robbed and we’re like, YES! You deserved that, you whorecrux! And then… wow Desi ends up being cah-razy. Like, Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood crazy, drinking milkshakes out of other people’s yards and such, and we think, maybe Amy’s not so awful that she deserves THIS.

And meantime, Nick is planning to kill her when she comes back and we still kind of think she deserves it a little, but she shows up and then we think she pretty much DEFINITELY deserves it, that crazy bitch. And then we’re not sure who is awfuler, but maybe Nick will get out of there and Amy will go to jail because she murdered someone in cold blood and faked rape wounds now we have to feel sorry for that crazy, horrible mother about her crazy, horrible son, which is distinctly uncomfortable.  

BUT she does not go to jail because Nick decides to stop pursuing this line of thought because – oh my sweet nutbar Aunt Matchi, you guys, the Crazy Train stops twice a day in this town – Amy is preggers despite them not having sex for eeeehver. She is a psychopath whom I have to admire a little – that bitch thinks of everything. 

And in the end, I was strangely satisfied that they ended up together because that amount of sociopathy should NOT be loose upon the world at large. 

8 out of 11 Romantic Treasure Hunts

15 February 2013

Harry Potter HFriday - The End of PoA

We have reached the end of Prisoner of Azkaban and have therefore been introduced to the majority of the major characters in this series. Sure, there are a few more to come – some of them near and dear to my heart – and some who appear minor FOR NOW and will become major later.

This is the genius of JK, my friends. Drink it in.

I have another issue I’d like to address: I know we’ve sort of beaten the money thing to death, BUT!  What if tuition at Hogwarts were paid by wizard taxes? Harry and Hermione and Dean Thomas would go to Hogwarts essentially for free (I guess?) but then when they got out they’d have wizarding jobs and would then pay wizard taxes – not the regular Muggle ones.

This could explain why no one mentions the actual tuition – just paying for books and wands and stuff. Also, it upholds principles of education with which I agree.

Wizard taxes and dragon heartstrings are the things that keep me up at night, friends.

Okay, so are we ready to jump on our respective Sirius hating/loving bandwagons? Personally I think he’s a terrible role model for Harry and doesn’t consider his safety as a godfather should. On the other hand, let’s do a little Googling:

Ok, so Lily had Harry when she was 20, and Harry is now 13, so Sirius is 33 years old when PoA takes place, but ONE COULD ARGUE that he’s really still only 20ish, as it’s pretty well established (by me) that one does not mature properly when one is being tormented by dementors. Plus his own childhood was mumbleBOOKFIVEmumble, so I’m filing him under “doing the best he can with the little he’s got.”

Point of Order #1: we are all older than Lily and James when they died, and I (at least) am older than Sirius. This freaks me out a little. (Also, the Marauders were awful but they were children. Many of whom never had the opportunity to mature for one reason or another, and we will talk about this later.)

Point of Order #2: If Hagrid was a 3rd year 51 years ago (in CoS), then he’s something like 64, and while I think he was VERY well cast in the movies, there is no way that Hagrid is 64 years old. Conversely, Gary Oldman is SO OLD to play Sirius. The casting director played a little fast and loose with the adults, is what I’m saying. Not that I object, but it does make me feel ancient to think that Sirius is supposed to be MY AGE in these movies and look at Gary Oldman in the role. It’s like thinking you’re going to be played by Emma Stone and instead it’s Glenn Close. Still amazing (actually more so), just… we’re not in Kansas or our 20’s any more, children. Someone bring me some Botox.

 9.5 of 11 Missing Hedwigs (seriously, where was Hedwig this whole time?!?)


07 February 2013

Harry Potter HFriday - Week the Somethingth?

I missed last week because – I forget why but it was definitely legit. Suffice to say that, like many of you, I had forgotten that CoS gets vastly better in the second half, what with Tom Riddle and poor dear Ginny and LOCKHART. Oh Lockhart. Your best moment is yet to come!

BUT before I get into PoA, about which I have Things to Say, look at what came in the mail! Just LOOK!

All the glitter! My desk is so festive now!
Kayleigh is Australia’s premier wand-maker. Mine is made of ash, quite springy, and has a phoenix tailfeather core.  I have been using it to open doors at supermarkets and change traffic lights, and it works beautifully.

This brings me to a question I have regarding wand cores: if most reputable wand distributors use three major (core, if you will…) ingredients, then where do they all come from, I’d like to know? Dragon heartstrings can’t come cheap, and if they (wild dragons) have mostly died out except in Romania, are there dragon farms for heartstrings and dragon leather garments? And are there unicorns running around with rather scraggy looking tails? How many phoenixes are out there who are willing to give tail feathers if Fawkes gave only two?

FINE THEN, moving on. Prisoner of Azkaban!! Here’s a bullet point list of things I have been thinking about while reading:

  • This book is so. good. It's all uphill from here (until it's NOT. Ahem.)
  • This one eschews a lot of the (by now) boring exposition and jumps right in with scary shit and drama. JK is doing a much better job of leaving newer readers reminders without bludgeoning the rest of us over the head with stuff we already know.
  •  OMG you guys, Ginny with the dementor on the traaaaaain! Why didn’t anyone give HER chocolate? She looked almost as bad as Harry! And then HHR are super-rude to her later and it pissed. me. off. Be nicer to Ginny, you guys!
  •  How hilarious is Professor Trelawney at Christmas dinner? “To my surprise I saw myself joining you all…”

 I love the feud between her and MacGonagall. Somehow it makes me think that MacGonagall sees a little of herself in Hermione which would explain… STUFF FOR NEXT WEEK!

  •  Lastly, 

06 February 2013

The Fire Chronicle - John Stephens

As you may recall, I thoroughly enjoyed the first Book of Beginning, The Emerald Atlas.  And when one is so charmed by he first book in a series, one is presented with an interesting dilemma: obviously one will read the next book, but how many sequels or second novels are as good as the first?

Each of the Books of Beginning follows one of the Wibberly children through their search for the three books… of… right. Three kids, three books.

The way Stephens tells Michael’s story while still weaving in a reason for Kate to be around (she’s already gotten her book, after all) is brilliant. There’s time travel and an Oliver-style band of orphan children and dwarves and their nemeses, elves.

And as much as I like the dwarves with their drinking and vaguely Scottish-inspired snark, you guys, I am so amused by elves. They are giddy and vain and just look:

“Oh, wonderful…you’ve already fallen in love with me!”
“I have not-“
“Don’t be silly! You should see the ridiculous look upon your face! By the way, have you noticed the way my hair moves?”

And then there’s this:

“And my father is well?” asked Wilamena … “Tell me captain, what is the state of his hair?”
“Not as lustrous since your captivity, but I’m sure it will regain its natural fullness and bounce once you are home.”

I just… I can’t even.

To paraphrase S. Morgenstern, there is a shortage of perfect sequels in this world. It would be a pity to miss this one. 

9.5 out of 11 Soulful, Big-Eyed Youths

04 February 2013

How to be a Woman - Caitlin Moran

"The British version of Tina Fey's Bossypants." - VanityFair.com
I'mma stop you right there, VanityFair.com and the rest of the publishing world who just wanted to rope in the Americans who haven't ever heard of Caitlin Moran. No, you don't get to finish. Bossypants was fantastic and I enjoyed it immensely, especially because I listened to Tina read it to me through the magic of audiobooks. I have a fierce attachment to Tina Fey born of 1) her Sarah Palin impression, which made the 2008 election bearable for this displaced Alaskan*, 2) how smart she is, and 3) how much I secretly suspect that I am a lot like Liz Lemon, only less funny and with a cat. I also suspect that most single English-speaking women in their 30's feel the same way, with or without the cat.

But this book? This book isn't just a very funny memoir with some stuff in it about how women are viewed and how that viewpoint is bullshit.

This book is a MANIFESTO. Germaine (Sodding) Greer factors heavily into Moran's fundamental childhood reading, and what she (Moran) is doing here is reminding those of us with XX chromosomes that there are two sides to the Woman Coin, and that as long as we - the bearers of the XX - are happy and mostly healthy with a variety of experiences at our back - OR NOT - that's what matters. And she's doing it while making me a friend of mine snort boxed Trader Joe's wine out of my her nose.

I don't know if you've noticed, fellow lady-readers, but there doesn't seem to be a manual on womanhood. There's a sociological expectation of certain actions and behaviors, but I think we can all lift our glasses and do a little laugh-sigh a little along with 13-year-old Caitlin when she says, "Oh God, I just don't have a clue. I don't have a clue how I will ever be a woman."

My little brother THB (as christened by my friend Jasmin and standing for Tika's Hot Brother - this is a story for another time) recently asked me why I keep saying I'm a strident/raging/rampaging feminist - being a feminist is so... aggressive, he said. So... unattractive. Instead of exploding, I asked him if he thought women should have the same pay, rights, and opportunities as men do, and of course he said yes because I raised him right. And then he said, "well, I suppose that makes me a feminist too!" I nearly cried on the spot.

One single, solitary, corn syrup tear.

But back to the book. It's hilarious. It's insightful. It's informative. It's HIGHLY opinionated, but since I agree with pretty much everything she says, that's ok.

I woke up at 4:30am the other day to finish reading this. It's that good.

10.5 out of 11 British Swear Words I Will Now Incorporate Into My Vocabulary

*Yes, I grew up in Juneau, and NO, you can't see Russia from my house OR the Governor's Mansion. There's a sodding great mountain in the way.