31 December 2013

Auld Lang Syne, the 2013 Edition

2012 was an emotional clusterfuck, but it brought me some serious Character Building moments, not to mention YOU, my beloved book blogging friends.

I love not camping.
My friend Jasmin chooses words every year to focus her ambitions, and I've been joining her in this endeavor since 2009. She's a very skilled knitter (and mother and friend), so usually our words have to do with our mutual textile obsession and are then expanded into the rest of our lives. 2012's emotional rollercoaster meant that I hadn't knitted for almost a year, so for 2013 I had just one word: Heal. I've done a lot of that, as well as a lot of growing. Now, in 2014, I'm ready for some new words, and those are: 

Do What Scares You. 

For textiles, this means tackling the projects I've avoided - sweaters because I'm afraid they won't fit, finishing big projects because what if they turn out awful? (they're never awful), trading/selling the stashed yarn I no longer have a taste for, and learning to spin with more regularity, intention, and control. 

In life, this means being bolder about my choices.

But it's still 2013 for 12 more hours! Did I do awesome stuff this year? Yes. I went to some swanky parties, moved into what promises to be an awesome living situation, traveled a bunch, got much better at my job, and lived pretty excellently. Is it time for a photo montage? I THINK SO. 
My mom and I honored her mother's passing appropriately.
Megs and I hung out TWICE! (Alice and KAO and I hung out too, but there are no pictures of us?!?)
My brothers and I (plus Heather!) visited my Grandma Alicia twice as well.
I spent quality Tweedle Hunting time withe the Best Nieces
And then there were the BOOKISH things! The formation of the GIF Admiration Society, two utterly delightful Minithons that led up to Dewey's 24-hour Readathon in October, and innumerable hilarious discussions about books, authors, shipping, and Life-in-General via gChat. ANOTHER MONTAGE:

Long live the Potteralong.
I kissed a handsome man.
Rainbow Rowell is adorable.

Let's do this, 2014.

30 December 2013

(On January 11) It Will Be That Time Again

It has been a YEAR since our first Minithon! Can you believe that? Obviously we're going to celebrate in accepted GIF Admiration Society style: with another Minithon.

Standard "rules" apply:

1) Books (and snacks) should have the theme of "mini." What does that mean to you? Be ready to tell us! The more of a stretch the better, especially since we're going to be reading all day and that's the only kind of stretching we're into.

2) Hashtag #minithon on Twitter, which none of us will be on because we will be reading, right? Right.

3) Plan for a starting, mid-thon, and wrap-up post. Unless we decide to bail on the mid-thon one because we were all ignoring "rule" #2 and napping because mini-snacks go down so easily.

So grab your mini-themed books, your threadbare excuses, and your mini-snacks; we're a go on Saturday January 11 at 8:00am*, Pacific time for eight WHOLE HOURS. Is there anything I've missed?
Sign up here!
*Megs and I are the only people in this glorious California time zone and most of you have been agitating for an earlier start time because you want us to be undercaffeinated, you selfish things. What time is good for you? [edit: starting at 8am since no one complained. Whew!]

27 December 2013

The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon

So you all know I have A Thing about debut authors and how their books are generally... not so great. That's not to say that they won't get better, of course, and if your first novel is the best thing you ever produce and your name is neither Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell, I'm going to be pretty sad for you.

Maybe the thing that irritates me the most about these debuts is the superlatives that are used on the dust jackets. If someone's first work is stunning, gorgeous, groundbreaking, and phenomenal; where do they go from there? That's a lot of pressure! Especially when people are calling you the next JK Rowling because you're young, English, blonde, and (to be fair)  a pretty talented wordsmith at 23.

Correlation vs. causation, my dear Watson.

Now, don't get me wrong: The Bone Season is a grand ol' time and I not only enjoyed it thoroughly, I also look forward to reading more of Ms. Shannon's work while I weep in the corner about how I've done nothing with my life and young whippersnappers are published authors. But she's no JK, and The Bone Season is not "the next Harry Potter," so kindly ignore all that stupid hype.

The world Shannon has created is a kind of neo-Victorian clairvoyant Brave New World (although that's also one of my favorite books so y'know - also not the next Aldous Huxley, yadda yadda). It's got a whiff of Neverwhere about it, as well as some Soylent Green.

Paige is a clairvoyant in a London that diverged from ours around 200 years ago, when Edward VII went crazy at a dinner table, killed 5 people, and thus unleashed the clairvoyant curse on some of the population. The government operates as something of a junta, and most voyants have either joined the underground crime syndicate or sold out to the government for safety and work as terriers, sniffing out the illegal voyants. And of course Paige's strain of voyancy is special if not unique, and of course she doesn't know exactly how to use it. Clearly she needs a mentor.

You could just use honey, Mr. Miyagi, but whatevs.
There are twists and turns and Shannon does an excellent job of doling out information in just the right doses to intrigue her readers. There are some inconsistencies, and the pacing isn't super-refined. But I expect that she'll develop into a pretty phenomenal author if she can avoid the trap of writing novels in order to make movies, and it's all pretty engaging, especially if you threw it into you library request list without knowing anything about it except a vague feeling of "I heard this was good and maybe saw it on my goodreads feed."

7.5 out of 11 Ribbons for Dangling from in a Circus Act that No One Watches

02 December 2013

Missives from Mexico

Hellooooo! After seventeen only somewhat grueling hours of travel, I arrived in Cancun, Mexico, where my life was ROUGH, let me tell you.

So rough.

I had a bit of a family emergency in the days before I arrived and ended up taking a quick 4-day trip to rural Illinois, where my grandmother was suffering from septicemia (/shudder). Thank goodness we're not living in a post-antibiotic world... yet.

My brother and I are genetically incapable of taking a normal picture, but Grandma is doing fine! 

ANYWAY. I got home at 11:30pm on Monday and left again for work at 9am on Tuesday, so there wasn't a lot of time for the languid "what shall I take to read?" decisions I had been anticipating. So instead of making a decision, I just threw all of the library books I'd checked out to "test" into my suitcase and figured I'd sort it out when I got here:

It's moments like this that make me grateful that international flights often allow one free checked bag. No carrying 25# of books across four time zones for this girl! But I did manage to do quite a bit of knitting and listening to the third James Herriott book during my layovers, as well as to start and finish the utterly delightful The River of No Return by the Bee Ridgway.

Like Raych, I was somewhat disdainful of the idea that I could thoroughly enjoy a time travel book that didn't involve the plague or the Blitz. But this book was wonderful.

So, Nick is a lordling fighting for Wellington in Spain, and in the heat of battle gets jumped forward to 2003, where he is picked up by The Guild, whose job it is to monitor people who jump from one time into another. He spends 10 years settling in to rural Vermont on the Guild's dime, then gets a summons from his Alderwoman, who has some revelations for him.

Then there's Julia, who grew up (in 1815) with her craggy grandfather, the Earl of Dorchester. But he passes away, leaving her in the hands of his successor, who is a total dick and also probably nuts.

The Captain is pretty sure this is a terrible idea.
There are funny bits and surprising bits and a few naughty bits and the cover is gorgeous. Some of the characters that you think are for comic relief aren't, and the other way 'round. Ridgway leads the reader by the nose from one revelation to the next, and there were moments where I said, "HAH!" out loud in the airport or on the beach, then looked around furtively to see if anyone noticed.

A few people noticed.

The story spins out gorgeously. And it deals with cultural changes that we avid readers of historical fiction aren't always exposed to; I found myself thinking more carefully about my own assumptions and prejudices, and how they may seem absurd 200 years from now.

Good books make you think, regardless of what genre they get filed under.

I jumped straight from this to a Georgette Heyer and I'm disappointed in the Heyer because there's no time travel. That's how delightful this was.

10 out of 11 Secret Cupolas on Top of the Mansion

(Since I know you're all curious, I read 5.5 of the 12 books I took with me. /brushes off shoulders)

14 November 2013

The Divergent Series - Veronica Roth

Have we talked about these books before? I feel like I did, but it may have been in gchat and goodreads status updates.

I am so on top of things.

Lately it seems that a lot of books that I don't think are super-great are being turned into movies. There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is that teenagers aren't generally known for their nuanced taste but are known for disposable income and getting obsessed with seeing movies in the theater multiple times.

The Veronica Roth trilogy has been touted as the "next Hunger Games," among other things, which I suppose is better than being the next Twilight.

I've read all three of these series, and I am here to tell you in no uncertain terms that none of them stands up to some of the other, lesser-known YA authors available (thinking of you, Catherynne Valente and Rainbow Rowell). The first Hunger Games was interesting, but it lost me in book 2, aka The Hunger Games 2: In Case You Missed It The First Time, Now With Better Press! In the Divergent series, I liked book 2 better than book 1, but the third book spent approximately 400 pages talking about how segregating people based on genetics is not a good way to structure a society, which if you paid even the least bit of attention to the History of the 20th Century, you ALREADY KNOW.

The hashtag for Allegiant was full of sobbing and hand-wringing and OMG'ing, so being easily peer-pressured I slogged on to the end and while yes, there was a moment that made my eyes prickle and I was impressed a bit by The Choice Roth Made, it wasn't worth the whole 1500 pages to get there.

Most of what I got out of the series was that I'd like to zip-line off of the Sears Tower, please.

Let's not discuss Twilight. Or Bella.

4.5 of 11 Absurd Post-Apocalyptic Premises, plus one for avoiding the Love Triangle Trap.
Total: 5.5.

12 October 2013


After a year of training, it's finally upon me! Dewey's October 24-hour Readathon. I feel very fit ready for this. And I'm only five hours late.

But Tika, you may ask, what kind of training can one really do in order to read and eat delicious snacks all day? And also, doesn't that sound like... pretty much any weekend for you?

Well, dear readers, the training regimen for these kinds of things is more rigorous than you may think. I had a salad for lunch yesterday, and if that's not extreme self restraint, I don't know what is when there's chicken bruschetta pizza on the menu. I can neither confirm nor deny whether said salad had bleu cheese and bacon on it, but I can confirm that I'm neither a monk nor a nun.

Training for a readathon requires me to visit my wheelhouse, which is aggregating finger foods. I've collected snacks in the form of loads of Kenyan tea (hand-carried halfway around the world to me by my co-worker - who is actually from Kenya - because he knows how much I love tea), Honeycrisp apples (the Cadbury mini-eggs of the apple world), smoked gouda cheese, popcorn, and "Uncured Hot Salami," whose title never fails to make me alternately giggle and think, "ew. Uncured?" Whoever is in charge of naming things at that company clearly needs a vacation but the salami is delicious.

I've also put in a couple of excellent days with the GIF Admiration Society's own MiniReadathons, which most of you will probably recognize as "stuff you have participated in" because everyone who reads this is pretty much my social media buddy, as previously noted. Those of you who made it to #427 on the readers sign-up list,

(Adorable baby courtesy of Raych! Hi Raych!)

I am very impressed by you.

As for your second question, what exactly did you think training was? My brother informed me that 24 hours was a long time to read and that he would probably fall asleep at least 4 times. I gleefully informed him that I will probably only fall asleep ONCE, and that is what training gets you, my friends: fewer naps on a Saturday.

Wanna see what I'm reading?

I've also got the audiobook for All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot on deck for when I need a break from reading with my eyes and want to knit or maybe even take a walk. Being prepared to consume literature in all contingencies is important in these situations.


Let's see. Today I have consumed an inordinate amount of chocolate, crackers, apples, posole, and cheese. I finished Black Sun Rising around noon and now it's 8pm and I've taken two naps (100% more than I planned but only half of what my brother would have taken so I'mma call that a win), read the introduction and first several few okay three chapters of Dracula, tweeted a whole bunch, and now I think I'm going to listen to some James Herriot and knit for awhile.

Or maybe I'll play some video games and drink some wine. #readathon

09 October 2013

In Which I am Not Dead nor Disappeared

Ariel could use some highlights.
It's been awhile? I guess? Somehow this always happens to me in the fall. I've been reading and doing stuff but I haven't really had anything to SAY about it. Plus I talk to most of you via social media pretty much every day, so it's no like you MISSED me or anything. 

Y'anyway. In the last couple of weeks, my library queue has shrunk and I am left only with the Ambitious Non-fiction on my nightstand. I have every intention of reading it because Reza Aslan is an incredibly amazing historian and also a quite engaging writer. But every time I look at it, I get intimidated and think of him just mentioning in that interview with Fox News how he can't help but imagine that the interviewer did not read his book. 

So instead I combed my shelves for some comfortable sci-fi I haven't read in awhile, and since I finished C.S. Friedman's latest trilogy recently, I picked up the first book in her Coldfire trilogy (sensing a theme here, Friedman...), Black Sun Rising. There are several sci-fi/fantasy series that get an extra point from me because I've been reading them since I was a teenager, and this is one of them. It takes place in the far distant future after Terrans took to the stars, colonized a planet at the far edge of the galaxy, ran into some serious trouble because said planet is prone to serious earthquakes and those earthquakes let loose rivers of fae that manifest the strongest emotions of the people around them. So while you're happy, that's fantastic, but the moment you have a nightmare or are afraid, the planet will try to eat you. 

There's just one thing missing.

In other news, this post should be subtitled "But I Do Succumb to Peer Pressure," because Alice has been BADGERING me for over a week via gchat about joining this Saturday's readathon. She even invoked the California contingent and told me that Megs had already joined.

Which, by way of this post, I am doing. 

I am compelled to point out at this juncture that it was roughly this time last year that the GIF Admiration Society coalesced and decided that a whole 24 hours was FAR too many for us, and that we needed to establish a shorter period of time to work up to participating in the Dewey madness. Since then, we have done two mini-thons - complete with mini-snacks and the mini-theme - with varying degrees of success depending on what your measurement is (a plethora of snacks planned and consumed: success! reporting on said snacks to Twitter and other social media: success! reading of actual books: varying). 

Saturday's readathon probably starts waaaaay too early for me and there's definitely no way I'm going to be able to stay up for 24 hours straight - much less read for that long without going crazy - so my current plan is to set my alarm for a somewhat reasonable hour of a Saturday morning, read and eat until I need to do something else, then knit and listen to an audiobook and maybe take a walk, then probably meet a couple of girlfriends for sangria margaritas. Then I'll come home and stare at my book in confusion before giving up and eating more food. 

I'm anticipating a lot of success in the first two categories, is what I'm saying. 

21 August 2013

Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

I read this entirely in one day during the Mini Readathon at the beginning of July (it was great, we'll do another one, hurrah for permission to read and eat all day!).  My justification for this being "mini" was that it is about teenagers, who are basically mini-humans in mind if not in body. And while, yes, that is technically true, oh lord.

Ladies, you know how sometimes you're like, "WHY am I sobbing at this? What is going ON? How do I FEEL SO MUCH RIGHT NOW?!?" and then two days later your least favorite aunt comes to visit and you're like, "oh. Maybe I won't die alone and pathetic and be eaten by wild dogs after all. Bring me the chocolate and ibuprofen, feline companion!" 


Those first few days of feeeeeeels are not the ideal time to read Eleanor & Park, people, because Eleanor & Park is a book about... 

Ok, here's the thing. I got into a Twitter discussion with Rainbow Rowell last night about the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, and I said that the Ramona books are ABOUT Ramona, but Judy Blume's books are ABOUT growing up, and that is why Ramona sticks with us ladies of a certain age: because she is a real kid with a real range of kid problems. She's also the reason I can't look at a crop of Shirley Temple curls without wanting to boing them.

Which brings me back to Eleanor & Park, and what this book is ABOUT. The title characters are complete, which I really liked and which is surprisingly rare for most books - I was going to say YA books, but let's be honest: characterization is not currently in style in fiction, is it? 

But Eleanor and Park are not only well-defined and realized, they're also genuine teenagers. They do stupid shit, they think stupid things, they get stuff wrong, they're just trying to survive being teens, which is - as you may remember - HARD ENOUGH. But wrapped in all of this is Eleanor's family, which is broke and broken in a way that made me uncomfortable because I grew up poor and broken but not the same kind, so I empathized but also felt weird about my empathy because the shit that happened to me when I was a kid is nothing compared to what she is going through. Empathy is an odd thing.

So, Tika, what is this book about? You got all excitable about telling us and then went off on a tangent.

Well, my dear reader, first of all you cannot be surprised that such a thing would happen. And secondly, Eleanor & Park is a book about growing up and first love and whimsy and the awkwardness of being a teenager and parenting and preconceived notions and a definite hint of pride and prejudice (the emotions, not the book). It made my heart sore, and soar, and I had to stop a few times to ugly cry - sometimes for Eleanor and sometimes for Park.

It's a book teachers of high school students should read to remind them of what it's like to be the beings they're trying to connect to, and that's about the highest praise I can think of.

10.5 of 11 Mix Tapes from the Radio

13 August 2013

The Golden Mean - Annabel Lyon

I picked this up after my cat knocked The Interestings off of my nightstand on the very day I was considering DNF'ing it. "Just a few pages," I thought to myself. "It's important to know if this is a reading rut or if it's just that book in particular."

Yea, fuck you glasses case!

Well, it was that book in particular.

Wolitzer's use of language was fantastic, but I found her story to be lacking. Similarly, Lyon's writing is engaging, but the story wasn't the crazy revelation of ancient hijinks that I was (for no particular reason) expecting. Instead, it was what I can only describe as... hazy. As if Aristotle were telling his story through the fog of old age, describing events and loves of his life without regard to things that didn't really affect him.

Things that affect teenaged me: Jared Leto's earnest face. And eyeliner.
Also hazy in that sense of, everything felt really hot and languid - that's the word, languid! Don't say it too many times or it won't sound like a word at all. It was a fascinating re-telling, in which Alexander the Great figured hardly at all - a bold choice for a story about the time in Aristotle's life when he was Alexander's tutor.

A tutor who neglected to explain about hairstyles, obvs. LORD that is some bad hair.
And Aristotle himself? Noooooot super-likeable. He was kind of a dick to his wife, Pythias, and there was this weird homoerotic tension between him and... well, everyone else. And then there was this awesome maid but she said something snappish to Aristotle while his wife was having their baby, so she got dismissed, end of her part in the story.

This is the weird thing about writing based on the actual life events of people: there's not really a purpose for a lot of things that happen IRL (as kids these days say), but I like fiction and tidy bows on things and emotionful reasons for dismissing your wife's favorite servant who may or may not have saved her life that one time. But instead? Aristotle dismissed her and we hear no more about her at all.

This is not why I read books.

But EVEN SO, I liked the writing and the book didn't make me grumpy even though I sound that way. ARISTOTLE makes me grumpy, with his servant-dismissing ways and his bizarre treatment of Alexander the Not-Yet-Great's seriously fucking weird behavior. How much of that is based on historical record? It sounds like that guy was seriously disturbed. Everything I know about him, I learned from reading Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George, and now this strange novel.

You would think I would know more about Alexander; many of my paternal relatives carry that name, and I have not one but TWO brothers named after Mr. the Great. But the more I learn, the more I think that maybe... not such a great guy.

Staaaahp being such a jerk, Alexander the Worst.
You'll have to forgive me, I've been watching New Girl all day and I'm feeling witty after a couple of glasses of wine and a very successful experience with my new Le Creuset stockpot. It'll pass soon.

7.5 out of 11 Literal Caves - Not Those Mind Caves Like Plato, Who Was Aristotle's Teacher

06 August 2013

The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I don’t remember who it was who recommended I read this book, but I DO remember that it was more than one person. So good job, all of you.

The thing about well-translated works is that they sing in the second language as well as in the first, and this is a VERY well translated work. As an at-one-time fluent Spanish speaker, I have a soft spot in my heart for Spanish idioms and expressions, which Lucia Graves has maintained to my UTTER DELIGHT.

I dunno what you might have heard, or whether you might have (like I did) mixed this book up with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, which is an honest mistake because seriously, authors, get your naming conventions together. But if what you probably have heard is anything like what I heard about this book, you might be shocked to find out that the somewhat fantastical novel you expected – full of Cemeteries of Forgotten Books and whimsical quests to keep books alive is, in fact, NOT THAT THING. Instead, you will discover a Gothic romance complete with what may as well be Laurentina’s skeleton behind a tattered curtain.

Soooo scaaaaary! 
In 1945, Daniel chooses a book on his 10th birthday from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He is promptly accosted by many people who want the book, for mostly nefarious reasons, and the plot unfolds from there like the Marauder’s Map – all bits over here and a folded part over there, that come together to make a whole picture, but not of Hogwarts.

More's the pity.
Daniel goes along, finding stuff out about the author of the book and falling in and out and in and out of love along the way as he grows older. And it’s so, so beautifully written that when it drags about 2/3 of the way through you won’t mind much, and when you slowly narrow down the various culprits juuuust ahead of Daniel, you’ll be smug, and when it ends, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s part of a trilogy.

The second book of which is waiting for me at el biblioteca right now.

8 of 11 Brains Rotted by Reading, Just Like that Sancho Panza

30 July 2013

The Interestings - Meg Wolitzer

I  became the eleventy-billionth person in line to read this after reading Book Riot’s article about the best books published in 2013 so far. Amanda liked it a lot, and since I’m quite fond of Amanda, I was extremely smug to find it on the Infamous 7-Day Shelf at the library.

Who's smug now?

Five pages in, I was So. Fucking. Charmed. By this book. How can one not be, with this description of growing up?

Irony was new to her and tasted oddly good [...] Soon, she and the rest of them would be ironic much of the time, unable to answer and innocent question without giving their words a snide little adjustment. Fairly soon after that, the snideness would soften, the irony would be mixed with seriousness, and the years would shorten and fly by.
It's all so true.

But ALAS and ALACK, it was all downhill from there, and by page 82 I was gonna give it one more night to prove itself worthy – by which I mean show that it has a plot I could get behind - when my cat attacked The Golden Mean for no reason whatsoever and I picked that up instead and well, you know what happens when serendipity comes a-knocking (things off of your nightstand).

Reader, I started it.

There was a time when I was somewhat judgmental of people who didn’t finish books. “I just HAVE to finish them, even if they’re bad!” I would say, with a serious case of Humblebrag. But much like my opinions about What Kids Should Read These Days, I have abandoned that paradigm for a new one, which is that life is too damn short to read books you don’t enjoy.

And thus did I DNF The Interestings for being… uninteresting.

But seriously, you guys, I have An Issue with the genre of contemporary literary fiction. I go into it all excited for plot twists and good writing and WHOA did you see that clever metaphor go by? But instead, I feel awkwardly like I’m reading someone’s exceedingly pretentious, self-aware diary from when they were a smarter-than-most-adults teenager.

Remind me of this next time we’re on gchat and I get all excited about a book that isn’t a part of the Modern Library reprints or doesn’t have a dragon/spaceship (maybe a DRAGON SPACESHIP?!? Helloooo, Anne McCaffrey!) on the cover, okay?