November 30, 2007

You're It

It has been pointed out to me by a certain friend that I do not post often about myself. This is true. Mainly books here. But as she is a good friend, and though she claims she's fine if I don't respond to this tag, I have decided to step up to the plate and give my first response to a tagging.

What Was I Doing 10 Years Ago?
I was in my freshman year of college counting the days till I got to go home to California for Christmas. I was also stalking a poor freshman boy with nice hair and a more than passing resemblance to the Blue Eagle (with the aforementioned friend).

What Was I Doing 5 Years Ago?
Working on my masters degree in British Literature and taking a George Eliot class in which we read a book a week. The week we read Middlemarch was one of the most exquisite weeks of my life.

What Was I Doing 1 Year Ago?
I'd just gotten back from a trip to Morocco, Egypt, and Italy. We rode camels into the desert and watched the sun rise over the Sahara. We climbed down into the bowels of the Pyramids and Aaron was held at bayonet point in the Cairo airport. We spent one misty, moisty afternoon in Venice and ate one absolutely delicious dinner of carbonara and pesto at a trattoria in Milano.

What Was I Doing Yesterday?
Hanging candy canes on our Christmas tree with William and rocking out at the Billy Joel concert with Liza.

5 Snacks I Enjoy
Salt & Vinegar chips, snap peas, popcorn, Aunt Susan's seasoned pretzels, and Cadbury Eggs at Easter. Mmm...

5 Things I Would Do if I Had a Million Dollars
Is it weird that I have a hard time coming up with things? Um, buy a small villa in Italy? Build a totally awesome library in said villa? Make annual pilgrimages to England? Hire a personal investor and turn it into 20 million? Not tell anyone?

5 Places I Would Run Away To
The bookstore, Tintern Abbey, Liza's house, Heidi's house, the 20th floor apartment Emily used to live in in Manhattan because, even though it was small, it was a big happy place.

5 T.V. Shows I Like
Buffy, Veronica Mars, House, West Wing, and Arrested Development

5 Things I Hate Doing
Killing spiders, cleaning the bathroom, drinking liquid medicine, ironing, and getting up in the morning

5 Biggest Joys of the Moment
Well, filling this out obviously. Christmastime. Singing with Will. Going to movies with Jed. Laughing with Aaron.

Phew. Now that's over, I hereby tag Elisa, Heidi, Liz, Martha, and Rachel. Mwa-ha-ha...

November 27, 2007

Book Playlists



I tend to compose soundtracks to my favorite books. It's the first sign that a story and it's characters are really getting to me. I start assigning songs to them. I sing them to myself while I'm driving in the car thinking about the book. Glass is half full version: compiling these playlists is a fun way of dealing with the temporary obsession that comes with a great read. Glass is half empty version: I'm completely nuts. But I can't be because I've noticed some authors posting playlists to their novels on their websites. I hadn't composed one lately. But when I read Long May She Reign, the songs just started popping into my head.

So this is my Long May She Reign playlist. What are the soundtracks to your favorite books?

November 16, 2007

Sensitive by Nina Wright

This year instead of reading any creepy (or at least paranormal) books in preparation for Halloween, the bug hit me after the fact. Bookshelves of Doom's review intrigued me so I ordered a copy of Nina Wright's Sensitive and, in a shockingly uncharacteristic move, decided to forego the prequel, Homefree, and just jump right in. I liked the premise. Easter Hutton, her best friend Andrew, and her kinda-sorta boyfriend Cal are sensitives, meaning they have abilities a little left of normal. Andrew can read memories, Cal practices psychokinesis, and Easter is capable of astral projection. Translation: her spirit can travel through time and space without leaving her body. All three of them are part of Homefree--an underground organization that educates and trains paranormally minded teens. Fun premise, no? Throw in Easter's rather monumentally maternally challenged alcoholic mother and the mysterious Homefree headmaster Mr. Fairless and it sounds like a fun ride to me.

The thing was the story never let me in. The writing told me that Easter and Cal had the hots for each other and that Andrew was somehow more endangered by his abilities than the other two, but those things never really hit me. I never felt the passion or danger. I feel like lately I'm always asking for longer books. I'm not sure why this is the case. It takes a lot to create fully developed characters and have them burst forth on the page for your reader, living and breathing and calling out each other's names. Some authors are able to do this on a small page count. Their stories leave me satisfied instead of aching for more. Meg Rosoff, Garret Freymann-Weyr, and Laura Wiess leap to mind. Others simply require more pages. I felt like Sensitive could have benefited from a few (maybe 100) more, along with a little more willingness to let the reader in and feel with the characters. At the end of the book, I felt like I'd just gotten home from one of those freshman year college dates with the guy who begins every sentence with the words, "I'm the kind of guy who..."
Stop right there. If you have to tell me, it's all over.

Links:
Bookshelves of Doom Review
Bildungsroman Interview

November 14, 2007

Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern

I came across Julie Halpern's first novel while browsing the offerings over at Feiwel & Friends. I was so grateful they were publishing Long May She Reign that I grabbed Carpe Diem and Get Well Soon as well because if they're publishing Ellen Emerson White books they not only have superb taste, they deserve my undying loyalty. Plus, both books just looked good. Get Well Soon tells the story of Anna Bloom, a depressed teenager whose parents commit her to a mental institution when her panic attacks get in the way of her going to school. Alone, overweight, and braless, Anna starts writing a series of letters to her best friend Tracy as a way of staying sane despite being surrounded by drug dealers, Satanists, pregnant cheerleaders, oh my! Anna's voice is at times bitter, amused, desperate, and uncertain. But it is always matter-of-fact. And it is this quality that is most appealing. I never got the feeling she was sugar-coating the way things were or trying to put something over on her reader. She writes all of these letters describing her experience in minute detail yet she doesn't send a single one. They stay in her room with her, her roommate Sandy, and Sandy's plastic baby Morgan. They seem to be a way of processing the unimaginable thing that has happened to her. By keeping them she can continue to review and add on to the narrative so that when it is time to go home there will be a record of how she survived. In an ironic twist of fate, life in the mental hospital turns out to be more interesting and "healthy" for Anna than it was outside. She makes friends who understand her and who do not send her "Get Well Soon" cards as though she had chicken pox or mono. Despite the absurd hospital workers and a few admittedly crazy fellow patients Anna is able to be herself. Paradoxically, the confining walls give her the space she needs to figure out not only what happened to her, but what she will do with this new-found self knowledge. I laughed repeatedly while reading about Anna and Sandy, Justin and Matt O. I felt about like Anna did when the time came to leave the hospital. I wasn't ready. A little more time in the loony bin, please. The real world can wait. But Anna had to go back home and the book had to end and I'm happy I got to spend this time with her.

Links:
The Ya Ya Yas Review
The Ya Ya Yas Interview
Bildungsroman Interview
How I Met My Husband: A Zine Love Story
Luv and Fish Eyes

November 9, 2007

Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White

I have to preface this review by saying I've been an Ellen Emerson White addict for years. Ever since I found a used copy of Life Without Friends and took it home with me because I liked the girl on the cover so much. I've never read a "new" EEW book in my life. They've all been out of print or used when I've come across them. So sitting down with a brand spanking new copy of a brand spanking new book of hers...well, let's just say it was a religious experience and leave it at that. Long May She Reign is a sequel to the President's Daughter trilogy written in the 80s. The series follows Meg Powers, daughter of the first female president of the United States, and her experience moving to the White House and adjusting to life in the public eye. In the last book, Long Live the Queen, Meg is abducted by terrorists, forced to endure days of starvation, beatings, and emotional torture, only to be dumped in a mine shaft, shackled to the wall, and left to die. In an act of breathtaking determination, she breaks the bones in her hand in order to escape and is later reunited with her family.

Long May She Reign picks up where Long Live the Queen left off. Meg is in bad shape, to put it unbelievably mildly. She's a wreck, physically and emotionally, and her family isn't far behind. At best, they're able to skirt the issue of what happened to her. And none of them can answer the omnipresent question: what happens next? So Meg closes her eyes and makes the decision to go ahead and go to college hoping her absence will make it possible for her family to move on. At Williams, Meg finds it even harder than she imagined to function as a college freshman, surrounded by paranoid secret service agents and a slew of students who regard her with, at best, timid curiosity and, at worst, outright hostility. Fortunately Meg meets a couple of people who are determined to insinuate themselves into her life whether she wants them or not: her JA Susan (the main character in Friends for Life) and an Ultimate Frisbee-playing, love 'em and leave 'em California boy named Jack. Having been through her own personal hell when her best friend was murdered during their junior year of high school, Susan is familiar with the seemingly insurmountable challenge Meg faces in attempting to reclaim her life. Slowly, these two survivors strike up a tenuous friendship. Meanwhile, Meg negotiates an equally fragile relationship with Jack. Both relationships are unusually compelling. I love that Meg and Jack are equals--two extremely flawed, extremely interesting, extremely complicated people attracted to each other precisely because they are flawed and interesting and complicated. I love that he calls her on things. That it makes her mad when he scores higher than she does on a psych test. That they get angry at each other and talk it out and laugh together and move on. As I've mentioned before, I get tired of the Tireless Good Guy and his counterpart the Reformed Bad Boy. It was so refreshing to find that Jack was neither of these. And, as ever, White's sarcastic, thought-provoking dialogue kept me absolutely glued to the page. There's something so satisfying when a writer treats her reader as though she is smart. The whole time I was reading it I felt in the company of old friends, that I had been here before, and that I was comfortable here. Long May She Reign was hands down the book I was most excited about this year and it exceeded all my expectations. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Links:
The YA YA YAs Review
Publisher's Weekly Q&A with Ellen Emerson White
Tandem Insights Review
A Chair, A Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy Interview
Suburban Kvetch Review
Lady Librarian Review

November 5, 2007

A Month of Reading: October

An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris
I am so into this series. I stumbled across Charlaine Harris right about the same time I discovered Janet Evanovich--just after my son was born. I credit the two of them for getting me through those postpartum blues, for making me laugh when all I felt like doing was cry. While I always look forward to the next Sookie Stackhouse book, it's Harris' Harper Connelly mystery series that's really got me champing at the bit for more. Harper finds dead people. With the help of her stepbrother Tolliver, she travels from town to town helping police departments and grieving families alike get to the heart of mysterious deaths. The best thing about these books is the unexpectedly complex relationship between Harper and Tolliver (two people who don't have a thing in the world except each other) and the increasingly mesmerizing/horrifying events they find themselves mixed up in. Harper never fails to find the body(ies) in question, but the two of them just can't seem to make it out of town before all hell breaks loose. This third installment is by far the most chilling and Harris wisely balances out the heinous with some great interpersonal stuff between Harper and Tolliver. I like that she isn't dragging this series out. With Harris you always get plenty of bank for your buck.

Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley
A new Robin McKinley. It's got the word "dragon" in the title. And it's narrated by a boy. As I'm constantly telling long-suffering family members (anyone who will listen, really), with McKinley you never know what you're gonna get. I mean, yeah, she's known for her fairy tale retellings. And her fantasy stories about girls who kick butt. Oh, and that one vampire book about the baker. But just when you think you know what to expect, she writes a contemporary only sorta fantasy about a boy who grows up in a national park inhabited by dragons nobody's ever seen but who are nonetheless there. Jake finds this out firsthand when he stumbles across a dying dragon and her litter of dragon kits. Without thinking about it twice, he stuffs one of the babies inside his shirt and heads for the hills. Thus the adventure begins. Jake's wandering, frantic, self-deprecating narration was right up my alley. I loved it. I loved that she gave her all to get inside a fifteen-year-old boy's head, threw in a few dragons, a heckuva lot of governmental red tape, and decided to see where it took her. Bottom line: Sequels or no, Damar or no, I am up for anything you are, Ms. McKinley. Winner of this month's Best Last Line Award.

The Queen in Winter by Sharon Shinn, et al.
This is the second short story compilation I've read in which Shinn returns to one of the worlds from her novels. In "When Winter Comes," she follows a briefly mentioned character from the Twelve Houses novels, a girl whose sister Senneth saved from death in Mystic and Rider. In the story, Sosie, her sister, and her sister's newborn child flee certain death in the dead of night. With no money, no food, and only a vague idea of where to go, Sosie leads the three of them on an arduous journey. Sosie is used to working hard and making sure those she loves are taken care of. In this short but sweet story it was nice to see someone concerned with her welfare for once. The fact that it was the amiable Darryn Rappengrass was just cream.

The Declaration by Gemma Malley
Set in the year 2140 when the world population subsists primarily on the drug Longevity, which holds aging at bay, this dystopian novel seemed just what the doctor ordered for a particularly stubborn reading slump. Couples are only allowed one child and any they have illegally after that are known as Surpluses. Surpluses are taken away from their parents and raised in a facility such as Grange Hall where our protagonist Surplus Anna resides. They are intended to learn how to be useful to society by serving legal humans. That or end up in a work camp or, even more likely, dead. I liked that Anna wasn't rebellious from the start. That she had been so thoroughly indoctrinated she had to be kicked and beaten into believing in something more. It made her more interesting than I originally anticipated. However. From that point on, the storyline got so predictable it was difficult to stick with it. Right up to the melodramatic ending scene which had me holding the book at arm's length in disbelief. Really? I asked it. I mean, really? I wanted to like The Declaration. I wanted to like Anna and Peter and their shadowy resistance-fighting parents. But I found myself agreeing with Diane Samuels' Guardian review. The execution just didn't live up to the promise. No matter how much I wanted it to.

Beastly by Alex Flinn
I read this in one big gulp the day it showed up on my doorstep. I've flirted with the thought of reading an Alex Flinn book for awhile now and just never got around to it. Beastly was the perfect point of entry. Loved the title, loved the cover, loved the back jacket excerpt. Set in contemporary NYC, this version is told from the Beast's perspective as he recounts the tale of how a scorned gothgirl witch changed him into a beast and his subsequent efforts to regain his human form (and perhaps a little actual humanity while he's at it). What I loved about this book was the way Flinn absolutely threw her story (and her characters) into the modern world of teenagedom. If a 16-year-old former cock of the walk high school student suddenly found himself a big beastie, he'd, well, once he got over the social mortification of it all, he'd totally find himself a chat room for transformation survivors where he could take advantage of his anonymity and make snarky remarks. And that's exactly what Kyle does. The book opens with a transcript from one of these chats, and they are interspersed throughout the rest of the narrative. They are the most hilarious parts of the book. BeastNYC, SilentGirl, Froggie, and GrizzlyGuy talk about their struggles as three transformed beings (and one wannabe). The discussion is moderated by the mysterious Mr. Anderson and as the familiar fairy tale characters took shape I couldn't stop myself laughing out loud. This B&B story hits everything right and the changes Ms. Flinn made enhanced her grittier version of the tale. For instance, Flinn's Beast is more akin to a dark superhero. Batman prowling the streets of Gotham City at night. He even takes a new name--Adrian--symbolizing his complete reversal in fortune, bleak new outlook on life, and ultimate rejection of the boy he used to be. In addition, the reader gets to catch the whole transformation thing as it happens. In most versions, we come to it way after the fact. Often the Beast has been languishing under his curse for hundreds of years when we come upon him. In this case, Kyle/Adrian has just two years to find true love and break the spell. I liked that we got in on how he coped with it all, as opposed to getting it in retrospect. This is also the first version I've read where Beauty's family didn't want her. Where, by all accounts, she's had a rougher life than he has. It makes it that much sweeter when these two people who have suffered much find not only love, but a way out.

General Winston's Daughter by Sharon Shinn
Another perfectly pleasant offering from Sharon Shinn. This imperialist nation attempts to invade and conquer pacifist nation story served as a nice appetizer for the next Twelve Houses book just out. I kept getting flashes from the opening scenes of The Blue Sword while reading about Averie and her life in Chiarrin--the land her general father is busy colonizing. The young girl who travels from her homeland to visit the far reaches of the empire. Her attempts to immerse herself in the culture and her growing fascination with said culture. That was, in fact, my favorite part of the book--the descriptions of the Chiarrin people and their land, the broken gods they worshiped, and the heavily symbolic colors of their clothing. Growing up in the military, moving around the world every two years or so, I resonated with Averie's experience. I was suffused in memories. I understood her fascination and her desire to fit in seamlessly. I was devastated along with her in the face of betrayal from unexpected corners. And I felt courageous as, in the end, she shunned the easy choice in favor of another new horizon with its accompanying challenges, heartache, and joy.

True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks
I spent the majority of last year researching Canada, its people, history, and culture. Along the way I managed to fit in a few for-fun books by Canadian authors and I surfaced from the whole thing mystified as to why we never seem to get wind of new Canadian books, particularly YA ones. That's why I was so pleased to find Heartless Girl. None of our local bookstores had it, but the library did (bless them) so I picked it up on my way home from work and read it later that night as my husband snored gently beside me (my second book-in-a-night of the month). Heartless Girl really ought to be swallowed in one satisfying session, I think. The writing is spare but weighty. Brooks' words leave a mark on you long after your eyes move past them on the page. Set in present-day Manitoba, the story follows self-proclaimed heartless girl Noreen. World-weary at 17, pregnant and on the run from her boyfriend Wesley (the first kind boy she's been with), Noreen steals his truck and his cash and winds up broke and alone in a small farming town not far from Brandon. We get the story from the perspective of Noreen, Wesley, and several of the inhabitants of Pembina Lake--the small town Noreen finds herself unable to leave. I loved the characters with their strengths and weaknesses, all of them prominently on display. Noreen is unbearably heartless at times. She is also sensitive and imaginative and capable of love. Where she walks trouble follows and everyone she comes into contact with meets with disaster at some point. But somehow they're unable to just wash their hands of her and let her go. Despite their own numerous personal issues, the people there take her in, feed her, give her work, and just try (sometimes against all reason) to help this girl whose life has been seemingly cursed since the day she was born. And then there's Wesley. The Cree construction worker with a sky full of stars and careful hands. I liked that he didn't let Noreen trample him underfoot. I liked that he yelled and stomped and left when he should. I get tired sometimes of the Tireless Good Guy. The one who's always there and comes back even when she doesn't deserve him. These two find their way back to each other only when their eyes can see clearly again. When Noreen learns how to stay still and not run. The vastness of the prairie is in this slim novel and I'm definitely going to check out more books by Martha Brooks.

Rereads of the past month:

Tis the Season and Stand Down by Zack Emerson (Ellen Emerson White)
Because I read The Road Home last month and my books finally came out of storage this month. We got them all up on shelves and I was able to hold the Echo Company books again and read the last two (my favorites because they're where Rebecca's story begins). Ms. White wrote these four books under the pseudonym Zack Emerson because publishers didn't think kids would read a bunch of Vietnam books written by a woman. A bunch of bull crap IMO, but whatever. They're woefully out of print and I can only hope that as they're reprinting the President's Daughter books, they'll go ahead and make me deliriously happy by reprinting these little gems as well. They follow Private Michael Jennings, Snoopy, Sgt. Hansen, and all the guys in his company. The third book in the series, Tis the Season is actually told from Rebecca's perspective and shows how she ends up in the jungle and eventually runs into Michael and Company. Stand Down, the best and longest of the bunch, goes back to Michael's POV. We get to read their early letters and the events take us right up to where The Road Home begins.

November 2, 2007

Veronica Mars Season 4 Pilot

Just in case you haven't had your daily dose of longing mixed with regret. Here's the Veronica Mars Season 4 Pilot (in two parts) that Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell put together and pitched to the CW. Despite it being made of awesome, it apparently wasn't enough for them to keep this amazing show on the air. As for me, you had me at hello, Veronica. You had me at hello.

Part I


Part II


Sigh. I miss Logan.

On a much happier note. This news made my day.