Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We Are Young

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we're trapped in the thick of Winter Vacation, and I'm running out of Swedish fish.

I am not, however, running out of things to do. Now that we're past Christmas, and I've taken the time to play with my new toys, I'm back to work, finishing up our APChem Break Assignment, as well as working for this blog, thinking up all of the good intentions I'm going to start 2012 with, and staring listlessly at the prompt for an APEng essay I really don't want to write. Plenty of Sara Bareilles and Kate Nash is playing in the background, and I'm debating the effectiveness of clove chewing gum.

Winter Break really should just go on indefinitely. I'm never this productive during school.

Anyways, I've currently been occupying my time in the 1920s, between the pages of Jillian Larkin's fabulous Flappers series. The first two books, Vixen and Ingenue (Delacorte Press, 2010 and 2011, respectively), were simply spontaneous decisions, from the store and the library, respectively, and their stories have proven to be just as exciting. They follow the lives of society darling and flapper-in-training Gloria Carmody, her best friend Lorraine Dyer, as well as Gloria's secretive cousin Clara Knowles, from Chicago to New York, from private academies to the sleaziest speakeasies. The series totally reads as a dishy, bubbly soap opera, seriously popping with drama. The suspense builds as each girl's story is told alternating by chapter, and each flapper comes with her own problems. While some points proved predictable, you'll never guess what sort of a showdown all these secrets are leading to.

One of my favorite aspects about the books was the time period. The 1920s were easily one of the most interesting periods of American History, and I love reading about them. Vixen and Ingenue evoke an era, much like Anna Godberson did with her YA Luxe series, set in turn-of-the-century New York (and coincidentally enough, Godberson also just came out with a series set in the 1920s, called Bright Young Things). The language, the fashion, and the society rules set on display in these books really did hearken back to the glittering past.

Larkin also did well with her complex and varied female cast of characters (I make the distinction in gender because it seemed as though the men were sort of ignored or only used as romantic interests, serving as only a set of lips to kiss). Gloria, Lorraine, Clara - and later on, Vera- all made for compelling characters who you could both hate, as well as root for. Even secondary stars like Maude, Leelee, and Coco, were fun to read. They are by no means role models, but they certainly are like real personalities.

So that's what I've been spending my time reading. Unfortunately, Larkin's next book, Diva, doesn't go on sale until some point in 2012, so I may just have to start swimming in the symbolism of Fitzgerald to get my flapper fix.

#18. Jillian Larkin's Vixen (Flappers #1)

#19. Jillian Larkin's Ingenue (Flappers #2)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ophelin' So Good

Usually school-mandated reading carries the stench of death and essay questions along with it, but not so in my APEnglish class. I genuinely have never enjoyed Shakespeare as I have while reading Hamlet with my friends. While we aren't yet finished with the book, I can definitely tell you some of the things that are making it so thoroughly tolerable:
1. We're finding ways to make it fun.
The sight of a student, hunched over their desk, eyes glazed over, and desperately trying to hang on to the garbled Middle English for dear life, is a common one throughout our school district's mandatory Shakespeare-a-year English program. While by the time you've reached Senior year, like I have, you've managed to translate the stories a little bit, most people still have at least a little problem sorted through the "thee"s and "thou"s, and even then, the story itself is rife with deep meaning and thought, which may be hard to follow. My friends and I entertain ourselves, and avoid doing APChemistry homework, by doing some serious doodling (example provided above, of what resulted when my friend Catherine questioned Queen Gertrude's ability to recount the exact events of Ophelia's death, but hadn't attempted to save her). Others for this past Shakespeare section have included "Anime Dead King Hamlet" as well as "Cast of Hamlet as Animals".
2. Our teacher embraces media portrayal.
I swear, half of our class would be lost in the wandering, word-y world of Hamlet if it weren't for Kenneth Branagh. His movie version provides not only entertainment, but also serves as a sort of plotline MapQuest for those in our class struggling to follow the story, even if his is transposed into a later time period. Our teacher, Mr. C, understands that some students learn visually, and simply seeing actors portray the characters on screen may help them better comprehend the play, versus just reading it.
3. Our teacher also doesn't crowd us with information, but lets us sort it out peice by piece.
Hamlet is a complex play, considered by many to be one of the best in the English language. That may be a hint as to why an overload of assignments and essays and worksheets doesn't serve much use to the knowledge-hungry: you're forcefeeding what we'd willingly eat. Don't stuff us. Mr. C. only assigns one worksheet every one-to-two chapters to make sure we're following along, and gives short "reading check" quizzes during class every few days to review. While the student is trying to sift through the difficult nature of the story, don't throw a giant boulder of an essay in for them as well.
So, that is my brief post on why our Shakespeare study this year is going so well.

Also, if you just so happen to be reading Hamlet as well, check out this. You won't regret you did. :)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Only the Best...

Have you ever judged a series - whether it's of television, movies, or books - based solely on their fans?
The hordes of screaming teenage girls, and their mothers, whose hearts are ready to bleed for a pale, brooding, everlasting skinnyboy, or his tan, intense, buff nemesis? Or what about a greater portion of the planet, who are perpetually ready for turning their Snuggies around backwards and waving a stick in the face of another person, or eating jelly beans that, more likely than not, will make them gag? To be perfectly honest, I like Harry Potter as much as the next person who's read them each at least 8 times, and I love making fun of the Twilight franchise as much as the next sarcastic teenage biblio-hipster, but the best fans in the world are not those who obsessively gather costume components or overpriced merch galore.

The best fans in the whole world are Sherlock Holmes fans, because they are the ones who make the Sherlock Holmes movies.

Or, in the case of the BBC, the Sherlock Holmes miniseries. :)

My dad and I went through all three episodes in the space of two days after recieving it last year for Christmas, and while I thought it was a beautiful representation of the classic character, I had not had the benefit of viewing my favorite episode of the three, A Study in Pink, without having first read the original Sherlock novel, A Study in Scarlet, upon which it was based. Recently, I remedied the situation, and as I read the book, my eyes only grew wider. While Pink was an entirely different story than Scarlet, the connections between the two were so masterfully tied together, that they had to have been only a work of the utmost love for the character.

A Study in Scarlet, the global introduction to the slightly-crazed genius of Holmes, also served as his introduction to Watson, and the meeting of the two within the episode mirrors the book almost perfectly. The modern setting of the TV miniseries, however, adds so many more possibilities for showcasing the deductive skills of Holmes, as well as a modern understanding of his character: a little showy, a little sociopathic, all incomparable in brains. The two are definitely different in many respects, but the bits and peices they share alike are total treasures.

(They, however, aren't the only superSherlockfans: for instance, in the Robert Downey Jr.-helmed blockbuster, the simple scene where Watson enters the apartment to find Holmes shooting the letters V.R. into the wall are replicated from "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", which I read last summer. The entire movie is filled with subtle homages to the classic works involving the titular hero.)

All I'm really trying to convince you of with this post is the classic greatness of the book A Study in Scarlet, along with the masterful interpretation of the BBC series.

If you have not already, ask Santa for both. :)

#17. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oh, the Disappointment and Approval

So, I believe the saying is, that "the honeymoon has ended"?
I'm beginning to figure out all the faults and foibles of my once precious Kindle Touch. Many thanks to Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Princess Ben for pointing out these problems to me (more on that lovely book in a minute!).

For instance, whilst reading, I started to notice that random quotation marks had seemingly disappeared from the text. While it typically isn't that difficult to discern when a specific character has ceased speaking, it was certainly annoying to find yourself halfway into a paragraph, still reading the text in the particular voice of a character, only to find it wasn't the character speaking at all! Also, occasional words were misspelled. I had to read a sentence three times over before my story-soaked brain could fully understand that doing something "inces santly" wasn't from some kind of Latin or fantasy language, but instead, the word "incessantly" with an incredibly incorrect space in the middle. It was so irritating that I was incensed enough to look it up online, where I discovered that typographical errors in eBooks are, if not frequent, simply commonplace! Here's how I feel about it: if you're going to read a book electronically, you should be able to read the same thing all those people who bought the physical books read. There shouldn't be that big of a difference between the two, let alone major errors in punctuation and spelling!

Then, my heart broke into a million pieces. Maybe I shouldn't have started with Mindy Kaling, whose cover art for Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? was so gosh-darn cute. I know that it was cute, because I like looking at cover art, and even though it was a little harder to maneuver to the cover on a Kindle, I did it, just for the sake of seeing the artistry: the cover of a book ensnares your attention immediately, and demonstrates the story and atmosphere of what you're about to read in a mere glimpse. The battle of books over my heart and shopping cart has been decided by cover art before. Which is why the fact that Kindles don't come with cover art for all of their eBooks is completely soul-crushing! I LOVE the beautiful, glossy photos on the front of a novel! Tell me why I'm not allowed to have it now?

But I digress. My Kindle and I aren't officially broken up just yet... we're just taking a break.

So I can talk about Catherine Gilbert Murdock (whose name I just LOVE saying, for some reason) 's Princess Ben (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). It's a book I've read three times now, and I have no short amount of confidence in saying it is a really great teen-fantasy novel. This story, of a princess who-doesn't-wannabe, who, through magic and hardwork, learns about herself, her true love, and what it really means to be a princess, is one of my faves in the Teen section of our library. So, I bought it. The book is divided into four parts, which individually display different sections of her personal journey, from spoiled, over-emotional, chubby girl, to self-assured, confident, slightly-less-chubby girl (but she realizes that appearances don't have significant importance, so the fact that she still remains "more than slender" is no biggie). It's a coming-of-age novel, essentially, set in the fantasy world of Montagne, across the mountain Ancienne from neighboring Drachensbett, who are preparing to wage war. Ben - full name: Benevolence, truly one of the worst names you can inflict on a child, in my opinion, particularly if they grow up to be a full-blown terror - is your normal teenage girl on the inside, even if, on the outside, she wears a crown. She has as much trouble dancing in high heels as we modern girls do! Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that Murdock manages to tell a beautiful fairy-tale, while successfully transplanting in identifiable characters and familiar emotions, that make Princess Ben a fantasy world that's all too accessible for today's teenage girls.

# 16. Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Princess Ben.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Another problem with the Kindle Touch? I can't lay out the book covers in a line to show you what I've been reading. Oh, well. I still love it.

Anyways, I would have posted earlier, but unfortunately, college app deadlines prevented me from doing so. However, this isn't a sob post about how busy I am. In fact, I HAVE TURNED IN ALL OF MY COLLEGE APPS!!! Except for one, which isn't due until January. But I'm not worried about that right now. I'm more concentrated on enjoying the Christmas season.

And my new Kindle Touch.
Which I've still decided I kind of hate, but it's just so wonderful I can't say it out loud.

On this wonderful new device, I managed to read three books over the Thanksgiving Break. I didn't really like one book of them enough for it to warrant it's own post; however, I did enjoy them all. Just some more than others. So out of the three, I'll rank them for you (#1 being the best, #2 being the worst):

#1. (or my #13 for my goal)
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) from Mindy Kaling
Confession time: I really don't enjoy the Office television series. This makes me the one, singular person in my family who doesn't watch it. They make fun of me for it. Mainly, because they all know the reason I can't stand it: I hate awkward or uncomfortable situations, and frequently leave the room during these sections of TV shows or movies, which, for the Office, is practically every five minutes. Anyways, even though I don't like the show, I loved this book, written by one of the stars and writers, Mindy Kaling (aka Kelly Kapoor). This carefully-curated collection of memories, reflecting on her life, was awesomely funny. Another reason I enjoyed it may be that I could draw so many parallels between our lives, which may be taken as either good, or weird. Anyways, I think I'd like to be her best friend.

#2. (my #14)
Anna & the French Kiss from Stephanie Perkins
To all of the other book bloggers out there who claimed that this novel was completely mis-titled, I concur. What originally looked like nothing but the fluffiest of girlish unicorn marshmallow-goo reading material, was actually pretty solid. I don't have much experience reading teen romance, but this one was pretty cute. I liked it. While not all of us can relate to the experience of having your ultra-rich poser writer Dad having you sent to boarding school in Paris for your senior year, and while there, meeting a really wonderful guy who unfortunately already has a girlfriend, but nevertheless, embarking on strange/crazy/fun nighttime Paris adventures with him, and pushing through problems between friends to end happily ever after, Perkins made the book kind of relatable, and Anna, an interesting (if slightly melodramatic) character.

#3. (my #15)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Want to know the real reason behind reading this book? It wasn't the fact that many other friends have read it and liked it. It also wasn't the fact that even our school librarian has recommended it to me. It is simply because it is being made into a movie... a movie that just so happens to star just a handful of my favorite actors/actresses in the whole wide world (Emma Watson Nina Dobrev Logan Lerman Mae Whitman). Which is why, even though I thought the book wasn't as great as everyone hyped it up to be, I will still be seeing the movie. I just didn't find the coming-of-age story of an emotionally- and mentally-damaged freshman very interesting. Or pleasant. I don't know, maybe it's just tying back to the whole "uncomfortable" thing. I mean, I mostly read books for pleasure - because they're mentally or emotionally stimulating - and if the entire book is just awkward to read, then it really isn't a pleasurable experience for me. But it was okay, and everyone else I know seems to love it, so go ahead.

That's it for me so far this week. The rest of my free time has been taken up by applications, but now that those are done with and squared away, maybe I'll just take sometime to indulge in the luxury of being able to do my homework. And maybe I'll make some Christmas cookies, too. :)