Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar by Kelly Oxford

Everyone has their one "quirk" genre in their favorites list. For some, it's something basic, like sports novels, or novels set in a particular place, like Paris or your hometown. For others, it's those mystery series where the protagonist is a cat. Regardless, everyone's partial to their own particular brand of entertainment. My genre is - and probably always will be - comedy memoirs. So when I saw that Kelly Oxford's Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar ebook was on sale for Kindle, I jumped headfirst.

Kelly Oxford is a comedy screenwriter and mother of three from Canada whose internet stardom effortlessly translated into this hilarious memoir book of essays, Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar. Charting her comedic rise, from youthful ambition to stoner teenager-dom, to dodging the life of a widowed waitress, to taking her kids to Disneyland, Kelly just can't stop herself from telling the truth... and while her life may not be perfect, it sure is funny.

The genre of comedian memoirs has its variations. Some are actual, stand-up, on-stage comedians - like Steve Martin - and others found their ground as practiced comedy writers for either television or print - like Tina Fey- and some are even a hybrid of both, like my personal goddesses, Mindy Kaling and Chelsea Handler. Some are funny, like you'd expect them to be, while others choose instead to detail their personal journeys towards humor, which, more often than not, contain a fair amount of tragedy as well. Any and all are beloved by me.

Oxford manages to convey both the sad and the glorious in equal measure, detailing some of the most excruciating, awkward, terrible, train-wreck tragic parts of her life... by telling them in a way that keeps you laughing. (And not just "blowing a little harder through your nose" laughing. I mean full-on "makes people opt out of sitting next to you on public transportation" laughing.)

Everything about these memoirs are flawless. There isn't even a single aspect of her writing style I would have rather done without: her profanity and unabashed fondness for the inappropriate make her sense of humor comparable to Chelsea Handler; however, there's a distinct difference in comedic timing. Oxford's knack for the cramped confines of a well-delivered tweet translates into line after line of simmering humor that boils up to a well-organized story arc for each essay. There's no space wasted with filler or unnecessary material... if you're not laughing, it's because you've died laughing.

However, the book does have its reflective, tender moments, between all of the chuckles. From a call home to her mom from her elementary school office, or the calm of a car ride home with her dad after a wild teenage party, to her brief time spent assisting the elderly, Oxford puts the "art" in "heart" by sneaking the sentimentality in between curse words and anecdotes about poop.

Just read "An Open Letter to the Nurse Who Gave Me an Enema Bottle and Told Me to Do it Myself While I Was High on Morphine," and you'll be hooked. I promise.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: Timebound by Rysa Walker

(This novel was purchased through Amazon's new Kindle First feature, which allows for editor's picks of upcoming ebooks to be purchased prior to their release date. Timebound will be available on January 1st.)

So, I mentioned recently that I went on a bit of a book-buying binge a couple of weeks ago, as a means of distracting myself from Finals preparation. Now that I've gotten over those woes and am on Winter Break, I can finally read those books (and no worries about my classes... I 4.0'd English and got a 3.8 in Fairy Tales)! I was most excited about Timebound, by Rysa Walker, so I decided to give that one a go first, out of the many books I have on my Winter TBR list, because, honestly, with 3 weeks off of school, a lack of time was no longer a problem for me.

Timebound (first in the "Chronos Files" series) details the story of sixteen-year-old Katie Pierce-Keller, a normal girl with divorced parents, who finds out, one day, that she's never existed. Well, not in this timeline, anyways. But if that's true, then it means everything her grandmother has told her, about the organization CHRONOS and the genetically-determined ability to travel through time, is true. Suddenly, Katie has to cope with a present where her best friend is part of a cult, her mother was never born, and her new boyfriend is the guy who took her place when she disappeared. But when it comes down to it, can just a normal teenage girl make the difficult decision, of which time stream is correct... and which one is right?

I initially approached this novel with no small amount of trepidation, due to the typical tricky nature of building a cohesive and fully-integrated world oriented around the concept of time travel. There's a lot of rules to explain, fundamental issues to address (um, why are things randomly disappearing?), and we can't forget the tweaks to the time-old idea that makes the concept individual... and it's difficult to make such a popular plot device your own.

Ultimately, all of my questions about how, exactly, this was going to work were answered; however, in citing the age-old adage of "actions speak louder than words," I wish there had been a little more demonstration than info-dumping. The benefit of having a clueless protagonist who is learning information at the same rate as the reader is that there's the opportunity to explain... I just wish it had been done in a less drawn-out and monologue-like fashion.

To be real, I almost DNF'd at around 25% of the way through the novel. I just found the pacing uneven, the constant descriptions to be pretty droll, and the relationships too unrealistic (not because of the time-travel thing, but because of the whole insta-love thing). The novel - though containing a lot of interesting historical factoids - was unfortunately written in a more basic style as well. Probably a good choice, due to the already confusing nature of what is being discussed, but boring. And honestly, for a novel that builds up to the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair, they sure took their sweet time in getting there.

However, once they did, things finally got interesting. Really interesting, actually, and really quickly. The plot - finally straightened out and fully operational after all of that exhausting and extensive back story - takes off with a bang, and the stakes are made clear. The endless pages dedicated to the construction of, well, everything, form a complexity of interwoven webs in the time stream where, all of a sudden, we jet directly to the action, and it's nothing but a race to the finish line.

The book was hard to get through in a lot of places, but in the end, I really enjoyed it. Walker tackled a subject that's both been overplayed as well as over-hyped and wrote a book that utilizes the topic of time-travel in a totally new and engaging way. The book leaves off at a pretty interesting moment, and it's primed and ready for the next book in the series to completely blow us away, like the second half of this first book did. Walker took her time building the car... now let's just see how fast it can drive.

For fans of historical and science fiction for the YA set, as well as evil cult-ish religions manipulated for secret purposes and lots of Princess Bride references, I would recommend Timebound, if just for the adventure that's clearly in store with the next novel in the series.

Monday, December 9, 2013

All That Power

There are some books you like, and some books you don't. There are some books you fall in love with completely, and then, sometimes those books have sequels. And on an all-too rare, rare occasion, sometimes those sequels just as amazing - and maybe even better - than the original novel. Let me put it this way: I have been stalling the writing process of this review for over two weeks because I'm still trying to process the magic that I have read.

Crown of Midnight, by Sarah J. Maas, is the dazzling sequel to last year's thrilling Throne of Glass, a novel that introduced us to the fantasy world of Erilea, the powerful and evil King of Adarlan, his handsome son Prince Dorian, gruff Captian of the Guard Chaol Westfall, the mysterious and hilarious Princess Nehemia, and most importantly, the kickass, beauitful, leaves-no-survivors (or so you think) force to be reckoned with that is Celaena Sardothien. She's finally gained the position of the King's royal assassin, but her loyalties certainly aren't to the King, the man who sent her to the saltmines of Endovier in the first place. Involved in the duplicitous dance of remaining under the hand of Erliea's malicious monarch, while still standing true to her own beliefs, as well as the people she cares about most, Celaena has a lot on her plate already, even without more magical interference. However, as evil forces gather on the horizon, our heroine is forced to make some powerful choices, about what she's willing to do to fight for what's right.

I was completely terrified of the "sophomore slump" coming into this book, which is why - no matter how excited I was - I put it off 'til Thanksgiving to read it. I was worried that there's no way the sequel could contain as much suspense, action, romance, and intrigue as the first, that there was no way the stakes could be raised quite as high, or the plot would move along quite as quickly.

And then ohmygod I caught whiplash from the vertigo-inducing pace and found myself reeling from plot twist after plot twist, careening through expertly-crafted battles of both the hand and the heart, and being drawn in by even more well-written lore and world development.

My expectations did a complete 180 degrees from what they were coming into the novel, boomeranging from high hopes and low expectations to barely hanging on the sides of my chair, as the story raced along at 100 miles per hour starting from Page 1. The stakes aren't just raised, they're jettisoned into the sky, as the characters we've already grown to care about are put in more danger than ever before. Even characters I didn't care about were suddenly thrust into peril and it made me care.

Other things Maas made me do? Swoon. Sigh. Shake my head. Rock back and forth. Bite my nails. At one memorable moment about halfway through the novel... break down in tears. Like, completely. Maas is exceptional in her abilities to make you relate to and empathize with a character - even the nearly-despicable ones - and every single member of the cast of characters is fleshed out in full.

So, in total, and in attempting to keep my super fangirl emotions in check, Crown of Midnight not only successfully continues on the already-impressive saga of Celaena Sardothien, but does so in a way that gets your heart pumping and leaves your mind spinning, while still drawing in the reader to the dynamic character development and intricate world building that made the first novel in the series, Throne of Glass, so immensely popular.

Specifically, for fans of well-written high fantasy, as well as of Maas herself, read this book, read this series, and pre-order The Assasin's Blade immediately, if you haven't already. Because it's just so totally worth it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Stacking the Shelves: Surprise Finals Procrastination Book Haul!

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly Saturday book meme from Tynga's Reviews, all about sharing the books you've added to your shelves over the course of the week.

For us over here at the University of Washington in Seattle, things have gotten very, very quiet, as Dead Week ends, and Finals kicks into full gear. Friends are finishing up classes, and going home, while I'm stuck waiting for the inevitable, and frankly, getting bored of studying. These last two Finals for me - if Midterms were any indication - are going to be painfully easy, and now, I'm just stalling out my time until I get to go back to Tacoma on Wednesday night. Can you really blame me for buying a couple of books on my Kindle? 

Of course not. They were on sale!

There are nine of them. 

That's right. I just bought nine new books for my Kindle in the past three days, totaling up to under $27, which is approximately $3 per book. One of them's the start of a series I've been meaning to read, two are part of a series I wanted to pick up again, and one's not even being released in hardcover until next month. 

Alright, I've teased you enough! Here's how I stacked my shelves while procrastinating for Finals: 

Timebound, by Rysa Walker
Set to be published on January 1st, this Amazon First Reads YA pick follows a sixteen year old girl struggling to survive as a murder at the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair destroys her very existence from time. 

A Storm of Swords and A Clash of Kings, both by George R.R. Martin
Yes, I'm starting to read Game of Thrones again. Shut up, they're great. 

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
An author I truly admire with a book I vaguely remember reading half of the fifth grade. Maybe I just need a little high fantasy and falling stars in my life, that's all. 

Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar, by Kelly Oxford
I love memoirs, and I especially love funny women. This selection promises both, as an uproariously funny Twitter mommy shares her life story. 

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg
What can I say? I'm doing big things in life. More like, I want to be able to do big things in life and I just have a real penchant for self-help books, but still. 

Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi
A highly-rated start to an incredibly popular YA fantasy series, so why not give it a read, right? Besides, book 2 in the series is supposed to be even better than the first, so I've got to start somewhere. 

Not Pictured (because I'm a snob for cover art): 

Pastels and Jingle Bells: A Novella, by Christine S. Feldman
Self-published holiday-themed romance novella? Why not. 

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson 
Motivated primarily by the fact that I had a Disney movie night with my bestie, my Little, and Disney's Treasure Planet last night, and I'm feeling nostalgic. 

Now, primarily to keep my father from going apopleptic now that we've gotten to the end of the list, I'm going to promise that I won't read a single one of these books until I've finished rereading Great Expectations for my English Final on Monday. (Well, I mean, I'll try.) 

What's new on YOUR shelves this week? 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

College Fashion Post Link Up: Hans Christian Andersen

Well, we're now in the last month of my contributing editorship with College Fashion, and you'd think that I'd be taking this opportunity to really pour a lot of love into these last few posts, right? Unfortunately, Dead Week at the University of Washington doesn't allow for much "free time" to do things like "read books" or "sleep," which means that such luxuries as actually putting Tender Loving Care about what I write is outside the bounds of what I'll be able to do with my life as long as school is still in session. 

Thankfully, I'm taking a Hans Christian Andersen class right now - shout out to the UW Scandinavian department! - and I found inspiration staring me right in the textbook. 
Here's a sneak peek, over to a look inspired by the classic Andersenian classic "The Red Shoes": 
(unfortunately, in rereading the article, I realize that there was incorrect information in the summary of the story itself, and thought I'm 90% sure it was the fault of the person who edited my article, and not me, that doesn't mean that I'm not incredibly guilty and sad about it...:( )

So, click on over to College Fashion by following the link right here, and leave a comment as to how lovely I'm doing with my last few posts! 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Coming Attractions: December

{Partaking in a Tacoma tradition over Thanksgiving Break with Point Defiance Zoo's "Zoolights"; Attending a campus club's event with some girls from my sorority; Scanning over the first signs of holiday season at our house} 

It's almost Winter, so it's understandable that sometimes, you get sick. Sometimes, you get a little tickle in your throat, or a sniffle of a cold; that's totally fine. What is NOT fine is a hacking cough that interrupts all semblance of normal sleeping patterns, and ends up racking your body with spasms so frequently that you pop the cartilage running along the bottom of your ribs, so now not only do you feel constantly choked, but you can barely sneeze without feeling like you've been shot. Bonus points if you can also drop a fully-loaded 32 oz. water bottle on your foot, and put two toes completely out of commission as well. 

Oh, and did I mention we're now entering Dead Week, and Finals start directly after that

And yet, I'm feeling okay with (most of) life. Primarily, the life that involves silver bells, green trees, warm hot chocolate, swirling candy canes, and the dulcet tones of Micheal Buble. That's right, folks, it's Christmastime once again, and while I suck down Twinings tea and Halls Triple Soothing Action drops, and bury my nose deep, deep in my study files, I'm jingling these bells like you've never seen before. So, with a ho-ho-ho and a rousing chorus of "Frosty the Snowman," here's what I'm decking the blog with this holiday season: 

  • My two last-ever College Fashion "Looks from Books" articles (the first of which is coming up this Wednesday!), and a Rundown Runway of my top five fave looks from all of the books I've discussed on the series! 
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Literary Pandering: Who is the real target consumer in the recent pushes for modern book adaptations of classic works, and how is this practice of Frankenstein-ing favorite novels going to affect our cultural regard for age-old art? Discussion! 
  • Tales Told Around the Fire: Detailing some of my favorite-ever books to read over Winter Break
  • As well as plenty of Top Ten Tuesdays, news from Book-World, and hot new reviews, one of which has been languishing on my to-do list since its ending left me emotionally crippled. Can you guess which one it was? 
And if you don't think that's enough of a gift for y'all, have you checked out my brand-spankin'-new Review Library? Classy stuff, ladies and gents. It's almost enough to make me feel like I've got my life in order. Then, of course, my toes start throbbing, and I feel my ribs start poking a hole in my skin, and I've just got to accept that's not the case. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: The Very Best Bookish Things I'm Thankful For This Year

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly countdown meme, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish

Bear with me, and pardon the emotions, as I get as mushy and gross as the canned cranberry mess oozing across Thanksgiving plates this upcoming holiday, because I'm about to expostulate on some of my favorite book-y things that have significantly brightened up my life within the past year. 

1. S.J. Maas
Maybe I've just got her stuck in my mind because I finished Crown of Midnight all of a day and a half ago, but I'm still filled with awe at the guts this lovely lady has, to flawlessly dominate everything we knew to be true about Young Adult books, and turn them completely on their head. And if you follow her Twitter, you can tell that she clearly loves her fans. Homegirl is doin' this whole author thing right

2. Reconnecting With My Kindle 
Hello, I am a despicable human being. My Kindle has not only gotten a lot of use this past year, but it has superseded actual print in my reading practices, in helping me get my favorite new releases even faster, and at cheaper prices, too. I mean, I don't have easy access to a bookstore... can you imagine how long I'd have had to wait for Crown of Midnight otherwise??? Damn you, convenient technology! 

3. YA Book Bloggers on Twitter
@mizgillianberry, @Lili_Reflects, @Reader_Fictions, @EllaBeeReads, etc. make my day with their constant updates about all book-related goodness. Like, constant. And then they're so funny and relatable that I try to bring them up in conversation, and the moment passes because I'm so preoccupied with figuring out the least creepy iteration of what to call them: "That totally reminds me of something my friend - I mean, acquain - this... person... I follow... online... Nevermind." 

4. Goodreads
THANK THE LORD ABOVE for the goodness that is Goodreads, something I never knew I needed until I had it. How else am I supposed to do things like connect with authors and other bookworms, stalk the novels that my friends are reading without invading personal boundaries, and make endless, endless lists about everything I know and love in BookWorld? 

5. College Dorm Room Bookshelves
I know I just confessed to the cardinal sin of  mentioned how much play my Kindle has been recently, but that doesn't mean it isn't nice to have some of your best and newest paper-bound friends up at school with you. Besides, do you know how impressive it comes off as, when you have a fully-stocked bookshelf in the small space you have in your dorm room? 

6. English Major Friends
In English 111, Freshman Fall Quarter, it was Lisa and Cady. In English 297 and 301 Winter Quarter, it was Susan, Joanna, Hannah, and Ally. Susan, Joanna, and Hannah and I all followed each other into English 302 in the Spring, and now, in English 333, back to Fall, I've found Megan and Hallie

In every single English class I've taken at UW, a bunch of random people in a classroom, turned into people you sit next to in lecture, turned into study buddies, and at some point, spontaneously erupted into full-blown, real-world friendships, involving debates over Heathcliff, dedication to sub-genres (like "The Cult of Austen," as Prof. Lockwood calls it), and fangirling over Lizzie B. and Emma Approved like nobody's business. I LOVE my English friends, many of whom still take the time to read my blog (D'aww). 

7. The Art of Fangirling
Speaking of fangirling, I've never really experienced the cathartic release of book-related feelings in a public forum before this year, and let me tell you, it feels great. From Darcy to Dickens, recent releases and English class classics, freaking out over fiction has never been so socially acceptable, and I love it! 

8. ARCs 
Oh my GOODNESS I love ARCs. You mean people - a lot of them, actually - are more than willing to send me books for free, providing simply that I'm willing to read them? Are you kidding me? 

9. College Fashion 
I know that I might have a slight tendency to complain about my position as contributing editor when a deadline's looming over my head, but I am actually extremely grateful for the ability to write for this website for the past year. Not only is it, honestly, great for my resume, and great at making me sound incredibly important when I bring it up in party conversation, but it's given me a great vehicle for exercising one of my oldest passions: fashion styling and history. Books and pretty clothes are always going to be two of my greatest loves, and College Fashion has given me ample room to talk about it. 

10. Everyone Who Actually Reads My Blog
Yeah, you guys. I hope you never think that I take you for granted. Whether you're a dedicated follower through Facebook and Goodreads, or if this is even the first time you've popped over for a "Top Ten Tuesday" post, thank you so much for your patronage and support. I'm not going to say that you guys give my blog meaning or anything, because, honestly, I'd still be writing, reading, and reviewing even without it... but you all definitely make me feel less crazy for doing so. Thanks for making me feel like the things I say are worth a listen. 

So, in conclusion, I am a very, very fortunate person, with a lot in my life for which to be thankful, but especially those that have to do with all of the books and the industry I care about so much. 

Thank you everyone, and have a great holiday! :) 

Friday, November 22, 2013

There's No Write Way

We're edging out on the end of the month of November, and yet, those brave souls who have surrendered their free time to the beast that is NaNoWriMO are still soldiering on. However, from a few of them, I've heard of the development of some strange habits - carefully-constructed time schedules and nocturnal practices abound - and inspired by these strange compulsions, I decided to take a peek into the practices of other authors, with this recent release!

Fresh off of the success of her documenting the strange origins of some of the world's most fabulous stories in Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway, Celia Blue Johnson is at it again with Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors. As the extended title would make easily apparent, the novel creeps back into the bedrooms, studies, libraries, and cabins of even the most reclusive of authors, to figure out how, exactly, they did what they did. From self-mandated house arrest (Victor Hugo), to storing rotten apples in his desk drawer (Friedrich Schiller), to what surprising companionship both Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe had in common in their practices, this book investigates that integral step in the writing process: what actually helped these classic names to sit down, and write!

I've already been a fan of Celia Blue Johnson's, and her work continues on in this book as well. She does an excellent job with scholastically gathering citation-worthy facts about the private lives of many different authors, and stringing them together to form glimpses through the windows of time and place, to see how these writers lived, in a way that's interesting, exciting, and easily approachable, even if you haven't read the works by all (or any) of these writers before.

If anything, sometimes the writing style is done with such a clinical baseness that it completely overshoots the bounds of scholarly accessibility, and lands somewhere near the lower rungs of the reading comprehension ladder. For a work that extols the virtues of some heavy lifters of the literary world, Johnson's writing is decidedly  vanilla, non elaborate, and un-distracting from the information presented within the context of the work itself, rather than crowding fact with ornate prose and interest. This depending on your own reading preference, can be a godsend, or, if you're anything like me, almost distracting in itself.

However, the information-gathering is, after all, the highlight of the book. From Charles Dickens playing with kittens to Agatha Christie eating apples and solving mysteries from the comfort of her bathtub, from pen color choices to pencil sharpening methods, standing up, sitting down, or lying straight on their stomach, this is compelling stuff. And then, you can judge for yourself how the method of these greats compare to your own chosen method of getting the words out.

Unfortunately, the book itself is rather short, and was barely the work of one afternoon for this reader. However the topic presented was imagination-sparking enough, that I'm sure I'll be imagining my favorite authors at their means of occupation as they were described in this book, every time I take a trip back into their best works.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Take to the Sky

We're almost at the halfway point through NaNoWriMo - yeah, yeah, and the month of November - and like I may have mentioned before, a couple of my specifically industrious friends have decided to take part. (One of them has even finished already!) While my school and sorority lives kept me from getting involved this year, I still wanted to take the month to improve my writing skills regardless, so instead of choking out almost 2,000 words a day to tackle my own book, I decided to read one instead. One about writing, of course.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott, is a popular work detailing an author's experience with writing, and a particularly adept one at that. The title was inspired by her father's advice to a younger brother, attempting to finish a report on birds for school in only one day ("Just take it bird by bird), and her own method for writing takes a similar approach. Spelling out the steps of the development process for burgeoning writers - from "Shitty First Drafts" to "How to You Know When You're Done?" - with honesty and heart, Lamott teaches how to keep your eyes open, and see the possibilities of where your words can take you, whether that's to a publisher or simply to a greater feeling of fulfillment for yourself and your abilities as a writer.

The book, as a tool for writing, had some pretty great advice. The options Lamott gave for stimulating writing practice was sound, and even in reading it, I was ready to leap off of my copy and get to scribbling. However, while the book was exceptional in its inspiration for writing, it got there not from the motivation of the advice, per say, but from the author's personal anecdotes and background.

Lamott's personal voice was exceptionally strong, and its force was a little close to off-putting in the beginning, simply because I'm pretty used to the idea of a book on writing being a little more objective... or have I just been spending too much time with dry, old textbooks? Lamott's book, however, was entirely her own, with every word on the paper. 

In some ways, this was unhelpful, particularly as she warns against taking on the voice of another author. However, what else is the reader going to do after she waxes poetic for several pages on the benefits of digging to the romantic truth of a "one inch frame," or examining the periphery of your developing "Polaroid" of a plot for overlooked elements? Her own voice is strong, but in some cases, a little more of an encouragement and advice towards developing one's own style and delivery might have been welcome, especially because the author's own is so particularly evident.

Still, the fact that you can tell it is Lamott herself that is speaking lends much credence and authenticity to her advice. She conducts the novel as if teaching on of her creative writing classes, and the overall effect is that of an easy approach and comfortable instruction.

Lamott's work is a match of sound advice and conversational delivery, peppered with many of her own personal stories, and founded on her own ample experience as an author. While her own sense of story can sometimes impede the instruction, the advice is bestowed by a seasoned veteran, and it shows. In the end, if you're going braindead on your arduous way towards your NaNoWriMo goal, I would definitely recommend picking up a copy, and expanding your word counts and world-building by way of a little of Lamott's helpful advice. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Coming Attractions: November

{My sister, the Cheerleader, and I on the night she was crowned 2014 Stadium High School Daffodil Princess (I know!); celebrating my birthday with friends (my cupcake has a tiara on it!); and picking pumpkins out at our family's favorite patch}

I'm caught in the middle of a whirlwind - an ever-moving mix of schoolwork, blogging duties, sorority events, and planning for the future's own set of checklists - and am barely capable of stringing together the series of sentences necessary for successfully wrapping up the month of October. It was a pretty solid set of blog posts, but with the rise of the sun this morning, as all of the Halloween goblins and ghoulies took to the shadows for another year, we're now officially in the land of working hard and giving thanks, three day weekends, cold mornings that can only be warmed up properly with a cup of warm black tea. 

That's right, it's officially November, and while I'm primarily celebrating the fact that it is once again socially acceptable to have an active Christmas board on Pinterest, and that Starbucks cups are now prepped and ready for as many Peppermint Hot Chocolates as my stomach can handle, it also means that now is the season for National Novel Writing Month, aka, NaNoWriMo! While I, myself, will not be partaking this year, I thoroughly applaud all of those brave souls who have already attached themselves to such a daunting task. Bravo! While you're all busy coming up with new content this month, so, too, am I:

  • I know the tab in the top menu has been sitting empty for a while now, but that's just because I had to come up with a system of review that I liked. So, this month, I'm building my Past Reviews Library! 
  • Two great College Fashion link ups, the first of which applies to a certain sci-fi epic that hit theaters at midnight last night! 
  • A discussion about making it all more modern, with literary adaptations set in a contemporary time period! 
  • Not to mention more Top Ten Tuesdays, and specially-themed new reviews to fit in with my NaNoWriMo readers! 
While I re-burrow myself into my gaping pit of a social life, and recommit myself to finishing this College Fashion article before Sunday afternoon, I'll leave you with this: 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Unusual Character Names

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly countdown meme, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish

If "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," would Juliet Capulet still be one of the most irritating thirteen-year-olds in literature? Such questions are asked, as we ponder today's Top Ten Tuesday topic... that of Unusual Character Names.

I couldn't even manage a full list of my favorites with a worthwhile explanation for all of them, so instead, I'm counting down my top five Favorites and top five Fails. Enjoy!

1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee - Atticus Finch
I've seen this on a lot of lists for today, and I think I know why: the name is simply associated in our memory with the honor, integrity, and work ethic exemplified by the iconic character. And, for Tacomans, with the friendly black cat that resides in King's Books on St. Helens Ave, downtown.

2. Holes, Louis Sachar - Stanley Yelnats
Excuse me for being an oblivious ten-year-old, but the revelation that Yelnats is simply Stanley spelled backwards, was completely mind-blowing.

3. Throne of Glass, S.J. Maas - Celaena Sardothien
There's definitely a wrong way to do fantasy names: eventually, it just seems like authors start randomly smacking their keyboard with a copy of Tolkien to string together an incomprehensible mix of consonants in order to name their protagonists. However, Maas does it right with a name that's a mix of flinty strength and elaborate beauty, just like her heroine.

4. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens - Ebeneezer Scrooge
This is just a fun one, kind of silly and whimsical, but one that you will always remember. In our family, this story is equivalent to a Biblical parable, thanks to three years of performances with a local community theater: celebrate Christmas with all of your heart, because that's better than any gift you can find under the tree. Bless you, Ebeneezer. (On a completely unrelated note, how many days until December? I've been ready to deck the halls since Costco started carrying human-sized nutcrackers back in September.)

5. The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin - Sam Westing/ Sandy McSouthers/ Barney Northrup/ Julian Eastman/ Samuel Windkloppel
To completely and irrevocably spoil the incredibly surprising ending for those who haven't already read the classic children's novel, the five characters listed above, in a shocking turn of events, all turn out to be the same person. Any more information than that would be too much, so you should really go read this Newberry Award winner, and figure out the mystery for yourself.

1. The Selection, Keira Cass - America Singer
So. Terrible. So. Obvious. So. Annoying. (Eventually, I'm just going to have to read a book that somehow manages to be worse than this one, or I'm going to get incredibly bored.)

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling - Albus Severus Potter
Name him Remus. Name him Sirius. By Merlin's beard, name him Hagrid! Name him after any of the father-figure-stand-ins you've had over the course of your life, Harry, with whom you've had much better functioning relationships than the man who refused to tell you the truth for seven years, or the man who protected you because you had the same eyes as your dead mum, and save him the years of embarrassment!

3. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte - Heathcliff
Is it a first name? Is it a last name? Is it a nickname? Is it a geological formation? On his tombstone, is it inscribed, "Here lies the surly jerkwad and professional life-ruiner, formerly known as Heathcliff"? Regardless, it's a stupid name. For a stupid person. I hate you, Heathcliff.

4. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina
Honestly only on this list because no one I've talked to about it pronounces it the same way, and that is positively aggravation-inducing. Which syllable do you place the emphasis on? There's so many!

5. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte - St. John Rivers
Proper pronunciation, once again, ruins everything, as was pointed out to me in comments made by two new friends from English class: it's pronounced SIN-JIN, not Saint John, no joking. Probably put in place just to confuse the heck out of high school literates everywhere.

What are some of your favorite unusual names? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Just Starting Up

Dystopian, to me, is getting a little old hat. Maybe it's the cynical, "everything sucks and will continue to suck so bad that everything is really going to suck one day" nature that today's teen readers have seemingly adopted, or maybe it's the utopian idea of a spring-like renewal that has always pushed youth towards revolution, that made this genre a YA windfall for early adopters... but I'm getting kind of fed up with fiery femmes fighting against Big Brother in hollowed-out shells of former America (see: Divergent, The Hunger Games).

However, while there are some good adapters of this familiar set of tropes, the majority are nothing but cheap and flimsy shells of the genre (Here's looking at you, terribly constructed dystopian world of The Selection). My question is, are there any talented popular-wave-riding writers out there anymore? Where are my pro-status pop-genre-surfers?

Amy Tintera, it seems, is one of them, because Reboot is one significantly bad-ass dystopian extravaganza.

The novel follows Wren Connolly - dubbed 178, due to the number of minutes it took for her body to regenerate after her death, at the ripe age of twelve years old - who is a stoic, efficient robot of a Reboot, now at the age of seventeen, well considered a veteran, being that Reboots don't usually survive nearly as long. But other Reboots aren't Wren, someone who was dead for so long, it's almost as if she lost all threads of humanity along the way. So when Callum, with 22 minutes dead before Rebooting, shows up in the new batch of recruits, no one expects him to last very long, including Wren. But, for whatever reason, she soon finds that she wants him to; in fact, she'd do anything to make sure he isn't eliminated, because he makes her feel so... alive.

Whne it comes to giving the people what they want, Tintera scores a home run with not only a vibrant and dynamic heroine, dystopian future, and typical young-underdog story typical to YA, but with zombies, rigid class systems, super-cool tech, and a swoony guy to fight for (yeah, that's right: she's the one kicking butt here). It's like a smoothie made of all your favorite fruits, but ten times as sweet, because now you're dealing with bounty hunters, mysterious government-controlling corporations, and actual threats of death, instead of gross things, like blueberries.

The pacing is enough to give you whiplash, too, clipping along at a positively breakneck speed, and filling each second with some thing new, exciting, and awesome.  That isn't to say that it doesn't develop, however, with actions and dialogue standing in for artistry and development. In fact, the frenetic inner-workings of the novel highlight an equally dynamic shift: Wren's gradual reversion to a vaguely human state, all thanks to the return of one of the most essential things to human life, to her life... Love.

The biggest problem I had with the novel was one I've heard repeated by more bloggers than just me: when the time came to fight some battles, there was a general predilection to kiss instead. I mean, I get romance, but when there's people charging at you with guns, it's time to hustle, kids, not make out. Keep sitting there sucking face, and you might as well kiss your butt goodbye, because I think you're in trouble.

Still, improperly-timed romancing aside, Reboot is a successful and well-constructed dystopian world, unique to it's genre, with perfect pacing and solid build, as well as a very sweet romance nestled in the middle.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

College Fashion Post Link Up: Wuthering Heights (Plus, a new feature: "Plot Playlists"!)

I'm fully expecting people to groan on sight of the book cover in the corner to my left: for a novel I've always professed to be my least favorite book in the entire world, I sure talk about it a lot, don't I? 

I mean, even over the summer, I was talking about how much I loved April Lindner's killer modern adaptation of the classic work, and just some of what I said about Emily Bronte's 19th century masterpiece in my introduction included that its two main characters were "two of the most despicable fictional characters of all time, who do nothing but mess up life for other people, and are wholly undeserving of true love." (And no, I still don't think that's too harsh. They still suck.) 

However, what I didn't expect was for my sister, The Cheerleader, to completely fall in love with the novel, during a summer reading assignment. And I didn't expect to have to read it for my new favorite class - English 333, The Nineteenth Century English Novel - this fall quarter, either. So, I'm now finding that, I'm gradually becoming an expert in what is still my least favorite book... or at least, I think it's still my least favorite.

Who knows. What I do know; however, is that I'm good enough at discussing its contents, that I decided to base my latest College Fashion "Looks from Books" post around it. So, hop on over to it, and judge for yourself, as to whether I let my bias impact some of those looks! Here's a sneak peek, of an outfit based around the questionable societal status of the "gentry" during the mid 1800s:
But enough about me. Since my sister enjoyed the novel so much, I asked her if she'd like to help me develop a new feature for Playing in the Pages, called "Plot Playlists": Utilizing themes, events, and overall tone of various novels, she - one of my favorite people to follow on 8Tracks, due to her seriously choice taste in music - would assist in putting together a playlist of ten songs that we felt fit perfectly to the work. And what she came up with for Wuthering Heights completely blew my mind! Let's have her tell her thoughts... 

When it comes to reading, everyone has their different habits. If you’re anything like me you like to accompany a book with the faint chirp of music in the background. But what music you chose to listen to can make a big difference.

Before I started making playlists I would put whatever music came to mind on when I would read. When I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in one week, I listened to Passion Pit non-stop, not because they went well together, but because I had just purchased the CD a week earlier. This choice led me to create a connection between the two. Whenever I hear Passion Pit I think of the Hunger Games trilogy and whenever I watch the movie or re-read the books, I can’t help but wonder why I’m not hearing Passion Pit in the background.

This moment in my life has led me to the conclusion that every book, classic or modern, deserves a soundtrack to listen to while reading the book, or to bring back the emotions and story that occur in between the pages.

To start off the new "Plot Playlist" feature on Playing in the Pages, I made one for the classic novel by Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, called "Among the Heath and Hare-bells." While not all the songs are from the same genre of music, they all are similar in sound, with each being more dark and mellow with the theme of romance and struggle.

The playlist also includes specific songs that I believe tie in well with certain characters or scenes from the book. Here are some of my favorites: 
1)      “Hurt” by Jonny Cash, represents Hindley Earnshaw, and his struggle with alcoholism. Pushing his way through life, Hindley only appeared to have a sliver of happiness, in his wife. However, their love was short lived and with her life went his will to live, leading him to drink and hurt himself and those around him.
2)      “Blow (Deconstructed)” by Ke$ha, plays to go along with Catherine Earnshaw’s mental breakdown when she can’t find Heathcliff. With a storm raging in the background, Catherine panics, unaware that Heathcliff is safe inside, hidden. The raw, un-autotuned remix of Ke$ha’s song mimic’s the raw fear Catherine feels having lost her friend and the love she feels for Heathcliff.
3)      “Do I Wanna Know?” by Arctic Monkeys, was added to fit with the scene where Catherine is dying and Heathcliff breaks into Thrushcross Grange to see her. Their passionate embrace and heated words towards each other match the passionate, yet sinister vibe of this mellow rock song.
4)      “Bella’s Lullaby” from the Twilight soundtrack is not in there because it fits with a specific event or character of the novel per say; however, I felt the need to give a little shout-out to Twilight’s movie soundtrack, since Wuthering Heights was Bella’s favorite book, and I feel like it appropriately captures the Gothic tone of the novel. 

While these are just a few examples of the connections I made between the book and songs, the other songs have their meanings to me as well, but instead of me sharing mine with you, why don’t you take a listen andmake your own connections and comparisons? Enjoy!
So, what do you think of my College Fashion post on Wuthering Heights? And what do you think of my sister's amazing "Among the Heath and Hare-bells" playlist? Do you think my feelings for this novel will ever change? Let us know! 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: A Celebration of Mystery Writers in Washington State

I truly believe that it should be a well known fact, that just like our apples, Washington makes great mystery writers, better than anywhere else. 

Let me explain: our state already has our specific library shelf's full of truly great authors. Sherman Alexie, champion of Native American youthful voice, through novels like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, is one of my personal favorites, and currently lives in Seattle. Others, like Frank Herbert, author of (in my personal opinion) the greatest science fiction epic of all time, Dune, hails from my own home city of Tacoma. We already know that some truly great authors are grown right here, in the best part of the PNW.

However, there's a distinct subset within that canon that stands out to me, in the mystery section of the library. Therefore, in an attempt to convince you, here are some of my favorite masters of intrigue, straight from our gorgeously green state!


For starters, let's take it back to T-Town with Erik Hanberg: City of Tacoma Parks Commissioner by day, author of the "Arthur Beautyman" series by night. His novels have followed the titular computer-hacker-slash-detective through three novels already, with The Saints Go Dying released in 2010, The Marinara Murders in 2011, and The Con Before Christmas in 2012; all self-published, and all marked with quick pace, realistic dialogue, character interest, and unpredictable plot turns (check out my review of The Marinara Murders back in January 2012!).

Erik gets bonus points for his other projects, too, including the books The Little Book of Gold and The Little Book of Likes, nonfiction guides involving fundraising and social media (respectively) for small, nonprofit organizations, as well as his newest novel, The Lead Cloak, a science fiction adventure that debuts on October 15th (which is my birthday, in case anyone's forgotten).

**Also, Tacoma's elected officials get a second honorable mention of sorts with Mark Lindquist, City of Tacoma Prosecutor and part-time author, whose book The King of Methlehem (published by Simon and Schuster in 2007) is quite thrilling, but doesn't necessarily qualify as a straight-shot mystery to me. Still, he's got some serious resume: Sad Movies (1987, Atlantic Monthly Press), Carnival Desires (1990, Atlantic Monthly Press), and Never Mind Nirvana (2001, Random House) all did pretty well for themselves.


Yet another Tacoma-born author, Earl Emerson, chose to focus his time, instead, on Seattle, with the Thomas Black mystery seriesThe Rainy City, the first of the series, was published in 1985, while the latest - the thirteenth in the series, Monica's Sister - was published just this past summer. His work features actual Pacific Northwest settings in all their gritty glamour, described on point, and main character - in the first few novels, at the very least - even lives in the University District! Dark and suspenseful, these mysteries are tensely realistic, and are notable for their dedication to the description of their setting.

Mr. Emerson also writes the "Mack Fontana"series, as well as the "Fire Thrillers" series, taken from his time spent as a lieutenant with the Seattle Fire Department.


Mary Daheim, a Seattle-based mystery author, actually got her start in bodice-ripping historical romances. However, after a string of them proved unfulfilling to her writing talent, she started working in her favorite genre, and it's a good thing she did: her very first mystery novel - Just Desserts, from the "Bed and Breakfast series," starring Judith McMonigle - was nominated for an Agatha award! The series has continued onwards with 28 novels in total.

However, those aren't her only claim to mystery fame. Her "Alpine" series - starting with The Alpine Advocate in 1992, starring Emma Lord - has seen a total of 24 novels, set in the small town of Alpine, WA. Here's the catch: as of the time of her writing, the real Alpine no longer existed. She resurrected the town in her novels, and 2008, the old town itself was rediscovered... by a group who called themselves "the Alpine Advocates"! Talk about author loyalty.

She's also a University of Washington alumna, and was one of the first female editors of The Daily (the UW campus daily paper), which makes her one of the coolest people in the entire world, essentially. She was inducted into the UW Department of Communications Alumni Hall of Fame in 2008. Sounds like its time for a campus scavenger hunt, to me...


Finally, we'll finish off the list with one of my absolute favorites: Aaron Elkins, author of one of my favorite mystery series in the whole world, starring Gideon Oliver, the Skeleton Detective, a forensic anthropologist from Washington. Technically, Elkins himself ISN'T from our lovely state, but he lives here now, in Sequim, and that's a good enough reason for me to take a moment to talk about a super awesome author. 

So, how's this for story time: my dad actually was the first in my family to love this series, to the point where out of the thirteen or so copies we own, at least six of them are signed (if I'm remembering correctly, the legend goes that my dad sheepishly approached Elkins at a writer's conference or something or other with a couple of copies expressly purposed for the occasion, and Elkins patiently signed all of them for him). My dad passed on the copies - and the obsession - to me, and now I've got Fellowship of Fear - the first of them, from 1982- sitting on my desk right now, ready for a reread. Don't believe me?
"To Andrew - Here's to a skeleton in every closet. Aaron Elkins" 

Elkins has now retired this hero with the 17th novel in the series, Dying on the Vine, released in 2012. However, that doesn't mean he's done writing: he has also produced the "Chris Nordgren" novels, as well as the "Lee Ofsted" series, and is currently working on the "Alix London" series, as well, which he writes with his wife, Charlotte. He has also produced three stand alone novels, called Loot, Turncoat, and The Worst Thing.

So this October, if you're looking for some murder and mayhem to cozy up to the fire with on a windy day, might I recommend some homemade mysteries, fresh from your own beautiful backyard of Washington state?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Instant Book Turn-Offs

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly countdown meme, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish

Way back in July, we counted down ten of the ickiest, stickiest and most troublesome types of books that will make us immediately throw them back on the shelf (and I got a little trouble for my troubles; check out my response in this recent discussion about the thriller genre!). 

Today, however, we're talking about a different kind of turn-off: the kind that can creep up in the middle of a book, strikes without warning, and leaves you reeling, or just grate on your subconscious so thoroughly that by the end of it, you're confident you lost a couple of brain cells. These unhappy surprises can make or break a book, depending on the situation... and here are our top offenders, helpfully divided into two sections: "Making It Tough" and "Spoiler Alert"! 


1. Inaccurate or Unrealistic Portrayal of Time Period
If you're going to go through the trouble of setting your novel within the specific context of a singular time period, then you'd better well make sure that you've got it down pat. Make it recognizable and correct as that temporal setting, or don't even bother. 

2. Unnecessary Love-Triangle Flip-Floppery
Love triangles themselves are a sticky subject with me, though they can be done properly (see: Throne of Glass, S.J. Maas). However, characteristic of a poorly-established romance and a dull-witted triangle-point-character, sometimes people have a decision making process that can swing more wildly than a kid at his first T-ball practice. Pick someone, and stick to them... that's the point of love, dummy. 

3. Over-Confidence in Personal Vocabulary
If you've ever been an English major, you know the kind. Someone whose youthful zeal for writing combines with an ambitious drive for recognition, and results in the kind of multi-syllabic mumbo-jumbo that can stop an argument in its tracks by sheer confusion. Believe me, I like fun, weird words, too, but I'm not going to be the one to name my kids Merriam and Webster. Making writing deliberately confusing, just so you can show off that you memorized the dictionary, awards you no points. 

4. Epistolary-Style or Diary-Oriented Novels 
Okay, so maybe this one is just me: I hate novels where a specific attention must be placed on singular or multiple narrators, who are sometimes speaking at different times, in different places. It just gets distracting for me, and it's easy to lose sight of the story itself. It's becoming more popular to integrate text message and IM conversations to the narrative, now, as well, which makes me question, why can't you just make it dialogue? To me, it screams of an attempt at making things interesting, which it doesn't. 

5. The Disingenuity Disease
disingenuous (adj): to not be truly honest or sincere, giving the false appearance of being candorous. Present in basically every novel, everywhere, where love and relationships are involved, or someone's turning into a monster, this disease is one where the characters find themselves being completely incapable of telling the truth, even to the detriment of others involved. If you're actually turning into a zombie, best stop hiding it, and just let someone know. Seriously. 


6. Spoiler Alert: You're Related! (Or Not!)  
Luke, I'm your father. But more importantly, that hottie Leia you were hitting on, is actually your sister. Whereas this grand reveal used to hold a lot of literary clout, it has become a lazy means of adding interpersonal intrigue, and the build-up of presumed sexual tension that took place beforehand just leaves a bad taste in our mouths. 

7. Spoiler Alert: I'm Not Dead Yet! 
From Aladdin to the Fairly OddParents, even magical creatures know that bringing back bodies is a big no-no. And yet, authors place themselves above these rules. Death loses its finality and bravado when you make it optional. Voldemort was so scared of it, that he imprisoned his soul in seven different places. Death is scary stuff, and you don't get to beat it in a fight. 

8. Spoiler Alert: And Then The Nice Guy is... Not So Nice. 
Typified by authors whose complexity of character construction rivals that of a Duplo Lego set, the act of a stereotypical "nice guy," "best friend," or "right-hand man" turning rogue at a critical moment in the narrative just speaks to me of faulty character dimension. If we can't see shadows of evil or motivation towards such earlier on, then you're just not building a realistic enough cast. 

9. Spoiler Alert: Oh Yeah, That Thing That You Need? It's in the Other Place. 
Most often found in ill-crafted quest-oriented novels, this trope builds anticipation and plot structure around the idea that once our protagonists make it to this one specified location, a climactic amount of action will take place. However, when the journey comes to an end, only to have it revealed that the real fight lay somewhere else, that trust and tension built up with the author to lead you to the payoff completely disappears, and now, it's just back to more mindless trudging. 

10. Spoiler Alert: Watch Out for That Cliff! 
Don't you just hate it when your book ends with a 

What's Your Top Ten? 

Coming Attractions: October

{Rejoining my Sigma Kappas just in time to take part in the Seattle Walk to End Alz; Recharging from Recruitment with a great best friend date at Rainforest Cafe; Saying hello to fall with a warm cup of tea and some sweet treats} 

After all the zaniness that was September over here in the Greek Community, it looks like life is finally starting to settle down here at the University of Washington. Seattle weather is getting gray and muddled, just as it should be, sweater + boot combos are once again the student fashion de rigueur, and the biggest difficulty I'm going to be having this Quarter is deciding which of my classes is my favorite. Everything is turning out just fine

Still, that doesn't mean that the advent of the school year isn't bringing its own special brand of chaos back my way. We're back to professor-prescribed reading and writing, sorority functions, leadership opportunities, and applying to majors... not to mention College Fashion and making sure my family back in Tacoma hears from me every once in a while. I've forgotten how difficult finding time to read has always been during the school year! However, I can assure you that I'm trying my best. In fact, here's some of what I've got planned for the coming month of October: 
  • Two great College Fashion link ups: a classic literary masterpiece that may surprise you, perfect for the blustery weather, as well as a favorite terrifying tale, perfect for the upcoming Halloween season! 
  • A rundown of some of my favorite seasonal reading for autumn, with my Fall Favorites list!
  • Indisputable truth that, just like our apples, Washingtonian mystery writers are always the sweeter choice! (I promise, it was worth the wait.) 
  • Not to mention more "Top Ten Tuesdays" (including one tomorrow!), breaking news in book world, and new reviews for some cool reads keeping me cozy in the chilly fall weather! 
So don't worry. Once I manage to extricate myself from this mountain of homework that's already beginning to pile up, I'll make sure to update the blog every once in a while! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

College Fashion Link Up: The Importance of Being Earnest

When I was trying to brainstorm a good source of inspiration to use for this week's College Fashion "Looks from Books" column, I was having a hard time coming up with an adequate idea. See, I officially started the school year, on the same day the post would come out, and I wanted something that would kick things off right.

In the end, I didn't even end up choosing a novel... instead, I chose a play. I chose one of the wittiest authors I know, with one of the most well-known comedic works I know, because if I'm going to try and make this school year a good time, best start it off laughing. I chose Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, a Trivial Comedy for Serious People.

It's one of my favorites, because of the comedic bent of not only the characters, but of the style of writing. Even reading things like the cadence and timing of the lines is impeccable, and seemingly unimportant elements like implied stage direction make me laugh. It's overall hilarity just strikes a chord in me, I guess, and I don't know why... maybe it's just the fact that late 19th century love shenanigans make me giggle. (And if you haven't seen the 2002 film adaptation, starring Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, and Dame Judi Dench, you're missing out).

The satirical nature of the play makes it one of my favorites, as well. The Victorian era is known for its rigid social expectations and propensity for preserving tradition, for many reasons, including as a means of retaining order despite the change wrought by fluctuating class structures in Europe (due to the rising middle class with the advent of Industrialization). So all of this attempt at control was especially allied with interpersonal relations, and marriage - though increasingly more commonly made by choice, rather than arrangement - was expected as a familial and civic duty. In short, love and marriage was serious... and with The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde made a fool of the notion that the solemnity surrounding the idea of "love" was anything other than a silly business.

The social circles that operated around 19th century theater also interest me a lot, simply because of the unique strata in which they placed the arts. It was strictly a rich-people business, and while holding a position as an actor or a set designer would shortly become a respectable and career-building occupation in the coming century, the writers of the plays themselves enjoyed an immense amount of celebrity, since it was also great literature that was touted as a vital art form. Because of the wealthy people who were able to attend these events, the writers were drafted with the enormous task of presenting a "reality" within the scope of the play, that would not only appeal to, but would also seem relatable, to their opulent audience. This included costuming and wardrobe, because no matter how low-budget the theater, they were trying to impress some high-society viewers. This incredible social tension, serving as quality control of the fashionable presentation of the plays themselves, lends a unique intrigue to how 19th-century theaters operated.

Oscar Wilde's a pretty cool writer, and who knows? Maybe I'll get to read some more of his work in the coming school year. All I know, is that I'm happy to start it out with a smile.

Go on over to my Importance of Being Earnest "Looks from Books" post on College Fashion right now! Here's a sneak preview at one of my favorite outfits, based on the play's split setting of London and Hertfordshire estate:
Tell me what you think! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thrillers and Killers: A Genre Discussion

In a Top Ten Tuesday post from a while ago, I discussed how I wasn't a fan of thriller novels.

I got a little backlash for it: for instance, my Dad said that it was that kind of attitude that would cause me to miss out on some really good authors (though, to be honest, I think he considers it his personal life goal to get me to read Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, who I dismissed for their connection to the cringe-inducing topic of drug use). He said I should take a second look at those genres I was so quick to dismiss.

However, the true catalyst for this further bookshelf exploration came when, in an additional attempt to sway my opinion, a good friend challenged my distaste for thrillers, in particular, and tasked me with reading a book from one of his favorite authors, Tom Clancy. Suddenly confronted with a genre with which I haven't had much success, I entered into a deeper evaluation, of not only my personal reader-response, but what exactly about this genre makes these kinds of books so popular, anyways.


First, let me explain what about these thriller novels ostracized a reader like me so quickly in the beginning. To me, I associate thrillers with the bold black-and-red, brick-shaped novels sold slightly above the candy bars at the end of the checkout line at QFC. They populated my dad's bookshelves in the den of our house, and he told me I couldn't read them until I was much older. When I finally was old enough to read them, I finally understood why this specific set of books was held off limits for so long.

They were full of hurting people. It's not a topic I love to read about. There were violent men toting guns and lacking morals, there were helpless prostitutes getting killed on every dark street corner, and there were druggies who shivered and shook on stoops in the night only to be used as mules, enslaved by those who produced the very drugs that ensnared them.  In fact, a lot of the same reasons I didn't like about thriller novels are other topics that I listed disliking in that same Top Ten Tuesday post, or essentially, anything that was involved in Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (I actually regret having read that book, which isn't something I say, ever).

In terms of the foundation of the storytelling itself, my experience with thrillers was that they primarily sacrificed construction for the sake of action. They were mass-produced, ready-made worlds occupied by the standard stock characters and tropes, with questionable motivation and murky back stories, left unexplained at the expense of story integrity, just so they could fit in one more car chase, one more dead hit man, one more head-whipping change of direction.

And, let's face it: I've never felt that I ever was the ideal demographic for the majority of this kind of writing. I'm a nineteen-year-old college girl... tragic things befall people like me in these kinds of books. Who wants to read about stuff like that?


Now, I'm not saying I entirely dislike them. There's definitely some aspects of the novel that are specifically geared towards the sort of things I really enjoy. 

For instance, in between the sniper shooters and Big-Brother-esque organizations, and drug mules, and swooning, useless female counterparts, there's a semblance of the grand romantic pattern. The underdog who proves himself, the man who recovers from immense tragedy to fight the battle anew, the knight in rusty armor: he's the kind of guy to be found saving the world in thriller novels. Saviors and heroes, hope and triumph... there's dragons to slay, and a damsel to save. It's not an exact match, but there's enough comparable material that I can say that there's a correlation between the two writing forms, of the thriller and the fantasy. 

And the same writing elements that make fantasy such a successful genre, are here as well: the foundation of fantasy isn't the unbelievable nature of magic and mayhem, but the fact that humanity can be transposed into such a radically different reality. We didn't love Harry Potter because he was a wizard, we loved him because he was, in most ways, just like us, but placed in such amazing and different circumstances. Similarly, we don't love the thriller hero just because he can kick butt and take names like no one we've seen before, but because of what motivates him to do so: love, honor, sense of civic pride and familial duty, the heart of gold. The world the thriller operates in is gritty and real, to be sure, but it is simultaneously exaggerated and extravagant... a world wholly unreal to us, but carrying elements that are completely real and relatable, as well.


The interesting thing is, there's more to thrillers than just the standard setup and familiar tropes I found so two-dimensional... there's a lot that has changed, and is changing, in this genre.

For instance, thrillers can still be found in the checkout lines of supermarkets, but that says a lot more about the dedication of their fan base than the quality of their components. They are still considered a "mainstream" material, but that's because their fan following is singularly immense. This fan dedication serves as quality control... if they don't like something, then they're going to tell the author exactly how they feel and what they think. The high standard these fans hold the books to ensure that they are constantly upheld to the status at which they were originally read. No one's allowed to be lazy when you've got two million copies to move on your first printing.

Similarly, those same tropes that I held to be true, aren't the only viewpoint in the thriller genre. "Big, strong man saves hopeless girl while shooting some things and blowing up others" isn't the only premise that drives these books. Case in point: Sue Grafton's Alphabet series, starring Kinsey Mallone, has entranced readers from A through W (W is for Wasted is the most recent title), and her heroine isn't the only cool girl on the block. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, which started off with One for the Money in 1994, has amassed a massive following as well (and while I'm still not a fan of this series, I am, however, a huge fan of absolutely terrible Katherine Heigl movies).

It's getting pretty meta out there, too. For instance, fans of Castle on ABC have been treated to the works of the TV show's lead character, the fictional author, Richard Castle, through the Nikki Heat novels Heat Wave, Naked Heat, Heat Rises, and Frozen Heat, with a fifth novel, Deadly Heat, set to be released this year. The novels are published in the world of the show, and the lead character of the novel is based off of Castle's love interest, Kate Beckett. The actual, "real life" author of the novels is a closely-gaurded secret, though fans of the show have their own guesses: James Patterson, Micheal Connelly, and Dennis Lehane have all had cameos on the show as friends of Castle's. And the books are held to similar caliber as the works for which those men are responsible.


In the end, I'm left to collect my own opinion on the matter. They may not make it to the top of my To-Be-Read list, but like the Agatha Christie mystery novels I've been collecting since I was in the sixth grade, these are novels that definitely belong on people's bookshelves.

My distaste for some of the rougher elements of the genre is simply similar to why I don't like watching CSI, NCIS, or most other procedural crime dramas on TV. They just aren't what I'm interested in. But that doesn't mean that there aren't elements of the genre that do actually interest me. In fact, there's a couple of books in the genre that I feel are especially worth reading, whether you're a fan of it, or not:
The Firm, John Grisham, which made me kind of want to be a lawyer, for at least five seconds in my sophomore year of high school.
Without Remorse, Tom Clancy, which reminded me of why some of my friends like Homeland so much.
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, a New York Times best seller that topped seemingly everyone's summer TBR list.
and The Cuckoo's Calling, J. K. Rowling, which justified my use of Harry Potter as a reference earlier in this post.

So, hopefully, my Dad and my friend feel at least a little bit justified. They were right: there are thrillers out there, that are actually really cool, and that I think I'd enjoy. And, let's be honest, they're probably the only people who made it all the way through this mountain of writing. Thank you Dad and Steve. :)