Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Words/ Topics That Instantly Make Me Buy/ Pick Up a Book

"Top Ten Tuesdays" is a weekly countdown meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

This week, the theme revolves around what words or topics make us instantly want to reach out and grab a book (not necessarily BUY, but definitely make you want to read the first chapter). So, without further ado, here are ten literary topics that are sure to ensnare my attention!

1. The Great Depression / The Roaring 20s / Turn of the Century / WWII
I am nothing if not a history buff, and historical fiction is thus one of my favorite genres, with most of my favorite time periods falling between the 1890s and 1945. Except for, of course, when they feature...
(I'd recommend: Jillian Larkin's The Flappers series.)

2. Historical Royalty
Yes, I like princesses. Who doesn't? If a work - either of fiction or nonfiction - features someone like Catherine the Great or Marie Antoinette, the Romanovs or the Tudors, you can be sure I'll give it a cursory glance.
(I'd recommend: Caroline Weber's Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.)

3. Fairy tale Royalty
Let's just continue down the princess path while we're here, okay? I like fairy tales, too. Fractured, modern, re-telling, re-imagining... I don't care, sign me up!
(I'd recommend: Bridget Zinn's Poison! (Literally can't say enough about this book...))

4. Hollywood Royalty
Alright, now I'm just being obvious, but I'm still crazy about those books from my middle school, formative years, that featured young Beverly Hills starlets doing crazy things, whether it was try to blend in and go to school like a normal person, or juggle love interests on far-off movie sets. (I'll forever blame The Clique series as the gateway drug to this kind of fiction). Now, similarly in the vein of the young and wealthy...
(I'd recommend: Zoey Dean's The A List series.)

5. Boarding Schools
From Harry Potter to I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You, going to live in a far-away school and learn about the coolest stuff from the coolest people still sounds like the greatest idea, even though I'm now basically doing that in college. :)
(I'd recommend: E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.)

6. Tortall (by Tamora Pierce)
I'm qualifying this as an acceptable topic, because as soon as I see that a new Tamora Pierce Tortall-centric novel is headed towards the shelves, I buy it.
(I'd recommend: all of the Tortall books!!!)

7. Dragons
Shut up! I developed a serious addiction to Anne McCaffrey's Dragons of Pern at a young age... now it's just transferred to the likes of Dany in Game of Thrones.
(I'd recommend: but really, if you haven't read Game of Thrones yet...)

8. Sci Fi "Masterpieces" 
A couple of years ago, my Dad - after hearing about how much I enjoyed Ender's Game in my freshman English class, handed me what he called "the Trifecta" of science fiction: Nueromancer, Dune, and Foundation. Out of the three, I only fell in love with one, but I still have a solid appreciation for any sci fi epic.
(I'd recommend: any of the books listed above, which are all prolific in the genre for GOOD REASON.)

9. Books about Books 
Or Librarians. Or Bookstores. Or Literature. I mean, I'd say something cute about how I just can't get enough of books, but I feel I'd be being obvious.
(I'd recommend: Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, because I obviously still belong in the 5th grade.)

10. Comedy Autobiographies
Not autobiographies marketed as funny (though it's okay if they are). I want the growing-up stories of the likes of Steve Martin, Chelsea Handler, and Mindy Kaling, which are often times humorous, yes, but more usually triumphant tales of overcoming obstacles. Nothing better than someone who can find comedy in adversity, especially when the adversity is their own life.
(I'd recommend: Steve Martin's Born Standing Up.)

Well, that's it for me! What are your Top Ten?

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Questionable Choice

I am a person who gets obsessed easily. Therefore, despite the fact that I am in the throes of my Spring Quarter right now, I have recently managed to stumble upon one of the most addicting aspects of the popular book review site Goodreads (of which I am a member, found here): the First Reads Giveaway section, in which publishers/authors/associated underlings of the publishing universe/ etc. may post free copies and galleys of books up for grabs for those who express interest.

In the month or so that I have been involved with this section of the site, I have been deemed worthy of six galleys, of which, A Lady's Choice, by Sandra Robbins, was the first.

One of many titles in Sunnyside Publishing's "An American Tapestry" series - a franchise revolving around love stories set in pivotal moments in American history, including the Alamo, the sinking of the Titanic, and the American Revolution - A Lady's Choice follows the story of twenty-year-old Sarah Whittaker, as she accompanies her ailing mother back to her home town of Richland Creek, Tennessee, a place Sarah has been only a handful of times. While she pines for her own home city of Memphis, she finds interest in the town in the form of Alex Taylor, a handsome, strong-willed young man, with a focus on his family, talent in the baseball diamond, and a job waiting for him back in Memphis at a celebrated law firm. They quickly strike up an attachment... however, Sarah's own stubborn decisions keep getting in their way of ever being together: Sarah is a suffragette, and Alex's unwillingness to accept her opinions, to further promote his chance of succeeding in his firm, condemn the relationship from the outset. However, as tensions heat in Richland Creek, so they are as well in Memphis and Washington, D.C. The world is ready for change, but will Alex have a change of heart, and can Sarah ever recover from a broken one?

I will not mince words, when I state that this was probably one of the most questionably written novels I've already read. It was a struggle to get past the first 50 pages... which were riddled with both continuity problems (for instance, Sarah is written, within the book, to be 20 years old, but the back cover explicitly stated she was 18), as well as straight up issues with reality (Tell me, would you ever "gasp aloud" at the "kindness" reflected in someone's eyes, or "grope" a chair and stutter because someone made eye contact with you? Please tell me we women are made of stronger stuff than that). Other issues included insta-love, which is almost always a problem, and over-predictability (if I can spot a murderer the second he's introduced, you need to re-evaluate, or at least expand the character list).

However, after a certain point, the composition of the novel shifts from predominant description, to dialogue, and the conversations were a lot easier to believe than the majority of what was running through Sarah's head. And as you neared ever closer to the climax of the novel, you began to realize exactly what this book was all about: the relationships between the characters, not only with themselves and their peers, but with God.

Okay, I was wondering why the book focused so much on religion, until I finally reached the point where I looked up the publishing company, and realized the reason that the only truly successful elements in this book were the ones that described and built on Christianity, was because this was a Christian book series and publishing house. The most well-written and interesting parts of the book are those in which Sarah and Alex's faiths are put into question, contested, and discussed, and the emotional payoff from the book came, for me, not from Sarah and Alex's (spoiler alert, but not really, due to the ultimate predictability of the novel) finally accepting each other and becoming a couple, but from Sarah's journey back into faith and Alex's adoption of Jesus' teachings of acceptance for everyone.

I'm not going to go around recommending religious material for my friends to read (particularly because I'm in college right now, and in a realm as emotionally and intellectually volatile as this, it would probably be a good way to get verbally assaulted), but I'm born and baptized and confirmed, loving Roman Catholic, and I thought this book, no matter how questionably written, really spoke beautifully about Christ, and it kind of made me miss my old church, the one I essentially grew up in, back in Federal Way. Anyone looking to get a new take on faith, or just explore some light, frivolous love stories, should really check out this series.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go find more Goodreads giveaways to enter, in the hopes that some other decent material comes my way. And when I say "decent," I mean "homework-avoiding" and "procrastination-inducing".

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Novel and the Movie: The Maltese Falcon

In the ever-involved interest of trying new things, I thought maybe the time had come for a direct and objective contrast to the sometimes over-trusted phrase, "The book is always better than the movie." Sometimes, maybe the movie is just better than the book? In this new series, I'll experience a story, in the forms of both the original printed novel, and the subsequent movie adaptation, and make my own judgement as to which was better, going into detail on the why one worked or didn't work, in an effort to give each a fair shot in telling their tale.

This series was inspired by the latest source of inspiration for my College Fashion "Looks from Books" series: The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. Written in 1930, and adapted three times by 1941, this book has some serious street cred in both the book and movie industries, and adapting its key thematic elements for college students to wear was some significantly hard work, without weighing in the benefit of suspense and visual inspiration that the 1941 adaptation - starring the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor - provided so bountifully. (Click for the link to my article here.)

A densely-packed and quick-paced detective story, full of the genre's typical ingredients for intrigue: a gorgeous mystery lady, telling lies and covering up schemes, but all with a schoolgirl smile that you just can't help believing; a strange mystery foreigner, seeking a  strange mystery artifact, with a quick hand for a gun and an eye for his gunmen; a fat mystery collector also seeking said strange mysterious artifact; and at the center of it all, Sam Spade, prolific private detective.

Like solving a puzzle from the center outwards, Spade pieces together a mystery involving legendary lost treasure by double-thinking his opponents and smacking people around like speed bags. Ruthless but never reckless, Sam always gets his man... especially when the chase ends up being the end of his partner.

A fully-formed and hole-less mystery (rare, honestly), whose distinct emphasis on visual focus and deliberately innovative forms of description paint a landscape of crime and dark doorways with questionable intents lying on either side. Suspenseful, solid, sure to suck you in completely, Dashiell Hammett launches a legacy in an often "cheap" genre.

Humphrey Bogart smolders and Mary Astor simpers through this film classic, as the two leads, Sam Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy, respectively.

Bogart tackles the iconic role with tenacity and focus, and physically represents the character description of Sam Spade to perfection; however, sometimes he comes of as manic and over-bearing where the strength of the character should have lied in solid stoicism and composed calm. Astor makes for a convincing damsel-in-distress, but  takes some of the edge out of the "femme fatale," by whimpering and waffling between the doe-eyed waif and the wanton honeypot in an exaggerated attempt to come off as manipulative. Her true power lies in her otherworldly ability to reflect emotions through her facial expressions, and I feel like we could have gotten through the movie solely based on her numerous soft-focused close-ups.

Both characters seem mistreated by the script, which alters key scenes in the hopes of skewing power and responsibility more in the favor of the male lead (common practice for a still man-centric media back in the '40s). The scandalous nature of the plot is continually dulled by the deliberate soothing of the story line to comply with the cultural status quo back in 1941, muzzling some of the more notable moments within the tale, and thus taking away some of the edge so apparent in the novel.

The movie is considered highly by virtually everyone, and was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture. It was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1989.


Well, so much for striking off this series by depicting a balance, but in my opinion, the book overwhelmingly overrides the movie: the detective and mystery genres themselves exist to inspire suspense, and in relation, the novel allows for a lot more cool-headed calculation than the noisy and over-acted film.

However, that being said, the adherence to the plot of the novel in itself is wholly remarkable - despite its dallying deviations - because you'd never see something that stuck so close nowadays. The disappearance of the subtleties and nuance of the novel is what I mourn in the film category, but even so, it's a solid work of cinema, and definitely worth an hour and forty minutes of your time.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Falling Into Fantasy

I don't consider myself a terribly impulsive person. I'm actually the kind of worrywart who has to reflect on it for a minute, and take the specific initiative to act impulsively when the opportunity arises for some spontaneous action. Even then, it takes a good couple seconds of "pro-con"-ing to err on the side of being impulsive.

So when I feel the impulsive urge to buy a new-release high fantasy YA novel but a few days after its publication, you can bet its a big deal.

Granted, I bought it for my Kindle. And its not like I had anything better to do. (Sorry, neglected ENG 302 homework, but you definitely don't fit the description of "better".) Still, the importance of this event must be impressed upon you readers!

Actually, better yet: can we just dispense with the origin story, and jump right into how great this book was, and how worthy it was of said impulsive buy?

Here transcribed is exactly what was written down in the notes of my book journal:

Likes: Everything! Dislikes: Nothing! 

Okay, maybe it warrants a little more in-depth discussion than that. I wouldn't necessarily bring it up in English class, but this book was really good! 

The suspense was there, the plot development was super solid. There were plenty of twists and turns, and it was a fast-paced plot. There were actually a couple of really perfectly performed reveals that had me scraping my jaw off of the floor and laughing in enjoyment, actually thinking to myself, "No way!" or "This just got even better." The movement of the story line was wonderfully done and expertly composed, with just the right pacing. 

The fact that it was a high fantasy was really what allowed the story to shine: usually, the high fantasies I've experienced have relied on some kind of staid self-composure, some direct form of adherence to only the most serious of tones and descriptions in an effort to command respect for the attempted realism. However, Poison excelled in the complete opposite: with a wink and a nod at the fact that the world they occupied wasn't remotely real, the characters were supremely adorable, and each one had some element of cutesy ideality in their comportment. I mean, the main character travels with a pig, for goodness' sake (which you can see cheekily poking its head out of the bushes at the lower left half of the cover). 

But don't think that it was all a marshmallow- and gumdrop-filled trip for our intrepid heroine: the characters may be sweet, but the slick pace of suspense gave just the right amount of edge to our almost-too-perfect cast, and made it just unpredictable enough for the appropriateness and attention span of the intended audience. 

Overall, the projection of such a strong heroine reminded me of someone out of a Tamora Pierce novel, but the new mystical creatures, incredibly unique focus of skill sets - I mean, who else writes about powerful potioners? - and constant game-changing revelations that popped up throughout the novel, marked Poison as a truly engaging and excellent YA fantasy. 

(And I'm diving back into the genre again soon, by reading Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas, so keep watching for more fantastical worlds, powerful magic, and heroes and villians galore!) 

Post script 
At the end of the novel, I was left wishing that there were more such wonderful high fantasies present in YA. Unfortunately, after additional research into the life of the author, Bridget Zinn, I found out from her website that she -a librarian and writer - had died in May 2011, at the age of 33, due to colon cancer. Her novel is being published posthumously. What a legacy to leave behind! I haven't heard anyone say a bad word about this book, and I hope that Zinn and her family can hear those kind thoughts! Much appreciation to Bridget, her husband and family, and her literary family as well, for making sure that such a great story was told. :) 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Top Ten Tuesdays "Rewind": Top Ten Childhood Favorites!

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

This week was a "rewind" - picking past Top Ten lists that we may have missed or wanted to do over - and since I'm new to the game, I decided to go with the first ever Top Ten List, "Childhood Favorites." Being that I am, essentially, always going to be a child at heart, and that some of my playtime favorites remain in heavy rotation on my reading list, the challenge wasn't that difficult.

Here -presented in no particular order - are the books that enraptured my young mind, ensnared my childish soul, and convinced a very shy and very curious young girl what sort of magic awaited those who dared peek between the pages of the well-written world:

1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
I've already waxed poetic on the many outstanding qualities of this life-changing book here, but I'll never tire of professing my undying devotion for this summertime staple. Here's to ten more of my years with Tom!

2. The Nancy Drew series, by Carolyn Keene
Nancy's the coolest. Anyone who doesn't think so, never hid under the covers late at night with a flashlight, trying her hardest not to wake the sleeping sister in bed beside her with her startled jumps and heaving breaths of suspense. I even ended up writing my Junior year research paper about my favorite intrepid teenage sleuth!

3. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
The book that will always remind me of my Dad, the same man who first read it to me, back when my brain was nowhere near developed enough to recognize the witty wordplay and smart storytelling. I recently reread it, and reviewed it here after being stuck in the doldrums for a little too long this Fall Quarter. (Bonus: A documentary on the amazing work is currently wrapping development after a successful Kickstarter campaign, so look out for The Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50 - A Documentary!)

4. The Moon Jumpers, by Janice May Udry (and illustrated by Maurice Sendak!)
Yet another book that's always going to remind me of my Dad. Never realized it was illustrated by Maurice Sendak, however. (You learn something new everyday!)

5. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
Um, duh.

6. Miss Spider's Tea Party, by David Kirk
This book is pretty trippy to look at, but the illustrations were always the most beautiful part! Besides, who doesn't love a great tea party?

7. The Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I am nothing if not an avid escapist in my reading, and if there was anything that could ever make a girl want to wear ankle-length prairie dresses and chop firewood, it was this. (All dreams were quickly eliminated with the use of the Oregon Trail video game in middle school, however.) Still, its some amazing work.

8. Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar
Let's go ahead and blame this book for my love of everything wacky and un-explainable. As well as my suspicion of all things with the number Thirteen, okay?

9. The Percy Jackson series, by Rick Riordan
Okay, this may be stretching the definition of "childhood" favorites, because I was introduced to this series during the sixth grade, when my friends and I traded lunchroom copies like some kind of contraband. They might as well have been: there was not a single Social Studies lesson that went understood when I had one of these copies hidden underneath the table.

10. No Flying in the House, by Betty Brock
This book is the number one reason why I developed such an affinity for old copies: I had somehow gotten my hands on my mom's edition from when she was a kid, originally printed in 1970, complete with her name scrawled in the inside cover, and I don't think I've ever surrendered it since. (Sorry, Mom!)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Extra Special "Playing the Pages": Dealing with Grief and Loss

Today, April 10th, 2013, marks the first anniversary of the death of a true Princess.

As I explained on my blog last year, Princess Alexandria Tyler Cole - the 2012 Daffodil Festival Princess from Chief Leschi High School - was one of my best friends in the Festival, and one of the most amazing parts about being a Princess. She was a boxer, a beauty, and a brave young lady, whose gentleness and kind spirit stemmed from a place of immense strength and belief. A member of the Quinalt Nation, who lived on the Puyallup reservation with her mother, Alex was incredibly supportive and involved in her culture, and always loved to talk about her grandfather, a South Sound heavyweight, who inspired her love of boxing.

I knew Alex and I were going to be great friends, from the moment on our Princess Retreat, when she smiled down from the top of her bunk bed, nestled in her sleeping bag, and said, "I want to lick crumbled S'mores Pop Tarts off of Taylor Lautner's abs." By the time a month had passed, we had done it all  - from  practicing our dance moves for two hours in my living room (to the laughter of my family), sampling stuffed mushroom caps at BJ's restaurant at the Tacoma Mall (she proudly claimed that those of Chief Leschi's Pro-Start team were far superior!), and eating a whole lot of chocolate in the backseat of Linda's car with the third member of Car Group #2, Delaney Ferrell - spending time not only as Retreat roomies, but as backseat buddies, dance partners, and all-around close friends. 

Because of all the times we had been stuck side-by-side, Alex once told me, during an afternoon at my house - trying to nail those hand motions to our favorite Journey tune - "God must have put us together like this for a reason."

Now, a full year later, even though I'm still questioning what sort of plans God might have had for the two of us, I've still gained a lot from our all-too-brief-best-Princess-friendship: to understand that no matter how many times you ask someone if they're okay, that they still might not be, and that that's not your fault; to accept that you'll never know everyone's true story; and to find a way to be a best friend to everyone, because you never know who'll want to be your best friend, too.

Princess friends forever. Rest in Peace and Love, Alex. 

Now, in an effort to work something that actually has to do with books into my book blog, I searched a little more into one of the worst ramifications of Alex's untimely loss: explaining it to her biggest fans, the many kids we've met in the time since April 11th - when her death was discovered - who never really understood why they could never have all 24 signatures on our poster, or collect all 24 trading cards. I took some time to go to a local library this past weekend, and picked out a couple of children's books I could find in the databases and on the shelves, that I felt were actually helpful, in assisting children deal with grief and loss:

I Miss You, by Pat Thomas, offers an easy-to-understand look at how death is a natural part of life, and why it is not only normal, but important, to discuss your feelings about losing someone close to you. 

What's Heaven?, by Maria Shriver, portrays the loss experienced by a little girl named Kate, when her Great-Grandmother dies, and the many questions that come from her curiosity about a difficult topic. 

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst, explains how love transcends separation, and keeps us all tethered together like - as you could probably tell from the title - an "invisible string." (This one was probably my favorite, simply because it didn't deal with death in an implicit way; instead, being focused on the strength of love in general.)

Please, if you're dealing with depression, thoughts of suicide, or simply even feeling a little alone sometimes, PLEASE know that you're not alone, and that you will get through this! Suicide is NEVER going to be the answer; getting help is always the answer! There are plenty of resources available to you for dealing with these problems, and know that you deserve that special attention! If you or a friend is dealing with suicide or depression, please call the following hotline, and just talk to somebody. You are not alone! 1-800-273-8255 is the United States National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Much love to everyone, Alex's family and tribe, and especially my Royal Family (most especially the amazingly beautiful, incredibly understanding, and endlessly exuberant Delaney Ferrell), on this very difficult day. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

College Fashion Post Catch Up!

I'm too busy to update the blog, but at least I can take the time to leave ties to what I AM able to write: here is the link to my latest College Fashion "Looks from Books" post, on the classic portrait of mid-century teenage rebellion and conflict: S.E.Hinton's The Outsiders!


Sorry for the brief pause: Life is crazy. I have a post scheduled for tomorrow night, and another as soon as my NEXT College Fashion post goes up this Wednesday (Can you guess the book? :) ), and we'll be returning to our regularly scheduled post shortly!

Hope your week is off to a great start!