Sunday, June 30, 2013

Oh, Dear

The sun has finally come out again, and I was looking for something a little sunny to read; hence, I picked up this novel - Dear Lucy: A Novel, by Julie Sarkissian - of the top of my recent stack of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) that have been piling up on my shelves. From the bright, colorful, and quirky cover, it looks like a cheerful, optimistic novel, and guessing from the chicken, it was about a young girl who lives on a farm. However, anyone making that assumption - fulfilling the dreaded adage of "judging a book by its cover," as marketing teams only love to assure that you do - would only be correct for about half of that sentence.

Dear Lucy is told primarily from the viewpoint of a young, mentally challenged girl named Lucy, who is looked after on a farm by two caregivers, named Mister and Missus, who are tasked to tend to her until her mother decides she can once again keep her in her life. Also on the farm is a young, pregnant woman named Samantha, who is equal parts loving of little Lucy, and secretive about her past, as well as several chickens that Lucy loves to oversee, and the left-behind words of Mister and Missus' daughter, Stella. The story follows Lucy, as she tries to make sense of her rapidly-changing world, with Samantha's due date approaching nearer, by attempting to understand universal concepts foreign to her, like the "secret of growing," or why the stories Samantha tells conflict so heavily with what others say is the truth.

The chapters intersperse themselves with the voices of the various characters, instead of just focusing on Lucy, which allows for a more rhythmic measuring and pacing of the slow-burning plot. It was a very calculated move, and kept the character development from getting too condensed, electing instead for special serving sizes of the unique and complex styles of story-telling in the various forms of each of the characters. While, after a while, this got a little too monotonous for me, and I had to fight the urge to jump forward a chapter or two to finally get a grip on the story, I refrained, and in the end, I think the novel was probably the better for it.

The narration styles were also refreshing and carefully constructed themselves, with each new voice coming through as distinctly their own. None of the characters themselves were carefully delineated as either "good" or "bad," and the setting and time period were similarly unmarked (Great Depression? WWII?). These balanced individualistic and ambiguous tendencies of description were both a hindrance and a help to the novel, allowing the reader to form their own opinions, but also making the constant moral weighing and attempts at association more difficult than they needed to be.

The most interesting aspect of the novel, by far, was the primary narrator, the titular Lucy, who is mentally handicapped. The effect is one-hundred-percent successful: it comes off as fully authentic and genuine in its application, completely earnest in sentiment, and allowed the reader to easily access the world of someone of a kind they haven't explored before, with the fuller breadth of outside knowledge to understand the things Lucy, herself, did not.

However, I did feel there was a severe detractor to such elements as the distinctly unique voice, the interesting and deeply morally involving story line, and the severe plights faced by some of the most vulnerable characters in the novel. Going into this book, there was no mention that Lucy was handicapped in any way (it actually takes you at least a few pages to really get the bigger picture). Similarly, the concept art is deceptively not-age-appropriate, and I cannot stress enough, the fact that the subject matter is positively brutal: themes like sexual assault, violence, suicide, etc. and, of course, the difficult topic of mentally handicapped children, populate the major story arcs of our characters, and there's a plot twist at the end of the novel, involving some unearthed facts about Stella, that literally made me throw my book across the room in disgust. In other words, the cover and description both don't explicitly lie about the contents of the novel, but they sure as hell don't tell much of the story, either.

Read this novel if you're looking for interesting voice, genuine characters, and a unique plot... just realize that you're getting a lot more baggage than you bargained for.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Creepy Kids

It's been pretty gloomy here at home ever since summer really started, and the constant cloud cover has got me pretty bummed. With bookshelves ever serving as a first class ticket to, well, other minds, I decided to take a trip to someone else's head for a couple of days, some one whose mind wasn't overly crowded with discontent like mine. Yet, wouldn't you know it, my subconscious steered me right towards the downright gloomiest book in my bookcase: Ransom Rigg's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

This novel follows the story of seventeen-year-old named Jacob, from his painfully dull existence in Florida, to a mysterious island off of the coast of Wales, in search of answers for the murder of his grandfather, and the truth behind the strange stories the old man used to tell him... Tales about a boy who was inhabited by bees, a brother/sister duo whose were much mightier than their size would suggest, a girl who could levitate and another who could control plants, and most special still, a girl who could control fire, all living in an orphanage during WWII. However, the reality he finds, is even stranger than the stories, and it soon becomes clear, that in facing the truth, he must also face a future different from anything he has ever known.

The novel was incredibly fast-paced, with nary a dull moment or pause in action, with plenty of suspense pulling the story forward at every step. While the constant movement might have been construed as sloppy or a little too frenetic at key points, the effect was, overall, fitting of Jacob's rapidly changing world view. In fact, that's what this book served as, primarily: not a world-builder, but definitely a world-changer. A lot of it, especially in the middle, assisted in the transition of the construction of Jacob's reality into one of an altered semi-reality... Still, this endless flow of movement and change got a little hectic, and I would have appreciated a little more demonstration of the world than oration of its composition. You know, showing, rather than telling. (Then again, this maybe because it is a YA fantasy, and the length and believability might have been called into questioning on that count).

The characters are incredibly intriguing, the descriptions are vivid (and that's saying something, that Wales and muddy bogs and creeping fog can ever be described as "vivid"), and the plot was very interesting, with multiple layers, and a lot of twists and turns. The ending especially was incredibly suspenseful, but the plot twist was a little too expected and poorly orchestrated for my taste. It was obvious to spot, but it didn't detract from the ending too much.

The best aspect of the book by far was the photos from which the book originated. The fact that the plot was cobbled together from strange snippets and odd photos found at random garage sales and flea markets, was SO COOL, and definitely served as a super unique origin for this super unique story. The best part is, there's even more of the origin story present in the back of my copy...

I was sent this book through Goodreads, as the novel moves forward from it's status as a New York Times Best-Seller in hardcover, into paperback form, in preparation for the release of it's sequel, Hollow City, come next January 14th. This edition of the already-popular novel includes an extensive Q&A with Mr. Riggs in the back of the book, even more creepy pictures - those not used in the novel itself, as well as others hinting at the fates that await the children in their next adventure -  and a fairly large chunk of the first chapter of the sequel as well. The extra materials were just as cool as the book itself, as the Q&A detailed even more of the amazing origins of the novel, and that was the part I liked best.

Though maybe a little unsuited for those who don't like overly predictable novels, this is a good, creepy read for the YA Fantasy/Horror types, as well as adults who are willing to sit through some drudge-y info-dumping and teen romance. At the end of the day, it was still a pretty welcome distraction for me.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Will in the World

While the past week and a half, serving as the advent of my summer vacation, have allowed me to fully recover from the horror of Finals Week, and celebrate the end of my freshman year at the University of Washington. Hooray! And yet, I find that I am still mildly hungover on the subjects of Spring quarter... most particularly, the ENGL 274 class I took on Shakespeare, Post 1603. 

The class itself was not terribly stimulating; if anything it was a class I very rarely attended (And that's not an exaggeration). Still, I ended up getting a 4.0 in the class, because it was a subject that interested me greatly. While the in-class discussions were nothing to bother about, the three main papers we had to turn in struck me as most important, and while I ended up getting excellent grades on all of them (96, 98, and 100 percents, and yes, I feel fully entitled to brag), the one that was the most fun for me, was, of course, a book review. (It received, ironically, the worst grade of the three). 

We had to select and review a book on the Bard, and the winner, for me, was Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World, which offered an in-depth analysis of the people, landscape, art, and culture that shaped William Shakespeare, from one of the many sons of a rural glove maker and town figure, into one of history’s most iconic Londonites, and the most prolific playwright in the world. Traveling through the personal history of this iconic man - from the Latin-centric educational system that taught him to appreciate and manipulate words in equal measure, and the religious turmoil that might have played a part in his aversion to theology, to the monarchs that would write his paychecks and pave his career, and the city that would make his name synonymous with the stage - Stephen Greenblatt unearths the more complete origins of the distinctive literary voice of Shakespeare from historical quagmires of murky facts and probable theories, resulting in a more complete understanding of an exceptionally talented member of the echelons of England’s literary history.

Will in the World is unique among the many, many non-fiction works based around the life of the playwright, being that, while it does adhere to the many previously existing facts known about his life, it also clarifies the unknown, dark portions of blank history, without adding in some recently unearthed factoid, document, or piece to the puzzle: no new information on Shakespeare has surfaced in the writing of this book, and yet, it serves to elaborate on pre-existing knowledge of who this mysterious man was, by exploring not deeper personal connection, but the context in which Shakespeare himself presented his work, and the culture that shaped his perceptions of love, art, family, nature, comedy, and drama.

In some areas, such speculation detrimentally affects the validity of Greenblatt’s claims; for instance, a chapter on the possibility of a friendship between him, and English Catholic martyr and saint Edward Campion, came off as widely theoretical and boldly claimed, with almost no proof to back it up, these events having “potentially” occurred during what are Shakespeare’s lost years. However, even such theoretical musings served a greater purpose: to provide a greater understanding of the wider context of the religious climate in England at the time of Shakespeare’s formative years, and explaining what background he had in the conflicting principles (and royal governances) of Protestantism and Catholicism.Thereby does the unique approach, of filling in Shakespeare’s history with supposals and potentialities, unburden the Shakespeare scholar with the boundaries to his personal life of which to strictly pertain, and granting a less limited amount of source material, to explore the context and construction of the stories behind his plays, as well as William, the man.

Overall, Will in the World has fared well with readers, both on the wider market scale, as well as in the opinions of critical reviewers. It currently averages 3.92 out of 5 stars on popular book-sharing site Goodreads, and also garnered some very favorable personal opinions within that same forum. Its printed media supporters include the likes of Time, Newsday, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, as well as The Guardian, from Shakespeare’s own home base across the pond. It was also on the New York Times Bestseller List for Nonfiction for nine weeks straight, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize the same year it was published (which would be 2005). 

I was so inspired by this incredibly interesting book, that I used it as inspiration for this past Wednesday's "Looks from Books" for College Fashion, as well! Here's the link:  

Hope everyone's enjoying the beginning of their summer! :) I know I am. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'm Excited to Read this Summer!

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

I am not joking, when I say that whenever I'm down, or sad, or a little bit lost and lonely, I just think about all of the books left in this world that I have left to read, and I feel a lot better. So, suffering under a bit of June gloom - I miss my sorority sisters and Seattle castle home! - I now cheerfully record this list of books that I'm planning diving into within these next two and a half months, before I am reunited with my SigKap girls again!

The YA
1. Catherine, by April Lindner
Written by the same woman who expertly adapted one of my favorite novels of all time, Jane Eyre, to fit the modern model of YA lit in Jane (read my review here, from way back in 2010!), Catherine covers the life and love of a Manhattan-set Wuthering Heights. Everyone who has heard me rant about my least favorite books, knows of my disdain for that god-awful classic, but if there's anyone I trust to fix the story for a contemporary mindset, it's Lindner.

2. Gilt and Tarnish, by Katherine Longshore
Following the narration of fictionalized friends of Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, respectively, these novels detail the luxe lives of Henry VIII's better-off-not brides, and have stirred up some rave reviews in the process for their realism and glamour. Can't wait to read!

The Newbies
3. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, by Anton Disclafani
A debut novel garnering an incredible amount of attention, this novel promises one of my favorite historical periods (the Great Depression), one of my current favorite settings (the South), and three of my favorite plot points (scandal, heartbreak, and love), while telling the story of a young girl cast out of her home for the summer after a family tragedy, to spend her time at a horse camp for ladies. Besides, Entertainment Weekly told me to read it.

4. The Astronaut Wives Club, by Lilly Koppel
Also one that Entertainment Weekly has told me to read, but one that I had my sights set on anyways: describing the lives of the young women married to the Mercury Seven astronauts in the golden age of space travel euphoria, this nonfiction account goes behind the quick smiles and strong veneer of women whose families - and celebrity status - were dependent on men one million miles away.

The Non-Fics
5. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
I've been meaning to read this one for a while, honestly. I don't know what it is about summer, but there's just something so right in the mix of a slice of classic Americana and a tall glass of lemonade.

6. Walt Disney: the Triumph of the American Imagination, by Neal Gabler
Yet another that's been drawing my attention for a while, I started reading this book before last summer's trip to Disneyland, but I never got the chance to finish it. Here's my chance!

7. Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors, by Celia Blue Johnson
From the author of one of my favorite books-about-books, Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway (read my review here!), which follows the origins of some of the world's best-loved books, this new non-fiction compendium chronicles the strange quirks and habits of some of the world's best-loved writers.

The Wild Cards
8. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
I literally just had a discussion with someone about this book before school got out, and I just can't get the unnerving story of a relationship between an older man and his all-too-young lover girl out of my head.

9. Austenland, by Shannon Hale
The movie adaptation of this story of one lonely girl's attempt to find her own Mr. Darcy, by attending an Austen-immersion theme park weekend, is set to come out in September, and I want to read the book before it does! Besides, who doesn't understand the plight of this poor girl; I mean, really!

10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig
Cute story time: on my parents' first date, they ended up staying out until 3 a.m., in a Dennys restaurant, talking all about this book. Therefore, I feel it is some kind of duty to myself to read it as well. (Besides, a little positive love-juju never hurt anyone, right?) :)

There's the books I'm most looking forward to reading this summer! What do you think of my choices? Do you have any recommendations of your own?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Finalizing Freshman Year

In approximately an hour and a half, I'm headed off to my final Final of Freshman Year. Whew! The year really did soar by quicker than I thought it would. Can you believe that as of 4 pm today, I've finished a full quarter of my college experience?

Over the past year, I've met a lot of amazing people - like my Sigma Kappa ladies! - experienced some great things - like passing on my Daffodil title! - made some stupendous opportunities for myself - like writing for College Fashion! - and learned a lot of important things, beyond just what they've taught me in class here at the University of Washington in Seattle. I've learned more about open hearts and minds, standing up for what you believe in, and making your own dreams come true, in the past year, than I've ever known before. I am so blessed to be able to call these women my sisters; this city, my home. I wouldn't have it any other way.

That being said, I am one million decibels beyond excited to be heading back to my beloved Tacoma tomorrow afternoon. ;) 

Now, while we're reminiscing, why not reflect on some of the best books I've read over this past academic year?

{Click on Underlined titles for a link to my reviews of each!} 

Best Voice: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., by Adelle Waldman 
I just reported on this one, but I just wanted to re-emphasize the extraordinary voice of character with which this novel is narrated: Nate is an expertly crafted mash-up of the best of pretentious literary genius and conflicted, still-learning thirty-something, and his voice carries not only throughout the book, but through the page, into the mind of the reader. Bravo!

Best Story: Poison, by Bridget Zinn 
So, so, so, so good. Just a really solid, light-hearted fantasy, that manages to pack in quite a few jaw-dropping surprises into a really adorable and awesome narrative. I'm sharing this one with both of my sisters, because it's totally accessible to all ages. So, so good.

Best Style: A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
Assigned for ENGL 111 fall quarter, this was probably the only good thing to come out of an admittedly, expectedly sucky entry-level English class. The style of this novel - one that is currently confusing the hell out of the Cheerleader, as she hasn't gotten past chapter three - fluctuates constantly between time periods, characters, and formats, and I can't even express to you how awesome that is.

Best Cover: The Selection, by Keira Cass
God, was this a let down, though! Still, kudos on the deceptively gorgeous cover.

Best Reread: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
Sometimes, you just need a reminder not to take things so seriously. For me, this book - one my Dad first read to me when I was too young to understand the impressive and hilarious wordplay enmeshed throughout the story - was a well-needed and well-loved passport to a simpler time, as well as a necessary kick in the pants that was desperately needed while I was languishing in Washington's dismal weather Winter Quarter.

Best Nonfiction: Will in the World, by Stephen Greenblatt
Technically a part of an assignment for my Shakespeare class, but I honestly would have read it anyways. It's a past, but still recent, Pulitzer finalist, and that title is more than worthy of being associated with such an involving account of the Bard's biggest influences. (Review to come soon!)

Best Lasting Power: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
This was the very first book I read this year, and out of everything, this is the story that I still bring up in conversation pretty regularly. I love my home state, and the emotional narrative, married to already enthralling history, made a completely captivating novel. If you are a Washington native, this book should really be something to read this summer, if you haven't already.

Best Assigned Material: The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
One of the many works of the Bard that we were assigned throughout my Spring 2013 Quarter's "Shakespearean Literature Post 1603" class, The Tempest stood out to me for its classical-based composition. In status, it's a comedy, but in practice, a emotionally-driven tale that runs much deeper, and it really captured my heart with its interesting and involving characters, particularly its lead, Prospero. Not my favorite - that title forever belongs to Hamlet - but definitely close.

Best Overall Book of Freshman Year: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
God, this one took forever: I think it was the better part of a month and a half to get all the way through this marathon novel. And yet, I kept reading. The intriguing differences between Russian style of writing than my typical English - more descriptions of action than descriptions of visuals, interesting differentiation in portrayal of love and lust, juxtapositions in moral goodness and societal vision of goodness - have me scouring next year's time schedules for a good World Literature class, and I'm glad I took the time to make it through this novel (as well as make it my first College Fashion post!).

And just because I'm an eternal optimist, and am much lamenting the passing of Summer without the companionship of some of the most amazing people I've ever met, here's just a look forward to Fall, as well... :)

Most Anticipated Book of Sophomore Year: Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2), by Sarah J. Maas

Technically it's supposed to come out at the end of summer (August 27th, can you come any faster?), but sometimes you just really need something to look forward to!

Thanks for a truly great year, everyone! See you again come September! 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Weekend Woes

Quick change of pace for everyone who is tired of me complaining about how busy I am all of the time: I'm not busy! Well, not too busy. My success in accomplishing a great many items of my "To Do Before Summer Freedom Eclipses All School Woes in Wave of Pop Music and Beach Party Montages on June 14" checklist these past two days has really revved up my self esteem, being that I now have ultimate confidence in my ability to get work done, instead of fearing that I'm going to fail out of college, and thus, life.  

Therefore, while I have a brief break in dominating yet another Shakespeare paper, I just wanted to take the time to assure you that yes, I've not lost my sanity yet, and congratulate everyone making it to the FIRST OF JUNE!

To celebrate, let's watch some of the best of my favorite font-related YouTube comedy (being that I've been staring at so much of it lately):

College Humor's "Font Conference," an old one, but a good one! 
(Check out the sequel, "Font Fight," when you're done!) 

Sure, this may all come off as pure pacification for not having posted much of substance in the past couple of weeks, but in reality... it is. There is SO much coming your way this summer, and I'm so excited to bring it to you! But for the next two weeks, we still have to wait. 

But don't fret: I have a College Fashion post coming up on Wednesday! Spoiler alert: It's on a book I enjoyed this past summer, Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway, by Celia Blue Johnson. Catch up on it here before the post comes out later this week! 

Hope you're all having a great weekend!