Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Daring the Heights

It is no secret to anyone that the book I like the absolute least in the entire world is Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte (sister to the author of one of my favorite books in the entire world, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte). Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff are 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. The only redeeming quality I see in the book is the fact that it is beautifully written; unfortunately, the story itself is awful enough to steer me away from the book entirely.

However, it is equally no secret that I absolutely loved April Lindner's Jane, a modern, young-adult adaptation of Jane Eyre.

When she released Catherine earlier this year - styled around Wuthering Heights' own Catherine, and recreating the tragic love story of Catherine, Heathcliff, and all of those innocent bystanders in the vicinity of their love whose lives get thrown into utter turmoil because those two specific people happen to suck THAT much - I was thrown into a quandary.

Fortunately for me, my loyalty to awesome new authors far outranks my distaste for those who died in the 19th century, and I took a chance on what turned out to be a really fabulous retelling. Therefore, April Lindner's Catherine, which transplanted Bronte into the wilds of the East Coast and her epic-ly awful love story into a battle in rock 'n' roll history, was officially on my TBR list (And, thankfully, on the YA shelves at our local library).

In case you haven't read the original, the lead romantic characters in Wuthering Heights, are, while undeniably iconic and usually unbelievably dubbed among the greatest romantic duos of all time, awful. In Catherine, they are not only made more human, but even moderately likeable, if not a little less selfish and stupid, and a little more worthy of my sympathy (in a "kicked puppy that grew up to be a vicious Chihuahua that bites the fingers of children that try to pet it" way).

Transition from classic-to-modern novel had a few more gaps and glaring dissimilarities than in Jane, but overall, I feel that the task was accomplished quite well: from the moors to NYC, from Wuthering Heights to  The Underground, from a brooding estate manager to a tortured nightclub owner, etc.

It is fast-paced, and its characters jump to conclusions that I'm not even sure that Evil Knievel would make, but if you already have a mental map left over from having read Wuthering Heights (like The Cheerleader did, for summer homework, lol), it's easy to orient yourself within the change of chronological description: the novel completely ousts Mr. Lockwood as narrator, and instead, utilizes Catherine's diary and the first-person narration of her daughter, clarifyingly-named Chelsea - instead of Less-Evil Catherine or Catherine 2.0 - to move the story. This allowed for me to connect to the two characters a bit more as well, as you are forced to sympathize with the storyteller, and I think that was probably the best change between the old and the new.

Chelsea, in particular, was impetuous and audacious, and her stubborn unwillingness to compromise what she loved for anyone perfectly mirrored the same qualities in her mother. Even though descriptions of both characters were few and far between (for starters, I'm still not entirely sure what they look like, because I certainly didn't picture the power-stanced girl on the cover), you could still see similarities in their attitudes, which I loved.

However, in the end, I don't think that the classic itself made the cut: the end result resembled less of the tried-and-tired English standby, and more of a new and unique (though still  flawed) young adult novel. We lost things that really bugged me, like the complete inability to relate to the lead characters, but we lost most of the Gothic nature of it all (that being said, there were a couple of creepy elements that I appreciated, but they were a little too brief for my spookiness standards).

Overall, it's a hip and exciting update on the dark-and-dreary classic, that keeps it all modern, while still hanging on to some ghosts, in more ways than one.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Opening Lines of Books

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

There's nothing quite like a good book that can grab you, not by intriguing cover art or involving inner cover, but by a killer first line. If you've got a novel that hooks you like a fish within the open sea of an introductory sentence, you've most likely got a winner. Here are some of my favorite starts to some of my favorite books! 

1. "It was a dark and stormy night." A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle 
When you're ten, you have no idea what is lurking in the dark outside your window, and as I read along with Meg, I knew just how she felt, because I knew what kinds of things usually happened on "dark and stormy" nights... but what followed was something neither of us expected. 

2. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. 
Perfectly cadenced and ringing of old country wisdom straight from a domineering mother of five eligible  young Regency-era women, this might be my vote for most perfect classic opening. If it weren't for...

3. "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy. 
How much truth can ring in one sentence, how much can be hinted at the convoluted inter-workings of family dynamics, and how well can you encompass the work as a whole, with fourteen simple words? Well played, Tolstoy. 

4. "Marley was dead: to begin with." A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens. 
And what a beginning it is. 

5. "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. 
I used to write in my journal sitting in my parent's bathtub (but that had more to do with Kyle XY than convenience or comfort). Still, I feel ya, girl. 

6. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, J. K. Rowling.
Here it is: two of the most-hated children's literary characters in the world, who perfectly open up one of the most prolific book series in the entire world. Of course, we all came to know that the Dursley household was, by far, much less normal than they would like to be, but that was all the reason why there was a story to tell in the first place. 

7. "This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it." The Princess Bride, William Goldman. 
This book is so confusing and silly and unexpected, and so is this line. 

8. "If you are interested in happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle." The Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket. 
And yet, this series gave all of us kids such joy, thus bringing us the first mass marketing technique of "schadenfreude for children" (Just kidding. The joy came from seeing the insurmountable obstacles in front of the Baudelaires, and watching as they kept almost-triumphing and trying-again, until the thirteenth book. We didn't rejoice in their sadness; we shared in their optimism and perseverance. We knew they could do it). 

9. "The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!" The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin. 
The best part about this line, is that it not only hints at the enigmatic and surprising qualities of the mystery to-be-solved in this classic children's novel, but that, years later, as you write a blog post about opening lines in novels, and think of this one, you realize that the resolution to the mystery (and the naming of a certain character), had been hinted at from the get-go, with an emphasis on the confusion of major geographical directions. 

10. "There was once a boy named Milo who did not know what to do with himself - not just sometimes, but always." The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster. 
There's already an interest in a book lovingly picked out for you and carefully read, while tucked into bed, by your father, but the only thing that could swallow your attention more, was a line like this, about a little boy, who was kind of like you. 

So, what do you think? What are some of your favorite opening lines? 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Topics That Will NOT Make Me Want to Pick Up a Book

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

Way back in April, we counted down the Top Ten Topics that will make me want to immediately pick up a book, and now, it seems it is time for the opposite. Therefore, without further ado, here are the Top Ten most cringe-inducing, gut-clenching, and teeth-grindingly painful of those things that keep me far, far away from certain bookshelves at the library! 

1. Drugs/ Drug Abuse
I was raised from a young age to stay far, far away from anything that has the potential to alter your brain chemistry and was not prescribed to you by a doctor, and I honestly think that has translated into my reading habits.

2. Motherhood/ Pregnancy
Even when I am a mom, I doubt I'm going to want to read about someone else's postpartum problems, which, from my experience with the genre, tend to come in the form of  supremely terrible timing for some of life's worst issues, like cheating husbands, anxiety and depression, and a general inability to meet the needs of their growing family. Honestly, guys, don't moms already have it tough enough?

3. Spies, Hackers, Master Thieves, and Secret Agents (especially in YA)
I have just been disappointed time and time again by too many Gallagher Girls and even, yes, James Bond himself. I'll stick to the silver screen versions of jaw-clocking stud muffins in tuxes descending from the ceiling on microfiber cables, thank you very much (and especially that cutie Daniel Craig); you can keep your printed prep-girls in miniskirts and government equipment, and hormonally-vulnerable-yet-mentally-incomparable computer hackers, to yourself.

4. Chick-Lit "Hits" 
The Devil Wears Prada is one of my favorite movies, and yet, I will never read the book(s). It just won't happen. Same for the 50 Shades of Grey series, or pretty much any novel they talk about on The View.

5. Anything That Professes to Be the Next Anything (i.e., "next Hunger Games," "next Harry Potter," "next Twilight.") 
Speaking of the publishing hysteria induced by the now-oft-copied 50 Shades, I am fifty shades and twenty-one flavors of done, done, DONE, with anything that cannot stand on it's own story, and relies on the crutch of comparison to previously existing publishing triumphs to even make a case for the discerning consumer's approval. Boo and hiss.

6. Fairies/ Werewolves/ Shape-shifters/ and ESPECIALLY Vampires (Post-19th Century). 
Anyone who has been around for the insanity that gripped YA shelves in the past decade or so understands. Dracula may have given me nightmares for years on end, but at least he never divided the female population of my freshman class into warring factions of fan girls. (Curse you, Edward and Jacob!)

7. Authors Who Just Don't Understand How to Be... People
A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey. How to Be Famous, by Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag (and yes, this is a real book). Honestly, if this hullabaloo about Orson Scott Card had been brought to my attention before I read the novel back in Fall 2008, I would probably have chosen to abstain from one of my favorite works of science fiction ever. But why should I pay into the pocket of a liar, a lunatic, or an all-around loser?
*Also, apparently Emily Giffin is not quite that nice, either.

8. Sports
Just not what I'm interested in. Basically, the only sports I understand or enjoy are baseball, soccer, and football, and I'm only ever down to watch a baseball game (preferably, with pretzels, Cracker Jack, and a Diet Coke). I don't care what goes on in the dugout, just the action on the field, and the party in the parking lot.

9. Thrillers
Mysteries? Yes. Murder mysteries? Even better. Overly-suspenseful slashers with a body count higher than the reading grade level, populated exclusively with easily-recognizable stock characters and overused story structures, for the sake of moving the plot along so quickly you might get whiplash? Pass.

10. Romance Novels (That Are Not Redeemable As Social Commentary). 
Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, and Gone with the Wind, all have inherent cultural value, that reflect important aspects of the worlds, communities, and social stratospheres within such epic love stories flourished. But I'm guessing that the brick-shaped, bodice-ripping wads of sticky prose and steamy scenes sold in the supermarket checkout lines reflect a much different kind of sense and sensibilitiy, and involve worlds that I'm not too keen on exploring.

What sort of things make you keep away from certain books? Do you think there are any exceptions to your rules (or mine)? What's on your list? 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Love and First Impressions

I am a sucker for a good Austen-oriented anything (evidence: see past posts, like this one or this one...); therefore, when I heard that this novel - Austenland, by Shannon Hale - was in the works to be a movie (coming out this September in the UK, according to IMDB), I knew I had to read it! I've even gotten so progressively excited about it, that I listed it on my Top Ten TBR List for this summer. I had ordered it on my Kindle back in April, but now, it was finally time to see if the book lived up to the hype...

The novel is told from the point of view of a woman named Jane Hayes, who, after confessing her undying devotion to the character of Mr. Darcy to a dying relative,  is bequeathed an expensive vacation to Pembrook Park, an immersive Austen experience, where the "point of the game" is, as it was in the Regency era as well, to nab a proposal from a worthy gentleman. Despite the fact that almost all of the players in Jane's three weeks in Austenland are actors, she can't help but develop some very real feelings in this land of fiction. Are any of these suitors remotely suitable for our humble heroine? Or is this city girl getting in over her head at the county estate of Pembrook Park?

I've been lacking in summer sunshine for a while now, and this was the perfect book to lend me a little light. The entire novel was as sweet and satisfying as eating a cupcake, with none of the residual guilt leftover. It's a beach read, it's chick lite, it's like the Caramel Frappuccino of literature. And honestly, that just what you need sometimes, and especially when you're running around doing a million things during the summer! If you're looking to spend your time on something cute that will make you feel happy, and you're not ready for the responsibility of owning a puppy, this book will fit the bill.

Also, what girl hasn't wanted to do the same things our workaholic heroine got to do? (Actually, this is a legitimate question. Are there any normal people out there?) The entire premise, of a vacation destination that solely revolves around the Regency realm of one of England's most-loved authors, is probably the most attractive and interesting element in this novel. You don't just read to see how our heroine gets on in this mystery world, but how would things be run around there? What food/dresses/activities would be involved? The setting is the title of the novel itself, because that's what is most involving about the novel in the first place! If Disneyland suddenly opened its doors to a Regency-era Austenland, where there are bonnets and gowns and heart-breakingly handsome Mr. Darcys everywhere (with some Bingleys thrown in for good measure), I'm sure even Mickey Mouse himself would have to duck and cover.

The only arguments I found over this daydream-y confection, was a supreme lack of stakes. Our heroine attempts explanation of her own sense of increasing suspense and necessity for sneakiness again and again, but each of her inner turmoils seemed to me to be more ill-founded and exhausting than the last. I think that was mainly a character trait, in a woman who confesses that she is "crazy intense," with, let's face it, special emphasis on the crazy. And, let's face it, again, if she had just leant back, had a super fun vacation, and gone on her merry way, then she would have been incredibly un-interesting as a character. Her flaws were necessary; I just wish that they were better explained.

Overall, a sweetly involving romp through a Jane Austen lover's world, with a modern girl's sensibilities to balance out the rigid social structures and over-trodden landscape. A perfect dose of summer sweetness.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Going Sometime

Something wonderful has happened to me recently: with the return of the freedom of summer and comfort of home, I now am able to do things like A. exploit the control of the flat screen in the family room at the expense of my family members,  B. eat/make/bake/cook/consume/etc. as much food as I want at any time I want for any reason I want, and C. utilize the public resource of the local library just around the corner.

On my very first visit there since sojourning to Seattle for the school year, I combed the YA shelves for new releases that I had missed in my absence (because a college student just doesn't read YA books in college, regardless of how brain-meltingly saccharine or comfortingly low-comprehension they are). While picking through the stacks, I found Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt, which had been making the rounds on some of my favorite book blogs back in March, and I decided to give it a shot. It was packed along with four other books into my library bag, and checked out. (New Haul!)

This novel - which could be renamed Teenage First World Problems in Three Acts - tells the story of a high school kid named Mallory, who discovers that her real-life boyfriend has been cheating on her with a cyber-life wife named BubbleYum on a "Second Life" -esque computer game. In an attempt to release the toxicity of the affair from her system, she purges not only the offending culprit, but all means for such dishonesty - including computers and cell phones - and, inspired by a list of goals from her grandmother's junior year of high school, leads her life by a technological code of ethics that successfully plunges herself back into 1962. During this wild experiment, she must complete tasks written on the list, along with the help of her sister - sew her own homecoming dress, and become secretary of Pep Club at her school, for instance - but the goals she sets to accomplish take her far beyond what she dreamed possible.

Overall, I thought this novel - though with a unique and interesting story line - was pretty true to genre. Quirky and unique female in "distress" (the real-world affect of which isn't so distressing) and offending hunky male, contrivance of strange and ineffective scheme to set everything right, nothing works out the way she planned, bada bing, bada boom, end of story. It was an episode of That's So Raven or Hannah Montana; it was a twee, hyper-snarky Zooey Deschanel short story, written in her younger years. It wasn't boring by any means, just predictable, even down to the voice of the character, and honestly, that's what I've come to expect from most girly Young Adult Romances.

However, that isn't to say that it was strictly a Romance, either. It had all the trappings of a typical one, but instead of going full throttle and charging straight into a relationship with another character, Mallory was given the gift of time and patience and the ability to heal from her wounds, first. She really does grow from the problems that hurt her so badly in the beginning of the novel, which, without stepping into the realm of the moralistic, certainly allows for a lesson to be learned in young readers.

That, as I came to realize after reviewing the book carefully, was the general audience of the novel: young readers. Though the novel itself is written from the point of view of someone entering their junior year of high school, the book is tame enough to enter into territory of "sedate" for anyone around that age, but is perfect for those around 12-15, who have no real knowledge of how such things like high school work. Anyone older would get as bored as I did, and anyone younger wouldn't have any idea of how things were like in the 1960s, so hitting between is really the sweet spot.

Going Vintage was a sometimes over-dramaticized, sometimes over-complicated-yet-under-comprehensive, and always fluffy and sweet young adult novel, written for the younger end of the spectrum.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Best/ Worst Book-to-Movie Adaptations

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

All this free time I've suddenly come into this summer has resulted in the increased amount of time spent in front of, expectedly, the written word. However, these hotter months also signal an influx in movie theater attendance, as some of the biggest production houses put out their blockbusting big names, and, more often than not, book adaptations! 

In the honor of those new films, here is a list of some of my best - and worst - book-to-movie adaptations of all time! 

1. Pride and Prejudice (any adaptation) 
Any adaptation, honestly. Everyone has their own favorite - mine is 2005's Keira Knightley version - of this Regency era classic, but each are popular for their own reasons. 

2. Perks of Being a Wallflower
I actually liked this book more AFTER I watched the movie, despite the fact that I had read it beforehand. Maybe it's because of the all-star cast and flawless translation to screen. 

3. Harry Potter Franchise
It's pretty touch and go with story adherence in this series, as any good fan knows - WHERE THE HELL IS PEEVES? - but just the fact that the fan's dreamworld is rendered so successfully is what ensures their continued success. 

4. The Maltese Falcon
I discussed this movie in a comparison to the novel here, and I truly enjoyed both. Besides, Entertainment Weekly just listed it in the "Top 100 Movies of All Time," so you know it's good! 

5. Matilda
Let's face it, this movie is adorable. (Also, now, the musical!) 

6. Jane Eyre 
Even though there was the most recent adaptation in 2011 with Michael Fassbender, I am a huge fan of the BBC series from 2006 with Ruth Wilson, whose adherence to the beloved book is incredibly commendable. 

7. The Princess Bride
Have you ever read this book? It reads EXACTLY like the movie, and I'm not joking. 

8. Coraline
Terrifying for kids. Don't believe me?  I saw this with my three younger siblings and father, and the youngest of us - my lil bro - actually had to leave the theater. The icky illustrations that meshed so perfectly in the book, are replaced with mystical and enthralling visuals in this kid-oriented creep-fest. 

9. Holes
Damn, Shia LeBouf. (Back in the Even Stevens era, of course, but he was still pretty cute!) 

10. The Secret Garden
Every little girl I know grew up with this movie in the '90s, and for good reason. This book and this movie continue bring out the green thumb in me, even when I manage to kill plastic plants.  

1. Beastly
Agh, this sucked. And it made me SO SAD, because Alex Flinn is SO COOL! 

2. Wrinkle in Time
No comment. Just tears. 

3. Eat Pray Love
Lacked the emotional intensity and straightforward honesty of the memoir. 

4. Ella Enchanted 
Anne Hathaway, apparently, can do something wrong. And that makes me upset, because this book was so great. 

5. Alice in Wonderland (any adaptation) 
Unfortunately, it seems that every adaptation of this classic children's tale, is too off the mark in either content (as in, not accurate to the story) or in characters (thanks for trying, Johnny Depp). 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief 
OH MY GOD if this series wasn't swapped like some kind of cafeteria contraband when I was in middle school. These characters fit in to my circle of friends like we had all grown up together, and honestly, we kind of had. But Annabeth was blonde in the movie, and the age difference was unforgivable, too; therefore, I was displeased. But it still did well (because it was still pretty good!) and the next movie in the franchise is coming out this summer. Will Percy and Co. be redeemed to me? We shall see... :) 

What are YOUR Top Ten? 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Name of the Game

Summer is really the best time to sink your literary teeth into a new fantasy epic, in my opinion. Past years have seen me undertaking such new world's as Frank Herbert's Dune and Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, both epics in their own right (though, if you've read my past views on the matter, one was clearly superior). So, when the weather started heating up and Seattle hit its high point - temperature-wise - for the year, you can only guess what I grabbed off of the top of my ARC pile: something dense and immense, with some serious intensity, that would also allow me to soak up as much of the blissful air conditioning in the house as I possibly could.

Django Wexler's The Thousand Names follows the timely topic of a country in revolt, led by the people of the Khandarai, religious zealots attempting to drive out their usurping overlords - the Vordanai - back to their homeland. Their plan is primarily successful, until the arrival of a new Vordanai colonel changes the tide of war, and the history of the country, by using secretive and unusual powers, the likes of which no one has ever seen...

The set-up adheres pretty closely to the standard set by most contemporary science fiction: a land, foreign and strange, thrust into turmoil; warring factions of uncivilized natives versus the more organized and developed foreigners; new languages; mysterious artifacts; magic and myth; etc. However, even though the world's tropes were pretty standard to the genre, the construction was flawless. Science fiction doesn't come with an IKEA set of instructions; even with the standard gear and moving points, it is still a difficult genre to develop correctly, and Wexler managed that to perfection.

Furthermore, even though some elements to the novel were pretty standard, they were presented through an entirely new scope and scale: I've seen rebellion, revolution, and the unseating of monarchs, in too many epic fantasy/ sci-fi masterpieces to count (for example, the most often used, "depose the evil ruler(s) by returning the rightful heir to the throne" bit that I am too tired of and don't want to see ever again), but this time, it was done in a new, fresh way, through the scope of colonialism. The side was not with the natives, an aggressive and religiously-oriented group of "gray skins," but with the "pale-faced" usurpers.

The characters were pretty standard to the genre as well, with the focus of the narrative being extracted primarily from the ranks of the opposing war forces - both of them, though primarily the Vordanai military organizations - and hence, the majority were also men. There were a few standout female characters in the bunch, which I was immensely happy to see, but I was also a little bit disappointed in their treatment (most of them honestly might as well have been guys, too).

The fact that the book is approximately 75% descriptions of tactical army maneuvers was surprising to me, being that I'd never experienced that in a book before, and instead of being too monotonous or boring, it was actually pretty cool. After looking into the subject in more detail, I found that it was an entirely new sub-genre of science fiction to me: martial fiction, detailing the movements and lives of those in the armed forces (but for this example, think less of The Things They Carried, and more of Ender's Game). It was interesting to learn about a new kind of writing style, but after about 450 pages, I was pretty worn out from all the canons and guns and line formations. Still, it's always fun to learn new things, and maybe I'll learn more about the genre once the beating feet from all the marching has faded out of my head.

Overall, it was an interesting, fresh, yet classically constructed piece of epic science fiction, that is definitely worth notice by the fans of the genre. And it's so rare that I really get to read good sci-fi. :)

NOTE: My copy was uncorrected proofs, so this all could change. Distribution started a few days ago, in hard cover, from ROC (a division of Penguin).