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?