Saturday, January 30, 2016

Bits of Books: Murder Girls

"Bits of Books" is a recurring series, full of summarized book reviews, for titles I just can't invest as much time in!

Here's my problem... some of the final books that rounded out my 2015 reading have been stuck in my head. It's a new year and a new reading pool, and yet, I still couldn't let them go without a couple of quick comments. After thinking about them just last night, I decided to dig through the memory banks a little bit, and put together a Bits of Books review for some very similar - yet distinctly unique - books that I soared through over a month ago.

What do they have in common? They're all relatively recent YA releases, with leading lady characters, who sometimes make a habit of killing people. Like, a lot of people. That isn't to say these fearsome females are all alike, though: we've got a trained assassin, saved from an abusive marriage and trained in a convent; a rough-and-tumbleweed Westerner who's looking to take out the gang that killed her father; and a guardswoman, seeking atonement for the covenant she made years ago with a creature of the night, which resulted in the death of her mentor.

Distinct, but still similar enough to make me ponder over these plot choices more than a month after I finished reading them. Do you detect the theme? 

Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers

Ismae has been marked by Death since the day she was born, and no domineering father nor abusive arranged marriage will ever change that. Spirited away from her confining existence in her village into the welcoming convent of St. Mortain, run by women who still serve the old gods of Brittany, Ismae quickly excels in their tutelage of the arts of an assassin. Soon enough, her skills are needed at play in one of the most dangerous arenas she's ever encountered: deciphering the intrigue and deception of nobility, in the high court of Brittany. 

I heard quite a bit about this book when it first came out from quite a few of the bloggers whose reviews I really trust, but hadn't felt compelled to read it until I was looking to make a quick catch up on my Goodreads goal for 2015. When it comes to the scope of period-set YA, it did a good job building the time setting as a cohesive world, and excelled in fast-paced action; however, I felt the characterizations were fairly two-dimensional, especially in the form of the weak-tea romance. Overall, I gave  this book a solid three stars. 

Vengeance Road, Erin Bowman

Westerns aren't typically found in the YA canon; however, Kate Thompson is just the kind of girl to fix that. After finding her father brutally murdered and her house gutted by fire, Kate rides to the tune of revenge, swearing retribution on the gang that killed him in order to get the map to a secret gold mine. Disguised as a boy to be safer on the trail, Kate is joined by two meddling brothers, and a young Apache girl, and together, they discover secrets that might be best left to die in the Arizona Territory dust. 

I'd heard this novel described by more than one person as being more akin to True Grit than typical YA, and I have to agree: this book is bloody, with more than one significant death, and plenty more gruesomeness mentioned offhand. The West was a wild place, and Bowman definitely doesn't hold back. There are issues discussed in here that might turn people off - for instance, I get my hackles up whenever Native American stereotypes play their part - and I did have some problems with the plot resolution at the novel's climax, but this was honestly one of my favorite YAs that I read in the past year. 4.25 stars. 

Crimson Bound, Rosamund Hodge

A guard on behalf of the realm, after being exiled from her home village due to an act of bitter betrayal against her mentor, Rachelle serves the king as a force against the evil creatures of the night. After being appointed guard of the king's heir, Armand, Rachelle is drawn into a quest for an ancient power that is the only thing that stands between their world, and the world of the Forest. What she might not realize, is that their search has a deadline... and will bring consequences she has no way of predicting. 

After being disappointed by Rosamund Hodge's other fairy tale-inspired standalone, Cruel Beauty, I was a little hesitant to take up this title; however, my good friend Callie already had a copy, and kept me from having to purchase it myself. I was shocked to find that I actually really enjoyed the plot, which had just enough twists to keep me from predicting too much, and the enthralling world that our characters occupied. Additional points awarded for integration of a disabled character, and for not glossing over any of Rachelle's imperfections. 4 stars. 


But like I mentioned before, these books didn't leave an impression on me just by action, world-building or plot alone; it was the cohesive characterizations of each of their female leads, as someone capable of killing - and good at it, too - which made me take pause. 

I'm curious to what kind of social constructions support this recurring theme, as a trend in fantasy and hero-genre novels. We find it everywhere from YA - like Celaena Sardothien, from S. J. Maas' Throne of Glass series - to fantasy - like the lovely ladies of G. R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. The fact that these kinds of female characters are not just so popular, but so well-written, must stand for some moment of greater cultural consciousness in how feminism plays a part in the ways we write our young women. 

What are we, as murder girls, fighting against, or standing for? Why does it lend itself so well to fiction? 

Can you think of any other cool Murder Girls in YA, or general fiction? Have you read any of the books in this list? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Novel and the Movie: Wild

I hope you've got your popcorn ready, because here's another match up of best-selling books, and their movie adaptation counterparts! (Check out my past posts in this series, with The Maltese Falcon, and Bridget Jones' Diary!)

Today, we're doing something a little different... simply because the book we're discussing ISN'T A NOVEL. (So all of you who are tempted to leave that comment down below, don't worry: I'm already well aware!) Why should only fiction have all the fun?

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, follows one woman's account of her journey - emotional and spiritual, as much as physical - while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon, as well as the events in her life that lead her to that point. It's a favorite of my sister, Delaney - the kid who worked in Yellowstone National Park the whole summer - and she had been begging me to read it for quite some time, so I finally tackled the tome while home for Winter Break. Of course, we had to follow up immediately with the movie (unsurprisingly, another one of her favorites).

Which left me to ponder, which medium - the book or the movie - really depicted Cheryl's journey at its most raw and realistic? 


Filled with descriptions of luscious nature scenes, interactions with wildlife and fellow hikers, and the struggles that had pushed Strayed into such an extreme situation, the book has been highly rated on Goodreads and touted by the likes of Oprah for the past couple of years. It was actually a Goodreads Choice Winner way back in 2012, the year it was published!

To be honest, I didn't really love it. I ended up giving it 3 stars on GR, and even reflecting on it, I'm still left feeling like it was a little lackluster.

The way Strayed told her story was incredibly emotional, but also came off as somewhat self-aggrandizing, which raised the question for me as to whether she padded any of her experiences for the sake of a good story.

It was also a bit of a bummer for visualization's sake: I couldn't picture the scope of what this kind of undertaking would entail, because I couldn't really see it. And descriptions of the beauty of nature are all well and good, and appropriately given some space in book form; however, there was still a feeling of disconnect.

What I will say about the book, was that it gave a lot of context to her personal experiences and just how far she'd sunk from who she wanted to be. It really served as a great example of finding power by putting things into your own words, and owning the story.

Notes from the Field

  • Ew. Ew. Ew. 
  • God, and I think it's bad when I go camping for a three-day weekend. 
  • Not testing out equipment beforehand seems unsafe. 
  • Doing all of this alone seems unsafe. 
  • Unsafe, unsafe, unsafe!!! 
  • EWWWWW... 


The movie, both starring Reese Witherspoon as Strayed - both as a teen and as a twenty-something, throughout the chronological course of the book - as well as utilizing her as a producer, premiered to positive reviews by both viewers and critics alike back in 2014. The Rotten Tomatoes score for this movie stands at 90%, with audiences reporting 75% approval ratings as well!

The movie, in my opinion, did a much better job at demonstrating the emotional core and physical exertion of the book. Overall, I think it just gave better representation to the story, because even though the book allows the author to express things in their own words, Witherspoon really brought her acting A-game to this role: seeing the tragedy of Strayed's life, and the temerity she displayed in attempting this feat, was just better represented.

Besides, you can't beat the vastness of a blissfully filtered panorama shot with a paragraph of description. A lot of it comes down to the intensely visual nature of depicting such physical acts and surroundings: It's one thing to read about the places within the novel, and quite another to actually visualize the beauty of it.

Additionally, the artsy editing and exceptional soundtrack options helped lend more translatable emotional meaning, too. I definitely cried, multiple times. It was gross.

Notes from the Field

  • God, Reese Witherspoon is just so gorgeous. Also, potentially immortal. 
  • Hey, Laura Dern!
  • I want to know what Instagram filter they filmed all this footage in. 
  • So, they just got rid of the sister? 
  • I think I'm going to hate this song by the time this movie is over. 


Shock and awe! For the first time in this blog series, I have to say that I thought the movie was much better than the book! I still wasn't 100% on board with the story, and definitely can't quite measure up to the kind of love my sister has for it, but the movie just did a better job at conveying the emotional distress, physical stress, and grandiose surroundings that much more effectively. (Also, I love Reese Witherspoon.) 

Have you seen or read Wild? Which would you say was better? What book and movie team should I tackle next? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

You Know You're an English Major When...

It was to my great excitement at the beginning of this Quarter, two weeks ago, when I realized that for the first time ever, I had a fellow sorority sister in one of my English classes! Whereas you might have bought into the stereotype that every in the Greek Community is a Business or Humanities major, my sorority is practically full to bursting with predominantly STEM ladies... which makes it kind of a pain when you're looking for someone to peer edit a paper.

This serendipitous occasion made me reflect on some of the awesome friends I had made in other English classes throughout my undergrad here at the University of Washington... in particular, a conversation I had with one back last Quarter, where our comedic genius knew no bounds. We had joked about making a list of "You Know You're an English Major When..."s, and I thought, why not turn it into a blog post?

Yes, the beautiful Reading Room in Suzzallo Library on campus. I've studied here maybe twice, 'cause it's always packed!

  • You have very specific opinions about Ernest Hemingway as a person, and can argue the point thoroughly using multiple details from his life that you never learned in a class.
  • And in conjunction with that, you've had a lot of time to think over the whole authors-as-authors versus authors-as-people thing. (Here's looking at you, Johnathan Franzen.) 
  • Not only do you have a favorite Shakespearean work, but you have a favorite adaptation of that work too... same with Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. 
  • There's been a time where you've gone through an entire assignment misspelling a tricky minor character's name. 
  • You are the de facto editing expert of your friend group, and sometimes spend more time editing other people's papers during Finals Week than your own. 
  • You could never understand why people think plagiarism is okay. Ever. Same with illegally pirating ebooks off of the Internet. 
  • Your classmates' taste interests can be easily sorted into "pretentious" and "proletariat," and depending on the ratios of such, usually leads to how much fun discussion in your class can get.
  • Your teacher is able to get derailed by cultural commentary easily enough to forget the main point of the entire lecture. That's a regular Tuesday for you. 
  • Sometimes they get derailed by the notes on the board left by an earlier, completely unrelated class, too. That's also normal. 
  • They've not only given book recommendations to the class before, but you and your classmates have likely returned the favor. Especially if your prof. has young kids. 
  • Characters from either Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings have most likely been brought into completely unrelated class discussions before. Those are also probably the discussions you've liked best. 
  • You've had more than 200 pages of reading and 50 pages of articles assigned in a week before. And that was just during midterms. 
  • Someone has actually told you that "Gosh, I haven't read in forever!" (As if it's something to brag about? Like, we all have heavy workloads, and we're not begrudging you for it. But why do you feel like it's something you need to declare?) 
  • People have asked if you write fanfiction before. to be honest, you're pretty sure a lot of your classmates do. 
  • And, of course, more recently - because I'm graduating - "Do you ever regret it?" Yes, there have been times where the terror of my impending graduation and the stagnation and decline of the job market for people like me has stressed me out beyond belief. But I try to never regret pursuing the things that make my life unbelievably happy. 

Are you in the major? Have you had any of the above experiences? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Resolution Retrospective: 2015, Banned from Buying Books

It was like finally letting out a breath you've been holding for way too long. As soon as the sun dawned on the new year, I was reaching for my Kindle with an intent to do some damage, and shortly thereafter, out the door and sprinting towards the nearest Barnes and Noble. It was finally over: I had successfully carried out my 2015 New Year's Resolution, to abstain from purchasing any and all books in a calendar year.

The original intent of the challenge was to 1. stop spending so much gosh darned money on books (I am a college senior, after all), as well as 2. make better use of the veritable cornucopia of books I already own and have not yet read. I was definitely successful on the first front, and only slightly less so on the second, but while I saved some moolah and cleared out some real estate on my shelves, the challenge also gave me an interesting perspective on how I personally participate in one of my favorite past-times.

And now, after returning to the readerly realms I'd left vacated for so long, I'm finding that I've taken away a lot more from this experience than just a few extra dollars in my bank account.

  • I am now intimately acquainted in how to get the most from my library system. There are so many options available to you to pick up exactly the kinds of books you want, without having to spend a dime. I can now consider myself an expert in everything from the books you can download through Tacoma's ebook program, to how to maximize my options in requesting titles for pickup. I am a library fanatic. 
  • I've thrown into sharper relief the kinds of feelings I associate with getting new books. Believe me, the triumph of finally running into Barnes and Noble to the interior mental soundtrack of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" faded once I was weighed down by eight different titles. Looking at the books in my hands, and knowing that each would set me back a substantial amount of money, I was forced to pause and reconsider my options. I was still ecstatic to purchase the books I did, but carefully considering them beforehand made buying them that much more rewarding. I can purchase anything I want...but I don't have to purchase everything I want. 
  • I know now that sometimes, buying things in hardcover is important. Every hardcover I read this summer, whether it was a library rental or a loan from a friend, impressed me with its heftiness. I had forgotten how fun book jackets were, too... they're so pretty, and like a little built-in bookmark! Whether it's a recent release you don't have the patience to wait for, or a title you know you'll have for a while, sometimes the extra splurge is worth it. 
  • I also know that sometimes, buying things on your Kindle can end up being something you regret. I can't tell you the amount of times over the summer, where I ended up wishing after the corporeal copy of something I already knew was stored in tech. I have every single Throne of Glass title on my Kindle - including all of the individual prequel novellas! - but I'd rather have them on my shelf. I would have been all too happy to shell out those extra few dollars on top of Kindle pricing in order to hold them in my hands. 
  • I believe even more fiercely that there is no excuse for downloading pirated material. I do not have to explain this to you: I am choosing to believe that if you are reading this, you are all adults, functional humans, and moral, upstanding citizens. There are so many options available to you, to get reading material either for free or in a way that is steeply, steeply discounted. Downloading books illegally is a lazy, impatient, apathetic, ignorant, shady thing to do, zero exceptions. 
  • I believe a lot more in the importance of lending books to your friends. God bless the beautiful humans in my life who willingly entrusted me with their books, especially those that were recent releases. Without you, my reading pile would have been decidedly less fulfilling, because I wouldn't have had as many wonderful people to talk about those titles with. 

And even through all of that personal growth, I still managed to have my best reading year ever, with 79 titles completed over the course of 2015, without exercising my ability to freely purchase books! Now, I may not have as lofty goals for this year, but I'm hoping to utilize this same resolution in future years, the next time my TBR shelf starts looking a little too jam-packed, or I lose perspective on why I love doing what I do.

Thank you to all of my family, my friends, and my local librarians for making 2015's resolution possible. Here's to an even better and brighter 2016!

Would you ever participate in this kind of resolution? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: My 2016 Resolutions!

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme, brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish!

Well, we're officially a fair amount of days into 2016, and while there were a lot of links popping up on my Facebook feed around the start of the year about "Why I'm Not Making Resolutions This Year," I've always been someone who really benefits from New Year's Resolutions, and have had a lot of success. Because of this, I have a long list of brainstormed ideas for what this year is going to look like, for me... and that includes some goals for aspects of my readerly life. 

So, why not record some of them here? 


1. Read more classics. The thing I love about classics is that they've already been enjoyed and lauded by so many people, that they're almost guaranteed to be good! I would love to read more classics than just for class this year. 

2. Read more nonfiction. My reading choices have shifted a lot in the past year, where I'm starting to branch out from more than just YA Fantasy (though that is still one of my favorite genres!). One of the areas where I showed particular growth was in the realm of nonfiction... I want to learn more about the culture, history, and people of the world around me! 

3. Complete a challenge. And more than just the Goodreads Challenge this year! (Though I am still doing that, too... I'm gunning for 77!) There are so many great challenges for pushing yourself out of your readerly comfort zone... and it doesn't have to be anything as daunting as the Rory Gilmore Challenge, either. I really like the look of Popsugar's 2016 Reading Challenge for a comprehensive way to get myself reading more adventurously this year. 

4. Revisit the books I loved as a kid. There are so many great titles I read cover-to-cover, over and over again, as a kid... back before I realized there was more to the world than the scant books I had gathered on my bookshelf. Some of these tomes get a regular reading workout from me - like The Phantom Tollbooth - but others, like the Harry Potter series, I haven't read in years... and for a while, that was all I read. I think it's time for a revisit. 


5. Review more mediums... cookbooks, magazines, etc. At the very beginning of starting this blog, I had some pretty lofty goals for myself, in terms of what kind of content I wanted to produce, especially content that differed from other bloggers. I mentioned wanting to explore my love of cookbooks as early as my very first blog post, and my love of fashion hasn't waned with the end of my College Fashion editorship. I think the time has long since arrived that I start to bring more of the things I like into my blog!

6. Find a better balance of pictures and words. I know, I know, as is probably evident with this post, as well, I am a bit word-reliant with my blog, and I know that doesn't exactly always make you want to read it. Trust me, I'm trying to get better. Besides, one of my personal Resolutions includes taking more pictures anyways!

7. Create a more organized space. The organization of this blog can sometimes be a little hectic... I don't make the best use of my overhead tabs, and there really should be more efficient means of navigating. How can I expect people to read my posts if they're hard to find?


8. Write for something other than Playing in the Pages. I've officially gone a year with not writing for College Fashion, and I've been looking for more ways to publish the things I have to say than just on my own platform. Finding somewhere else to reach out to people would go a long ways in not just beefing up my resume, but making me feel like I'm actually, well, a "real" writer.

9. Finish my book. I said it time and again after NaNoWriMo was over at the end of November 2014... I was going to box that manuscript up and put it away for at least a year, because I didn't want to read those words for a long time. Well, it's been over a year now, and even I'm getting a little curious as to how the whole thing turned out. Time to reopen that Word doc!

10. Journal when I want to. I was a rabid journal-enthusiast from about sixth grade through my sophomore year of college... the beat-up composition notebooks I carried around with me were as good an indicator of my physical presence as my actual body. However, I got burnt out and jaded from writing the same things day in and day out, and needed a better outlet for my feelings than just my daily life... thankfully, after a year of writing in a much more comprehensive planner, I no longer feel the need to write down the immediate happenings, and and much more interested in exploring deeper themes and issues in my life. It just doesn't have to be every day.

What are your Top Ten? What is your Goodreads goal for this year? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015, By the Numbers

Finally, it's here! 2016, the start of a new year, the end of an old one, and the beginning of three months of me still writing "2015" at the top of my school assignments. 

While I'm trying to clean up, clear out, and crack open my planner to the first page, I decided to take stock of some of the reading habits I exercised in the duration of the past year. It's been a bit of a doozy for me: I not only beat my Goodreads Challenge for 2015 - topping my goal of 75 with a solid 79, officially my biggest reading year ever! - I also managed to stick to my 2015 Resolution for the entire year! That's right... I officially spent an entire year of my life without buying any new books for myself, aside from the 5 I used to celebrate my 5th Blog Anniversary

While there will be plenty of posts in the coming week or two about achieving those goals - from what I learned from my self-imposed book buying-ban, to my Resolutions for the new year, to what exactly that beautiful planner I mentioned is going to look like - I thought I'd take a breather, and make some time to reflect first. 

So, gaze upon my reading achievements this past year, with my official stats, helped along by Goodreads' Year in Books

A lot of habits taking notice of, here... like how the books I slaved over for school still helped me beef out my Challenge, but that I loved reading nonfiction besides them, anyways, or how I am, holistically, a high rater (glancing through my titles for the year, I definitely would change the scores I gave a couple of them!). But through everything - from my significant average page count, to the cornucopia of fiction of all genres I still enjoy reading - I am super proud of what I was able to read this year! 

What did your reading year look like? Did you beat your Goodreads Challenge? Let me know, in the comments below!