Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring TBR

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl!
The cloudy Washington skies are starting to clear up for an afternoon at a time, the flowers that we planted in good faith in the fall are finally pulling through on their promises and brightening up our front yard, and Instagrams from younger collegiate friends still spending their breaks in Cabo mean that Spring has totally arrived!

With that comes daydreams of new gauzy Easter dresses, breaking out old and battered Saltwater sandals, mixing up pitchers full of lemonade, and blessing my skin with moderate amounts of Vitamin D... and, of course, my now-annual Spring sojourn to my favorite place in the whole world, Sunriver, Oregon, tagging along with my younger siblings on their Breaks, too.

Which, of course, means plenty of reading time is opening up in front of me (despite the fact that my writing has never kept me this busy, either). When it comes to selections for my Spring TBR, I'm getting pretty varied... and I wouldn't have it any other way!

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1. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
A classic I've reread many times since my first venture in high school, but haven't touched in the past few years, I first entertained the idea of trying on this powerful work after reading All the Lives I Want, by Alana Massey, last year. In her essay, "Recovering Sylvia," one of the collection's most powerful, she examines Plath as a figure of literary study and pop culture fixation, and it really resonated with me, so I've been dying to give it another go.

2. The Magician's Land (The Magicians #3), Lev Grossman
I finished the first book last February, and the second this past Feburary, and now I'm just excited to take on the third so I can not only round out the series, but give myself full permission to become obsessed with the SyFy adaptation. 

3. Oh My Gods: A Modern Retelling of Greek and Roman Myths, Philip Freeman
I don't know whether it's the deep-dive obsession I did into the Cast Soundtrack for off-Broadway's Hadestown musical last Fall (which tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice), or just the fact that I've been feeling the urge to read up on something really classic lately, but this collection has really been calling to me. I tried to read it last Spring Break as a library impulse pick, but never got around to it... now that it was a part of my most recent Book Outlet haul, I'm more tempted to commit!

4. Bloom: Navigating Life and Style, Estee Lalonde
I've been saving this pastel-hued package from one of my favorite YouTubers for a while now, but was looking for the right moment to read. Her familiar voice and expert sense of style imbues this half-memoir-half-guide to living a life of confidence and authenticity. At least, that's what the reviews say. I, of course, have not read it yet, despite having owned it for over a year (Oops!).

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5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling
As a part of my ongoing quest to reread all of the Harry Potter novels in 2018, I've got these two lined up fresh for reading this Spring! I mean, yes, technically I'm reading the third right now... but that's because I have to hurry it up, so my brother can read it after me.

6. Ordinary People, Judith Guest
The most recent selection on our Sigma Kappa Sorority National Book Club Reading List! Sure, I have absolutely no idea what this book is about, but at least I can rest easy knowing I'm probably not the only one going in blind. It worked out well with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, didn't it?

7. A Series of Unfortunate Events #5 - 8, Lemony Snicket
Like with the Harry Potter series, I'm rereading these with my brother, and like with the Magicians series, I'm reading them so that I can watch an excellent television show without any guilt. The new season is coming out on Netflix on March 30th, and I am not prepared!

8. The Power, Naomi Alderman
I kid you not: I've got quite a bit of history with my local library, and I'm not a stranger to their rentals system. But what I am a stranger to, is joining a hold line for a book that has seven copies available, and over 17 people in front of me. Yeah, you heard right. Now I've finally got my hands on it, and there's already a line of 13 behind me, so no chances at renewing here.

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9. my WWII-era Nancy Drews, Carolyn Keene
So I listened to the podcast Into the Twilight, and immediately reread the first Twilight novel (and watched the movie, and held a discussion with my family, etc). Now that I've started listening to the funny and conversational Get a Clue, Nancy Drew, I'm not only ready to reread some of my favorites, but I really want to read them in as close to their original state as possible... and there's nothing that screams authenticity like a frontispiece that tells you all about paper rationing.

10. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, Mark Manson
As it appears, I'm a sucker for self-help books whose titles run completely counterpoint to the way I was raised and presently conduct my life: I just finished The Art of Non-Conforming, by Chris Guillebeau, and really enjoyed it! This one, though, is propped up by my Dad's praise, too, and I'm looking forward to discussing its merits with him. And, you know, not giving a f***.

What's on your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1)

I've never been a huge fan of "faerie" books, and in fact, avoided them for the most part as a teen. Now, they have gone through a sort of renaissance in the YA readership - with S J Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses series serving as a particular point in the journey - and while I'm happy to try out some of the newer and buzzier titles, they're not something I take particular stock in as a genre. 

After a significant amount of disappointment experienced when reading the much-hyped An Enchantment of Ravens, I wasn't feeling particularly interested. However, another book came out at the same time, from an author I trust to write compelling and non-cliched "faerie" tales: Holly Black.

The Cruel Prince - the premiere title in the forthcoming "The Folk of the Air" series, by NYT Best-selling Author Holly Black - follows the story of a young woman named Jude, who, along with her two sisters, was kidnapped and forced into the world of the Fae as a child. Contending daily with a society that resents her humanity and finds her unworthy, she is determined to find her own fate in their midst, no matter the cost. However, when it comes to spying for one of the Court's menacing princes on the eve of  a Coronation, she might give up more than she bargained for... but she could gain more than she ever thought possible.

Here's why I was so confident going in that I was going to like this book: I love Holly Black. I was a fan of her work as a kid, reading the Spiderwick Chronicles in the school library, and was pleasantly surprised in college, when I read The Darkest Part of the Forest, to find that I still loved her voice. When I heard she was coming out with a new novel - especially with one that has a cover as beautiful as The Cruel Prince - I decided to read it, despite my misgivings about the faerie genre on the whole.

Spoiler alert: It was so good. So good. And I'm so excited for the rest of the series.

Every once in a while you check out a book from the library, read it, and then are overcome with a sudden sense of remorse that you hadn't bought it for yourself, instead. That's this book. In fact, I haven't completely ruled out purchasing it yet entirely, because apparently the Barnes and Noble edition has an extra short story in it.

The main characters to the plot were dynamic and interesting, without sacrificing their relatable nature or plausibility. Even negative or harmful actions still had empathetic origins. The faerie characters were not written with the tropes of their mythology strictly for the sake of maintaining it: their tendencies toward brutality and cruelty were explained, and never taken for granted. When killed, their destruction was made more violent and shocking by the fact that they were immortal, and not less.

And it's not like some of the other paranormal-contemporary-romance books found in the YA category that rely on secret civilizations of fantasy creatures, where you could easily swap them out for a different creature and the story would still make sense, like replacing vampires with werewolves with mermaids, etc. The Cruel Prince's plot and characterizations are very much rooted in the idea of the fae, and the knowledge of parts of their folkloric background.

The plotline was one I don't think we've seen taken on quite as successfully in YA: while there's no shortage of orphans in the genre, I can't think of many where the teen actively works to not only remain in the world of their parent's murderer, but acts specifically to seek their approval and status within the civilization. There are layers to the status of Jude and Taryn (her sister) as outsiders, and the various parts they are asked to play in their otherworldly surroundings, and one of the key ones is that they want to stay, by their own individual means.

And of course, they also include some characters from The Darkest Part of the Forest in a brief set of cameos, which I was overjoyed to see.

Final Verdict: It doesn't surprise me at all that as soon as I turned this book back into the library, there were several ready in the hold line to take it. The hype is well-matched with the follow through.

Are there any YA genres that make you wary? Are you a fan of Holly Black? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

I originally started reading this book because it had been chosen by my national sorority organization as a book club pick.... for the month of January. 

The idea that Sigma Kappas all over the world would be reading this book at the same time as me made it an alluring choice, which is probably why there were holds placed on it so heavily at my local library, that I wasn't able to pick it up until long after everyone else had finished reading it, on February 1st. Darn it!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman, starts out with an assertion that is quickly proven to be anything but true. Eleanor Oliphant has been at the same desk job since she was 21, but does not feel the need to interact with her peers or move upwards on the company ladder at all. She abides by a strict schedule, which includes thrifty and solitary lunches, drinking vodka alone on weekends, and dreading the Wednesday night contact from her distant and controlling mother. And Eleanor would be more than content to lead that life for a long time... until an unexpected encounter involving a man from work, and an elderly man collapsing on a crosswalk, shows that life can be just as fine when lived with other people.

Enrapturing and enigmatic, I adored this book, despite not having any sort of anticipation of enjoying it built up beforehand. It's not that I don't like books chosen for me by other people, it's that I don't have exactly high estimations of book club books, especially when they're titles I've never heard of before, and doubly so when the blurb for it gives no hints as to what kind of story lies inside. In my opinion, neither the cover excerpts nor the front cover illustrations itself are all that indicative of the actual plot... the UK version does fare a little better, but I honestly don't believe you know what you're getting into until you read the first few pages. 

To be clear from the start, this rating is a high-ranking four, that is almost a five, because while I truly enjoyed this book and really found it enrapturing not just for its sense of mystery, but also the sense of empathy the narrative was able to elicit, it was just a little hard for me to read sometimes. That's probably why it took me a little over a week to finish reading it, even though every time I sat down to read it, I had a great time!

The book is fantastic at maintaining a sense of privacy and internality, while also building suspense and an aura of mystery around the main character... it's not easy to spend the whole narrative in the head of the lead, while still discovering things about her throughout the whole novel! While I think it's a bit of a stereotype for English majors to enjoy reading things with unreliable narrators, there's this unique sense about Eleanor that she's not trying to deliberately hide or obscure anything, it's that there's so much she's not willing to accept. You can maintain empathy and a sense of introversion with the narration, while also understanding that you are limited by Eleanor's own lack of understanding.

It's that kind of balance between self-effacing objectivity - from the somewhat silly, like how our main character doesn't know what Spongebob Squarepants or a bikini wax is, to greater patterns of not understanding most normal cues of social interaction - and a deep sense of personal incomprehension that perform a delicate balancing act in keeping the narrative going. Eleanor doesn't know much about the world, but she doesn't know much about herself either, despite carrying on with a self-assured confidence that can't help but serve as an ironic point of humor.

In some ways, that's what made the book difficult to read. Reading people make inappropriate comments or behave improperly in social situations is always a turn-off for me... it's one of the reasons why I hated my family's fixation with The Office when I was younger: that kind of humor just isn't funny. It's painful. However, it wasn't just that it was supposed to be funny that Eleanor found herself in these kinds of situations... it was to demonstrate a significant point of discrepancy between Eleanor's ability to operate as a person in the world, against her perceived ability to occupy it.

The novel deals with depression and PTSD in a frank and open way that I think is not only highly commendable, but incredibly well-informed. The depictions of casual alcoholism hit uncomfortably close for someone who also has a strained relationship with drinking. Both brought me to tears more than once, and by the end, got me actively begging out loud for Eleanor to go get some help. It wasn't just because anyone could recognize that she had problems... it was that you really wanted her to get better. You can't help - despite all of her intensely awkward mannerisms - but really love her by the end of the book.

Side note: I was absolutely terrified it was going to turn into a romance - especially due to the book's packaging - and felt absolutely vindicated when it did not. Sorry if that's a spoiler, but if you're someone like me, maybe it will convince you to give this book a chance.

Especially because I almost didn't! Like I mentioned at the start of the review, I think it has a horrendously ugly cover - if you're buying the US edition - and not the most inspiring blurb on the back. That's not the story's fault, though... you really can't get a sense of the book without peeking inside it. (Just like with Eleanor, herself!) Give it a few pages, and then make up your mind. Though I will tell you, I hope you read it.

Final Verdict: An unexpected favorite, with a unique main character and sense of deep emotional connection. If I had to choose two words to describe it, I would say "humorous" and "heroic"... not only is the book quite light-hearted in most places, but its main character is both endearing beyond her foibles, as well as uniquely strong and resilient in her own right.

Have you ever been a part of a book club? What's been a recent unexpected favorite of yours? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes (and Some Thoughts About Bookish Tattoos!)

When I was a kid, I loved the idea of getting tattoos, specifically, tattoos of quotes from some of my favorite books. It started with Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland - "And she fell down, and down, and down," which I could easily envision spiraling around my left wrist - and by the time I got to high school, I had a list of maybe twelve or so quotes and literary references that I wanted permanently added to my body.

Basically, since I couldn't crack my rib cage open like a cabinet and stuff books into my chest cavity to carry around with me all the time, I wanted them typed out where I could see them everyday. I wanted to be a living library, with words scrawled out across my skin in ink that I would never have to worry about washing off. Furthermore, I thought this was all a really, really good idea.

Then, once I turned 17 and some of my friends started actually getting tattoos, I realized that there was no way this plan was going to work out in my favor. Between abrasive parental controls that are still in place as a 24 year old, to my only semi-functional fear of needles, and the very legitimate question of financial worthiness, I've decided to forgo the tattoos, for now.

But that doesn't mean my love for those words have gone away, at all. Which is why I was so intrigued by today's Top Ten prompt, "Favorite Book Quotes." A worthy category, to be sure, which is why it took me several days to narrow down to some of my favorites. Whether it's for an Instagram caption or a tattoo of your own, I hope you take inspiration in some of my faves!

1."If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." from Emma, Jane Austen
Out of all of the quotes on this list, this is the one I reference the most frequently in daily life, mainly because I think the idea of being too emotionally overwhelmed by love to speak about it eloquently is a pretty relatable concept.

2. The "Cool Girl" monologue from Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Obviously I can't transcribe the whole thing here, but it's more than worth a quick Google search and a few minutes' reading. If I was anywhere near as stagelight-oriented as I was when I was much younger, this would be my audition monologue.

3.“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between.” from The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
There are a litany of reasons I love The Phantom Tollbooth, the virtues of which I have extolled on the blog for many a post, but one of the best parts of the novel is its universality. The book is relatable across age, background, decade, and more, and the lessons contained within are, as well. This one, delivered by the Princesses Rhyme and Reason, is one of the best. 

4.“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” from Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
This might be a silly choice, but it's one of my favorites particularly because of how frequently it's misquoted or misinterpreted. In the context of the book, the character speaking these lines is Miss Caroline Bingley, and she's doing it strictly to impress Mr. Darcy, and not at all in an earnest reflection of the importance of books, being that she abandons her reading material shortly thereafter. Still, you can find it on plenty a bookmark and tote bag! (I, myself, have a different quote from the same material elsewhere: "What are men compared to rocks and mountains," on a sticker on top of my journal.) 

5."Ah, if only he could die temporarily!" from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain 
Thus setting in motion one of the greatest sequences in children's fiction, as Tom does just that. Like The Phantom Tollbooth, I've spoken on my lifelong obsession with Tom Sawyer on the blog before, so it only makes sense that a quote would make the list of potential tattoos.

6.“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” from Frankenstein, Mary Shelley 
You don't see this quote many places, which is a shame, because it's a great one. I read Frankenstein for the first time when I was15, and have returned to it regularly ever since, easily becoming one of my favorite great works of literature. While I'd have to grow into the idea a little bit - as is probably obvious, I am not fearless by any stretch - having it as a tattoo would probably help prompt me to do so. 

7. Okay, so I don't know the exact wording of it, I can't track it down anywhere, and I don't know where my copy's gotten off to, but there's this one quote in Scott Westerfeld's So Yesterday, where he says something stands out "like a black spider on a slice of Wonderbread." Or something... like I said, I can't be sure. All I know, is that it stood out to me the first time I read it, and is one of my favorite parts of the book. (Besides, how cute would a little doodle of a piece of bread with a spider on the middle of it be as a tattoo?)

8."[W]e have some history together that hasn't happened yet." from A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
The postmodern perfection of this book helped define my collegiate career, and cemented Egan as one of my forever favorite and auto-buy authors. Like the first quote on this list, the feeling is relatable: when you meet someone for the first time, and immediately recognize that they'll have significance in your own life.

9."Maybe feeling like an empty room is what inspires you to fill it." from Everyone's an Aliebn When You're an Aliebn Too, Jomny Sun 
The most recent release on this list, and not even something found within the contents of the graphic novel itself, but instead, within its endpages. When I read it for the first time, I gasped out loud, because it was such a simple, but still moving, statement of hope.

10.“We all create stories to protect ourselves.” from House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
This book is one of those that you'll never understand the hype for, until you really set about trying to read the novel. Well, more like deconstruct. The best way I can explain it, is that the book is filled with secrets, and you really need to set aside a month to puzzle it out... if you even actually manage to escape the labyrinth yourself. This quote is one that resonated with me, but there are plenty more where that came from: the dedication in the book simply reads, "This is not for you," and I can't think of a more supremely kick-butt nerd tattoo than that.

What's in your Top Ten? Do you have any bookish tattoos? Let me know, in the comments below!