Thursday, April 26, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday #17

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly social blog hop between book bloggers. There are two regular hosts: Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read, and two special guest hosts every week. If you want to join in, click on either of their blogs to get the details. The FF question of the day is: 

Q: Have you had a character that disappointed you? One that you fell in love with and then "broke up" with later on in either the series or a stand-alone book? 

My character is from my childhood: Anne (of Green Gables). I loved that series so much. When Montgomery shifted the focus away from Anne and onto Anne's children, I was really disappointed.  It felt like Anne became a mother, and therefore she was no longer the central character in her series. (Book Snob has a killer post that describes the arc in detail.) I understand that focusing on child protagonists makes sense for a series geared towards children. But I was so emotionally invested in Anne's life that I wanted to read about her adulthood, even though I was still a child. 

So, no break up. Anne just faded out of my life, and planted a tiny seed of suspicion that when you become a mother, you have to stop being a brave, bright, kindred spirit heroine. Of course, Montgomery was writing in a different time, and societal perceptions have changed drastically. But the ideas in a children's book feel current to the child reading, no matter how long ago it was published.

I wish that Anne was allowed to mature and deepen while still staying true to herself as the central character through her series, instead of becoming boring and invisible. I like to imagine that somewhere in an alternate universe, the second half of the "Anne of Green Gable" series allows Anne to have thrilling adventures with her children and grandchildren. Anne deserved that, and so did we.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: "Sumo"

Title: Sumo
Author: Thien Pham
Publisher: First Second
Pub Date: December 11, 2012
ISBN: 9781596435810 

Let's start with the publisher's plot summary:
"Scott  is a washed-up football player who never made it, and whose girlfriend abandoned him along with his dreams of playing pro football. But things have a way of working out, in this sweet, poetic tale--and a new chapter in Scott's life begins as the old one ends. Offered a position in a Japanese sumo training "stable," Scott abandons his old life, his old name, and even his old hair color, and becomes an aspiring sumo wrestler. And in so doing, he begins to find some kind of center in himself...a center that had seemed lost for good."
 As with any book, my evaluation of "Sumo" began with the cover. Pham's playful homage to Hokusai's iconic print, The Great Wave off Kanagwa, raised my hope that I was in for a fun and unique read. I was not disappointed.

Pham's  sparing use of color immediately strikes the reader. The sections alternate between those primarily colored in orange, blue or green. The choice to use 2-3 shades in each section of the illustrations reminded me a bit of the old days in children's book illustration, when only a few shades were used because it wasn't economical to do otherwise.

But Maurice Sendak, among others, used that restricted palette to create classics that benefit from the minimalism of the visual experience. Pham also uses the alternating colors as a narrative device to differentiate between place and time. The volume of text varies depending on the time period depicted. The orange sumo present, set in the dojo or at matches, is almost devoid of words. To give you an idea of the sparseness of the text, there are only 12 words used in the first 10 orange pages. The combination of visual and textual minimalism allows the physicality of sumo wrestling to dominate this portion of the narrative.

In contrast, the blue section is far more generous with its dialogue, giving the reader insight into Scott's past. Finally, the green section focuses on Scott's budding relationship with Asami, a Japanese UCLA graduate, utilizing a beautifully rendered fish as a symbol for Scott's life.

On several remarkable wordless pages, 1-3 section panels of each of the colors are presented, allowing the reader to be present in Scott's memories while observing the sumo match he's engaged in. The final pages of the green fish swimming to freedom have far more emotional resonance than I would have anticipated. Pham doesn't just tell the story of an American sumo wrestler; he depicts the simultaneous influences of the past, present and future on the individual. In sum, "Sumo" is lyrical and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bookish Marry, Fuck, Kill: The Bronte Sisters

I don't know about you, but my Monday is fulfilling all of the cliches about its being the worst day of the week. The antidote is my first blog round of Bookish Marry, Fuck, Kill. I've played the Teen TV version here before, but Bookish, with all of its infinite possibilities, has won my heart.

The Rules:

Marry means this will be a book you will own (and presumably read) for the rest of your life. Fuck means you get to read it once, in a literary one night stand, and never again. You're attracted to the book, but you don't want to wake up next to it every morning for the rest of your life. Kill means you eradicate the book from the world. You may even be reaching back in time and strangling the book before it was ever written.

Our Candidates:
Charlotte: "Villette"

My Choices:

This is a tough set for me. I really don't want to kill any of these novels, since I love them all. But I have to make some sacrifices:
"Villette" wins the "marry" spot. Easily. Always. It's the superior novel, but it's also the longest. So if I'm going to be joined to this novel for the rest of my life, it might as well be meaty, right?

My "fuck" is "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall." If it weren't up against "Villete," it would probably make the "marry" spot.

It kills me to kill "Wuthering Heights!" But if I have to sacrifice one, this is the novel that resonates the least with me right now. 

The positions might have been reversed when I was younger, but I don't feel like I discover new things in "Wuthering Heights" every time I read it like I do with "Villette" or "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall."

Which one would you kill off?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #16

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly social blog hop between book bloggers. There are two regular hosts: Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read, and two special guest hosts every week. If you want to join in, click on either of their blogs to get the details. The FF question of the day is: 

Q: Fight! Fight! If you could have two fictional characters battle it out (preferably from books), who would they be and who do you think would win?


Oh, this is a tough one for me. Since "The Hunger Games" has been omnipresent lately, I have to go with Katniss Everdeen for one of my fighters. I love her ruthlessness, intelligence and heart. But choosing her opponent is slightly more challenging. In the YA Heroine Tournament, Katniss was paired with Tessa Gray from Cassandra Clare's "Clockwork" series. I just finished reading "Clockwork Prince," and while I really like Tessa, I don't think she'd stand a chance in any battle involving physical competition.

Keeping the fight within the YA realm, I'm going to go with Lila Zacharov from Holly Black's "Curseworkers" series. I was really surprised that she didn't even make it into competition in the Heroine Tournament. Lila's just as tough as Katniss. She's also killed, and like Katniss, has a lot to fight for and against in her life. 

Reluctantly, I have to give Lila a slight edge over Katniss. I think Lila would win since she makes the choice to enter a violent lifestyle, while Katniss was forced by circumstances to become who she became. I'm reluctant because really, these two heroines are very evenly matched. I'd rather see them team up and light their respective fictional worlds on fire than fight each other!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

YA Highway: Road Trip Wednesday #15

"Road  Trip  Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors  post a  weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be  answered.  In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination  and get  everybody's unique take on the topic." 

Today's question on the  YA  Highway Road Trip is:

 "It's almost prom season, and since we love to read and write about teenagers, we want to hear your prom stories!"

I have this theory that whether or not your high school cohort utilized the article in referring to this dance says a lot about the importance placed on it. If the dance we're talking about was referred to as "prom," it was a big deal. If you called it "the prom," it was not as major an event, as compared to the article-less. Anyone carry to weigh in?

As for my personal prom stories: I don't know that I have any that are fit for public consumption. My prom experiences were a mixture of illicit behavior and boredom, so they're probably best kept to myself. 

 My high school did not have an over the top culture surrounding prom, but there was the standard dress/transportation/date/after party drama. Picking out the dress was the most complicated part of attending junior and senior prom for me.

 It was the first time I got to pick out a fairly expensive garment on my own, and it felt like a test. What I chose would mean something about who I was. I had to confront my feelings about my appearance and how weirded out I was by the stereotypical Pretty Prom Princess role that even Sassy (at right) assumed I wanted to play.

Now, I've never been accused of under-thinking things, so my reaction to picking out a dress was probably a little over the top. But if you can't be dramatic when you're a teenager, when can you be?

My senior prom picture (already shared here) is at left. If I could tell the girl in that picture one thing, it would be to go ahead and do all the things she was afraid of or thought she shouldn't. In the fifteen or so years since my first prom, the vast majority of things that I regret are the ones I didn't do.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Cranky Divorcee: Her Kindest Month

Traditionally, the Cranky Divorcee wallows in the truism that this month of wildly shifting weather is to be endured, not enjoyed. But a steady diet of "Friday Night Lights" and sunshine has mellowed this columnist. Tonight's fictional advice seekers will receive the Divorcee equivalent of a hug and a pat on the head, (almost) sans crankiness. 

Dear Divorcee Lady,

My mom and dad just had a baby, and I’m totally feeling replaced. I broke up with my perfect boyfriend because he was boring me, and I’ve got this huge crush on an older guy called the Swede. I’m not really sure why everybody calls him the Swede. Maybe it’s because he smokes pot and doesn’t play football and only Europeans do that? Anyway, he’s not really into me. Such a jerk. The most annoying part is, my mom and dad act like they’re teenagers! They’re always making out like they’re young, which they’re totally not. Who should I date to completely piss them off?

-Dillon Drama Queen

Drama, you’re at such a special age. You’re awkward, rude and convinced that you know everything. You think that becoming your mom would be the worst fate in the world. You have no idea how lucky you would be. Your mom is living most grown women’s dream: a great marriage, fulfilling job, two lovely children and awesome hair. Granted, it’s TV hair, and a TV marriage, yet it seems so real. But you should be in no hurry to grow up, so I’ll suggest a few suitors who will make your parents insane. Tim Riggins (or better yet, his brother), the nameless juvenile delinquent who Lila Gerrity has befriended or Voodoo Taylor are just what you’re looking for. You seem like an ambitious girl, so why not date them all? I predict that by the end of the fifth season, you'll be happily reunited with Matt Saracen, or someone like him. That's just the nature of the magical world you live in, lucky girl.

Next: One Side of the Ubiquitous Triangle

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Trash or Treasure: America's Ski Book

My favorite way to buy books from through thrift stores and library and garage sales. One of the huge bonuses of this method of book acquisition is the low prices. I got a box full of books yesterday for less than ten dollars. (Insert victory cheer).

But even cooler than the fact that you can affordably buy in bulk second hand is the fact that you come across books that you would never find somewhere else. These books are usually some combination of the following:  out of print, outdated, an older edition, or just plain awful. Unlike the teaming shelves of Barnes and Noble, you have no idea what you'll find when you walk into a Goodwill. When I find an interesting (not to be necessarily confused with good) book, I like to share.

But since I'm whimsical and easily bored, I'm going to play Trash or Treasure with my latest finds. Eventually, I want to hold a blog Trash or Treasure Tournament of Champions, where books that have been deemed Treasure battle to the death (or recycling bin). I'd love to hear your take on whether the book deserves a yay or nay! I'd also love to receive reader submissions of secondhand books for entirely subjective judgement as Trash or Treasure, so fire up your email!

Our first book was acquired at the local hospital. They sell used books, lined up on library carts, by the front entrance. I've never seen a hospital do this. If I were Queen of the World (and let's face it, I'm still holding out hope on that one) every hospital would.

Title: America's Ski Book: Revised Edition
Author: Editors of Ski Magazine
Date of Publication: 1973
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
SBN*: 684-13510-8
*I feel like a bad librarian for not knowing this, but I assume SBN was the precursor to the ISBN?

+ Cool pictures (to which my scans do not do justice).
+ It's heavy on old school skiing stories.
+ The information on technique and equipment is dated, which means this book has information that's harder to acquire today.
+ Although it's not in great shape, the book has its original dust jacket.

 - The information is outdated, which would be a drawback if you actually wanted to use this book for its intended purpose.
- The book's a little musty.

Final verdict: Treasure! 

Want your own copy? Amazon's crawling with them. If this post has ignited a desire to gaze at ski pictures and mourn the warmer temperatures, my take on why winter exists may satisfy the craving.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Third Sentence Thursday: ASHES TO DUST

From the Proud Brook Nerd,  here are the rules: "take the book you are currently reading and post the third sentence of the third chapter. Feel free to share one or two of the following sentences, if you’d like." I'm reading Yrsa Sigurdardottir's ASHES TO DUST.

The third of the third (and the two previous): 

Some days in Thóra’s life were slightly worse than others; on a bad day, for example, she would need to stop on her way to work to go back and turn off the coffeemaker, or she’d get a call from the school asking her to fetch her daughter Sóley, who had got a bloody nose at break time. Other days were even worse: bills were overdue and the cash machine was broken, petrol got pumped into the family car which ran on diesel, and so on. On those days nothing went as it should, neither at home nor at the office. 

This is the 4th novel in Sigurdardottir's thriller series featuring Thóra Gudmundsdóttir.Thóra is an Icelandic lawyer who gets involved in various frightening scenarios while defending unlikely clients. One of the best things about Thóra is that she feel average, compared to many protagonists of mystery series: she doesn't have the sociopathic tendencies of Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan, or the hapless, sloppy self-loathing of Elizabeth George's Barbara Havers. 

When Thóra demonstrates bravery in the face of the unknown and often supernatural, it's very easy for the reader to identify with her, because she doesn't have some kind of virtual superpower that facilitates the resolution of the problem posed in the novel. Her creator explores the ways in which she has to balance her family and her career in a way that feels very different from the ways in which most American mystery series handle the competing desires of female protagonists. I suspect cultural context has a lot to do with the ease with which Thóra's desires are legitimized.

The best example of how Thóra's life is utterly different than I'd imagine an American fictional counterpart's to be is how the teen pregnancy of Thóra's son's girlfriend is handled. Thóra and her ex-husband accept and support the teens' choice to keep the baby. But it isn't because of religious belief or societal expectations. The teens make the decision themselves, and then each family switches off weeks housing the mother and child. There's no moral condemnation, no authorial punishment inserted into the situation. The pregnancy treated in a matter of fact manner that is the polar opposite of the angst ridden scenarios conjured up in semi-fictions like "Teen Mom."

 I'm only about five chapters into Ashes to Dust, so I don't feel ready to weigh in on how it compares to the other books in the series. But the mystery centers around the discovery of bodies in a house being excavated after the devastation of the 1973 explosion of the Eldfell volcano on one of Iceland's Westman Islands. The video above is footage of the explosion and evacuation. How can a murder mystery set in a modern day Pompeii not be good?!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

YA Highway: Road Trip Wednesday #14

"Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic." Today's question on the YA Highway Road Trip is:
This Week's Topic:
What images inspire/ represent your WIP or favorite book?

Since I'm not a very visual thinker, I always have to refer to lots of images to create a mental picture of various aspects of my WIP, which I can then attempt to depict. A lot of my image research comes from books. For my current project, I've looked at a lot of collections of photographs about Vermont, and about barns. 

I've made an attempt to collect some images via Pinterest, but honestly, I find it less useful than I'd expected for image inspiration. I think it's because I have to go to the site to refer to the images, which interrupts the flow of my writing a bit (and also opens me to the temptation of goofing around on Pinterest). But when I'm sitting at my desk surrounded by books, I can jump start my writing by leafing through the pages, sans disruption. Of course, I also use Pinterest as a creative exercise to get my writing moving when I get sluggish, but that's a different post.

Once in a while, I come across an image online that is so perfect that I  have to print it out and stick it up on my wall (the bulletin board's too full). My emotional reaction to the boy in the picture at right is exactly how I imagine my protagonist's would be. He doesn't resemble the written description of the character I'd produced before I came across the image. It's more about his expression than his features. 

I'm also inspired by other people's WIP Pinterest boards. Kate Hart's reflects how I view the town that surrounds the commune in my WIP, while Jen Greenleaf's conjures up part of what I'm going for in terms of the tone of my WIP, although the subject matter is different. I suspect that as I read other YA Highwayer's responses, I'm going to find lots more inspirational Pinterest boards!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

I wish I had an Easter bonnet this amazing!
But apparently acquiring a hat like this back in the day involved scenarios such as the following:

So maybe I lucked out in missing the hat era. Happy Easter! I hope everyone enjoys their chocolate, Jesus and family time.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday #15

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly social blog hop between book bloggers. There are two regular hosts: Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read, and two special guest hosts every week. If you want to join in, click on either of their blogs to get the details. The FF question of the day is: 

Q: Have you ever bought a book BECAUSE of a bad review?


No, never. It would never occur to me to do so. But that may be in part because I rarely read reviews  to find books to read. I rely on word of mouth, or browsing the library shelves far more than I do reviews. 


I'm sure I'd learn about a lot more books if I followed reviews more closely, but my feelings about the utility of reviews in general are mixed. If the reviewer has different tastes than you, then the review won't be valid for you as a reader. Even if the reviewer is like your reading clone, the review analyzes the book and reveals the plot in a way that takes away from the reading experience. 


But theoretically, I like the idea of buying a book because of a bad review. You could do it to support the author, or as some (largely pointless) gesture of spite towards the reviewer. It also could be pragmatic--if you know you never agree with the particular reviewer, than a bad review from her is practically a recommendation.


Deconstructing Michelle Haimoff's 5 Reasons Not to Get an MFA: #2

Michelle Haimoff has written a series of posts on She Writes regarding her five reasons not to get an MFA. Although I am a graduate of an MFA program (University of Florida) I think there are plenty of valid reasons not to get an MFA. Haimoff is in good company in not pursuing an MFA. That said, I think it's important to make sure the reasons that you think you shouldn't get an MFA are accurate. Here's my take on Haimoff's first reason, privacy.

Haimoff's second reason is perspective. Her concerns are the difficulty of having friends critique your work, and the potential lack of variety in backgrounds of your fellow grad students.

"I don’t know about you, but I would never tell a friend that I thought her work was crap. Writing is personal and it hurts to hear that. There are enough people in all stages of the writing process that will tell you that your work is crap, your friends are supposed to bolster your confidence. But how many times have you torn apart a book or movie written by someone you didn’t know? It’s easier to be brutally honest with strangers."

In my experience, your MFA friends will totally tell you when your work sucks. If they're really your friends, they'll tell you every single thing that's wrong with your piece, down to the comma usage. You can't improve unless you get honest feedback. Your friends are more likely to be positive outside of the MFA setting, but knowing what you're doing well is not going to improve your writing. You need a really thick skin to succeed, and having your work stripped bare is part of developing that skin.

"Additionally, grad school students are a type. They’re responsible (at least responsible enough to submit the application), academically-minded (they’re signing up for more school) and somewhat accomplished (they must have already produced impressive writing samples or they wouldn’t have gotten in). In other words, any old bum off the street can’t get an MFA."

Actually, MFA students really aren't a type in the ways Haimoff describes. In general, I'd say the MFAers were viewed as the least responsible grad students in the English department when I was at UF.  Some are into the academics of taking literature classes, while others hate it. So in my experience, they are less responsible and academic then your stereotypical grad student. In terms of accomplishment, some students are and some aren't. They may be published, but very well may not be. Most programs say they accept students based on potential, not based on what they've already accomplished. So you may get in with a sample that's very flawed, but also shows a lot of potential.

The people I went to school with came from a variety of backgrounds. But they were more similar in their way of seeing the world, perhaps, than a random group of people. Imagine that you're the kind of person who likes to lurk in the background at a party, watching people, basically acting like a fly on the wall. Then imagine being at a party with twenty other people exactly like you. It's a little weird, but it's also great.

Continued: Public vs. MFA workshop

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group: April

"The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day, hosted by Alex Cavanaugh.

"Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!"

Is there any other kind of writer than the insecure? I think not. This is my first Insecure Wednesday, and I'm in good company with almost 300 other writers participating.

My writing problem this month: end stage ennui. Ironically, it was not too long ago that I was telling a fellow writer that I didn't have problems trailing my feet (fingers, whatever) at the end of a manuscript. It was in the middle where I typically had problems. But lately I've found myself stymied with the final 7,000 words or so of my WIP. I've used an outline this time around, which helped tremendously through the body of the manuscript. Since my recent reluctance began, I even re-outlined the ending. But it's just not happening.

Usually when I get stuck for a few days, it means that there's something wrong with the manuscript. I had a character do something implausible, or the plot is going in a different direction than it needs too. But with this manuscript, I don't think I'm stymied because of a problem with the ending. I think I'm struggling with finishing before I revise. I've never written this way before, and it's taken a lot of self-discipline. But not revising the first draft while writing has resulted in much greater output.

I already know the solution to my problem. Simply continuing to write, even when you don't want to and you're afraid, is the only way to move forward. I hope that next month I can report that I followed my own advice.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Review: THE RIPPER

Title: The Ripper
Author: Amy Carol Reeves
Publisher: Flux Books
Pub Date: April 08, 2012
ISBN:  9780738730721

WARNING: The following is a review of half of the novel, because I did not finish it. If the concept of reviewing a novel one hasn’t finished infuriates you or violates your reading and reviewing code of ethics, you may wish to stop reading here. On the other hand, this could be the perfect hate read for you. I enjoy hate reading (mostly blogs) on a daily basis, so if I can provide that outlet for someone, I’m delighted.

On to the review.

I wanted to like this novel. I really, really did. It has a number of elements that appeal to me—a mystery involving a horrific killer, a Victorian setting, a heroine rebelling against the conventions of her repressive society, and an examination of a historical issue (the health care available to poor pregnant women).

But despite all these elements, the book simply did not succeed in entertaining or holding my interest.  Part of the problem was that in utilizing the various elements of plot and setting that I described above which have become familiar through hundreds of novels, The RIPPER feels too familiar. It feels like something I’ve read before, only executed less successfully.

Abbie Sharp, who has recently moved to London to live with her prim and proper grandmother following the death of her mother, is spunky and unconventional. Yet the elements of the character that are meant to be unique—the fact that she wants to pursue a career in medicine, for example—are presented without any context or set up. One day, Abbie tells another character she wants to be a doctor, after a number of days volunteering at the hospital. Yet we get no glimpse of her interior process regarding this dream. How long has she wanted to be a doctor? What prompted this dream, besides being around doctors? The reader isn’t told.

Perhaps if I had been more interested in the protagonist, I would have overlooked these faults. But while Abbie has the potential to be appealing, she feels too generic to capture the reader’s attention. Additionally, the number of anachronisms and scenes which felt untrue or unrealistic to the setting pulled me out of my state of suspended disbelief too many times. 

There are some scenes which show promise. These more cohesive portions are almost entirely set in the hospital where Abbie is implausibly volunteered by her grandmother, as punishment for her immodest behavior in chasing a thief. It’s unclear how or why working in a charity hospital amongst the downtrodden is supposed to teach Abbie not to behave like a member of the “lower classes.” This volunteer work is supposed to be a week but somehow morphs into an indefinite period. 

Despite the unconvincing premise of Abbie’s presence in the hospital, the scenes set there felt true. The suffering of the women in labor, the difficulty of caring for the newborns whose mothers have died, and the overall lack of resources of the Whitechapel Hospital made for the most engaging and persuasive scenes in the novel.

I put down and returned to the novel several times, hoping to find it more interesting. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. When you raise your own expectations regarding a novel because it has so many elements that are right up your alley, the letdown is that much greater. Because she created a novel with all of said elements, I would certainly be willing to try to read Reeves’ further work, but I can’t recommend THE RIPPER.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from