Poetry Review: Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty

Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty

Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty
Publisher: Aldrich Books
Date Published: April 2014

“You wish you had coined the word zaftig;
that you were OK with abdomens
that hung over bikini bottoms.”
— from “Zaftig Profiling”

Practicing Disaster is collection of narrative poetry presenting  an exploration of ordinary lives. These are people you could meet on the street, from the a sixteen-year-old hotel maid to a short order cook to any number of strangers you might meet on the street. For example, in “Eating at Work,” an employee travels further and further afield in search of lunchtime solitude. While in “Some Basic Consumer Math,” the owners of a Chinese restaurant tailor their food for their most loyal customers, all from the retirement home nearby, making their Sa-Cha chicken “about as mild as the contents / of a store bought spaghetti sauce.”

Some of the prose poems, in which thought condenses into thought, are among my favorites. They allow a free flow feel of the poem, different from the lined sister poems. In “I was 36”, the narrator describes her first experience getting a pedicure, remembering the same sloughing off of her grandmother’s feet. In that youthful remembering is the memory of childhood discovery and the “lesson in not going through other people’s personal affects”, and just as one can “flake off the dead skin” there is the feeling of flaking off the past.

“The Patient” also explores time passing, like the dropping of green beans into a bucket or the beeping of machines: “The doctor uses the word / aphasia / I focus on the center— / a phase / a moment.” The disjointed, jigsaw pattern of the words on the page (which I couldn’t possibly replicate here) matched the disjointed experience of a patient in the hospital, as well as the way the past jumps forward and seems to collide and become a part of the present.

In the titular poem, a women plays with the idea of disaster on her commute, imagining “overpasses from her car could spill like ink in blotchy slow motion,” and how she might shape catastrophe to set herself free. Knowing the trapped feeling of the commute, I can sympathize with the narrator, have even practiced a few of my own disasters.

Many of these poems reflect similar kinds of personal experience, even if they are outside us (as though we are people watching at a corner cafe). As a reader, there a sense of Yes, me, too; I’ve felt the same. Reading “Zaftig Profiling” (quoted at the top), I also wished I had coined the word zaftig, that I could, as mentioned later in the poem, laugh loudly in mixed company.

At first glance, what’s revealed in these poems could be described as mundane, bits of ordinary lives normally passed over or cast away as unimportant. The narrative voice of these poems, likewise, is straightforward, seemingly plain. However, this initial impression is deceiving. I’ve read through this collection twice now and have made new discoveries on each read, subtleties of voice and thought I hadn’t noticed the first go around. There are layers of humor, breaths of poignancy, beautiful discoveries.

Edited to Add: I should probably note that I received a free review copy from the author.

Poetry Win! Live From The Homesick Jamboree!

6998642I just learned that I’ve won a copy of Live From The Homesick Jamboree by Adrian Blevins! Yay!

Summary from GoodReads:

Live from the Homesick Jamboree is a brave, brash, funny, and tragic hue and cry on growing up female during the 1970s, “when everything was always so awash” that the speaker finds herself adrift among adults who act like children. The book moves from adolescence through a dry-eyed, poignant exploration of two marriages, motherhood, and the larger world, with the headlong perceptiveness and brio characteristic of Adrian Blevins’s work. This poetry is plainspoken and streetwise, brutal and beautiful, provocative and self-incriminating, with much musicality and a corrosive bravura, brilliantly complicated by bursts of vernacular language and flashes of compassion. Whether listening to Emmylou Harris while thinking she should be memorizing Tolstoy, reflecting on her “full-to-bursting motherliness,” aging body, the tensions and lurchings of a relationship, or “the cockamamie lovingness” of it all, the language flies fast and furious.

I’m stoked to read this. Poetry is joy afterall. (^_^)

The book was offered by Joseph Harker as part of the Big Poetry Giveaway.

Books read in April

1. The City & The City, China Miéville (one of the best I’ve read this year)
2. Creepers, by David Morrell
3. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1
4. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
5. lost boy lost girl, by Peter Straub
6. Camouflage, by Joe Haldeman
7. The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo
8. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
9. Hourglass Museum (poetry), by Kelli Russell Agodon
10. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

REVIEWS (behind the cut): Continue reading “Books read in April”

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon

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Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon was the April read for Jessie Carty’s Poetry Book Club — and it was so yummy.

“If you think you are the mermaid, think again.
You are the ocean holding the mermaid afloat,
trying to change the world one dolphin at a time.”

— from the poem “Souvenir Boxes”

Agodon’s poetry explores a variety of themes within Hourglass Museum. As the title suggests, art is an important source of inspiration here (as can also be seen in the long list of notes at the end of the book), with poems referencing great artists such as Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol. The idea of preservation, via canvass, poem, or as a collection in a museum, of moments captured and held in stasis through artifice and creation are a constant in these poems.

“Dark matter angels mingle over oceans
and bubbling cities filled with unopened jars,
all we had were cupboards and cupboards
of challenges.”

— from the poem “A Moment Ago, Everything Was Beautiful”

The outward inspiration of art and museums, is drawn into the personal scope of Agodon’s personal life, both her inner emotional realm and the outer realm of home and family and relationships. This connection between art and home works well, since as human being we often take memories and put them on the shelves of our minds, we collect pieces of anger and store them for later use, attach joy to simple objects, return to each of them again and again, revisit, and Agodon’s poetry reflects this.

“I place solitude in a frame on my desk
and call it, The one I love.”

— from the poem “Line Forms Here”

She explores a variety of emotional states, including depression and loneliness. The language beautifully expresses these emotions and allowed me to connect with them personally. I could see myself in these moments of darkness and in the ways a write approaches such moments, especially through pen. I think these feelings are approachable from a variety of perspectives, allowing many kinds readers to feel them.

“There’s no dessert in the picnic basket,
so I swallow time. My mouth is full
of hands and numbers. I ask for seconds.”

— from the poem “Drowning Girl: A Waterlogged Ars Poetica”

And yet, there is a sense of humor throughout, too, a poking of fun at the supposed importance of depression, so that such darker subjects cannot drag down the reader and instead allow them to explore and transverse the state. It brings a lightness to the poems that makes them great to read.

“I escape disaster by writing a poem with a joke in it:
The past, present, and future walk into a bar — it was tense.”

— from the poem “Sketchbook with an Undercurrent of Grief”

All in all, this was a wonderful collection and, though I own it in digital format, I’m contemplating buying it again in print format as well, just so I can add the tactile sensation to my enjoyment of the book.

“Madness is a meaningful way to exist.”
— from the poem “Menacing Gods: An Abstract”

Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 1

Arabian Nights

When King Shahriyar discovers his wife to be unfaithful, he begins to marry young women, only to behead them in the morning. In order to save the young women of the region, Shahrazad gives herself to the King Shahriyar. She is not expected to survive beyond dawn, but during the night she begins to tell tales, each night ending the story in the middle, leaving the king desperate to learn the ending and allowing Shahrazad to live another day.

One of my reading goals for this year is to read the complete version of A Thousand and One Nights. My aim was to find a translation that was as complete as possible, including “Aladdin” and “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves“, both of which were added in the 1700-1800s. Since there are many translations, I eventually settled in the Penguin Classics version, The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights, which comes in three giant volumes and claims to be as complete as possible. (Plus I really liked the covers.)

Volume 1 is 980 pages long. It includes the beginning of Shahrazad’s marriage to Shahriyar and provides up through night 294 of tales, as well as “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves” as an appendix.

Shahrazad’s tales range from adventure yarns with djinn to morality tales, love stories, fables, and war epics. Despite the variety of tales, there was also a great level of repetition, with similar descriptions of characters or expected outcomes. Though this should be expected due to how many stories there are, it can get burdensome for some readers, I’m sure.

The stories are also often nested, a tale within a tale within a tale. Just as Shahrazad saves herself through the telling of the tales, many of the characters within her stories also save themselves from death in a similar way. For example, kings are of ten saying, tell me story more wonderful than what has just happened or I’ll cut off your head. The nesting not only allows Shahrazad a longer tale to tell, which keeps her alive for more nights, but also shows how valuable the act of storytelling was thought to be. Sometimes the nesting becomes a bit too much, though, and there are so many stories within stories, it can be easy to forget the original story, until it’s finally returned many pages (and nights) later.
Continue reading “Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 1”

Books Read in March

1. 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (***1/2)
2. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt (DNF)
3. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (audio book), by Michael Chabon, read by Peter Riegert (*****)
4. The Missing by Sarah Langan (***)
5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****)
6. March by Geraldine Brooks (****)
7. Kira-Kira (audiobook) by Cynthia Kadohata (****)
8. The Worm by Elise Gravel (****)
9. Scarecrow Gods by Weston Ochse (*)
10. Colaterales/Collateral by Dianapiera Di Dontao (****)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “Books Read in March”

Five Books or Magazines I Have Read Lately

1. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policeman's Union CoverWell, it was more like “listened” since this was the audio book, read by Peter Riegert, who was fantastic. Riegert has the perfect gravelly voice for a hard broiled detective novel and it adds to the mood of the book beautifully.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is first a detective novel, playing off the traditional noir genre with sarcastic, mouthy homicide detective Meyer Landsman looking into the shooting of a former chess prodigy and heroine addict. The investigation leads him through the various seedy realms of Yiddish Sitka, Alaska* and it unfolds like a great chess game in which he finds himself “contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.” Like most hard broiled detectives, Landsman finds himself seeking his own salvation as he tries to uncover truths.

The book is also a fascinating alternate history, because Yiddish Sitka never existed. Chabon unfolds a fully realized, multi-layered imagining of what this island and its inhabitants would look like if it did, full of worldwide politics and local eccentricities. The details are rich and I could feel both the cold of Alaska and visualize the inner workings of this Jewish community.

On top of a fantastic, complicated plot and an fascinating litany of character, there’s Chabon’s writing style — poetic and rich and beautiful. When he describes a grimy hotel, you can feel the dirt getting underneath your fingernails. When he speaks of breathing in the cold, your teeth ache in sympathy. Chabon is just so, so good.

When the audio book ended and the last word was read, I sat back with a happy sigh and thought to myself, Well. That was just about perfect.

The audio book also includes an interview with Chabon following the book, in which he provides insight into how he came to write the story and how he approached the writing. I love that kind of thing.

*Yay, Alaska! Including Alaska in a story immediately grabs my attention.

2. Goblin Fruit – Winter 2014

I always mean to read more lit journals, both online and in print, but never seem to get around to actually doing so. Managed it this time, and the experience made it clear why I need to do so more often.

Kristina McDonald’s “Dear Prince“, in particular, gave me chills. The poem is from Cinderella’s point of view and I love how the image of the glass slipper is used and where it’s taken. She does a wonderful audio reading of the poem, too.

Each poem in this edition of Goblin Fruit is fascinating and expansive and compelling in its own unique way. This is a must read for poetry lovers. Continue reading “Five Books or Magazines I Have Read Lately”

FOGcon Followup

I’ve been meaning to do a wrap up of FOGcon 4 with a detailed account of the panels I attended like I did with Day One (mentions a panel discussing rape), but I have not had the time or energy to pull it off. I also have to play catch up with two movie review posts that are long overdue, so I’m going to present you with the FOGcon short version here, which is:

It was fabulous.

The honored guests, Seanan McGuire and Tim Powers, were both great. Seanan McGuire was hilarious and nearly had me falling off my chair laughing at some points, and she’s also powerful in the way she passionately speaks on subjects she cares about. Tim Powers was funny and wonderful in entirely different ways. It’s always great to meet the authors you enjoy reading, especially if you find them delightful.

FOGcon also featured an Honored Ghost: James Tiptree, Jr. and there was a panel dedicated to her memory. Moderator and panalists, Debbie Notkin, Bradford Lyau, Pat Murphy, and Naamen Gobert Tilahun were wonderfully passionate and knowledgeable about her life and work, making it a wonderful panel to attend. I haven’t read any of Tiptree’s work, but now it’s clear I’m going to have to.

In fact, throughout the event I found the panels and discussions entertaining and mind-opening.

Also, I picked up some lovely books.

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Book grab include:

  • The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow
  • The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler
  • The Wild Girls by Ursula K. Le Guinn
  • Report from Planet Midnight by Nalo Hopkinson
  • Links: A Collection of Short Stories by Kaylia M. Metcalfe
  • Not pictured: a short story mini-chapbook called “Rats!” by Brett James, as well as a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy

The “Plus…” series of books are very cool, because in addition to including a novella, they also include essays and interviews and other goodies.

The entire experience of FOGcon left me feeling inspired and joyful and wanting to get back to writing, which is exactly the feeling I need right now.

FOGcon 5 (2015) will have the theme “The Traveler” and will have Kim Stanley Robinson and Catherynne M. Valente as honored guests (OMG!), which sounds so amazing. The dates will immediately go into my calendar and I just hope that I don’t have any work trips that will conflict with the event.

Books completed in January

1. Redshirts, by John Scalzi
2. Among Others, Jo Walton
3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (audio book), by Junot Diaz
4. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
5. The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

Interesting Reading Fact: All three of my first three reads heavily referenced science fiction and fantasy literature, which was expected with Redshirts, but was more of a surprise with Among Others and Oscar Wao. I always find it interesting when the books I read are thematically connected in some unexpected way.

Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (riveting!) and The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1 (wonderful, readable stories).

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REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “Books completed in January”

Best Reads in 2013!

STATS: Total Books Read = 100, of which
67 were Fiction (a mix of scifi, fantasy, horror, and classics)
9 were Nonfiction
13 were Comics/Graphic Novels
11 were Poetry
11 were Audio Books
1 was DNF (read enough to count it, but didn’t actually finish)

Best Reads in 2013

Best Reads in 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann
The House of Mirth (audio book), by Edith Wharton
Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler
The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff
17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Best Science Fiction Book
Parable of the Sower was a reread and I loved this apocalyptic world and the survivors who wander through it just as much the second time around as I did the first.

Runner Up: Even with all the techno babble, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem was fascinating.

Best Fantasy Book
I think my love for Dying is My Business can be best summed up by my review. Click through for flailing, squeals of joy.

Best Horror Novel
Rosemary’s Baby just about blew my mind. On the surface, it’s almost not a horror story. It reads like a literary tale of a couple dealing with the challenges of creating a home for themselves, and yet, the thread of threat is subtly there throughout. It’s amazing.

Best YA Novel
Though there are three great YA novels in my best of list, I think I’ll go with Eleanor & Park for my top. It’s just such a sweet story of young love between awkward teenagers.

Best Short Story Collection
I really enjoyed Scheherazade’s Facade: Fantastical Tales of Gender Bending, Cross-Dressing, and Transformation, edited by Michael M. Jones. The stories are consistently good throughout and explore many aspects of gender while telling entertaining speculative tales.

Best Graphic Novel
Alison Bechdel presents a moving portrait of her young years in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a story as much about her father and his eventual suicide. The mix of literature and cultural references, along with the structure makes this a fantastic read.

Runner Up: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol is a fantastic ghost story, which is scary and well told.

Best Poetry Book
The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, edited by Rose Lemberg was by far my favorite poetry read this year. It was a fantastic mix of poetry and voices, all with the speculative spin that I love.

Runner Up: Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey

Best Poetry Chapbook
8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford is a lovely exploration of youth with moments of hurt and humor. Highly recommended.

Best Nonfiction Book
The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang told the story of a family torn between honoring their grandmother’s wishes for a proper, traditional burial and respecting the new communist system, which requires cremation. This painted an honest look at family life and was a fascinating look at Chinese culture in a state of transition.

Best Audio Book
Eleanor Bron’s reading of The House of Mirth is spot on. She hit the perfect tone for the story, which contributed to it also winning the honorary award of Book that Made Me Weep in the Front Seat of My Car.

What were your favorite reads this year? Let me know in the comments.

Books Completed in December

1. Slice of Cherry, by Dia Reeves (***1/2)
2. Two Mini-Chapooks: 8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford (*****) and No Experiences: Poems by Erin J. Watson (****)
3. Fables, Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***)
4. Fables, Vol. 14: Witches, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (****)
5. Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (****1/2)
6. Fables, Vol. 16: Super Team, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***1/2)
7. Fables, Vol. 17: Inherit the Wind, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***1/2)
8. A Handful of Dust, by Evelyn Waugh (****)
9. Trustee from the Toolroom (audio book), by Nevil Shute (****)
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chboski (****)
11. Bunnicula, by Deborah and James Howe (****)
12. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (****)
13. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams (***1/2)
14. Life, the Universe and Everything, by Douglas Adams (****)
15. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, by Douglas Adams (****)
16. Mostly Harmless, by Douglas Adams (**)
17. The Illustrated Man (audio book), by Ray Bradbury (****)
18. Currency of Souls, by Kealan Patrick Burke (***1/2)
19. How to Kill a Vampire: Fangs in Folklore, Film and Fiction, by Liisa Ladouceur (***)
20. Lucky Bastard, by S.G. Browne (****)
21. In the Night Room, by Peter Straub (***)
22. Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves (****)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “Books Completed in December”

Review: Two Mini-Chapbooks

8th Grade Hippie Chick by Marisa Crawford
8th Grade Hippie Chick by Marisa Crawford

8th Grade Hippie Chic

by Marisa Crawford

Publisher: Immaculate Disciples Press
Where to Purchase: www.immaculatedisciples.com
Goodreads Page
LibraryThing Page

When you French-kissed the class president on the school trip to Boston and we wore yellow feathers in our hair, and I dropped my beaded red velour bag into the harbor, it opened up a crack of light for me.”
— from 8th Grade Hippie Chick

This chapbook of inter connected prose poems calls on the ghosts of memory and youth, unveiling the pain and joy of friendship and young love. Each poem captures a moment with more fluidity than a photograph and opens up the wounds and intimacies of friendship with all it’s music and play and clothing and crushes.

Marisa draws on the small things (“I was wearing a silver ring that said, ‘Imagine’ on it.”), on the little details (“A closet full of Beatles shirts. Tie-dye. A hot pink aura.”) to open up aches and joys. Presented in short paragraphs of text, her words flow over one another to reveal the wider inner world of being young girls. Reading this book, I found myself nostalgic for days and ways that were not my own, longing for a youth that was at once so similar and yet vastly different from my own.

I adore this little stitched book as much as I adored Marisa’s first collection of poems, The Haunted House, which touches on similar themes. I may be biased, since I know Marisa from when we worked at Aunt Lute Books together and I consider her a friend. But she has such a unique voice and her words pluck a cord inside me and resonate with my inner girlhood, and I can’t wait to read more of her work. I wish her many future successes.
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No Experiences by Erin Watson
No Experiences by Erin Watson

No Experiences: Poems

by Erin J. Watson

Publisher: Scout Books
Where to Purchase: noexperiences.bigcartel.com/product/no-experiences
Goodreads Page
LibraryThing Page

“What is a poem after all? you say.
Maybe it is a kind of possessing
a heap of rocks, a buoy or anything”
— from No Experiences

This collection of 24 short poems by Erin Watson began as a playful response to the randomly wise ravings of a popular spam horse, @Horse_ebooks on twitter. The spam horse account spewed phrases that revealed hidden poetry. For each of these poems, Erin took one spam tweet and built a poem around it, posting each one online. Later she kickstarter funded a physical chapbook of the poetry, which is how I discovered the project (and spam horse).

Coming from an experimental project as it did, Erin’s poetry is playful and surprising, each short line taking unexpected twists and turns. The poems are thick with layered images and meaning and they’re the kind of poems that fill up the small space they encompass. They’re poems to sit with and consider the many possible meanings of, they’re poems to read over and over again, to giggle at, to enjoy.

As a side note, it was revealed recently that Horse_ebooks was not a spambot but a performance art project by Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief. Many people who followed the span horse felt betrayed by this news.

I asked how Erin felt about this, and this was her wonderful response:

“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it a lot today: like, why does it feel a little duplicitous that something wonderful was someone’s wonderful creation instead of a weird mistake? I don’t know, mostly I’m grateful that I got to inhabit a moment where it seemed real and make a thing with the means available. Everyone should make their own weirdness in the world.”

I’m glad she got to inhabit this moment, too and that it allowed me to read and discover her poetry. I also hope she’s still avidly writing and that she will release more of her words into the world soon.

Books Read in November

Favorite November reads.
Favorite November reads.

1. Go Tell it on the Mountain (audio book), by James Baldwin (****)
2. Each Peach Plum Pear, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (*****)
3. Le Mort d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (DNF)
4. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey, by Ernesto “Che” Guevera (***1/2)
5. Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann (*****)
6. A Passage to India (audio book), by E.M. Forster (***1/2)
7. A Bend In The River, by V.S. Naipaul (***1/2)
8. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell (****)
9. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation, by anonymous, translated by Simon Armitage (****)
10. Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey (****)

REVIEWS (behind the cut): Continue reading “Books Read in November”

Things

1. Thanksgiving yesterday was great, family and food filled fun. Lots of laughing and eating. Turkey and stuffing and salad and twice baked potatoes and candied yams and green beans with bacon, not to mention pecan pies and apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake — all homemade, by the way. Plus lots and lots of champagne.

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2. I received a rejection for a poetry chapbook submission, called The Letterbox, sent out many months ago. The rejection included a personal note, thanking me for submitting. The editor said I had a nice narrative arc to my poems and suggested that I submit again. I never take rejections to heart, because they are a part of the process of being a writer, but it’s always great to see that personal touch and get a bit of encouragement.

3. I have no motivation to do anything at all, even though I’m supposed to pull off 18,000 words before midnight tomorrow. *sigh*

4. I’m am enjoying reading Slice of Cheery by Dia Reeves, which has consumed most of my day so far.

5. I’m sure I have enough motivation to seek out more pecan pie, though. Mmmmm, pie. And then a nap.

Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellI bought Eleanor & Park in support of the author due to a censorship controversy that happened, in which parents in Minnesota convinced a local school district, county board, and local library board to cancel Rainbow Rowell’s reading and speaking events, because they believe the book to be obscene.

I am ridiculously glad I bought this book, because it turned out to be one of my favorite books this year. It’s an incredibly funny and sweet love story between two outcast teenagers. The rub for these parents, I suppose, is that Rowell approached the story with honesty, the teenagers are intimate (but not overtly so) and cuss as a direct result of the abuse and bullying they witness. Rowell is an author who doesn’t pull punches, but she does so skillfully to reveal truth and offer hope in bleak circumstances.

Park is something of an outcast. He’s not tormented by the other kids because of being “grandfathered” into the community as one of the locals, but he still doesn’t quite fit in. He doesn’t meet his dad’s standards of being manly or his school’s standards of being cool, so he kind of floats in an in between place of not being friendless while also being rather lonely.

Eleanor moves back in with her mom, brothers, sister, and abusive stepdad after having been kicked out of the house for a year. The loneliness of having been excluded of her family life has left its mark on her and she feels like an outsider in her own home. Desperate to not be abandoned again, she does her best fit within her step father’s rules, while also avoiding him. At school, her sense of exclusion is continued with bullying from the popular kids, who continually call her names and harass her.

Eleanor and Park meet as she climbs the bus for the first time on the way to school. The bus has its own rules and hierarchies, into which Eleanor does not fit and it leaves her standing in the aisle as the bus jolts into motion. Park’s first intention to is to leave her hanging like the rest, but he scoots aside and lets Eleanor sit with him. What starts out as indifference grows into friendship as the two begin sharing and exchanging music and comics, then as their friendship blooms into trust it becomes love.

I loved Rowell’s writing style, which was clean and occasionally poetic. (“His eyes were so green, they could turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.”) And I love how she structured the story, with it being told from both Eleanor and Park’s point of views. This allowed for one part of the conflict to exist in misunderstandings in the way we perceive ourselves and how we think people perceive us. Neither Park nor Eleanor are mind readers and so often presume the negative (he must hate me, she must be embarrassed by my, he must think I’m fat), when the reality is that the thing one is most embarrassed by is one of the things the other loves most.

The way the relationship grows and changes and becomes slowly more intimate throughout the novel is touching and funny and sad. It’s really a great read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes bitter-sweet romance.

Three Things I Would Like to See in More Novels

Book of love

As a reader, I can’t help noticing patterns that emerge in the stories I read. Sometimes these stories are spot on, and sometimes I find myself longing for different kinds of stories than what I see on the pages. Here are a few tropes or plots points I would like see occur in more books.*

1. Books That Start with the Characters Already in a Romantic Relationship

So many stories, from romance novels to YA fantasy, begin with two strangers meeting for the first time, having instant attraction, and ultimately finding their way to love. These stories are great, and I enjoy them just as much as the next person.

But these stories seem to stem from the idea the Falling-in-Love aspect is the only interesting or challenging part of a relationship. If our two heroes can just get past these hurdles, then they’ll realize it’s True Love and they’ll be guaranteed their happily ever after.

The reality is that relationships are hard work. It involves day-to-day acts of compassion, understanding, and compromise in order to stay in love.

Staying-in-Love has the potential to be just as compelling and romantic a trope as Falling-in-Love, and would be great to see more stories begin with characters already in a relationship, which they have to hold on to through the storm.

2. Non-Romantic Relationships

Again this is me not so much turning away from romance, but wanting an addendum to it. Many stories, particularly in YA books, focus on the love story to the end that other relationships fade to the background. Sometimes that happens, a person falls in love and is so wrapped up in the feeling, they can’t make the other valuable relationships with friends and family fit in.

But I think life tends to be more multilayered than that and with all the levels of relationships and love — mothers, fathers, siblings, best friends, cousins, etc. — there is a lot of room for emotional complexity. I’m not saying ditch the romance (though I kind of am with my book), but alongside falling in love, lets have some of the other kinds of relationships, too.

3. Quiet Moments

Roger Ebert talked about quiet moments in an interview he did with Hayao Miyazaki:

I told Miyazaki I love the “gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.

“We have a word for that in Japanese,” Miyazaki said. “It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”

Is that like the “pillow words” that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?

“I don’t think it’s like the pillow word.” He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.

Reading this, I thought about how many stories just power through to the ending in one action sequence after another without allowing that space to breathe and feel something.

Placing a quiet, still moment into a story seems easier in a movie, because it’s a visual form. But I think it’s possible to achieve in books, too, and I would like to see more stories, normally rife with action allow a space for the reader to feel about the characters before plunging in again.

What are tropes, plots, ideas that you would like to see appear in more novels?

*And, as I long to see these things, I find myself drawn to writing them in order to fulfill that desire.

 * * *

Since this is supposed to be a Friday Five post, here are two more unrelated Things you may be interested in checking out:

1. An awesome blog post analyzes the concept of the “Man Card”, which basically a way of metaphorically and jokingly measuring a person’s manliness:

“The Man Card concept specifically, however, is insulting to men and women in what it’s saying about our respective roles. Men are supposed be this way, not that way. Do these things, not those things. You’re not a man if you don’t fit society’s (or some section thereof’s) definition of one, and, unfortunately, people who joke this way are denigrating empathy, sympathy, respect for women, honesty, sensitivity, and responsibility. They’re saying real men prize getting their way over cooperating or compromising. Real men don’t care what their girlfriends or wives think. Real men do what they want.

This is dangerous.”

2. Check out Malinda Lo’s Guide to YA. Malinda Lo is the author of a great Cinderella retelling, called Ash, and she’s writing a multitude of posts YA novels, particularly those with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters or issues. If you’re a writer at all interested in writing about GBLTQ characters or issues, then I highly recommend working your way through this reading list.

Book Review: Dying is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann

(Cover) Dying is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann“Coming back from the dead feels less like a miracle than like waking up with the world’s most debilitating hangover.”

Dear Mr. Kaufmann,

First you invade my dream with creepy pictures. Now this.

I had plans, you know. I had things to do. But no, you had to provide me with the awesome that is Dying is My Business. Now my laundry remains unfolded. Stacks of papers and other detritus continue to clutter my shelves. All the words I planned to write remain unwritten. And I’m can’t seem to rub the glue from my eyes, as I try to recover from the hours of sleep I lost last night in the desperate need to finish reading.

I was absorbed by the story from page one, when Trent wakes from being shot and killed yet again with another dried out husk of a body nearby. The trade off for his return to life is that someone else must die.  As an apparent side effect of his condition, Trent has also lost all of his memories beyond one year before. He’s been taken in by Underwood, a twisted and violent crime boss, who exploits his abilities and sends him out to “collect” various things. Trent’s latest assignment to collect a mysterious box quickly leads him into a new understanding of the world, a world that includes magic, gargoyles, and a whole slew of things most people never knew existed.

Having an amnesiac main character can potentially be annoying, if not handled well. But Trent as a character is spot on. His loss of self and personal history has caused him to be cynical and fatalistic in understandable ways. He longs for the truth about his past without becoming tedious or whiny, and it’s easy to see how Underwood could have drawn him in by promising those truths. Trent is sometimes protagonist, sometimes antagonist, and sometimes both. He carries a great level of guilt for the lives he’s taken and the crimes he’s committed, making for a conflicted and fascinating character.

Now, can I just take a moment express my love for Bethany? This diminutive, spright-like young woman with a passion for the rules, a troubled past, and vest full of charms that will lay you on your ass has won my heart. She is hard edged, intelligent, honest, and kind. She is, in a phrase, many kinds of awesome.

And then there is poor, poor Thompson Thornton (Whoops. Knew I was getting it wrong). My heart is all asunder from his hopeful bravery and ability to crack jokes in the face of his tragedy.

I have love for all the characters really, even the nasty ones. Underwood and his cronies are cruel and unsettling in the most delightful ways. The Black Knight is destructive, powerful, and greedy for power. I shiver at the thought of ever meeting anyone of them in a dark alley.

Last night, I could not stop reading. I turned page after page, ignoring the episodes of Big Bang Theory my roommate turned on and loosing — as I mentioned — much sleep. I continued reading even as my friend began to turn of all the lights in the house, leaving only a single lamp behind my head to illuminate the pages.

Upon finally reaching the end, I began to flail. “No!” I cried, waking my roommate from her deep slumber. “Why?! Why is it over? I need more book! Why isn’t there more book?!”

You’re ending gave me chills, and I find myself awash with feels, saddened and maddened that it’s over. How can it be over, when I want so much to keep reading, to know what happens next, to know the fates of the characters I’ve come to love?

Why would you do this to me, Mr. Kaufmann? What am I supposed to do with my life now?

This had better be the beginning of a series with the second book to come in the near future. Because if I do not have the sequel soon, I will be forced find a way to flay you in a manner that would make Underwood grin.

Sincerely, you’re humble reader,

Andrea

PS. Giveaway! —> Those moved to book-lust by my review/letter, may be interested to know that LazyDay.CA has three copies of Dying Is My Business they’re offering as part of a free giveaway, which ends December 1. (Found via Mr. Kaufmann’s website: www.nicholaskaufmann.com.)

 

Books Completed in October

1. In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker (***1/2)
2. Zone One (audio book), by Colson Whitehead (****)
3. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes (****)
4. Day Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko (***1/2)
5. Alice in Wonderland: A Color Primer, by Jennifer Adams, art by Alison Oliver (*****)
6. The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells (***1/2)
7. A Stir of Echoes, by Richard Matheson (****)
8. The Eye Book, by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo LeSieg) (****)
9. American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett (*****)

REVIEWS: Continue reading “Books Completed in October”

Books Completed in September

1. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling (****)
2. Burnout, written by Rebecca Donner, illustrated by Inaki Miranda (**1/2)
3. The Outcast Oracle, by Laury A Egan (****)
4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (*****)
5. Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip, by Linda Oatman High (***1/2)
6. Memento Mori, by Murial Spark (****)
7. Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler (*****)
8. Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E Butler (****)
9. Shadow, by Suzy Lee (*****)

Reviews are behind the cut.

Continue reading “Books Completed in September”

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is a long favorite of mine. I’ve read almost all of his bibliography, so I was thrilled to learn this novel was coming out.

The story revolves around a man who returns to where he grew up and begins to remember a series of terrifying events when he was a child. As a seven year old, he made friends with Lettie, the youngest member of the Hempstocks who live at the end of the lane. When a border within his home commits suicide, it sets of a series of strange events and unleashes frightening creatures.

This story didn’t disappoint me one bit. It’s interesting that this has been described as an adult novel, since its so clearly from the young boy’s POV and Gaiman captures that youth, wonder, and fear perfectly. The boy is fully realized and made me remember my own youth. I saw one reviewer describe the sex scene as awkward, but it wasn’t. It was sex from a child’s perspective, which makes it seem strange and undefinable at the same time. The scene was well executed and showed the character’s youth even more as the rent seemed unimportant to him.

I especially loved the Hempstocks and how they are portrayed. The three women are so clearly more than what they appear and have latent power. They are loving and warm and fascinating characters. I would love to see them turn up in more stories.

Gaiman also has a way of making magic seem matter of fact, just another part of the natural order, which I LOVE. It’s one of my favorite things about his writing in general. That, along with his invention of creepy creatures that are dark and terrifying and yet somehow sympathetic, too. Ursula was evil and wicked and cruel and yet I pitied her in the end.

Fantastic book. I really, really enjoyed it.

Books Completed in August

1. The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang
2. Horns, by Joe Hill
3. Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff
4. Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray
5. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (audio book), by Lisa See
6. A Blackbird Sings: a book of short poems, edited Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita Thompson
7. No Roses for Harry! by Gene Zion
8. Unnatural Creatures, edited by Neil Gaiman
9. Emiko Superstar, written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Steve Rolston
10. Wave (audio book), by Sonali Deraniyagala

Read reviews on my livejournal.

A list of new-to-me movies watched in July and August can be found here.

Books Completed in July

As I’m still playing catchup, so here’s my be-lated reading list.

1. Hands of Flame, by C.E. Murphy
2. 17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma
3. Arthurian Romances, by Chrétien de Troyes
4. Late Eclipses, by Seanan McGuire
5. Anya’s Ghost (graphic novel), by Vera Brosgol
6. The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
7. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (audio book), by Muriel Spark

Did not and won’t finish (at this time): The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

Read reviews on my livejournal.

Ten Thoughts on Arthurian Romances, by Chrétien de Troyes

The verse written by 12th century poet Chrétien de Troyes represents the earliest of the Arturian romances as we recognize them today. These poems have been widely popular and have influenced the shape of every King Arthur and his Knights tales that came after. This translation of these five tales puts the verse into prose format, which has it’s pluses and minuses.

“Erec and Enide” follows the story of the two title characters, starting with Erec’s adventures and eventual winning of Enide’s hand, followed by Erec and Enide riding off to wander the land in search of quests together.

“Cligés” is a more meandering tale, which begins with Alexandre of Greece’s journey to King Arthur’s court in order to win renown, and then his son Cliges’ adventures and his romance with his uncle’s wife.

“The Knight of the Cart” is Lancelot’s tale, in which the queen Guinevere is taken away by an evil knight. Lancelot pursues her and fights many adventure in his great love for her. It’s an interesting one, because Lancelot is made to look foolish more than once in his love for her.

“The Knight with the Lion” is Yvain’s tale and follows a similar format as the other in that a knight goes off to meet a great adventure. Along the way he wins the love of a maiden, who then casts him off when he fails to return when he’s told to. He goes temporarily insane and has to fight many adventures before he can win her back.

“The Story of the Grail” is Perceval’s quest, though it also includes much of Gawain’s adventures. Perceval starts out as an idiotic ass, leaving a wake of damage on his way to becoming a knight. The grail has less of the Christian affiliations in this version and has to do with the Fisher King (not Arthur), who suffers from wounds that will not heal. There’s a lance that bleeds from its tip, as well as the grail in association with the Fisher King. This tale was not finished by Troyes, but the translator gives a nice round up of the various continuations written by other poets of the time period, which begin to bring in the more heavy handed Christian elements.

Some random thoughts, in no particular order:
1. The storytelling skill gets better with each subsequent story, which makes me think that “Eric and Enide” was written first and Troyes skill improved with each story he told (though I can’t be sure of that). The last three tales are the best in the book, and “The Knight with the Lion” is probably my favorite.

2. There’s a lot of redundancy. Characters will say one thing, repeat it in a slightly different order, then repeat it a third time, just to make sure you really know that they mean what they say. Also, the plot lines repeat fairly often and by the end of the book it’s easy to tell exactly how each battle will turn out: with the knights starting on equal footing, landing many great blows, and the blood flowing and so on. This repetition can make the reading kind of tedious.

3. The people in this era apparently believed that a fight could prove guilt or innocence. If you’re accused of treason or a crime, welp, facts don’t matter as long you have the best knight to fight for you. The winner is proved right, because God would only let the right one win. Uh-huh.

4. People were also rather obsessed with beauty. Beauty = good. Ugliness = evil. All the heroes are the most handsome of knights and draw the eye of every spectator to them. All the good maidens are beautiful and fair.

5. Arthur is kind of a fool. The most obvious demonstration of this is in “Eric and Enide,” in which it essentially goes:
Arthur: I want to do this thing, because it would be sooooo coool.
Gawain: That’s a very bad idea, because something bad will happen.
Arthur: You’re right, but I’m going to do the thing anyway, because I’m the king and the king should do whatever he wants.
*does the thing*
*the bad starts to happen*
Gawain: I told you if you did the thing something bad would happen.
Arthur: I know. You’re so smart. Now tell me how to fix it.

6. Kay is interesting in that he starts out noble and well loved in “Eric and Enide” but gradually becomes more of an ass by the time “The Story of the Grail” rolls around, when he’s called evil tongued and rude and worse and yet they still love him. I would have booted him to the curb.

7. As much as maidens and women are almost never given names and act as objects for the knights to win, they also have a surprising amount of autonomy and strength. Women are often found hanging out alone in the woods and it’s not uncommon for a girl to take up a horse and ride over hill and dale in search of a knight to help her, essentially having her own form adventure. Many of the women also own their own lands and rule their own castles. However, when women have power over men, their demands tend to be rather arbitrary and often have to do with keep the man by her side. In the end, the demands seem not to be so much about her wishes as they seem to be about setting up an adventure for some guy.

8. Morgan le Fay, sister to Arthur and always a favorite of mine, appears only in passing in these stories. But when she does, she is presented in a positive light, as a powerful healer and known for creating the best tinctures and good potions. Apparently, it’s not until later versions that she begins to play the part of the evil traitor.

9. The people are ridiculously prone to emotion. When saddened, they pull their hair, scratch their faces, threatened suicide, faint from sorrow and boredom, but all that can turn around in an instant to beaming dancing joy. A knight leaving darkens the skies and is an end to all good feeling; his return that very night is a cause for feasting and celebration. I’m surprised anyone got anything done with all this flailing about from one mood to another.

10. Oh, I have lots more thoughts about this and that, but this list is already long, so I’ll just leave off here.

Review: 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma“Girls go missing every day. They slip out bedroom windows and into strange cars. They leave good bye notes or they don’t get a chance to tell anyone. They cross borders. They hitch rides, squeezing themselves into overcrowded backseats, sitting on willing laps. They curl up and crouch down, or they shove their bodies out of sunroofs and give off victory shouts. Girls make plans to go, but they also vanish without meaning to, and sometimes people confuse one for the other. Some girls go kicking and screaming and clawing out the eyes of whoever won’t let them stay. And then there are the girls who never reach where they are going. Who disappear. Their ends are ends are endless, their stories unknown.”

I adored Nova Ren Suma’s previous book Imaginary Girls (and even mapped out how I would approach making the movie, if I could), which was a wonderfully surreal and creepy tale of two sisters and their loyalty to one another. So, 17 & Gone was a must read for me. It hooked me from page one, and by page three I had chills and was smiling from ear to ear.

When Lauren finds a missing poster for Abby, she begins to be haunted. Abby appears to her, tangled and lost, a seventeen-year-old girl gone missing, a girl who wants something from Lauren. But Abby isn’t alone and following behind her are other girls, all seventeen years old, all missing without a trace, all wanting their stories heard, all wanting to be remembered. As the visions of these girls multiply, Lauren begins to loose the tether to her own life and, seventeen herself, she begins to wonder, if maybe she’ll be the next girl to vanish.

Lauren’s self becomes submerged beneath beneath the stories of the girls and we get to see bits and pieces of her personal life like we’re coming up for air. In a sense this makes it a little hard to get to know her as the main character, but her story unfolds as the novel goes on and this erasure works as she looses herself under the tide of girls and their stories. It fits with the storyline and the discoveries at the conclusion.

Her writing is rich and vivid, and it’s really impressive how Nova Ren is able to layer the stories of the girls with Lauren’s thoughts and personal life, creating a complex web of narratives that is nevertheless easy to follow. She makes it look easy, though I know it couldn’t possibly have been.

As a side note, I suggest that you do not read the Author’s Note at the end of the book (as I did) before you finish, as it will spoil the ending. But even with the ending twist spoiled, I still loved this book, wholeheartedly.

My ultimate sadness is that Nova Ren only has one other book out, her first book Dani Noir (which was later republished under the title Fade Out). After I devour that one, I’ll have to patiently (or not-so-patiently) wait until 2015 for her next book, The Walls Around Us to be released.

Books completed in June

1. Pilgrim of the Sky, by Natania Barron
2. The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (audio book), by Susan Orlean
3. Preacher: Gone to Texas, written by Garth Enis, illustrated by Steve Dillon
4. Preacher: Until the End of the World, written by Garth Enis, illustrated by Steve Dillon
5. Dr. Suess’s ABC An Amazing Alphabet Book!, by Dr. Suess
6. The Fountains of Paradise, by Arthur C. Clarke
7. Searching for a Pulse: poems, by Nazifa Islam
8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (audio book), by Hunter S. Thompson
9. Baba Yaga’s Daughter and Other Stories of the Old Races, by C.E. Murphy

Click to read the reviews on my livejournal.

 

Books Completed in May

1. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
2. Kim (audio book), by Rudyard Kipling
3. The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, edited by Rose Lemberg
4. Tank Girl (Remastered Edition) (Bk. 1), by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin
5. Park Songs: A Poem/Play, by David Budbill
6. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
7. Scheherazade’s Facade: Fantastical Tales of Gender Bending, Cross-Dressing, and Transformation, edited by Michael M. Jones
8. Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan
9. The Count of Monte Christo, by Alexandre Dumas

Read reviews on my livejournal.

Review: The Moment of Change, edited by Rose Lemberg

The Moment of Change

“I want to go moonwalking
on it or under it I don’t care
I just want to go moonwalking
alone.”
— from “Werewomen” by Ursula K Le Guin

The Moment of Change assembles speculative poetry that addresses feminism in a variety of ways and from a multitude of cultural points of view. As such, many of these poems address not only feminism, but colonialism, race, culture, and broader gender issues in moving, lyrical and vivid portrayals.

“The world is wrong and I am wrung,
a bell of cloth dripping salt
into an earth too broken for roots.”
— from “Pieces” by Amal El-Mohtar

Most of the poetry is myth-based, delving into fantasy and folk lore, with only a few poems that focus on science fiction themes. I don’t know if this is because poets tend to be drawn to myth more than science fiction, or if perhaps it is more that Lemberg, as editor, is particularly interested in these kinds of stories. Regardless, Lemberg has done an excellent job of selecting and arranging the works within this anthology.

“Perfection is frictionless —
I need to stub my soul on yours,
I need to lick the slivers in your wounds.”
— from “In Defiance of Sleek-Armed Androids” by Lisa Bradley

You could, perhaps, have a discussion as to whether all of these poems are truly speculative or feminist; some poems seem to be only peripherally so. I could easily see this book or selections therefrom be included in college courses on literature and/or women’s studies. I’d like to read each poem again and then sit and think about them more, maybe break a few of them down and analyze them line-by-line. These poems leave plenty of room for reflection.

“She makes no magic. Although the stories won’t tell you,
witches are magic.”
— from “The Witch” by Theodora Goss

But even without such deeper analysis, the quality of the poems is excellent throughout the anthology and there is something to be said for the pleasure of the experience alone. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading these words, and many poems I’ve gone back to read twice, or more than twice. I’ll be picking this book up off my shelf and enjoying the poetry within for years to come. Highly recommended.

“This is a story,
and it is true of all stories
that the sound when they slam shut
is like a key turning.”
— from “The Girl with Two Skins” by Catherynne M. Valente

Edited to Add: On LibraryThing, I was asked: “How big is the time-span this anthology covers? And would you say the majority of the writers are mainly known as prosaists? Are there many “pure” poets who are exploring speculative themes?”

My Answer: The oldest poem seems to be from 1990, but most are from 2000-2012, so all very recent.

If by “pure” poet you mean someone who writes only poetry, I think considering how modern the poets, chances are that few of the are. I believe most have written novels and/or stories as well. Though I don’t think writing prose as well as poetry makes one any less of a true poet. 😉

At any rate, while the majority of the poetry is free verse with a few prose poems, I would say all of the poems are true poetry. They are not (as far as I would judge) just prose broken up into lines. Many are rich with imagery and challenging to “get” on the first (or even second) reading. All of them will make you think about the world or tales it tells in a different way.

Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment here or there.

Review: The Space Between, by Brenna Yovanoff

Daphne is the half-demon, half-fallen angel daughter of Lucifer and Lilith. She lives in Pandemonium, a city of steel and heat, where she coddles little treasures from the human world brought to her by her brother, Obie. Life for her is dull, slow, and unchanging, until one day her brother vanishes. Determined to find him, Daphne travels to Earth, where everything is colder and dirtier, and time flashes by far too quickly.

With the help of Truman, a lost and self destructive boy she believes was the last person to see her brother alive, Daphne begins to unveil clues to her brother’s whereabouts. As the back of the book says, “she also discovers, unexpectedly, what it means to love and be human in a world where human is the hardest thing to be.”

After finishing The Replacement, which is currently one of my top reads for 2013, I immediately had to pick up another Yovanoff book. I didn’t quite enjoy The Space Between as much as I enjoyed The Replacement. The beginning was a bit hard to get into and it was hard to get a sense for Daphne, who seems to emotionless. However, once Daphne finally got herself to earth things picked up and became very interesting.

As Daphne is presented with the reality of Earth, she’s forced to really choose who she wants to be. She can be like her sisters, the Lilim, who feed on humanities desires and despairs, or she can be something else — even if she doesn’t know what that is yet. Yovanoff does a great job of portraying Daphne’s confusion and naivete. She doesn’t know much of anything about Earth other than what she’s seen in TV shows and much of what she knows is terribly outdated. She is both vulnerable and yet strong, because while she doesn’t know how things work, she carries with her a deeper wisdom stemmed from her life growing up in the eternal timelessness of Hell.

Then there’s Truman, who’s pain is so raw, you can practically feel it peeling off the page in shreds. Somehow, these two people manage to work together, build trust, and grow from friendship into something more and it’s kind of beautiful.

I’m also a huge fan of moral ambiguity, and this novel which has a demon as its central character is wrought with it. Not only Daphne is likeable but other demons, too, are multi-dimentional, complex, engaging. Even the ones you might not like so much turn out to have layers, facets and raw edges you didn’t expect to find.

There’s also a touch of the horrifying, a few chills along your spin here, a little blood splatter there — another thing I love to see.

Overall, this turned out to be a great read. I may just have to pick up Yovanoff’s next book Paper Valentine.

Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.

Books Completed in March

1. The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub
2. Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carl
4. Cedar Toothpick: The Tomboy Dioramas, poetry by Stefan Lorenzutti and art by Laurent Le Deunff
5. The House of Mirth (audio book), by Edith Wharton
6. my name on his tongue: poems, by Laila Halaby
7. The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door, by Karen Kinneyfrock

Click to read my reviews on livejournal.

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton

Since I can’t seem to find a way to some it up on my own, here’s a description from the back of one of the editions: “Lily Bart, beautiful, witty, and sophisticated, is accepted by “old money” and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears 30, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing and to maintain her life in the luxury she has come to expect. While many have sought her, something—fastidiousness or integrity—prevents her from making a “suitable” match.”

Lily was raised to love splendor and wealth and to be an ornament in that world. She cannot help but strive for the comfort and ease (even if it is marked by falsehoods) that that world offers. And yet there is a part of her that strives for some greater, higher ideal, some deeper truth beyond the finery.

Her downfall is in part due to circumstance (being a woman in her time period and raised to desire wealth and shun shabbiness) and in part due to her own poor choices. There are many times she could have prevented a mishap, only to blindly (out of naiveté) or purposefully (out of selfishness and her desire for wealth) step right into it. And many other times she could have saved herself, only to reject it due to her own sense of morality. Witnessing her mistakes is to see all the little ways she is guilty, while simultaneously discovering the multitude of ways she is innocent. It’s all just so profoundly human.

The story was easy to follow and compelling to read. the scenes unfolding with eloquent language and open frankness. By the end of the book, i found that my commute wasn’t long enough and I sat in my car upon arriving home listening to the conclusion, unable to wait until morning.

I often cry at books and movies; I’m easily moved (sometimes even a TV commercial will illicit a few tears). But this was an experience beyond mere crying. This was me with my hands pressed to my face, snot running out of my nose, abjectly weeping in the front seat of my car. I can’t fully express why this book plucked that inner string in me, but it did.

I’m sure a part of it was the spectacular reading given by Eleanor Bron (who also, as it turns out, played Lily’s Aunt Peniston in the 2000 movie adaptation) in the audio. She strikes just the right tone of reserve and emotions, her voice soothing and adaptable to each character. I don’t know if my wrought emotional reaction would have been the same had I read it in text, but that’s not something one can speculate on, since each individual experience is based on a multitude of circumstances that can’t be recreated.

All I know, is I started this book thinking I would merely enjoy it, and ended it being madly in love.

Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.

Cedar Toothpick

Recently, I received a package from Poland with one of the coolest stamps I have ever seen. I didn’t know what I could possibly be receiving from Poland, but I was all smiles as I ran my finger over the cloth, feeling the fibres of the shiny postal stamp. I almost didn’t care what was inside, because the stamp itself was just so gorgeous.

Stamp from Poland

Inside, however, I found my long-awaited copy of Cedar Toothpick: The Tomboy Dioramas, a collection of “nutshell” poetry by Stefan Stefan Lorenzutti with illustrations by Laurent Le Deunff and book design by Pilar Rojo. The book was published independently as part of a kickstarter project that I had backed and forgotten about.

Like the stamp, this gorgeous little book was texturally beautiful, and I was dazzled by the quality of paper and the hard back binding, as much as I was eager to read the words on the pages. Honestly, the sheer quality of book alone without having read any of the words is amazing.

Cedar Toothpick

According to the poet, he was inspired to the write this collection of poetry as he was walking the trails on the border between Poland and the Czech Republic. That experience combined with the concept of individual dioramas in natural history museums. The author writes: “Each poem is a description of a diorama, such as one finds in ethnographic or natural history museums—bell-jar spaces in which wolves, frozen in time, thread soundlessly through twilit forest; and wigwam inhabitants, cross-legged and ringed round their storyteller, shiver as the wind outside rattles frame of shelter.” Through this landscape romps the playful figure of Tomboy.

These poems are small, but each one packed with imagery that evokes a deeper understanding than what’s on the surface. Each poem is full in an off itself, and deserves lingering over, as you would linger over a bit of scenery on a long walk in the woods.

The art stands alone on individual pages, complementing the poetry perfect with soft pencil drawings of stones or wood, the kind of nature imagery the poetry relates.

Cedar Toothpick

This is by far the highest quality book I’ve helped fund through kickstarter. It’s just so lovely on many fronts, from the concise, compact poetry that evokes so much, to the gorgeous line drawings, to the beautiful binding itself — this little book is a work of art.

Only 500 copies of the book were printed, all of which are signed by the author and numbered. I don’t know how many copies are left, but if you’re interested, you can order the book here.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.]

The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff

The ReplacementMackie is a changeling, a fairy child left as a replacement for a human one. Instead of dying as such a child is expected to do, he survived by making himself invisible and avoiding contact with iron that infuses just about everything, from steel to human blood. All he wants is to be human, to fit in with the people of Gentry, but when a little girl goes missing, he finds himself journeying into the town’s underworld to meet the creatures that once abandoned him.

I fell for this book as soon as I saw it’s uber-creepy book cover, featuring a litany of knifes, scissors, and horseshoes dangling precariously over a child’s carriage.

I loved it even more when I found out the purpose of those dangerous objects is to protect rather than harm, each of them made with iron to save the child from being taken — which is a perfect reflection of the world that lies within this books pages. What at first appears ugly and dangerous may turn out to be good and kind. What appears beautiful may be deadly. And I love that reversal of expectations.

I love that Mackie is a member of the family, even though his mom, dad, and sister know he is not the same human boy who was robbed from the crib that night. They know, and yet he is accepted and loved. They do all they can to accommodate his disabilities (removing all the iron they can from the house, building an unconsecrated part of church so he can go to Sunday school) and protect him from the potential malice of the town (which refuses to admit the existence strange creatures, even though deep down they know).

Mackie, for all this love, is lost and lonely. Though he has friends and family who care for him, he casts himself as an outsider, feeling that often come up for adopted children in general. When Tate comes after him for answers, for someone anyone to listen to her about her sister, he tries to avoid her in an effort to protect himself, but finds himself unable to pretend that he doesn’t care.

There is a general creepiness and sense of unease that fits perfectly with the book cover, and the hairs on my arms are standing up right now — partly from the creep factor, partly from delight — even as I think about it. If it’s half as good as this one, then I can’t wait to read another Brenna Yovanoff book.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.]

Books Completed in January

1. Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
2. Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, by Alison Bechdel
3. Demon Hunts, by C.E. Murphy
4. Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
5. The Foot Book, by Dr. Suess
6. Blood Magic, by Tessa Gratton
7. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel
8. The Game of Boxes: Poems, by Catherine Barnett

Read the reviews on my livejournal.

Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, by Alison Bechdel

Are You My Mother? is a meta-memoir in graphic novel format, which on the surface is about Bechdel’s mother. However, it is also about Bechdel’s therapy process, her relationships with her lovers, the history of psychonanalysis (particularly in regards to Donald Winnicott), Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, and the act of writing memoirs itself and how it effects the lives of those you write about.

This book has layers upon layers. How we feel about the past and our family is not linear. Disparate events, having no immediate relation to one another in reality, come together in out mind and combine into an emotional arc. The narrative here explores and loops, more like a thesis than a story. Sometimes Bechdel presents a conversation with her mother, then drifts away to talk about Winnicott’s work and writing on to a few scenes of her in therapy sessions, only to come back later to that same conversation with her mother, which now has a new light based on the new information.

The tone of the narrative is analytical, and Bechdel seems to be distanced from her own history as she tries to put the pieces together. There is no melodrama here. Bechdel neither condemns nor idolizes her mother in these pages. Nor does she condemn nor idolize herself.

One of the major themes of this book comes from Winnicott and his work on self-other, specifically how the mother becomes the self for babies and vice versa, as well as the concept of mirroring. I remember thinking while reading how strange it was that Bechdel was writing a memoir about her mother that turned out to be more about herself. But as I continued and learned more about Winnicott’s work on self-other and mirroring, this began to make perfect sense. Are not memoirs truly about the self, being from our own perspective anyway? And if as children we incorporate the mother into the self, then by writing about herself, Bechdel is also writing about her mother. This book seems to be a way for her to disentangle her self from her mother.

You can see in the image below an example of her art, where after finding a sequence of photographs of how she performed literal mirroring of her mother as a baby. She’s placed them in what she perceived was the correct sequence and has drawn them into the comic. Overlaid with the images, she narrates her own actions as a baby, while she quotes from Winnicott’s work on mirroring, and incorporates part of a phone conversation with her mother. Many, many layers, all in just two pages.

Bechdel-Are you my mother?

Another aspect of mirroring is revealed in the ways Bechdel projected her need for mothering onto her therapists and her lovers. Behavior that is only understood after the fact, through this kind of analysis.

I was deeply fascinated by this book, which may not have moved me emotionally, but had the gears of my mind churning. I’m sure reading it again would reveal new layers to the narrative, new understandings. And now now that I’ve read this book, I’m dying to read her first memoir about her father, Fun Home (which she discusses in Are You My Mother?). If this is a sign of the quality of her work, I definitely want to read more.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.]

Reading Stats for 2012

Total Books Read – 100

Total Fiction – 72
SF/Fantasy/Horror* – 38
General/Misc – 24
Classics – 6
Mystery/Noir – 4
*SF/F/H grouped together because it’s too much of a headache to mentally debate which book falls into which category.

SubCategories**
Young Adult – 17
Short Stories Collections – 13
Audio Books – 10
Digital/Ounline – 1
**These numbers does not contribute to overall total as they also fall into the alternate categories.

Total Nonfiction – 8
Literary & Art Criticism/Creation – 4
Science & Health – 2
Memoir – 1
Miscellaneous – 1

Comics/Graphic Novels – 11

Poetry – 9

*

My Favorite 10 Books Read in 2012
(in no particular order)

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman
Deathless, by Catherynne M Valente
The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker
Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
China Mountain Zhang, by Maureen F McHugh
The Hobbit: 10th Anniversary Edition, by JRR Tolkien
I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, by Steve Earle
The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories, by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater, and Brenna Yovanoff

Best Science Fiction Book
I’ll go with The Man Who Fell to Earth,
by Walter Tevis, because I just loved the subtlety of the tale of an
alien on earth. It was so much the plot but the overall feeling of
isolation and alienation.

Best Fantasy Book
I’m really torn between Seraphina and Deathless. They were both fantastic books that I want to own and read again.

Best Graphic Novel
Easily Daytripper, by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. Amazing art with a moving story and creative plot structure.

Best Poetry Book
Hard to decide. I loved both Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse, by David Perez, and No Surrender, by Ai.

Best Nonfiction Book
Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach. How she makes the gross and uncomfortable underbelly of science bit respectable and hilarious I’ll never know.

Worst Book
A toss up between Rick Spears and Rob G.’s graphic novel Dead West and Ayn Rand’s Anthem. Neither had much character development or soul, as far as I could see.

*

What were your favorite books of the year? What were your least favorite?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Books Completed in December, Part II

1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (audio book), by Robert M. Pirsig
2. Dune, by Frank Herbert
3. The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis
4. The Diamond of Darkhold: The Fourth Book of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau
5. The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories, by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater, and Brenna Yovanoff
6. Krik? Krak!, by Edwidge Danticat
7. Nova, by Samuel R. Delany
8. Coping with Color-Blindness, by Odeda Rosenthal and Robert H. Phillips
9. The Final Solution: A Story of Detection, by Michael Chabon
10. Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
11. The Whistling Toilets, by Randy Powell

Click to read reviews on my livejournal.

Jane Austen Marathon

My sister, Pilar, was in a mood yesterday — happy, but bored, floating around the house, poking me in the ribs, doing whatever she could to entertain herself.

This boredom led her to throw on Mansfield Park (from 1999), a movie she and I both love. Though the movie follows the plot of the book, one could argue that the additions and subtractions to the movie don’t necessarily follow the spirit of the book. The movie drops some of the propriety, revealing some playfulness, and slips in some commentary on the slave trade, which as I recall doesn’t exist in the book. I can see why these things might bother die hard Austen fans, but I enjoy the choice of actors in the movie and the style of cinematography, so I think the movie stands as a great movie on it’s own, as a story separate from the book.

Next up my sister threw Persuasion (2007) into the DVD player, because it’s her new favorite Austen movie and she insisted that I see it. I haven’t read the book, but I need to. The story is unusual, because the two main characters know each other already, because Anne Elliot was persuaded by family and friends to drop her engagement to Mr. Wentworth, who had little fortune at the time. Eight years later, their paths cross again, and there is a large share of hurt and awkwardness and cruelty between them. I love these kinds of stories, because there’s something so fascinating to me about existing intimacies, as opposed to new flirtations.

The style of the movie is great. Many scenes involve our heroine sitting with her back to a group of people talking. They speak, either not knowing she can hear or not realizing that their words affect her, but the angle of the camera draws us into her space as outsider, and it’s very moving. Also, the ending = love.

Since we were already on a role with the Jane Austen movies, we decided to keep it up. So we put in Sense and Sensibility, the BBC miniseries from 2008. My sister is still very much attached to the Kate Winslet/Emma Thompson version from 1995, which I also enjoy. But despite the shocking (and unnecessary) opening sequence, I ended up falling in love with this new miniseries. The actresses are younger, closer to the ages of the actual characters in the books. It’s kind of a quieter depiction, the acting more subtle, though it’s been ages since I’ve seen the 1995 version. This miniseries actually made me believe that Marianne Dashwood could fall for Colonel Brandon, something other versions couldn’t do. So, yeah, fantastic.

We intended to conclude the night with the 2005 movie version of Pride & Prejudice, with Keira Knightley and Mathew Macfayden (another one I love for being exactly what it is, even if it doesn’t follow the book exactly). However Sense and Sensibility was longer than I thought it would be and by then it had got too late in the evening.

It was a great night of Jane Austen movies, though, and my sister and I had a great time chatting about the books and movies. We have another night planned of watching first Becoming Jane, followed by Miss Austen Regrets. I’d also like to do a marathon of watching several versions of Pride and Prejudice in a row, though that would be an all day event if the miniseries is included.

Books Completed in December, Part I

I still have 11 more books to read in order to meet the goals of the category reading challenge I started at the beginning of the year, which I think I just might accomplish. It’ll be a photo finish though. In the meantime, I thought I would split the month, so the post isn’t too long.

1. The Walking Dead: The Calm Before, by Robert Kirkman
2. The Walking Dead: Made to Suffer, by Robert Kirkman
3. Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater
4. The Crack in Space, by Phillip K. Dick
5. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
6. Watership Down (audio book), by Richard Adams
7. The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain
8. Zombies Are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead, edited by Christopher M. Moreman and Cory James Rushton
9. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
10. Duel, by Richard Matheson

Read reviews on my livejournal.

Books Completed in November

1. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. Nebula Awards Showcase 2012, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly
3. The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker
4. Leaves of Grass: The “Death-Bed” Edition, by Walt Whitman
5. Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices, by various authors
6. Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente
7. The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
8. Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey: Vampire Slayer as Feminine Chosen One, by Valerie Estelle Frankel
9. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy
10. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
11. Scott Pilgrim VS. the Universe, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
12. Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
13. The Valley of the Horses, by Jean M. Auel

Click here to read my reviews on livejournal.

Joy to be Had

This week was rather productive writing wise. No, I didn’t start work on my untitled werewolf novel, but I did come up with a potential title for it — Beneath the Midday Moon. Why “midday”? Well, because in winter in Alaska it is perfectly possible to see a full moon during the middle of the day. 🙂

I also finished the drafter of one short story and sent it to my Writing Gang for review and started sketching out random phrases and ideas for yet another story. Both of which I will have finished and off to their respective anthology markets before the end of the month. Huzzahs!

In other news, I just realized that my poetry review, “Joy to be Had: On Ron Padget’s How Long,” has been published in the Summer 2012 issue of Gently Read Literature. So, yay!

Reading it over though, I had to cringe because there is a rather blaringly bloody mess of a mistake that was left in the review when it was published. One of the sentences just cuts off halfway through and is painfully incomplete, neither I when I was putting it together, nor the editor caught this. *sigh*

In other other news, a friend pointed out Book Crossing, which is a way of assigning a number to books and tracking them as they are shared around the world. I had heard of this site before and loved the idea, but lost the link and couldn’t find it again. So, I’m thrilled to see it, because I love leaving copies of books in the hostels when I travel for other people to pick up. 😀

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

It's Friday. Huzzahs.

I’ve been somewhat sick half the week, but I’ve discovered that taking Nyquil before bed = awesomeness. What? Sleep through the night? Without my head congested and generally unbreatheable? Wake up feeling better not worse the next morning? Yeah! Why haven’t I done this before?

Because I’ve been a head full of mucus this week, I’ve use this as an excuse to be lazy. Thus no progress has been made on my anti-nano goals — I can’t, at the moment, even bring myself to open the untitled werewolf novel to even see where I’m at with it. However, I have been making some progress on a piece that will probably end up being just a little too long for flash fiction.

So that’s it in news about me.

Now I point you to this awesome post, “Black Women in Speculative Fiction: A Brief Investigation,” which increases my TBR list exponentially.

Also, here’s a meme I snatched from brigits_flame:

Book you are currently reading: The Hobbit by Tolkien, Nebula Awards Showcase 2012, and Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Last book you read: Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey: Vampire Slayer as Feminine Chosen One, by Valerie Estelle Frankel
Book you could read again and again and again: The Hobbit and Beloved by Toni Morrison and a handful of others.
Book you are glad you read once but will never ever read again: Most recently? Probably The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. (But I never really know what books I’ll read again.)
Favorite book (if it differs from a book you could read again and again…): Too many, but a novel that is my current favorite is Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman
Writer whose stories you enjoy immensely: Neil Gaiman, for one, Holly Black, Nova Ren Suma, Libba Bray, for others.
Writer whose style blows you away: Mostly poets, such as Ai, or Walt Whitman, or David Perez, or Karen Finneyfrock. Also, Toni Morrison.

[Cross posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in September and October

1. The Robber Bride (audio book), by Margaret Atwood
2. Bellweather, by Connie Willis
3. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, by Farahad Zama
4. Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami
5. Blackout, by Mira Grant
6. All About Emily, by Connie Willis
7. Rues (poetry), by Philip Kobylarz
8. Carnage Road, Gregory Lamberson
9. The Clan of the Cave Bear, but Jean M. Auel
10. Mr. X, by Peter Straub
11. Seraphina (audio book), by Rachel Hartman
Also, “The Call of Cthulhu” (short story), H.P. Lovecraft

Read reviews on my livejournal.

Review: Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina, by Rachel HartmanFrom the book jacket: ““Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.”

As soon as I finished this book, I wanted to start reading it all over again (that doesn’t happen often for me). There are many, many reasons why I love this book, but here are a few that stick out for me.

1. Seraphina herself is a compelling character. The dangers of her life are wrapped intimately with her sense of self (or lack of it) and the secrets she keeps, which is in direct challenge to her passion for music. She cannot let loose her music without drawing attention and risking revelation and danger. So she is trapped on a tightrope of life with nothing to do but ford ahead and maintain balance. But music is just about everything to her, and it’s this passion that launches her into the series of adventures she finds herself on throughout the book.

2. The culture of humans and dragons is delightfully complex, as it should be in any world where a treaty between two previously warring societies are now at a fitful peace. Every character in this book, no matter how small has their own unique spin on the situation. There are humans and dragons alike who hate the treaty, humans and dragons alike who admire the treaty, and even more humans and dragons alike who are indifferent or entirely confused on the matter. Even if two human characters might together agree that dragons are terrible, awful, horrid things, it’s clear that the motivation for their hatred comes from different sources.

Hartman takes the world further by showing how there are many societies of humans, who have previously warred, and are now also in alliance as well, because the of the human-dragon treaty. But again, even if two people are of the same culture, it doesn’t mean they agree on things. It all make the world delightfully rich and real, and gives the side characters some meat.

3. This is the most compelling portrayal of dragon culture I’ve ever read. Really. One of the things that’s great is that science and mathematics and complex machinery are dragon innovations. I love that the mythical creatures are the rational ones, but that their science and math are considered otherworldly mysticism. There’s a little more uniformity of thinking for dragon kind (or, perhaps, there is illusion of uniform thinking), but this isn’t because of a lack of divergent points of views, but because emotion is considered insanity among their kind, and any dragon who shows too much of it gets the equivalent of a lobotomy.

4. The romance is lovely and moving, all the more so because it grows out of a foundation of friendship. The man she falls for is very much a man — not because of some deep mysterious brooding and dangerous side (as seems to be so popular in many romances), but because he is so human, so flawed, while maintaining a strength built on truth and respect. This truth and friendship that grows between them unravels so naturally into love. They hit bumps in the road, times when they are angry or almost hate each other, but they come through it with forgiveness and new strength. This is what love should look like, because not once does either one expects the other to be anything other than what they are, they don’t want to change the person they love. Instead they except the whole of them, and love them for their “flaws” all the more, and I think that’s beautiful.

These things combined with a beautiful writing style that manages to both be poetic and perfectly capture Seraphina’s voice are just some of the reasons as to why this book has made it to my all-time favorites list.

As a side note, the audio book version I listened to was lovely. There are several moments where the reader had to sing the lyrics of songs, and it made the book all the more wonderful.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Congrats to Aunt Lute for their 30th Anniversary!

Aunt Lute Celebrates 30 years: Unsung Voices — They publish books by women authors “not being represented by mainstream publishing.” I had the pleasure of interning with the company for one summer, and I’m thrilled to know they are still thriving.

One of my favorite books ever is Her, by Cherry Muhanji a story of queer African American women set in Detroit in the late ’50s/60s. Such a beautifully written and moving novel. I participated in proofreading the second edition and have reread the book a couple of times since then for the sheer pleasure of it.

Here’s to 30 more years of Aunt Lute!

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Battle Royale

Battle RoyaleTHE BOOK: In this blood and gore soaked tale, a class of 40 junior high school students is brought to an island and told by the fascist government that they must kill each other in an all out battle with only one survivor.

This book is definitely comparable to exploitation films and literature, in which violence over storyline is key. It starts with a brief introduction to the kids and its main character Shuye, before launching almost immediately into the slaughter of the kids (unlike its successor Hunger Games, which has a long lead up and gives you time to care about the main character). So, as the first bodies started to fall, I was not fully attached or bothered much by it.

However, this changes as the book goes on and each character is explored more in depth. Takami uses omniscient narration to jump from character to character. So that as the students wander the island, some looking to kill, some trying to just survive, others trying to plot escape, you get to know a little bit more about each one, including what their life was like before and why they are the way they are. (This omniscience also helped me keep the 40+ characters straight and helped to root the main characters in my mind.) So, by the middle of the book, I was definitely invested in seeing what the handful of good guys, who were trying to fight back, would do.

Along with the overriding theme of distrust and betrayal, followed by bloodshed, there was another interesting theme that I’m not sure gets talked about much. Almost all the students had crushes on someone, and who they loved and who loved them was a conversation that was repeated over and over again. Several characters were driven by their need to connect with the person they cared for, but never said anything to, even if its the last thing they do. Even the main character Shuye is focused on saving and protecting Noriko in order to honor his best friend, who had a crush on her. I’m not sure what all this is supposed to mean, but I thought it was very interesting that in a book so filled with death that there would be such a focus on unrequited love. Perhaps it has to do with life and what we really regret when we leave it behind.

I can definitely see why some people would hate this book; it is very bloody and bleak. But as a teenager I spent many of my days avidly reading the horror novels of Stephen King. They, too, were blood-soaked and filled with gore and I read them obsessively. Reading Battle Royale felt like a similar experience, in which I would sit at my desk, eying the book out of the corner of my eye and resenting the fact that I had to get work done instead of read. (Apparently, this comparison to Stephen King is apt, as Takami notes him as a great influence in the afterword.) Neither the works of King, nor Battle Royale are great literature, but they are most certainly readable and, if you’re into horror, very entertaining.

Battle Royale 3D(大逃殺 3D:十周年特別版)-001THE MOVIE: I didn’t quite understand why the director made some of the choices he did. In an interview (which was included in the back of my version of the book), the director talks about making these changes so the story will be more believable. However, I didn’t quite buy that students boycotting school would make adults so afraid of them that they would start a program like the Battle Royale, as they do in the movie. It seemed more likely to me that the book’s version of using the Program as a way to institute fear and control made more sense.

Also, because the book was so fresh in my mind, I had a bit of a hard time with the movie, because there is almost zero chance to get to know and care about any of the characters. The students do die in bloody and entertaining ways — a lot of spinning is involved, actors pirouetting when shot multiple times — but it wasn’t as gory as other movies I’ve seen. Some of the dialog was kind of cheesy, too.

However, I ended up watching the movie twice, and in the second go around, I definitely was able to stop over critiquing it and enjoy it more. In fact, I really liked it the second go around, which makes me think that I probably would have loved it, if I hadn’t hadn’t read the book first.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in August

1. Poems of Stephen Crane, by Stephen Crane, selected by Gerald D. McDonald
2. Scarlet, by A.C. Gaughen
3. Habibi (graphic novel), by Craig Thompson
4. Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, by Holly Black
5. Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost between the Pages, by Michael Popek
6. Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to be Haunted, by Eric Nuzum
7. The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
8. The Dark and Hollow Places, by Carrie Ryan

Read reviews on my livejournal.

Book Review: Giving Up the Ghost by Eric Nuzum

From the back of Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted, by Eric Nuzum:

“Eric Nuzum is afraid of the supernatural, and for good reason: As a high school oddball in Canton, Ohio, during the early 1980s, he became convinced that he was being haunted by the ghost of a little girl in a blue dress who lived in his parents’ attic. It began as a weird premonition during his dreams, something that his quickly diminishing circle of friends chalked up as a way to get attention. It ended with Eric in a mental ward, having apparently destroyed his life before it truly began. The only thing that kept him from the brink: his friendship with a girl named Laura, a classmate who was equal parts devoted friend and enigmatic crush. With the kind of strange connection you can only forge when you’re young, Laura walked Eric back to “normal”—only to become a ghost herself in a tragic twist of fate.

Years later, a fully functioning member of society with a great job and family, Eric still can’t stand to have any shut doors in his house for fear of what’s on the other side. In order to finally confront his phobia, he enlists some friends on a journey to America’s most haunted places. But deep down he knows it’s only when he digs up the ghosts of his past, especially Laura, that he’ll find the peace he’s looking for.”

When I first saw the eerie cover and read the above description, I assumed this was a novel. It’s not; it’s a memoir. The instant I realized this was not fiction, the story became all the more compelling to me. A book about being really haunted? YES!

Nuzum neither presumes that ghosts are real or not real, he simply tells his own story with being haunted and how it became a contributing factor in a downward spiral of despair in self-destruction. While a teenager, Nuzum did many things that were unlikeable, and was, as he admits, not a very likeable guy. He drank, did lots of drugs, acted crazy, was rude and mean and occasionally vicious. Some memoir writers might describe these same sorts of events as a way to garner sympathy, or to pawn off and blame their faults on somebody else, or to revel in the freedom or coolness of the act. Nuzem, thankfully, does none of these things. Rather, he states the facts as he remembers them (perhaps not accurately, he notes), while accepting and taking responsibility for his mistakes. He seems to tell the story the way many people tell ghost stories — matter of factly — and perhaps will the aim of exorcizing some of his past ghosts.

As much as the story is about his downward spiral, it is even more so about his rise and the friend who held him up and kept him sane. Laura, who was very much a mystery in his life, unwilling to share much (or any) of her own truths, helped Nuzum keep track of, organize, and make peace with his own sorrows and fears and wobbliness. Their friendship is entertaining and touching to read.

Giving up the Ghost is a well written and compelling read. There’s no ultimate resolution, of course, because life doesn’t have many ultimate resolutions. Many mysteries stay mysteries, and human beings can’t help but be haunted. Tthe ghosts of our past linger, hiding on the other side of the door whether we want them to or not.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Book Review: Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi is a beautiful book. I mean that, first and foremost, in the literal sense. The hardcover edition is physically gorgeous with an maroon embossed cover and a heft and weight that reminds me of a spiritual tome, like a Bible.

Habibi
(All photos of the book taken by Parka81 on flickr.)

Open it up and the beauty continues. Craig Thompson blew me away with the art he produced for Blankets and his ability to capture emotion and soul in his art. His skills have, if anything, improved since then. Habibi is visually rich, interweaving Arabic script with detailed patterns and characters that come alive on the page. If I could do nothing other than flip through the pages and immerse myself in the art, this book would still be worth reading.

Habibi

Habibi

Habibi

Beyond the art the story is beautiful, too. As the website notes, “Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.”

While being sold as a slave, Dodola saves Zam from death and after they escape into the desert (where they live in an abandoned boat stretched across a dune), she begins to raise him as though he were her brother/son. They’re love and friendship grows more complex as they grow older and as life confronts them with its brutality and tears them apart. Through all the uncertainties and fears, poverty and despair, there is always a thread of hope, as Dodola and Zam and each turns to scripture and stories to sustain them.

That said, there are definitely problematic issues of Orientalism and cultural appropriation. For more information on that, I turn you to this article, “Can the Subaltern Draw?: The Spectre of Orientalism in Craig Thompson’s Habibi,” by Nadim Damluji. While I was certainly immersed in the story, I was also wondering about the stereotypes he was using to tell the tale. I certainly recognized a few (the sex-obsessed sultan, for example), but I was there were others that I was less certain about. Damluji a great analysis of Tompson’s book, discussing the beauty of its research on Islamic scripture, as well as looking at the Orientalism.

I’ll end with saying that despite the few reservations I mentioned, I rather loved this book and its beautiful art.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Book Review: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

gaughen 001I love the Robin Hood myth, the Merry men, Maid Marian, all of it. So, when I saw Scarlet (with its really gorgeous cover) in the library and learned that it was a retelling of the myth with Will Scarlet — thief, knife expert, and sneak — as a girl, I was stoked. I love retellings, and I especially love retellings in which typical male roles are presented to women. They fill me with joy.

Unfortunately, I built up a lot of expectations in my mind before reading, and the book went contrary to my expectations. There are things I liked and things I didn’t like with the end result being that I really want to like the book as a whole, but can’t quite love it.

First, what I liked. I love Scarlet. I love that wears boys clothes and tucks her hair up under a hat, that she could chop it off, but chooses not too, because it something that’s hers, her own personal secret. I loved that she’s tough, she’s slick with knives, clever with plans, and is one of only ones of the group that can sneak in an out of Nottingham castle through secret passageways. The men turn to her in working out plans, trusting her skills in dire situations. And I like that she’s though she’ll stay silent and hidden, but when she wants to speak, she’s smart mouthed and opinionated (in fact her voice throughout the book is consistent and very well done). She would give up her food to someone less fortunate even if it meant she had to go hungry. She’s also guilt-ridden and dark humored, which is hard sometimes hard to read, but you get the sense that hard living has led her to be that way and she doesn’t wallow all the time. Often she desires to run away from the situation, the boys, everything, but she sticks around despite the risks and makes sh*t happen.

I also love Much, one of Robin’s crew, who only has one hand, but still keeps up with the rest of the group. He’s good with the villagers and is kind in a true and honest way. He’s also the only one who shows and receives kindness from Scarlet without expecting something sexual to come of it.

Then there’s the stuff I didn’t like as much…, which I can’t really talk about without throwing in a few spoilers, so fair warning:

SPOILERS AHEAD

Robin Hood was not the hero I was expecting. He’s handsome (stormy eyed) and smart and uses the bow, but Scarlet outshines him with her agency that he seems pale in comparison. Yes, he’s young and inexperienced (and very moody) in this version, but Scarlet keeps telling the reader what a hero he is, what a great leader he is, but we never really see either of those things acted out with the exception of him occasionally barking orders and helping a villager out. There’s only one scene with Robin using his bow, and all the planning comes from Scarlet. Since this is supposed to be a team and Scarlet is supposed to be such a lone wolf, I would have liked to see Robin have a little more cleverness and agency of his own so that he wasn’t quite out shadowed.

But that’s a small concern for me compared to his continual jealousy because of Little John (which I will get to in a bit), and his turning into a complete ass-shat when he learns her true identity. His explanation for all this bad behavior was “I hurt you to hurt myself,” which is such BS and I can’t believe Scarlet would accept that as an excuse. I do think the characters work well together as a couple, because of they are both wounded people trying to find some redemption for themselves, but I’m still annoyed with the instant turn around at the end.

There’s a general sense and belief among the men that a women, even Scarlet, MUST belong to a man. A general belief in ownership is involved, which fits the time period, but is still very annoying, especially when it comes to Little John and his pursuit of Scarlet after he sees her in a dress. He starts flirting with her and toying with her, and no matter how many times Scarlet says, “No, John, I’m not interested in you as a mate,” John says the equivalent of “You don’t know your own mind” or “You know you want to,” which makes me very uncomfortable. There are some confused emotions for Scarlet, because she sees him as a teammate and a brother, and when she’s at her most low, John shows her kindness, which she accepts because she’s so desperately in need of kindness. But every time John takes this acceptance of a kindness as a tease, a sign that she really MUST be attracted to him, even though she says she’s not.

What makes it worse is that compiled on top of John’s inability to accept her “No” is that Robin doesn’t believe her “No” either. Because John likes her, she must be with John, thinks and speaks Robin. Scarlet even shouts at them all, saying that they don’t take her feelings into account, and they absolutely do not, which is an awful situation, especially if they are supposed to trust each other. The only one who gets her feelings is Much, and he’s not given much say.

This feeling of ownership by her companions is especially disheartening in the face of the main villain, who is another man treating her like an object, wishing to possess her. Though the boys are not as extreme in their sense of ownership, it still rings ugly to me.

Then there is Scarlet’s SECRET IDENTITY, which I pretty much figured out as soon as she blushed when Robin glanced her way. She’s Maid Marian. I get why the author made this choice. Gaughen loved the myths, but never liked Marian, because she always thought of her as weak (which is pretty much how I feel about Buttercup in the Princess Bride). So, she changed things up and made Marian a thief and knife thrower. Cool.

I don’t mind too much that Scarlet and Marian are the same . . ., except when I picked up the book, I kind of hoped and expected to have Scarlet be a different character. For all the times Marian has to be rescued, I never thought of her as weak. She had a different kind of strength from the men, an ability to stand tall and help the cause as a lady from a different front. She had to smile in the face of her enemies while secretly helping Robin. She was clever in her own right. But she was always the only woman in the stories, the only women among all the men, so I kind of feel that by melding the two characters together, Gaughen lost the opportunity to have not one, but two strong women become part of the Robin Hood myths — one who stood tall as a lady, and one who was a thief and knife thrower. I would have liked to see that.

She made another choice, and that’s fine. Scarlet is a great character. But I can’t help but be a bit disappointed nevertheless.

So…, look. There are things I really love about this book, and there are things that really annoy me, too. That leaves me with mixed feelings. Will I read more books by Gaughen in the future? Most definitely, yes, because I do think she’s a great writer even if this book was contrary to my expectations.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in July

Despite the inexplicable cuteness of my newborn niece (I AM SO OBSESSED!!), which has taken up a significant about of my time, it’s been a rather good reading month. 🙂

1. Fast, Cheap and Under Control: Lessons from the Greatest Low-Budget Movies of All Time, by John Gaspard
2. After the Apocalypse, by Maureen F. McHugh
3. The Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
4. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
5. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
6. The Waking Moon (published on wattpad), by T.J. McGuinn
7. The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham
8. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (audio book), by Mary Roach
9. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

Click to read reviews on my livejournal.

Messing around on wattpad and a review of The Waking Moon by TJ McGuinn

So, I found out via twitter that Margaret Atwood has joined and has been promoting this site called wattpad. Essentially, its a way for writers to post stories online and connect with readers. Normally I wouldn’t look twice at this kind of site, in part, because its a self publishing venue in which there is no way to earn money (it’s completely free all around), but I figured since Margaret Atwood and has posted some of her poems, it lends the site some credibility and so I would check it out.

As a Writer

Writers post stories (either short stories or novels in serialized format or snippets or poetry), which readers can vote or comment on, and they can “fan” their favorite authors to find out when something new is posted.  According to the website, it has millions of readers every month. It also has an associated phone app and the option to promote your story on other sites (such as GoogleBooks, Sony eBookstore, and Scribd). All of which, suggests that there is an opportunity to connect with readers. You still have to find ways to promote your work on the site by chatting with readers and commenting on other works, and so forth, which is a lot of work in itself.

Though, I’m aiming to be professionally published, I can certainly see the appeal of instant gratification provided by self publishing your work (in any format). So, though I initially intended to join the site simply to read Margaret Atwood’s poems and to explore, I couldn’t help but post something of my own. The Poetry Project, as I’m calling it, will be a place where wattpad readers can suggest prompts that I will respond to with an original poem. I do have two poems completed (“Dreaming of Water on These Hot Sunny Days” and “The Butterfly Effect“), both of which you can read without being a member of wattpad. And I’m considering posting some of my Fay Fairburn stories on there, since I’ve already posted them on my blog, anyway.

I can already see that it’s a lot of work to get attention and move up in the stats (really based on popularity), which is fine — but it is something I also recognize as a distraction from doing the work to prepare and submit manuscripts for professional paid publishing, which is not so fine. I’ve been holding off on doing the final work to edit and submit some of the short stories I’ve written — there’s  fear involved of the I’m-not-good-enough variety — and I really need to make sure that happens. So, I’ll keep with wattpad for a while as a side project to see how it goes, but only under the provision that it doesn’t keep me from my main goals.

As a Reader

As to be expected, since there is no filter system (no editor selecting what appears and what needs more work), you get a lot of writing on the site that is not great (in fact a portion of it is really bad). You kind of having to skim through first pages and opening lines until you find something that’s worth reading. There are recommended stories and poems, which I tend to go to first, and various ways of searching to come up with unique reads, but there’s a ton of content on there to sort through to find something you like.

Despite that, I did find The Waking Moon, by TJ McGuinn. The book description: “Paulette’s life is in shambles. Her sister is dead, her mother is a drunk, and she’s been forced to transfer into a chaotic public school full of bullies. Things go from bad to worse when, one night while driving them home from dinner, her intoxicated mother hits and kills a teenage boy and is sent to jail. Now Paulette is truly alone. But when the teenage boy mysteriously comes back from the dead looking for Paulette, she finds herself face to face with the purest love on earth.

McGuinn presents a story with clean, crisp prose. I say this not just in comparison to the work on wattpad, but in comparison work published in general. It’s good clean writing that draws you into the story from sentence one. Paulette is an interesting character, who is understandably downcast, based on the various problems she has to face. Life is rough, but she’s not so despondent as to be depressing or boring. I was definitely on her side.

The character I absolutely fell in love with, though, was the one friend she made in high school, Rhodes. He’s quirky and fun, and sticks up for Paulie. He’s kind to Paulie and though he’s fallen for her, he doesn’t push her too hard. He does make mistakes (at one point, jealousy rears its head), but he’s quick to back off and apologize for him. He even manages to respectfully help her out of her clothes, when she’s injured, which is tough thing to do when it’s someone you’re crushing on. He’s a character that I wish was real, cause I would love to have him be my friend in real life.

The super-haught dead boy (whose name I can’t remember) is rather generic and bland in comparison to Rhodes, who has so much personality. In fact, I didn’t quite get why she falls for him, except that there is an immediate emotional connection based on common tragedy.

The story overall held my interest the entire way through, and I found myself crying by the end. Definitely worth reading, and I hope I get to read more work by McGuinn in the future.

Finding other works on wattpad that I liked as much is slow going. I have found some “good” stuff, and lots of “okay” stuff, but not much that falls into the “great” category. There is definitely some of that in there, though.

[Cross posted to my livejournal.]

Being a list of 5 things

1. Kinderbard – Songs for Children Sung by Characters from Shakespeare
Kinderbard is an awesome project to create that uses Shakespeare and music to inspire and educate children.

“We want to bring into the world the first in a planned series of books, music, and interactive apps containing songs for children. Each song is ‘sung by’ a character from Shakespeare, and is true to the quotation spoken by that character, and on which the song is based. Many of our songs address issues with which children can identify, such as anxiety, sibling rivalry, even bullying. Some are just silly or funny. But they are all lovingly created, and professionally performed, produced, and mastered.” — quoted from here

If you watch the video on the kickstarter page, you can see the love that has gone into making all of this. Daeshin Kim is organizing the project, while his wife is creating the art and his young daughter is singing the songs. The project is in fact inspired by the challenges the daughter had to face when the family moved to Paris and how music and Shakespeare helped her adapt to a new language and culture.

The project only has a few days left to gain funding, so I’m trying to signal boost and get others to join in. It certainly helps that in every interaction that I’ve had with Daeshin, he has been generous and kind, so I hope, hope, hope that the funds for this project come together.

2. Rereading The Martian Chronicles
The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories that have been strung together into a novel, which presents earth’s colonization of Mars. The first expeditions meet with challenges from the Martian natives, who are an advanced race in their own right. In one such story, “The Earth Men,” the company lands hoping to receive acknowledgement and fanfare in this first interaction with an alien race, only to find the Martians to be bored and annoyed by their presence.

As the colonization continues and more and more humans come to Mars, we see new kinds of stories, stories of people reshaping a stranger world, of strange people finding peace in solitude away from the red tape of Earth, of people fighting back once Earth tries to bring it’s red tape to Mars. Some stories are better than others of course — and certainly, being written in the ’50s, there’s not much space for women who are little more than background — but on the whole they are stories with interesting characters, stories that analyze humanity and society by situating it on an alien world.

I actually picked up the book to reread just a few days before Ray Bradbury passed away, the coincidence of which added a new level of poignancy to the reading. I remember being immediately smitten with the book when I first read it in school. “There Will Come Soft Rains” remains one of my favorite shorts stories, and in rereading it again now, I’m still amazed by the way he spun the story and how it still both moves me and gives me chills. Really a fantastic book — just one piece of evidence showing how amazing Bradbury was, and I’m already looking forward to reading it again someday.

3. Snow White and the Huntsman and the fabulous witch
I was going to write a post all about how, while Snow White and the Huntsman was a flawed movie in many ways, Charlize Theron was gorgeous and wonderful, bringing a haunted, unhinged depth to Queen Ravena (that pretty much carried the movie), and how I really do love the queen in the Snow White stories in general, because Snow in her purity is rather boring, but Gemma Files (aka [info]handful_ofdust) already wrote about it in her fabulous column and said it so much better than I ever could.

The only thing she didn’t mention is Theron’s fantastic costumes throughout the movie. Her gowns were amazing, like this one with the amazing headpiece and bird’s skulls around the neckline or this one that’s made with dung beetle carapaces or this one that looks like chain mail. Gorgeous.

Photo 184. Speaking of fairy tales…
I was introduced to this story at PANK Magazine by Rachel Rodman, called “Experimental Breeds: Bears, Clothed In Rumpled Hoods, Pipe “Rapunzel” To The Sleeping Pigs,” which fractures multiple fairy tales and mashes them together. It blew my mind. I mean, literally I was left sitting in my chair, slack-jawed, and unable to think properly — mind-blown. Go read it.

5. Pants
Yesterday, I arrived at work, only to immediately rip a hole in the seat of my pants. It was NOT awesome and set a bad precedent for the day. However, that evening I went to the mall to replace the pants that ripped, and … I ended up buying myself a whole new outfit, pants, shirt, sweater.

Considering the fact that shopping can sometimes be a stressful and/or depressing event for me, finding a whole outfit that works perfect, makes me feel good, and that I love is a really great feeling.

Don’t I look cute! For joy. (^_^)

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in May

1. Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror, by Jason Zinoman
2. Paradise, by Toni Morrison
3. The Black Unicorn: Poems, by Audre Lorde
4. Tender is the Night (audio book), by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. Skin Folk, by Nalo Hopkinson

Click to read my reviews.

A new imagining of The Great Gatsby

First, I would like to announce that two of my poems, “Annie Taylor, Niagara Falls, 1901” and “Red Riding Hood Remembers,” has been published in Issue One of the new Linden Avenue Literary Journal, edited by Athena Dixon. Woo!

I’m thrilled to be included in this issue with so many clearly talented writers. I loved C.L. McFadyen‘s evocative poem, “The Bottom of a Circle,” and Val Dering Rojas‘ “Things That Are Still Broken” made me deliriously happy. And then, there’s the flash story, “I Would Rather Death by Chocolate,” by Elizabeth Akin Stelling, which is a lovely exploration of sweetness, along with so many more great works.

.
In other news, if you haven’t seen it, the trailer for the The Great Gatsby has been released, and it’s so good it gives me chills. I had no idea until seeing the trailer that Baz Luhrmann directed it, which I think is a perfect fit. His best movies (Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge) start off with a kind of manic decadence that fits the roaring ’20s, but the stories then slip beneath the superficiality of the spectacle to reach the muted undertones and hidden emotional depths of the characters. Needless to say, I’m rather excited.

I haven’t read The Great Gatsby since high school. I vaguely remember the not hating the book, but it also not making much of an impact on me. I didn’t get it at the time. I am certain that a part of that was my inability to appreciate and absorb the poetry of language. I’ve grown a lot as a reader since then.

My interest in E.M. Fitzgerald in general has been sparked recently, in part due to Tom Hiddelston’s portrayal of Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and in part because I recently picked up Tender is the Night and have been enjoying it (as a side note, Tender is partly based on his relationship with Zelda, which is also fascinating).

At any rate, I’m definitely going to have to pick The Great Gatsby up, and read it again with more focus. Perhaps I’ll like it better this time around.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Review: Shock Value by Jason Zinoman

I’m a huge fan of horror movies and I love seeing behind the scenes of how movies are made, so it’s no surprise that I would totally dig Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror, by Jason Zinoman. The book presents a history of how filmmakers, such as Wes Craven, Roman Polanski, George Romero and others, took the old schlocky stories (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) to the next level, with stories that push the boundaries of politics and social commentary, as well as gore.

Zinoman didn’t go into deep analysis of the film (I’m sure there are plenty of other books that do), but explored the lives of the directors and writers that became known as auteurs in the industry (whether or not it was truth), revealing how they came to develop the movie that are now classics of horror. Keeping in mind that I did not live in the era and have not seen several of these movies (though I have heard and know about all of them), I can’t judge whether the author’s point of view accurately reflects the movies or the time in which they were made, but I can say that it worked for me. I was thoroughly fascinated and entertained, so much so that I plowed through the book in under two days. It was a great, fun read, and I now need to do a marathon and see all the movies that I have not seen.

The one flaw, for me at least as I have a deep love (read: obsession) of lists, is that the author did note compile of filmography of movies mentioned in the book. How else am I supposed to easily quantify which movies I have and have not seen?

So lacking a proper filmography, I skimmed through the book and made my own list of all the movies discussed or mentioned, and posted it on my blog.

Books Read in April

1. No Surrender: Poems, by Ai
2. Dead West, written by Rick Spears, illustrated by Rob G.
3. An American Tragedy (audio book), by Theodore Dreiser
4. I am J, by Cris Beam
5. The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You (poetry), by Caits Meissner and Tishon

Read reviews on my livejournal.

Books Read in March

1. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
2. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
3. Anthem, by Ayn Rand
4. Born Wicked, by Jessica Spotswood
5. Rasl, Vol. 1: The Drift, by Jeff Smith
6. Z: Zombie Stories, edited by J.M. Lassen
7. Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson

Read my reviews on livejournal.

Review: Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson

Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo HopknsonFollowing economic collapse, Toronto dissolves into such chaos that the central city, known as “the burn”, is abandoned by Canadian government. Those who live there do so without proper infrastructure, no electricity or plumbing, no hospitals, no police, etc. Yet, these people manage to create lives in the slums, small businesses built in what ways they can (one person fixes shoes by replaces the soles with old tires), and doing what they can to avoid the dangerous gangs that proliferate.

Ti-Jeanne is a woman who feels trapped by the burden of her baby son, while wanting to end her relationship with her drug-addicted boyfriend Tony and dealing with her gruff, overbearing grandmother. On top of that, Ti-Jeanne begins having frightening visions, which means she’s inherited some of her grandmother’s gifts. Ti-Jeanne can’t seem to escape her attraction to Tony, especially after he gets in trouble with the gangs and seeks her help.

Nalo Hopkinson draws on her Caribbean roots to infuse this novel with such folk creatures as Jap-Jabs and duppies and other strange spirits. It’s a richly textured novel with a well-realized sense of place and community.

Ti-Jeanne is a strong character, a woman who may not always be sure of herself, but has the strength to act when action is required. And as a whole, the characters in this book are complicated and interesting, with the main villain Rudy being truly terrible and terrifying. A really great book that has me wanting read a lot more of Hopkinson’s work.

As I mentioned, one of the presentations at FOGcon was by Nalo Hopkinson, in which she played ring games, one of which was the “Brown Girl in the Ring” game (here’s a link to the words and here’s a video of a disco star singing it is in 1978), which is quoted several times throughout the book. I didn’t understand the quote when I read it the first time, but seeing Hopkinson in a group, singing the rhymes and showing how the game is played (one person stands in the center, while other stand in a circle around her singing, then the girl in the center makes a body movement, which the circle repeats, at which point someone else is chosen to be in the center), added a whole new element to the reading of the book. It makes me want to go back and read the book again and see how that new understanding of the game may change how I perceive the text.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Top 50 Best books for Kids

In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, Time Out New York create a top 50 list of best books for kids, which of course I had to immediately go through to see how many I’ve read. There are a bunch on the list that I’m definitely interested in reading, and there are several I barely remember and wouldn’t mind reading again. It’s kind of a nostalgia grab bag, reading this list. I haven’t even thought about Are You My Mothere? in ages, but now the entire story vivid in my mind and making me smile.

Of the 50 I’ve read 19—
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Holes by Louis Sachar
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
The Bone series by Jeff Smith
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in February

1. The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
2. Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kibuishi
3. Sophie’s Choice (audio book), by William Styron
4. Great Classic Science Fiction (audio book)
5. The Probability of Miracles, by Wendy Wunder
6. Daytripper, by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
7. A Rope of Thorns, by Gemma Files

Read reviews on my livejournal.

World Day Book meme

(Via [info]mrissa) I will add my monthly reading list later today.

The book I’m reading: I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, which is enjoyable, but very old fashioned in tone and sentiment. I’m also reading The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You, a lovely book of poetry by Caits Messner and Tishon that I got through their kickstarter project, as well as Z: Zombie Stories, a young adult story full of exactly what the title says.

Books I’m writing: I’m inching along with the Untitled Werewolf Novel, and the way things are going with my Fay Fairburn stories, I may just end up with a novel out of that.

The book I love the most. There are so, so many books I love, but a couple of new favorites are Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma, and The Probability of Miracles, by Wendy Wunder.

The last book I received as a gift: I think it was a cookbook of simple, low-cost recipes that I never actually use.

The last book I gave as a gift: I bought The Last Days of Dead Celebrities, by Mitchell Fink, from the $2 bin at B&N for my sister, cause she likes that sort of thing, but I haven’t given it to her yet.

The nearest book: I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, which is currently sitting in my purse, along with an issue of NANO Fiction.

The book I want someone else to please write for me: Oh, goodness, I don’t know.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Book Review: A Rope of Thorns, by Gemma Files

A Rope of Thorns, by Gemma FilesA Rope of Thorns is book two in a trilogy, so if you don’t want any spoilers, I suggest you stop reading and go devour A Book of Tongues first.

Book two has Reverend Rook and his Lady Ixchel constructing “Hex City,” built on blood and carnage, but also the only place where hexes can live in peace with one another. Meanwhile, Chess, the red-headed little man of grit and violence, barely in control of his new abilities, seeks his revenge against his former lover, Rook, while avoiding the attacks of angry hexes, Pinkerton agents, and other darker creatures, with Ed Morrow along for the ride.

As the middle book in the trilogy, A Rope of Thorns widens the the scope of the story, interweaving new characters and plotlines into Gemma Files’ vision of a blood soaked west.

As always, violence follows Chess wherever he goes, as well as a strange new red weed that is spreading through the desert in the wake of his footsteps. But Chess has changed. He still laughs at the world and it’s brutal misery, but his laughter is more bitter and without glee. The unfolding of Chess’s character that began in the first book, continues in the second. His layers are stripped away and the profoundly human that lays at his core is unveiled. I’d be madly in love with him, if it weren’t for the fact that he is fictional, gay, and unlikely to take my affection kindly.

The addition of Yancey Colder into the story is wonderfully refreshing. She’s a spiritualist with her own unique power and is drawn into Chess’s circle of violence. She’s a strong female character, one who knows how to act quickly and smartly in the face of threat, and who manages not to be crushed under the weight of disaster that transpires.

Morrow, too. I find I’m even more fond of him in this book, because for all that happens, he stays loyal and true to his friend, Chess. He’s a good brave man, who knows that justice isn’t always what’s written down in legislature books.

Most every one is given a wider breadth in this one, though the Gods that are playing board games with the world remain somewhat one-dimensional. Though, as they are far from human, I suppose that’s to be expected.

Like the first book, there’s plenty of sex and gore in gripping, graphic detail, and the story moves along at a fast pace. I’m looking forward to reading the final book, A Tree of Bones. Based on the ending of book two, I can’t even imagine the carnage that will have to take place.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

A Love Poem for the Books of Stephen King

Yesterday, I read a blog in which someone wrote a love letter to The Great Gatsby in honor of Valentine’s Day. I loved the idea of writing a love letter to a book, and I immediately started thinking about what book or books I would want to write a love letter, too. There are many, many possibilities, of course, many books I’ve loved.

But its the books of Stephen King that hold a certain nostalgia for me, because I connect them so clearly with high school. I was obsessed with his books during that time, and I read them one after another, whole days and weekends vanishing as I climbed into King’s bizarre worlds. It just made sense to me that those books deserved a love poem.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

wonderful little surprises

First, my small poem, “Bird Collides with Window,” is up at a handful of stones. Yay!

In other news… It just so happened that my local Los Gatos Library was having a grand opening today. I had no idea until I stopped in upon the suggestion of a friend. The new building is rather fantastic, very retro and clean and full of large windows and bright comforting colors. It’s a wonderful design and they had several different performers, including a couple of guitarists and an author presentation to celebrate.

Upstairs, I found a presentation going on in which Kasu Kibuishi created sketches of his fantastic world and talked about how he made his work. Technology is rather awesome. We got to see the sketches go up on the big screen as he drafted them out on his computer tablet. Made me wish I was a better artist and that I could just throw stuff out like that. Anyway, I bought Book One of Amulet and got it signed. He included a cute little sketch of one of the characters, too (see below).

Amulet

Amulet Signed

Of course, I had to read it right when I got home. I was hooked right away and breezed straight through. After facing a tragedy in which their father dies, Emily and Navin and their mom move to the families old home in a small town to build a new life for themselves. But there is something mysterious about the basement, and a tentacled creature appears, grabbing their mother and dragging her away into a strange world. Emily and Navin set chase to rescue her.

Book One is the set up for the series, so there isn’t room for complete character development yet. Hints are there, though, and the three family members are sweet and loving and rather likable.

There’s some really great ambiguity going on, too. It’s not entirely clear. The potential ally my be a dangerous threat, and the supposed enemy may not be all that evil. I really like that depth, which will allow a larger more complex story to potentially unfold.

Kibuishi has created a wonderfully creative fantastical world. The art is gorgeous — bright and colorful sometimes and shadowy and mysterious, all depending on the mood. The only frustrating thing is that I now have to go out and buy the other four or five books in the series. I’m that hooked.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in January

1. Howards End, by E.M. Forster
2. Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse (poetry), by David Perez
3. The Yo-Yo Prophet, by Karen Krossing
4. Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day, Ben Loory
5. Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma
6. I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive (audio book), by Steve Earle

Read the reviews on my livejournal.

Book Love: Imagining "Imaginary Girls" by Nova Ren Suma

imaginary-girlsFrom the inside flap: “Chloe’s older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can’t be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby’s friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.”

Reading Imaginary Girls is like walking through the halls of a haunted house. Everything on the outside is normal, but strange things happen from time to time and you can’t be sure whether the ghosts are real or if its just your mind playing tricks. Events in the book are subtly strange in this way, and the surreal tone of the tale is entirely appropriate, because hauntings abound. The lost town of Olive haunts the bottom of the reservoir, Chloe is haunted by the memory of the dead girl, Ruby is haunted by the secrets she tries to hide.

The title is also wonderfully appropriate, as the uncertainty of what is imagined and what isn’t unfolds throughout the story. Not to mention, what makes a girl imaginary? Is Chloe imaginary because she isn’t entirely her own, because she’s possessed by Ruby (and willingly so, as she offers her devotion wholeheartedly to her sister)? Is Ruby imaginary, because how can that kind of girl, the kind of girl that gets everything and anything she wants really exist? Or is the imaginary part of Ruby dependent on how Chloe sees her, how Chloe idolizes her and in a way shapes her with that idolatry that no person can live up to? And London? Oh, there are many, many ways that London could be imaginary, if she exists at all.

Imaginary Girls is a book that is multilayered and achingly beautiful, one that leaves just the right amount of questions for you to sit with on rainy Sunday and ponder, while outside the water swirls. It’s a book I want to hold in the hollows of my heart and never, ever let go.

It’s also one of those books I want to see made into a movie right now, damnit, now. In fact, as soon as I put the book down, I began to imagine how I would adapt the screenplay and shape the work into a finished film.
It would a be a difficult book to adapt, due to its subtly and Hollywood has a tendency to want things clearly explained, especially in movies geared toward young adults. No doubt the immediate inclination of any screenwriter would be to use voice over. I can understand the temptation, as it would allow Chloe share the inner workings of her emotional state.

However, I would squash this temptation. A movie made from this would be better off if the images and events stand for themselves, letting the strange be strange, making it the “surreal nightmare” someone described it as on the cover. Use of camera angles and direction would make it clear that the movie was filmed from Chloe’s point of view and the scenes as they unfold would let us in to how she feels about it. (The right actress would also be vital for this, someone who could express the internal while saying nothing.)

Color would be a vital part of this movie, reds would be too red, blues too blue, but all or most of the color would be for the girls, especially Ruby, who’s eyes would be the most green thing in all the movie. The rest of the town, compared to Ruby (and at points Chloe, too) would be gray and brown, dull in comparison. Ruby, too, would appear subtly sharper, more in focus, than everything and everyone around her. The cinematic tone in the town where Ruby rules would be different than everywhere outside of town or when Ruby is not in the scene.

Light would also play a large part, especially at night, when shadows have greater impact and the reservoir (a character in and of itself) would be inky black, like oil. It would lick at the shore, it would seem to reach up around the edges. Sometimes the reservoir would reflect the starlight with perfect clarity, so it looks like Chloe is swiming in the sky, sometimes it would reflect nothing at all.

People who come to see the movie should leave at the end feeling joyfully unsettled, as though they had just walked into amd experienced someone else’s dream.

[Cross posted to my livejournal.]

Book Stats & Favorite Books of 2011

Total Books Read – 92

Fiction – 60
General – 11
Classics – 8
SF/Fantasy/Horror* – 41
*Grouped together because it’s too much of a headache to mentally debate which book falls into which category.

Young Adult** – 20
**This number does not contribute to overall total as they also fall into the above categories.

Comics/Graphic Novels – 10
Nonfiction – 1
Literary – 2
SF/Fantasy – 7

Poetry – 9

Nonfiction – 13
Writing How-To/Literary & Art Criticism – 7
History/Biography – 3
Memoir – 2
Travel Guidebook – 1


My Favorite 10 Books of 2011
(not in any particular order)

1. Fated, by S.G. Browne
2. Happy All The Time, by Laurie Colwin
3. A Room with a View, by E.M. Forester
4. Locke & Key (series), written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez
5. Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki
6. Peeps, by Scott Westerfeild
7. Push of the Sky, by Camille Alexa
8. Ceremony for the Choking Ghost (poetry), by Karen Finneyfrock
9. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
10. Zombies vs Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
11. Shine, by Lauren Myracle
12. Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill (a reread and I still love it)
13. The Stepsister Scheme, by Jim C Hines
14. Boy Meets Boy (audio book), by David Levithan
15. The Door to Lost Pages, by Claude Lalumiere
16. Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest
17. A Book of Tongues, by Gemma Files
18. Blindness, by Jose Saramago
19. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
20. Sharp Teeth, a novel in poems by Toby Barlow

[Cross posted to my livejournal]

Books Read in Dec

1. Fast, Cheap, & Written That Way: Top Screenwriters on Writing for Low-Budget Movies, by John Gaspard
2. Siddhartha (audio book), by Hermann Hesse
3. Sharp Teeth, a novel in poems by Toby Barlow
4. Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist, by Brooke Kroeger
5. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
6. Screencraft: Screenwriting, edited by Declan McGrath
7. At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror, by H.P. Lovecraft
8. The Mermaid’s Madness, by Jim C. Hines
9. Sons and Lovers (audio book), D.H. Lawrence

Click here to read the reviews on my livejournal.

My Category Reading Challenge for 2012

For some reason, I didn’t post about my category reading challenge for 2011, huh (well, here it is on Librarything). I’m not done with it yet, and it doesn’t look like I will finish — I’m currently at 90 books, with 9 more to be read. I’ll post my reading stats at the end of the month once I have a full tally.

In the meantime, I’m planning to do the category reading challenge again this year (what can I say, it’s fun, and gets me reading what I might not read otherwise.), so here are my planned categories for 2012 (my Librarything thread is here). Some categories have more required reading than others, but the ultimate goal is to read 100 books.

1. Hello, I Love You (0/6)
I’ve read one book by an author and loved it. Now I want to read at least one more by the same author.

2. Oh, How I’ve Missed You (0/6)
Books by an authors I once loved, but haven’t read in a long time. OR, rereads of favorite books.

3. It’s a Smoldering World After All (0/7)
Apocalyptic and Post Apocalyptic books, as well as some dystopian novels.

4. Unicorns from Space! — Science Fiction (0/10)

5. Unicorns from Space! — Fantasy (0/10)

6. I Don’t Wanna Grow Up (0/9)
Books for children and young adults.

7. Bam! Pow! Wham! (0/9)
Graphic novels and comics.

8. Just the Facts, Ma’am (0/8)
Nonfiction.

9. The Universe in Verse (0/9)
Poetry.

10. From My Bookshelf (0/8)
I have a tendency to jump at the new and shiny in bookstores and the library, rather than reading the stacks already on my shelves. This is meant to rectify that.

11. From the Modern Library’s 100 Best Books (0/10)
There are actually about 200 books, since there is also the publicly voted list (with some overlaps). I’m working off the list from 2009, which is posted on my blog.

12. Miscellany (0/8)
The catch-all category for whatever doesn’t fit in the above.

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

MockingjayFirst, let me say that this was a fantastic and appropriate conclusion to the trilogy. Now, I’m going to go into more detail about my reasons — without getting into too many specifics — so if you don’t want to risk a spoiler, turn away.

The conclusion of the Hunger Games trilogy finds Katniss as a symbol (and perhaps puppet) of the revolutionary forces housed in District 13. All of the districts, to varying degrees, are at war with the Capital, and a large part of this book deals with the public relations aspects of war. Katniss is allowed out into the field only so that District 13 can record her actions for PR commercials leaked illegally into the districts to inspire them to keep fighting.

It an interesting point of view for a young adult book to take. So many present the main characters as “the one” that will save the day and they become the most important aspect in the war and are the key to ending it. Katniss is vital to the war and is important as a symbol. But the war is so much bigger than her, and in many way’s she’s powerless against the tide. The war would carry on and end one way or another without her.

Katniss is certainly a strong character throughout the series, even as her emotions and actions have been coopted by one cause or another. She stands up, she fights even if she’s sure that doing so will mean her own destruction, but another important part of her internal struggle (which occasionally is reflected in her external actions) is finding a space for herself, to feel, to live, to love, to be, that doesn’t belong to someone else. For example, at one point, Katniss overhears Peeta asks who Gale thinks she will choose, and Gale responds that she will choose whomever will most help her survive, implying that Katniss is cold, calculating in how she approaches relationships. She never openly addresses the accusation, but is angered by it, as she acknowledges that she has never been allowed the emotional space to consider how she really felt about either of them on her own terms because the games and the war for so long has decided for her. I think Katniss’ emotional journey is powerful, because she goes through such darkness, and yet finds her way out of despair to light and life and hope again.

I won’t go into details about the ending, except to say that it’s a war, people die and those who survive are left emotionally and physically scared. Some people, I have heard, were upset by the ending. I thought it was thoroughly appropriate, and I appreciated that Collins gave space and feeling to reconstruction, as well as recognizing the kind of sorrow and depression that can be felt while recovering from war.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in November

1. The Gaslight Dogs, by Karin Lowachee
2. My Life as a White Trash Zombie, by Diana Rowland
3. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
4. Shine, by Lauren Myracle
5. Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word, edited by Toni Morisson
6. Goliath, by Scott Westerfeld
7. How Long, poems by Ron Padgett
8. Kissing Kate, by Lauren Myracle

Read reviews on my livejournal.

Books Read in October

1. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
2. Sweetly, by Jackson Pearce
3. Push of the Sky, by Camille Alexa
4. A Room with a View (audio book), by E.M. Forster
5. By Grit and Grace: Eleven Women Who Shaped the American West, edited by Glenda Riley and Richard W. Etulain
6. Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez
7. Paper Covers Rock and Triplicity: Poems in Threes (poetry), by Chella Courington and Kristen McHenry
8. The Canterbury Tales (graphic novel), by Seymour Chwas
9. Deadline, by Mira Grant

Click to read the reviews on my livejournal.

Joy, oh joy!

Demon Hunt, by Naomi ClarkDemon Hunt , book two of the Urban Wolf series by Naomi Clark (I read and loved the first book, Silver Kiss, last year), has now been released! for joy!

From the back cover:
“Ayla Hammond is taking on Paris.

Hoping for a romantic getaway in the City of Lights with her girlfriend, Shannon, she finds a city under the dark thrall of Le Monstre.

Getting caught up in mystery and murder was the last thing Ayla and Shannon expected in the City of Love, but as the body count grows and tension rises between Parisian werewolves and humans they find themselves stalked by an unknown terror.

What is Le Monstre and why does it make Ayla’s wolf want to turn tail and run? Can it be stopped before they become its next victims?”

I was quite lucky to have been a beta-reader on this one, while it was still in the draft stage and as such, I’m quite fond of it. (In the name of full disclosure, I should point out that I have been internet buddies with Naomi ([info]naomi_jay) for a while now. However, I am not the sort to joyfully rave about something unless I actually enjoy it.) I have no idea what edits Naomi made since then, but I have no doubt it only got better from there.

Reasons to read this book:
1. Ayla is rather awesome. She’s strong, independent, conflicted, and easy to care about. She’s a whole person, who has been beat up and bashed in, and yet, manages to hold it together without sacrificing the people she loves and who love her.

2. Ayla and Shannon’s relationship is of the healthy kind that happens between two (mostly) mature adults. As much as I enjoy books about two people falling in love for the first time, I love books about the messy aspects of being in a relationship and the kind of compromise, compassion, and forgiveness it takes to hold it all together. Naomi does this

3. Le Monstre is as threatening and frightening as a proper monster should be. Naomi gives just the right amount description to draw you in, while leaving enough to the imagination to unsettle you. I love a good monster and this is one.

4. It’s set in Paris, and everyone loves Paris in the Springtime or the Fall. Well, at least I love the idea of Paris, even though I’ve never been there.

5. I could probably pull out the old “because I said so,” but instead I’ll end with this is a fun book to read, and if you like your urban fantasy with werewolves, you”ll most likely enjoy it.

Learn more about the book at Qeered Fiction.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in September

1. A Sentimental Journey and Other Writings, by Laurence Sterne
2. Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (poetry), by Adrienne Rich
3. Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
4. Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Pia Guerra
5. Fated, by S.G. Browne
6. The Stepsister Scheme, by Jim C Hines

Read my reviews on livejournal.

Moment of Change

A little while back, I submitted a poem to a feminist speculative poetry anthology. My poem was rejected. That’s quite all right, because while it would be awesome for my poem to have appeared in the anthology, I’m frankly just excited that such an anthology is coming out.

The anthology, called Moment of Change, is edited by [info]rose_lemberg, and will be published by Aqueduct Press. Lemberg has posted the table of contents, and it looks like there are some rather fabulous writers who will be appearing. How exciting!

I can’t wait until this hits the presses, so I can read it.  (^_^)

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in August

1. Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams
2. Blindness, by Jose Saramago
3. Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld
4. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
5. Boy Meets Boy (audio book), by David Levithan
6. 101 Best Scenes Ever Written: A Romp Through Literature for Writers and Readers, by Barnaby Conrad
7. The Door to Lost Pages, by Claude Lalumiere
8. You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, by John Scalzi
9. Castle in the Air (audio book), by Diana Wynne Jones
10. Ceremony for the Choking Ghost (poetry), by Karen Finneyfrock

Read the reviews on my livejournal.

Blindness, by Jose Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero)

A man stopped at a traffic light, waiting for the light to turn, suddenly goes blind, a white blindness, like you’re viewing the world in a fog so great it obliterates all the world from view. He stumbles out of the car, calling out, I can’t see, I can’t see. A man takes him home. His wife takes him to the eye doctor.

Shortly after coming into contact with him, all of these people go blind as well, following by all of the people they come into contact with. An epidemic of blindness spreads through the city. The government in an immediate and swift effort to quell the spread, take all the people who are blind and all the people who have come in contact with them an lock them into quarantine, a sanatorium without doctors or anyone to aid them.

In order to stay with her husband, the doctor’s wife claims that she is blind too, in order to join her husband in quarantine. She is certain that her time to be blind will come, but in the meantime, she is the only person with vision in a ward of the blind, the only true witness to the horrors that all the detainees experience.

The first thing you will notice about this book is that there are no names. In a world of the blind, Saramago asserts, identity is eliminated. The characters in this book are known only as the man, the doctor, the woman with dark glasses, the boy with a quint, etc. Unable to see each other and recognize each other, names have no meaning.

Likewise, and to assert this point, dialog is not separated out into separate paragraphs. Whole strings of conversation flow into one another within a single paragraph. To give you a sense of what I mean, here’s a string of dialogue:

“What does reading do, You can learn almost everything from reading, But I read too, So you must know something, Now I’m not so sure, You’ll have to read differently then, How, The same method doesn’t work for everyone, each person has to invent his or her own, whichever suits them best, some people spend their entire lives reading but never get beyond reading the words on the page, they don’t understand that the words are merely stepping stones placed across a fast-flowing river, and the reason they’re there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it’s the other side that matters, Unless, Unless what, Unless those rivers don’t have just two shores but many, unless each reader is his or her own shore, and that shore is the only shore worth reaching.”

What you get are dense blocks of text, paragraphs that occasionally go on for several pages. Surprisingly, this did not throw me. Saramago is a skillful writer, and I was soon able to pick up the pattern of his writing and make sense of where the dialog began and ended. I wasn’t confused and the reading was easy, despite the thick chunks of text. Descriptions, scenes, dialog, and musings tumble one into the next, just as in life one day’s emotional and physical events and toils tumble into each other. The story maintains clarity and carries you along as though you are merely on a boat at the mercy of the flow of the river.

Saramago’s writing is philosophical, pondering, and beautiful, even as he is describing the horrifying events that occur. He manages to bring out the humanity in his characters even as he asserts that this mass epidemic of blindness eliminates the humanity of the population, which suddenly unable to care for itself is starving and desperate to survive.

Blindness is a beautiful book, one I would love to read again some time as I’m sure I would take something new away from it the second time around.

As a side note, a movie was adapted from the book, staring Julianne Moore. The movie is a fair adaptation and a good movie, though clearly it lacks the philosophical depth of the book.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Books Read in July

1. Nightwatch, by Sergei Lukyanenko
2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin
3. Midnight’s Children (audio book), by Salman Rushdie
4. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
5. The Last Days, by Scott Westerfeld
6. Dream Work (poetry), by Mary Oliver
7. Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows (graphic novel, volume three of a series), written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez

Read reviews on my livejournal.

Books Read in June

1. Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill
2. I, Claudius (audio book), by Robert Graves
3. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynne Jones
4. An Artificial Night, by Seanan McGuire
5. Locke and Key: Head Games, written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez
6. Unbeknownst, Julie Hanson
7. Desert Places, by Robyn Davidson

Click here to read reviews on my livejournal.

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

I just finished reading Kafka on the Shore.

How do I even begin to describe this book? Let’s start with the bare facts. Kafka is a fifteen year old boy, who runs away from home, in part to escape the Oedipal curse his father lays upon him, and in part to find his mother and sister, who abandoned him as a child. Meanwhile, Nakata is an old man who, due to an accident when he was a child, is a bit slow mentally, but has the ability to talk to cats and has an internal wisdom that leads him to know exactly where he needs to be (if not the reasons why). The lives of these two characters are deeply connected, and yet not.

Things in Murakami’s world involve strange twistings and surreal happenstances. For instance, there’s the boy named Crow, who may be real and may not. A person may be a ghost while they are still alive. Things are unsettled in this book; nothing is certain. Just when you think something is what it is, it isn’t. It’s something more, or perhaps nothing of importance at all.

Reading, you don’t quite know how all this cacophony can possibly fit together and yet it does. It’s a logical disorder, full of metaphysical musings on the nature of the universe. It’s a very strange and beautiful book, or possibly a very strange and deeply unsettling book. But mostly it’s a book that you have to sit and think about for a while, because things are all tangled up after reading it — which is rather quite wonderful really.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Books Read in April

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Omnibus, by various authors
2. Horror Vacui: Poems, by Thomas Heise
3. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
4. The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories, by Susi Wyss
5. From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback, by Robyn Davidson, with photography by Rick Smolan
6. Life of Pi (audio book), by Yann Martel
7. 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson
8. Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, Vol. 1, written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez
9. Monster Island, by David Wellington

Click here to read the reviews on my livejournal.

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Looking for AlaskaJohn Green and his brother Hank make youtube videos, which is how I found them and learned that John wrote books and that they had created this wonderful, weird community of people called Nerdfighters, who battle against world suck. John and Hank are charming, lovable goofballs, and I honestly fell in love with them and their antics in the videos before I ever read a word of John Green’s writing.

Then I picked up Paper Towns, and I’m not sure what I expected. It was sweet and funny and full of real world mystery and adventure and fun, the kind you can only have when you’re sixteen and not fully tied down to all the things you should do yet. It’s a wonderful book.

So, of course, I had to read more of John Green’s work.

In Looking for Alaska, Miles, aka “Pudge,” decides to leave the ease and safety of his home and current high school to head off to a prestigious boarding school instead. Pudge is looking for what poet François Rabelais called “the Great Perhaps,” for adventure, for a life fully lived. At Culver Creek Boarding School life for Pudge is certainly less safe and far more chaotic, especially after he meets Alaska Young, who is sexy, smart, crazy, mysterious and definitely trouble. He makes other friends, too, but his center of focus pivots around Alaska, who drags him into the chaos of her world and he soon finds that after meeting Alaska, things will never be the same.

Don’t think that this is the perfect set up for a romance, however, for while love is certainly present, it’s mostly one sided, and things don’t work out to according to the neat fantasies the boy’s dream up. Life is too complex; it’s too messy.

I would like to point out here that Looking for Alaska has one of the greatest passages I’ve ever read. It’s widely quoted among Nerdighters, and I have to share it, too.

“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.”

Isn’t that gorgeous? It’s one of those quotes that will stick in my mind, that I will savor and remember the taste of, because it’s just that good. And really, the book is that good, too, with a character who’s all mixed up and a story that is funny and full of longing and loss and redemption. (You’ll notice that writing about John Green’s writing makes me want to use a lot of “and”s, because it’s so rich and multi-layered.) Looking for Alaska is a deeply moving book, and I loved it even more than I loved Paper Towns.

As a side note: Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns are very similar. Both have slightly geeky, awkward young men as their main characters, who fall hard for their beautiful schoolmate, almost to the point of obsession. Both women are highly opinionated, clever, mysterious, dangerous, sexy, and have a flair for the ultimate prank.Both stories center around the deep mystery of a person. But despite their similarities, both novels are unique, set in different worlds with a unique cast of interesting characters. Both are worth reading.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Books Read in March

1. Lola: A Ghost Story, by J. Torres
2. 20th Century Ghost, by Joe Hill
3. Tropic of Cancer (audio book), by Henry Miller
5. Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki
6. Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda
7. Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Click to read the reviews on my livejournal.

Bookstack of Awesome

I am very, very sad about the closing of the Borders in my local area. I loved being able to just wander down the street from the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company (or occasionally from Rosies, my favorite bar) and explore she shelves looking for something good to take home.

However, I also rather like sales, and the one benefit of the stores closing is that I’ve been able to stock up on a whole heap of books that I might have not been able to afford otherwise. Therefore I present to you the bookstack of awesome. I visited three Borders stores (all of which are cloasing) to be able to create this stack.

Bookstack of Awesome

From top to bottom:
1. At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft
2. Peeps, by Scott Westerfeld
3. The Last Days, by Scott Westerfeld (sequel to Peeps)
4. The Mermaid’s Madness, by Jim C. Hines
5. Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, whatever the latest edition is
6. Nightwatch, by Sergei Lukanenko (I love the movie and didn’t even know there was a book until I saw it in the store.)
7. Fated, by S.G. Browne
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
9. Zombies v.s. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
10. The Search for Wondla, by Tony DiTerilizzi
11. Cold Magic, by Kate Elliot
12. Demon Hunts (book 5 of the Walker Papers), by C.E. Murphy
13. God’s War, by Kameron Hurley (Love the cover of this one.)
14. Sandman: Brief Lives, by Stephen King (my favorite storyline of the Sandman series of graphic novels)
15. Preacher: Until the End of the World, by Garth Enis (writer) and Steve Dillon (artist)
16. Monster Island, by David Wellington
17. Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined you can comment either here or there.]

An assortment of bookish things. . .

Newly Released
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente () is now available. The cover is gorgeous, very reminiscent of woodcut drawings, and the story — a modern retelling of the Slavic folktale, “Koschei the Deathless” — looks rather kick ass, too, as you can in this exceptionally done book trailer.

Valente also has a list of ways that people can help her promote her book on her blog, all of which is great advice for helping out any of your favorite authors when they release a new book.

Coming Soon
Naomi Clark () is currently finishing up edits and formatting for her book Wild, which will be released on the kindle. This book has been in the making for five years, and she’s venturing back through her blog as a restrospective look at some of her challenges and thought processes along the way. (Now that she’s releasing books on kindle, I’m considering finally getting one. E-readers never held an appeal before, but now I must partake in the awesome that is Naomie’s writing.)

Also, the official flap copy and cover of Ganymede by Cherie Priest () has been released. Eeee! It looks great. I do love this steampunk series and I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

Speaking of Steampunk… a quick review:
Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded is a rather good collection of steampunk tales. It has it’s ups and downs, but overall the stories are enjoyable. Along with the stories, there are a couple of interesting non-fiction pieces and a round-table interview about the future of steampunk.

Here are a few of the stories that I especially enjoyed:

  • In “The Unblinking Eye” by Stephen Baxter, Europe has advanced steam technology, but has never ventured toward the new world. Rather it is the Incas, who have developed their own advanced technology, and have ventured into lands unknown, colonizing each new territory they come across. come to pay Europe a visit.
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan tells the story of a maimed young woman, who has been outfitted with steam-powered limbs in “The Steam Dancer.”
  • “The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar” by Shweta Narayan, presents a new take on a traditional folktale, involving the beautiful clockwork birds of the Emperor’s aviary.
  • “Wild Copper” by Samantha Henderson can barely be labeled steampunk genre. It’s more of a fairy story, in which a girl offers to serve Oberon to save her brother. Steampunk or not, this is still a great tale.
  • An lonely orphan builds himself a mechanical friend in “Tanglefoot (A Clockwork Century Story)” by Cherie Priest. But his souless begins to take on a life of its own.
  • “The Anachronist’s Cookbook” by Cherie Priest Catherynne M. Valente (listing the wrong author goes down as the worst typo ever; so, so sorry) rails against the accepted politics of a steampowered era as it presents the exploits of an angry and vicious young woman.

While there were a couple of stories that I was not a fan of (i.e., “A Secret History of Steampunk” by The Mecha-Ostrich and “Flying Fish Prometheus” by Vilhelm Bergsøe), overall I enjoyed this collection of steampunk fiction and art. In fact, I would say it’s better than the first installment of this anthology series.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon: Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda

Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon: Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda, Translated by Stephen MitchellI bought this collection of Pablo Neruda’s poetry (translated by Stephen Mitchell) in 2001 and its taken me until now, ten years later, to finish it. This extremely slow pace should not be mistaken for dislike of the book, however. I had not read Neruda’s work before I boughtFull Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon. Traveling Mexico, I was looking for a book in Spanish and English that I could read, enjoy, and practice my Spanish with and I remembered that my Spanish teacher had mentioned this poet’s name in class at one point.

I began reading the book by first reading the poem in Spanish, then in English, then in Spanish again, to begin to get a sense of the poetic phrasing and how the language was translated.

As I began reading, however, I fell in love with each new ode and the way Neruda was clearly in love with life, the universe, and everything. He wrote odes to socks, to birds, to onions, to anything and everything this world has to offer. All of these ordinary things, which he layered with sensual and resonant language, suddenly had new mystical properties. I could not look at the armored artichoke the same way again as I dropped it into a pot to boil.

One would think I would have powered through the book to read every single poem, but the truth was I could not leave my favorite poems behind. This was a book I always had at hand, on a night stand or in my stack of TBR books. No matter what other books I was reading, I always eventually came back to these poems, returning to them like old lovers. I reread my favorites again and again, while every once in a while progressing forward to the another poem, a new favorite to be added to the list.

Now that I’ve finally finished the book, beginning to end, I will still be keeping it close. There is so much beautiful language to revisit and rediscover. This is a book that will probably always be by my side. I love it so.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Machine of Death

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki

The concept (or gimmick, if you prefer) for this anthology of stories came from an episode of Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics. In a nutshell, each of these stories is set in a world in which a machine has been invented that tells you how you will die. To quote from the back cover: “The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn’t give you the date and it didn’t give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words DROWNED or CANCER or OLD AGE or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN. It let people know how they were going to die.

The problem with the machine is that nobody really knew how it worked, which wouldn’t actually have been that much of a problem if the machine worked as well as we wished it would. But the machine was frustratingly vague in its predictions: dark, and seemingly delighting in the ambiguities of language. OLD AGE, it had already turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machine captured that old-world sense of irony in death — you can know how it’s going to happen, but you’ll still be surprised when it does.”

Reading the premise, I would be easy to suspect redundancy in the stories, as with any gimmick. However, each of these authors pushes the boundaries of storytelling, using the concept of the machine to present a variety of possibilities and some very human reactions. The morbid is a natural part of each tale, but it stands as a back drop for exploration of human spirit and potential. These tales are touching, sad, experimental, thrilling, exciting. They are full of love, hope, loss, despair, joy, and humor.

It’s hard to pick out a favorite, because there are so many great stories to read, but here are a few, I especially enjoyed (the titles are all death predictions the machine might put out):

  • “Suicide” presents the story of a man bent on proving the death machine wrong, no matter what it takes.In “Aneurysm,” the machine is used as a rather unusual party game, with unusual and comical results.
  • “Loss of Blood” presents a frightening dystopian future, in which the world is divided along new class lines — the “good” deaths and the “bad” deaths.
  • Following several years of loss and sorrow, a couple seeks out the death machine’s prediction as a beacon of hope in “Miscarriage.”
  • In “Cassandra,” a young woman uses her knowledge of quantum mechanics to try to find a way out of the death machine’s prediction of a terrible disaster.

Many, many more could be mentioned, of course, the entire book in fact. There was not one story that I disliked outright, making this the one of the best anthologies that I’ve ever read. Not only was each story great in it’s own way, but many were also carried with powerful, poetic writing, not to mention the bonus of having each story include an illustration, provided by some great artists. (I’m even more jealous and regretful that I did not write and send in a story when submissions for this market was open.) Definitely worth having on your bookshelf.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Creating Poetry, by John Drury

I picked up this book because someone in an Amazon review called Creating Poetry a “muse disguised as paper”. It may not go that far, but it’s close. This book is full of writing prompts, each focused on the chapter’s subject, from Beginnings to Tone, Form, Research, Sound, Inspiration and more. There is plenty here for a poet to use and learn from, especially if they flip around from section to section, picking out prompts on an area of their writing they want to focus on. (I don’t think the best use is to read it from cover to cover as I did).

Occasionally, I thought the prompts for a particular subject were to specific, however, Drury encourages you to use this book as a jumping off point. It’s not necessary to follow the prompts to the letter, if the poem goes off in another direction.

Also, here is on of my responses to one of the prompts in the book. I followed a prompt focused on ghazal’s a form of poetry traditionally from the Middle East, which arranges the poem in a series of 5-10 couplets, rhymed on the same sound throughout and using the subject of love or wine to represent mystical experience. The prompt I used asked that the reader write a ghazal of my own. You’ll note that I dropped the rhyme, like many American poets do.

An Untitled Ghazal

The water in the vase is stagnant; the stems slimy.
A halo of petals on the table are emptied of fragrance.

We are always new, he says, always in the state of becoming new,
each dead cell replaced with its replicated offspring.

The leaves are dancing like translucent tissue paper.
The mottled light is bounding along the grass.

The days are an amalgamation of eyes blinking, hair growing,
lips parting, fingers thrumming over the flesh of the world.

He says, its not that time moves too quickly.
It’s that it moves too quickly.

The stars glimmer like fireflies trapped in tar.
The stars are a map of the freckles on your skin.

He says, silly rabbit, you have to have lived
what you lived in order to know what you know.

The Gerber Daisy leans against the glass.
A sun resides at the heart of its petals.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Review – A Book of Tongues, by Gemma Files

I’m not quite sure how to summarize A Book of Tongues, so I’m going to take the lazy route and quote from the back cover:

“Two years after the Civil War, Pinkerton agent Ed Morrow has gone undercover with one of the weird West’s most dangerous outlaw gangs-the troop led by Reverend Asher Rook, ex-Confederate chaplain turned hexslinger and his notorious lieutenant (and lover) Chess Pargeter. Morrow’s task: get close enough to map the extent of Rook’s power, then bring that knowledge back to help Professor Joachim Asbury unlock the secrets of magic itself.

Because magicians, despite their awesome powers, have never been more than a footnote in history: cursed by their own gift to flower in pain and misery, then feed vampirically on each other-never able to join forces, feared and hated by all. But Rook, driven by desperation, has a mind to shatter the natural law that prevents hexes from cooperation, and change the face of the world-a plan sealed by unholy marriage-oath with the Mayan-Aztec goddess Ixchel, mother of all hanged men, who has chosen Rook to raise her bloodthirsty pantheon from its collective grave through sacrifice, destruction, and apotheosis.

Caught between a passle of dead gods and monsters, hexes galore, Rook’s witchery, and the ruthless calculations of his own masters, Morrow’s only real hope of survival lies with the man without whom Rook cannot succeed: Chess Pargeter himself. But Morrow and Chess will have to literally ride through Hell before the truth of Chess’s fate comes clear-the doom written for him, and the entire world,”

A Book of Tongues is a wonderfully brutal read, all the more so, because Gemma Files manages to finagle sympathy for what could otherwise be a rather unsympathetic group of characters. Many of these characters are not what you would call nice. Chess is an unapologetic murderer; Rook is desperate and ruthless; and even Morrow is a liar.

Files’ merciless prose reaches out and reveals what they’re made of as each of these rough-shod gentlemen is trapped, bound like a fly into the webbing of the story. They’re lives quickly become interwoven, and eventually they learn that they’ll need each other to find their way out.

At first Chess’ character is the hardest to sympathize with, as he is the most openly violent and cruel. And because you see him through the lens of first Morrow and then Rook, it’s hard to get a read on him other than his love of absinthe and bloodshed and his desire for Rook. But by the end of the book, as more and more of Chess and how he’s put together is slowly revealed, it was Chess that I came to love the most. I feel deep rooted sympathy for him and what has befallen him in his life. He has had the hardest road, and in the face of it has stood up and laughed in its face. More than any other of the characters I want him to succeed; I want him to win.

A Book of Tongues is very graphic, not only in blood and gore (of which there is plenty), but also in sexual situations. Sometimes the events were so vivid in my mind that I didn’t quite know what to do with them, and I had to lower the book for a moment and take a breath before continuing.

This is the kind of horror that leaves you shaken (in more ways than one), with your head spinning, and not quite sure where you stand. While actually reading the book, I don’t know I could actually say that I liked it — the experience was a little to visceral for that — but that now I’m done reading I desperately want to read more. Thankfully, A Book of Tongues is book one of a trilogy, and the sequel, A Rope of Thorns comes out this June.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Midnight Writer

2011Last night I started read Machine of Death (MoD), an anthology of stories centered around the premise of a machine that lets people know how they are going to die, but is annoyingly vague about it. So far, so good. The first couple of stories have been fantastic, but that’s not the point of this story.

The point of the story is: I’ve known about this book for quite a long time. When the editors first started asking for submissions, I became thrilled at the idea of this book and knew I wanted to submit something to it. So, I came up with a couple of story ideas, started writing, got bogged down and lost in the writing, and never submitted anything.

While I started reading the stories in the finished book (while feeling a little jealous about it’s shiny and clever cover, as well as the awesome illustrations at the front of each one), I kept thinking about the stories I didn’t finish. Once upon a time, in one of MoD’s emails or blogs, I remember reading that if this book sells well, then they will consider making a second book on the same premise.

Suddenly, a story that I’ve had in the back of my mind jumped up and kicked me in the frontal lobe, announcing that it would work just wonderfully as a MoD story.

But that’s silly, I told the story, why would I work on writing a story for a market that’s not even open. Instead I should be working on things that I can actually submit and share when I’m done with them.

My protests did not, however, stop the story from jabbering in my ear and making a general nuisance of itself, insisting at grabbing my attention at every turn to the point that I finally had to give up on reading for the night and go to bed. At which point the story continued to lay itself out in a provocative display before me, dazzling me and enticing me with plot, dialog, and clever descriptions.

There is no winning against such an onslaught. So I dragged myself out of bed, scrambled around for the nearest legal pad and pen, and began my bleary eyed scribbling — bleary eyed not only due to exhaustion, but also because I’m half blind without my contacts in.

In the end, I had several pages filled with practically illegible writing, consisting of a nearly finished scene and some outline notes for the rest of it. I’m sure I’ll have a fun time deciphering the mess later.

But all I cared about was that the beast was appeased, and I was allowed to sleep.

ETA: I think I may know a way to make this story work without the MoD element to it, which would make it viable for other markets. Hrmm….

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]

Opening Lines: The start of something wonderful

I always loved Stephen King’s opening line for The Gunslinger, book one of the Dark Tower series:

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

This is an excellent example of a great opening line. It’s not as poetic or witty as some famous opening lines, but it serves its purpose well, by immediately hooking readers (well, this reader at least) into the story. It gives and immediate (albeit brief) introduction to the setting and two main characters of this storyline, while setting up questions that make you want to know more, which also letting you know what the main tension of the story will be — the act of pursuit. Immediately you want to know: Who is the man in black? Who is the gunslinger? And why is he following the man in black?

This initial hook and interest was followed by a storyline that absorbed me completely. I loved The Gunslinger when I read it (even though my interest in the series dwindled as the wait from book to book accrued and the ongoing storyline became more convoluted), and that opening line was the first time I thought to myself, damn, that’s a great opening line.

Perhaps, this book was where my interest in opening lines first began, or perhaps it was always there, and this was what made me aware of it. Either way, I know that every time I read the back of a book, I flip open to the first page to see if the opening line catches at me. Opening lines appeal to me for many reasons, for example:

  1. Introduce characters in an interesting way, like The Gunslinger line. Another example — “I am an invisible man.” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  2. Present an important or central conflict of the story, again like The Gunslinger. Another example — “Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.” – Franz Kafka, The Trial
  3. Set the tone or mood of the book, especially if the narrator has a sense of humor — “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Opening lines can also feature the setting or introduce the theme, among other things. However, I find that the most memorable opening lines, the ones that catch my attention and draw me into the story, tend to include one or more of the three things I listed above — characters, central tension, or a feel for the mood.

Planning my opening line of a story or book is not the first thing I think of when I start writing. I begin with the overall arc of the plot, the character’s wants and challenges, and how to get it all across at the right pace, because while opening lines are important, they don’t mean much if they’re not followed up by a great story.

But once I’m in the rewriting stage, I do try to think about what I want to get across in that first line and how I might try to hook the the reader and draw them in with a (hopefully) great opening line.

What are some of your favorite opening lines, and what do you love about them?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Books Read in January

1. Happy All the Time, by Laurie Colwin
2. Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest
3. Tithe, by Holly Black
4. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
5. As I Lay Dying (audio book), by William Faulkner
6. Don’t Hex with Texas (Katie Chandler, Book 4), by Shanna Swendson
7. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis Christos H. Papadimitriou; illustrated by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna

Click to read my reviews on livejournal (also has a list of movies watched).

Book Review – Logicomix: An Epic Search for the Truth


Written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou
Illustrated by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna

Bertrand Russell, British logician and philosopher spent his life in pursuit for truth and for a clear, logical system for understanding that truth. He began with the study of mathematics (until one of his own discoveries undermined the foundations of truth upon with math stood) and later integrating philosophical logic.

The graphic novel is interesting in the ways that it is layered — a story within a story within a story. It opens with the author of the graphic novel talking directly to the reader and explaining that this is a graphic novel about Bertrand Russell and going into the process of making the book. Then it shifts into the story itself with Russell meeting up with a group of antiwar protesters while on his way to giving a lecture on logic. The protesters call for him to join them, because he once protested against WWI when he was younger. Instead, he invites them to listen to his lecture, wherein he begins to tell his life story and how he began his life-long pursuit of truth. The graphic novel shifts back and forth through these layers of storytelling (and even eventually uncovers a fourth and arguably a fifth layer).

At first I was put off by the self-referential aspect of Logicomix. I didn’t like that the author and the artists interacted with the reader. However, I soon came to realize that including this multi-layer aspect to the graphic novel, not only allowed the authors to creatively explain certain aspects of logical theory that get lost in the storyline, but the layering actually begins to embody some of the logical theories being discussed.

The graphic novel in a sense contains itself, or at least the discussion of itself, which seems to touch upon “Russell’s Paradox”, a theory discussed in the book, and which I’m sure that I can’t rightly explain on my own. Honestly, thinking about it makes my head hurt, but it goes something like, if it contains itself, then it doesn’t; if it doesn’t, it does. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t ask me, because I can’t wrap my mind around it either.

Fortunately, Logicomix doesn’t dwell too much on the complexities of logic theory, but rather focuses on the people who developed them, what motivated them, and the conflict between thinking theory and trying to live it.

At the end of the graphic novel, the authors admit to bending some of the factual history to make for better storytelling and follow that up with a glossary of sorts that presented a slightly more in depth and factual look at the various logic theories and logicians that the readers encounter in the book.

Logicomix turned out to be a supremely fascinating book with gorgeous art and a passion for intellectual discovery. Definitely worth a read.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Book Review: Don't Hex With Texas, by Shanna Swendson

Katie Chandler has left New York and returned to her family in Texas, said to be devoid of all things magical. However, when strange things start happening in her home town, Katie starts to suspect the forces of evil are up to something. This is the fourth book in the Enchanted Inc. series, and I hope it won’t be the last.

One of the great things about this series is the relationship between Katie and Owen. There’s a continued tension of will it/won’t it that stems directly from the characters themselves, rather than some artificial outside influence or being dependent on any overly orchestrated love triangle. There’s a sweetness to their friendship and a genuine affection that is built on more than lust or sex appeal.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this fun chick-lit series, unfortunately, sales on the third and fourth book were not high enough for the publishers to pursue publishing the next books in the series. Very disappointing, because I would love to see more of this storyline and see what happens as Katie and Owen’s relationship begins to grow, not to mention all the rest of the assortment of lovable and bizarre characters throughout this world.

Here’s my plea, if you like fantasy and/or chick lit, please check out Enchanted, Inc. the first book in this series, in which Katie first stumbles upon the magical world. If you enjoy it, then buy more books in the series, especially the third and fourth books and spread the word to others. Hopefully if the sales improve, the fifth and sixth books will be able to be released. This would thoroughly please me. (^_^)

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

A Writer's Dream Life

I enjoy playing with what I suppose should be considered my own internal fan fiction. Typically this involves taking a character of my own invention and trying to fit them into the world of Buffy or Stargate SG-1 or Fringe, or whatever I’m currently obsessed with at the time. I never write any of these inventions down. Rather it’s a sort of mental puzzle that I enjoy trying to work through, because I often can’t incorporate the my character into the world without corrupting the structure of the world building or messing with the chronology of events. It think it’s a typical writer thing, and can be a good way to toy and practice with plot structures.

Last night, I finished reading Tithe*, by Holly Black, and then tuned into the premeire episode of Being Human** (because I happened to be actually at home when it came on) — both of which I enjoyed.

I noted this to myself before, and it became clear once again last night, that I have to careful what fantasy story lines I read and/or watch before going to bed because it will often invade my dreams. Last night, my brain decided to play my fan-fic puzzle game with me while I was trying to sleep. It kept trying to incorporate the faery realms into the world of Being Human and kept trying to see what the characters, especially the werewolf would do in the face of this faery threat. (A short version is that the faery queen wanted to make the werewolf her pet, so that she could use him as a guard and a weapon against anyone who would threaten her. Yeah.)

My brain kept wanting to puzzle this story line out through some very odd dreams, which meant that my sleep was restless. I kept tossing and turning and wanting to fall into a deep sleep, but also a part of me didn’t want to loose the thread of this storyline that my mind was inventing, because I kind of liked where it was going, too.

I woke up very tired this morning.

*sigh* Sometimes, I wish I could turn my writing brain off.


*Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale follows the story of Kaye, a girl who follows her nomadic mother quest for fame through dive bars in Philadelphia. Kaye is grateful when their nomadic lifestyle comes to an end, however, and they are forced to return to her grandmother’s house, offering her the opportunity to reconnect with fairy friends both human and faery. It isn’t before long, however, before she finds herself entangled in a political and dangerous intrigue between the faery courts. The faeries in this book are tricksy and deadly throughout, just as they ought to be. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read with enough adventure and well-wrought surprises to keep me excited. I’m definitely looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy.

**Being Human, apparently based off of a British version, is about a vampire and a werewolf, who are tried of feeling and behaving like monsters. So they decide to become roommates in order to look out for one another and keep each other out of trouble. It’s not the most original story around, but it has enough story and character going for it that I’ll stick around watching it for at least a few more episodes. Besides I love Sam Huntington (from Detroit Rock City), who plays the werewolf. He’s that geeky, awkward cute that I just love.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]