20 April 2014

Currently | Happy Easter!

Time and Place // 8:16am on Easter Sunday!

Eating and Drinking // Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee with Hazelnut creamer. Delicious. Later I will be scarfing down a brunch with the family in celebration of Easter!

Reading // Last night I started The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater because I adored two other books by her. I very rarely read by author, and I don't have authors I obsessively follow. I think this is because I always have so many books waiting to be read - on the shelves - that dedicating myself to any one author would be monetarily irresponsible. This time, I had a Stiefvater waiting on the nook, so I could indulge without guilt. As to the book, so far, so good. I am not very far in, so I don't have too much to say yet.

Watching // Thanks to Ana at things mean a lot - and a sickness that had me on the couch for a full day - I am watching Veronica Mars.

Here are the posts which persuaded me that this was the series I should watch while couch-ridden: Book Smugglers (Ana), Sarah Rees Brennan, and about four posts on things mean a lot where Ana kept reminding me (well, not specifically me, but you know, I was reading her blog and yet another post mentioned the show, and it totally felt like she was reminding me) to watch the show. And Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness also promoted the show when she talked about going to the movie, then there's Steph at Steph Su Reads, and I'm pretty sure other bloggers I admire have also mentioned it.

And of course, you were all right, and now I have to remind myself that spending time with Madison is more important than watching the next episode. Bad mommy.

Blogging // This past week was dedicated to The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater which I completely fell in love with, so I have reviews of books 1 and 2 up on the blog. They are awesome and you should read them.

Contemplating // On Facebook, Amy McKie from Amy Reads shared an article that has had my brain working all week. "Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing" stresses that agents/editors/publishers must use their positions of power to foster, develop, and promote literature which not only features but stars diversity. The idea that has been stuck in my brain:

Publishing companies claim that books about characters of color aren't taken on because the books published follow the market, and books about non-white people don't sell because the "reading public" can't relate to those characters, suggesting that only white people read - or at least stressing that the majority of readers are white. I would be interested to know the numbers on this; although I am too lazy to do any serious research. I do see how, publishing companies, who are in the business of making money, have to cater to the majority; however, I also believe that these companies can get the larger public reading anything they want. As the article states: "By blaming an intangible force, the publishing industry absolves itself of any responsibility, when in fact it is very much in the business of manipulating." If the marketing department was told to sell a book, it more than likely could, regardless of the ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. of the characters. So get on it publishing companies.

Anticipating // After our Easter brunch, the family is heading to the matriarch's house, aka my grandma's, to watch little Miss Madison, the only person under 30 in the nearby family, find Easter eggs. There will be too many eggs, too much candy, and too much spoiling. Isn't she lucky? :)

So how are you doing this fine Easter morning?

19 April 2014

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater has completely solidified my love of this author. So maybe two books shouldn't be enough to do so, but this one and the first in the series, The Raven Boys, are so well written, exciting, and mystical that I am ready to believe Stiefvater can do no wrong.

My relationship with the second book in a series is typically quite strained. I fall so hard for the first, the newness of it all, and then the second is either a repeat of the first or simply a bridge to the third. Not so with this series. I actually enjoyed The Dream Thieves even more than The Raven Boys (which is saying something). The Raven Boys set the stage, introduced the characters, established their relationships and personalities, and played around the edges of a mystical, magical world. The Dream Thieves slams us into that world.

I am not sure if it was Stiefvater's intent but I feel a "form mirroring content" moment here. The focus in The Raven Boys is on Gansey, the academic, thoughtful one, and Blue, the mystical but also thoughtful one, and the story follows suit. In The Dream Thieves, Ronan with his tendency toward action and Adam with his desire for action are fore-fronted and those tendencies are certainly mirrored in this story.

Just like with the first, I find it very difficult to truly summarize the plot. I wish I could say that it is because I want you to experience it for yourself - I do, but that's not the only reason I'm having trouble with it. I think the story is so neatly woven that to reveal one thread requires an explanation of another thread and another and another and so on. By the time I summarized, you would know much too much.

Once again, I urge you to pick up these books; although I must say that the wait for the third book may drive me to drink.

16 April 2014

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The first in the Raven Cycle, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater is wonderfully mystical, artfully written, and full of unique characters.

In The Raven Boys, Blue Sargent unexpectedly befriends four boys who are on a quest to find a long-dead (sleeping?) Welsh king. Oddly enough their mystical quest is not what makes their friendship unexpected; that part is par for the course for the daughter of a psychic. What's strange is that these four boys are students at Aglionby Academy, an expensive boarding school at complete odds with the other residents of Henrietta like Blue.

I can honestly say that the above description does not in any way do this story justice, but I struggled with what to say. Most would probably argue that this book is about four friends foray into the mystical, and that certainly is the primary plot, but while writing the summary, I kept thinking about how much of this story focuses on the relationships between characters. Whether driven by love, class, beliefs, superstitions, or stereotypes, the interactions between Blue, Adam, Noah, Ronan, and Gansey are really at the heart of the novel for me. For a much, much better explanation of the plot, visit Jill over at Rhapsody in Books.

But back to the mystical. The supernatural elements are so artfully woven into the more mundane that the world Stiefvater has created seems perfectly plausible. While the otherworldly bits are spectacular, they aren't spectacle (if that makes sense). They are integrated into the story without the pomp and circumstance and bloody violence so typical of other popular stories. Everything in this world seems subtly dangerous, a world brimming with intent whether for good, evil, or more likely that undefined absence of good and evil.

And the writing, oh the writing. Ana from things mean a lot said it best when she described "the prose [as] incredibly accomplished in a subtle sort of way — it doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, but it makes you completely unable to see the strings behind the puppets, if you know what I mean." Throughout the novel, I found myself continuously thinking about how unassuming the writing was while simultaneously being some of the best writing in YAL I've read in quite awhile.

A big thanks to Ana and Jill for turning me on to this series! I'm halfway through the second, The Dream Thieves, and I am thrilled to say that it is in no way suffering from secondbookiotis, a horrid disease where book 2 is merely a bridge between books 1 and 3. The final book in the series is much too far away for my peace of mind.

13 April 2014

Me Right Now

Time and Place // 7:49pm chilling on my couch with Miss Madison sitting next to me watching YouTube videos on my phone

Eating and Drinking // Just indulged with a quesadilla dinner at Brickstone and some Oberweis ice cream for dessert. Madison had her first experience with brain freeze; she looked at me, said "so cold", and then her little face scrunched up and she cried for like 15 seconds. Not going to lie, I thought it was hilarious.

Reading // I'm in the middle of the second book in Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle series. Wonderfully mystical, artfully written, and full of unique character, this series is rocking my world. If you have not started this series, you definitely should.

Listening // Timber by Pitbull, featuring Kesha. This is Madison's favorite song right now. I am a wee bit horrified. Then again, it's got a good beat and you can dance to it. Just praying she never learns the lyrics. #badmommoment

Blogging // I had to take a temporary hiatus recently as my blog homepage disappeared for a few days, and for the life of me, I could not figure out what had happened. I played around with the template and the layout thinking that would fix the problem. It didn't. Then BA-BAM, suddenly it was back. Who knows...

Hating // The Whine. Madison has developed an absolutely horrid whine which she is using all too often and for very little reason. I swear she whines just because she can.

Wanting // An end to the shopping list. It's like I have never bought everything I need at any one point in time. Insane.

Anticipating // My birthday! A little over one week away!

Contemplating // My age. Did I mention my birthday is coming up?

So what is everyone else up to?

08 April 2014

Classics Club: The Dirtiest is the Best

Every month The Classics Club posts a question for participants. Here’s the question this month:
Contemplate your favorite classic to date. When was this book written? Why would you say it has been preserved by the ages? Do you think it will still be respected/treasured 100 years from now? If it had been written in our own era, would it be as well received? // Or — ask the same question of a classic you disliked. What didn’t you like about the book, and why do you think history’s readers helped it to be remembered and valued into 2014?

The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis popped into my head immediately when I read the question. Written in ten weeks in 1796 by a not-yet 20 year old, The Monk may be evidence that Lewis was FREAKING INSANE. Ten weeks? He wrote this is ten weeks when he was 19??? That's freaking nuts.

Lewis made quite the splash with this novel as it was dirty, dirty, dirty. The notoriety of the novel transferred to Lewis who was known as "Monk" Lewis, the poor man. Lewis was complained of as "a reckless defiler of the public mind" and a man who "devoted the first fruits of his mind to the propagation of evil". He was also called a genius.

Sexually explicit and quite blasphemous, The Monk was a favorite read of the infamous Marquis de Sade. Of course, the general public was quite the fan as well; "They had been told that the book was horrible, blasphemous, and lewd, and they rushed to put their morality to the test". Who wouldn't?

Abounding with monks, nuns, secret passageways, cold corridors, men who are really women, nasty weather, soul-selling witches, prurient interests, superstition, and the occasional dead body, I just adored this one. Far from a balanced examination of good and evil, this gothic tale is evil and then some more evil, oh and a bit more evil, a teeny smidgeon of good, and BA-BAM, more evil.  

The Monk is deliciously scandalous, and I think this sensationalism and shock value are, in part, the reasons it survived the years. Also, the plot is rather complex, in that intellectually challenging but overall satisfying kind of way; although it must be admitted that the narrative's complexity may be better described as absurdity, but in a super-fun, loving-it kind of way (he wrote it in ten weeks remember). I certainly hope the novel is treasured 100 years from now.

As for the last question, my brain is screaming that no, the book would not be well received if written now. First and foremost, its treatment of women is deplorable. Any woman in the novel who attempts to follow her dreams is sensationally, and violently, denied her success. Unless written with an obvious intent to highlight the horror of this misogyny, a book written today, I like to think, would be harshly criticized.*

Another indicator that this book would not work if written today is the heavy focus on "the Church". Much of this story is a criticism of religion, and while religion is certainly under scrutiny today, our religious practices have so drastically changed as to make these censures not quite apropos. Our ideologic construct of monks and nuns and the such not is practically nil, so stories centered on these characters are a bit difficult to relate to - at least in the same way readers back in the 18th century would have related to them.

Ultimately though, this is a fantastic read, a guilty pleasure of the classics, that I highly recommend.
*Of course, I believe we should criticize the novel - and harshly - for this misogyny despite the time period it was written; however, while I would generally dismiss with disgust a contemporary novel written with such a poor view of women, I quite strongly believe that works must be judged according to era-specific ideology, and as such I make allowances.

04 April 2014

Feed by M.T. Anderson

I can't remember where I first heard about M.T. Anderson's Feed; it was quite a while ago, it was on a blog, and the review was positive and intrigued me enough to add it to the wishlist. Now if I was a nicely organized blogger, I would have added the link or at least the blog name where I read about this one, but alas, I am not that on top of things - or at least I wasn't at the point in time.

The plot of this novel revolves around consumerism - specifically media manipulated culture creation. Every person in America has their brain wired in to the "feed." They are constantly bombarded with advertising specific to their preferences; they can chat each other mentally; pretty much everything we can do on a computer they can do in their heads.

On a party trip to the moon, the protagonist, Titus, meets a girl who will change his life, Violet, a latecomer to the wired-in world who can't fully commit to the experience. Titus and Violet, along with other friends of Titus's, are hacked and left, brains empty, for days before the feed can be fixed. Once rewired, Titus and Violet begin a romance continuously marred by Violet's resistance to the feed, its pervasive selling and its control over humanity.

Clearly allegorical of the world we live in, Feed does a decent job of calling attention to the weakness of humanity in the face of media manipulation, and our ability to ignore clear and present dangers due to media distraction and deception. In other words, thematically the book rocks. And I really enjoyed the way Anderson used language to reveal large scale personality shifts and intellectual loss to the American people. The diction, vocabulary, syntax, sentence structure, etc. are made obviously simplistic to mimic the loss of intelligence. Characters speak in questions rather than declarative statements to suggest the loss of confidence in thought. It was quite nicely done.

In the end though, the book could just not quite grab me, and I ended up feeling rather indifferent to the story. Not enough happens, no character really changes, and the ending was remarkably flat for me. So, while artfully constructed and thematically significant, Feed ended up being just okay for me due to a lack of interest in the plot and relation to the characters.

02 April 2014

Fardorougha and I

So I was supposed to have Fardorougha the Miser by William Carlton read and reviewed by today for The Classics Club, but, alas, I have miserably failed in this endeavor. I am, embarrassingly, only on page 37 of 228. Yep, that's really, really shame worthy.

What I have read, I have enjoyed. The language is beautiful, the characters unique, and the possibilities intriguing. Unfortunately, my lazy brain is sucking down large doses of easy reading in the small moments of time I have to read instead of savoring a few bites of this more difficult read.

A bit of background: I first read Fardorougha while an undergrad in 19th century Irish Literature, a class I absolutely adored. We read 10 books in nine weeks, meeting once a week for three hours, so I remember all sorts of awesome feelings, but I sure don't remember much about characters, plot lines, themes, or really anything specific to the books we read outside of a general impression. Definitely need to re-read those works for a better understanding.

Now to the story: As the title suggests, our main character, Fardorougha, is a miser; in other words, he has a pathological obsession with money. The portion of the book I read suggests that when a husband and wife have no children, money becomes a sort of surrogate for their attention: "for, in truth, the affections must be fixed upon something, and we generally find that where children are denied, the world comes in and hardens by its influence the best and tenderest sympathies of humanity". Fardorougha and the missus go twelve years without a child, and then TA-DA, here comes baby.

The birth of a son does not at once turn Fardorougha's heart from miserly interest to fatherly love. He struggles with his feelings something fierce, varying from an avaricious aversion to a being who will cost him money to fatherly affection to, finally, a sort of self-satisfying view of his son where "every act of parsimony on his part was merely one of prudence, and had the love of a father and an affectionate consideration for his child's future welfare to justify it." In other words, he was able to "love his wealth through the medium of his son." This struggle, along with the birth (but seriously, mainly this struggle), occupy the first two chapters of the book at the end of which Connor (the son) is a young man of 22.

Chapter 3 is dedicated to an anecdote which stresses that Fardorougha is a strict money lender, still obsessively concerned with his own wealth, and that Connor and his mother hate Fardorougha's miserliness and lack of humanity towards those he lends money to. Chapter 4 - where I am currently stuck - has Connor getting a bit sickly-sweet on a girl who returns his favor. Obviously these two chapters are setting up Connor as a super nice guy while the first two chapters focused on Fardorougha as a wee bit villainous. I can only assume that this difference between father and son will help create the central conflict of the story.

The next time I get any sort of time alone, I plan on devouring as much of this story as I can. I just can't read a book like this in 4-6 minute chunks of time interspersed with meeting Madison's wants and needs (her current favorite thing to say is "Mommy I need you" which she can say over 50 times a minute if she's on a roll).

Has anyone else read this? A quick Google search suggests that this book is practically non-existent in the virtual world; although Project Gutenberg has it if you are interested.

01 April 2014

Through the Zombie Glass by Gena Showalter

Through the Zombie Glass is the second in Gena Showalter's White Rabbit Chronicles. A new kind of zombie thriller with otherworldly elements - think ghost zombies - the White Rabbit Chronicles follow Ali Bell as she discovers this world and learns how to kick ass within it.

While the first novel focused on Ali's transition from distraught teen to hopeful zombie fighter, this one adds a hitch into her pursuit of kickassery. Suddenly there are two Alis, the real one and the one in the mirror, and Ali's mind seems to have a visitor as well, one who whispers dark suggestions that are hard to ignore.

Now, of course, there's a love story, and honestly, the Alice and Cole romance annoyed me a bit in this one. I so appreciated the lack of a love triangle in the first installment, but I should have known one was coming. Still this is not the typical triangle. In the first book, Alice and Cole had shared hallucinations which turned out to be prophetic. In this book Alice shares those mental forewarnings with another boy, and like with Cole, these visions seem to suggest some sort of romantic association. Now Alice and said new boy have no romantic interest in each other, but Cole becomes the jealous boyfriend even going so far as to play along with another girl - which I find annoyingly childish. Plus, Cole begins to withdraw from everyone, seemingly pursing his own mystery. I've always found the "lack of communication and trust" obstacle remarkably frustrating. If all problems could be solved if people would just talk honestly, then I have difficulty believing the problem itself.

That being said, I still really enjoyed this book. Despite the characters' mildly childish behavior, they are still some of the most interesting YA characters I've read in a while. The mythology of the zombies, the continuous and varied action scenes, and the quick pace of reading make this a wonderful go-to series, and I can't wait for the third book to hit the shelves.