30 October 2012

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011

Catching up with 2011's Best American Sicence and Nature Writing.  Edited by Mary Roach - whee!

A good collection, with many good pieces here that need to be read by a wider audience.  Such a good reflection of how Roach is a great writer popular science books with an eye for a great story.  A lot of "famous names" in this volume including Jonathan Franzen, Stephen Hawking, Malcolm Gladwell, Atul Gawande, and Deborah Blum (whose article "The Chemist's War" was later incorporated into her book The Poisoner's Handbook).  Roach arranged the articles in alphabetical order by author, so there's monkeying about with agreement or disagreement of organization.
  • Bhattacharjee's "The Organ Dealer" about the illegal kidney trade
  • Bilger's gag-inducing (at the very end) "Nature's Spoils"
  • Dittrich's "The Brain That Changed Everything" which brings a very personal sense of history to the story of a man with brain damage resulting from a surgically-absent hippocampus
  • Freedman's "Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science" which highlights how reported medical research oftentimes is later proven incorrect or inconclusive
  • Gawande's haunting "Letting Go" about the disconnect in the medical establishment regarding end-of-life care
  • Mooallem's occasionally funny, occasionally stern "The Love That Dare Not Squawk It's Name" about the long-term mating habits of the Laysan albatross and the ridiculous levels humans go to to apply animal behavior as justification for human behavior
  • Sack's "Face-Blind" about the neural basis and social complications of face-blindness or prosopagnosia
  • Zimmerman's elegy "The Killer in the Pool"

27 October 2012

Cloud Atlas (on the screen)

Cloud Atlas is a book that has been circulating in my periphery for some time.  As a Booker short-lister, I would likely be reading it as part of my Booker Project.  It was also rumored to be "unfilmable" which really got my attention when the Wachowski's announced they had finally managed to adapt the novel and turn it into a film co-directed by Tom Twyker (who directed the Perfume adaptation, another novel said to be "unfilmable").  It had apparently taken years - no studio really wanted it, the funding was unstable, but they had managed to cast good A-list actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving).  The more I read about the film, the more I knew I wanted to see it.

I didn't care about the reviews (which were kind of a mixed bag, judging from what I saw on Twitter, ranging from "breathtaking" and "beautiful" to "pretentious art-house" and "boring").  I didn't care that it was over three hours long.  I saw one trailer and Cloud Atlas immediately went on my "must-see" list for Fall 2012.

Jessica and I chose a 500pm-ish showing of the movie which conveniently gave us the matinee price for a movie that would let out around 830.  Ha. 

Cloud Atlas is one of the best movies of the year.  I thank the creators for pursuring the project throughout all the obstacles placed in their way.  It is beautiful and breathtaking and a work of art.  It is wonderfully composed, shot by shot.  The score by Twyker, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil is so lovely and perfect that I immediately bought it on iTunes.  This is a long movie, so make sure you visit the ladies' before you settle in, but it didn't feel like an obvious three-hour movie; it felt like perhaps two hours, but I wasn't checking my watch like I have with other, shorter films (Transformers 2, I'm looking at you).  The cross-cutting of the six timelines was fantastic.

I liked the multiple-roles-per-actor idea and it worked well on the whole, although it is very apparent that Tom Hanks really isn't good at accent work (his Scottish mobster role was actually pretty nails-on-chalkboard).  Even though his Zachry character resembled Forrest Gump more than I expected he did make the "dialect" used in those Far Future scenes understandable.  Hugo Weaving was wonderful as the dreadful Nurse Noakes, playing off Jim Broadbent's indignant elderly gentleman.

Although all the sections were beautifully done my favorite timeline was the neo-Seoul/Sonmi-451 section. It was obviously one of the Wachowskis' sections with visuals reminiscent of the Matrix and a similar type of rebellion at its core.  I had never seen Doona Bae's work before and she absolutely blew me away.  There were tears.  She was able to convey so much emotion and compassion just by being so calm and still when there was so much other action around her.  I was also impressed with Jim Sturgess.  I hadn't yet liked many of his movies and his performance of Hae-Joo was better than I had expected

This isn't a perfect movie.  Some of the special effects makeup is funky (the "aging" makeup looks too crinkly and dry and the prosthetics used to make the non-Asian actors Korean gave everyone an odd Botox look) and I've mentioned the issue with the accents.  I will agree with some critics who said that the message of the movie did tend to bash viewers over the head by the end.  But those things didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film.  Cloud Atlas is the reason why independent films exist, especially those requiring larger budgets - it could never exist otherwise.

1. The Impossible - follows a vacationing family through the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.  Good cast (Ewan MacGregor, Naomi Watts).
2. Parker - Jason Stathem, doing what he does best, this time with JLo in a plot similar to that of The Italian Job (which he was in, oy)
3. Silver Linings Playbook - looks kind of goofy in a fun way
4. Gangster Squad - Ryan Gosling does LA Confidential?

26 October 2012

An Infamous Army

Read War and Peace?  An Infamous Army is War and Peace for the Regency romance set.

You have to read this the right way. Even though the book opens with familiar characters - Judith and Worth, Charles, Perry - you have to follow the narrative line with Wellington.  Meaning you have to read it as a history narrative as opposed to a romance. There are huge gaps in the romance - just like there are gaps between the domestic storyline in War and Peace - to concentrate on preparations for the coming skirmish with the French (culminating at Waterloo) and extensive descriptions of the battlefield - also, just like in War and Peace.  Although not QUITE as extensive in the battle sequences as War and Peace. There's only one - Waterloo - but it's pretty awful in the recounting of the staggering loss of life. Heyer gives Wellington excellent lines, many taken from his extensive correspondence.  Thackeray's Vanity Fair also provides a slightly more contemporaneous look at English Society in Brussels in the run-up to Waterloo.  Heyer's research for this book was extensive and very much respected.

On the romance side, Bab is a typical Alistair: provocative, daring, devil-may-care (she wears open-toe Grecian sandals with nail polish - le scandale!!). Charles is a bit in over his head with her behavior but he at least tries to take it all as part of her personality instead of being controlling. I think their story worked out very well. It was nice to see Judith and Worth interacting as a couple since in their book (Regency Buck) Worth was playing the creepy guardian angle whilst Judith was working at being a dandy (since there isn't really a feminine version of the word) and we didn't see them actually LIKE each other until the last half-chapter. Also reassuring to see that Dominic (now Duke of Avon) is still as nuts as he was in Devil's Cub while Mary is just as practical and good-hearted.

23 October 2012

Miranda Neville: The Burgundy Club (in reverse)

Once again, I read a series backward.

I can't remember how I wound up reading Confessions of an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville.  I think it was an ebook sale.  Anywhoo, Miss Minerva Montrose, radical politician and bluestocking, develops a migraine at her come-out ball and slips away to the library for a bit of a rest.  The foxed Lord Blakeney, rake, dilettante, and heir to the Duke of Hampton, mistakes her for a lady of his acquaintance who is open for dalliance (Minnie and the lady have on similar dresses, so Blake is an idiot) and proceeds to put his head up her skirt, literally...at which point several prominent guests at the ball enter the library just as Minerva wakes up and shrieks.  There's pretty much no way of explaining any of that so Blake and Minnie are compelled to marry.  They more or less loathe one another at first - Minnie is pissed her political ambitions are thwarted, while Blake feels like Minnie deliberately makes him look stupid (he's not a stupid man and he has a secret he fears will ruin him if it gets out).  They begin to thaw toward one another on their honeymoon in Paris but then Blake's (ex)mistress shows up which rubs Minnie the wrong way then his father suffers a heart attack and dies making Blake and Minnie the powerful members of the aristocracy.

I liked the realism Neville introduced, particularly in the bedroom scenes. Although the genre standard is mad-hot sex straight out of the gate (behold the Magic Hoo Hoo and Mighty Wang in action, terms courtesy of SBTB) Neville chooses to allow Minnie's first time to be awkward and painful.  She doesn't like it and Blake also puts his foot in his mouth.  The resolution of Blake's secret and the development of the relationship between Minnie and Blake mirrors their progress in the bedroom: in fits and starts, a minor setback, but eventually finding harmony.

The previous book, The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, was a 99 cent ebook special over the weekend and I thought, why not? I liked Confessions from an Arranged Marriage.  This volume concerns the courtship of Celia and Tarquin (met briefly at the beginning of Confessions). The set-up is a bit much: Celia is framed as a loose woman, dismissed from her governess position (and one where she might have married her employer because she handled his unruly children so well), kidnapped, robbed, and forced to strip; escaping from her captor's house she comes upon Tarquin, also stripped to his breeches and boots and knocked senseless. Although she knows perfectly well who he is (because he said she looked like a cauliflower during her debut), she pretends that he's her finacee just to mess with him. What a ludicrous backstory but whatever - it all works.  The two of them ramble through the English countryside - Celia telling bigger and bigger lies, Tarquin believing her but also feeling that something is "wrong"- until Tarquin's memory comes back.  Since they've been a) alone and b) had hot sex therefore Tarquin (even though he's pretty mad at her for the lying) feels compelled to offer for her.  I wasn't a huge fan of the should-I/shouldn't-I marry dithering but come to find out Celia does have a very interesting upbringing, to say the least. The two visit Sebastian and Diana - Minerva's sister and brother-in-law - during Diana's lying-in and eventually work things out to satisfaction (the Burgundy Club, come to find out, was founded by Tarquin, Sebastian, and Chase who are all antiquarian book collectors, an activity that Minnie and Blake don't take part in but Diana does, which makes me think this was originally a trilogy with Confessions tacked on as an afterthought).  There's also a good sideplot involving a book of erotic fiction by Aretino (him again) that Celia shares with Minerva.

Knowing a bit more about Sebastian and Diana, I hopped back to their book, The Dangerous Viscount.  The widowed Lady Diana Fanshawe is determined to make a brilliant match.  To that end she is determined to marry Lord Blakeney, a neighbor of her decidedly eccentric parents.  Blake (who is in full-on dickhead mode - glad I read his book first because I didn't like him here) makes Diana a bet: if she can get his repressed, nerdy, woman-hating (?) cousin Sebastian to kiss her, she'll win five hundreds pounds.  Diana accepts, thereby making her rather unlikeable for several chapters until she starts to like Sebastian's love of antiquarian books (which dovetails nicely with her love of history) and his brusque ways.  To top it off he's got that dark, mysterious, hunky look going for him.  One thing leads to another meaning Diana initates Sebastian into adulthood.  Neville gives us another unique take on a romance genre sex scene by making the hero the virgin.  Well, Diana's bet essentially blows up in her face when Sebastian finds out - because he has a history with Blake, and I mean HISTORY: Blake and his sisters were assholes to Sebastian when they were young explaining why Sebastian hates his ass so much in Confessions.  Fortunately for Diana and Sebastian (and the reader, otherwise this would be a short book) all it takes is just one sexual encounter to make a baby...and they are Viscount and Viscountess Iverly, trying to find their happy ending.

Thence, I came to the first book in the Burgundy Club series, The Wild Marquis.  Our heroine is Juliana Merton, a widowed antiquarian bookseller.  Cain, the Marquis of Chase - yes, that Marquis who at sixteen was kicked out of his father's house for doing something "unspeakable" - hires Juliana to represent him at an estate auction of books.  It turns out a priceless family heirloom, an illuminated book of hours, that should still be in possession of the marquessate is included in the auction catalogue.  Cain wants the book back at any price; Juliana wants the money that commission could bring her.  As the two work together to recover the book they grow closer.  Juliana is of uncertain parentage, Cain more-or-less considered irredeemable in the eyes of the ton and they enter into a liaison they can't back away from - not because of pregnancy or getting "caught" but because it just feels they should be together.  There's even a bit of death-defying suspense related to Juliana's backstory (although we didn't quite need the resolution to make the HEA work).

I liked the very frank take on the first love scene INCLUDING a discussion of birth control, although I believe Cain would be more likely to call condoms 'french letters'. It was a nice change of pace (compared to Celia and Sebastian - and he totally had beginners' luck, plus it seems Diana is just one of those women destined to be constantly pregnant since she's on child #3 in book #4).  Also: ANTIQUARIAN BOOK SALE!! BIDDING ON NICE THINGS!!!! THAT HAPPEN TO BE BOOKS!!! (Although, WTF writing in a Shakespeare quarto...offest slightly by a bulldog named Quarto, awwww).

I'm glad I read this series in reverse order because I was most impressed with the first one and would have been far less enamoured of Minerva and Blake by the time I got to their. I also like the rich colors used in the covers, very appealing.

Who wins "The Deception of the Emerald Ring"?

I have asked the oracle of Random.org to determine the winner of my first-ever giveaway:

Congratulations to commenter #2, Jennifer of The Bookie Nook (thebookienook.com)!!

If you get this before I email/tweet you, please email me with your snail-mail address.

Thanks to everyone who entered!

21 October 2012

A Feast of Ice and Fire

Who likes interesting cookbooks?  Meet a GAME OF THRONES COOKBOOK endorsed by GRRM himself!!!!!!

A Feast of Ice and Fire had me with the cover art - gorgeous and yummy.  I hope there's a second volume once all the books are finished.

I really liked the research behind the recipes as well as offering a more "traditional" medieval recipe and a modern version of most dishes. This is apparently based off a blog, The Inn at the Crossroads, which I have since started following.  There are great pictures, too, a must for a cookbook in my opinion (there's another Game of Thrones cookbook by some other people but it isn't near as nice).

The authors included some oddball recipes for the more adventurous gourmand, like snake (blech) which I will not be trying.  Lemon cakes and honeyfingers are much more my style.
I baked the modern Wintercake recipe for an autumn-themed potluck at the bookstore - it smelled wonderful and tasted really good.  Thumbs up from the booksellers!  It killed my food processor, though, so I have that on my Christmas list now.

20 October 2012

'Tis the Season: Football, School, and *sigh*

Weekends are heating up at the store.  Lots of traffic, lots of questions, and lots of *headdesk*

Related to football season:
- "Why don't you have books on [insert name of visiting football team from across the country here]?"  Because they aren't the home team or even in the same state.
- "Do you have a book that explains football to kids?" The child in question is using a teething ring, no lie.
- "Do you have the game score?" And he wasn't even interested in the game being played in town, which was the game I had up on ESPN.

Related to school:
Customer: "Do you have books on Egypt?"
Me: "Like a travel book?"
Customer: "Uh...sure!"
So we go to the travel section and I get out all six books on travelling in Egypt.
Customer: "My daughter has to write a report on the Sphinx."
And I turn to see a kid who is maybe ten years old, possibly eleven.  Unfortunately, we do not have books about the Sphinx specifically in the store, at all, or at any store in the area, and none of the books in the history section (adult or child) have much information on the Sphinx at all.
Customer: "Well, how is [my child] going to get her report done by Monday???"
Seriously???!???!!  Perhaps you could try the library since those books are already purchased with your tax dollars.  

Customer on phone:  "Do you have City of Glass?  It's a graphic novel."
Checks computer - unfortunately we don't have Paul Auster's graphic novel adaptation of his novella.
Customer on phone:  "Isn't that by Cassie Clare?"
Me: "I believe there are planned graphic novel adaptations of the Mortal Instruments series but those aren't available, yet."
Customer on phone: "Oh, yeah, so I guess it is by that guy you mentioned.  Do you know where I could get this? I have to have it read for class by Tuesday."
*headdesk* Ugh, seriously?  Library?  Has the general population forgotten about this very valuable resource for getting homework and school work done on time?

Customer (walks up to me): "Chaucer."
Legit, that was the opening to the conversation.  No, "Excuse me" or "Can you help me find something?" just a word.
Me:  "Er, are you looking for something specific?"
Customer: "Chaucer."
Me (ARGH!):  "Do you need a specific title or translation?" 
Customer (blinks a bit at me):  "Poetry?"
Me (not the answer I was expecting): "Er, right.  There are a couple of different major poems.  The Parliament of Fowls or The Canterbury Tales, perhaps?"
Customer:  "Oh, yes, tales!" 
And hands me a Post-It with "Chaucer Wife's Tail" written on it.  And, yes, it was spelled like that.
Me: "OK.  This edition here is probably the cheapest if you don't need a specific edition."
Customer:  "I need an easy one."
Me:  "OK." (hands her a different volume) "This is the No Fear edition which will have a modern English translation on the facing page.  It's pretty user-friendly."
Customer: "Does it have the Wife's Tale?"
Me:  "Yes, it has the entire set of Tales so that would include the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale."  And I show her where they are in the book.
Customer: "Oh, good.  Do you know where I could get a summary?  I'm a tutor and don't have time to read this."
*headdesk*  I hope they aren't paying her very much.

Customer:  "Where are your Christmas sales?"
Me:  "We don't have our holiday sales out yet, ma'am."
Customer (aghast):  "Why not??"
Um, because it isn't even Hallowe'en yet?  Keep your shirt on, we'll have them out the first week in November.

And in the "Awwwww" department:
I'm back in the Kids' section and the cutest little girl with pigtails and glasses comes up to me.
Girl: "Excuse me please, could you show me where you keep the Percy Jackson books?"
(and of course she has the cutest lisp, too)
So I show her where the books are on display.  She very solemnly looks over the table, chooses Percy Jackson #4, and turns to me with a great big smile.
Girl: "I love books!  Don't you?"
Me: "I do!"
Girl: "When I grow up I want to read books all day!" 
She hugs the book and scampers off but turns around and comes straight back.
Girl: "I forgot to say thank you!  Thank you for helping me!"
And off she goes again. Dear parents of this child - your kid is adorable and I hope she stays that way.  Kids like her go a ways toward making a long day shorter.

19 October 2012

Judging a Book by Its Lover (mini-review)

I was looking for a funny book to read (I've been reading Sandman...no funny there) and was seeing a lot of buzz for Lauren Leto's Judging a Book by Its Lover.  Worth a shot.

And I'm a bit torn.  I really liked a lot of the chapters: the Twitter reviews of memoirs, bookstore hookups, F. Scott and Zelda having a meal together (which is completely made-up, obviously, and hilarious).  The "Rules of Bookclub" had me laughing out loud. (Side note: Lauren was a co-author/creator of Texts From Last Night.)

But the gift-guide was really long, maybe too long because it ceased to be funny after about five entries.  The "faking-it" guide to book discussion was also pretty un-funny to me: I'd read almost all of the books skewered in the section and we have differeing opinions about them.

On the balance, I laughed a lot throughout the book, so mission accomplished.

18 October 2012

The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes (mini-review)

It took me several years and at least two Dewey's Readathons to get through this book.

It was funny in places.  It tried too hard in places.  It was kind of awful in places.

The only story I liked was the Winnie-the-Pooh one and it was at the beginning.

(And the book opens the wrong way - I understand this is part of the joke but I find it annoying on my shelf.)

17 October 2012

Why Jane Austen? (mini-review)

Pride and Prejudice will turn 200 years old in 2013.  It's still one of the most-read and most-beloved and most-adapted English-language books - why?  Why is Jane Austen still relevant?

This is the question Rachel Brownstein (professor of English at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center) tries to answer in her book Why Jane Austen? (and, refreshingly enough, there are no subtitles).

Why Jane Austen? has the best opening line of any lit-crit book I've ever read:

Sometime in the 1908s, soon after the publication of my first book, I went to a literary party in Brooklyn at the home of a fashionably gritty playwright: jug wine, cheese and crackers, and brownies laced with cannabis, homemade by his wife.

And then she slips in an anecdote about some dude who is being a jerk about feminists. Like.

Brownstein examines Austen's world critically, noting how her novels have been re-interpreted and examined using theory of all types: economic, social commentary, feminism, politics, etc.  The book is a very readable volume of literary criticism, but it stays firmly grounded in academics with good supporting documentation and writing.

Aside from a few weird typos/boo-boos in the first half of the book (the star of Bride and Prejudice is Aishwarya Rai, not Ray, and in the ITV adaptation of Lost in Austen the heroine enters P&P through a door in the bathroom, not a dream - although we could argue whether the either thing is "reality" or "fantasy") it was a very good addition to my shelf of Austen criticism.

16 October 2012

The Best American Science Writing 2012

This year's offering by Ecco was edited by Michio Kaku - someone who I greatly like on any History Channel offering about the universe (when they actually have something either historical/scientific as opposed to pawn shops, shooting competitions, and various other "reality" television shows) and whose books I keep meaning to read.  So was already slightly more favorably disposed toward this volume compared to the Mariner 2012 volume.

Kaku decided on a rather interesting organization scheme - he ordered articles from most familiar subject to the general public to last familiar.  So he started with the most familiar subject, our own bodies, and an article from Science by Gretchen Vogel, "Mending the Youngest Hearts", in which the brave new frontier of medicine is lab-grown blood vessels created from infants' own stem cells for use in Fontan and other cardiac procedures.  He works outward through medicine, biology, ecology, psychology, and physics until he reaches the outer edge where science and religion butt-up against one another.  The latter half of the book is a bit heavy on the physics articles, so perhaps a few less of those and a smattering from ecological or engineering articles instead.

All the articles are highly informative - Rabelo and Bogdanich's NYT exposé regarding the over-radiation of patients by untrained/uncertified medical technicians, John Fischman's rather frightening article regarding the predictability of criminal behavior in relation to brain structure, Jaron Lanier and a look back at IBM's Watson, Rachel Aviv's "God Knows Where I Am" about the fine line of madness and sanity and the gaps in our mental health system.  I particularly enjoyed "An Immune System Trained to Kill Cancer" by Denise Grady - a new direction in cancer research wherein a patient's immune system could be trained to kill cancer cells without the toxicity, side effects, and dangers of traditional chemotherapy and radiation; given that certain cancers have mutating genetic structures it would also be easier to modify therapy if a mutation changes the surface proteins, etc.  On the other hand, I felt "The Fire Next Time" - a Rolling Stone article by Jeff Goodell - really didn't have as much "science" in it as other articles, even for a lay-article, and was instead more of a call to arms.

Only two articles over-lapped the Mariner volume - "Beautiful Brains" by David Dobbs and Rivka Galchen's "Dream Machine" - so I got a nice set of articles read between the two volumes.

15 October 2012

The Way to a Duke's Heart (The Truth About the Duke #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

Charles de Lacey, Lord Gresham, is running out of time, running from his responsibilities, and running from love.

Destined to be a duke, Charles de Lacey has led a life of decadent pleasure, free of any care for propriety or responsibility. It comes as a terrible shock to learn that he might be stripped of everything, thanks to his father's scandalous past. He has no choice but to find the blackmailer who would ruin him—and his only link to the villain is a woman who may be part of the plot…

To save his fortune and title, he vows he'll stop at nothing—in fact, he's all too eager to unravel the beautiful, tart-tongued Tessa Neville. She intrigues him and tempts him like no other lady ever has. With only his heart to guide him, and keenly aware that his entire future is at stake, Charles must decide: is she the woman of his dreams, or an enemy in disguise?

This was burning a hole in my NOOK whilst I read The Ugly Duchess (hey, Eloisa tweeted me, so she got to be first - I'm easy that way). Being a romance novel I had no doubt as to the outcome of the Durham Dilemma (duh) but I just wanted to know how it would all unwind as well as who Charlie would be paired with.

First off, I have to say I quite loved Tessa's companion/cousin, Eugenia Bates. Yes, Bates. Who has much the sweet, chatty, dithering demeanor of the Miss Bates of Austen's Emma - but not as annoying since we're not seeing her through Emma's eyes. And she has a taste for the luird Gothic novels of Mrs. Radcliff.

Second, I quite liked how Linden let us see how Charlie resented his younger brothers' freedom, just that little bit (Edward his facility in estate management and Gerard his fearless antics), and how he regretted that his break with their father had perhaps put the family in the situation of the Durham Dilemma (well, it would have been less-bad if Edward hadn't told his idiot fiancee at the beginning of One Night in London - but then he got Francesca and that was much better).

Third, Tessa is an excellent foil for Charlie. But she isn't set up as a paragon who is right all the time with regard to the business of the canal - she's allowed to have a failing or two.

But I do have a slight misgiving about the climax of the book and hence, spoiler warning (highlight to see text):

While I really appreciated the twist with Lord Worth - and the awful Maria as his wife - as the impetus for the blackmail scheme what I didn't appreciate was the scene with Maria before Charlie left the house and the he didn't explicitly tell Worth that he would have no claim on the child. Worth would always hate Charlie's guts, and Charlie didn't help himself there, but the least Charlie could do after explaining and apologizing was to say that he wouldn't ever contest the child's paternity. Or maybe he did and I missed it, I was pretty tired. And then Charlie should have got the hell out of the house rather than stay and discuss things with Maria - wouldn't Worth have followed to make sure Charlie left?

Caroline Linden closed out her The Truth About the Duke in style with an excellent finale in The Way to a Duke's Heart.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I started reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower for Banned Books Week.  I was also reading Sandman, so I got a bit behind-hand on Perks.

Perks and I are a like ships in the night: it originally published in 1999 when I was busy with MCATs, lab jobs, med school applications, and homework and really wasn't in tune with the world of fiction.  The book is set in the early 1990s, though, making Charlie and I almost the same age (I was a HS freshman in the fall of 1992 - and if you think Charlie is naive you should have met me at the same age).  Charlie has major depressive symptoms (stemming from an unknown source) and he is deeply affected by loss, the most recent being a classmate's death.  He writes letters to an unnamed friend (it's unclear whether these are actually letters sent or if these are actually diary entries, there's a little wiggle room there) chronicling his freshman year of high school.  Charlie is intellectually precocious but socially awkward, perhaps to an extreme but it serves a purpose.

Charlie falls in with two seniors, Sam and Patrick, who take him under their wings, so to speak, and introduce him to a very different world that exists outside the walls of school and home.  They introduce him to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (his reaction on that first live show was about like mine).  There is drinking, smoking, experimentation with drugs, an exploration of sexuality, and the dawning realization that with all these adult choices comes the reality that human relationships are messy, messy things.  From those issues along one can see that Perks is a book ripe for the bulls-eye of those looking to remove books from libraries and schools.  Even though this is usually shelved in the adult fiction section, teen protagonists often translate to teen readers.  Charlie's letters show both sides of his choices: it might feel exhilarating and freeing to have a few beers or smoke a joint, but that laxity can cause one to do or say things that hurt our friends.

Perks is an eminently quotable book, with any number of gifs on tumblr.  Many lines are well-known such as "And in that moment, I swear we were infinite."  I may not be on the "rabid fan" bandwagon, but I thoroughly enjoyed Chbosky's writing and the final plot reveal.

The only quibble I have is the oft-stated idea that Charlie is doing extra writing assignments and improving there - yet his letters remain very even in quality, very young and confessional.  Is Charlie a bit of an unreliable narrator when he wants to be?

14 October 2012

#readathon 2012 wrap-up!

Well, another 24-hour readathon has come to a close.  I didn't read as much or as long this time (needing to sleep eventually won out) but I had a decently healthy stack of done/mostly-done books:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (previously started, finished)
The Best American Science Writing 2012 (finished)
Why Jane Austen? (previously started, finished)
McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes (finished)
An Infamous Army (previously started, too much at 2am so unfinished)

The page count ended up at 819 pages read.  Not too shabby.

Thanks as always to the Readathon organizers and cheerleaders!  Mwah!

If you haven't, and are interested, please comment on my readathon give-away post.  Odds are very favorable right now!

In parting, I'd like to share this photo I took on this gray, rainy Iowa October Sunday.  One of those days where color contrasts always pop.  It's just a shrub outside the Starbucks, but I loved the red and green surprise.



13 October 2012

Win "The Deception of the Emerald Ring" audiobook during #readathon!

Hey-hey!  It's my first ever giveaway!  I'd been thinking about doing one for a while and then an opportunity just fell into my lap.

Lauren Willig, author of the Pink Carnation series of Regency spy/romance novels, was cleaning out a closet and found a bunch of finished copies of her books.  So she posted on Facebook that she'd be willing to send out these books to bloggers, etc., for giveaways and things.

She even had an audiobook copy of The Deception of the Emerald Ring.  It's my favorite of her books.  I love Letty and her practicality and how she just never gives up.  Geoff isn't so bad himself.  So I messaged Lauren and she was more than happy to send the audiobook on its way to me.
And now I am going to send it on its way to a forever home!  Because what better time to do a give-away than during Readathon?
This contest is open to the US and Canada.  To enter, please leave a comment on this post telling me what book you enjoyed most during the Readathon this go-round and link back to one of your Readathon posts or tweets.  At midnight on next Sunday, October 21 (my time - I live in the Midwest), I'll close the comments then put all the names in a hat - or Ye Olde Random Number Generator if there are too many names for a hat - and pick the lucky winner!
Yay, reading!

#readathon Starting Line!

Behold, the stack of Readathon books!  Yeah, I'll never get through all those (particularly since the red thing on the top is my nook and has 500 books on it alone) but I think that's a good variety of books. Even if I only read a chapter or two in some that's totally pages read.
Now, my start-time here in the Midwest is 7am my time.  Ugh.  So this is set to post then.
I am likely to be sleeping.
I'll catch up (and be sure to look for my give-away post around lunchtime my time - so about 5 hours after the Readathon starts).

12 October 2012

Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012

Well...this volume hits kind of a weird middle-space for me. Taken individually, the essays in this edition of Best Science and Nature Writing are good pieces of journalism. Six come from The New Yorker, three each from Scientific American, Wired, and National Geographic, two each from Outside, The Atlantic, and Discover, and singles from California Magazine, Popular Science, and Orion. But together...somehow they strike me as lacking in breadth, if that makes sense.

After an introduction focusing in scientific paternalism, Ariely divided the essays into subjects: Bacteria/Microorganisms, Animals, Humans (the Good), Humans (the Bad), Society and Environment, and Technology. However, two of the bacteria/micro essays are about nearly the same thing (normal human microbiota and how that plays into immune response/chronic disease) while the third concerns new food allergy research and treatment. It's hard to determine what's "good" or "bad" about the human sections - I can't tell where the dividing line is ("Sleeping with the Enemy" is in the good section, yet is about how modern humans displaced/bred out the Neanderthal - and extincting species is something we seem to be good at, while "The Feedback Loop" - about how we can modify human behavior to combat speeding and medication non-compliance - is in the bad section). John Seabook's New Yorker article "Crush Point" (which I read in the original publication) is a good piece of human interest/courtroom reporting but doesn't seem to contain a lot of "science" regarding crowd dynamics. It probably would have been better to list the articles alphabetically by author rather than try to group them.

Many of the articles, no matter the scientific ground grown in from paleontology to neurobiology to computer science, apply the information therein to society as a whole. Lab-grown beef, knock-out genes in Mosquitos that could fuel reactions to GMOs, a hazy article about why humans have a connection with an auquarium (the Roberts article about Wallace J. Nichols was an odd one), urban sprawl, molecular gastronomy, an eccentric physicist and the real-world probability of a theoretical quantum computer, if we must defend our humanity from the likelihood a computer could pass the Turing Test/how to be a more "human" human - everything circles back to human or human-like behavior. Given that Ariely is a psychologist that's not surprising but it makes the collection very flat and more like a pet than a presentation of good scientific work across all disciplines.

Current book-in-progress: The Best American Science Writing 2012 (yeah, that other one) - oh, and the Readathon is tomorrow
Current knitted item: Shrug - we are almost to the diamond pattern!
Current movie obsession: Watching The Voice episodes off the DVR
Current iTunes loop: Some free tracks I got from Starbucks - eh, is ok

11 October 2012

Best American Non-required Reading 2012

Getting back into the Best American Project groove.  I don't always read the Non-required collection.  Sometimes the pieces just don't resonate with me.  The 2012 volume - it has an introduction by Ray Bradbury.  Likely the last piece he finished before his death (he passed away two weeks after it was turned in).  So I had to buy it and read it.

This collection didn't seem as light-hearted as previous NR's that I read. The "Front Section" bits are usually more light-hearted, in my opinion, with funny Internet lists and in this collection many of them are about the Occupy Movement (manifestos, minutes, essays) or have an undercurrent of exasperation underneath them (Alexie, Diaz, Ragsdale).

The short-story/essay section is amazing. Just amazing. Short fiction from Louise Erdrich, Julie Otsuka (wow, just wow), and Jess Walter. Essays from Olivia Hamilton/Robin Levi/Ayelet Waldman (makes me mad), Jon Ronson (who knew there were actual people dressed up as superheroes?), John Jeremiah Sullivan, and Wesley Yang.

I got a little sniffy over the transcription of a eulogy given at Steve Jobs's funeral by his sister, Mona. And I'm not a Jobs acolyte - she said such beautiful things.

Finally, there was one essay that just grabbed me.  It was such a courageous act of memoir and confession.  Jose Antonio Vargas wrote "Outlaw", a short memoir detailing his life as an undocumented child immigrant, sent here by his mother to join his grandparents for the chance at a good education, and his decision to tell his story.  I hope Vargas gains his citizenship. If you need evidence why the Dream Act should be passed then you need to read this essay.

Current book-in-progress: The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012
Current knitted item: Shrug - further along on the second sleeve!
Current movie obsession: The Avengers (is Joss Wheedon's commentary kinda obnoxious?)
Current iTunes loop: Imagine Dragons - again, love them

Nobel Prize for Literature 2012: Mo Yan

I was slightly dreading the Nobel announcement this year.  There was buzz about Bob Dylan and I just didn't want the prize to go to him, no matter how outside a chance it seemed (and then there were the chuckleheads to said it should go to EL James - sorry, my egalitarianism doesn't extend even remotely that far).  I'd be much happier to see the prize go to Haruki Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, AS Byatt, or comprable (or, if dead people were allowed, Kurt Vonnegut who totally got the shaft in his lifetime).

And the committee managed to surprise me yet again - they selected the Chinese writer, Mo Yan. 

Now, I don't think I've run across him before.  I don't mind.  Finding authors new to me is half the fun of the Nobel when it doesn't go to a favorite of mine.  But the nice thing is that he does have a significant body of work translated into English and is either currently available or will be available soon and it is accessible.  The committee said nice things about his imagery - "who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary" - so I'd like to try on his words for size.  This is much easier done than for the awardee last year, Thomas Tranströmer, who writes Swedish poetry and is really hard to find stateside (compared to the 2010 winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, whose backlist catalogue is just filthy with available books). 

The NYT has a nice article which ends with a quote from Mo regarding his decision to attend the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair when China refused to allow dissident writers to attend:

“A writer should express criticism and indignation at the dark side of society and the ugliness of human nature, but we should not use one uniform expression,” he said. “Some may want to shout on the street, but we should tolerate those who hide in their rooms and use literature to voice their opinions.”

10 October 2012

Your Hate Maill Will Be Graded

I ran across John Scalzi's blog Whatever a few months ago via Wil Wheaton's twitter.  Caught some posts here and there, noticed he had a book titled Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded.  Love.  The.  Title.  I.  Must.  Read.  It.  So I borrowed a copy from a friend and settled down to read. 

Scalzi had me from the second post in the book, "Jesus's Dickheads".  Mwahahaha.  My thoughts exactly.  Nearly every post was really funny. I love pointed, witty humor and many of the Whatever posts collected here are chock full of witticisms.

Some of the entries are serious in tone - supporting gay marraige, advice for young writers (and the financial advice could be applied to everyone...note to self...) - and I appreciated those all the more due to the posts with surrounding levity.

Two regrets. 1) would have loved to see more of the comments/hatemail since Scalzi's responses are totally boss, and 2) while I appreciated the thought behind the random nature of the order of collected posts, but I think I would have appreciated a more linear or topical organization (just my OCD nature).

Current book-in-progress: The Best American Non-required Reading 2012
Current knitted item:  Shrug - second sleeve!
Current movie obsession:  2005 Pride and Prejudice
Current iTunes loop:  Amanda Palmer

FTC disclaimer: I borrowed this from a friend.

Petition: Remove Broun from House Science Committee

You know, I don't usually get terribly political. Too much bickering.

But this petition - I think this is important. Science literacy in this country is terrible. We do not need people like Broun who are unable to separate their religious ideologies from rational, scientific concepts to sit on a House Science committee that promotes science.

Please visit the Change website link and sign the petition - they need 150,000 signatures.

09 October 2012

The Sandman, Vol 4: Season of Mists

This is, by far, my favorite volume of Sandman yet.  Season of Mists is dark and funny.

Morpheus, bullied by his Endless family, must right a wrong: he condemned a former girlfriend, Nada (from the opening story of A Doll's House), who refused to live with him in the Dreaming forever, to Hell, to be tormented for eternity.  Morpheus must visit Hell, to ask Lucifer for her soul - the problem is that the last time Morpheus visited Lucifer (back in Preludes and Nocturnes) things didn't end on a very...friendly...note.

Lucifer, still in a pique, decides to do Morpheus one better: he empties out Hell, setting all the demons and deceased souls loose upon the world, locks it up and gives Morpheus the key. 

What...the...fuck.  I was laughing so hard.

So Morpheus, who now must now dispose of Hell is he wants to find Nada, finds his castle invaded by importunate cultures and religions of all stripes - Faerie, the Demons of Hell (who'd like a little self-governance), Egyptian gods, Norse gods, any and all cultures you can think of - to barter for the ownership of Hell.  Morpheus's sister, Death, is having trouble because people aren't staying dead.  In the end, it's God (yeah, that one) who solves the whole problem.

Such a great, cheeky, creative book.  What have I been missing all these years?

Looking ahead: #dewey's #readathon on October 13, 2012!

I try to join Dewey's 24-hour Readathon every fall for at least part of the day/night (there's one in the spring, too, but my schedule puts the kibosh on that).  It's strange, but I feel oddly comforted knowing that bloggers/tweeters all over the world are all reading for a day at the same time.

In preparation, I've started accumulating a pile of "planned reading" - more than I ever could possibly read in a day, even with no interruptions, but I like the size because I try to pull in a hodge-podge of genres.  I tend to need a little bit of everything in my Readathon pile otherwise Murphy's Law states that I will still end up staring at my bookshelves, wasting time, because I didn't put any lit crit in my pile.  Considering that I finished Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human my first Readathon and The Best American Essays 2011 last year I'm definitely not one of those bloggers who will read just about anything.

I am also, get ready for it, going to hold my first-EVER giveaway during the Readathon.  Yeah, yeah??  Are you excited?  I am.  I recently got lucky in that a favorite author was clearing out a cache and offered the various books and audiobooks up to bloggers, etc. as giveaway prizes.  So, I'll be giving away an audiobook (much as I'd like to hoard it, because it's a favorite book, but I'll be good and send it off to a forever home) - watch your GR, twitter, feedreader, hashtag, etc Saturday!

Now, the only thing left are my snacks....thanks to other bloggers' TSS posts, I've been reminded that I never seem to have food on hand and have to go out to the store on the morning of the Readathon for snacks.  I have a note in my shopping list for Wednesday: buy Readathon snacks!

Bring on Saturday!!

08 October 2012

The Sandman, Vol 3: Dream Country

I dove straight into Dream Country and got quite a surprise: it's a story collection.  Four separate story arcs, with Morpheus as a minor or tangential character, as opposed to a much longer novel-length arc.  So cool.

"Calliope" recounts the story of a hack writer, struggling to find success, who is offered a muse.  Not figuratively, literally.  He is literally gifted the Muse Calliope from another writer - as long as Calliope is his captive, he will churn out story after story after story, all successful.  But Morpheus owes a favor....

"A Dream of a Thousand Cats" is a whimsical little tale, about a dreaming kitten.  We meet Morpheus in cat form who tells a story about how cats could once again be rulers of the world, if only enough of them dream...the older cats slink away but the dreaming kitten, he believes.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is, you guessed it, about the Shakespeare play.  Morpheus contracts Shakespeare to write two plays to his specifications, the first of which will be about the intersection of the human and faerie worlds.  Ultimately, the play is performed for the rulers of Faerie and Puck decides to get in on the action.  This short story won a World Fantasy Award (which makes it the only comic ever to win that, because the rules for the category were changed after that year).

"Facade" is a heart-rending tale about the downside of gaining superpowers.  Element Girl is caught in a crippling depression, unable to present a "normal" face to the world beause of her acquired powers.  Death, Dream's elder sister, is "visiting" upstairs and stops by to offer her help....

Four very disparate stories, but very intriguing each on their own.  I loved "Calliope" - fabulous concept and it offers up a bit more of Morpheus's history for consideration.  The volume I read had the script for "Calliope" in the back and it was interesting to read how a comic is conceived and put together, truly a collaborative effort (as well as Gaiman's notes and reasons for not getting as far as he ought due to creepy phone calls at 2am!).

07 October 2012

The Sandman, Vol 2: The Doll's House

I decided to concentrate on reading one graphic novel series at a time, rather than mix them, so I went with Sandman for the time being.

The second trade paperback, The Doll's House, opens with two men in the African desert, a young man undergoing a transitional ritual where the older man passes down an apocryphal story, centered on dreams and a heart made of glass.  This story echoes through the rest of the book.

Rose Walker visits her grandmother, Unity, the famous "Sleeping Beauty", before returning to the US to search for her little brother, who has gone missing.  Interspersed are the stories of three dreams who escaped the Dreaming while Morpheus was incarcerated, particularly the horrifying Corinthian, and the residents of the boardinghouse Rose inhabits.  There is also a disturbance in the Dreaming - a dream vortex - centered on a person and it is Morpheus's job as the Dream Lord to eliminate the threat.

I really enjoy the level of creativity and intertextuality Gaiman displays in the Sandman series.  The serial killer conference sequence was amazingly creepy.  I'm also starting to enjoy how Gaiman is willing to leave plot threads hanging for future issues rather than tie up every, sincle arc in a neat little bow.

06 October 2012

The Black Hawk

From Goodreads:
He is her enemy.
He is her lover.
He is her only hope.

Someone is stalking French agent Justine DeCabrillac through London's gray streets. Under cover of the rain, the assassin strikes--and Justine staggers to the door of the one man who can save her. The man she once loved. The man she hated. Adrian Hawkhurst.

Adrian wanted the treacherous beauty known as "Owl" back in his bed, but not wounded and clinging to life. Now, as he helps her heal, the two must learn to trust each other to confront the hidden menace that's trying to kill them--and survive long enough to explore the passion simmering between them once again.

Joanna Bourne's The Black Hawk was one of the Romantic Reads highlighted titles.  And it sounded very interesting.  Two spies, on opposite sides of a war...or not....  I'll give it a try.

And look at that - someone put a spy plot in my romance novel.  A real spy plot filled with a lot of earthy history and grim reality.

I really liked the connected narrative between Adrian and Justine's history and the current ploblem at hand: Who is trying to kill Justine?  Is it someone from their past?  Or just from one of their pasts?  Are they purposely trying to frame Adrain?  I loved little touches like how Justine always "sounded" French, always, or how Adrian felt caught between the worlds of his birth (the gutter) and his achievement (he's been knighted/runs British Intelligence).

Sometimes it felt like there was too much back-and-forth between the "current" plot and the "backstory" plot, but all the historical bits were very interesting to read so I didn't mind much.  The creche idea is very interesting.  I wonder if it really happened.  This is the fourth book in Joanna Bourne's Spymaster series.  I'll keep them in mind for future reads.

05 October 2012

A book worth banning...

...is a book worth reading.

Check out this great video from Open Road Media in celebration of Banned Books Week.

01 October 2012

Banned Books Week 2012: September 30 - October 6

Banned Books Week is back - celebrating 30 years of advocating for literature and readers' rights.  (They've got great "Banned" and "Forbidden" artwork this year that, for some reason, Blogger thinks the .jpeg isn't an image or video. *ruh-roh* )

I've done individual book posts in the past (my Johnny Got His Gun post is still one of the most visited posts which makes me think that the book is still on school curriculae - good) but I've got a busy week this week and I'd rather focus on reading books.  To that end I intend to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which I've never read) and start on Salman Rushdie's memoir Joseph Anton (as well as read Daphne du Maurier's The Doll short story collection for BNBC)I may also post a bit about my thoughts on book challenges.

So get out there and read!  (Got my "I read Banned Books" button ready on my nametag at the store.)

Current book-in-progress: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Joseph Anton, and The Doll
Current knitted item: Shrug (I think I have a Christmas stocking or two to finish...)
Current movie obsession: Headhunters is streaming on Netflix!!  Now I can watch Jaime Lannister Nikolaj Coster-Waldau all dressed up and clean in a suit.  Yummy.
Current iTunes loop: Mumford & Sons Sigh No More (yeah, yeah, I know they have a new album but I was just introduced to the band so I'm trying the previous album on for size)