Tuesday, October 29, 2013
I usually love scary stories. Picking out books for the R.I.P. challenge is something I look forward to each year. However, for some reason -- whether it be the fact that I am now a mother, or the fact that I care for kids every day for whom death is no joke -- I have had a hard time this year. I started The Diviners and Bellman and Black and could not get through them due to the dark, creep factor. However, Coraline, despite being satisfyingly scary, was just the right level to give me a good scare without disturbing me too much.
Coraline is about a little girl who has a pretty decent life that is pretty boring. She goes off in search of adventure and finds it -- but it leads to a lot of terror and responsibility to go through that terror to save lives. There is a big focus in the book on being brave -- on doing things you don't want to do that are necessary. I think that is part of the reason I loved Coraline -- I don't like books that are written purely to disturb. I like that there is a positive message at the bottom of the scary story.
I also loved the exquisite combination of beautiful writing and creepy, creepy pictures. This is the first Neil Gaiman I have read (I know, I know) and thus far, the hype is all warranted -- in fact, the next book I plan to pick up is also Neil Gaiman. The illustrations are also excellent for portraying the vivid images Gaiman creates with his words. I felt submersed in Coraline's creepy adventure, surrounded by the things that were haunting and frightening her.
Coraline was an excellent read for this Halloween, and I am glad that I finally picked up a Neil Gaiman novel. I may not be able to handle as much fright as I used to be, but it is good to know that there are some great ghost stories out there that aren't overly gory or dark.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Cath and her twin sister, Wren, have always been a package deal. But when they go to college, Wren wants to room with someone else and assert her independence. She no longer shows an interest in spending time with Cath or working on fanfiction with her (if you're unaware: fanfiction is basically spinoffs of published works, unpublished but posted on fanfiction sites). As Wren explores her new life, Cath retreats further and further into her own fanfiction world -- but her new life just might manage to pull her out.
So here's what I love about Rainbow Rowell's books: Everything. But seriously, her writing is incredible. She is able to convey emotions in a uniquely-colored but totally relatable way, making her language both delightful and clear. Also, she has a good balance of humor and real life. It's kind of funny that Cath took a popular series (similar to Harry Potter) and made the two main characters fall in love with each other, and it's really funny the way she wears t-shirts all the time and has commemorative busts of them in her dorm room (much to the chagrin of her edgy roommate). However, she also deals with severe social anxiety (think eating nothing but protein bars for a month to avoid going into the cafeteria alone) and has some family issues that require her to act like much more of an adult than she is.
Rainbow Rowell also writes the most irresistible of leading men. Every one she's written about has been a "nice guy" that has warmed my heart, and Levi is no exception. Don't get me wrong -- none of them are perfect -- in fact, they all commit some actions that made me cringe -- but they are all redeemable.
Another element of Fangirl that I really enjoyed was that it was set in college. Over the last few years, there has been an outcry in the blogosphere for "New Adult" books -- books written about young adults in their late teens and early twenties, navigating the choices that come with college and early career. I've noticed that NetGalley has recently added a New Adult section, but every book I've seen there has basically been about sex. While sex is an important issue during those years, I don't think it is the complete focus of most young adults' lives -- there is more to write about. Fangirl deals with it, but it isn't what the book is about. I liked that it was a realistic book about a person in college.
Well, I think I've made my point. Excuse me while I go off to write fanfiction about Cath and Levi now. Ahem. (Oh, and one more side point -- I wish that I could read the Simon Snow books in real life. Even though they are basically making fun of the Harry Potter books with perhaps a smidge of Twilight thrown in -- I would enjoy them. Any fanfic writers want to put that together for me? Shoot me an email. :) )
Warnings: Language, thematic issues (mental health, drinking)
Friday, October 11, 2013
I read the audiobook of Birthmarked and got it digitally from the library, so when I googled covers for this post I loved seeing how gorgeous they are! It isn't the most important part of the book, of course, but it is nice when it is done well.
Birthmarked takes place several decades in the future, where society is dichotomized: the privileged few live in the Enclave, and they provide everyone else with food, water, and the Tvaltar (aka, movie theater). Gaia and her mother are midwives outside the wall, and their practice is ruled by the baby quota -- the first three babies delivered by each midwife each month must be delivered to the Enclave. No one knows why, but no one questions it -- without the Enclave, they would have nothing. However, when Gaia's parents go missing, she is determined to find out what happened and how she can save them -- even if it means breaking into the Enclave.
I had never heard about this book and picked it up when my nursing preceptor recommended it. While at first I was a little put off by the writing style (there are some redundancy and over-writing issues), the story itself was fascinating and the plot was rock-solid. I was first drawn in by Gaia's life -- ever since having my own child, I have been fascinated by childbirth, and the nurse in me was interested as well. Other medical details crop up later in the story, and while not everything is perfectly accurate, its clear that O'Brien did some research. I also loved the intricacy of the plot. There are many different elements at play, and they eventually weave together, but I couldn't see how for quite a while. It left me eager to get to the next part of the book and uncertain what would happen next, something that is especially valuable in an audiobook.
As I stated above, the writing did leave something to be desired for me -- it wasn't awful but there were flaws that particularly stood out as the audiobook was read rather slowly. However, Birthmarked was fun and exciting, and sometimes that is exactly what I need in a book -- something to entertain and keep me guessing. I am looking forward to the rest of the series.
Warnings: Brief references to sensuality, some descriptive birthing scenes
Friday, October 04, 2013
Northanger Abbey begins with Catherine Morland's visit to Bath. Catherine is the daughter of a very large family in a rural area who has seen very little of the world, and Bath brings many new opportunities. She meets a best friend, Isabella, and relishes the pleasure it brings her to have a confidante. She also finds herself in the attentions of two very different men -- Isabella's pushy, talkative brother, John, and a clergyman named Henry Tilney. Catherine's ideas of romance are very much influenced by the book Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, and they color some of her experiences throughout the book.
One of my favorite things about Northanger Abbey was Jane Austen's unmitigated sarcasm. She constantly describes how Catherine is not a proper heroine, whether through being merely conventionally pretty (when she is having a good day) or through not jumping to the most dramatic of conclusions when her lover is late to call. Austen is clearly making fun of herself throughout the book. I also really loved the way Catherine's imagination runs away with her as she reads Udolpho -- and the way Henry eggs her on, planting ideas in her imagination that lead her to pass a few very freaked out nights in Northanger Abbey.
I also loved the relationship dynamic of the book. I don't know how many of my readers are familiar with Brigham Young University, where I received my first college degree, but it is known to those who have attended as a bit of a bizarre dating sphere. Everyone is looking for a spouse, deny it as they might (and, I'll confess, I found mine there), and people wind up dating a variety of people, some of whom are dreamy, some of whom are, well, interesting. John Thorpe reminded me so much of a few people that I went on first dates with there -- refusing to take no for an answer, talking up his own accomplishments so incessantly that they cease to impress, leading others to think that you are in a serious relationship, etc. It brought back all the awkwardness and emphasized the humor.
I also liked that Northanger Abbey was short and light to read. It was just what I needed. While it lacks the sweeping romance of Pride and Prejudice, it is enjoyable and will bring a laugh. It also has just enough Gothic charm to fit well with the Halloween season. I recommend picking it up this October!
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
After all, she did start her analyses on why French women seem to stay thin so much better than American women after a study abroad left her 30 pounds heavier and looking like "a sack of potatoes," as her father charmingly stated it when picking her up from the airport. Her pastry devouring while at the Sorbonne didn't help matters until her mother discreetly set up an appointment with a "Dr. Miracle" who prescribed a weight loss program that worked, and that Guiliano shares in her book.
The basic form is that you take inventory by writing everything down and noting patterns of when and what you overeat; have a "Magical Leek Weekend" where all you eat is leek soup, and then spend three months "recasting" -- being stricter than you ordinarily would but knowing that at the end of it you can slowly add in the things you love -- in small doses -- and keep losing your weight. She also stresses the importance of variety -- eating a little bit of a lot of things -- and not restricting yourself overmuch.
I agreed with most of Guiliano's philosophies. Her descriptions of how French food and ingredients are better in every way might have annoyed me, except for the fact that I've experienced it firsthand and it's true. Also, the two months I spent in Paris were spent eating the richest, sugariest, fattiest food imaginable and I lost weight. She includes recipes as well. I did find myself skimming much of this portion of the book but it would be nice to have for reference in the future.
She doesn't have any research other than her own anecdotal experience and that of a few other women, and she can be pretty blunt, but I still thought French Women Don't Get Fat had a lot of good ideas, the crowning one being that food is good and you should feel good about eating it -- and you can, as long as you learn how to use restraint. Check back with me in six months and ask me if it worked.
Monday, September 23, 2013
When I saw Confessions of a Latter-day Virgin on NetGalley, I was immediately intrigued. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more popularly known as "Mormons"), I tend to be drawn to books written about or by members of my faith. In addition, the book sounded like it was a perspective on life outside the mainstream culture of the church, which also interests me. It also leads me to make a quick clarification: there are certain LDS doctrines -- truths that we believe are from God and that cannot be compromised. There are also elements of Mormon culture -- things that tend to show up in the church and its members but that are not necessarily of God or even religious. When you have a group of people living in a unique way, additional quirks are going to arise. For example, BYU, a Mormon university, has some bizarre dating rituals, because a) we are taught to be abstinent until marriage, b) we don't drink alcohol, meaning the nightlife is a little different there, and c) we believe that marriage is one of the most important things you can accomplish in life, and some people take it as a challenge to get married ASAP.
I'm getting ahead of myself with those disclaimers. In a nutshell, Nicole is an LDS woman who goes to college at BYU. Like most young women at BYU, she expects that she will find love and get married in or after college. However, as she experiences BYU she a) doesn't find love or marriage and b) takes issue with many of the attitudes of her classmates. However, she believes in the doctrines of the LDS faith and spends her adult life fighting to remain a virgin despite her growing feelings of repressed sexuality. Eventually, she comes to a point of decision -- continue on with a lifestyle that feels hopeless and miserable to her, or break with the belief system that she has relied on her entire life?
I loved reading Nicole's story and getting inside her head as she shares her struggles. I think, as an LDS woman myself, it is important to understand those who are not in the traditional LDS mold of getting married young, being a stay-at-home mom with lots of children, etc. Being slightly outside that mold myself with my full-time job, I can appreciate the loneliness that comes with it and the frustration when people make judgmental remarks, whether or not they are intended to wound. Her honesty was refreshing, poignant, and at times heartbreaking. There were people who made very ignorant, unkind comments to her, questioning why she was still single, and I felt myself bristling with indignation at them. She also writes very beautifully, drawing on stories from her childhood to illustrate her present situation, which made the writing more relatable and powerful.
Because this is Nicole's story, I can't say I disliked it because I disagreed with her ultimate actions. The ending was frustrating to me because I felt that she took the thoughtless unkindness of some and turned it against the entire church, letting it color the religion that she believed for so long into something ugly and dark. Some of her actions at the end of the book seemed inconsistent with the hopes she expressed at the beginning, such as permanence in a relationship whether or not it was a temple marriage. While I hoped to see the book end in another way, I know that life isn't always that simple, and her experience definitely informs both my sensitivity to others who may be feeling as she does. It was a reminder to not be judgmental and to remember what are commandments from God and what are lifestyle quirks that Mormons tend to exhibit. Confessions of a Latter-day Virgin was not always an easy book to read, but it did cause me to evaluate the way I treat others and to remember that everyone carries a different burden.
I felt like this book was unrateable for the reasons lifted above, so it has ? stars. :)
Warnings: Language, moderate sensuality, one detailed description of the items in an adult store
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Chi Fa is disowned, left hungry, forced to beg in the streets to feed his brother's family, and sold into slavery. He escapes beatings and the starvation conditions of Communist China. He endures unbelievable privations, yet his voice is so positive and hopeful throughout the book. He always treats others with kindness and respect, from the invalid whose seizures frighten him to the family that he supports by working essentially as their slave. He never gives up hope, and he never caves into the circumstances around him. I found it so inspiring. I've never had to deal with even a fraction of the struggles that Chi Fa faced, but traffic or a bad night's sleep can leave me shaking my fist at the world.
In short, through my ramblings, Double Luck is an amazing story that also speaks to the power of the human spirit. It is a short but highly enjoyable and readable story that I recommend to anyone who needs a lift.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
I've played with the idea of quitting, taking one more obligation out of the equation. However, the fact remains that I love blogging. I love discussing books, and even though it is becoming an infrequent hobby, I'm not going to give it up.
I have about twenty books that I haven't reviewed, and for now, they are going to go unreviewed. The idea of catching up has kept me from blogging for weeks. I'm just going to start right here, where I've left off, and review the last book I read. And I'll keep doing that. Some time, I might feel like going back and reviewing an oldie. And then I will. Okay, ready for the actual review?
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is Amy Chua's story about how she forced her daughters to excel as musicians, and the ramifications it had for their relationships. On a broader note, it is her comparison of the Chinese style of parenting to the Western style of parenting. While she strongly believes the Chinese model is the way to go (and meets with dazzling success with her oldest daughter), her second daughter, Lulu, challenges all of Amy's assumptions as a mother.
I loved the idea of this book. In the United States, philosophies on parenting are so polarizing. As a parent and a nurse at a children's hospital, I see it all. I think most people lean toward the permissive, attachment-style parenting that hopes to engender creativity and confidence (but in my opinion often engenders irresponsible behavior and entitlement instead) (not that you asked for it. But there it is). I thought that while extreme, Ms. Chua's thoughts would be interesting and enlightening.
From the first few pages, I thought she was crazy. Stark, raving mad. She progresses through the book of course, changing from a completely rigid person to someone with more flexibility in her life.
However, despite Chua's forcefulness to her daughters, I could see the appeal of her way of parenting. Her children were (in theory) respectful, accomplished, and mature. I think discipline is essential and often neglected.
I'm getting rambly on my opinions, so I'll get to the point. The story itself was very readable and quick. Chua was extremely honest about what she believed and did, which I always appreciate in a memoir. She also reveals toward the end that she intended the book as a satire. It definitely did not come off as a satire at first, but in retrospect I can see it.
In short, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an interesting exploration of a different way of life. It shows that the parenting style is not flawless, but it also shows some of the benefits that it does have. It is a good glimpse into another paradigm and gave some good entertainment as well.