Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Title: Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok
Genre: Contemporary fiction, multicultural fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover, 2010
Source: Audiobook from library
Read for: Alex Awards Challenge

Kimberly and her mother immigrate to New York City from Hong Kong with high hopes of a much better life. They find themselves rather disappointed when they find themselves in a freezing, roach-infested apartment, in serious debt to Kimberly's Aunt Paula, who helped to bring them to America. Kimberly's mother doesn't speak English, and Kimberly is none too certain what many of her fast-talking classmates are saying herself. However, despite the difficulty of adjusting to life in America and Aunt Paula's oppression, Kimberly uses her talents to overcome her circumstances.

This book grabbed me from the very first sentence, and I was swept up for the entire time. I listened on audio, and it was a great option for this book. The narrator was dynamic and emotional, and I felt connected to Kimberly and her friends and family.

The story is told in the first person, and Kimberly's voice is distinct and powerful. Her story begins when she is in elementary school and follows her through the beginnings of her adult career. Kimberly goes through the typical ins and outs of growing up coupled with her differentness from her classmates and her misunderstandings of American culture. She shoulders the heavy burden of not only living in severe poverty and illegally working with her mother in a factory after school to help earn money, but also keeping the rest of the world from finding out about the way she lives.

The secondary characters are just as vibrant as Kimberly. Her best friend Annette, who is passionate and boisterous, supports Kimberly throughout their teenage years, despite being shut out of the complicated secrets of Kimberly's life. Then there is Curt, the popular it-boy at Kimberly's high school who fixates on her despite her "differentness." And of course, there is Matt -- another boy who works at the factory, and who has the greatest influence on Kimberly's life of all.

Like Kimberly, Jean Kwok immigrated from Hong Kong when she was a young girl, which I think is one of the reasons why this book has so much depth and power -- it is frequently coming from personal experience.

I think Girl in Translation would be a fantastic choice for a book club due to the complex decisions that Kimberly has to make throughout the book. This book doesn't mute anything -- Kimberly's struggles are poignant and painful, with no easy solutions. While some of her decisions left me gaping in disbelief, at the same time when I considered how I would face them, I had no answer.

For a powerful, moving coming-of-age story, Girl in Translation should leave readers satisfied.

4 stars

Warnings: Some drug use, a scene of sensuality

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I'd Give a Theme Song To

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I am so happy this is the Top Ten Tuesday this week, because I do this all the time. Be forewarned, though; most of these are total cheeseball songs. Also be aware that minor spoilers may be present for some of these books, so proceed with caution.

1. In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce with "A Time For Us" by Johnny Mathis

When I first read this book, I was so captivated by the somewhat tragic love story between Prince Jonathan and Alanna (reading it as an adult wasn't quite so tragic -- I understood where Alanna was coming from better). I had discovered this song in a big thick book of piano music, and I thought it fit with the characters' stories perfectly.

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern with "Poison and Wine" by The Civil Wars

This is another story about loving someone who is an impossible choice for you, and the song talks about the contradictions in loving and hating someone at the same time.

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling with "Stronger" by Britney Spears

Okay, I know. Britney Spears. But as I read the shocking finish to this book on a 5-hour road trip, in the ending scenes this song just kept going through my head. Every time I hear it I still think of that scene in Harry Potter.

4. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins with "We Found Love (In a Hopeless Place)" by Rihanna

To be honest, this one is totally my husband's. I was listening to the song while he was reading Hunger Games, and he got really excited and shouted, "This is Katniss and Peeta's song!!" and started spinning me around the room. I think it fits really well!

5. Kartography by Kamila Shamsie and "Where The Streets Have No Name" by U2

This is cheating -- the author basically says this is the theme song in the book. But it totally fits.

6. Nevermore by Kelly Creagh and "Smother Me" by the Used

"Smother Me" is my favorite "what-up-I'm-all-emo-with-my-long-bangs-and-my-dark-soul" song. (And yes, I have those moments). Also, this slow burn is the best slow burn of all the slow burns.

7. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and "Roumanian Dance II" by Bela Bartok

This is a classical piece, and it is very dissonant and scary sounding (my husband begs me not to play it). This book was also pretty much terrifying and very dark, and I think they fit in well together.

8. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and "Vivere" by Andrea Bocelli and Laura Pausini

So Roxane sang real opera, and this is pop Italian music. But it makes me think of the book.

9. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and any Enya song

I know Enya did the last song on The Fellowship of the Ring movie, but that is not why I chose her as the theme song for this trilogy. I think it might have to do with the fact that my sister got the Enya CD for Christmas the same year that I got the books, and so it was always on when I read them.

I'm out of songs for now! Hope you enjoyed.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Monday, February 27, 2012

Title: The Canterbury Tales
Author: Geoffrey Chaucer
Genre: Classic
Published: end of the 14th century
Source: DailyLit
Read for: bragging rights

The Canterbury Tales are stories within a larger frame story of twenty-four pilgrims traveling to Canterbury to pay homage to St. Thomas Becket. The host of the group devises a way to pass the time: each member of the group will tell a tale. The resulting stories are a mix of the bawdy, the legendary, and the at times overwhelmingly moral.

So here's the thing about The Canterbury Tales. I know next to nothing about it; I didn't read the book in an elaborate edition with informative footnotes; I didn't even use SparkNotes once or twice. I was emailed short installments on weekdays from DailyLit for almost a year. And I have to be honest about my real motivation for reading it. I am not a fan of ancient literature or epic poetry. I've never managed to get through The Odyssey, The Iliad, Beowulf, or the Epic of Gilgamesh (I am fully aware that these are all from different periods and are totally different styles and works; however, the experience of The Canterbury Tales and my experience at attempting these other works is quite similar, the difference being that I actually finished The Canterbury Tales). There are two reasons I read The Canterbury Tales: first of all, despite my struggle with very old literature, I love learning about that time period, and felt that I owed it to the time period to read some original works. Secondly, I feel like The Canterbury Tales (and the afore-mentioned works) are "must-reads" if one is to be well-read.

However, in general I went through Canterbury Tales kicking and screaming. I don't doubt the importance of the work, and there were several witty lines that even my thick-skulled, science-minded self were able to pick up. I even enjoyed some of the stories; "The Knight's Tale" was my favorite (and I promise it was not just because it was the first), with its romance and ancient characters, and I also found "The Miller's Tale" to be pretty entertaining (although I am embarrassed to admit it, because it was also pretty bawdy). But for the most part, it was a chore to read my daily installments, and many days passed when I skimmed the verses and picked up absolutely nothing.

I feel as if I learned a small amount from The Canterbury Tales -- I think I have more of a feel for the time period, if nothing else, and a few random bits of trivia from mythology that were incorporated into the stories. However, it wasn't an experience I plan to repeat, despite the fact that I didn't glean as much from the Tales as I probably should have. I realize I am probably being judged by my more erudite readers, but I am hoping some have had a similar experience, or may even have advice on how to learn more (although I hope never to read the thing in its entirety again).

So, instead of giving this a rating (I can't rate classics this huge) -- tell me your experience with The Canterbury Tales. Your failures, your advice, or (if you exist out there in the wide internets) your love for it. What did I miss?

YA Friday: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Friday, February 24, 2012

Title: Pure
Author: Julianna Baggott
Series: Pure #1
Genre: YA, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, science fiction
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, 2012
Source: NetGalley
Read for: Review

Years ago, the Detonations restructured the face of the world. Most died, and those who didn't were changed forever; fused to the objects they were holding when the Detonations occurred. Everyone, that is, except the people in the Dome, who sent them a message saying that some day they would come out and help them. The people of the world have held to that hope, but as food gets harder and harder to find and the ramshackle government outside the Dome gets more and more power-hungry, the world seems as if it is going to fly apart. Pressia Belze is trying to escape from her obligation to join the OSR now that she is sixteen. Partridge Willux is trying to escape from the Dome once he finds out that he has been lied to most of his life. Together, Pressia and Partridge make a shocking discovery that could change the lives of everyone in both their worlds.

I should mention that this book isn't officially considered to be YA. The protagonists are in their teens, but this book is written in a slightly more mature style and deals with some disturbing concepts. I'm classifying it as YA because most of the people I know of who have read it are YA readers. Okay, end disclaimer.

I had mixed reactions to Pure. For a long time, I found the book difficult to become involved with. For one thing, it is grotesque. The mutations that affect everyone outside the Dome are disturbing, the substance of nightmares, and while it is definitely interesting to read about them, it isn't necessarily enjoyable. I was also somewhat bothered by the fact that some of those mutations weren't scientifically sound. Some of them were; objects being fused to people's limbs, for example, and maybe people becoming fused together. However, I have my doubts about people becoming fused with machines and functioning as part of the machines, as well as the people that became fused to rocks and animals. Maybe it was possible, but it was pretty difficult for me to suspend my disbelief.

The book is also very long, taking many chapters before any action begins to take place. I understand that it was important to build the world -- it is a unique world with many different features. However, my attention lagged for the first two-thirds of the book.

Fortunately, once things started happening, I was immediately more invested in the book. There is a tangle of complicated relationships and mysteries and I was fascinated to see how they all unraveled. The unexpected twists were perfectly constructed, weaving effortlessly into the world Baggott spent so many pages introducing at the beginning of the book. At first grudgingly, I found myself really enjoying the story by the end, and I was moved by the fight for life and freedom displayed by the characters.

There is also a subtle beauty hovering around the ashes and the grotesque mutations of the book. Despite her malformed hand, Pressia creates beautiful mechanical butterflies and trades them for food. Despite the ugly secrets in Partridge's past, it is revealed to him in a fairytale. And despite the pressure to survive and take what you can get, a beautiful relationship develops that isn't the central focus of the book, but that is sweet and touching.

So, will I continue in this series? I think I might give the second book a chance. While Pure wasn't my favorite book, it certainly shows promise, and I am curious to know what will happen to the characters in the next installment.

3.25 stars

Warnings: Violence, talk of an affair

Quotables: Reading and Writing

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Read, read, read. 
Read everything -- 
trash, classics, good and bad, 
and see how they do it. 
Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. 
You'll absorb it. 
Then write. 
If it's good, you'll find out. 
If it's not, throw it out of the window.

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Title: Baby Proof
Author: Emily Giffin
Genre: Women's fiction, contemporary fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, 2007
Source: Borrowed from my sis-in-law

Claudia does not want children. She's known this since she was a little girl, playing "aunt and niece" with her baby dolls instead of pretending to be the mother. Her husband, Ben, feels exactly the same way, as she found out on their first date. They both want freedom and autonomy, and no matter how fulfilling their friends and family say children are, they are more interested in their current lifestyle. That is, until their good friends have a baby, and Ben starts feeling fatherly urges. Claudia is forced to evaluate her goals and her relationship and decide what is most important to her.

I am going to preface this by saying that from the back of the book, I thought that this would be a book about a woman finding out she was pregnant and learning how to deal with the news. In reality, having a baby isn't really the central issue of this book -- it is relationships and how they change with time, how issues two people agree on at first may not remain constant throughout a relationship.

The book followed Emily Giffin's selfish woman syndrome. Claudia knows what she wants, and she is resentful towards Ben that he has changed his mind about what he wants. As a woman who very much wants to have a baby, her attitude was a little incomprehensible to me (I am one of the baby-hungry women that drove Claudia insane throughout the story), but I tried to understand the difficulty of having what she thought were very solid life plans uprooted. I would be frustrated if my spouse completely changed his tune on a significant issue, just as she was. However, the way she reacted to that change frustrated me -- instead of working through it, they both decided that on either side they were unchangeable. And while the book is Claudia's journey through dealing with her stubborn opinions, it still bothered me, that two adults, supposedly mature, would be so stubborn and so unwilling to work through their issues. Throughout the book, I really didn't connect with any of the characters -- they all struck me as immature and selfish, unwilling to budge from their rigid viewpoints. The only character I really did enjoy was Ethan, a character from Something Borrowed and Something Blue who popped up unexpectedly and who of course managed to direct Claudia towards better behavior during his brief few pages in the book.

While I didn't enjoy the characters, the book still entertained, and I caught myself peeking ahead more than once to see how things played out. Giffin's writing style is addictive, and she enmeshes her characters in dramatic quandaries that drive me crazy until I can know how things will come together.

Giffin fans will probably read and enjoy this book; I didn't hate it, despite its being my least favorite of the books (yes, I enjoyed Darcy's narrative voice more than Claudia's). However, I would recommend another of her novels rather than this one.

2.5 stars

Warnings: Language, sensuality

Top Ten Books I Would Save If the House Was on Fire

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I love Broke and Bookish's choice for this week's Top Ten Tuesday, because when I was a kid, I used to freak out about this. What would be the best thing to save from a burning house? Which books were most important to me? And while I don't honestly think I would be able to carefully hand-select the ten books, instead sweeping up an armful, there are definitely some that would be superior to others. Sentimental value seems to win the day for me.

1. Scriptures. It may be cliche, but my scriptures have really personal notes and insights written in the margins, and I would hate to lose them.

2. Journals. Okay, another cliche. I would rather have my journals than another book in a fire, because I would assume that other books can be purchased, but my own thoughts can't be. I lost one of my journals in high school to water damage and I was devastated.

3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. My husband gave this to me for my 22nd birthday. I'd read it before in high school, but really wanted the Julie Rose translation, and he surprised me with it.

4. and 5.  A Spoonful of Olives and It Sure Ain't Like it Used to Be by Lynn L. Johns These books are by my grandpa, and they have personal inscriptions, so I would hate to lose those.

6. Kartography by Kamila Shamsie. This is my favorite book, and I've read it at least five or six times. I've highlighted it and dog-eared pages and loved it (yes, I'm one of those) and I could read it again and again and still enjoy it.

7. My six-book boxed set of C.S. Lewis philosophical works. I have a shelf of C.S. Lewis books, and I love him. I could read him over and over again. Because six of the books are in one box, I think I can count it as one and grab it on my way out.

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I think this is another book that I could read over and over again, plus it is signed by Mr. Zusak himself. And because it is right next to I am the Messenger on the shelf, I would totally just grab that one too. Not cheating, right?

9. So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger. This is a similar story -- it is a signed copy and I actually had the opportunity to meet the author, and absolutely loved the experience.

10. My Kindle. Access to hundreds more books right there. Cheating? Yes, maybe. But realistically, it probably is the first thing I would grab.

What would you save?

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Monday, February 20, 2012

Title: Madame Bovary
Author: Gustave Flaubert
Translator: Eleanor Marx Aveling
Genre: Classic
Published: 1856
Source: LibriVox
Read for: Fun

When Emma Bovary marries the bumbling but kind doctor Charles Bovary, she soon learns that she will not be living the life she has dreamed of in novels. Starting with a glamorous dance at a ball, she begins to long for a life of finer possessions and greater loves. However, her adulterous affairs lead to her destruction.

This was my first LibriVox experience, and for the most part, it was positive. For those unfamiliar with the site, LibriVox has hundreds of audiobooks recorded by volunteers in the public domain. I chose Madame Bovary arbitrarily, knowing it was a classic that I wanted to experience eventually but not one that I was extremely excited to read, and therefore one that I could afford to miss a sentence or two when listening by audiobook. The book had a few different narrators, and with the exception of one, who had a soft voice and an accent, I had no trouble understanding the book.

The story itself is like a train wreck -- Emma digs herself so deeply into trouble that it is painful to watch (or in this case, listen), but at the same time it is impossible to look away, not only because of the disaster but also because the writing and storytelling itself is fantastic. Emma is a fascinating character, full of flaws and unlikeable characteristics, and yet also at times sympathetic despite her twisted actions. She betrays her family both with her affections and her exorbitant expenditures, and yet at times I felt sorry for her longings for a world outside her narrow sphere. Then I remember how she threw herself at Charles Bovary before his first wife died and then how she rejects his heartfelt, albeit clumsy, shows of affection, and I don't feel sorry for her anymore. Then I picture the final scenes of the book, and I go back to feeling some compassion. And so it goes. Emma is the perfect example of the catastrophe of human nature -- sinful and selfish, and yet inspiring sympathy nonetheless.

The story also has a full cast of secondary characters that to me seemed like a cross between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens with a little French flavor thrown in. There is the Austenian bore, Monsieur Homais, who drones on and on about his business and knowledge. The Dickensian caricature of a rake, Rodolphe, is unable to resist adding Emma to his collection of beautiful women to chase. While Emma is the titular character, the full cast is essential to the story. (The final pages (minutes, for me) when Homais is juxtaposed against the Bovarys (Bovaries?) was sheer genius).

The translation was also excellently done, in my opinion. While I haven't read more than a few pages of Madame Bovary in French (and have no intentions to go further with it) and therefore don't know how true the translation was to the story, the sentences and phrasing were artfully constructed and contributed to my enjoyment of the story.

Despite the length and the frequently unpleasant main character, Madame Bovary is a masterpiece. Any reader of the classics should read it at least once in their lifetime. I may even revisit the book in print form some day.

4 stars

Warnings: This is a book about affairs. While nothing is explicitly described, the plotline is essentially lovers' trysts.

Sunday Salon: Life (or the lack thereof)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

This week was not the best blogging week. I know I occasionally update on my personal life in snippets, but because I have a little downtime today (and because my personal blog is very neglected) I thought I would just update on this blog a few things about why I've been MIA lately.

I think I've mentioned before that this semester has been a lot crazier than the last two semesters of nursing school, and I've been having a really hard time keeping my head above water, so to speak. Instead of having three five credit classes, I have five three-credit classes -- but the workload in each three-credit class is heavier than it was in the five-credit classes of last semester. I've also had my first taste of a twelve-hour shift this semester. My clinicals have been at a children's hospital on the cancer floor. It has been exhausting, but also absolutely rewarding. Because (contrary to what the media portrays) nursing jobs are very difficult to get right now, I may have to settle for something different at first, but I really, really want to work with kids who have cancer. I loved that floor and hope I have the opportunity to work someplace like it in the future. This week I am going to switch to an adult cancer hospital for the rest of the semester, and I am hoping that works out pretty well also. From what I've heard, it is a really great place to learn (although of course, if you are a patient, you don't want to be sick enough to have to stay there).

Things have also been pretty busy with church lately. In the church I am a part of everyone has responsibilities called "callings" that rotate around. Depending on the congregation and the area you live in, you may have a calling for a few months to a few years. Right now, I am the secretary for the women's organization (Relief Society) which is busier than other callings I have had (often I end up playing the piano). It is rewarding but my Sundays have been busier doing church responsibilities.

Personal life has been busy too, with lots of big decisions being made in the last few months. My husband decided to join the Army to pay for his dental school. He is now sworn in and is officially a second lieutenant, although he doesn't have any responsibilities right now except to finish dental school and do a good job so they can make use of him afterward. :) We also decided where to go for dental school -- UCLA. It wasn't a dental school that we were really considering at first, but once my husband interviewed there he was really impressed with the program and we were very excited to be accepted. We move this summer (he graduates with his first degree in April and I graduate in August) and then it will be head first into a completely different life! It is exciting but very intimidating, especially as I peruse the job ads for nurses in LA. I have found one that I particularly would love to get and a few back-up plans as well, so hopefully at least one of those works out.

This weekend has been busy as well, so I am glad it is a holiday. My little sister got engaged a few weeks ago, and our mom and her future mother-in-law came to visit this weekend and to help her figure out some details of her wedding. I tagged along. :) This will be the first and probably only chance I have to be a bridesmaid, and I am excited. Fortunately my sister has great taste and the dress I'll be wearing is pretty rather than some of the bridesmaid monstrosities out there.

Aww... they're cute. 
Other than that, I have been trying to steal some time to read (I haven't in two days, which is ridiculous for me) and sleep. Hopefully this blog will be a little more active this week, because I miss reading and blogging as my relaxation time. Now it's time for me to go frost some homemade oreos... nothing like treats to induce relaxation.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Title: Venetia
Author: Georgette Heyer
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Published: 1958
Source: Library
Read for: Fun

Venetia has lived a secluded life with her crippled and sardonic brother, Aubrey. Her beautiful mother died when she was young, and her reclusive father prevented her from being presented to society or meeting anyone. Despite this, she has two devoted suitors, eager to win her hand. However, she is completely thrown overboard when the scandalous rake Lord Damerel returns to his abandoned estate near Venetia's home and takes into his head to woo her.

This is my first Georgette Heyer, and I loved it. While the primary focus of the story was love (and a little bit of scandal), it did not fall victim to fluffiness. Venetia was sharp and witty; despite her reclusive upbringing, she is neither naive nor innocent. She is unwilling to settle just to escape from her circumstances; if she doesn't find love, she declares she will live independently, throwing aside the propriety of her age and following her own desires. She was spunky and did whatever she wanted, and in her rigid, manners-minded context, it was absolutely delightful.

The supporting characters were just as delightful. As this is a Regency romance, it is impossible to avoid a comparison to Jane Austen; just like Austen, Heyer incorporated a strong supporting cast that was hilarious in their social interactions. My favorite character was without a doubt Aubrey, who is sympathetic in that he suffers from his physical handicap, but at the same time cynical and anti-social, constantly insulting people that he doesn't like. The overbearing mother of her sister-in-law was one of those delightfully caricatured characters that is a joy to detest.

The plot was also an enjoyable ride, full of twists and turns. While certain elements were predictable -- I wonder if the rake will feel guilty for romancing the innocent? I wonder if the innocent will listen to his qualms? -- there were also several unexpected twists.

It wasn't an earth-shaking or brilliant story, but it was an extremely pleasant ride with many unexpected plot elements. For a fun romantic read in the style of Jane Austen (but with a little bit of modern independence from our heroine), Venetia is an excellent place to turn.

3.5 stars

Warnings: Vague allusions to Lord Damerel's scandalous past.

Playing tag!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

There are some cute little surveys going around, and because I have a ton of work today I am of course going to answer them. Kind of. I am really lazy and am probably not going to tag anyone -- but if you decide to answer the questions comment and I'll go look at them. Deal? Deal.

First, I was tagged by Jenny at Alternate Readality, who is super awesome and isn't afraid to review a book she doesn't like. There are four rules, and I am only following two. I'm an evil cheater. 

The rules:
1 You must post the rules. Check. 
2 Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post and then create eleven new questions to ask the  people you’ve tagged. Check... half check? I'm too lazy to make eleven new questions. 
3 Tag eleven people and link to them on your post. Fail.
4 Let them know you’ve tagged them! Fail.

But here are the questions!

1 What is something you dread?  I am truthfully and deathly afraid of falling down in the shower, passing out, and drowning. Thus, I never lock the shower door, so people will be able to get to me if it happens.
2 What is your favorite food? Indian food, and also any kind of cheese (except Swiss)
3 What kind of car was your first car? My first car was a '95 Jeep Cherokee, and it was the best car ever. It died when my dad indulged in Cash for Clunkers and bought a Kia. Honestly, a Jeep in exchange for a Kia? Bad idea.
4 Picture taker or camera hog? Neither. I don't like having my picture taken and I don't like taking pictures. However, I love having pictures, so I am a Facebook-picture stealer.
5 Do you have any pets? My husband and I don't, but my dad has two horses and a dachsund, and I love them.
6 What would you do if you got to meet your movie star crush? Probably stutter awkwardly and blush.
7 What would you do if you met your literary crush? Author-wise, probably the same as the movie star crush, except worse, because I care more (because it is their brains I love, not their faces). If it was an actual fictional crush, I'd probably have to be dramatic and tell them we couldn't speak, because I am loyal to my husband, haha.
8 Socks on or off when you sleep? Ugh, off.
9 What book(s) have you been mad enough to throw across the room? The only book I violently threw down was Delirium. And I loved it. But that ending was brutal.
10 What book(s) have you hugged to your chest in love? The first book I ever remember doing this with was Redwall by Brian Jacques. I was so sad that it was over, and I wanted more. Little did I know there were 21 other books.
11 What was the name of a childhood stuffed animal? This is the weirdest name ever -- I had a little stuffed mouse named Pepina. I don't know where her name came from, but she was my best friend and she turned grey in a short period of time from all of my loving.

The other book blogger tag I got was from Sarah Says Read, who is also awesome and not afraid to hate on a book if she hates it. (I really like to be friends with blunt people in real life, perhaps this carries over to my book blogging tastes as well). Obviously, I am going to cheat on these rules as well, under the pretense that I have a lot of homework to do but really just because I am a lazy bum. 

1. Post rules. Win.
2. Post 11 fun facts about yourself.  Win.
3. Answer questions from the person who tagged you.  Win.
4. Make up 11 questions for people you tag.  Fail.
5. Tag 11 people. (Yeah I’m not tagging 11 people.) Fail.
6. Let them know they’ve been tagged. (I’m also not bothering to do this… if you see the post and see that you’ve been tagged, cool. Feel free to participate or not.) Fail. (I kept all of Sarah's parenthetical references to show that I am no the only cheater. Haha, just kidding. It is because I am lazy).

Okay, so eleven fun facts about myself:
1. Family rumor has it that we are related to Shakespeare. I've never seen the actual geneology, but it makes me feel cool.
2. I bought my husband a stuffed animal of the microbe that causes cavities for Valentine's day (he loved it).
3. I haven't bought beef at a store in over three years. My family raises cows and then slaughters them for our beef. 
4. I have eaten buffalo, bear, elk, deer, antelope, rabbit, pheasant, and goose -- all procured by my hunter-gatherer father (sorry if you are a vegetarian and I am offending you).
5. When I was in high school, I practiced the piano four hours a day. This is probably why I'm now somewhat socially inept.
6. I met my husband playing Scattergories when I was locked out of my apartment (this is what BYU kids do for fun). 
7. I'm working on my second bachelor's degree, and it took me five years to get my first one. *Wince*
8. I love Peeps. Seriously. Especially the chocolate covered ones.
9. My favorite store in the world is Anthropologie, and my biggest regret about not going to pharmacy school is the fact that if I were a pharmacist, I could afford to buy more things from them (nurses... eh, about half the salary. Good thing I love it). 
10. I have changed my major 7 times. This is why I am still working on undergraduate degrees after six years of college.
11. My favorite color is orange. My husband's, too. Therefore, our apartment can get a little... bright.

11 questions from Sarah:
 1. Do you like where you live? Eh.. ish. Our apartment is very small with little storage, so I am looking forward to moving somewhere bigger. I have lived in Provo for six years now, and while I love the mountains, the diverse food options, etc., I am looking forward to moving this summer. 
2. What would you do if you were omnipotent? Read minds and stress out about what everyone thinks of me, of course.  Um, kind of kidding. I would make all children get their immunizations, cure cancer, and make chocolate the healthiest vegetable, while sacrificing none of its delicious qualities. 
3. What’s your favorite holiday? Easter -- I love that it symbolizes the resurrection of Christ, and I love Cadbury eggs. 
4. What music did you like to listen to 10 years ago? Hmm.. when I was fourteen, I was just discovering pop punk. So, Yellowcard, Something Corporate, the Get Up Kids, etc. Not much has changed, apparently. 
5. What are your favorite websites? I like Pinterest quite a bit. And book blogs. 
6. What’s your favorite plant or flower? I love irises. One of the things I loved about going to BYU is that the hill I had to walk up from my apartment was covered with hundreds of irises in May. I should go take a picture of that before I move. 
7. Do you have any pets? Nope -- just my husband. :)
8. What are some of your favorite tv shows right now? I am in general not a TV watcher, but of late I have become obsessed with Once Upon a Time and Downton Abbey. And I do mean OBSESSED. I never thought I would wait for the end of the day so I could watch TV, but it has happened. 
9. If you could jump into any book, which would it be? The Night Circus. I would totally be a reveur. I even have lots of black, white, and red clothes. 
10. What’s your favorite joke? Why don't you shower with a Pokemon? Because he'll Pikachu, duh. 
11. If you could buy anything right now, regardless of the price, what would it be? Probably a house that moved everywhere my husband and I did (we are going to be moving a lot, because he just joined the Army) so we would never have to move, and it would be ours so I could make it cute. It doesn't have to be rational, right?
Okay, that was exciting. Thanks for indulging. Sorry I'm too lazy to tag anyone, but feel free to answer any of the following questions in the comments or your own post (Yup, I decided to write some after all):
1. If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
2. What is your favorite book blog, and why should I read it?
3. What is your favorite spice (to use in cooking)?
4. What is your secret unfulfilled dream?
5. If you could travel anywhere in the world today, where would you go and why?
6. Who is your movie-star crush? 
7. What is your favorite fairy tale?
8. What is your favorite Disney movie?
9. Which disease do you think is the worst you could possibly get?
10. Which disease is your favorite?
11. What is your favorite song?

Top Ten Books that Broke My Heart a Little

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I have a confession -- since high school, most of my Valentine's days have been good. Even when I didn't have a boyfriend to spend it with, I would usually find some friends to go out to dinner with and get in a good chick flick afterward. So I've never really bought into the Valentine's day hate -- I like love, so why not celebrate it, if not with a lovER, than with another person you love, like a friend or a sister? But anyway -- despite the fact that I like Valentine's Day (because not only do we celebrate love -- we get candy, too), I think this is a fun and creative prompt for Valentine's day. Anyway, on to the list. {Thanks, Broke and Bookish, for hosting}

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak -- I can't possibly tell you all of the reasons without spoiling, but think about it -- Nazi Germany, narrated by Death.

2. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett -- It took me a while to become invested in this book, but by the end I was so miserably intertwined with the characters that it killed me to see everything come crashing down around them.

3. The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman -- I think this book completely shaped my ideas of romance. When I was in the 9th grade and got my first ever rose (on Valentine's day, as it so happened), I remember putting petals on all of the pages of this book that I loved. (Yup, I was a cheeseball. Nothing much has changed).

4. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly -- This book is raw and emotional and moving. Read it now.

5. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta -- This book was so unique and emotionally charged.

6. Delirium by Lauren Oliver -- I really wish everyone out in the blogosphere had read this book so I could rant about the ending in all capital letters. I just couldn't believe it! Fortunately, Pandemonium comes out soon, so hopefully I can have some closure (although from what I hear, slim chance of that).

7. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton -- I don't think any book has ever socked me in the gut as hard as this one.

8. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton -- And while we're on the subject of Ms. Wharton... While The House of Mirth didn't have the same emotional punch as The Age of Innocence for me, it was also just achingly sad, and yet beautiful.

9. Kartography by Kamila Shamsie -- You guys. Kartography. I know that I have been pushing this book constantly on this blog, and that no one has ever heard of it or read it unless you know me personally and I shoved it down your throat. But seriously, this book covers the full range of human love -- romantic, friendship, love for parents, everything. And it doesn't gloss anything over as far as the pain that loved ones can inflict goes.

10. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens -- I know, right? Who would have thought I would ever put this book, my arch-nemesis of books, on such a list? But it is true.

In My Mailbox for the month of January (belated...)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

So, January ended... about half of a month ago. I know. But guess what I've learned in January? That the third semester of nursing school consumes your life and your reading time and all of the joy you could ever have experienced and channels it into a black hole from whence there is no escape. Except for the rare, gravity-defying experiences that I utilize to stick my fingers out of that black hole and type a post, that is (we'll pretend for a moment that I'm not cheating on my clinical write-up with the internet). Anyway.

Borrowed from the library:
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
River Secrets by Shannon Hale
Forest Born by Shannon Hale
The Social Animal by David Brooks
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Bossypants by Tina Fey (audiobook)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Thanks, Brenna!)

For review:
Berlin 1961 by Frederick Kempe
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Sister Queens by Julia Fox
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
Mariana by Susanna Kearsley
Goddess, Interrupted by Aimee Carter
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
(Um, yes, I may have gone a little bit crazy)

Tinkers by Paul Harding
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Out to Canaan by Jan Karon
Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson
The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett
4 assorted random picture books (hooray for the library sale!)

Not sure if that is so long because I let it go halfway into February, or if I have been a greedy NetGalley monster. Probably a little of both. Still, I'm enjoying all the bookishness. :)

Literary Lyrics: "Going to California" by Led Zeppelin

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I have a thing for Led Zeppelin. "Going to California" is the first song of theirs that I really truly loved. It is also my sneaky way of telling you all that I am moving to California in August, hooray! I think the amazing lyrics speak for themselves, so have at them. 

Spent my days with a woman unkind, 
Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine.
Made up my mind to make a new start,
Going To California with an aching in my heart.
Someone told me there's a girl out there 
with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.
Took my chances on a big jet plane, 
never let them tell you that they're all the same.
The sea was red and the sky was grey, 
wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today.
The mountains and the canyons started to tremble and shake
as the children of the sun began to awake.

Seems that the wrath of the Gods
Got a punch on the nose and it started to flow;
I think I might be sinking.
Throw me a line if I reach it in time
I'll meet you up there where the path
Runs straight and high.

To find a queen without a king,
They say she plays guitar and cries and sings... la la la
Ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn
Tryin' to find a woman who's never, never, never been born.
Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems

YA Friday: Chime by Franny Billingsley

Friday, February 10, 2012

Title: Chime
Author: Franny Billingsley
Genre: YA, paranormal
Publisher: Dial, 2007
Source: Library
Read for: Fun

Briony knows that she is a witch. She knows that she caused Stepmother to die, that she caused her twin sister Rose to be dependent on her, that if anyone finds out her secret, she will hang. However, when a handsome stranger enters her life and a dangerous disease enters Rose's, she knows she can't hide from what she must do -- and the beings in the swamp that can help her.

This book grabbed me from the first sentence -- "I've confessed everything and I'd like to be hanged." Wow. I'd heard mixed reviews of this book before starting -- some said it was stunning, others that the writing was roundabout and frustrating, that the self-hatred Briony bears was difficult to stomach. I am definitely in the first camp. This book swept me up and dragged me along at a breakneck pace until finished, all I could do was hug it to my chest because it was over and I didn't want any other characters taking its place for the next few hours.

The writing was breathtakingly good. Briony tells her tale in stream of consciousness, without the bad punctuation (or lack thereof). Her sentences are formed, but her thoughts fly around and around, touching on random fears and witty retorts. I loved every second. I clicked the "Surprise Me" button on the book preview on Amazon, because I had to take this book back to the library, and sure enough, I got an excellent example on the second try:
"I don't like my shoes," said Rose.
"I'm wearing shoes and you don't see me complain."
"You only hear a person complain," said Rose. "Not see."
How has Rose lived for seventeen years and no one has ever killed her, not once?
After typing it out, I don't know if it really is adequate to express the amazement that is the writing in this book, so just go read it.

But, if you need further convincing, the characters are even better. Briony, despite her marked self-loathing, is sharp-witted and amusing. Eldric, her companion in the Bad-Boys Club, is charming and almost perfect, but falls into enough male foibles to make him believable instead of too-good-to-be. Rose is just perfect, and I can't explain beyond that, even if it does make me a poor reviewer. She adds a twist to the story that makes it richer and more mysterious. And the Old Ones are creatively rendered and bizarre.

The whole mood of the story is so strange and unique that it is difficult to explain -- a mix of the modern with the ancient, of simple village life with dark magic. I've tried over and over to describe the premise of the story to friends, and the words fall short. But there is an air of darkness and magic that is absolutely enchanting.

My one complaint with the story is that I figured out a major plot point very early on. However, there were enough other added elements to the mystery that I was still satisfied and stunned at the end.

Billingsley's writing style may not appeal to everyone, although I wouldn't believe it except that I have seen it reported in other reviews. However, I think this unique and compelling novel will win it more admirers than naysayers.

4.99 stars

Warnings: some innuendo, violence

Spark by John J. Ratey

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Title: Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
Author: John J. Ratey, M.D. with Eric Hagerman
Genre: Nonfiction, medical, neuroscience
Publisher: Little, Brown, & Company, 2008
Source: Library
Read for: the husband, who is obsessed with it.

Dr. John J. Ratey explores the effects of exercise on various brain functions, from natural processes like learning and aging to disturbances in brain chemistry such as ADHD, clinical depression, and anxiety disorder. He intersperses anecdotal stories from his own practice with research studies to support them.

I've joked with my husband that we really just need to buy this book, because we have checked it out of the library three times and renewed each time. (It took him two times to read it because he was in school, and then he checked it out again to use a quote for a paper). By the third time we had it out, I decided I should just go ahead and read it. And it was absolutely fascinating, despite the fact that I didn't work out at all that week, therefore plunging me into feelings of guilt.

Ratey's hypothesis is that exercise alters basic brain chemistry, enhancing mental and emotional performance. He discusses the application of this theory in several contexts, starting with an anecdote about a school that utilizes aerobic exercise shortly before difficult classes for kids who need remedial intervention. This school has received incredibly high rankings on international standardized tests, and Ratey believes it is because aerobic exercise increases brain concentrations of BDNF -- a growth factor present in learning and other important brain processes associated with memory. He follows this anecdote with several examples of the positive effects on running and other aerobic exercise in disease processes like ADHD and addiction. I found it interesting that he had examples of people to whom he had made recommendations and seen results as well as more scientific, rigidly controlled studies to back up his results.

While any neuroscience book is susceptible to being bogged down with jargon, Ratey and his co-writer Hagerman keep the writing fluid and comprehensible on layman's terms (I assume. I thought it was pretty clear-cut, and while my husband does have a biology background, he hasn't done much neuroscience beyond basic physiology). He keeps his findings clear and gives his own recommendations for dealing with mental crises, suggesting a target heart rate and amount of time to exercise.

I think we are all aware that exercise is important for a healthy body; this book illustrates the importance of exercise to a healthy mind as well. Anyone with an interest in exercise and/or neuroscience, or especially someone needing motivation to put on their workout clothes and go, will find a great resource in Spark.

4 stars

Warnings: May make you feel guilty for sitting on your butt and eating ice cream.

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Title: Midnight in Austenland
Author: Shannon Hale
Series: Austenland #2
Genre: Romance, spinoff, contemporary fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA, 2012
Source: NetGalley
Read for: Review, European Reading Challenge

Charlotte's life has been a disaster lately. Despite her successful business and her two beloved children, her marriage has imploded, and now her ex-husband is married to a woman named Justice who reads the same cliched chick-lit book over and over again (and whom he was seeing for years before she found out). After immersing herself in Jane Austen novels gives her some escape from her woes, she decides she deserves a vacation, and she chooses Austenland -- a secluded estate complete with corsets, bad English food, and a handsome love interest. However, Charlotte finds a disturbing mystery hanging about the dignified English estate, and she is unable to determine if it is a real mystery or just part of the vacation.

I should preface this by saying that I really was unqualified to read this book. I never read Austenland, and I haven't read Northanger Abbey, on which the story is loosely based, either. However, neither of these frightful omissions diminished my enjoyment of the story.

Midnight in Austenland is a light read that doesn't have much substance, but as I was going into the story looking for entertainment, I was pleasantly rewarded. As far as light, fluffy reads go, this one had everything I could have asked for -- an unusual setting, some mysterious thrills, and more than one handsome love interest. The plot has several twists that I was not expecting, making the mystery more exciting and the romance more unexpected. I was thoroughly entertained throughout the story.

The writing as well is light and charming. I have enjoyed Hale's writing in The Books of Bayern, which I am slowly working through. In those books, she is illustrative and focused mainly on maintaining the world she created. In Midnight in Austenland, she is humorous and slightly more adult, poking fun at Pap smears and blind dates with the divorced set. I loved seeing this new side of Hale's writing.

The characters were somewhat cliche, not diving far below the surface of their actions and experiences. However, as this book had a focus on entertainment rather than uncovering deep and novel truths about the human soul, it was something I was willing to pass up.

Midnight in Austenland will appeal to those looking for a charming romantic mystery to while away an afternoon or fans of Austen who enjoy light-hearted spin-offs. This would be an excellent vacation read.

3.5 stars

Warnings: A few mild swears, some references to breasts and Pap smears

Happy birthday, Mr. Dickens!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Dear Mr. Dickens,

I haven't much time this evening due to the fact that my professors seem firmly possessed of the belief that I have no need to eat, sleep, or in any other way attend to my needs; they are of the belief that I live solely to study, study study. They are also unaware of my three hour daily commute. For this reason, I haven't the time to say much to you, but I couldn't let this momentous birthday pass without a few words.

I have stronger feelings about you than any other author, I must say. This hasn't always been a positive thing, but as I've been more willing to try your work, I've enjoyed it more. I've read four of your works. A Christmas Carol is a classic. I enjoyed it, but it didn't truly introduce me to your style, because really I was just wrapped up in the story because it is such a part of modern society. I tried to read A Tale of Two Cities many times and couldn't bear it, so I tried Oliver Twist (a second try, I'll admit) and fell in love with your whimsical and yet powerful writing and characters. Then I gave A Tale of Two Cities another chance, and once I powered through the first two chapters, I realized what I had been missing. Granted, it still took me a couple of months to read the book, but by the end, I was swept away. And I have just recently read A Cricket on the Hearth, which was quite charming.

I think we can say that our relationship is finally becoming healthy. And I am so happy that you have more works for me to discover. Because I obsess about reading every book by every author, I hope to reach them all some day, although I don't know if that is truly possible. Pickwick Papers is next on my list, and I definitely plan to read Great Expectations, Bleak House, and David Copperfield in the future as well.

I suppose what I want to say is thank you -- for the excellent writing you produced during your 58 years of life, and the legacy you've left beyond it. You are a trying author, but a rewarding one, and I am looking forward to discovering more of your work.

As always,
The Story Girl

February Prompt -- A Classics Challenge

Saturday, February 04, 2012

This month's prompt for A Classics Challenge (hosted by November's Autumn... beautiful name!) is on character. I am a little disappointed that I am not reading a classic I am more involved in, because character is the most important aspect of a book for me. However, maybe it will help me appreciate the book I am reading more if I focus in on the characters.

I am reading Shakespeare's Henry VIII. Lately I have become very interested in Henry and his assorted spouses, fueled initially by Phillippa Gregory novels and enriched further by Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (which you -- all of you -- should read immediately if you haven't). As I haven't read any Shakespeare histories before and I wanted to read a play for Shakespeare Reading Month and another classics challenge, I thought this was the perfect choice. However, I have been slowly creeping through it, and am still not extremely involved with the characters.

However, one thing that is interesting about these characters is that they take on different personas and attributes as they are interpreted through the minds of different authors. While I am not very deep into Henry VIII yet, my perceptions of the characters are colored by my experiences with them in other books. One thing I have noticed that differs in Shakespeare's treatment of the characters is that Anne Boleyn (called Anne Bullen in the play), who normally is the dominant woman, takes a back seat to Catherine of Aragon, Princess of Wales and Queen of England. Catherine is given much more stage time and much more character.

So to get into the actual prompts...

Level 1
What phrases has the author used to introduce this character? What are your first impressions of them? Find a portrait or photograph that closely embodies how you imagine them. 

I am far too lazy to look up actual phrases used by Shakespeare to describe Catherine (a full week of school will do that to anyone), but my first impression of her in this particular play is that she is strong, despite the fact that she is being beaten down by her husband's rejection and the varying opinions of her people. There is a scene where she begs Henry to consider her, but it doesn't strike me as weak -- rather than begging, it seems as if she is taking him to task for not honoring her as he should. 

I tried to give credit for this source and my computer went kamikaze on me and I lost the website. So, be aware that I myself did not create this image, but some exceptionally talented person.

Although Catherine is supposed to be large by the time these events take place, and although I doubt she is really that pretty at that point in her life, I love this painting, and it is how I picture her. 

Level 2
How has the character changed? Has your opinion of them altered? Are there aspects of their character you aspire to? or hope never to be? What are their strengths and faults? Do you find them believable? If not, how could they have been molded so? Would you want to meet them?

Well, in this retelling in particular, I think Catherine is stronger. While she is a character that I have respected throughout all the stories about her, I think in Shakespeare's version she is more dignified. I would love to meet her.

Level 3
Try writing a short (four sentences +) note or letter as the character, addressed to you, another character, the author, anyone.

So, because I was intrigued by the scene when she begs Henry to consider her, I am going to write a note from her to Henry. I am worried I'll be a little cheesy, so bear with me. 

Dearest Henry,
It pains me that you are pursuing this errant course, and I cannot imagine why you have chosen it. There have been other women before, but they have never threatened our marriage. And in threatening  marriage between the two of us, the most visible couple in our world, you are threatening marriage for all of England. You are showing the gentlemen of England that if they find someone prettier or richer or in any other way better than they perceive their wives to be, they have license to cast her off, with no thought of decency, commitment, or persistence. And aside from the wider issues at stake, I am surprised that the years of our marriage mean so little to you. I have produced a son before -- it is no judgment upon us that he did not live. Children die frequently, and heartbreaking as it is, there is no one to blame. We can produce an heir together. Keep your self-respect and mine intact. Do not do this.

Queen Catherine
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