Author Archives: M
October 2013 Books
Went with a Halloween-themed reading list this month, with the exception of a couple of new releases that couldn’t wait for November.
1. The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan, finished 10/6/13 (re-read)
2. Emerald Green, by Kiersten Gier, finished 10/8/13 The conclusion to the Ruby Red trilogy, which is a really fun and fluffy time travel series translated from German. Kind of a Meg Cabot meets time travel meets London kind of deal.
3. The House of Hades, by Rick Riordan, finished 10/13/13
4. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, finished 10/15/13 Finally finished this one after it’s been on my unread books list for years. Truthfully, I thought I might be too scared to read this true crime masterpiece since it details the murder of a whole family in a farm house. It’s wholly engrossing, and there’s a reason it’s hailed as the first creative non-fiction book. Plus, there’s tons of gossipy stuff about Truman Capote and one of the murderers that you can read online when you’re finished.
5. Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore, finished 10/18/13
6. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black, finished 10/22/13 They’re selling this as a vampire book for people who aren’t into reading vampire books. Basically, I’ll read anything Holly Black writes since her world-building is excellent and her prose is careful and elegant. I’ll warn that you’re not totally avoiding a vampire romance in this one, but at least it makes more sense. And it’s a cool idea– vampires are out in the open and confined to “Coldtowns,” where humans can dare to enter if they want a chance at immortal life.
7. Fat Vampire, by Adam Rex, finished 10/23/13 A funny vampire book! Teenage kid is accidentally bit by a desperate vampire and spends the rest of the book trying to figure out the vampire rules with his best friend. Some truly great one liners and vampire genre mockery.
8. A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz, finished 10/24/13 Fairytale re-telling that keeps the spirit of the original twisted Grimm stories. It casts Hansel and Gretel in several of the Grimm stories and follows them as they try to save their kingdom. It’s written for a middle grade audience, and I think most adult readers would relish reading it aloud.
9. Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, finished 10/25/13 Oh, but this is good and creepy and perfect for October. Perhaps you have seen the stop-motion movie, but you should also experience this plainly-written scary story from the mind of Neil Gaiman. Coraline escapes her boring parents through a mysterious door in her English countryside flat, and she meets her Other Mother. The Other Mother seems too good be true with her delicious dinners and nearly-hungry attention to Coraline’s desires… and she is exactly too good to be true. Coraline must then be brave in the face of horror as she tries to save her family and maybe some other people. Turn the lights low, get a cup of cocoa, and read on a dark and stormy night.
10. Circle of Magic: Sandry’s Book, by Tamora Pierce, finished 10/28/13
11. Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion, finished 10/29/13 Suppose zombies keep their brain functioning but just can’t verbalize what they’re thinking. Narrator R can’t remember anything before he turned into a zombie, but he’s getting a real appetite for the vibrancy of life, especially when he meets whimsical and still-breathing Julie. There’s a pretty clear message here about actively enjoying life instead of mindlessly shambling through your days, but it’s a pretty enjoyable spin on the zombie tale.
Total Books Read in 2013 (so far): 121
Last months’ list: September
The September List!
1 Going Bovine, by Libba Bray, finished 9/9/13
2. Deenie, by Judy Blume, finished 9/9/13 They diagnosed me with scoliosis in seventh grade, and I wore a brace for three years. Some how, no one ever handed me Deenie, which is about a girl with scoliosis. I commented on this fact to my mother while in the middle of reading, and she said she couldn’t believe it either. Then I got through the masturbation scenes and realized that was exactly why no one ever gave it to me. Catholic schools for the win.
3. Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell, finished 9/10/13 Ahhhh!!!! This is the romantic comedy novel of your dreams!! Set around the time of Y2K, Attachments follows the office tech guy hired to monitor the emails at a newspaper. He knows he should turn in the two ladies emailing each other all their personal business, but he can’t bring himself to do it because they’re so funny and warm. Hijinks ensue. Rainbow Rowell is my new writer hero.
4. Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore, finished 9/14/13 Years ago in a college fiction writing class, my graduate student TA gave me a copy of “People Like That Are the Only People Here,” because he thought my writing style was similar to Lorrie Moore’s. I now understand that was hugely flattering and laughable. That story still just kills me- Lorrie Moore is a master of combining wit and depth. Go read it at once if you don’t know it. This book includes that short story and others, and it’s a total downer but she’s still a genius.
5. This is What Happy Looks Like, by Jennifer E Smith, finished 9/17/13
6. Elimination Night, by Anonymous, finished 9/19/13
7. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, finished 9/23/13 More Rainbow Rowell! This one is for anyone who has ever read fanfiction. Cath is a secret online superstar as a fanfiction writer for a Harry Potter-esque series. She’s started college and real life is totally getting in the way of her online life. Just adorable.
8. IV, Chuck Klosterman, finished 9/24/13
9. Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach, finished 9/24/13 Admittedly, I skimmed some of the chapters with heavy emphasis on physics. But I learned many interesting things about space travel. For example, did you know your underwear will dissolve if you wear them every day for two weeks straight? Amazing!
10. Untold, by Sarah Rees Brennan, finished 9/26/13 Sequel to Unspoken, which I just loved. I will follow sassy pants Kami Glass where ever she goes, and I don’t even care whom she ends up with. Why is SRB not a bigger deal??
11. Son of Neptune, by Rick Riordan, finished 9/30/13 (re-read)
Total Books Read in 2013 (so far): 110
Last month’s list: August
August 2013 Books
And here’s the August Reading List:
1. Moranthology, by Caitlin Moran, finished 8/1/13 A collection of Caitlin Moran’s columns from The Times, which we unfortunate Americans can only access behind a paywall. She really shines when she does profiles of celebrities like Lady Gaga and when she does her eye-rolling recaps of Downton Abbey.
2. The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion, finished 8/2/13 A truly enjoyable and truly unusual love story. Professor Don Tillman is less 50 Shades of Grey and more 50 Shades of Quirk, possibly even Asperger’s? He decides to find his perfect mate through a lengthy questionnaire administered to potential applicants to his heart… but then there’s Rosie, who answers every question wrong, and whom he still irrationally wants to be around. A fresh yarn in the rom-com genre.
3. “Swim,” by Jennifer Weiner, finished 8/2/13 (short story) A freebie from iBooks! It’s a short story that takes place in the same universe as the novel The Next Best Thing, and a reminder to me that I probably would like Jennifer Weiner novels since I like all her short stories and her Twitter. Funny in all the right spots, true in all the right places, and gut twisting in the worst best way.
4. “The First Star to Fall,” by Diana Peterfreund, finished 8/3/13 (short story) Ahhh! I am so excited for Across A Star-Swept Sea! Go read this short story that takes place in the same universe for a taste of this futuristic re-telling of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
5. Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman, finished 8/4/13 I think I already my opinion on this clear.
6. Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain, finished 8/7/13 Written before he was famous, I think? Anyway, it’s like Punk Rock meets Top Chef.
7. Past Perfect, by Leila Sales, finished 8/7/13 This is everything a lightweight YA about a summer job at a historical reenactment village should be: after hours battles with competing history sites, forbidden romances and heart-wrenching exes, gossipy girls in period costume, and ice cream. Really delightful.
8. Second Chance Summer, by Morgan Matson, finished 8/8/13 And this is everything a serious YA taking place at the family’s summer lake house where your dad is dying and your childhood friends aren’t happy to see you should be: hot neighbor boy who gave you your first kiss back to give you tingles, a mystery about why exactly your former BFF and BF can’t stand to look at you, pointless summer jobs with fun banter, a few kinds of fireworks on the Fourth, kissing in a TREEHOUSE in the RAIN, and some moments with your dad that will leave your hapless reader hiding sniffling sobs at her desk at work. Another touching one from Morgan Matson.
9. Between the Lines, by Tammara Webber, finished 8/10/13
10. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, finished 8/10/13 If you’re a writer, this is a must. It’s in the same league as Stephen King’s On Writing. I really can’t say enough great things. Anne Lamott just has a way with words, and she explains writing and the writing process in a way that makes you go, “Yes, I’ve had that thought exactly, but it didn’t happen in my mind in such eloquent words. Why am I not Anne Lamott?”
11. The Season, by Sarah Maclean, finished 8/12/13 Frothy little Regency teen romance with a trio of fun and sassy smart BFFs stepping out for their first London season, plus a little murder mystery thrown in for good measure. Just fun.
12. The Sweetest Spell, by Suzanne Selfors, finished 8/15/13 For those of us who dig on the Fairy Tale re-tellings. Sweet story, in a couple of ways, as you will see.
13. Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, by Beth Fantaskey, finished 8/19/13
14. Ruined, by Paula Morris, finished 8/20/13 YA ghost story taking place in New Orleans. Since I grew up in Louisiana, I got all excited about all the little local NOLA details, and I was shocked to learn the author is from New Zealand!
15. The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, finsihed 8/27/13; 16. The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner, finished 8/28/13; 17. The Death Cure, by James Dashner, finished 8/28/13 Oh dystopia, I can’t quit you. Like all good dystopias, it’s a page turner. This one differentiates itself by starring mostly boys and starting off in a deadly maze.
18. The Emperor’s Tomb, by Joseph Roth, finished 8/29/13
19. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, finished 8/31/13 Set in the 80s , Eleanor & Park is about an Amazon redhead new girl returning to her broken family and starting a new high school, where she is immediately ostracized. She starts to build a tentative pop-culture based friendship with the guy she sits next to on the bus, Park, and it builds to something more, despite her hesitant heart. Ooshy-gooshy romance, some painful scenes with Eleanor’s family, and an author to be applauded for finding her own writing voice and sticking with it.
Total Books Read in 2013 (so far): 99
Last month’s list: July
Orange is the New Black
Last month, I wouldn’t shut up about The Bling Ring. This month, I’m telling everyone about Orange is the New Black.
“No one’s gonna hit you harder than life.”
So says my favorite new character on a TV show– Taystee on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black.
There are so many quotable lines, really, and they range from deep and true to laugh-out-loud hilarious. Some how this show is managing to balance on the line between witty and dramatic in such a way that I actually want to watch it. Usually, I eschew dramas thanks to my day job in crisis intervention for mental health. It’s my job to hear about everyone’s worst day ever, so I generally want to lighten my mood by the time I settle down in front of the television at night. I’ll make the exception for Orange is the New Black.
It’s based on the memoir by the same name by Piper Kerman. The real Piper carried a suitcase full of drug money for her girlfriend at the time. Ten years later, she’s living a hetero-WASPy life with her boyfriend Larry. Her past catches up to her when she’s named by one of the other members of the drug ring, and she’s tracked down by the Feds and sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. The Smith graduate ends up in Danbury, CT in a system totally alien to her blond-haired, upper middle class existence.
Truthfully, the book isn’t as good as the TV show, but it’s still pretty interesting. Buzzfeed helpfully points out some of the biggest differences, but the biggest thing is that Real Piper makes better choices than TV Piper. But what fun is a TV show where the heroine is perfect?
I think Tom and Lorenzo sum up the show’s appeal pretty well in this blog post. It’s a show about women and by women. And these are women who we never see represented on TV. It almost feels weird to see so many women on a show, which is disheartening. It would be easy to focus on Piper, but the show is really the best when she’s NOT front and center. There are so many compelling women, and their friendships and conflicts with each other make you really care for them. My favorite pairing on the show isn’t even romantic at all– it’s the prison BFF dynamic duo of Taystee and Poussey. Here’s a scene where they imitate white people, and it’s a killer.
Not everyone loves it. Here’s a critic who didn’t last more than 3 episodes, thanks to the “gross out factor” and some personal quibbles with the characters. I would argue there’s no more “gross out factor” than what you praise on HBO. You see the same boobs and sexual activity on Game of Thrones. Is it less watchable because women are the leads?
Here’s a couple of links to get your started down my Road of Obsession:
The Real Piper talks about consulting on the show.
Some great details from the show, highlighted by the ever list-friendly Buzzfeed. Included: Crazy Eyes and her quoting of Shakespeare, Taystee’s dancing, and Sophia’s prison fashion.
Natasha Lyonne’s character seems a lot like her real life persona. A Vulture reporter follows her around for a day while she apartment hunts, and it’s hard not to imagine Nikki every time Lyonne opens her mouth.
While we’re at Vulture, they rounded up some fun facts about the show. For example, Yoga Jones (a prisoner who leads a yoga class for her fellow inmates) is played by the voice of Patty Mayonnaise on the 90s cartoon Doug.
Oh, and here’s the trailer for the show.
Go forth and binge watch!
Recently, two of my friends have lost close family members. As I sit by and watch them mourn in very different ways, I’ve been thinking a lot about grief.
Grief is a sticky thing.
Sticky in the sense that it is stick-like. Long and pointy, Jabbing at you in the most sensitive places, beating you over the head. Grief speaks softly and carries a big stick.
Sticky in the sense that it sticks to you, covers you like you’ve been tarred and feathered, and it sinks into your pores. It sticks to your ribs like a cement bowl of oatmeal, hanging around on your insides, making you slow and tired. Later, it’s like the gum on the bottom of your shoes, coming along when you least expect it to foul up your day. It’s like a gelatinous goo, clinging to you in stubborn stringy bits, refusing to let you go, holding you down, taking all the space in your mind, and snapping you back into place when you manage to free yourself a little. When people try to get close to you, it glues their feet down too.
And grief is sticky in the sense that nobody knows what to do about it. It is a sticky situation for those of us standing by, watching our friend or family member get stuck in the quagmire. Nothing we can say will clear the stickiness away. There’s no Goo-Be-Gone for grief. Some people think Xanax works like that, but it doesn’t. We can’t clear it away in a day or a week or a month or maybe ever. We try to navigate through the mess, try to say helpful things or do helpful things. So often, the grief throws it back at us. Sometimes it throws it back in anger. Unfortunately, in this case, nothing seems to stick.
So what can we do when faced with the tenacity of grief? What can we do while our loved one sinks in the muck that clings to them like suffocating syrup? Sometimes all we can do is let it hang around, let it wear itself out, let it lose its power as time goes by. It’s not a satisfactory answer.
In the meantime, we wait it out. We say kind things, we bring food, we sit in silence, we sit through rage, we say things that are hard, we wring our hands over the right thing to do, we sigh and wonder when this will end. We know it doesn’t actually end. But we wait for the new normal to start, to ooze up through the cracks.
We stick it out.
July 2013 Books
Here’s a wrap up of my July Reading List.
1. Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol, finished 7/2/13 Graphic novel! Russian immigrants! Single White Female’d by a ghost!
2. Unspoken, Sarah Reese Brennan, finished 7/5/13 (re-read) I couldn’t help re-reading this one. I love, love this book, and I heart the sassy and confident protagonist so much. SRB is so good at pointing at literary tropes and then totally subverting them. The sequel is coming out this fall, and I suggest you get on board with this series post-haste. It’s billed as “sassy gothic,” and it’s just a great combination of wit and drama. Tonally like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, finished 7/5/13
4. Scarlett Feather, by Maeve Binchey, finished 7/9/13
5. Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan, finished 7/16/13 Great beach read about the grossly rich high society of Singapore. Favorite son comes home with totally normal Asian American girlfriend, and the fish out of water potential just bounds across the pages. All the gossip of Gossip Girl with more mean old ladies.
6. Outcast, by Adrienne Kress, finished 7/16/13 Kind of a spin on Teen Angel? It’s total fluff, but I really enjoyed reading this one. I get so mad about so many YA novels where there’s Love At First Sight, and this is a good example of a slower building romance. And it’s funny! I’m impressed by the play of humor in a storyline that would otherwise be angsty and serious (Small town invaded by winged creatures, presumably angels, once a year. Family and friends swooped into sky by the visitors, never to return. Teen girl loses her best friend to the “angels” just when they’re about to FINALLY get together. Girl decides the angels must be stopped.) And, man, did I love the confident but insecure heroine! She felt true to life, and I applaud the author writing a romance where the girl is TERRIFIED of getting physical at all because she’s scared she’ll be bad at it and what it will mean for her. I also really liked Adrienne Kress’ Friday Society, which is about a team of kick-ass girls that come together as a kind of crime-fighting trio in a steampunkish Victorian England. Why is Adrienne Kress not a bigger deal? She’s writing original, spunky YA lit; and she’s masterful in creating funny feminists protagonists. People! Get on her! Not literally but in an innocent literary way!
7. Bedwetter, Sarah Silverman, finished 7/23/13
8. Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler, finished 7/24/13 I weep for the title of this book. It does the story a total disservice. It sounds like an airy-fairy summer romp story, but it’s really a lovely reflection on grief and moving past it. A great example of a YA novel about female friendships.
9. The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, finished 7/26/13
10. The One Hundred, by Nina Garcia, finished 7/26/13 Nina Garcia has some nice ideas about the 100 fashion items we should all own. And she’s totally right– I would be stylish all the time if I had all these things. Affording all of them? A bit of a problem. But I’m grateful she’s giving me permission to search out a really ridiculous cocktail ring. She didn’t mention anything about by hot pink jellies, so I guess I’m good there?
Total Book Read in 2013 (so far): 80
Also, if you’re looking for some good, cheap books this month, there’s some stellar option in the Amazon monthly deals. The Crown of Embers is second in a series, so start with The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but then race back to get this one before the end of the month. Enchanted is a fantastic mish-mash of re-told fairy tales, and The Last Dragonslayer is a totally delightful story about the long-suffering teen girl running a boarding home for wizards who is forced to contend with dragons. If you want something less YA, go snap up Moranthology IMMEDIATELY. It’s a collection of Caitlin Moran’s columns from The Times, and I don’t know how long it will be so cheap since it’s not on the monthly deals list. She’s billed as the British answer to Tina Fey. She’s pop culture obsessed, superb at feminist oration, and cheerfully gung ho about life’s oddities. If you don’t like supporting Amazon, you can find most of the same deals on iBooks, Barnes & Noble.com, and Kobo.com. Read something great today!
Last month’s list : June 2013
Happy Independence Day!
Happy Fourth of July! In honor of freedom and liberty and the American Way, I’m reposting my blog from last year about the movie Independence Day. Hope your day has been filled with great BBQ, good company, and absolutely no alien invaders.
June 2013 Books
I like to remember the books I read. I used to have a separate blog for this where I would thoughtfully review every book. My writing commitments are out of control now, and it’s just not feasible to write about All The Books. So I’m doing this new thing where I keep track of my books on my Bookshelf page on this blog, and then I write a monthly wrap-up in which I highlight some of the books I especially liked or books that made me think.
1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple finished 6/5/13 Take place partially in Antarctica!! I have been there!
2. Poison, by Bridget Zinn, finished 6/6/13 Sad story about the author, but a rather fun YA fantasy adventure.
3. Human.4, by Mike Lancaster, finished 6/7/13
4. 1.4, by Mike Lancaster, finished 6/8/13
5. Silver Linings Playbook. by Matthew Quick, finished 6/10/13 Really liked this one. A good depiction of what it’s like to be manic. Funny but touches on some deeper issues about family and mental health. A little different from the movie, but the heart is the same.
6. Also Known As, by Robin Benway, finished 6/10/13
7. Every Other Day, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, finished 6/16/13
8. Beautiful Redemption, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, finished 6/16/13 (audiobook)
9. Dear Teen Me, edited by E Kristin Anderson & Miranda Kenneally, finished 6/20/13
10. The Bling Ring, by Nancy Jo Sales, finished 6/24/13. I’m completely obsessed with this story. I even wrote a blog entry about it.
11. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman, finished 6/25/13. Gorgeous, dreamy reflection on childhood and memory. Gaiman is worth the hype.
12. September Girls, by Bennett Madison, finished 6/29/13. Totally shocked by the controversy surrounding this one because I thought it was a clever discussion of sexuality and gender roles. The Goodreads reviews make it sound like a tremendously chauvinist tome that’s a tribute to the main character’s genitals. I really didn’t experience it that way at all, and I thought it actually subverted some of that. The author gave an interview with the book blog Novel Sounds, and he sounds like he was very thoughtful and deliberate in his writing. He points out that even if people don’t like the book, it started an important discussion about feminism and sexism. I think it’s a shame this book is being trashed instead of celebrated.
Total Books Read in 2013 (so far): 70
The Bling Ring
Lately, I keep having conversations with people in which I explain The Bling Ring. I’ve been fascinated by the story since I read the Nancy Jo Sales article in Vanity Fair in 2010, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins.” I keep dropping the story in conversation casually and then acting all amazed when my friends have no idea what I’m talking about. It seems I have an unhealthy interest in celebrity news that most of my friends/family do not share.
But this story is different. It has Implications about Society In General. And it’s also just really interesting.
In case you’re one of those people unaware of The Bling Ring, here’s their brief story:
A few years ago, a string of celebrities reported burglaries in their homes: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, and Audrina Patridge Some, specifically Hilton , later found out their homes had been robbed multiple times before they even noticed anything was missing. The police didn’t initially connect the burglaries, but it turns out that all the robberies were carried out by a group of teenagers from the Valley. They admired these celebrities for their fashion sense and started breaking into their Hollywood homes and taking their clothes and other items. In almost all cases, they walked right in to homes not protected by alarm systems and used unlocked doors or keys hidden under mats. Their Bling Ring went on for at least a year; these fame and money obsessed teenagers some how managed to elude the police for that long. In the end, they got careless and started to take massive noticeable amounts of clothing and jewelry and left the homes in disarray, thus leaving a trail that led the police to connect the dots. One of their number, Nick Prugo, blabbed everything after the police were able to connect him to one of the crime scenes. Even though he pointed fingers and gave tons of incriminating details, none of them were charged with everything Nick says they did. There’s no evidence other than his Word. Which…. is not that reliable, when you think about it. Some of them got some minimal time in the slammer, some of them just got probation.
It’s crazy, right? These kids just walked into people’s homes and took things, and it seems like they did it pretty casually. Nick Prugo alleges one of the teens felt so relaxed about their actions that you actually took a dump in Rachel Bilson’s bathroom mid-robbery. Gross. I mean, just think about the themes here: narcissism, celebrity worship, the decay in American Youth (that one is a crowd favorite), the pull of peer pressure, the power of the crowd mentality…. someone should make a movie.
And someone did: Sophia Coppola. The Bling Ring movie just released this summer, and it stars Emma Watson (That’s Hermione Granger, Dad) as one of the teens allegedly involved in the Ring. I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s on my list.
If you want to know more, here’s a list of related links:
Start with the original Vanity Fair article, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins.”
Alexis Neiers features heavily in that article, and you can see her freak out about her poor representation in said article in this infamous clip from her short-lived reality show, Pretty Wild.
For a longer version of events, read Nancy Jo Sales’ recently released book, The Bling Ring, which is basically a fleshed out version of the Vanity Fair piece. I read it at the beach, and it is completely absorbing. In addition to telling the story more in depth, she philosophizes about the cultural implications of these events. She also drops some scary stats; for example, she reports 31% of high schoolers “expect” to be famous. WHAT. She also made me think twice about watching reality shows in which women tear each other apart.
If you don’t have time to read the book, Vulture did a round up of interesting tid-bits from the book that didn’t make it to the movie.
Oh, and you should totally see the movie. Here’s the trailer.
Also, Emma Watson started a fake tumblr to get into character as Nikki Moore, a character in the movie loosely based on Alexis Neiers. And someone found it.
And finally, Paris Hilton is loving her return to relevance and agreed to cameo as herself in The Bling Ring. Sophia Coppola took pictures of her house to help promote the movie, and she really does have pillows with her face on them.