December 20, 2010

Livi's Gift Guide 2010

Amazon is having a fabulous sale on Criterion Collection movies.  The company sells lovely editions of classics and modern classics.  They never have crappy subtitles, for instance.  (I will never forgive whoever subtitled Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon.  White subtitles on black and white film?  It's nigh unreadable at points.)  Generally, they're quite expensive ($30-40), so this sell is a real steal.  Remember, today is the last day to get Amazon orders by Christmas.

I've paired each movie with a book or book series.  I've tried not to pick obvious movies and to create inventive pairings.  Even if you give nothing from this list as a gift, I hope you pick up something for yourself.  (Check out my charities tag for other worthy places to spend your money this season.)

Army of Shadows - (Criterion Collection)
1. Army of Shadows is a 1969 French thriller about the French Resistance.  While war movie buffs will enjoy this movie, fans of character-driven works will enjoy it as well.  It's less about blowing stuff up and more about the human cost of being a hero.

Birdsong: A Novel of Love and WarPair it with:  BIRDSONG by Sebastian Faulks
BIRDSONG is an generation-spanning drama centered around an ill-fated love affair and World War I.  The sex scenes aren't that sexy (to me), but most of the emotional beats are dead on.  It's little wonder that BIRDSONG is considered a classic of twentieth-century British literature.
Hunger (The Criterion Collection)

2. Hunger is the newest movie on this list.  It is artist Steve McQueen's depiction of Maze Prison, Belfast in 1981, based partially on the horrifying images he saw in newspapers while growing up.  The beginning can be a bit of a slog - it's rough content and the movie does not stop to explain the prisoners' actions or the politics.  (Plus, you have to learn to decipher the accents.)  You understand on a visceral level, but a little knowledge of Northern Irish-British relations in the eighties will aid understanding of the movie.  The standout scene is a 17-minute oner of Bobby Sands talking to a priest.  The price of the movie is worth that scene alone.  Artists don't often direct movies, but McQueen imbued Hunger with an undeniable visual power.  I found the film to be fairly partisan, which might bother some people, although there are gestures to impartiality.
(Warnings: male nudity, authentic depiction of starvation)

The Hunger Games: Book 1Pair it with: THE HUNGER GAMES (and sequels) by Suzanne Collins
Collins's trilogy gets remarkably dark for a set of children's books.  That quality helps make it accessible to a wide audience.  At the same time, it is a children's book and thus Collins pulls most of her punches.  If you're shopping for an older teen or a fellow adult, give them THE HUNGER GAMES (and sequels) for entertainment.  Pair it with Hunger to show the true lengths humans will go to to combat an intolerable regime.

Beauty and the Beast: Essential Art House3. Let's lighten up this list a little before you start to think I want you to have a downer Christmas.  I've given this version of Beauty and the Beast as a gift before; the recipient spent twelve minutes explaining to me how it changed her life.  (She was drunk at the time, so take that as you will.)  This film is for the romantic in your life.  The effects and visuals are experimental and unique enough to keep the film looking artistic instead of dated.

The God of Small Things: A NovelPair it with: THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy
THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS won the Man Booker Prize.  You know why?  Because Roy has a knack for word play that allows the content of her story to match the from, as well as a talent for disturbing, haunting, and utterly beautiful images.  THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS is a narrative fight against the laws that control who you can love, and how much.  Knowledge of Indian history (specifically, the history of Kerala) might make the novel more accessible, but I think Roy's talent stands without context.

Wild Strawberries: Essential Art House4. If you have the money, give the Ingmar Bergman - Four Masterworks collection.  If not, Wild Strawberries is the one to give.  This 1957 film is a fantastical examination of life and death.  A lot of young people don't like it, but it's one to grow on.  (I'll admit to falling asleep the first time I saw it.  It was the middle of the night and I was suffering from jet lag.)  It's melancholy, but never bleak.  I know I said no obvious films from the collection and it doesn't get much more obvious than Ingmar Bergman, but Wild Strawberries cannot be ignored for such a lovely price.

Dangerous NeighborsPair it with: DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS by Beth Kephart
A meditation on life and death for the younger set, not that adults won't enjoy it.  Kephart's mastery of literary technique is a wonderful counterpoint for Bergman's mastery of film.  I think I said everything that needed to be said about DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS in my review.  What I didn't say is implicitly expressed in the fact I paired it with a Bergman film.

Yojimbo & Sanjuro - Two Films By Akira Kurosawa - (The Criterion Collection)5.  Okay, it can get more obvious than Ingmar Bergman.  When it comes to Akira Kurosawa it's still fine to be a little obvious. Yojimbo and its sequel Sanjuro are funny, bloody, clever, and set the standards for modern samurai films.  Show your loved ones how much fun revolutionary works of art can be.

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, Book 1)Pair it with: THE THIEF (and sequels) by Megan Whalen Turner
You want a clever story with a historical setting and equally rewarding sequels?  Go no farther than Turner's impeccable and award-winning series about thief Eugenides and his adventures.  I'd love to read them for the first time again except for the fact is so rewarding to reread them and see how she constructs the various twists.  The first book is aimed at elementary/middle-aged readers, but the series ages as it continues.

The Lady Eve - Criterion Collection6.  I finish my list with The Lady Eve, a romantic comedy featuring a variety of cons and a bravura performance from Barbara Stanwyck.  (Henry Fonda is pretty good too.)  The Lady Eve is everything I want when I see another misogynistic cliche-fest starring Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston or their ilk.  All these years later and this movie is still hilarious and sexy.  And what more could you want from a romantic comedy?

White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1)Pair it with: WHITE CAT by Holly Black
Black's latest novel is also hilarious and sexy by turns.  It also contains cons.  But it will tear your heart out instead of lifting it up. It's good to have a bit of balance in your life.  I've also heard that other people find WHITE CAT less heart-breaking.  (I'm Team Lila and Cassel, yo.)

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So there's my list.  Get shopping, if you haven't already!  And be careful.  If you're like me you'll buy a $15 Brooks Brothers tie just because it's a $15 Brooks Brothers tie and not because you actually know someone who wears ties.

December 19, 2010

Reading in College

I recently received a question by e-mail:

I had a question. I don't know if you ever addressed this before on your blog but I was wondering how do you find time to read while in college? I am also a college student and I love to read YA, but I find that between having to read required reading for school and studying for classes I have absolutely no time for leisure reading at all. So, I was wondering if you could tell me how you found the time to do so and if you had any tips for balancing reading for fun and school work.

As of last Monday, I am a college graduate. I did it in three and a half years instead of four, and managed to receive a variety of honors.

Reading in college made that achievement easier.

"Balancing" is an excellent word for college life. But it doesn't fully encompass it. To me, balance implies equal parts. It's more a game of prioritizing the parts.

I believe that number one in anybody's college career should be studying. Yes, it can be boring. But it's what you're paying for/getting paid for. Treat it like a job. Attend your classes and take notes on the lecture - it will help you remember the readings. (For that matter, read your texts.) Professors are not out to get you. If you do your assignments and pay a bit of attention, you'll find that there aren't any surprises on the tests. As for essays, do a bit of prep work. Ask the professor about his or her grammar pet peeves. (Believe me, every professor will want something different from your writing. Adapt.) Finish essays with enough time to revise. If you're bad at revising, go to your campus's writing center.

Take classes that interest you. Every major has some dud classes that you have to take. (Honors Physics for Nonmajors is the devil.) Spread them out. Don't be afraid to drop a class during add/drops if you can tell that you and the professor aren't a good fit and you take something else for that requirement. Take classes that you'll honestly learn something in. If your entire course schedule bores you, change your major. Be flexible.

Sometimes it feels like you don't have time to do all of your assignments. The work will go faster if you enjoy it and don't feel like you're wasting your time. It helps to have habitual study times. Wednesday was my catch-up day. I didn't make plans on Wednesdays, just made sure I was up to date on my work. Sunday was get-ahead day. If you do all your reading for the week on Sunday, then you practically have a free week.

Note: you will always lie and say you'll do work when you visit home. No one really works when they visit home. Do your work before or get back in town in enough time to do your work.

My number two priority was socializing. It can be easy to become a hermit, absorbed by classwork. Humans are social creatures, however. But you should socialize smart. Getting drunk every weekend? Not smart. You lose a night and a morning when you could be functional. Eating with friends (at home, in the cafeteria, at a nearby restaurant) is smart. Why? Because you have to eat anyway, might as well do it with company. I highly recommend rotating between people's apartments and rotating cooking duties. You can get a variety of wonderful homecooked meals, save money by buying food in bulk, and be responsible for cooking and cleaning only part of the time.

Note: make friends with people who can cook and/or bake.

Like study days, it helps to have a social day. Mine was Thursday - dinner and a (rented) movie with my roommate, her brother, their best friend, and another friend, as well as any hangers-on that week. It helped us chill at the end of the week and made sure we had our acts together by the end of the week.

It can also help to study with other people. They don't have to be in your classes. Just spend an hour or two with friends, in a quiet place, with your books. Hold each other accountable.

Finally, I devoted time to certain individual pursuits. For me, this meant at least thirty minutes a day devoted to reading. The routine helped relax me and helped me sleep better (if I did it before bed), ensuring that I was more proactive the rest of the day.

Doing things you love makes you happy.

Do not structure your life so that you are miserable. Taking a small portion of your day, everyday, just to make yourself feel good is worth it. It isn't wasting your time. It's making sure you have the attitude you need to handle everything else going on in your life. It's combating stress. It's raising your self-esteem.

Read because you love to read.  Or sew because you love to sew.  Or dance to bad pop music because you love dancing and bad pop music.  We need love in our lives, and your hobbies won't dump you right before finals.

Note: if you have a roommate, find out if you share a hobby.  If he or she really dislikes your dancing to bad pop music, however, try to do it when he or she isn't around.  But sharing the hobby can ensure that you take part in it regularly.

I'm not saying you should spend 10 hours playing World of Warcraft. Moderation, people. I'm saying just a bit of you-time makes other-time more productive.  Quality relaxation time matters more than the quantity.

Don't dread endless days of studying. Enjoy learning.

And for heaven's sake, sleep eight hours a night.  What is this four hours of sleep nonsense I hear about?  Falling asleep during lectures, getting sick more often . . . yeah, that's the way to get ahead.

November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope those of you in the US have a wonderful time celebrating, and that those of you elsewhere have fun too!

I am thankful that I have been able to maintain this blog and meet so many people. Part of the joy of blogging is the community.

I am thankful that the semester is almost over.

I am thankful that the book I read last night was so good it kept me up until three a.m.

I am thankful for the chocolate covered espresso beans a friend gave me.  Delicious.

Now, I'm off to play with my niece and nephew.  I'm thankful they're in Texas right now instead of North Dakota.

November 23, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (on Tuesday)

I just bought VAMPIRE ACADEMY by Richelle Mead. I've heard good things and read a teaser that convinced me it would be a fun read.

Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy, Book 1)

But I have read Mead's first two Dark Swan books. I'm excited that the third will be released on February 22nd or March 1st. (Mead's site disagrees with Amazon.)

Iron Crowned

Here's the blurb for IRON CROWNED, from Mead's site:
Shaman-for-hire Eugenie Markham is the best at banishing entities trespassing in the mortal realm. But as the Thorn Land’s queen, she’s fast running out of ways to end the brutal war devastating her kingdom. Her only hope: the Iron Crown, a legendary object even the most powerful gentry fear…

Who Eugenie can trust is the hardest part. Fairy king Dorian has his own agenda for aiding her search. And Kiyo, her shape-shifter ex-boyfriend, has every reason to betray her along the way. To control the Crown’s ever-consuming powers, Eugenie will have to confront an unimaginable temptation--one that will put her soul and the fate of two worlds in mortal peril…

I'll have to reread the first two in preparation!

November 22, 2010

Review: Invisible Things

Oh my goodness. You guys, I turn in my thesis on December 3rd. My finals are the week after that. Then I'm a graduate. I'm getting job and other applications together, but my plans aren't set in stone yet. It's hard to believe that I will soon no longer be a student, since that's been my identity for a long time now.

I've gotten a raise at work! I intend to keep my current job until I do find something better. Both the owner and the managers told me I'm the best closer, which is a little sad since I haven't been working there long. But it makes me happy because I prefer working closing to the day shifts. (Day shifts get to restock, which is hard on one's back.)

But on to content! Sorry I haven't been updating lately, but I prefer to be silent then bombard ya'll with crappy posts I haven't spent any time on.

Invisible Things

Available tomorrow from HarperTeen
Review copy

This review is part of a Traveling to Teens tour. Jenny's last stop was The Neverending Shelf and her next stop is The Hiding Spot.

I unfortunately wasn't able to read THE EXPLOSIONIST first. I dislike starting with a sequel, but sometimes it's fun to see how well the book works when you don't start familiar with the world. INVISIBLE THINGS did manage the set-up well. I liked that it was set in Denmark and other places that aren't often seen in English literature. Plus, the places were new to Sophie, who came to Denmark by way of a school in Scotland, so new readers wouldn't be lost there. The details of the steampunk world took awhile to unfold, but one paragraph in particular played catch-up nicely:
When would the dynamiteur Alfred Nobel send word that he was ready to see Sophie? . . . When Nobel did finally reach out to her, would the message be brought by her old chemistry teacher, Mikael's older brother, Arne? Would Mikael - but Sophie could hardly stand to thing about it, the idea so thoroughly and confusingly excited and shamed her - ever want to kiss her? (ARC, p. 20)
The rhetorical questions felt like someone testing out different scenarios in their mind. It also brought in things that had happened while still focusing on future action, which prevented drag.

Unfortunately, drag did occur elsewhere. Due to my current focus on my thesis, I read INVISIBLE THINGS in bits and pieces, spare moments snatched during bus commutes and waiting for water to boil. Thus, I may not be doing full justice to the book. At the same time, I just never felt compelled to sit with it longer. I'm behind on a term paper outline because I picked up Jim Butcher's DEAD BEAT and didn't put it down for 200 pages. Jenny Davidson never managed to make me forget other responsibilities waiting.

Davidson's writing, mechanically, was lovely. The prelude to the story is atmospheric while managing to pack in some action. But it seems like the action parts got lost sometimes. Part of this is due to Sophie's intelligence, which sometimes translates as pretentiousness. She tends to think about things in ways that can be lovely, but don't create forward momentum.

I enjoyed INVISIBLE THINGS, but I somehow though a novel that revealed dark secrects, featured an eve-of-war setting, and began with an assassination would be more of a page-turner.

November 3, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: All Just Glass

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a meme began by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

All Just Glass

ALL JUST GLASS, coming out on January 11, 2011, is the sequel to SHATTERED MIRROR, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes's third novel.

Book Cover

SHATTERED MIRROR came out in 2001, and I thought it was open-ended enough for a sequel then. I'm excited to see how it will turn out even if I'm no longer in junior high.

Here's the summary from Amazon:

Sarah Vida has given up everything for love. From a legendary family of vampire-hunting witches, Sarah was raised to never trust a vampire, to never let her guard down, and to avoid all tricky attachments of the heart. But now Sarah IS a vampire—changed by the boy she thought she loved. Her family has forsaken her, and Sarah herself is disgusted by her appetite for blood.

Aida Vida is Sarah's older sister, the good, reliable sibling who always does her family proud. But when Aida's mother insists that Sarah be found and killed, Aida is given the one assignment that she may not be able to carry out.

Taking place over just twenty-four hours, ALL JUST GLASS tells the story of a game-changing battle that will forever change the world of the Den of Shadows. And at its center is the story of two sisters who must choose between love and duty. Dark, fully-imagined, and hard to put down, ALL JUST GLASS will thrill Amelia's fans—old and new.

November 1, 2010

Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award

I read on Jezebel today that the American Library Association is adding an award to recognize children's and young adult fiction with LGBTQ themes. The Stonewall Awards are not new, but this category is. I'm excited, as I am with most anything that increases visibility. Jezebel also ran a story today on bullying. These types of suicides are not new, and kids who are alienated from their peers need access to novels that can help them realize they aren't alone.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary

The 2010 winner is THE VAST FIELDS OF ORDINARY by Nick Burd, which I recommended here.

I think YA is far better at inclusivity than adult lit, and I hope that trend continues and spreads.

October 19, 2010

Distractions of the World: Television

As most of what I do for school is read and write, I often want to do something different in order to relax. The laziest of these different things is to watch a television show. I'm rarely able to watch shows when they air, so I mostly hulu things.

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Monday: Chuck



Chuck is full of cool spy action, funny characters, and geek culture. I love that the third season resolved the will-they-or-won't-they, since I find will-they-or-won't-they annoying.

Tuesday: Glee

I'm sure ya'll have heard of Glee, which is wildly inconsistent but still dear to me. It's high notes are high enough to keep me watching. I like that Glee allows it's characters to be nasty. No one - not even Will Schuester - is a designated saint.

Wednesday: Cougar Town



I started watching Cougar Town, even though it was awful, due to my loyalty to Busy Philipps. My loyalty was rewarded when it became a startling good ensemble show with incredible continuity and an actual plot, despite the sitcom set-up. No reset button here. Plus, there's an admirable dedication to Chekov's Gun. Expect any silly gag in the beginning to pay off by the end of the episode.

Thursday: The Vampire Diaries

This one isn't on hulu, you have to watch it at CW TV, which is one of the worst video experiences ever. All sorts of buffering issues, plus you have to watch a million ads which repeat. I once watched the same Nikita ad three times in a row. Another time The Vampire Diaries promo kept playing. I DIDN'T NEED TO BE TOLD TO WATCH THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. I WAS ACTIVELY WATCHING IT.

But it's worth it, because The Vampire Diaries is all that and a bag of chips. Attractive people who can act, fast-paced plot, continuity, and Ian Somerhalder not so much acting as ripping through the scenery with a backhoe. (His expressions are mesmerizing and strange.) The Vampire Diaries is another show that lets it's characters do bad things. Stefan, the sweet vegetarian love-interest vampire, is extremely pragmatic. Will-torture-and-kill-you-if-you-threaten-his-people pragmatic. I can dig.

Bonus: based on the classic YA series by L. J. Smith.

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If you can't tell, I like funny, character-driven shows. If that's not your thing, you might not like these.

October 18, 2010

Distractions of the World: School Books

I thought that ya'll might like to know what I've been up to, since I clearly haven't been updating In Bed With Books much. First, here are books I'm currently reading for school:

Book Cover

HAMLET by William Shakespeare
(I am actually reading an anthology copy, but if I were to buy a separate text I would choose the Arden edition linked above.)

I've read HAMLET before, but rereading it brings back all the things I've forgotten. It's easy to remember the tragic elements, but I forgot how funny and sexy the play is. It isn't my favorite Shakespeare play - it's not even my favorite tragedy - but it is one of the most fun to subject to literary analysis. The puns! They multiply.

Book Cover

ENGLISH, AUGUST: An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee

I get to read all sorts of fun things for this class. This 1988 novel is about a Bengali stoner in the Indian Administrative Service who is extremely westernized. He speaks English better than any Indian language and listens to Chopin as often as Tagore. I'm not very far into the novel, but so far it's quite funny. I'm not sure it will defeat Vikram Seth's THE GOLDEN GATE as my favorite novel of the class, although it might be close.

Book Cover

THE BOOK OF TEA by Okakura Kakuzo

Actually, I'm starting to read this one as soon as I finish this blog post. This 1906 book defends Japanese and Asian culture, published almost simultaneously with the beginning of the Japanese folk art and folk lore movements. These movements were part of the backlash against the Westernization of the Meiji period. THE BOOK OF TEA discusses the history, philosophy, and aesthetics of the Japanese tea ceremony and is available in the public domain.

October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day

Today (or tomorrow, if you live in the UK) is National Coming Out Day. That doesn't mean you have to come out today, if you're gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual, or otherwise not-straight. But think about being public with your support of LGBTQ rights. The world has come a long way, but it is by no means equal. (Even the official site of National Coming Out Day doesn't mention asexuals. Asexual and bisexual invisibility in the LGBTQ community really needs to stop.)

For gay-themed book blogs, check out I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read? and Let's Get Beyond Tolerance. James of Book Chic Club is hosting a LGBT week. There's a lot more lit out there for LGBTQ teens than there used to be, but it can be hard finding it sometimes.

October 6, 2010

Interview with Jackie Morse Kessler

HUNGER is Jackie Morse Kessler's first young adult novel, although she is previously published as Jackie Kessler. (She writes the Hell on Earth and Icarus Project series.) She is a former fantasy editor and current mother and cat owner. She is currently traveling about the blogosphere with T2T Tours. Yesterday she stopped at The Book Cellar and tomorrow she'll be at Yan's Books by Their Cover.

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1. In HUNGER, Lisabeth travels all over the world in order to do her job as Famine. How did you decide what locations she would visit?

JK: Great question! I picked Sydney (the place where she meets War) because I wanted a place far away from Lisa’s home but still where the people would be speaking English (if not American English). I knew that Egypt would also be a place Lisa visited because she’d recognize the pyramids and know where she was. But the other two places I picked after doing a Google search about modern-day famines. The place Lisa goes to when she seeks Death is based on the Indian state of Mizoram, when bamboo flowered there (as it does roughly every fifty years) and brought with it a plague of rats. The other place, where she goes after Cairo, is based on Haiti.
Hunger
2. HUNGER does a good job of mixing an issue storyline with genre fiction. How did you keep a balance between the two?

JK: Writing HUNGER was less about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse than it was about Lisa’s anorexia. So I focused on the eating disorder and blended in the fantastical elements. I think the book is closer to magical realism than to urban fantasy. (Sometimes, I think we should just call it “fiction” and leave it at that!)

3. What are the differences between your writing for adults and your writing for teens?

JK: It didn’t really come into play in this book, as it does in the follow-up book RAGE, but a big difference is not having graphic sex scenes and a lot of profanity. (But that may be less about writing for teens versus adults and more about my first series for adults was about a demon of Lust.) That’s the reason why I have a slightly different byline for my YA books than I do for my adult books.
4. How did you research the Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Lisabeth's anorexia?

RageThe Horsemen research really comes down to the Book of Revelations, with a few different interpretations that I found online. I used this as a starting point, and then came up with my own reasons for the existence of Horsemen. I touch on those reasons in HUNGER and again in RAGE. (And the Horsemen make plenty of appearances in popular culture, from comic books to songs to television shows. And other books too! Have you read Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s GOOD OMENS? Please do so!)

As for anorexia and bulimia, most of that was personal. I used to be bulimic, and it was (frighteningly) easy to channel that mindset when I wrote HUNGER. Some details about anorexia I found online, and I watched an episode of the A&E series Intervention that focused on anorexia.

I wish I could say that interacting with someone who looks and sings like Kurt Cobain was based on experience. Alas!

5. Your bio states that you've never read any Jane Austen, despite having an English degree. Being an English major myself, I know that there's always some part of the canon you haven't read. What classic do you regret not having read (yet)?

JK: No regrets. Just books to add to my to-be-read pile. :) I suppose the first one should be P&P!

6. Do you think you will continue to write YA after the Rider's Quartet is complete?

JK: I certainly hope so. I have two loosely connected YA story ideas percolating, as well as a middle-grade novel possibility. But at the moment, I’m concentrating on books 3 and 4 of the quartet. :)

Review: Hunger

By Jackie Morse Kessler
Available October 18 from Graphia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Review copy
This review is part of a T2T Tour. My interview with Jackie will be posted later today.

Buy Hunger

Lisabeth Lewis sees herself as a healthy teenager girl. She doesn't eat junk food and she works out every day. But her former best friend Suzanne and boyfriend James don't see it that way. They've started asking her questions. Oh yes, and the other night Lisa tried to commit suicide. Not only is she still alive, but there's a set of scales following her. She agreed to become Famine, according to the rock-star look-alike who identifies himself as Death.

Jackie Morse Kessler's depiction of anorexia and bulimia is brutal. Not just psychologically - toward the climax there is a ridiculously gory scene. (For those who don't like gore, it's not the only gory scene. Nightmare alert.) Lisa's point of view is well-explored. It feels authentic and unique to the character, not to the disorder. You won't confuse Lisa with Lia, for example.

Unlike WINTERGIRLS, HUNGER isn't a straightforward issue novel. It's also an urban fantasy about a teen girl becoming Famine and learning how to use her powers and do her job in tandem with the other three Horsepeople. Sometimes this part works. Kessler develops several settings, both lovely and depressing. Lisa converses with her fellow Horsepeople and every single one of them has an equally strange world view.

But I couldn't tell you much specifically about Lisa's job or her powers. They're clearly problematic, since Lisa is a decent person and doesn't want to starve others. Other than that, exactly what she does and how she does it is pretty unclear. (According to Lisa's horse, Lisa never does catch on that much.) I'm also not sure what happened to this plot between the climax and the end. Basically, Lisa makes a decision that kind of makes sense to me, but doesn't really in light of how she approached her problems. At the same time, I did like that Lisa's problems weren't completely solved at the end. There is not supernatural answer to her personal relationship with food.

As for the side characters, most of them come and go too quickly to get attached. Tammy's story has no resolution. James and Suzanne both come off as a little too perfect. Lisa's parents are nonentities. War and Pestilence get one good conversation each. It keeps the book moving, but I wanted a little more about the people who surround Lisa.

But there is one standout. Death. It appears that RAGE will be about a new Horseperson as well and I certainly hope that not all of the Rider's Quartet will feature new Riders. I'm not sure I could bear parting with the funny, charming, menacing Death. (That is, after all, how I like my fictional men.)

HUNGER is an odd balance between things that are well-developed - Lisa and Death - and things that are underdeveloped - the fantasy and the secondary characters. In an odd way, the novel was a good representation of its subject. At times I felt like I was getting a feast, but at the end I was left wanting.  (Honestly, Lisa's powers did work for me until the end.  Then I started thinking more about them, and I turned on my inner critic to write the review and that element seemed to fall apart.)

Suggested reading:
WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson
GOOD OMENS by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
ON A PALE HORSE by Piers Anthony

October 5, 2010

STUPID FAST Cover

Sourcebooks has been asking readers about their covers on their Teen Fire ning. Sounds reasonable to me, considering how much readers complain about covers.

Currently, they're asking for input on the cover of STUPID FAST by Geoff Herbach.


Either #1 or 2 would catch my eye.  #3 both has too much going on and a lame color scheme.  As for representing the content, the blurb is available if you follow the link.  It pushes me towards picking #2.

How about ya'll?

October 3, 2010

Forever: Cover and Pre-Order

Book Cover

I love the cover for FOREVER, the final book in Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, though I still wish it were yellow as I predicted in my LINGER review. It will be available next year on July 12.

But you can pre-order an autographed copy now. Just follow this link to Fountain Bookstore. Note that you can also buy her backlist authographed too.

October 2, 2010

Banned Books Week 2010: The Conclusion

I hope everyone read what they wanted to read this week, in celebration of Banned Books Week.  Today, the oft-challenged Ellen Hopkins was the keynote speaker at the Austin Teen Book Festival.  Her points were familiar, but still need to be made again and again.  People have different maturity and reading levels.  No one can determine what is appropriate for someone else to read, especially if they haven't read it themselves.  Read and interpret on your own.

Also, I adore this graphic from GOOD Magazine on the most targeted books.  (The reasons for challenging are represented by colored darts.  Visual puns are so much fun.)

One of the easiest things you can do to help?  Send a letter or e-mail to a challenged author saying what his or her book meant to you.  Many authors save such letters and pass copies on to librarians trying to defend their books.  The best way to challenge those who want to silence voices is by speaking.

Remember, it's hard to truly ban a book. If your school library doesn't carry a book, try the city library. Go to a bookstore. Use Amazon or other online retailers like Book Depository. IndieBound will set you up with independents across the country.

September 30, 2010

The Library, Revisted

At the beginning of this month, I wrote a rather silly piece about the library.  It began "[t]he library is a dangerous place."  I did not mean the library was physically dangerous.

Tuesday morning I was getting ready to go to class. I kept being interrupted by my phone.  I am volunteering as a guide to an actor from England who is performing and teaching on campus this week.  We were working out where we were going to meet later that afternoon.  The next time my phone rang it was a safety alert.  There was an armed suspect in the main library.

I thought little of it, since the police had him pinned in a building.  Then my half-awake brain kicked in.  The library is full of people.  Six floors busy from open to close.

I'd certainly spent my time there.  The fifth floor is where I wrote a good third of my thesis.  Sometimes I just grab a book from the stacks and chose a nook (there are many) to read it in.  I've always found libraries relaxing, so it was a good place to chill for a bit.  I'd been there a couple of weeks before with two friends, just hanging out in the second floor cafe.  I'd been there less than a week before, just to run in and grab a different edition of a class text in order to read the introduction.  And I knew people who spent far more time in there than I.

My phone received much use that morning.  Calling friends to check that they were safe, holed up in a classroom, or a gym, their dorm room, or an apartment.  Calling my family to assure them that I wasn't on campus. 

Luckily, it wasn't a school shooting.  Colton Tooley committed suicide on September 28, 2010, on the sixth floor of the Perry-CastaƱeda Library.

It's still a tragedy.  But I'm thankful that only the gunman is dead.  I can't articulate much of what I feel.  Confused and unhappy and relieved that it wasn't a big tragedy.

The PCL is a wonderful place.  Unfortunately, as I once said casually, the library is a dangerous place.

September 21, 2010

Review: I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

By Erin McCahan
Available now from Scholastic
Review copy
This review is part of a book tour.  Be sure to visit the previous stop at Novel Novice and the next stop at The Heart of Dreams.

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

While I enjoyed I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU SOMEONE ELSE, Erin McCahan made two stylistic choices that sometimes hindered my experience.  It is a framed story, beginning and ending two years in the future.  It's a bit difficult at first since Bronwen Oliver immediately launches into part of her backstory.  I had trouble separating future from present from past.  The book quickly settles into the main action, which resolves that problem.  Second, characters talk over each other for a realistic feel.  Realism in dialogue is a bad idea.  The juxtaposition of phrases wasn't particularly funny, so I found myself skimming the passages employing this technique.

I immediately connected with Bronwen, however, because she hates ketchup.  (C'mon, I hate tomatoes so much that it's in the header of my book blog.  I don't like ketchup either.  Really, I'm just not a condiment person.)  Bronwen's character flaw is obvious: in order to be polite, she won't speak up when she doesn't like something.  I've done this myself, but it's still frustrating.  I did take heart that she would learn to assert herself when she began the novel by kicking her old boyfriend to the curb by refusing to have sex with him. 

Jared Sondervan, the Someone Else, enters the scene fairly quickly.  It is a bit longer before he proposes than the title and blurb would have you believe.  The theme of the novel is less readiness for marriage than it is created families.  Who do we choose to consider family and why?  How do you make it work?  Jared and Bronwen's relationship often feels like the secondary one, merely there to comment on Bronwen's relationship with her stepfather.

Bronwen likes her stepfather.  This isn't a fairytale.  But she's well aware of the fact that he isn't her actual father and that they have different last names.  It doesn't help that she connects with Whitt but not her mother.  She doesn't have much of a connection with her older brother either.   Combined with past events, Bronwen suspects Whitt doesn't see her as his daughter the way she sees him as her father.

I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU SOMEONE ELSE was less funny than I expected, but still light-hearted.  Bronwen had a good voice, especially when she chose to use it.  If you enjoy family stories, you'll probably like this novel.

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