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always in love with books

“If I cou'd get 40L a year by being the interpreter of nonsence I should like it very well, having too much unprofitable nonsence in my own head." - Sarah Scott, 1754

Currently reading

A Clash of Kings
George R.R. Martin
Searching for Dragons
Patricia C. Wrede
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness
Elyn R. Saks
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn Thrilling, but not my cup of tea. I enjoyed the playing with point-of-view, and I found myself unable to stop reading for large chunks of time because of the well-crafted suspense. There were some unresolved plot holes and inconsistent character portrayals (beyond the purposeful ones), though, that turned me off. That and...it's just too dark, in every way, for me to really enjoy it. (And this is from someone who's currently mostly enjoying A Song of Ice and Fire.)

Redwoodian: Wilfair Book 2

Redwoodian: Wilfair Book 2 - Alysia Gray Painter I rated this one-star lower than Wilfair because the slow pace and repetition bothered me a tiny bit. It threatens the freshness of the quirky point-of-view and undermines the impact of the strange doings inside and outside of the hotel. That being said, the romance in this novel won me over. This is absolutely what it feels like to be a late-bloomer in love, or anyone in love. This novel is crazy and joyous and hits all the right notes.
A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin I was conflicted about this book before I began reading it. I had watched the first two seasons of the HBO series, and I knew it had two things working against it: tons of violence (including tons of gore and rape) and a dearth of likeable characters. I had friends who warned me that wasn't worth the time investment (mostly for these reasons); some were even boycotting the series because of its treatment of women. At the same time, I had other friends who loved the series and wanted desperately to talk about it.

Ultimately, I decided to read it for two reasons:
1) I had an insatiable curiosity to find out where the plot was going, but I didn't want to settle for plot summaries.
2) I wanted to join in the conversation my friends were having. If I hated it, I wanted to hate it with reason.

I didn't hate it. I found it very compelling, despite the fact that I knew the plot ahead of time. It was suspenseful, thrilling, and poignant. I loved the beautiful descriptions of the series even more than I loved the settings in the show. I could do with less descriptions of people wearing boiled leather, though. Enough with it.

I was also surprised by the effectiveness of the chapters with rotating points of view. In a book about people doing terrible things amidst never-ending war, the changing perspectives make many of the characters seem considerably less terrible. It makes the reader emphasize with various characters and then feel implicated in what's going on--we're cheering on people whose very victories imply suffering, death, and oppression for countless others. I'm sure many other writers smarter than me have already noted this, but Game of Thrones strikes me as an important anecdote to the black-and-white fantasy/war stories in the Western canon. It lies somewhere between The Lord of the Rings and The Magicians on a scale of ideal to cynical. (Okay, it lies a lot closer to The Magicians.)

The various sub-worlds are vivid, but can sometimes seem tired in their archetypes, like Fantasyland meets Adventureland. There are peasants visible, but they never have more than a few lines. Noble savages abound. Women are often either cunning or sexy. It wasn't enough to cause me to dislike the book, but it prevented it from being five stars.
When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead Stead's novel about a girl learning about the enigmas of time travel and the mysteries of growing up is a sweet, well-structured, lovely story. It makes me want to reread A Wrinkle in Time.
Penelope - Rebecca Harrington I thought quite a bit about how to rate this book. The plot wasn't as satisfying as I would have liked, and some of the characters (most of the characters?) were grating. If this book wouldn't have made me laugh so damn much, I probably would have given it a three.

But boy, did it make me laugh. My husband commented that he'd never heard me laugh so much aloud while reading anything. At some point I started highlighting all of the passages that really tickled me, and my Kindle informed me that I had highlighted 40 such passages by the end of the novel.

This novel won't be for everyone. I think it specifically made me laugh because I am a nerdy individual who has lived my life at school. As a former college student, grad student, T.A., and lecturer, and as a current college counselor, I have seen my share of ridiculous college student antics, and I love how Harrington spoofs them. Harrington is a Harvard alumna who mined her friends' "wacky stories" about college for ideas--and some of the anecdotes here are too strange not to be based in truth.

Plus, I'll admit I have to give five stars to any novel that contains the chapter title, "Penelope, or Virtue Rewarded." 18th-century references FTW!

And now, so I can remember them, here are my top ten funny passages from Penelope:

"She was nervous that Catherine had found out about her activities with Ted the night before and was trying to lure her into a confession with a congenial, unsuspicious manner. If so, Penelope had to respect that. It was very Poirot."

"Penelope knew Emma wasn't invited to the PC thing. She had complained about it extensively to Penelope while crying. Penelope had had to look up almost everything she said on Wikipedia, which was exhausting."

Ted "was sort of good-looking too, like a Roman senator who was sensitive and unused to fighting in wars."

"As the conversation dragged on, each person essentially doing free association with German philosophers utterly unrelated to Emerson, Penelope got to thinking, Is this supposed to be a bonding activity?"

" 'Melissa was saying that this image of Shakespeare looks bloated,' said the TF, whose name was also Melissa and who therefore favored student Melissa in a shameless manner.' "

"She got to see all the other students, striding with purpose from class to class, the good-looking ones wearing pants with embroidered lobsters on them, the bad-looking ones wearing rollerblades."

"The placement exam went relatively well. In the middle of it, Penelope forgot calculus, but she figured she could always take Counting People for her math credit if all else failed."

"Later that day, after another interminable lecture about Bach's childhood predilection to crawl in and out of organs, Penelope returned to her room."

"Another night she stood on her stoop for a couple of hours. A homeless man carrying a grease-stained paper bag approached the stoop and started playing the harmonica. Several people came out on the stoop when they heard the harmonica and started playing their own instruments, including Adorno Eric, who brought out a cello. The homeless man started singing about fisting a woman and everyone went inside."

"Greg had a lisp that only she could hear. Penelope's mother wouldn't let her have boys in her room, so she and Greg used to hang out in her living room and play Ping-Pong. Greg would talk about Dune. Penelope would pretend to play the piano, and eventually the entire experience began to resemble an absurdist play."

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller This book is a beautifully-written romance that revives The Iliad from a fresh perspective. I admit that I barely remembered the details of the siege of Troy or of Achilles's life from when I had studied Greek mythology in 9th grade. I certainly didn't remember Patroclus. But I love stories like these that infuse new energy into old plots by looking at it through new eyes. This one is particularly well done.
Divergent  - Veronica Roth I'm not sure what attracts me so much to young adult dystopian novels. I could say it's the philosophical underpinnings, since I write about utopian novels as a scholar, but I don't think that's exactly honest. It might be because they are thrilling page-turners, but I don't think that's the only reason either.

Whatever the reason for the genre's appeal, this novel is an excellent example of it. It has characters you care about, plenty of immediate menace, and a broader world of political drama and impending doom that has left me both exhausted and aching to read Convergence.

I have to admit, at first I thought the novel might be more aptly called Derivative since it seemed like The Giver meets The Hunger Games, coupled with evil iterations of the Sorting Hat and Boggarts. I was also a little annoyed by the repeated scenes in which Tris wants to get physically closer to Tobias without knowing why. WE KNOW WHY, TRIS, and we just kind of wished you would figure it out a bit sooner.

The novel won me over, though--especially its array of incredibly strong female characters (including the narrator and super villain). And her mom? Her mom is maybe the best mom I've read in young adult fiction in a long time. This book should make readers think, and if it inspires some girls to be stronger--hey, that's not too bad.
Mariana - Susanna Kearsley Sigh. I am a sucker for time travel romances, and this one hit the spot nicely. It's a perfect book for suspending disbelief while curled up with a cup of tea.
Wilfair - Alysia Gray Painter Wilfair is not easy to describe. I came to it because one of my best friends was squeeing about it and wanted someone to squee with. Within the first few pages I fell in love with the flawed, clever, incredibly funny narrator Fair Finley, who plays with words as much as my friends and I do. Once the mystery started unfolding, I couldn't put it down.

Next step: order Redwoodian!
The Giver - Lois Lowry I devoured this book in two days; it would have been one if I didn't have pressing things with pressing deadlines to do between chapters. This book is haunting and even menacing while at the same time never heavy-handed. It flies by and buries itself deep within you. I couldn't sleep until I finished it, and then couldn't sleep afterward for a while. While I kept yearning for explanations, I think Lowry was wise not to explain much. This is some of the best dystopian fiction I've ever read.
Dealing with Dragons - Patricia C. Wrede I would have loved this book when it came out and I was 9 (although I didn't read it then). Now, in my 30s, I still adore it.
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World - Eric Weiner I liked it okay as a travel memoir, but not as a study of happiness. For me, the problem was mostly tone--it was hard for me to get beneath the layers of snarkiness to see any kind of earnest search for happiness. Eric Weiner was prone to over-generalizations and sarcastic take-downs, which would put me off even if this were not a book about happiness. It just didn't work for me, although I enjoyed learning more about Bhutan, Qatar, and Iceland.
Insane City - Dave Barry I laughed out loud quite a bit. I'm recovering from surgery and can only read light books, and this was a quick, hilarious page-turner. I would make some sort of joke about keeping me in stitches, but it's best to leave that kind of stuff to Dave Barry.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There - Ana Juan, Catherynne M. Valente It's difficult to describe the experience of reading this book, in part because it effortlessly balances so many contradictions: it is postmodern without being cynical, complicated in its themes and simple in its structure, straightforward while always bending you sideways. There is a beginning, middle, and end, but no real narrative suspense. The heart of the story, rather, is September's growing heart, which develops with each episodic encounter with the strange and unusual. Her survival is never as much at question as the survival of this growing heart. It would be easy to grow cold, but September never does, nor does her loving narrator.

I had trouble reading it quickly. I loved it to pieces.
Austenland - Shannon Hale Very silly, very fun. The perfect book to read while recovering at home from a hospital visit.
The Dog Stars - Peter Heller I almost stopped reading this book near the beginning--the combination of the bleak situation and fragmented language made me think I couldn't finish it. Over time, the book grew into something more beautiful, and I'm glad I made it to the end.