Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gimme a Minute!

Ha! I love this pic. I can see having a hard time with this decision.

As for me, I'm brain-swamped. Getting items together to start the new gig, wrapping up the old gig. Busy, busy, busy! I'll be back later in the week, but for now...

Would you choose youth or end it with bacon?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tasks, Tasks Everywhere!

Reading what??? Books? Yeah, no.

I have had a hard time digging into my reading the last week or so because of all the HAPPENINGS. Not surprising at all, I'm sure. I laid aside Teju Cole's Open City. It was a gorgeous book, and I'm certain I'll come back to it, but I just cannot do a meandering plot right now.

I started on Cinder earlier in the week and it's admittedly not sucking me in immediately. I think I'm still in the mood for something more adult-fictiony but not overly cerebral. SO, I dove into Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child last night, and I think it's going to do the trick. The writing is lovely and I'm already feeling the tug of wanting to read further.

From the opening pages...
Mabel had known there would be silence. That was the point after all. No infants cooing or wailing. No neighbor children playfully hollering down the lane. No pad of small feet on wooden stairs worn smooth by generations, or clackety-clack of toys along the kitchen floor. All those sounds of her failure and regret would be left behind and in their place there would be silence. (3)
In other news, I turned in my resignation letter to my existing job just yesterday, and while I'm excited for my future, it's bittersweet to be leaving the students and my team of instructors and my fellow PCs that I love so much. I'll be drafting an announcement to the instructors and breaking the news to some of my students today, in fact. I see lots of hugging in my near future.

That's what's shaking around here. The weekend will be low key -- catching up on some grading for my online classes and getting those squared away before more madness at work next week.

What are your plans for the weekend?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

I had a beautiful, thoughtful beginning to this review all worked out in my head. And then I went to sleep, and now it's been a whole other day, and I have no idea what my great beginning was. So we'll go with this mediocre one.

Swamplandia! is the story of the Bigtree family-- alligator wrestlers who run a Florida theme park. The Chief and Hillola are the eccentric parents. The kiddos, from oldest to youngest are Kiwi, an awkward 17-year-old boy; Osceola, 16, who fancies herself a Spiritualist; and precocious Ava, 13. The book picks up after Hillola passes away as a result of ovarian cancer, and her brood is left floundering, looking for a way to keep the park relevant with new competition in town and a dwindling tourist population.

Soon the Chief takes off to the mainland to stir up some investors, and all hell breaks loose. Kiwi bolts for the mainland with the good intentions of working at the new theme park in town, World of Darkness, and paying off the family debt. Osceola runs off to marry a ghost. Ava, left to her own devices, heads out with an odd and off putting "Bird Man" on a trek to the underworld.

So we have a family drama and a Southern Gothic romp all wrapped up in one novel. It's an odd combination, and I had my doubts from the outset that it would work for me, but I found myself heavily invested in the characters' individual journeys. The book alternates between Kiwi's experiences working on the mainland and his troubles assimilating with mainstream culture to Ava's menacing and otherworldly journey.

Each of the characters in Swamplandia! is thoroughly lost in his or her own way. Each of them is trying to find solid ground after the loss of their mother who is literally the star attraction around which the Swamplandia theme park universe spins. Without her, each little familial entity flies in his or her own direction, untethered.

Karen Russell's writing, is undoubtedly beautiful. She was especially deft at juxtaposing kitsch elements with really elevated figurative language and surprising analogies. Her voice is distinct--and dare I say it--crisp! A short example that I noted before the e-book expired...
Heaven, Kiwi thought, would be the reading room of a great library. But it would be private. Cozy. You wouldn’t have to worry about some squeaky-shoed librarian turning the lights off on you or gauging your literacy by reading the names on your book spines, and there wouldn’t be a single other patron. The whole place would hum with a library’s peace, filtering softly over you like white bars of light… (234-235)
And speaking of libraries, I should mention, one of the quirky parts of this book included an abandoned "library boat" close to the Swamplandia! theme park where the island inhabitants could freely take books. Not a proper library, just an abandoned boat with a lot of books on it. Someone would have to pry me out of there with a crowbar. *swoon*

Despite the good writing, this will be a polarizing book. Because it is so quirky and kitschy in parts, and because it steps out with some supernatural elements, many readers will not be fulfilled and will find this book silly or otherwise disappointing. But I have to say, I found the kitschy/supernatural portions so SO clever. Without giving too much away, I was especially suspect of Ava's journey to the underworld with the Bird Man. While I thought it might be an ill-fated outing, I was unsure enough and sucked into the story enough, that I could've "bought" it all the way to the underworld or I could've been a little crushed if it didn't pan out. I won't tell you which way it goes.

For readers who are interested in analyzing the literary elements, I think this is a great book. There is a boatload (pardon the pun) of symbolism that's so knock-you-over-the-head obvious that it's worth poking into beyond the surface to see what Russell is driving at. If you don't consider yourself an analyzer, you can still appreciate this story for the odd characters, their wonky lives, and their individual journeys and comings-of-age.

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: July 2011
Publisher: Vintage
Format: E-Book
ISBN-13: 978-0307276681
Source: Library

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Seven Years Blogging and No Itch

Seven years ago today, Estella's Revenge was coughed into digital existence after I deleted my first blog, The Waste Land. I was sitting in a run-down faculty workroom at my first (adjunct!) college teaching job with several hours to kill until the next class I had to teach.

It's something to sit back and think over seven years of blogging. While I always blogged about books because I was ALWAYS reading for school, it wasn't until 2007 that I really took a hard turn toward book blogging and let some of the miscellaneous fall away.  I went back through my archives today and looked over some of my posts and year-end favorites from those years. Many of the comments are from bloggers who still comment here now. The majority of those folks are still cruising by this site on a regular basis.

While there is occasional drama in the blogosphere I suppose what I want newer bloggers, or even just disillusioned bloggers, to focus on is the very real relationships that come about because of blogging. All of the swirling angst is irrelevant. It doesn't matter what authors and publishers say or what they want. It doesn't matter if you write "reviews" or "reactions." It doesn't matter what anyone's opinion of blogging may be. It doesn't matter if you're getting paid or not. We do this for us and we do this for each other. We blog because we love books and we love sharing what we read.

Estella's Revenge has been through some distinct phases. Including a name change. While the address was always Estella's Revenge, the original blog title was Tripping Toward Lucidity. As I was working my way through my Masters degree I felt as if I was just stumbling along trying to accomplish whatever was right for me. I was saucy then, bordering on angry, and just finding myself in the world.

I've been through successful and failed relationships on this blog. I've had a baby. I've accomplished many of the things I wanted to do professionally like being an English professor. And I even went one step further to be a Program Chair--something I love but I never foresaw being an administrator.

And many of you have been with me the whole time. Reading, offering support by way of comments and e-mails, gifts and tokens of friendship. Kind words, most of all.

The next time you feel pressured to blog or beaten down by the number of review books on your shelves or pressured to do this or that: just stop. While I get caught up in those feelings from time to time, taking a moment to reflect on the last seven years has reminded me that all that stuff is just extra baggage. I blog for me. I blog because of you. And I thank you so much for being with me whether it's been seven years or seven minutes. Any time you spend reading and becoming a part of my life is appreciated.

Now, let's get on to the really good stuff: the "Spread the Love" giveaway results!!!!

The winner of La Perdida by Jessica Abel is Emily O from Reading While Female!!!

The winner of The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Agawa is Alley from What Red Read!

Last but certainly not least, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt goes to...Brooke from The Blog of Litwits!!!

Thanks to all who entered the giveaway. It's my pleasure to pass along some books I enjoyed and I hope you enjoy them, too.

Now, let's all drink champagne and eat cake. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday, Reading, Finally!

After a rough week last week, and after a rocky beginning to the weekend, things have smoothed out and I'm back to reading, blogging, and commenting. I've missed y'all! The weekend was fun as I spent most of Saturday and Sunday having quality time with Greyson, and Sunday afternoon was reserved for a birthday party for Rocketboy filled with pizza, cake, and teenage antics.

After G hit the sack last night, I took a few minutes to finish the book I've been reading for over a week: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I can't believe I've been reading it that long, but it really wasn't the book's fault. It was an odd book to say the least, and I'm looking forward to writing the review of this one if I can figure out exactly what I want to say about it. THAT will be the hard part!

I have a few minutes to dawdle this morning before I get ready and leave for work, so I sat down with Teju Cole's Open City to see if I really want to read it. As much as I'm enjoying my Tournament of Books reading, I also have that inevitable itch to read whatever I want to, without obligation. I whipped through a quick 20 pages of Open City, and I think I will read it intensely for a day or two and see if I still feel positively about it. It's one of those meandering books that will likely read a little on the slow side, and I think I might be more interested in a good ole plot-driven book at this point. Cinder is still sitting on my nightstand, staring at me!

What kind of reading mood are you in this week?

P.S. Don't forget to enter my "Spread the Love Giveaway" up on the navigation bar at the top of the page. Tomorrow is my 7-year blogiversary and I'll be announcing the winners then!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is brought to you by Sheila at BookJourney!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday, the 2012 VD Edition

Yes, I turn Valentine's Day into VD at every available opportunity. What will I be doing to celebrate? I will eat Dove chocolate truffles and red velvet cupcakes until I fall into a carb coma. But that's only after Greyson celebrates with a little Valentine's Day party at school and I shower upon him my gift of choice: BOOKS! Yep, my kiddo is getting two books, a Thomas the Train toy, and the teeny weeniest box of chocolate I've ever seen. Huzzah!

It's also Top Ten Tuesday once again, and I'm totally digging today's theme: Books That Break Our Hearts a Little! I consider it a very high compliment if a book can make me cry or make my heart feel like it's breaking. In those cases, the author has most definitely written characters and plot that I can wholly invest in, and what's not to applaud about that?

Without further ado, the top ten books that broke my heart a little. And you might see a couple of themes running through these choices. 

ROOM broke my heart a lot. It shattered it into pieces and stepped on them over and over and over again. This story is not without hope but I felt so completely, utterly invested and compelled in spots that I thought I'd have to stop reading. Even though it ends well, it broke my heart along the way.

The Book Thief was shocking as it made me bawl beginning around page 250 and there are something like 500+ pages in the book. I was in love with the characters, the plot, and the historical moment for a big trifecta of heart breakage.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a very obvious choice, but it didn't break my heart any less. Not only because the fate of some of my friends I'd loved along the way just sucked but because it's OVER. J.K. Rowling, I love you!

In The Hours, the issues that stuck out to me most were the dueling feelings of nurturing and guilt that mothers, friends, and partners work through. But it's also about the crushing weight of obligation and events that spin out of one's control. It was a book I read when I was quite young (early 20s) that introduced me to some of the issues I would face (and that most people face on some level) as they age. 

The Birth of Love is a book I could relate to as a new mom. Namely the guilt that goes along with it. While this one didn't necessarily make me cry, it was the little moments and everyday struggles a family faces...the little hurts...that broke my heart.

Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates is not really an obvious choice on a surface level. The main character goes through a great deal of trauma at the hands of an older professor and his wife. Her heart is broken on a number of occasions by their actions, and I was totally invested in the character. These feelings were also heightened by Joyce Carol Oates's ability to write an oppressive atmosphere into this little novella.

The Passage was so long and involving, I couldn't help but be engaged with the characters and their individual plights. If I hadn't been involved, I never would've finished this chunkster, but as it was, I raced through it when I was home on maternity leave. Between the action and the struggles and the damned monsters trying to eat everyone, I got my heart broken a couple of times. But nothing broke my heart liked the CLIFFHANGER ENDING! I can't wait for The Twelve to come out!

Y'all know I had to throw in a short story collection somewhere, so I'm giving the "break my heart" award to Simon Van Booy's The Secret Lives of People in Love. There were a mixture of story lengths in this book, but it was some of the shorter tales (just a couple of pages) that compelled me most for their observations and sometimes for the shock of the endings. 

The Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum is one of those largely overlooked novels that I champion at every available opportunity, so I'm singing its praises here, too! Not only are the present-day characters heartbreaking: a man and his daughter, reeling after the death of his parents (her grandparents). In this book we also get to meet a few ghosts of the Holocaust: Primo Levi, Jerzy Kosinski, Jean Amery, and Paul Celan--all writers who committed suicide after surviving concentration camps.The writing is gorgeous, the premise is unique, and the grappling with loss was heartbreaking, though this is another hopeful ending. 

Just, yeah. The Road. Earth is destroyed, civilization is limping along, and a dad and his son are just  trying to survive. OK, Cormac McCarthy, YOU GOT ME!

What books broke your heart a little? Bookworms wanna know. :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spread the Love Giveaway

Next week is my 7-year blogiversary and I'm giving away books! Click HERE to enter my Spread the Love Giveaway and win one of the following beauties...

Note: Comments on this post WILL NOT enter you into the giveaway!

This giveaway is only open to US residents (Sorry! I'm too broke for international shipping!) and I'll draw the winners on February 21st!

It's Monday and I'm a Reading Fool!

Or maybe just a fool. I'll let you decide.

SO, this past week I finished reading and reviewed two books. WHOA NELLY! I was only sort of wowed by Ann Patchett's much-typed-about State of Wonder. However, I was surprisingly bowled over by Nathacha Appanah's The Last Brother. And if you haven't started reading that book yet, you need to get on the stick. Do it! Do it!

Right now I'm about 70% (Goodreads influence) done with Karen Russell's weird novel, Swamplandia!. I like it, but it's not without its own issues. I'll discuss that in my review this week.

The library continues to be a source of avalanchery (yes, it's a word now). I have a digital copy of The Tiger's Wife waiting in the wings via my library's Overdrive service, and I picked up my hold copy of Teju Cole's Open City on Friday. AND--yes there's an AND--I expect the e-book of Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table to drop anytime. Oh, and The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst is the next one I'll receive from my physical holds list. Then will come 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, and that might spell the end of my reading mojo.

SERIOUSLY! These are all Tournament of Books books. I have to say, I'm kicking some serious arse in the Tournament of Books (personal) Challenge, but I'm also kinda ready to read whatever I want with reckless abandon. Cinder is staring at me from my stacks and oddly enough, I'm already feeling the pull of Son of a Witch after my successful romp through Wicked earlier in the year.

Tournament of Books aside, I got quagmired in The Norton Anthology of American Literature this weekend. I mentioned the online classes I inherited in my previous post. One of them is Early American Lit (blah), so it looks like I'll be re-reading some Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and Washington Irving in the coming weeks. I'm OK with Irving, but Paine and Franklin make me vomit in my mouth a little.

And that's it! Only one book in the mail this week, and unsolicited copy of Five Bells by Gail Jones. It doesn't really look like my kind of thing, but we'll see. I have hopefoolery. Full of new words today.

If you don't already know, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by the ever-lovely Sheila over at BookJourney. Get thee there!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Sunday Salon - Tag! I'm It!

Happy Sunday, bloggy lovelies! This week has been some serious crazy. Hectic, hectic mess. 

Y'all may recall that I was originally teaching fewer online classes this semester than I have in previous semesters. While I usually teach four online sections, I was down to two. While it was a hit in the paycheck department, it was an increase in free (READING) time. And then this week happened. I've now inherited an additional three online sections. I cannot seriously complain since it's a blessing in the pocketbook, but it's been a bit hellacious trying to assess where the students are in the courses and put my own sections together in a week's time. Woohah! Makes for a fast-paced week and lots of lost bloggy time this week. Now that it's Sunday, I have a few minutes to sit back and take the week in and dig into some reading. 

I didn't know quite what I was going to write today, but VOILA! I was tagged by Trisha from Eclectic/Eccentric to answer her super awesome fantastic fun questions. And I will. So here we go.

1 You must post the rules.
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.
3 Tag eleven people and link to them on your post. (I'm cheating here. Questions to come...brain drain.)
4 Let them know you’ve tagged them! (See parentheses above.)

1. What is your favorite piece of art?

My fave piece of art might be an odd choice, but I love it anyway. In my younger days I would've gone for a more popular choice like Van Gogh's "Starry Night," but for as long as I've been visiting the Dallas Museum of Art, I've been in love with Constantin Brancusi's "The Beginning of the World." It doesn't look like much here, but it's the most perfectly smooth, beautiful egg. I just want to lay my cheek on it every time I see it. Beautiful imagery here. 

2. What literary character do you think would make an awesome world leader?

Ok, I can't fall back on Estella on this one, so let's see. Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen's Emma. He's precise, concise, and morally strong. And if I can picture him as Jeremy Northam from the film adaptation, he's also a looker.

3. What color do you think should be outlawed from clothing?

Pink. All pink. Outlawed from everything. I don't like pink. Although, my first car was "raspberry" and that's too close for comfort.

4. Hats. Yes or no?

Under the right conditions--and I'm speaking only for myself. Other people are adorable in hats all the time. When I have long hair I am not opposed to a well-chosen ball cap. With my hair short as it is now, I side with floppy, crocheted, wintery hats. 

5. What contemporary novel should be added to the high school curriculum?

Feed by M.T. Anderson. It's contemporary YA. It has just enough curse words to get a high schooler's attention on a very surface level and cause a little scandal to get them interested. Then ALL the issues are so so so discussionworthy. Issues of body image and constructing beauty ideals, Internet addiction, the role of advertising in society, open access to information, environmental issues, synthetic environment vs. bonafide nature, I could go on and on. Even though it's YA, I've used it in college comp classes and we still discuss the heck out of it. Will be using it again in the coming Fall semester.

6. What book featuring real people do you think could work if the characters were switched to animals?

Oh my...this question is hard for me as I am adamantly against books starring animals. Let's go with Great Expectations. I think Miss Havisham would make a great cobra.

7. Genetically designed humans. Hell yes or absolutely not?

In literature or in life?! I read plenty of books about them but the idea of the real thing scares the pooshnickens out of me.

8. What book would you like to see get parodied a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?

Hahhaaha, Lady Chatterley's Lover. The bad, scandalous possibilities are endless. Or maybe Madame Bovary, too!!! 

9. What book would you absolutely hate to see get parodied?

Don't touch, Gatsby. Back off, now!

10. TV. Awesome source of entertainment or horrifying time suck?

Time suck. That's not to say that I don't enjoy a lot of TV. I am completely addicted to Chopped on the Food Network and Sarah's House on HGTV. BUT, for the most part I try to turn it off and read instead. Otherwise I'll have another 30-book year, and that's unacceptable to me. 

11. What literary character should immediately jump off the page and into your bed

Trisha, questions like these are why I LOVE you so much. I always throw back to the classic novels. Let's call it a Darcy-Andi-Knightley sandwich, shall we?!

I'm tagging:
Heather from Capricious Reader
Amanda from Fig and Thistle
Emily at The Alcove
Rebecca at Drunk Literature
Chris at Chrisbookarama
Lisa at Books, Lists, Life

Your questions, should you choose to accept them...
1. Who would rank on your list of crushworthy authors--either for their skillz or their cutiepieness?
2. What is your favorite guilty pleasure book if you have guilty pleasure reading?
3. Which literary female heroine would you most like to be for a day and why?
4. Which television female heroine would you most like to be for a day and why?
5. If you found out you were preggers (stop hyperventilating) OR if you were buying for a friend or family member, which children's book would you consider a MUST HAVE for beginning a child's library?
6. Do you have a favorite independent or small press? Why do they rock?
7. Have you read any independent or undersung books lately? Something that's been flying under the bloggy radar?
8. What's on repeat on your MP3 player? (Selfish, I need new music.)
9. If you would be any pair of shoes, what would they be (feel free to refer to Pinterest or Google Image Search)?
10. If you won a million dollars, what would you do first?
11. Adult beverage of choice? 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Last Brother

Morning bloggers! It's been a very Tournament of Books week. I finished State of Wonder over the weekend, and I finished up Nathacha Appanah's The Last Brother on Tuesday.

It's funny to read these books back to back. They both take place in exotic locales, they're both about intense and somewhat complicated relationships, but State of Wonder was 368 pages while The Last Brother weighs in at a slim 160 pages. Of the two, I found Appanah's novel much more satisfying than Patchett's.

The Last Brother is the story of Raj, a 70-year-old man born and raised on the island of Mauritius. Looking back at himself as a 9-year-old, he recounts the sudden loss of his two brothers and the unlikely story of his friendship with a Jewish boy named David. The relationship between the Raj and David would shape his life in a way he never expected. His remembrance of that time and the events that played out between he and David were filled with loss and grief that shaped his adult self.

There was more acute emotion and powerful writing in this little novel than in most chunky books. The narrative bounced back and forth between Raj in the present day on a visit to David's grave to1945 when Jews were held captive in a prison on the island.

Reading this little book it felt that every scene, every chapter, was lovingly chosen and written down to its most basic, concise form. It was an examination not only of Raj's missteps as a kid, but of a specific piece of history that is almost completely overlooked. Did you know there were Jews shipped to Mauritius?? I didn't, and I certainly never learned it in a history class in high school or college. This book was an heart-wrenching way to experience the incident, and it was a beautiful examination of how one's decisions can shape a lifetime.

And I haven't really done this novel justice, but there it is. It's awesome. Buy it. Just do it. OH, and this one is translated. Cheers to Geoffrey Strachan for translating this one beautifully from the French.

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: February 2011 (reprint edition)
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13:  978-1555975753 

Source: Library

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

State of Wonder

I have started and quit almost every one of Patchett's novels. In fact, I think Taft is the only one I haven't started at all. While I wouldn't say I dislike her writing, I can say that her novels start slowly. State of Wonder is no exception, but I am tickled to report that I FINISHED IT! Haha!

From the moment I read the blurb, I knew I'd pick this book up and try Patchett's work yet again. Though the book was not a perfect one, the premise is fantastic...

Note: I tried to come up with my own blurb, but given the complicated plot and a severe case of brain drain, I gave up and pilfered the publisher's synopsis. It does the job.

Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina's assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina's research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Once found, Dr. Swenson, now in her seventies, is as ruthless and uncompromising as she ever was. But while she is as threatening as anything the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are the ones Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina, who finds she may still be unable to live up to her teacher's expectations.

Straight off, I was taken with the idea of a romp through the Amazon with Patchett's characters. Dr. Swenson is an enigmatic matriarch to her colleagues and the Lakashi tribe alike; she's thoroughly difficult for Marina to read and given their uneasy teacher/student relationship, Marina is freakin' scared of her. For Marina to find herself in a number of situations wherein Dr. Swenson depends on her was thoroughly transforming for the character of Marina Singh. It was a worthwhile transformation to follow through this novel, and Patchett did a wonderful job characterizing Singh and Swenson.

I was also very taken with the peripheral characters in the novel including the deceased Anders Eckman and his wife, Karen. The brilliant, deaf boy, Easter. And I can't forget the majestic Mr. Fox, one of the pharmaceutical company big-wigs and Marina's secret lover. The interplay between such a complicated cast of characters made for a rich novel and convincing story.

It did take me a while to sink into this novel thoroughly as those opening chapters were slow in traditional Patchett style. However, as I moved through the book I was glad she took the time to introduce me to all of the characters and also to Brazil itself. In the early part of her journey, Marina spends time in Manaus and later heads off into the rainforest. The setting itself is the most vibrant character in the novel.

The second half of the book, Marina's time in the rainforest interacting with the Lakashi tribe and following Dr. Swenson's research, comprised the quickest of the novel's pacing, but some of it struck me as unbelievable. While I loved that Dr. Swenson was such a bitch and had such strong control over her charges, I found it hard to believe that a tribe with which she could hardly communicate would bow down at her feet. Meh. Not so much. I also wish Marina had had a bit more difficulty settling into life with the tribe. There were some dramatic moments, but I felt that Patchett put all of her effort into making the characters realistic in the early pages of the novel, the tribe itself suffered from a lack of attention in comparison. I also felt that Patchett went for some cheap plot twists. I can't be specific without giving too much away, but some of the turns the story took were surprising only because they were so obvious.

Beyond the characterization and beyond some of the novel's shortfalls, it was a supremely interesting read for the ethical questions it posed. Dr. Swenson's research holds huge ethical implications and could change medicine entirely. I thought it really interesting that she put herself into some touchy situations when she was really just a big old snake in the grass. She was one of those characters I wanted to believe but always suspected of doing despicable things. She was a hard one to read and that makes her all the more worthwhile to read.

While I expected State of Wonder to blow the top of my head off with its wonderfulness, I found it a little too uneven for that and a little too predictable in spots. I'm still glad I read this book, and I would recommend it to almost anyone for the well-written characters, the unique setting, and the wonderful ethical dilemmas. It probably won't make my top ten for 2012, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it fares in the Tournament of Books.

Snuggle (one-armed hug) -- Skewer

Pub. Date: June 2011
Publisher: Harper
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0062049803
Source: Library

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Happy Birthday Dickens!

Charles Dickens owns my soul blog! Obviously...Estella...right?! Happy 200th birthday today even though you're dead! Rock ON!

Midnight in Paris

I am a movie person. I teach Literature and Film for heaven's sake. However, if I'm in a pinch, I will always choose reading over TV watching or movies or anything else. Seeing as there are slim windows of opportunity for me to read in any given day, everything else of the hobby variety gets shoved aside. Needless to say, I haven't seen too many movies lately.

BUT (here's the but, see), my mother has been on a movie renting kick. For the last couple of weekends she's come in with movies to watch, and when she called this past Friday to ask if there was anything I wanted to see, I chirped up about Midnight in Paris.

I should probably go ahead and throw this out there: I'm an idiot when it comes to Woody Allen's films. I haven't seen Annie Hall, I haven't seen Alice. I think the only Woody Allen movie I'd seen before this one was Match Point--not his most critically acclaimed.

Midnight in Paris was dreamy. I mean that literally and figuratively. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and his fiance, Inez (Rachel McAdams), travel to Paris on a tag-along vacation with Inez's parents. Gil is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, but he's unfulfilled by his work and desperately wants to write a successful novel. He loves Paris, unlike the snotty Inez and her Tea Party parents. While he's out walking one night, Gil discovers that Paris changes at the stroke of midnight. He's picked up by a cab full of famous writers and hustled off to a party from the 1920s. He meets the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, and along the way on return visits, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot, and anyone else worth mentioning in 1920s arts scene.

Gil idolizes the writers and the mystique of Paris in the 1920s and his trips back in time are his desires made reality. He continually returns to the present day to his crazy fiance (who I wanted to SHANK), but he learns a great deal about himself and what he wants out of life. He also learns to trust himself as a writer and write with more truth and conviction in spite of all the naysaying around him.

It sounds very sappy and cliche but it was such a fun movie. Seeing as I idolize the 1920s--especially the American expat writers--it was easy for me to slip into Gil's position in the film. The writers themselves were a hoot--Hemingway was macho to the max, Zelda Fitzgerald was a charming nut, and Dali was just hilarious.

The interplay between Gil and his potential in-laws was also really well done, and it's possibly the first time I've ever intensely disliked Rachel McAdams in a role. It's a testament to good acting in this film. While I'm often not a fan of Owen Wilson, he was also perfectly suited to this quirky role as a writer looking for a place to fit in.

Finally, the cinematography added a lot to this film. We've all heard the "rose colored glasses" remarks. This film is really like seeing Paris through a rose-colored lens. The landscapes are warm and cozy. Even the streets at night seem to shimmer. And the characters are consistently bathed in pinkish light. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!

It's a romantic story, exceptional characters, and it was enough to make me laugh out loud ("cryptofascist airhead zombies!"). Winner, winner chicken dinner. I WILL purchase this one.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Mailbox Madness and Miscellaneous Malarky

How's that title for some Monday morning alliteration??! I haven't even had coffee today. I think a round of applause is in order. I also put up Valentine's Day stickies on my office window, so it's possible I've been body-snatched.

I don't usually participate in Mailbox Monday, but this past week has seen a noticeable deluge of books coming into my house. Lately, it seems that if I wish out loud on my blog or Twitter, a book magically appears in my house! Usually, it's thanks to a wonderful blogger or author who decide to be my book fairy.

I should also mention: Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia and is gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week and explore great book blogs. Mailbox Monday is hosted by MetroReader in February.

Find blurbs for each book near the end of this post!

If you haven't heard of Cinder by Marissa Meyer you may have experienced a recent head injury and a damaging case of the forgetfuls. It's EVERYWHERE. And it just so happens to look really really good. Cinderella + cyborg = kickass. Vasilly is kind and generous and sent her ARC along to me since she was done with it. 

Next, I was happily Tweeting about how much I want to try Eowyn Ivey's novel, The Snow Child, when BAM!!!  A woooonderful, quite popular author direct messaged and offered to send her ARC! Her exact words, "I don't usually give ARCs away, but I like putting books in the hands of bloggers." Right on! She remains nameless here because I don't know if she wants the world to know she's giving away her ARCs. I'm moving her book up in my reading queue, too. :D Very sweet indeed.

I also accepted two books for review recently. While I've been laying off of the review books these looked intriguing enough to add to my downsized TBR. I have a good relationship with the publishers and the pitches were very kind, well-thought, and seemed to actually have a clue what I prefer to read and blog! Huzzah!!! Is this progress?! I think it just might be!

White Horse is the first in a debut trilogy from Alex Adams (published by Atria). I'm picky about my post-apocalyptic novels, and after my undying love for The Passage, we'll see if this one can hold a candle. Crossing my fingers.

Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin looks weird-wonderful. I'm all about weird spirit photography and spiritualism and that kinda stuff. This one is published by Sourcebooks Fire for children and young readers. The illustrations in this one look great, and the book itself is beautiful.

Cinder blurb:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earths fate hinges on one girl. . . . Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. Shes a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsisters illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kais, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her worlds future.

The Snow Child blurb:
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

White Horse blurb: 

Thirty-year-old Zoe wants to go back to college. That’s why she cleans cages and floors at GeneTech. If she can keep her head down, do her job, and avoid naming the mice she’ll be fine. Her life is calm, maybe even boring, until the end of the world when the President of the United States announces that humans are no longer a viable species. Zoe starts running the moment she realizes everyone she loves is gone. On her trek she encounters characters both needy and nefarious: some human, some monster, and some uncertain beings altered by genetic mutation. Zoe comes to see that humanity is defined not by genetic code, but by soulful actions and choices.

Picture the Dead blurb: 
A ghost will find his way home. Jennie Lovell's life is the very picture of love and loss. First she is orphaned and forced to live at the mercy of her stingy, indifferent relatives. Then her fiance falls on the battlefield, leaving her heartbroken and alone. Jennie struggles to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, but is haunted by a mysterious figure that refuses to let her bury the past. When Jennie forms an unlikely alliance with a spirit photographer, she begins to uncover secrets about the man she thought she loved. With her sanity on edge and her life in the balance, can Jennie expose the chilling truth before someone-or something-stops her?

What landed in your house this week?? Come on, enable me just a bit more!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Sunday Salon - A Mixed Bag Week

Happy Sunday morning, everyone! I have a breakfast casserole in the oven, a cup of coffee beside me, and a book open on the bed. I stayed up entirely too late finishing Ann Patchett's State of Wonder for my 2012 Tournament of Books personal reading challenge. I did have the luxury of sleeping until almost 9:00 this morning, and I almost never do that. I'm rested and ready for the day. I'll take some more time to read books and blog posts after I post assignments for my online classes. Fun fun fun. While today is slated to be relaxing, the earlier part of the week was not so great.

This past week was the most stressful I've had in a while. I mentioned in a blog post a while back that my job will eventually be going away. With that in mind, we had some very important visitors on campus one day this week, and while I do not have blood pressure problems in the least, their visit alone made my head feel like it was going to explode. Long story. Not a story for the blog, but it was suitably heavy to make me glad to see the end of the week.

My job is still secure for now--every day is business as usual--but it was still enough to take a toll on my writing and reading habits this week. The good news is that I've been poking around online, and there are some interesting prospects posted here and there. Not a ton of jobs, but a few that excite me.  I would like to get into a more significant position in the online education sector. If I could work from home I would soil myself with glee. Seriously. Cross your fingers.

The weekend has been much better. In fact, yesterday was super bookish. I met up with my former graduate school colleague and good buddy, TheOtherFeminist, for Chinese food and book talk. I pulled up at the restaurant a touch early and got a table for some reading. Fem came in a few minutes late. All told, we got the party started around noon and the next thing we knew we'd talked until 4:00!!! Any time we get together we have scads to discuss, and much of it is related to teaching and reading and literary theory and all that awesome stuff.

We started brainstorming a new anthology of short stories we're affectionately calling The Kickass, Bookgasmic Anthology of Undersung Short Stories. You'd buy it, right?! The whole idea is that most of the anthologies for teaching literature (and simply reading!) have the same old stuff in them. We started a list of lesser-known stories we think would blow professors' and students' skirts up. We also have a penchant for the twisted, FYI. *wink*

We also talked about what we've been reading lately and what's on the docket for later. And of course, there were recommendations, and iPhone e-mailing of recommendations. You know how it goes when book nuts gather. It's rare that I get to indulge in heavy book talk with a face-to-face buddy. We have plans to get together at a Real Bookstore soon and do it all again!

While the week started out rocky, it certainly ended strong. This coming week should be much more even keel (knock on wood). I hope your weekend is wrapping up right and you'll be off to a good start tomorrow.

What are you reading today?

**If you're interested in joining in The Sunday Salon, visit the Facebook page!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Madame Bovary, A Story of Really Miserable People

Yesterday sucked. It actually wasn't the day's fault, but there were meetings with bigwigs and people-stress and daycare WTFery and just ridiculousness. I'm glad yesterday is over and I can enjoy today -- a Friday filled with afternoon and evening time to read and grade papers. Well, it's all good except the paper grading part. I have a class this afternoon, but they're working on a project for the majority of the time in class, so it should work in my favor.

Getting beyond the crapfest that was yesterday...as most of you know, Heather and I did a buddy read of Gustave Flaubert's much-drooled-upon, Madame Bovary. Many of those lists of best books say this is the second best book in the stratosphere right after Anna Karenina. I haven't read Anna K. so I have no idea about the ranking, but I'm also a little curious as to how in the world this became the second best book in history? I wasn't included on that vote.

This was not a bad book. Not bad at all, in fact. Like most Realist novels, it's filled with characters who are annoying and who are tortured (sometimes) to death. In interesting and unique ways. My experience before MB was largely limited to Theodore Dreiser's American realist novel, Sister Carrie, which came WAY after MB. But the basic tenets are the same: characters who have a icky lot in life. Done!

Here's a short synopsis:
Emma marries Charles Bovary who she initially thinks is quite fine enough to save her from living with her father. After she's married she's bored and begins to think Charles is icky. She has an overblown sense of the romantic from reading lots of novels that have filled her head with nonsense (damn reading women!!!). Misery leads to adultery and lots of stupidity and she's miserable and adulterous for a long, long time. And stuff.

First off, I did not hate Emma Bovary as much as the average reader. She was quite a silly woman, bored, needed more manual labor to keep her busy (as is once proposed in the novel). She is certainly the epitome of selfishness by the time it all goes to hell, but I still didn't hate her. This book reminds me of the same themes at work in the short short story, "The Story of an Hour," by Kate Chopin (two pages vs. 400 in this novel). Women had no choice but to marry if they were going to have anything in life, and they often ended up stranded and miserable. Given, her husband loved her but she was not fulfilled in a number of ways. Does it make her actions right? NO. Was she a goober? YES. But I don't hate her. There were a lot of issues of circumstance that set off a chain reaction of gargantuan proportions.

The readability of this novel really surprised me. I downloaded the Eleanor Marx-Aveling translation because it was cheap, and then I discovered that it's largely considered the worst translation of anything ever. BUT, despite that, it was still a quick read. We zipped through in a week. If Lydia Davis's translation is considered the best thing ever, then I want to read it one day to see what all the fuss is about. Note: Marx-Aveling was THAT Marx's daughter. Yep! Daughter of Karl Marx did the first English translation of this novel. High five!

Like any red-blooded 30-something, I was also initially interested in the scandal that went along with this novel. It's supposed to be right up there with Lady Chatterley in the "holy shit this is scandalous" category. But I have news for all of you pervs out there: there are no jiggling loins or heaving bosoms in this novel. I know, I know...I was disappointed, too. There was one very shady foray in an arbor and one bouncing carriage and that's it. That's all I've got. There's a big difference between 1857 and 1928 in the writerly sexuala department. Still, I know why it blew people's hair back in the 1850s. I get it.

 I am glad glad glad this was my first classic of 2012. It was a great reading experience (though I still don't think it's the second best book in the universe). It was even cooler to read it with Heather and gossip about Emma Bovary everyday. That little tart sure does give a reader food for thought.

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: 1857
Publisher: No idea
Format: E-book
Source: Purchased by me.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

It's Just the Truth!

VERY IMPORTANT VISITORS on campus today. And my head hurts. And I don't feel interesting. Maybe tomorrow. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


Greyson woke me up at 5:30 this morning, and I don't have to be at work until 9:00, so I thought I'd stop in to say good morning. The coffee is flowing, but actual thoughts haven't congealed yet. Alas, you get randomness in all its glory.

I turned on the Cooking Channel this morning, and I'm faced with a very young, clean-shaven chef Aar√≥n Sanchez from 2002. He wasn't cute or charming back then. 

My child, who was formerly terrified of the bathtub has now come to terms with bathing outside of the sink. It's all thanks to an inflatable duck named Howard (apropos, yes?). I now have a hard time getting him out of the bathroom as he enjoys standing at the side of the tub, waving, saying, "HI HOWARD!" over and over again.

I have a bad case of the Too-Many-Good-Books-To-Read. I'm LOVING State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and I'm moving through it at a good clip. I also have other Tournament of Books books staring at me from the sidelines. Along with a copy of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. They're all calling to me at once! Oh, and an e-book copy of Swamplandia by Karen Russell came in from the library. Ugg!

I love my Keurig coffee maker. LOVE!

I went to my favorite independent bookstore in the universe this past weekend. a Real Bookstore, in Fairview, TX! They have a great cafe, which I've mentioned here before because it sells booze. Books and booze! But they also sell yummy pastries and panini sandwiches and whatnot. I was about to gnaw my own leg off so I purchased this (click to embiggen)...

And it is a sandwich which will change your life. It's called the "Three's Company Grilled Cheese." It's a panini filled with white cheddar, gruyere, and goat cheese, and it is a force to be reckoned with. It's served with a side of raspberry jam to cut some of the richness of the cheese and a healthy helping of Kettle potato chips. OMG, y'all. This grilled cheese DID change my life. I won't eat it often, or I'd blow up to the size of the store, but it was so, SO tasty You can read more about it in the Dallas Business Journal. That's how good this sandwich really is!

I should also mention that I ordered a red velvet whoopie pie to go along with my sandwich. I had to save it for later because I was so full of melty, gooey cheese, but it was beyond fabulous. So tasty. If you haven't been to a Real Bookstore and you live in the Dallas area (or ya know, within five or six hours), go to this store. Just do it. 25% discount for educators, too. Just sayin'. 

Finally, just because he's cute...

Images by Freepik