Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Five: Upcoming YA

I just finished reading Allegiant by Veronica Roth. If you’ve maybe been hiding under a rock for the past few years, Allegiant is the third installment in Roth’s Divergent trilogy, a thrilling series set in a dystopian Chicago where all citizens are separated into factions based on their most prevalent personality traits. Aside from causing a seemingly endless stream of tears, reading Allegiant has also gotten me thinking about what other books I’m most looking forward to, particularly in the young adult genre. So here are my most anticipated young adult books to be released (in order of release date, of course!):

All of these books are sequels or, I guess, pseudo-sequels in the case of Isla and the Happily Ever After. It’s just so easy to get caught up in young adult series nowadays. They tend to be fast-paced, exciting, and romantic - a perfect storm to get readers wanting more. It’s hard to say which of these titles I’m MOST excited for, but if forced, I would probably choose Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray, the second book in The Diviners series. The Diviners was released in September 2012  and follows spunky teenager Evie O’Neill as she is sucked into a world of murder, evil, and supernatural abilities in 1920s New York City. I'm really excited to see what happens in Lair of Dreams after Evie goes public with her supernatural ability.

The first releases I'm looking forward to are in January of next year which seems too far off. I can't imagine waiting for August!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Page and Screen: Orange is the New Black

Warning: This post contains some mild spoilers for both the book and TV show Orange is the New Black!

Like most people with an Internet connection and a pulse, I marathoned the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black when it was released in August. The series follows Piper Chapman, a white upper middle-class New Yorker sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for a ten-year-old drug offense. Through Piper’s eyes, we enter a world that is largely unfamiliar to most watchers. In this world, a leftover ice cream cone is the catalyst for an all-out brawl, sanitary pads are used for everything from cleaning to makeshifting shower shoes, and ex-lovers appear at the absolute worst possible moment. But in Litchfield Prison, Piper also finds something unexpected--friendship with women from all walks of life...and a few enemies too. 

Unsurprisingly, Orange is the New Black is based on a book - the bestselling memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman. I had previously heard of the book and thought it sounded interesting, but after watching the show, I had to get my hands on a copy. I knew that the show couldn’t have been adapted too faithfully from the book, but I was surprised at just how much had been changed and added for TV. The book isn’t about one-liners or catfights. Although it made me smile a few times, it wasn't a funny book. Kerman's memoir is about a privileged white woman's journey through the prison system and the truly life-changing experiences she encounters there.

What You Can Expect from Orange is the New Black: The TV Series
  • Comedy. I laughed out loud at OITNB more times than I can count. My friends are in the habit of throwing one-liners from the show out in everyday conversation (and by everyday I mean every conversation we have every day). One memorable scene shows Nikki comforting Alex in the law library, patting her head and saying, “There’s always hope tomorrow’ll be taco night.” But Taystee pops her head out from around a nearby shelf and yells, “Tomorrow’s beef and noodles!” Pennsatucky’s ruminations on same-sex relations are hilariously backwards: “She a lesbian. They lesbianing together,” she says solemnly. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Unexpected sympathy. Probably my favorite thing about OITNB is how well-rounded and intensely human the characters are. Through strategic flashbacks, we see background stories for characters that might otherwise be looked over. It’s in these retrospectives that we learn about Sophia’s experiences before and during her sex-change operation and what led her to commit credit card fraud. Likewise, we see the stern Miss Claudette murder a man who abused a young girl employed in her cleaning company. These flashbacks lend real depth to the women in Litchfield Prison and keep them from being just numbers to us.
  • Drama. Drama. Drama. Yes, it’s worth saying three times. For all the laughs we get from the ladies locked up in Litchfield, there are just as many instances of anger, heartache, backstabbing, and sadness. Unexpected pregnancies, violence, death, star-crossed romance, and family are just a few of the dramatic avenues explored in OITNB. But these more serious storylines are rarely over-the-top and perfectly balance the show's comedic moments.

What You Can Expect from Orange is the New Black: The Book
  • Piper. This book is very much a memoir - it’s personal. Rather than getting much back story on the minor characters, we almost exclusively see Piper’s point of view throughout her sentence. This doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything about the other prisoners. Kerman adds in details often about her fellow inmates’ sentences and crimes. But the personal stories of other prisoners were either fictionalized or embellished for the show. Although Piper is the main character on the OITNB show, she often comes off as selfish and flaky. We get a different impression of her when reading from her perspective. Piper is both scared and smart, selfish and selfless, but she really, truly cares about her friends in prison and works to improve their lives.
  • Commentary on prison and the criminal justice system. Piper Kerman isn’t angry that she’s in prison; she understands that she committed a crime and must face the consequences. But she doesn’t agree with the prison system as a whole: its unhelpful prerelease classes meant to reintegrate inmates into the outside, the lack of useful classes for further education, the pointless rules. Kerman notes that the real lesson she learned in prison was from living and working with the women who may have hypothetically been affected by her crime. She notes, “Our current criminal justice system has no provision for restorative justice, in which an offender confronts the damage they have done and tries to make it right to the people they have harmed. (I was lucky to get there on my own, with the help of the women I met.) Instead, our system of ‘corrections’ is about arm’s-length revenge and retribution, all day and all night. Then its overseers wonder why people leave prison more broken than when they went in.” And there's more where that came from.
  • Community. Piper Kerman survives her prison sentence not because of her own will power or strength but because of the women she meets there. At first she's only approached by other white women who provide her with personal hygiene items, well wishes, and advice. But soon she finds herself safely within a network of women of varied backgrounds, personalities, and uncertain futures. These women support each other endlessly: Piper proof-reads her fellow inmates' letters for appeal, Pop gives advice to anyone in need, Yoga Janet provides a relaxing and constructive space in her yoga classes. They plan elaborate parties for each other's birthdays, make prison-crafted gifts for special occasions, and lend each other a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. These women are alone, save for each other, and they express their solidarity and support whenever possible. As a mild-mannered prisoner is taken to solitary confinement, her fellow inmates openly express their disdain for the prison's decision. Kerman writes, "One of the lieutenant's goons cuffed her, not that gently, and the buzz among the women surged to a low roar. Then Sheena started to chant: 'Ali-ice, Al-ice, Al-ice, Al-ice, Al-ice!' as they led the little pacifist away. I had never seen prison guards look scared before." In these moments we see just how much these women need each other.

The Verdict

I was surprised how different Piper Kerman's memoir was from the show I had watched. The show was addicting, funny, and heart wrenching. The book, however, presented a quite somber look at life in a women's prison. It wasn't an "unputdownable" book; in fact, it took me three or four weeks to finish. But I found it to be enlightening, engaging, and fascinating to read the "real" Piper's take on her prison sentence. Many elements of the book were included in the show, but the writers took great liberties with the more dramatic and humorous moments. Overall, I enjoyed both the book and TV show. But if you're looking for something easy and engrossing, check out the Orange is the New Black show on Netflix. If you're more interested in a realistic look at prison, try reading Kerman's memoir.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Indiespensable Review

I heard about Powell's book subscription, Indiespensable, quite a long time ago and immediately loved the concept. The deal is that the Powell's staff pre-selects a new book for subscribers and adds a few surprises to the package. The surprises could be notebooks, home goods, snacks, advanced copies of other books, or even harmonicas! But it took me a while to submit to the $40 price tag for the subscription. "A while" was about a year and a half. But I FINALLY got around to subscribing at the end of this summer and I received my first Indiespensable package just a few weeks ago.

So the deal is that Powell's announces the selected book before its shipped, but the extras that come in every Indiespensable package are a surprise. This time around, the book was The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee. Here are the deets:

Just opened package. All the goods are below.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Five: Memoirs

I love memoirs. I’m reading two right now - Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman and Her by Christa Parravani - and it’s gotten me thinking about how many of these personal tomes I’ve read in recent years. A well-written memoir evokes empathy in the reader, provides a sense of connection to a time or place that we may not be personally familiar with, and makes us feel something - happiness, sadness, anger, shock, anything really. Here are my personal top five memoirs and a few honorable mentions that I couldn’t help but include (all listed alphabetically):
  • Atlas of the Human Heart by Ariel Gore
    Atlas of the Human Heart follows sixteen-year-old Ariel Gore as she drops out of school and heads to China with virtually nothing but a copy of the I Ching. The next three years take her across Asia and Europe as she squats in abandoned buildings, smuggles drugs, studies at a language institute, and eventually ends up pregnant in Italy before returning home. 
  • Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless
    In Chanel Bonfire, Wendy Lawless recounts a childhood marred by an alcoholic, inattentive, and suicidal mother with a taste for luxury. Lawless and her sister struggle to grow up and eventually to carve out lives for themselves away from their histrionic mother.
  • Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen
    From a young age, Kerry Cohen believed that using her body to get male attention was a surefire path to happiness and love. Loose Girl examines an adolescence and young adulthood of promiscuity, from Cohen's reliance on sex to her eventual understanding of true intimacy and love. 
  • The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
    The Memory Palace tells the story of Mira Bartok's brilliant mother, Norma, whose descent into schizophrenia rips her family apart. As Norma's episodes became more violent, Mira and her sister are forced to abandon their mother and go their own ways. Years later, after an accident leaves her memory impaired, Mira attempts to reconcile with her mother one last time before her death.
  • Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
    Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation is a searing portrait of a young life entrenched in anxiety and depression. Wurtzel's teenaged and college years are marred by suicide attempts, hospital stays, and drugs before she finds her way back to stability and hope.
Honorable Mentions: Blue Nights by Joan Didion, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

In making this list, I've realized how enamored I am with women's stories. Only one of the books I came up with was penned by a man (the honorably mentioned Jean-Dominique Bauby). Of course I read books by both men and women, but I guess when in comes to memoirs, I'm generally drawn to the experiences of women. And those experiences tend to be difficult, life-changing ones that beg for understanding.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: Bandette by Paul Tobin

144 pages, will be published on November 19, 2013 by Dark Horse Comics

It’s difficult to describe Bandette without using the word “charming” over and over. But I’ll say it: this is a truly charming graphic novel. Our titular character, Bandette, is the self-proclaimed “most talented thief this world has ever known.” With glee and wit, the teen crusader steals from those she deems worthy of being thieved: weapons dealers, shady underground organizations, and various other “bad guys.” Bandette is rarely alone in her adventures; she has a trusty pool of peers ready and willing to bail her out when sticky situations arise: a ragtag gang of street urchins, a trio of ballet dancers, and the adorable Thai food deliverer, Daniel. Luckily for this group, Bandette gets herself into sticky situations very frequently.

Although she’s on Inspector B. D. Belgique’s speed dial when the Parisian police just can’t finish a job without her, Bandette isn’t the only thief in France. Her greatest rival is Monsieur, a classic gentleman whose front is running a rare book and coin shop - his two greatest interests. Much to Bandette’s chagrin, Monsieur has beaten her to a steal several times. Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games for Bandette. Okay, it’s mostly fun and games. But when Monsieur requests a midnight meeting with Bandette, it’s not to discuss thieving techniques. It’s to alert her that she has been targeted by the mysterious criminal group Finis whose leader, Absinthe, will not stop until Bandette is dead. Bandette’s life is in real danger and the first of Finis’s assassins is on their way…

I found myself smiling a lot as I read Bandette. It’s a truly delightful volume with bright, colorful illustrations and memorable characters. I loved diving into a world where knockout spray comes in a can, enemies have lengthy chats while fighting (which gives a pleasant Princess Bride vibe), and our heroine is more concerned with finding chocolate bars than the criminal mastermind who wants her dead. This volume collects the first five issues of Bandette. Additionally, he back matter includes several “Urchin Stories” - minicomics centering on the smaller characters featured in volume one of Bandette. The reader is also treated to a short story from Daniel’s perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bandette and I look forward to experiencing more of the teen thief’s gleeful adventures in the future.

Rating: 4.5/5

**I received an ARC of Bandette through NetGalley

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

256 pages, published on August 20, 2013 by Algonquin Young Readers
Sahar has been in love with Nasrin for as long as she can remember. But the hidden romance they’ve shared in Iran is on the verge of destruction when Nasrin’s parents arrange for her to marry a handsome doctor. No one knows that the girls’ relationship is anything but a close friendship, but Sahar can’t stand the thought of Nasrin being with someone else. She thinks she has found a solution to their dilemma when she meets Parveen, a post-op transsexual. While homosexuality is considered a sin, sex changes are accepted and often encouraged by Iran’s government. Convinced that this is the only way to be with Nasrin and stop her wedding, Sahar begins attending support group meetings with transsexuals, both male and female. As Nasrin’s wedding date draws nearer, Sahar becomes desperate to begin the process of her sex reassignment, attempting to acquire hormones illegally and setting up a session with a surgeon. Of course, desperation rarely allows for things to go as planned and Sahar is predictably left where she started.
It was fascinating to read about everyday life in Iran, especially through the eyes of a young woman who is knowingly breaking the law. A love story between two young women is also rare and refreshing. But aside from the social commentary, I found If You Could Be Mine almost unreadable. Sara Farizan’s two lovers are so unlikable that it’s hard to understand how anyone could possibly fall in love with them. Writers should show rather than tell their audience the message they want to share. But the reader has Sahar simply telling us over and over how much she loves Nasrin without giving us much of a reason to believe their relationship. Most of her narration is spent lamenting how spoiled, rude, and bossy Nasrin can be. What we see of Nasrin confirms this; she seems to enjoy stringing Sahar along like a pet, always available at her beck and call. While Nasrin whispers a few “I love you”s to Sahar throughout the novel, she never even mentions finding a way to be together. Without being inside her head, we see only surface emotions from Nasrin, and it’s simply not enough to believe their relationship.
Surprisingly, I ended up disliking Sahar even more than her selfish counterpart. Sahar may only be seventeen years old, but she is certainly old enough to understand that undergoing a major operation such as sex reassignment is not something that can be done on a whim. She seems to think that it’s akin to visiting her dentist, a quick trip that will magically solve all of her problems. She doesn’t even consider the fact that the people who have this operation feel that they have no other choice, that they were actually born in the wrong body. Sahar may not be able to love Nasrin in public, but she is comfortable in her body, never doubting that she is meant to be a woman. It becomes offensive how little she respects the struggles of transsexuals. Sahar completely disregards the thoughts and feelings of those in her support group – people who have actually struggled with gender identity for their entire lives. Instead, she complains about them sharing emotions when all she wants is to find out how to start taking hormones. It’s only when she meets with a surgeon (and sees Nasrin’s doctor fiancĂ© at the clinic) that she begins to understand the magnitude of what she plans to do. As the surgeon explains in graphic detail what the surgery entails, Sahar faints, and in turn finally comes to her senses about the operation. 
I appreciate Farizan’s effort to illuminate the struggles of two women in love, especially in a culture that is largely unfamiliar to western readers. Fiction can be a great vehicle for sharing views and information about topics that are traditionally taboo. However, the message of this story  was overshadowed by Sahar’s naivety and Nasrin’s selfishness. The more I read of If You Could BeMine, the more desperate I was to be done with it. Unsympathetic characters are unfortunately complemented by stilted dialogue that pushes the story to a sad and messy conclusion.
Rating: 1.5/5
**I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley.

Review: Bad Houses by Sara Ryan

160 pages, will be published on November 12, 2013 by Dark Horse Comics
Teenager Anne Cole is a photographer, fascinated by abandoned spaces and things left behind. Lewis works with his mother managing estate sales in the small town of Failin, Oregon. When Anne tries to explore the left behind items at an estate sale, she and Lewis click instantly. But Bad Houses extends much further than a teenage love story as Anne and Lewis struggle with family and identity in their economically failing town. Anne’s mother, Danica, and Lewis’s mother, Cat, add their own unique storylines to Bad Houses, with their relationships to Lewis and Anne taking center stage.
Bad Houses is, above all, about the connections between people who love each other and the objects that fill their lives. Danica is a hoarder, filling her home with an endless stream of random objects to which she assigns profound meaning. Anne is intrigued by what people leave behind and experiments with shoplifting, curious if she’ll feel the “thrill” of stealing what doesn’t belong to her. Cat feels most comfortable when she’s ordering other people’s belongings into a display that will appeal to customers. And Lewis is almost an object himself, constantly being controlled by his mother and desperate to escape.
I enjoyed Bad Houses more than I first anticipated. I’ll admit that I was thrown a bit by the cover of Bad Houses. I really liked Carla Speed McNeil’s illustrations, but the coloring on the cover seemed a bit too bright and cartoonish. I think McNeil’s work translates better in black and white, especially given the tone of this story. Once I got past the cover and started reading, I found a compelling study of family, love, and the power we give to the things in our lives. But Bad Housesisn’t without faults. Lewis’s character is sadly underdeveloped, aside from a weak storyline about his absent father. The flashback sequence seemed unnecessary, throwing together Cat, Lewis’s father, and the town’s grouchy antique store owner, Fred, for a few scenes from high school. And Danica’s boyfriend AJ, along with his pill pushing business, didn’t add much to the story. Even with these weaknesses, Sara Ryan has created characters that are real, flawed individuals, capable of tugging at the heartstrings of the reader. We can’t always admit to our own struggles – with both people and objects – but it’s easy to see ourselves in any one of Ryan’s characters.
Rating: 4/5
**I received on ARC of Bad Houses through NetGalley.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Book Haul

I went to New York last weekend and did quite a bit of book shopping while I was there. This is what I bought:
I’m Only Here for the WiFi by Chelsea Fagan
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Over You by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Krauss
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
Great House by Nicole Krauss
What A Wonderful World, Volume 1 and 2 by Inio Asano
Point Omega by Don DeLillo
Brain On Fire by Susannah Cahalan
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Marcel Duchamp from Taschen

I went to New York last weekend and did quite a bit of book shopping while I was there. This is what I bought:
  • I’m Only Here for the WiFi by Chelsea Fagan
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Over You by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Krauss
  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
  • Great House by Nicole Krauss
  • What A Wonderful World, Volume 1 and 2 by Inio Asano
  • Point Omega by Don DeLillo
  • Brain On Fire by Susannah Cahalan
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  • Marcel Duchamp from Taschen

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bookstore Tour: The Strand

The Strand - Manhattan, New York City (Greenwich Village)
Basics: Gigantic bookstore of “18 Miles of Books” fame
Size: 3 large floors plus basement (“the Strand Underground”)
The Goods: New and Used
First Impression:
(Actually my second impression since I was here about a month ago but still) HUGE. Lots of books. Lots of people. Lots of everything. It was overwhelming and confusing when I first walked in, but it was BOOKS so I didn’t mind the madness.
Finds and Features:
I unexpectedly stumbled acrossthe as-of-yet-to-be-released Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell in the Young Adult section. I was so excited to get my hands on a copy a few weeks ahead of time! Plus, it was only $9.50 for the hardcover. Most other new YA hardcovers were $15 or $16.
The selection at the Strand is unbelievable. I mostly found myself browsing the display tables that were set up (staff picks, Strand 80, real books cheaper than kindle books). This was an easy way to see highlights from the Strand’s collection, although there was plenty more in the stacks.
The basement or “Strand Underground” has a section of new books at half price. When I first saw the ancient sign advertising this deal I thought it was just a throwback to an old Strand discount. But it’s true! There is a whole section of hardcover books at half the list price!
Pricing:  Below list price. I’d guess that about half of the Strand’s new books are a few dollars below list price. The other half are well below list price (for example, I paid $7.95 for Nicole Krauss’s Great House when the list price is $14.95). Used books in the sale outside range from $1-5.
Tip: Look through all the copies of the book you’re interested in. You might find one cheaper than the rest! I looked through a few copies of Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan that were $14 until I found one that was $8.
What I Bought:
  • Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  • Great House by Nicole Krauss
  • Over You by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
  • Point Omega by Don DeLillo
How I Felt When I Left: Tired but happy
Website: Strand Books

Friday, August 30, 2013

30 in 30 Challenge Wrap-Up

Last Thursday marked the end of my 30 in 30 challenge. I didn’t quite reach 30 books, but I still read more than I ever have in a month! It was actually quite a fun challenge. Here is the final list of books that I read:
  1. French Milk by Lucy Knisley (graphic memoir)
  2. The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler (nonfiction, drama)
  3. So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan (fiction)
  4. The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery (Children’s fiction)
  5. A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (poetry)
  6. Saga: Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (graphic novel)
  7. Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue (short stories)
  8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (fiction)
  9. Saga: Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan (graphic novel)
  10. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (fiction)
  11. Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano (fiction)
  12. I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron (essays)
  13. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King (fiction)
  14. The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (fiction)
  15. Questions About Angels by Billy Collins (poetry)
  16. Austenland by Shannon Hale (fiction)
  17. Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg (fiction)
  18. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff (novel in verse)
  19. Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (graphic novel)
  20. I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron (essays)
  21. Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnick (fiction)
  22. Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (short stories)
  23. The Boy Book by E. Lockhart (fiction)
  24. The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart (fiction)
  25. Crush by Richard Siken (poetry)
  26. Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart (fiction)
Favorite Reads:
  • Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King (fiction)
  • The Ruby Oliver Quartet by E. Lockhart
  • Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
  • The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
  • I Remember Nothing and I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

448 pages, will be published on September 10, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Cath Avery doesn’t like change. She doesn’t like starting her freshman year of college away from home. She doesn’t like that her twin sister and built-in best friend, Wren, is too busy drinking excessively and fraternizing with fraternities to room with her. She doesn’t like that her mother - the mother who left ten years earlier without another word - suddenly wants back into their lives. And she doesn’t like being away from her sometimes manic, but always loving father. Cath doesn’t like change, but she loves Simon Snow, the magical book series that has been a constant in her life for as long as she can remember. When she worries that her roommate, Reagan, hates her or that Reagan’s boyfriend Levi hangs around too much, Catch dives into the world of Simon Snow fan fiction, working on the magnum opus that she’s been writing for two years.

Simon Snow may bear some parallels to another famous boy wizard, but Cath’s story is unlike any I’ve read before. Catch is smart, brilliant even, but anxious and often incapable of dealing with life’s curve balls. When Cath’s handsome fiction-writing partner betrays her, she fumbles without fighting back. When she finally realizes that Levi has been hanging around for her and not her roommate, Cath doesn’t know how to react. But eventually she learns to allow the people around her, including Levi, to help when she needs it most. As Cath and Levi grow close, Cath’s other friendships and relationships waver. I found this wavering to be the best part of Fangirl. Because Cath’s life isn’t just a love story, or a story that ends when she gets into a relationship. Her life is about the strain that college puts on her relationship with Wren. It’s about her father’s work, his absentmindedness, and his devotion to his daughters. It’s about her passion for writing, her fear of creating something new, and her relationship with the fictional characters that she’s known for more than half of her life.

Fangirl can go from laugh-out-loud funny to tear-jerky within a page. It’s immensely readable because Cath is such a complex, relatable character. I felt her anxiety and fear, her joy and uncertainty as I turned the pages. And I couldn’t wait to see how her story, and Simon’s, ended.
Rating: 5/5

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bookstore Tour: Kinokuniya

Kinokuniya - Manhattan, New York City (Midtown West)
Basics: Bilingual (Japanese and English) bookstore
Size: 2 medium-sized floors plus basement
The Goods: New
First Impression: At first I thought that this was completely a Japanese-language bookstore based on the signage and window displays. I cannot, unfortunately, read Japanese but I decided to pop in anyways. I’m so glad I did! Kinokuniya is a welcoming, well-lit, and easily navigable space.
Finds and Features: As soon as I walked in I spotted Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in paperback. I’ve been waiting for this to come out in paperback forever, scouring the Internet for a release date. Well, it’s still not out. But Kinokuniya had the UK import!
The second floor of Kinokuniya is pretty much completely manga, in both Japanese and English, plus DVDs. There were a few well-stocked rows of graphic novels as well.
Although my first impression was a little off, there were still a lot of Japanese elements and materials in the store: Japanese-language newspapers and books, toys and games, and of course, manga.  
Pricing: List price, aside from a few carts of clearance books.
What I Bought:
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • What a Wonderful World, Volume 1  by Inio Asano
How I Felt When I Left: Surprised and happy
Website: Books Kinokuniya
Apologies for the poor quality pictures!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

30 in 30 Challenge Update #2

Here I am again, nearing the end of the 30 in 30 challenge. I’ve fallen a few books behind, but we’ll see what happens when I reach day 30 next week.
Books I’ve read since my last update:
8.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (fiction)
9.  Saga, Volume 2 by Bryan K. Vaughan (graphic novel)
10.City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (fiction)
11. Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano (fiction)
12. I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron (essays)
13. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King (fiction)
14. The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (fiction)
15. Questions About Angels by Billy Collins (poetry)
16. Austenland by Shannon Hale (fiction)
17.Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg (fiction)
18. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff (fiction in verse)
19.Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (graphic novel)
20.I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being A Woman by Nora Ephron (essays)
21. Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnick (fiction)
Currently Reading:
  • Polaroids from the Dead by Douglas Coupland
  • Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa
I went on a little Jane Austen homage kick over the past few weeks. Austenland by Shannon Hale was a quick and cute read about a Janeite who takes a vacation to a regency-themed estate in England. Amidst the bonnets and games of Whist, our heroine is torn between two charming men - one who represents the real world and one who embodies the fantasy of Austenland. Elizabeth Eulberg’s modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Prom and Prejudice, fell flat for me. Revolving around the prestigious prom at Longbourn Academy, several main characters in Eulberg’s story were left out or transformed into caricatures of Austen’s originals. I just finished another young adult adaptation of  Pride and Prejudice - Claire LaZebnick’s Epic Fail. I enjoyed this version a bit more than Eulberg’s, but the adaptation was a bit looser. I’m tempted to write more about modern versions of P&P in the future…
I’ve also read Nora Ephron’s two most recent collections of essays this month: I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being A Woman and I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections. I love Nora Ephron. I love her movies. And I devoured her essays. Her humor is subtle and sophisticated, her intelligence isn’t the least bit showy, and her stories are immensely relatable. I can’t wait to read more of her older work and The Most of Nora Ephron comes out this fall.
The challenge ends on 8/22, so I’ll post after that with my final update!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

30 in 30 Challenge Update #1

I’m now knee-deep in the 30 in 30 challenge and I definitely feel like I have my work cut out for me. Even just reading short books and graphic novels, I find myself scheduling extra reading time every day.
Here are the books I read during the first week and some “microreviews.”
  1. French Milk by Lucy Knisley (graphic memoir)
    Knisley is a talented cartoonist, but this memoir of a trip to Paris with her mother is a bit drab and repetitive. It seemed like I read about what she ate for dinner on every other page with snippets of visits to art museums in between. I would have liked to read more of Lucy’s thoughts and feelings rather than a log of meals and museums.
  2. The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler (nonfiction, drama)
    Eve Ensler based these vignettes on hundreds of interviews that she conducted with women all over the world. These monologues with the “Vagina Facts” sprinkled throughout make for enlightening reading.
  3. So the Wind Won’t Blow it All Away by Richard Brautigan (fiction)
    Brautigan’s narrator looks back on a childhood accident that shaped the rest of his life in this short novel. Set in the post-WWII 1940s, So the Wind Won’t Blow it All Away is mostly sad, but like all Brautigan’s novels, immensely readable and unique.
  4. The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery (Children’s fiction)
    The classic children’s book depicts the Little Prince’s visit to Earth and several other small, strange planets. The Prince’s naivety and joie de vivre make him a perfect candidate to explain the real reasons that we live and learn.
  5. A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (poetry)
    A brilliant collection and my first introduction to Ferlinghetti. My favorite poems in A Coney Island of the Mind were in the middle section, “Oral Messages.” These were written for jazz accompaniment and are reminiscent of today’s slam poets.
  6. Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (graphic novel)
    A stunning introduction to Brian K. Vaughan’s newest graphic series, Saga is the story of Marko and Alana, star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of an inter-galactic war. Saga is worth reading just for Fiona Staples’s stunning art, but it’s worth sticking around for Vaughan’s character development, narrative voice, and complex storytelling.
  7. Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue (short stories)
    In Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue presents thirteen retellings of classic fairy tales. Sometimes it’s immediately obvious what source material Donoghue draws from, other times the reinterpretation is subtle. Either way, these are delicate and heart-wrenching tales that draw the reader into a world of magic, love, and loss.