Friday, November 29, 2013

Feature Friday: Bookshelves of Doom

Three reasons why you should check out Bookshelves of Doom:

1) That is hands down the greatest name for a book blog.  Ever.

2) Leila is hilarious.  Every post is filled with so much lighthearted humor, but underneath the laughs you can tell that she really cares about this book stuff.  She's a librarian specializing in YA, and gives straightforward, honest, from-the-heart book reviews.  I've also appreciated her updates on what books are being challenged in schools/libraries across the country.  That's not something I had previously followed, but I agree with Leila that censorship is damaging to individuals and communities, and thanks to her I have considerably stronger feelings on the topic.  Also, between the book reviews and book banning posts, she gives updates on her and her husband's life dealing with their cats' antics.  An example from a recent post:
"...I've been doing what has become second nature: THE WOUNDED RODENT MORNING ROUTINE.
Check my slippers for dead/dying rodent. If empty, put them on.
Check kettle for dead/dying rodent. If empty, fill it and start water for tea.
Check toaster for dead/dying rodent. If empty, make toast.
You get the idea.

Who knew cats made such great fodder for blog posts?  Before Bookshelves of Doom, I didn't.  Keep it up, Leila's cats.  (Though don't harass your owners too much.)

3) She has an awesome Etsy shop where she sells mostly book-related pendants.  Definitely worth a gander.

Bookshelves of Doom is an awesome site.  Check it out!

**Note: This is not a sponsored post.  Leila doesn't even know I'm writing this.  I just really like this blog.**

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving!  To all my non-American friends, I still hope you have a wonderful day and have a killer meal tonight.  :) 
Today I am grateful for many things, but one of those things is books.  I would not be who I am today without them.  Viva la literature!
image via

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book-to-Film: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I just finished Allegiant.  (Review will be up on Monday!)  So the Divergent series is on the brain.

Sooooooo, Divergent is being made into a movie.  It's being released this March, actually.  I'm wondering:

  • How closely it will follow the book?  Usually I'm a purist, but I think this series could use a few, ahem, alterations.
  • If those who hated Allegiant are still interested in seeing the films?  
  • If I will want to see the films?  This series is very violent.  So is The Hunger Games, and I love those films, but I think The Hunger Games is actually very anti-violence in its message.  I think this series uses violence as entertainment, though, and I'm not sure I want to pay to see the final third of this film if it follows the book too closely.

What are your thoughts and concerns and hopes on this film?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top Ten Literary Baby Names: The Boy Edition

Last week I made a list of some of my favorite literary baby girl names.  

Here's the boy edition.  Enjoy!

10. Holden

This name is known primarily by Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.  Though it is not present in many other places in literature, this novel is famous enough and beloved enough for the name to be a respectable choice.

9. Ezra
Ezra is the first name of writers Ezra Pound and Ezra Jack Keats, as well as a character name in Deronda by George Eliot.  The name was dying out for a few decades, but appears to be making a comeback in recent years.

8. Milo
Milo is the name of a character in Joseph Heller's Catch-22, as well as in Norton Juster's Phantom Tollbooth.  It also makes an appearance in TV's 24, in case you're a fan.

7. Atticus

Oh, Atticus.  How could anyone not love the quietly courageous Atticus Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?  If there was ever a literary character to emulate, he's the one.

6. Rhett
I think this name will always be associated with Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind.  Rhett is the debonair male lead opposite Scarlett O'Hara, of course.  I don't think that's a bad thing, but that's just my opinion.

5. Neville

Don't scoff yet.  Read this, then tell me if you don't suddenly want to name every single one of your children Neville.  Charles Dickens also used the name in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in case you need more reason.

4. Sawyer
A bit more popular, but for good reason.  It's been featured everywhere from the name of bands to TV's Lost, but it's literary roots are as good as it gets: Tom Sawyer is the loveable scoundrel created by Mark Twain, one of America's favorite writers.

3. Tristan
This name has been around for a long, long time.  Tristan was supposedly one of the Knights of the Round Table.  It doesn't get much cooler than that, folks.

2. Arthur
Speaking of the Round Table... Arthur may be the name of an ancient king, but it's literary roots are much deeper.  It's also the name of authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur Rimbaud, and is featured in books such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and, of course, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

1. Silas
This name is used in works by George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dan Brown, and even Robert Frost.  With biblical ties as strong as its literary ties, this name is one to be proud of.

What did I leave out?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Rating: 3.5 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king's long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner's motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword's point -- he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage's rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner's sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.  
An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats."

Review: You know when you make something new for dinner and, although you follow the instructions exactly, it just doesn't turn out well for you?  That's kind of what happened to me with this book.  The False Prince has everything that I could want in a novel: spirited protagonists, conflicted characters, court intrigue, suspense, tension, and one big twist that will change everything.  My head was in it, everything looked right, but for some reason the taste was off.

This book's premise is pretty straight forward, at least it appears that way from the onset.  The protagonist, Sage, needs to convince the resident bad guy, Conner, to select him to impersonate the long-lost prince for unclear reasons.  So do the other three orphans in the running to be the false prince, for reasons just as unclear.  And so goes 80% of the novel. 

THEN CAME THE PLOT TWIST.  As far as plot twists are concerned, it's a great one.  I totally blew through the last 20% of this novel.  The plot twist changed everything.  The direction of the story arc and every single one of the characters are changed by this one twist.  I thoroughly enjoyed the end of this story, and a part of me wishes that the twist had come earlier.  (But I can see why it didn't - the twist's impact is quite palpable where it is.)

There are plenty of YA books that cross over to adults in terms of appeal and enjoyment.  I am not convinced that this book is one of them.  Nevertheless, it will certainly appeal to young readers.  I think the 10-to-12-year-old bunch should enjoy this series immensely, and I will certainly be recommending this book to my nieces and nephews in that age range!

Bottom Line: Hey tweens!  Do you like adventure?  I've got a great series starter for you!! 

Weekly Words: Logan Pearsall Smith

Friday, November 22, 2013

Let The 75th Annual Hunger Games Begin

Eyes bright, chins up, smiles on!  

It's Catching Fire day!  I'm seeing it this weekend.  Are you?

Here are some things I'll be watching for in this film:


  • How will the civil unrest across Panem be portrayed?  
  • The Victory Tour.  This was incredibly difficult for Katniss in the book, but most of her anguish is inside her.  Hard to translate those kinds of moments to film.
  • Katniss and Peeta's on-camera vs. off-camera relationship.
  • Cesaer Flickerman.  I love Stanley Tucci anyway, but he was even more solid gold in the last film than I was expecting.  I have no reason to expect he'll be any less perfect here.
  • I admit, I am excited to see how the jabberjays are to be depicted. 
  • I really hope the budget was increased for the special effects in this film.  Cina's fab creations didn't really translate in the last film.  Maybe this one will do better.
  • Most importantly, How will this film feel?  I had many conversations with friends when the last film came out, wondering if it was hypocritical of us to pay money to be entertained by a film about a story that criticizes people for their poor choices of entertainment.  (That was a very circular sentence.  Apologies.)  In the end, I think the first film did a good job of showing that the Hunger Games were a terrible thing.  It didn't glamorize the deaths.  It didn't soften the emotional distress.  It was hard to watch, and it should have been hard to watch.  Will this film follow suit?  If not, I will be very upset.  

Finally, for better or for worse, the anticipation is over.  TO THE CINEMA, JEEVES.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Something Pretty: Abbey Library of Saint Gall

This Swiss monastic library has manuscripts dating back to the 8th century.  
For that alone, I MUST GO TO THERE.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Girl of Fire and Thorns Dream Cast List

The Girl of Fire and Thorns series is one of the best I've read in a while, so naturally it's still on the brain weeks after finishing The Bitter Kingdom.   If I were a hot shot casting director (one of my dream occupations) here's who I would put in the main roles across the series.  (I'm focusing most of my casting on the last book, since that's what's freshest in my mind.)

America Ferrera as Elisa
(Honestly, I think I'd prefer an unknown in the lead.  America would also do well, though, I think.)

Naya Rivera as Elisa's big sister, Alodia

Adrian Grenier as Alejandro

Prateik Babbar as Humberto

Victoria Justice as Cosme

Zoe Saldana as Mara

Eva Mendes as Condessa Arina

Sharon Stone as Ximena
(Am I totally nuts?  I can't find a perfect Ximena, but for some reason Sharon is working for me here.)

Michael Trevino as Belen

Adam Rodriguez as Hector

Garrett Hedlund as Tristan

Jason Isaacs as Storm
(And not just because his role as Lucius Malfoy makes it really easy to envision him as a blond.  I think he has the intensity to pull off being an Invierno.)

That Afghan girl from the famous photograph by Steve McCurry as Mula/Red
(Seriously, this is was who was in my head while I was reading.  I think it's the eyes.)

Robin Wright as Waterfall

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top 10 Literary Baby Names: The Girl Edition

Naming someone is a big responsibility.  The name you choose will be intrinsically connected to them for the REST OF THEIR LIVES.  I certainly felt the pressure when selecting a name for our daughter.  I wanted something feminine, on the atypical side, with a history of being an actual name.  (No made up words passing as a name, if you know what I mean.)  

I was also convinced that her name would contribute to the direction her life took.  If we named her Vivian, she might grow up to be an actress.  If we named her Erin, she would be really good at soccer.  If we named her Dianne, she would probably spend a large portion of her life working with Habitat for Humanity.  WHAT NAME/FUTURE SHOULD WE PICK?  (Obviously I took this whole thing way too seriously.  I'm happy with what we ended up with, though, so it was worth it in the end.)  (Also Obviously, name preferences are completely subjective.  This is just my opinion.) 

And, because I am bookish, I thought it might be nice to select a name that had strong literary roots.  It's a great idea, but actually pretty hard to pull off.  There are plenty of literary women who I adore and admire, but I'm not doing my kid any favors if I name her Desdemona.  (This plight is similar to those who want a biblical baby girl name [SERIOUSLY limited number of usable names there] or to those who want to use a family name, even if their family immigrated from somewhere far away and is full of unpronounceable names with no fewer than five syllables.)

What literary names are there, then, that are pretty and usable?  After doing some research, I came up with a few that might work:

10. Juliet
"Juliet" is from the well known Shakespearean classic story of star-crossed lovers.  This name is so lovely.  It's a slightly more uncommon name than the more ordinary "Julie" or "Julia," but still well known enough to prevent any raised eyebrows.  Just promise me not to name any of her brothers "Romeo."

9. Tess
Tess is the beautiful heroine of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The name is iconic and feminine and beautiful, and pretty unique.  There aren't many baby girls being named Tess these days, so, in my book, that's a point in this name's favor.

8. Arabella
"Arabella" has been featured in many novels, including: Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, The Vicar of Wakefield, Charles Dickens's Pickwick Papers, George Eliot's Felix Holt, Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, and more recently in Harry Potter.

7. Cressida
This name is found in works from Shakespeare to Chaucer to Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games. And, bonus, the name is Greek for "gold."

6. Matilda
Taken from the protagonist in Roald Dahl's fantastic book of the same name.  I kind of love that "Matilda" is apparently German for "battle-mighty."

5. Alice
You might first think of Alice in Wonderland when you hear this name, but the name has roots in novels by Munro, Walker, Sebold, Hoffman, McDermott, Adams, and Elliott Dark, too.

4. Sylvie
Nameberry claims that this name is on the rise among baby name trendsetters.  I would like to know exactly who the said "baby name trendsetters" are, first of all.  If it's true, this could be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view.  Regardless, it's a name used in Roderick Townley's The Great Good Thing and in Lewis Carroll's lesser known fairy story Sylvie and Bruno.

3. Calliope
Calliope is the narrator of the Jeffrey Eugenides novel Middlesex.  You could always call her Callie, if you wanted to shorten it.  This name has actually been around for a looong time, so if you selected it, you'd be bringing it back rather than starting a new trend.

2. Cecily
Cecily is the name of one of Beatrix Potter's bunnies, as well as one of the main characters in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest.  The name has been featured more recently in works by Cassandra Clare (The Clockwork Prince series) and Lauren DeStephano (The Chemical Garden series) and even once on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  (Not a book, but Buffy is awesome, so there.)  

1. Cordelia
Cordelia is one of my favorite names of all time, largely because of Shakespeare's play, King Lear.  Cordelia is the epitome of strength and grace and kindness.  Plus, the name is just so elegant.  There are loads of nicknames you could use (Cora, Deli, Lia, Cory, etc.) if you wanted to.  But nickname or no, Cordelia is a sound choice for any little girl.

What are your favorite literary baby girl names?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Review: Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
Rating: 5 stars
Book Aquired: Checked out from the library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies.

Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love?

The follow-up to reader favorite Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen's world. How could it not turn out right in the end?"

Review: This is my sixth Hale novel, so I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I picked up this book: something that would make me smile in places, roll my eyes in others, and adequately entertain me until my holds at the library came through.  Much like a Friends episode. Preferable to The X Factor, but I probably would have clicked over to Parks and Rec if it was on. 

This time, however, Hale got me.  I loved this trip to Austenland so much more than last time.  The intrigue, the characterization, and of course the witty banter were top notch.  I enjoyed spending time with the whole cast.  I found myself smiling more often than not, and even laughed out loud in a few places.  (Not something you would expect in a murder mystery, but Hale never does seem to do the predictable thing.)  I was so enamored with the story and the characters, I frankly didn't care how implausible it was.  For this Hale novel, I did something I haven't done in any of her previous works: I just enjoyed the ride.  No one is as surprised as I am at how much I loved this book.  But man, I did.  

More than that, after reading this novel I think I'm more aware of what Hale's novels are trying to accomplish.  They're not trying to change the world or make any grand statements about human nature, they're just trying to tell stories, and tell them in a way that will make the reader smile.  (No offense to anyone whose world was changed as a result of reading one of her novels.)  As a proponent of stories in general, I think this goal is perfectly lovely, and am a little embarrassed that it took me so long to get it.  

So, in conclusion, it took me a while, but I think I understand Hale's books now.  And folks, I'm fully on board.

Weekly Words: Roald Dahl

Friday, November 15, 2013

Feature Friday: Minimalist Posters of Disney Films

How awesome are these?  Seriously.  I can't decide which I like better: Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, or Snow White.  They're all fantastic.  Which is your favorite?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Something Pretty: Penguin Hardcover Classics

I die for a good book cover.

So I was positively drooling over the Penguin hardcover classics when they were released a couple of years ago.  Designer Coralie Bickford-Smith created some really lovely linen covers for these classics. I love all the color!

I think many people were aware of these covers when they first came out.  But did you know that after she released her initial design of a few classics, she subsequently continued to design more covers for more classics?  Great news, right?  Right!  Now you can get the Jane Austen Collection, or choose from several others.  Here are some of my favorites:

They're all so pretty, I can't choose a favorite.  I just love looking at them.  They would make a fantastic birthday or Christmas present, no?  Hint, hint, spouse.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book to Film Adaptations: The Movie Trailer Edition

Fact: I'm a sucker for movie trailers.  I love them.  They're my favorite part about going to the movies.  It follows, then, that I would appreciate movie trailers that are well made.  My definition of a well made movie trailer is:
  • One that does not give away the ending of the movie. 
  • One that does not assassinate the plot or any key story lines before I've even seen the film.
  • One that does not set up misleading expectations. (To this day I am convinced this is why M. Night Shyamalan's The Village did poorly at the box office.  The movie is fantastic, but poor advertising made audiences expect a horror/thriller flick, and were therefore confused and annoyed when they got a love story.  Nevermind that it's a spectacular love story.) 
  • One that does all the above and still manages to show why this movie is different from every other movie.  (Read: why I should see this rom com instead of the 83,460,879,074 other rom coms being released this year.  Without revealing the ending.)
  • One that features people chanting in Latin the background.  Just kidding, Latin chanting is not a requirement.  Though it never hurts...
I think this is actually a lot harder than it sounds.  Movie trailer creators have to cram an entire movie's themes, energy, mood, and conflict into about a minute and a half.  And yet, some really pull it off.  Great movie trailers are their own stand-alone versions of entertainment, not just advertisements.  Which is why I like them.   

When it comes to movies based on books, I am no less critical.  In fact, I think trailers of movies based on books sometimes have an even harder job to do since much of the audience will already know how the story ends, and will therefore need greater incentive to pay money to watch a story they're already familiar with.  

Difficult though it may be, some trailers of movies based on books really knock it out of the ballpark.  Here are some of my favorite trailers of films based on books:

The Hunger Games
This trailer is near perfection.  The trailer makers cleverly focused the trailer on only the events leading up to the games, only offering a tiny glimpse into the Arena in the final seconds of the trailer, even though most of the film takes place there.  You know the stakes, but you don't know how everything will turn out, which makes you want to see the film.  The Catching Fire trailer was not as good, in my opinion, but that doesn't matter as much since everyone who saw the first movie (read: PRACTICALLY EVERYONE IN THE WORLD OVER THE AGE OF SEVEN) will want to see the second.  

The Phantom of the Opera

This trailer is one of my favorites.  It gives only fleeting images from many scenes from the film, and relies primarily on the music to convey the story's plot, tone, and tension.  A wise choice, since the story is primarily about music.  The costumes, sets, lighting, and cinematography are all moody and sumptuous, but their purpose is to visually compliment and enhance the music.  Everything comes together for a really lovely trailer.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

With perhaps the most passionate fan base EVER, this final film of the Harry Potter series had a LOT of expectations to live up to.  This trailer promises high energy, great effects, and epic battles.  As the eighth film in the series, many fans had become quite attached to these characters.  This trailer doesn't reveal who dies, but is pretty upfront about the fact that not all the characters are going to make it out alive.  There's no Latin chanting, but the music in this trailer is really perfect, from the eerie opening chimes of the familiar Harry Potter theme to the pulse pounding anthem accompanying the rest of the trailer.  Well done.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

This trailer is on the long side, which sometimes is a bad thing as long trailers tend to reveal too much.  This trailer succeeds, though, by jumping from Frodo to Gandalf to Aragorn to Arwen, etc., and showing glimpses of their struggles while still connecting each character together with lines like, "We cannot achieve victory through strength of arms.  Not for ourselves.  But we can give Frodo a chance."  It makes us want to give Frodo a chance too.  And that last little carrot showing Sam crying out in despair?  I die.

War of the Worlds

Seriously, man, the Latin chanting gets me every time.  I actually like this trailer better than the film.  The trailer is intense, and it really sells the movie.  I like that they never actually show the aliens in the trailer.  It gives you a reason to see the film.  If you've ever read War of the Worlds, you know that the tone of the book is very different from the tone of the movie, so you might not even know this movie was based on a book until they reveal the title at the very end.  The tone shift may have been a misstep for the film, but it made for a great trailer.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Man, this movie really racked up the hate from reviewers.  Did you know it has a score of 12% on rotten tomatoes?  12%!!  You know what else has  a 12% score?  Jonah Hex.  Ever heard of that one?  Me neither.  Maybe it wasn't the greatest film, but I'm really confused at how poorly it did at the box office.  So poorly that the sequel probably won't be made.  Where did all the Cassandra Clare fans go??  Anyway, despite how poorly the film did, the trailer was really great.  It shows the parallel worlds Clary lives in and her place in them, gives glimpses of the mysterious people she must ally with , the supernatural villains she's up against, and promises some thrilling battle scenes.  Plus, it stars Lily Collins.  I kind of adore her.  It's really too bad this film didn't deliver because based on the trailer it could have.  It's a shame.

Also, in case you were curious, here's the new Maleficent teaser trailer.  I don't think it merits favorite status, but the cinematography, costume design, and the music are looking/sounding pretty good.  

Any favorites I left out?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Warning: Read This Post with Snacks

On there is a fascinating bit on food and literature.  They begin, "Since people first put ink to parchment, food has proven an inspiration, a plot device, a method of revealing character in poetry and literature."  It's true that food tells much about a person's culture, background, even their mood.  That is no less true in fictional worlds.  Recall, if you will, what J.K. Rowling describes Harry Potter eating at meal times while living with the Dursleys as opposed to while at Hogwarts.  If you knew nothing else about the story, it would be pretty clear that the meager scraps Harry eats from Vernon and Petunia's table indicates a lower happiness level than the long Hogwarts tables overflowing with pork chops, steak and kidney pie, boiled potatoes, treacle tarts, pumpkin juice, and chocolate ├ęclairs.  (See here for an extensive essay on food in the Potter universe.)

Clearly food is atmospheric.  The reader cannot see, smell or taste the food the characters eat, but through food the author can create wonder or tension, comfort or isolation, satisfaction or foreboding.  It's a wonderful literary device, since it's often so subtle that the reader can pick up the atmosphere of the scene they're reading without feeling like the author is banging them on the head and screaming ATMOSPHERE!  ATMOSPHERE! ATMOSPHERE!  

Conclusion: Food is great.  

So.  Here are some of the greatest literary food moments in YA literature.  (When I say "greatest" I don't necessarily mean "happiest."  I mean, "most effective at using food as a device to illustrate setting, create mood, reveal characterization, reflect cultural identity, and/or advance the plot."  But that was too long to fit in my post title.  So.)

1) The decadence of the Capitol in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is never more evident than when Katniss and Peeta attend a Capital party in Catching Fire.  At the victor's party in the Capitol, Katniss describes tables "laden with delicacies... everything you can think of, and things you never dreamed of, lie in wait... every table presents new temptations... after about ten tables I'm stuffed, and we've only sampled a small number of the dishes available" (77-78).  When Katniss is asked why she isn't eating, she responds that she can't hold another bite.  This response is met with condescending laughter and an explanation that in the Capitol you simply drink a clear liquid from a table full of wineglasses when you're full.  The drink will make you vomit, at which point you simply start eating again.    Katniss describes her shocked and horrified reaction like so: "All I can think of is the emaciated bodies of the children on our kitchen table as my mother prescribes what the parents can't give.  More food... And here in the Capitol they're vomiting for the pleasure of filling their bellies again and again.  Not from some illness of body or mind, not from spoiled food.  It's what everyone does at a party.  Expected.  Part of the fun" (80).  
This passage is genius.  By portraying the Capitol's relationship with food in opposition to District 12's relationship with food, Collins simultaneously characterizes the Capitol's extravagance and ignorance of conditions outside their own city, creates friction between Katniss and her hosts, and advances the plot by giving a conflicted Katniss more reason to go against the Capitol.  

2) Just the mention of Turkish Delight probably conjures images of the White Witch of Narnia meeting Edmund Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  In this story, the White Witch bribes Edmund with Turkish Delight and promises of power if he will bring his siblings to her castle.  Turkish Delight is a sugary delicacy in Britain.  I've never tried it, but I doubt it's good enough to convince me to betray my brothers and sisters to a life of subservience to a shifty lady in a sleigh.  (Homemade peach cobbler though... kidding, Mom.)  Turkish Delight becomes a symbol of greed and selfishness in the novel.  There is nothing inherently wrong with a little dessert now and then, but the moral is nevertheless taught that evil can disguise itself in things as simple and seemingly innocent as food.  So watch what you eat.  Especially, apparently, when you're in British wardrobes.

3) Much of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland revolves around eating and drinking, but when I think of this singular story the first image that pops into my head is of Alice sitting down to tea with the Mad Hatter.  At one point during Alice's stop, the Hatter explains that they have tea all day because Time has punished him by eternally standing still at 6:00pm, tea time (via).  I've always thought of the Mad Hatter as suffering the same fate as the Greek mythological character Sisyphus, who was doomed to eternally push a boulder up a hill over and over and over.  Both are frozen in a moment in time.  They are trapped.  Stuck.  In both stories the lack of time changes everything.  A nice cup of tea can be terribly satisfying at the end of a stressful day, but the point of the tea is to help the drinker unwind, refocus, and recharge for the next day.  Without a next day, or even a next hour, there is little real purpose to the Hatter's tea or to Sisyphus' boulder.  One can only enjoy a pleasant flavor for so long before it ceases to become so.  It is little wonder, therefore, that the Hatter went mad.  Food is necessary to live, but it does not give meaning to a life.  It can sustain life, enhance life, and uplift life, but eating or drinking itself is only meaningful because it allows the rest of a life to thrive.  The Hatter doesn't truly enjoy tea time because, for him, there is no other time.  In this story food is not the enemy, rather it is a reflection that without perspective and progression, life lacks meaning.  

4) You may have heard the riddle: Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.  Where am I?  The answer: The Ocean.  The juxtaposition of being surrounded by food and water and yet nearly starving is ever present in Yann Martel's Life of Pi.  The salty ocean water is undrinkable, and Pi constantly struggles to catch fish or other sea life to sustain him and Richard Parker.  Pi is forced to learn to survive in harsh conditions, and quickly.  Pi's relationship towards food is representative of his journey from civilization to drifting lifeboat.  When we first meet him, Pi is a vegetarian.  But by the end of his journey he hardly thinks twice about eating meat.  In this story, where the procurement and consumption of food is so critical to the main story arc, Pi's relationship to food could easily define him.  But instead, it reflects his adaptation and his fierce will to survive.  Food tells the reader more than whether Pi was able to eat.  It tells us about his character.

5) Food and Fairy Tales is its own massive subject.  Food plays a major role in just about every fairy tale I am aware of.  Cinderella's coach is transformed from a pumpkin; Rapunzel, it could be argued, is a cautionary tale of the dangers of pregnancy cravings; Jack finds his fortune at the end of a beanstalk; Snow White nearly dies from a poisoned apple; The Princess and the Pea is literally a story about a princess and a pea; Little Red Riding Hood nearly becomes food herself, and does in some versions; and Hansel and Gretel has food featured on every page of the story.  In each of these stories food reveals something about the characters: their social standing, their background, what they want, and what motivates them.  Food reflects their feelings, their relationships, their culture.  It's powerfully done in each of these stories, which is one of the reasons why these stories are so memorable.

These are just a few examples.  Clearly food is a very useful narrative device.  Next time you come across the presence of food in books, consider paying attention to what that food is telling you.  I'd bet it's more informative than it may seem.

All this talk about food has got me hungry.  Excuse me while I go grab a slice of pumpkin chocolate chip bread.  November food is the greatest.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Rating: 4.5 stars
Copy Obtained: Checked Out From the Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most."

Review: I love this series.  Love it.  Elisa is an atypical heroine, but still one you can get behind.  The cast is fairly large, but I had no problem keeping everyone straight, which is a good sign of characterization.  (I LOVED Storm and Mula/Red.)  The plot moves forward at a steady pace, and includes unexpected twists and turns, and plenty of tense moments and action scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat.  (Anyone else notice the nod to Lord of the Rings?  The snow forces them to travel through dangerous ancient mines... it's totally Moria!)  There is a history among these fictional characters that goes back thousands of years.  There are multiple different cultures, different religions, and different opinions and perspectives among the people.  Not every question the book asks gets answered, but there is the feeling that it's okay to have unanswered questions.  It is as Father Nicandro says: "Never stop asking questions, Majesty.  God honors truth seekers" (391).

I had a few very minor complaints.  Elisa's godstone is a huge part of this series, plus she is the protagonist of this story, so I expected her godstone task to be correspondingly large.  As it was, the task appeared to me to be a sort of weird, even irrelevant, detour from the real story.  I liked the ending, though it felt somehow a little too rushed in some places and a little too drawn out in others.  Only a little though.

Like I said, the complaints are small.  On the whole, this novel and this series are definitely worth reading. It's satisfying, exciting, and fulfilling.  There's no other series like it.

Weekly Words: Francis Bacon

I just have to say how delighted I am that the person who this quote is attributed to has the last name of "Bacon."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Books for Kids: The Teenager Edition

We made it!  This is the last part of the series.  I've loved researching and creating these lists.  I hope you've enjoyed them, and I really hope you've discovered a few new books worth reading.  

This last section is focused on teenagers.  And it's probably the hardest list to compile.  With the YA boom that has hit in the last decade, there are just so, so many books to choose from.  Not to mention the fact that teenagers have a huge range of interests, massively different backgrounds and experiences, and wide ranging goals and expectations. However, there are a few themes and stories that are broadly applicable no matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter what you want out of life.  I focused this list on those stories.  Here they are.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green: Whenever I recommend this book, people ask me what it's about, and I tell them: it's a fictional story about a teenage girl with cancer.  At that point their eyes glaze over and I can tell they have no interest.  At that point I start jumping up and down and flapping my hands, insisting that it's so much more than a 'cancer book,' it's not emotionally manipulative, and it really is worth their time.  They then make some excuse about leaving their curling iron on and quickly retreat, while casting nervous glances at me over their shoulders.  Their loss.  Seriously, you HAVE to read this book.  It's won all sorts of awards, and it certainly deserves them.  It's smart, funny, and really quite touching, all while tacking some pretty serious subjects.  This is the first book that has made me cry in a long, long time.  YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: This is the quintessential adolescent book.  Holden Caulfield is simple and complex, eloquent and confused, full of angst and fear and pleasure and pain, and not entirely sure which is which.  He is a teenager.  It's a glorious time, but also extremely difficult.  Salinger captures the adolescent voice better than anyone else, and who to appreciate it best, and relate to it most, than other adolescents.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: Before Harry defeated Voldemort, before Rand al'Thor discovered his destiny, before Ned Stark traveled to King's Landing, there was a Hobbit who lived in the Shire.  This series is largely considered to be the most imaginative, detailed, fully realized fictional world ever created.  Tolkien created entire languages for these books for goodness sake.  Though the books were never really dying, they have seen a greater insurgence since the movies were made about a decade ago.  I'm glad new readers can jump into middle earth and enjoy this incredible world for themselves.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Rarely does reading make me feel like I'm being rebellious, but this book does.  How can it not; you're reading a book about a society where reading books is forbidden.  This classic dystopian book looks at what makes us human.  It examines the evils of censorship and the dangers of conformity (a topic teenagers generally enjoy) and makes you ask yourself, what are you willing to fight for?

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Seriously, if you have not read this book, drop whatever you're doing and read it.  Hurry.  The movie was released yesterday, so hurry up and read it before Facebook spoils it for you.  If you want to see the movie, go right ahead.  But read the book too.  You won't be sorry.  Leisel's story is one that will stick with you for the rest of your life.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: This book is kind of a modern Catcher in the Rye.  It's worth reading both, though.  It perfectly captures the tumultuous yet affecting high school years through the eyes of Charlie, a freshman who cannot decide between living his life and running from it.  His struggles are real and some of them are quite serious.  Some adults like to pretend that the struggles teenagers face are not as large as adult problems.  That is simply not true, and is exacerbated by most teens' undeveloped sense of how to handle their problems.  Charlie makes mistakes, but he learns from them and ultimately is better because of them.  A coming of age story for teenagers, certainly, but I'd recommend it to adults as well.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok: Although this book takes place during WWII, the war is secondary in this story.  The main focus is on father-son relationships.  We are shown two such relationships and spend the novel examining them.  This book is affecting and affective, and to teenagers struggling to figure out where their parents fit in their lives, this book is a perfect fit.  I also appreciate the strong influence of religion in this book.  

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: Although the author could use some serious lessons on How To Not Piss Off The World, his novels are really something.  It's a sci-fi story, yes, but it's also very political and very philosophical.  It's one of those books that people either love or hate, but, regardless, it almost always elicits a strong reaction.  It will make you think, and it will make you mad, and it will make you better.  (It's also really entertaining, so what have you got to lose?)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: This book is a portrait of the jazz age in all its extravagant decadence and ugly excess.  But it's also a simple book.  That's what makes it so stunning.  It captures an entire age by burning it down to its bones and illustrating its seductions and frills and warts for all to see.  So many films have tried to do what this book has done, but I don't think any have yet succeeded.  Do yourself a favor and just read the book.  Teens especially will benefit from this book, as they have yet to experience anything but their own decade of youth, and dabbling into someone else's will get them outside themselves.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  That sentence describes the teenage years just as much as it describes Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror.  Although Dickens requires some patience to read, his novels are worth the effort.  It's disturbing, it's macabre, it's merciless, it's captivating.  And I'm not just talking about the French Revolution.  Read it.

Happy Reading!


**Note: None of these books are sponsored.  I just really like these books and thought you might too.  Also, I am not nearly cool enough to do a sponsored post yet.  Tell your friends about Bookmark Dragon.**