Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Take On Banned Books Week

Not a fan of the way it's promoted by the ALA.  I oppose censorship and the way that a majority of book challenges go down - one parent or set of parents wanting to dictate what everyone's kids can read.  Unfortunately, I think the ALA is guilty of propagandizing these events to make them seem dramatic, but in reality just keep people misinformed.  One of my biggest pet peeves is reading through blogs during this week and seeing blatant misinformation that I really can't blame the blogger for perpetuating.  The worst was last year when I read a blog where the author wrote that before Banned Books Week she wasn't aware that it was illegal to publish certain books in America.  That's just blatantly false, with the exception of things like child pornography.  The issue is the removal of books from schools and libraries because of the objections of a few individuals - I think ALA would be doing a better service to educate readers on what being "banned" actually means for a book.

Anyway, I don't intend to soapbox about it, but you can read my post from last year (and the comments where virtually everyone tells me I'm wrong) here.  I'm totally ok with disagreement by the way - I get why this is a big deal and that most people consider what I"m saying to be semantics.  I just happen to think that semantics are a big deal.

Also, you can read what Annoyed Librarian has to say about it in her blog on Library Journal here.

And finally, even if you think I'm totally wrong and AL is totally wrong and we're both just silly nit-pickers, please take a minute to look at Amnesty International's Banned Books Week page.  I would love to see the ALA highlight some situations like these as an example for American readers of what real banning and censorship look like (prison, detainment, and even death threats) in addition to the challenges that some authors face in our own country.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Comments

A quick note on comments - I am still having problems leaving comments on Blogger blogs, including my own.  Occasionally I can, but most times I can't.  So if you are commenting on my blog, please know that I am reading and appreciating all of them and trying to comment back every day.  Also, I do visit any bloggers who leave me comments, but if you are using the Blogger platform I may not be able to comment back.  Hopefully Blogger will resolve this soon.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I've seen a few lingering reviews of Divergent popping up every now and then, so I don't think I'm the actual last blogger to read this one, but I know I'm close.  I bid on (and won) my copy from All 4 Alabama, which was hosted by my friend Crystal, but it took a while for it to arrive due to the same address mix up that has plagued me ever since we moved last year.  Anyway, it finally came and I'm so glad I made it a priority because it was awesome.  I am not usually a fan of books that are promoted as "the next Hunger Games" or "the next Twilight" or whatever, so I was suspicious about this one.  I still don't like all of the comparisons (just because two books are dystopian does not mean they automatically need to be compared), but the book is phenomenal in a completely different way that is all it's own.

Writing
One of the things about book blogging is that I've become much more critical of my pleasure reading.  I'm more aware of things like quality of writing, since I know I'm going to be writing about it and that I'll need to justify the reasoning behind my review.  In this one, for the most part, I was so into the story that I didn't notice the writing one way or the other.  But I did get a Tweet from a more literary-minded blogger as I read that led me to look at the book beyond just how awesomely amazing the story was.  And I think it held up pretty well.  There were parts (the romance aspect) that I felt were less believable and possibly were in the book mainly as a plot device aimed at what is expected of most YA fiction (boys and girls falling in love and kissing).  I think Roth did an excellent job at keeping those plot devices to a minimum though, and that she told her story well.

Entertainment Value
Off the charts awesome.  It's one that I honestly couldn't put down - I read it in less than 24 hours.  While the literary part of me felt like maybe some of the romantic elements were a plot device, the girl in my loved the kissing.  And I've written about the romance twice now, but please do not misunderstand and think that is waht this book is about.  The issues surrounding familial love and the idea of growing up and choosing your own path is expressed beautifully.  I loved how Roth was able to bring in something that all teenagers, and I think adults as well, can identify with (growing up and away from your family of origin) and magnified it (choosing a faction at the age of 16), but managed to keep it relatable.  I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review: The Little Friend

Remember when I reviewed Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter?  And I wrote about how it got so many undeserved comparisons to great Southern authors like Flannery O'Connor and Harper Lee?  This book deserves those comparisons.  It's the perfect mixture of the two and an excellent Southern Gothic.  It is set in the 1970's in the rural South and our main character is twelve year old Harriet, who has decided to solve the murder that defines her family.  When Harriet was an infant, her brother Robin was murdered in the yard as he played and Harriet is determined to exact revenge.  

Writing
Brilliant.  I loved Tartt's descriptions of the South.  I'm not usually a huge fan of overly descriptive writing, but I felt like Tartt did a great job of setting a scene that you could feel like you were a part of without boring you to death with wordiness.  I also LOVED every single one of the characters, even the detestable ones.  In contrast to what I thought was a one-dimensional view of the South in Crooked Letter, The Little Friend has great depictions of both the raw and gritty side of rural Southern life and the endearing aspects. 

And don't even get me started on the characters.  All of them are amazingly real and incredibly detailed.  Harriet, of course, was the star - she reminded me very much of Scout, except without the influence of Atticus.  She's endearing and frustrating and honestly frightening in her determination to kill the man she thinks murdered her brother.  And even the "bad" characters are believable and sympathetic in their own ways.  

Entertainment Value
Excellent.  I was sucked in and enjoyed every minute of the read.  I actually found it online through my school's library, so I was able to read during my down times at work - and found myself really resenting having to do actual work instead of reading.  Looking through other reviews, the main complaint I see is that the story does not end neatly.  If it were a murder-mystery then I would agree that the lack of a tidy ending detracts from the story.  But this isn't a murder mystery, it's a Southern Gothic, and the point of the book is not to find out the "who-dunnit".  So if you're looking for a thriller or a tidy little mystery, this is not the one for you.  It's literary and detailed and beautifully written and tells a beautiful story - just not a neat story all wrapped up tidily at the end.  I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In My Mailbox (23)

Hello, Reader Friends and welcome to this week's In My Mailbox, which is hosted by The Story Siren.  This has been a good book week for me.  I got some things that I bought in the All 4 Alabama Auction:

Divergent, by Veronica Roth - with temporary tattoos!

And a signed copy of Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews


Then Luke and I went to McKays where I traded in a bunch of books for store credit and got:

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide

The Reader's Bathroom Reader - a bunch of lists and book trivia and stuff

Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min

Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf (and then I realized I already have a copy - oops)

A Return to Modesly by Wendy Shalit (read it already and loved it) and Should We Burn Babar by Herbert Kuhl

Dust Tracks On A Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston and
Cherry by Mary Karr

We also went by Books-A-Million which is going out of business.  It was the last day of their sale so everything was 20% off of the alredy discounted prices. 

I'm So Happy For You by Lucinda Rosenfeld

Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas

Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

And these came for review this week:

Don't Sing At the Table by Adriana Trigiani (I'll be doing a TLC review next month)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Faith and Fiction Round Table: Forbidden

Oh goodness.  Ted Dekker, what can I say?  I really really wanted to love this book.  Ted Dekker had two strikes against him (the book The House that he wrote with Frank Peretti and the movie Three) but I was willing to give him one last shot because of the FaFRT and because my friend Booney has read and enjoyed him.  Plus the idea of Christian dystopia intrigued me.  And I wanted this one to be so good that I spent over a month trying to read it, but the truth is I only made it about halfway through.  I tried to finish for our discussion, but just couldn't make myself.  Since I didn't manage to finish, I don't want to discuss/review the book in particular, but address one of Christian fiction's chief failings in my mind: the rip off of secular culture.

This was yet another example of how an author of Christian fiction has taken what secular fiction is doing and tried to Christian-ify it.  Dystopia is super popular right now, so Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee paired up to write this dystopian novel.  Ok, I can get on board with that, but the problem for me was (as it has been with other books) that not only is it just another dystopia, it's not even an original or well-done dystopia.  If you read YA at all, you probably recognized the plot line: a future world where all emotion has been erased (Delirium?).  Except guess what?  Our MC has found the cure - drinking the blood of someone who lived before emotion was destroyed.  So he does, goes through a horrible transformation and then his female best friend decides that she might as well try it too.  And guess what?  They immediately fall in love. 

This was where I really gave up caring because it was so far beyond belief to me.  That two characters who have never experienced emotions other than fear and who are being pursued by the government who is trying to kill them and has killed their families also just happen to have the time to not only process all the new emotions but fall in love.  And almost have sex, because we don't want to NOT appeal to secular culture, but we can't go through with it either because then the Baptist bookstores might not sell it either.  It's that playing to both markets that really got me with this one.  Not because I'm opposed to Christians writing fiction and selling it in the secular market and not because I'm opposed to Christians writing fiction and selling it to BOTH markets - I think cross-market advertising opportunities for Christian fiction are amazing.  But write something that rings true.  Don't try so blatantly to appeal to both that the writing suffers - and for me that is where this book fell apart. 

I am desperate to see some Christian authors who successfully market to both audiences - or really just write well despite what market they appeal to.  Not that there aren't Christians doing that, but I'd love to see more examples of authors who are Christians who are writing about life and who aren't writing for a specific market - and way too much of what Christians are doing right now is overtly aimed at one market or the other.  Just write and do it well - unfortunately this isn't an example of that.

Check out what the other members had to say:
  • Book Addiction

  • BOOKS AND MOVIES

  • Crazy-for-Books.com

  • Ignorant Historian

  • Linus's Blanket

  • My Friend Amy

  • My Random Thoughts

  • One Persons Journey through a world of Books

  • Roving Reads

  • Semicolon

  • The 3 R's Blog // Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

  • TinasBookReviews

  • Victorious Café

  • Word Lily
  • Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    Library Sale!

    Twice a year the public library has a book sale - and they just so happen to have it in the same building I work in.  Very convenient.  So I try to only go once or twice, but it's so tempting just to slip out the back door for a minute and check things out.  This year I spent $48 and got these books:

    The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors
    The Queen of the Big Time

    The History of Love
    Barabbas

    Sand In My Bra
    Among the Mad (part of the Maise Dobbs series)

    Great House

    Literary Landscapes (photos of places in literature - I haven't given it a good look yet, but Watership Downs is featured which is why I had to have it)

    Gertrude and Claudius
    To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife

    The Diary of An American Au Pair (not a huge fan of chick lit, but I was a nanny and I'm a sucker for nanny stories)
    The Law of Similars

    Myths, Legends, and Folktales in America
    The House Gun

    The Roald Dahl Omnibus
    Wedding Season

    The Kiss (this is the crazy autobiography of the woman who started an affair with her father at the age of 20 - I couldn't resist buying it but I'm not seeing very good reviews on Goodreads)
    Secret Lives of Great Authors (bought mainly because the cover is awesome) 
    The Senator's Wife
    A Room of One's Own

    Push
    Sarah's Key

    I also picked up a picture book on the making of the original Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera and Best American Short Stories for 1968, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977.  I collect the series and have had a hard time finding copies before 1980 in good condition, so I was excited to come across these.

    Pretty good for $48 right?

    Monday, September 19, 2011

    Book Review: Starting From Happy by Patricia Marx

    This is the story of Imogene and Wally, told in chaplettes (very short chapters) and interspersed with illustrations.  It's intended to be a cute, quirky, humorous look at relationships through the coupling of Imogene and Wally, who meet while waiting in line for apple pie at a party.  Wally is convinced they are meant to be together but Imogene isn't so sure.

    Writing
    Not my style.  I figured I'd enjoy this one because the idea of chaplettes sounded cute and I like illustrations.  I assumed it would be a quick, funny read.  I was right about the quick part at least.  I wouldn't have been able to commit any more time to this book than the hour or two I spent reading it.  It's not that the writing was bad, it was just weird.  In my opinion it was trying way too hard to be different and quirky.  The author's insertion of herself into the story was weird.  I didn't like Wally or Imogene.  The story didn't reveal anything to me about modern relationships.  It's something different than the usual, but not necessarily in a good way.

    Entertainment Value
    Again, didn't do it for me.  I didn't like any of the characters and I thought overall that it was boring.  It's supposed to be humorous, but I just didn't get any of the humor.  Other than the unique format, the book was really just day to day life of average people.  Nothing really happens to them.  I didn't pick up on any commentary on life or relationships in the story and it wasn't interesting enough to keep my attention for the plot itself. 

    Do not recommend.

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Book Review: Lost Daughters by Reinder van Til


    Ok, so it's not going to win any prizes for the cover and the author's name sounds like reindeer.  Let's just get that out of the way.  Look past them if you can because this is actually a fascinating book.  It is written by a man whose daughter accused him of sexual abuse that she repressed as a child and only remembered as an adult.  Because Mr. van Til knows he didn't abuse his daugther, he has devoted years of his life to meticulously researching recovered memory therapy, scientific studies of memory, and case studies of other families that have been destroyed by false memories recovered by their adult children.

    Writing
    Incredibly impressive, especially given that van Tilen is not a scientist or doctor by profession.  I do feel like that should be said up front, but please don't take that to mean that he doesn't know what he's talking about.  It is obvious from his extensive research and impeccably cited sources that the man has done his homework.  He presents the information in an accessible but professional manner and has done a truly excellent job at presenting numerous scientific studies as well as case studies to back up his claims.

    Entertainment Value
    This is, primarily, an academic work.  It does contain several stories narrated by families who have been devastated by the recovery of false memories, but the majority of the work focuses on the movements that lead to false memories (militant feminism and extremely fundamentalist Christian sects), the cultural influences on false memories (the Satanism craze of the early 90's, police interrogation styles, etc), and the scientific proof that memories can and have been implanted in children and adults.  It covers a lot of material and, at times, reads like a psychology text or a research compilation.  It's not light reading, but if you are interested in the topic or you are interested in psychology, it is fascinating.

    I highly recommend it for those who are interested in the subject and who aren't bored by academic and scientific research.  I also recommend it for those who aren't easily upset by the topic of sexual abuse because, by the nature of its topic, the book does contain case studies where people are accused of various forms of sexual abuse.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Decatur Book Festival Wrap Up: The Goods

    While it is true that the main draw for me at DBF this year was seeing my Nestie Besties, it didn't hurt that some amazing authors were there signing books.  I've been having terrible migraines, so I wasn't able to go all out this year, but I did pick up some wonderful books and got to listen to several great talks.

    Hourglass by Myra McEntire



    Sweetly by Jackson Pearce



    Skippyjon Jones by Judy Shachner (a gift for Georgie)

    Shine by Lauren Myracle (I actually missed her talk because of a migraine but I picked up a signed copy at The Little Shop of Stories)


    Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins


    Libba Bray's story in Zombies vs. Unicorns (see how the zombie at the top is saying "Brains!" om-nom-nom)

    Libba Bray's story in Geektastic

    And a signed copy of Beauty Queens

    Also got this amazing stationery from my Nestie Bestie Crystal.  I think I may have mentioned on here before that I am not only a lover of rainbows, puppies, and unicorns, but that I also have a special love for Lisa Frank's rainbows, puppies, and unicorns.  So Crystal picked up this amazing stationery set that comes with stickers that I'll be using on everything from now on. 

    Also, Jacki made us these amazing cookes (pictured here on Tameka's laptop - I stole them from her Facebook because I ate mine before I could get pictures)  It's Harry Potter!  She MADE them.  I'm so impressed.  And, to add to what is, frankly, my complete and total admiration, Jacki is gorgeous (it's ok if you want to get a restraining order or something, I understand).  But seriously.  The woman is beautiful.  And she makes Harry Potter cookies.

    Ron - how precious?

    And Hermione.
    

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Book Review: Rattled and Pacifi(her) by Hogan Hilling

    If you follow my Twitter feed you are already familiar with these books and what I'm going to have to say about them.  I hate to do it guys, I really do.  Giving bad reviews, especially in a case where I requested the book, isn't fun.  That said, there is nothing nice to say about these two books, other than that the covers are cute.



    Here's the thing, Reader Friends.  I wanted to like these books so bad.  The covers are cute and I thought it would be realy great to read a book from a man's point of view about what my husband may think and feel when I get pregnant (nope, still not happening yet, but for future reference).  I thought the idea was fantastic, the chapter titles seemed really thoughtful and appropriate ("I May Struggle To Bond With Our Unborn Baby" and "I'd Like You To Acknowledge Me As An Equal Partner").  So I started these books with high hopes.  I really tried to ignore the crazy in them.  I looked them up to make sure they weren't written in the 1950's.  I checked out the publisher to make sure I wasn't reading something published by an incredibly conservative Christian press.  But nope, released in 2011 by a secular press.  So there is really no excuse I can think of (PS: I am absolutely accepting of conservative Christian groups, including "fudies", and I totally accept those beliefs on submission in marriage, etc, even if it's not my own personal belief - so I would have had more tolerance for this book had it come from an ideological standpoint as opposed to a scientific standpoint.) 

    Anyway, here's where the author totally lost me: "During pregnancy, a woman suffers from PMS, and her mood swings increase" (Pacifi(her), pg. 56).  Nope.  No that actually is not the case at all.  Women do not suffer from PMS during pregnancy.  Those are kind of mutually exclusive situations.  So I was totally thrown off by the fact that the author just tosses that out there and then expects me to think he knows anything about pregnancy.  Also, how was that not caught by an editor?  Have ANY women read this book before publication?

    But we aren't just dealing with scientific, factual inaccuracy in these books.  Take the opening of Pacif(her) for example: "When a wife asks her husband to conceive a baby, almost every husband is willing to become a dad and help his wife fulfill her lifelong dream: to be a mom."  I'll just let that sink in for a minute.  Go back and reread if you need to.  I sure did.  Most couples I know both wanted to be parents - not just the wife begging her husband for a baby.  And every woman's lifelong dream?  No.  I didn't even think about marriage until college and it wasn't until I was a nanny that I knew I wanted kids at all.  So that kind of rubbed me the wrong way.

    From that point on, both books pretty much cover the same themes: women rarely have jobs, they spend lots of money and have no concept of budgeting, they are slaves to their hormones, and did I mention all they want is to be wives and mothers?  Because no woman is actually fulfilled by a profession and really, very few women work outside of the home anyway right?  Men, on the other hand, can't show their feelings because their dads might call them sissies, only reluctantly become fathers at their wife's request, and are the primary "breadwinners" of the family - even if they don't work.  

    Again, were this an ideological standpoint, particularly if it were faith based and coming from a religious press, I would give it a lot more leeway.  But coming from a secular press and intended as modern-day advice, the books are just ludicrous.  And it's not just the "women are from mars" thing that the author has going on - there are several other moments in the book that just didn't make sense to me and, honestly, made me laugh (the suggestion that expecting dads take their single male friends to the hospital to tour the labor and delivery ward was one).  I can't in good faith recommend anyone read these books.  They are incredibly out of touch culturally and scientifically.  Your time is much better spent on the classics: Taking Charge of Your Fertility and What To Expect Before You're Expecting.  And if any of you know of any good books about pregnancy from a father's point of view, I'm still looking for one!