Sunday, June 23, 2013

Austen in August

Hello everyone! So here is my announcement. I will be participating in Austen in August hosted by Roof Beam Reader

The goal is to read as many Austen or Austen related works as possible in the month of August. So you can read the classics or something different like Austenland by Shannon Hale (a personal favorite!) The point, read Austen! Love Austen! Live Austen! Love Mr. Darcy... mmmmmmm.

So good. So. Good. 

If you would also like to sign up to participate, go to the Austen post found here by leaving a comment on the original post. There's gonna be prizes given away and chatting on twitter using #AustenInAugustRBR

Make sure if you participate you get a button and put it somewhere on your blog to help spread the word about this awesome event! 

Button button whose got the button

Austen is perfect for the winding down of summer. It's such a romantic time. I can't wait!  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

For my June classic, I wanted a short story that packed a lot of punch. That's how I feel about June; it's a light, breezy month that always seems to pack a lot of surprise power. 

I chose the most perfect June read. 

First lines:

"We didn't always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can't reemmber. But what I remember most is moving a lot. Each time it seemed there'd be one more of us. By the time we got to Mango Street we were six- Mama, Papa, Carlos, Kiki, my sister Nenny and me.

The house on Mango Street is ours, and we don't have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn't a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom. But even so, it's not the house we'd thought we'd get."

This book is about Esperanza Cordero, a young girl trying to find her place in the world while growing up in her house on Mango Street. The story is told in a series of vignettes, none longer than about six pages. Through these seemingly simple stories, you truly get to know Esperanza through her words and the haunting visuals that take root in your mind.

This was quite honestly some of the most beautiful writing I have ever had the privilege of reading. The entire book reads like an epic poem, the most epic story that could ever be told. A story that every person alive shares: the journey of growing up and becoming who you are. It's the story of what shapes all of us, which is where we grow up. Those people, those places, those rooms, those halls. They stay with us like this book will stay with me. 

Cisneros has some of the most beautiful turns of phrase. She made me see things in a different way and she made this book so alive and so beautiful. Her mind must be so vivid and lovely; I'd like to live in her mind and surround myself with her words and ideas. She just made the whole world new for me. 

Like in this section, Esperanza is talking about having to be friends with her baby sister out of sisterly duty although she wants her own best friend. She says of her situation:

"Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor."

I just. I just... I can't with this book. 

Like when she describes going through puberty. Specifically, getting hips.

"One day you wake up and they are there. Ready and waiting like a new Buick with the keys in the ignition. Ready to take you where?

They bloom like roses..."

Speaking from first hand experience here... this is 100% what happens when you get hips. You wake up and BAM. Suddenly you sway when you walk and suddenly boys are watching you. Oh puberty, you testy mistress. 

Although this is an incredibly short book and the vignettes so small, I felt incredibly connected to Esperanza and each character she introduced me to. You watch her grow through these stories and you can sense her growth with the words. The stories change from not wanting to play with her sister, to going through puberty, to longing for kisses, to longing for a future away from a past she is anchored to. Her story is my story. Her story is your story. There is a reason this book is so prolific although it is a new arrival into the classic canon. Everyone can relate to the fear and desire to grow up, and how hand in hand those two emotions are. 

I chose to read this book at a very interesting time. I'm preparing for a few huge life events. I'm finishing school, getting a real people job, moving into the city. Like Esperanza I've spent my whole life pushing myself forward, wanting to leave my past and the house I never wanted for the house I dreamed of and the autonomy I've longed for. But now that my time has come, I'm nervous and thrilled at the same time. 

This story was an amazing reminder as to how connected we are to our roots. No matter how much we try and fight where we are from, it's ingrained into our souls and imprinted on our hearts. 

This book made me want to write and I was inspired the entire time I read it. I finished the book and immediately wanted to read it again and relish those words once more. This book was a huge comfort to me too during this crazy times in my life. Especially the last lines.

"One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I wills ay goodbye to Mango. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever. One day I will go away. 

Friends and neighbors will say, What happened to that Esperanza? Where did she go with all those books and paper? Why did she march so far away?

They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out."

I too must now pack up my bags of books and paper and get ready for the rest of my life. But as of now, at this moment, I very much enjoyed my brief stay on Mango Street with Esperanza. Please please please take a visit there yourself. You'll love your time there. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson

To continue the romantic trend I was feeling this week, I picked up a book by one of my favorite authors/ humans: Maureen Johnson. Part one, her twitter feed is hilarious and every day I'm not her is a day I'm not proud of. She's amazing. Her Shades of London series... unreal.

I was excited to read more of her stuff seeing as I haven't had a chance to. I stick to stalking her Twitter and other such accounts... in a loving way. Not a creepy way. Not. At. All. *cough*

If you know me and my reading tastes, you'll know that this is not the usual type of cover that I'm drawn to. I still am not a fan of this cover. At all. Just like with my last post, this cover doesn't match the book at ALL. This girl, while pretty, looks nothing like the main girl. Grr. Curse you chick lit covers. CURSE YOU. I just feel like covers like this limit books. I would never have picked this book up, even to see what it was about, if I hadn't had prior knowledge of the author. Granted, I'm a snotty person about book covers and I just... GRR CHICK LIT COVERS. 

Anyway. The book itself. This book is about Clio, an artistic girl from Philadelphia with a strained relationship with her father. She lives with her mother in a run down Victorian house and her summer plans are laid out perfectly in front of her. She got a job at her local art shop, it seems like the guy she likes will be ready to be more than just an acquaintance; all is well. But then her mother reveals that she has to spend the summer working in Kansas and is sending Clio to work with her estranged father on a boat in the middle of the Italian coast. 

Her perfect summer is now invaded by her father and a crew of other misfits to be stuck on a boat all summer. She is stuck with her father's best friend, his strict new girlfriend and her daughter, and a snarky research aid named Aidan. They all set sail on a tricked out yacht on a mission that remains secret, something Clio cannot abide. I'll leave the plot at that so as not to spoil things. 

Now, like I mentioned earlier this book is not my usual cup of tea. I love romantic stories but I usually like them drenched in about five layers of drama and history and not just served to me on a girly pink platter. This book was a fun read but for me it was a little bit too juvenile. I'm probably not the best reviewer for this kind of book because the point of this book was to be juvenile and light. It accomplished those things.

I love Johnson's writing. She is so funny and so natural and it's easy to become invested in her books. I loved the way she tied in little bits of history into the main storyline. We were able to read a few pages from the early 1900s, following a girl who is somehow involved in the mysterious treasure the main characters are searching for. I honestly found myself wishing for more history and less modern day. I'd read a book about the historical side character any day; she was my kind of woman!

As opposed to some of Johnson's other books, I didn't feel attached to these characters at all. They all seemed pretty one dimensional to me and I was frustrated with them the majority of the time. Aidan, the supposed romantic interest, was way too argumentative to even have that "I hate this boy but we are clearly meant to be" vibe. I just didn't like him. Straight up saw nothing in him worth noting. 

As a leading lady, Clio felt a little boring. She was an artist but I didn't really get that vibe from her. And I understand that teenagers often struggle with their fathers for unknown reasons and are often harsher to them than they need to be but... I was mostly just annoyed by her. It was a bit too teenager for me. But once again, I'm probably not the ideal audience for this book. 

The plot was fun. It was a bit unbelievable in some spots. My main struggle: yeah, I understand that you hate your father and that these people are not your ideal yacht-mates BUT you are still on a yacht in the middle of Italy. Maybe it's just me but I'd enjoy that. A lot. Even if I hated everyone. 

The fantasy of the book was fun. I did feel like I was escaping into the book and dreaming of the ocean, I just felt that more could be done to help get me there. Johnson's usual glowing description seemed a little dim in this book. Until the end. The last 50 pages or so were a ton of fun and made the rest of the book worth it! 

This is a good, light, easy summer read. It was much needed for the two days I had with nothing to do; it gave my mind a little vacation but it still left me feeling a little cheated. I wanted more from my Italian fling in the sea, and I think the characters did too. But if you need a light beach read, and you're a little bit of a history nerd like I am, this book will fit the bill nicely. 

Until next time, happy reading! I'd love to hear any recommendations you have for me, or your thoughts about anything I've read. Leave your comments below; I'd love to hear from you.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I love summer reads. I always reach for something romantic and light; something I can read outside with the sun kissing my skin. I love romance in the summer and catching up on all of those books that I've been meaning to read for ages and ages.

To start on that list of books I've had stacked in my room but never grabbed, I finally picked up Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I have heard nothing but amazing things about this book, written by a fellow Nerdfighter. (If you are lost... these are people who are awesome and are nerds and watch the Vlogbrothers on Youtube. Made of awesome. DFTBA.)

Before we get into the book, can I just say that I adore the cover redesign? I know there was a big fuss made when they released the new cover but to me it fits the book SO much better than the old cover.

The new cover is so much sexier with its deep reds and sunset motif. This book is far too sexy and far too amazing to have such a simple cover like the old one. Also that is NOT what Anna looks like in my mind. She is also much sexier and cooler. Also where is her blonde streak? Maybe reading this book is the reason I'm gonna put a blonde streak in my hair. Who knows. (It is , though)

This book is about Anna Oliphant from Atlanta, Georgia. Her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year and she is less than excited. She doesn't speak French, she loves her hometown friends and crushes, and she really doesn't like doing what her father wants her to do. 

Once she gets to France she meets a cool new group of friends, one of whom is Etienne St. Clair, a British boy. Born in America. Going to school in France. Who is fluent in French. And hot. So hot. *drools* BACK TO THE BOOK. They soon become best friends but things get tricky as their relationship starts to heat up. Over the course of the school year, their friendship deepens but St. Clair is taken and Anna may have a boy back home. And friendship is more important than french kisses, yes? No? 

This book was perfect. It has everything that I love. Every. Thing. My favorite books feature boarding schools, unrequited love, amazingly witty writing, and British boys. REAL QUICK let me gush a little bit about Etienne St. Clair. Just.. real quick.

Oh my word. It's been a little while since I've fallen this hard for a literary character. But I mean... St. Clair wasn't even fair. He speaks French, he loves his mother more than any other woman alive, he bites his thumb nail when he concentrates, he wears a knitted cap his mother gave him, and he's british. B.R.I.T.I.S.H. Also he's nice and smart. And British, too.

I loved these characters. All of them were unique and they all felt real. I loved Anna. She was a heroine who had real goals. Anna loves film like I love books and she has a website where she reviews the films she watches. I related so much to Anna and her spirit. She was so much fun and I wanted to be friends with her. We had a lot in common and when I can bond with the main character it makes the book all the better. 

The writing guys. The WRITING. Unreal. Stephanie Perkins is so so funny and so romantic. For me she captured the feeling of being in love and how fun it is just to flirt and wonder. 

First lines:

Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge. the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either actually is. Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, and a lot of kings named Louis. I'm not sure what they did either, but I think it has something to do with the French Revolution, which has something to do with Bastille Day. The art museum is called the Louvre and is shaped like a pyramid and the Mona Lisa lives there along with taht statue of the woman missing her arms. And there are cafes or bistros or whatever they call them on every street corner. And mimes. The food is supposed to be good, and the people drink a lot of wine and some a lot of cigarettes. 

I've heard they don't like Americans, and they don't like white sneakers.

I saw everything so clear with how she wrote, I had a clear picture of each character (ST. CLAIR) ad each place they went. It was lush and romantic and very Parisian. I got lost in this book. I could hardly ever put it down, resulting in so many breathless sleepless nights watching these characters fall in love.

The storyline was so much fun. It honestly wasn't what I expected at all. There were some deeper plot twists that took me by complete surprise and I loved that. It wasn't as light of a summer read after all but it was still a lot of fun. 

Some of the moments in this story that could have seemed very cliche were completely new and sweet. Anna and St. Clair are the most adorable pair ever, mostly because they have such a strong friendship. When they met it was clear there was an attraction but their friendship developed so naturally and that was so delicious to watch. I loved that this wasn't one of those summer romance books you pick up and there is no establishment of friendhsip. It's instant lust and gross me out flirting. This was so subtle and natural and charming. Charming. That's probably the best word for this book. Charming. Also sexy. 

From their first evening together by Notre Dame, to St. Clair giving Anna a Canadian flag as a gift *swoon*, to the sparks that fly at their first movie viewing together, I couldn't breathe for half of this book. I had so much anticipation for them to get together. Just one more chapter, maybe they will finally kiss and I can go to bed. PLEASE JUST KISS. This was me the whole time. The. Whole. Time.

Literally me.

I was so excited while I was reading this book. It made me feel alive and hopeful to find my own St. Clair, or pay science a billion dollars to find a way to bring fictional characters to life. Whichever. The anticipation kept me coming back for more. I couldn't stop thinking about this book. Please please read it. It's perfect for summertime or any time you need a little romance in your life. 

(Also, I don't know who drew this. I found it on DeviantArt and it's sensational. It's exactly how I saw Anna and Etienne. God Bless you.)

Until next time, happy reading! I'd love to hear any recommendations you have for me, or your thoughts about anything I've read. Leave your comments below; I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

I've been reading books by Ellen Hopkins for years and I have never been disappointed. Her writing is so unique and fascinates me to read. She is one of those writers who is so amazing she makes ME want to write more. She makes me want to be better. She writes her books in free verse, the whole story being told through poetry. Her books always cover very tough subjects and the verse makes these often horrifying topics beautiful subject ready for close inspection. And although her books are huge, I always fly through them partly because of the verse writing and also because I can never step away from her writing for long.

Impulse is her third book written in 2007. There are three characters featured in this book who all meet in a rehabilitation hospital after attempting suicide. Tony took pills to try and escape horrible childhood memories. Vanessa is scared of becoming like her bipolar mother and hides secrets of her own by continuing a long relationship with her razor blade. And to deal with the immense pressure placed on him by his parents and other adults in his life, Connor shot himself in the chest only to find himself alive and in sent to rehab. 

First lines:

Without Warning

you're traveling
a highway, the only road
you've ever known,
and wham! A semi
comes from nowhere
and rolls right over you.

you don't wake up.
But if you happen
to, you know things
will never be
the same.

that's not
so bad.

lives intersect,
no rhyme, no reason,
except, perhaps,
for a passing semi.

Hopkins always writes such complex characters and this novel is no different. I loved these characters and cared so much about each of them getting better and out of that hospital. I was really drawn to Connor, especially the way he was written. Each character had a different style of verse assigned to themselves and Connor's was beautiful. Slant rhyme and amazing imagery kept my heart wrenched for that boy. One of my favorite moments taken out of his chapters:

Okay, I like him, can
trust my instincts again.
I notice Vanessa, taking 
mental notes, know I must

cozy up to her, too.
Part of it is my old self,
wanting nectar from a new 
flower, the beat of a new heart.

Part of it is a simple need 
to connect with someone who
might understand me,
might reach out to imperfect


I loved him.

There was a slight love triangle in this book but even more than that, it was a support triangle that was written very delicately. Each character is afraid to let themselves get attached to another person but there seems to be a string connecting them all to each other. They start with very tenuous friendships that soon bloom into love for some of them. I loved watching these characters allow themselves friendship and allowing a little flower of hope blossom to the surface. 

The friendships felt very real in the book. When you go through a rough time in your life, the people who are there recovering with you often form friendships faster than other people. These are three passionate and troubled people and in an environment filled with such crazy personalities, these three kids link to each other. I liked that little hints of flirtation and attraction were thrown around. 

The desire they felt for each other was great but I kind of felt that the novel didn't need the love triangle. When two of these characters begin a romantic relationship it felt really unnatural and a little forced. What was such a strong friendship that felt like such a lovely support system became an awkward relationship I could have done without. It sort of felt like when those awkward junior high couples date because nobody else is around and they are both awkward and alone. It didn't feel real and I think in a book like this, staying focused on friendship was more important than beginning a relationship for the sake of a relationship. 

The plot moved swiftly and I was never once bored. Honestly I had a hard time putting the book down each time I had to. I was always in suspense. Hopkins is such an amazing writer. She constantly offers little hints at the secrets her characters hold but you usually never find out their secrets until the end of the book. While this is frustrating because I am always DYING to know what these kids are hiding, it makes for a great read. Just when you think you have their stories figured out a curve ball gets thrown and new secrets glide to the surface. So fun to read these books.

It's always a bit scary to read these books as well. Hopkins makes it easy to understand the choices these characters have made and when they have the impulse to do something again, you understand why they feel the need to do it. Of course you don't WANT them to but you understand them. She makes these characters real and relatable. They could be your friends. They could be you. It's a scary feeling to understand them but it makes you want to help them all the more. It changes the way you think and how you see people. These are books that I feel are incredibly important for people to read, especially teenagers. They show that you aren't alone in having such dark struggles. And even though their subject matter is very heavy, I'm always left feeling more alive and more hopeful than ever. This was a wonderful read. 


Until next time, happy reading! I'd love to hear any recommendations you have for me, or your thoughts about anything I've read. Leave your comments below; I'd love to hear from you. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Every month I choose one classical book to read. I feel that as a writer and a reader it is crucial to see what it is about these books that have made them classics. Why do readers keep coming back to these books? Why is it important that these books are read? What did these books do that those before them didn't? WHY WHY WHY.

This month I selected Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. This is my first little foray into the world of Vonnegut, which is ridiculous. I hear so much about him and the black humor he is known for. I love me some dark humor and even more than that, I love satire. I've been meaning to grab a Vonnegut for some time now and I figured why not start with what is probably his most well known book. And I wanted to use this book as a way to get to know Vonnegut himself seeing as this book is semi autobiographical.

The book is about Billy Pilgrim, an optometrist, a soldier, an abductee, and an exhibit in an alien zoo that has the ability to become unstuck in time, living his life in one moment and then suddenly finding himself in another moment in his life. Billy gains this ability after he is abducted by aliens and taken to the planet known as Tralfamadore where he is taught about what death really means. Also, he is placed in a zoo with another Earthling named Montana Wildhack where they have a child and put their foreign way of life on display.

First lines:

"All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn't his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I've changed all the names."

The first chapter of the book is told by Vonnegut himself, discussing how this book was close to being unwritten and his own travels back to Dresden after the war had ended. It discusses how he got a three book deal, Slaughterhouse being the first book of the three. I was really surprised that he talked about how hard it was for him to write a book of this nature and subject and how he felt the book wasn't very good. Well Vonnegut, I feel like it did alright.

After that chapter the book doesn't have much of a linear storyline at all. The first of Billy Pilgrim's story begins with:

Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941 He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in

What you could call the main storyline follows Billy's journey through Germany first with a small group of three other soldiers and then as a prisoner of war and finally in the slaughterhouse in the city of Dresden before it is horrifically bombed. It took me a second to get accustomed to the jumps throughout the book through time and space and galaxy but as you keep reading the jumps feel natural and real.

The plot of the novel is clearly secondary to the writing and the experience the reader walks away with. War is fragmented and jumbled and so is the writing and storyline in the novel. What at first felt unreal with the time jumps soon began to feel incredibly real and plausible. I began to think that although I had never been abducted by aliens and given the ability to become unstuck in time, I had the ability after all. In every moment in our lives that are as vital and shocking as going through a war, I believe that all of us sort of jump through time. On the day I graduated High School I vividly remembered my first day of High School. When I see someone sick, I remember the times I was sick. When someone hears of the birth of a child, they jump back to the birth of their own.

It's our human way of coping. Our own lives are fractured and jumbled and the lives of those in a war zone are even more mixed up. This novel shows one man trying to cope with his life during and after the war, an experience that is clearly hard to get past. Seeing so much will change you. Being touched by death makes your life shift dramatically. This book was dramatic and real and true art.

The book feels incredibly intimate. It's a relatively small book and even as it remains Billy's story, I loved how in some moments Vonnegut pointed out that he also was there. When Billy is captured by the Germans and is watching a colonel from Cody, Wyoming utter his last words Vonnegut says plainly "I was there. So was my old war buddy, Bernard V. O'Hare." This book read like an autobiography even if it was mostly Billy's story. I saw Vonnegut always close by, traveling through time in his own way.

This book is called one of the world's great antiwar books. I would agree but it was also so much more than that. It was a book that looked at war with true eyes. The men weren't treated as heros, war was anything but idolized. What is there to idolize about war anyway? It's a horrible affair. This book was loyal to that idea. But what I loved about this antiwar book in particular was the extraordinary level of hope it carried with it. It shows Billy and Vonnegut coping with life after and during such a horrible experience. It is continually pointed out that war is not fought by men, but boys. It's a Children's Crusade, as Vonnegut painfully terms it.

But as Billy is able to see himself in different times and with the wisdom of the Tralfamadorian race, he is able to see beyond the horror he is experiencing and remember the good times in life. I adored the Tralfamadorian vision of death. It's probably one of the most inspirational things I have read in a book in recent years.

"The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them, It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. 
When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I miself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes.'"

Near the end of the book Vonnegut in his own voice says,

"If what Billy Pilgrim learned form the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still- if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I'm grateful that so many of those moments are nice."

I think that in this world of war and life, this is the perfect attitude to have. His optimism is real and he fought for it valiantly through the war he fought in real life and the war he fought in his own mind. The book left me wanting more of how he wrote with hope hidden among the shadows. I'm thrilled to continue reading more Vonnegut.

Overall, I loved the book. It left me changed, which is what I would want from a classic as treasured as this book. The best way I could describe it is with a quote from Life Magazine.

"Splendid art... a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears."

This is an important book, a delicious book, a must read.

Until next time, happy reading! I'd love to hear any recommendations you have for me, or your thoughts about anything I've read. Leave your comments below; I'd love to hear from you.