Thursday, March 30, 2017

March Wrap-Up

March Overview

1. Soup of every day. I started March with a three-day soup cleanse. According to someone on the Internet, if I ate vegetable soup for every meal for three days, I’d lose weight and feel great. All I felt after three days was sick of vegetable soup. I guess I shouldn’t take dieting advice from Internet advertisements.

2. My organizational skills stun the world. I wrote a post about how I manage my TBR pile and reading life. I kinda expected everyone to roll their eyes and move on to a blog written by a saner person, but I got tons of nice emails and Twitter messages. I’m glad the post was helpful. I’m not used to being helpful. I’m usually more of a hindrance, like a refrigerator that you need to get down a staircase.

3. My wall of immense fanciness. My grad school diploma finally came! I immediately stuck all my diplomas on the wall and took a photo. Please don’t judge my picture-hanging skills. My degrees are in literature, not proper hammer usage.

4. Another year closer to death. It was my birthday in March. I spent the day eating chocolate-chocolate cake and writing strongly worded letters to the government. Trump’s proposed budget came out on my birthday. Mr. Trump was like, “Hey, what’s up, AJ? Happy birthday! I’m eliminating your job and using your salary to build a Mexico wall. Surprise!” Yeah. Not one of my favorite birthday presents.

5. Trump’s wall of immense fanciness. If I’m paying for the Mexico wall, can I hang my diplomas on it?

6. Disregard everything I said about not taking diet advice from Internet ads. My parents got me 10 days of Nutrisystem for my birthday. I’ve wanted to try this diet for years, but I couldn’t because it costs $10 a day + the cost of fruit and vegetables. I’m not the type of person who has “fruit and vegetable” money. I’m more of a one-dollar-mystery-meat-TV-dinner type of girl. Nutrisystem was pretty awesome, though. It’s very easy, and I got to eat chocolate. I give it my stamp of approval.

7. Everything you never wanted to know about me. I’m going to be doing the Blogging from A to Z Challenge in April. Honestly, I’ve been feeling stuck in a rut with this blog lately. I’m hoping the challenge will force me to harness my wayward brain-meats and make them do something new. For 26 days in April, I’ll be writing short personal posts. Don’t worry, they’ll mostly be book-related. Basically, if you like what you’re reading right now, then you’re in luck! I’m going to shove a whole month of my life at you. If you’re cringing right now, then you should probably avoid me until May 1. We’ll see what happens. 

Books I Read

So . . . I was a bad bookworm. I only read 5 books in March. One was a reread. I blame the A to Z Challenge. Almost all of my free time was spent planning and blogging instead of reading.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Elizabeth George Speare
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling (reread)
IT – Stephen King
Sex with the Queen: Nine Hundred Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics – Eleanor Herman
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology – Leah Remini

Best Books Of March

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling (reread)
2. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology – Leah Remini
3. Sex with the Queen: Nine Hundred Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics – Eleanor Herman

Most-Viewed March Reviews

Most-Viewed March Non-Reviews

All The Things!

I was spoiled on my birthday and got a lot of books. My TBR shelf is almost full now.

All The Things! (AKA number of books on my TBR shelf) = 38 books.

I’m currently reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

What did you do in March?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys – April Genevieve Tucholke

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys – April Genevieve Tucholke (Editor)

A host of the sharpest young adult authors come together in this collection of terrifying tales and psychological thrillers. Each story draws from a mix of literature, film, television, or even music to offer something new and fresh and unsettling. Even better? After you’ve teased out each tale’s references, satisfy your curiosity at the end, where the inspiration is revealed. There are no superficial scares here. These are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror, to the supernatural, to unnerving, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for anyone looking for an absolute thrill.

Review: In this anthology, popular young adult authors retell classic horror stories. It’s like a return to my childhood! I grew up on a steady diet of horror anthologies. Some of them were entertaining. Most were cheesy. I was curious to see how I’d feel about this one.

For the most part, I liked it. It’s an anthology, so not every story is spectacular, but some of them are. Quite a few of the stories include twists that I didn’t see coming.

These are my three favorites:

Carrie Ryan’s “In the Forest Dark and Deep” is an Alice in Wonderland retelling. The Hare is sinister, but he may not be the real monster in this tale. The story is just plain creepy.

“Not all monsters are filled with darkness.” – Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

My favorite story is “Sleepless” by Jay Kristoff. A teenage Internet romance goes very, very wrong. It’s easy to recognize which horror story this one is retelling, but there are so many twists that it kept catching me off-guard. A bizarre and well-written story.

"Sometimes I wonder if the right girl is out there. Sometimes I wonder if Momma isn't right about all of them." – Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

“Stitches” by A.G. Howard has the strongest voice and the best imagery in the anthology. A rural teen supports her family by amputating parts of her father’s body and selling them to a mysterious man. You probably shouldn’t read this one if you’re bothered by blood and guts, but I absolutely love its uniqueness.  

"The first time the wrens sang at night was three years ago, when I used a rusty saw to cut off Pa's left foot." – Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

One of the reasons I don’t like retellings is because they’re predictable. That was definitely the case with some of the stories in this anthology. Once I figured out which classic tale was being retold, I could sometimes predict what would happen next. Then I’d start losing interest in the story.

I didn’t find any of these stories particularly scary. Some of them are weird or creepy, but I never felt scared. If you’re looking for terrifying horror, you should probably look elsewhere. (And then tell me where you’re looking because I have trouble finding truly scary horror books.)

This is one of the most entertaining YA anthologies I’ve ever read, but it didn’t completely live up to my expectations of horror stories. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Round Ireland With A Fridge – Tony Hawks

Round Ireland With A Fridge – Tony Hawks

Have you ever made a drunken bet? Worse still, have you ever tried to win one? In attempting to hitchhike round Ireland with a fridge, Tony Hawks did both, and his foolhardiness led him to one of the best experiences of his life. Joined by his trusty traveling companion/domestic appliance, he made his way from Dublin to Donegal, from Sligo through Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry, Cork, Wexford, Wicklow—and back again to Dublin. In their month of madness, Tony and his fridge met a real prince, a bogus king, and the fridge got christened. They surfed together, entered a bachelor festival, and one of them had sex without the other knowing. And unexpectedly, the fridge itself became a momentary focus for the people of Ireland.

Review: You know that tiny voice in your head that tells you to DNF a book? The voice that constantly reminds you that life’s too short to read bad stories? I really need to learn to listen to that voice.

Round Ireland with a Fridge is the memoir of British comedian Tony Hawks. I’d never heard of Tony Hawks (maybe because I’m not British), but the book sounded delightfully pointless. I’m always up for a good idiotic adventure. Also, I’d love to go to Ireland someday. I thought I could live vicariously through the book.

“The more foolish, illogical or surreal one's actions were perceived to be (and mine surely fell into one of these categories), the wider the arms of hospitality were opened in salutation.” – Round Ireland with a Fridge

The story starts with Tony waking up hungover and discovering a note from his friend. While they were drunk the night before, the friend bet Tony 100 Pounds that he couldn’t hitchhike around the circumference of Ireland with a refrigerator. Tony didn’t want to lose a bet that he didn’t remember making, so he bought a mini fridge (which cost 130 Pounds), and set off around Ireland. I assumed that hilarity would ensue.

It didn’t. The memoir is extremely slow and repetitive. It’s about a guy with a bad hangover who spends a month dragging a fridge from pub to pub in Ireland. In the process, he goes surfing and has sex in a doghouse. That’s it. At first the adventure is amusing, but there are only so many stories of Stupid Things Drunk Strangers Do In Bars that I can take. I quickly stopped caring about Tony and his fridge. I know that the point of his journey was to be pointless, but I just got angry at him. He gets to spend a month in Ireland. He chooses to spend it getting drunk. You can get drunk anywhere in the world. At least do something mildly interesting on your trip!

I didn’t click with Tony’s personality. He’s a comedian, but I didn’t find him funny. He’s condescending to the Irish people, and it’s a blow to his ego when they don’t recognize him as the “Fridge Man.” Most of his rides are the result of being on a radio show. He complains when he actually has to hitchhike. He also likes to pick out his “favorite” girl at a pub and hit on her relentlessly, even if she’s there with a date. Tony is probably nice in real life, but in the book, he comes across as an entitled, conceited person. I didn’t understand his humor. Maybe he’s trying to be self-deprecating?

I do completely agree with this quote, though:

“I'm against the death penalty. I believe that it is a mistake to show that killing people is wrong by killing people. However I'm not against the random killing of people who snore.” – Round Ireland with a Fridge

This book wasn’t for me. I would have saved myself a lot of disappointment if I had listened to my instincts and taken it back to the used bookstore instead of forcing myself to finish it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Sunday Post #90

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks.
  • On Wednesday I review Slasher Girls & Monster Boys by April Genevieve Tucholke (Editor)
  • On Thursday I wrap up March.
  • On Saturday I start the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

In My Reading Life

I slayed the book-beast! I finally finished all 1093 pages of IT by Stephen King. Right now, I’m reading Sex with the Queen: Nine Hundred Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics by Eleanor Herman, and The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Blogging From A To Z

The Blogging from A to Z challenge starts on April 1. My theme is bookish memories. This challenge will probably be the most half-baked and self-indulgent thing I’ve ever done on this blog, but I’m going to give it my best shot. I hope you guys like personal posts because you’re going to get a whole month of them. Every day in April (except Sundays), I’m going to write a short post about how books and book blogging have impacted my life. Brace yourself. Posts are coming.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I finished IT! If I’m remembering correctly, IT is the second-longest book I’ve ever read willingly.
  2. I did one week of the Nutrisystem diet. It was easy, and I wasn’t starving very often. I wish the diet wasn’t so ungodly expensive so I could keep going with it. It’s definitely one of the more-tolerable diets I’ve tried.
  3. I have leftover birthday cake in the freezer. Now that I’ve finished Nutrisystem, the cake will get eaten. Soon.
  4. I was naughty and bought books. In my defense, they were cheap.
  5. I’m very close to being able to run 5k without stopping or walking.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other. See you around the blogosphere!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: The Wave – Morton Rhue

The Wave – Morton Rhue

Laurie isn't sure what to make of 'The Wave.' It had begun as a simple history experiment to liven up their World War II studies and had become a craze that was taking over their lives. Laurie's classmates were changing from normal teenagers into chanting, saluting fanatics. 'The Wave' was sweeping through the school—and it was out of control. Laurie's friends scoff at her warnings but she knows she must make them see what they have become before it's too late. 
Based on a nightmarish true episode in a Californian high school.

Review: Have you ever finished a book and thought, Wait, where’s the rest of it? It can’t be over? I still have so many questions! That was me with this book.

The Wave is a fictionalization of a real-life experiment that took place in a California high school in the 1960s. A history teacher wanted to help his students understand why the Germans went along with Hitler’s plan during WWII. Why didn’t more people resist Hitler? The teacher invented a “game” that he called The Wave. (In real life, it was called The Third Wave.) The game involved students working together to accomplish tasks—such as answering questions or getting to their seats on time—as quickly and precisely as possible. The game became so popular that most of the school started playing. The Wave players had their own chant, solute, and banner. The kids who played the game began bullying the ones who refused to play so viciously that the experiment had to be ended after 5 days. (Or 8 days, if you read the reports about the real-life experiment.)

“Strength through discipline! Strength through community! Strength through action!” – The Wave

For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about fascism lately. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the subject. The story hooked me from the first page. I knew a little about the real-life experiment before I started reading, but I didn’t know how crazy things got. This novel is like reading a train wreck (in a good, suspenseful way). For the students, life gets very complicated, very quickly.

The “based on a true story” concept is pretty much the only thing I love about the book. The writing is . . . underwhelming. I never felt connected to the characters because they have very little personality outside of their roles in the experiment. If I had a better understanding of who they were before the experiment started, I might have understood their reactions to the game better.

I want to know more about everything. I was left with so many questions. How did the students react in the days after the experiment ended? Did they regret their participation? Where the majority of them just going along with the crowd, or did they really enjoy the game? I need to know! This book isn’t anywhere near long enough. It doesn’t have any analysis of what happened or why. I guess that’s what Google’s for.

“Overcome with anger, David grabbed her other arm. Why did she have to be so stubborn? Why couldn’t she see how good The Wave could be?” – The Wave

I also wonder how modern students would react if this experiment was repeated. It probably can’t be repeated because it caused stress for the students. It might be considered unethical. Still, I wonder. Would modern kids want to play the game, or would there be more resistance?

The Wave is worth reading because it provides a unique look at fascism, but I wish the book went more in-depth.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Under 200 Pages

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week is all about short books. I love little books. If you love little books, too, then I have some recommendations for you. I tried to pick books I like from a variety of genres. All of these are under 200 pages.

Little Book Love

The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

For Joanna, her husband, Walter, and their children, the move to beautiful Stepford seems almost too good to be true. It is. For behind the town's idyllic facade lies a terrible secret—a secret so shattering that no one who encounters it will ever be the same.

Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson

Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys' side and outruns everyone. 
That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.

Guts: The True Stories behind Hatchet and the Brian Books – Gary Paulsen

Guess what—Gary Paulsen was being kind to Brian. In Guts, Gary tells the real stories behind the Brian books, the stories of the adventures that inspired him to write Brian Robeson's story: working as an emergency volunteer; the death that inspired the pilot's death in Hatchet; plane crashes he has seen and near-misses of his own. He describes how he made his own bows and arrows, and takes readers on his first hunting trips, showing the wonder and solace of nature along with his hilarious mishaps and mistakes. He shares special memories, such as the night he attracted every mosquito in the county, or how he met the moose with a sense of humor, and the moose who made it personal. There's a handy chapter on "Eating Eyeballs and Guts or Starving: The Fine Art of Wilderness Nutrition." Recipes included.

The Last Summer of Reason – Tahar Djaout

This elegantly haunting work of fiction features bookstore owner Boualem Yekker, who lives in a country overtaken by a radically conservative party known as the Vigilant Brothers, a group that seeks to control every aspect of life according to the precepts of their rigid moral theology. The belief that no work of beauty created by humans should rival the wonders of their god is slowly consuming society, and the art once treasured is now despised. Boualem resists the new regime with quiet determination, using the shop and his personal history as weapons against puritanical forces. Readers are taken into the lush depths of the bookseller's dreams, the memories of his now empty family life, and his passion for literature, then yanked back into the terror and drudgery of his daily routine by the vandalism, assaults, and death warrants that afflict him.

The Wave – Morton Rhue

The Wave is based on a true incident that occurred in a high school history class in Palo Alto, California, in 1969. 
The powerful forces of group pressure that pervaded many historic movements such as Nazism are recreated in the classroom when history teacher Burt Ross introduces a "new" system to his students. And before long The Wave, with its rules of "strength through discipline, community, and action," sweeps from the classroom through the entire school. And as most of the students join the movement, Laurie Saunders and David Collins recognize the frightening momentum of The Wave and realize they must stop it before it's too late.

A Long Way from Chicago: A Novel in Stories – Richard Peck

Each summer Joey and his sister, Mary Alice—two city slickers from Chicago—visit Grandma Dowdel's seemingly sleepy Illinois town. Soon enough, they find that it's far from sleepy . . . and Grandma is far from your typical grandmother. From seeing their first corpse (and he isn't resting easy) to helping Grandma trespass, catch the sheriff in his underwear, and feed the hungry—all in one day—Joey and Mary Alice have nine summers they'll never forget!

Witness – Karen Hesse

The year is 1924, and a small town in Vermont is falling under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan. Two girls, Leanora Sutter and Esther Hirch, one black and the other Jewish, are among those who are no longer welcome. As the potential for violence increases, heroes and villains are revealed, and everyone in town is affected. With breathtaking verse, Karen Hesse tells her story in the voices of several characters. Through this chorus of voices, the true spirit of the town emerges.

A Guide to being Born: Stories – Ramona Ausubel

A Guide to Being Born is organized around the stages of life—love, conception, gestation, birth—and the transformations that happen as people experience deeply altering life events, falling in love, becoming parents, looking toward the end of life. In each of these eleven stories Ausubel’s stunning imagination and humor are moving, entertaining, and provocative, leading readers to see the familiar world in a new way.  
In “Atria” a pregnant teenager believes she will give birth to any number of strange animals rather than a human baby; in “Catch and Release” a girl discovers the ghost of a Civil War hero living in the woods behind her house; and in “Tributaries” people grow a new arm each time they fall in love. Funny, surprising, and delightfully strange—all the stories have a strong emotional core; Ausubel’s primary concern is always love, in all its manifestations.

How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff

Fifteen-year-old New Yorker Daisy is sent to live in the English countryside with cousins she’s never even met. When England is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy, the cousins find themselves on their own. As they grow more isolated, the farm becomes a kind of Eden with no rules. Until the war arrives in their midst. 
Daisy’s is a war story, a survival story, a love story—all told in the voice of a subversive and witty teenager. This book crackles with anxiety and with lust. It’s a stunning and unforgettable novel that captures the essence of the age of terrorism: how we live now.

The Vegetarian – Han Kang

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: Make Good Art – Neil Gaiman

Make Good Art – Neil Gaiman

In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, in which he shared his thoughts about creativity, bravery, and strength. He encouraged the fledgling painters, musicians, writers, and dreamers to break rules and think outside the box. Most of all, he encouraged them to make good art. 
The book Make Good Art, designed by renowned graphic artist Chip Kidd, contains the full text of Gaiman’s inspiring speech.

Review: I watched Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art speech on YouTube soon after he gave it. It’s a pretty good speech, so when I saw the slightly battered book version of it for $1 at a scratch-and-dent sale, I picked it up.

This little book contains the full text of the speech. The text is beautified by a graphic artist who makes it artsy and colorful. Unfortunately, the beautifying of the text is the book’s biggest issue. If you have eye problems (like me), then you’ll know that light blue font on shiny white paper is no fun. Red font on white paper isn’t great, either. The book is only 80 pages long, but I got eyestrain from reading it. The graphics also chop up the speech in odd places. I backtracked a few times because I felt like I missed something.

The speech itself is inspirational. Neil Gaiman talks about how mistakes are inevitable. If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything worth doing. Mistakes aren’t always bad. You learn from them, and some amazing things have been discovered because someone screwed up. Go forth and screw up.

I know this is a tiny review, but Make Good Art is a tiny book. I’ll leave you with my favorite quotes:

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” – Make Good Art

“The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked . . . that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” – Make Good Art

“And when things get tough, this is what you should do. 
Make good art. 
I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.” – Make Good Art