Thursday, May 31, 2012

Clarissa - May Post

I am shocked to say that I'm not only finished with the May reading of Clarissa, but I've actually already read some of the June entries! Do not take this to mean I'm enjoying myself though. I still want to bring Richardson's editor back from the dead and beat him with the bulky tome until he dies again. It's just so frustrating because I feel like there are kernels of a compelling story hidden beneath layers and layers of verbosity and repetitive letters.
I like where Richardson seems to be going. Women had it rough in the eighteenth century. If you were fortunate enough to be born to a gentleman, you would be completely controlled by him until he sells you off to whichever man makes the most business/political sense. Then you get to be controlled by him until one of you dies. If he dies, you might be able to be independent if you're lucky, but it's likely your estate will be entailed and given to a male relative. They might let you stay there. Or, you may have to marry again and repeat the process, or return home to your father, or go to a brother or another male relative, or maybe a sister or cousin and help with their children.
And if you're poor? Well, you get to work yourself to the bone, have a brood of children you can't afford, and spend most of your time caring for some richer person's family instead of your own.
But back to Clarissa. In the May letters, we see her life after she runs away with Lovelace and regrets her decision, not that she really decided to runaway, it just sort of happened. Now she's stuck because her virtue is destroyed because everyone assumes she's slept with Lovelace, even though she hasn't. She must marry him now or be alone forever, and she has no where else to go. However, she's realized she doesn't want to marry him and is hoping for a way out. 
Despite my complaints, I do think the story picked up steam this month when I look back at it, but it took nearly 200 pages to share what I summarized in a paragraph...and it's still going into June. June is the month with the most pages, so I'm hoping it picks up more. Then we start the downward slide with each month having fewer and fewer pages. I plan on finishing in October as November and December have only 16 and 6 pages according to JoAnn's reading schedule (I'm reading it on my Nook so I'm not positive how many pages are in my edition) and I'd rather just get it over with. If you want to the other crazy participants who are trying to make their way through Clarissa, check out JoAnn's page (although I think there are only about 5 or 6 of us left!).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Top of the Rock

I've had trouble focusing lately with my allergies and while I've still been reading, it's mainly been young adult or lighter books that aren't really worth reviewing. They were good. They kept me turning pages. I have nothing else to say. I'm feeling better though and hope to get some better quality reading done over the holiday weekend. I want to clear out some of my library books and half-finished books before turning my attention to the Victorians for a while!

While I was in my weird reading mood, I picked up a book called Top of the Rock by Warren Littlefield at the library. He was the president of NBC television during the 90s and worked their during the 80s as well. After creating Must See TV, he was fired. And now we have nothing but reality TV. The book focuses on NBC shows of the late 80s and 90s and how they built a powerhouse station. I watched so many of the shows he focuses on, and it was interesting to learn the same people were involved in the development of many of them. They had Cheers, Seinfeld, Mad About You, ER, Frasier, the Cosby Show, and of course, Friends. Getting the behind the scene stories about the creative process and business side of developing these shows was fun. He doesn't focus on the actors and gossip, although he shares a few things when they're relevant.

The book definitely made me nostalgic for the days when TV actually had sitcoms and shows everyone watched. It gave us something to talk about and a way to connect. Now we have an army of crappy reality shows and special interest shows (which I like, but don't give that same feeling of connection or usually, laughter). There's not a lot of funny on TV these days. It made me want to re-watch Cheers, especially since I was so young (i.e. I didn't know there was someone other than Kirstie Alley as the main female until a few years ago) during it that I know I missed a lot of what made it funny. I'm thankful for Netflix and their streaming TV shows so do have options when the current lineup sucks.

The other fun yet depressing thing about the book was the info on how many of these shows didn't test that well or didn't do well their first season. Despite that, they were given a chance and not only had a full first season, they got a chance at a second season! I had heard about that happening with Seinfeld, but it happened with some of the others as well. And some of them started out differently in the initial writing and changed based on the actors or other things, and it was weird to think about what might have happened and how close the shows came not to being what they were. Today, shows are pulled after just a few episodes and aren't given a chance to gain traction. How many of those shows could have been the next Friends but ended up gone after three shows?

However, I understand why it's that way today. Viewership is splintered with so many cable, on demand, and online options. A show that did badly in the ratings back in the day still had enough viewers to carry it on for a little while longer. TV advertising was more effective, but now there are so many better options for most advertisers. But at the same time, it just made me miss the shows of my childhood, when Thursday night was spent watching Must See TV and Fridays watching the TGIF block. Although there is one benefit - I watch a lot less TV overall than I used to!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The List

Okay, I think this is the last young adult book I'll review for a while. I'm not sure why I've been on a YA kick lately. I saw The List by Siobhan Vivian on a couple of people's blogs (I'm sorry I don't remember who to mention you!) and decided to check it out even thought it's not the type of book I normally read.

The List is about eight girls at a high school who end up on the list, a tradition at the school of a secretly created list of the prettiest and ugliest girl in each class. The book is told through the perspectives of each of the girls. I thought that was an intriguing concept - it's just as bad for the pretty girls as the girls on the ugly part of the list. It changes how people treat them, makes friends jealous, makes boys want to date them only because of the list and not because of who they are, and defines them by how the look.

I thought this was very well written. Each girl has a distinct voice, so it was easy to tell them apart and keep their stories straight, which with eight girls could easily have gone wrong. It's also got a good mystery - who wrote the list? Why did they pick who they picked? There are a few girls who aren't the obvious choices, so why them?

This would be a great book to encourage any teen girls in your life to read, and I enjoyed it as a 30-year-old, so you might enjoy it too even if you're not a teen girl. :) It's a good lesson about bullying and judging people by their looks wrapped up in a great, well written story.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


After reading Divergent and before I starting writing this review, I read Jean at Howling Frog Books' post on Divergent, and joked that I could just write a one-sentence review saying just go read her post for my thoughts since we had similar reactions. :) I decided to not be quite that lazy and to share some brief thoughts of my own.

Overall, I liked it. I read it in one day, practically in one sitting. So, you can tell it's got a fast-paced plot that kept me hooked. And it did. I could not stop reading, despite my frustrations about several things. First, the character development was weak. I had trouble keeping the characters straight, and it's not like this was War and Peace with a massive cast of characters who go by multiple Russian names/nicknames. The characters just all seemed the same to me. When you have to stop and try to remember if a character is the main character's friend or enemy constantly, you have a problem.

Secondly, the world building was on a really shaky foundation. Who builds a society divided by personality? That works as a way to sort students into houses in a series like Harry Potter. To form a society around that idea? Not so much. And that all of the groups decided to put the power in the hands of one group, no matter how selfless that group supposedly is? That's just dumb. I also didn't appreciate that I would have been in the evil group. :) Although, I do have a desire to rule the world, so perhaps that's not that far off.

Despite my frustrations, I'll probably give the second book a try. I'm not committed to the series yet, but it was a nice lighter read so I can see myself checking out the second book sometime soon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Girl Who Was on Fire

Allie mentioned The Girl Who Was on Fire in her post about the unit she taught on The Hunger Games, and I thought it would be fun to read. It's a collection of essays from young adult authors about The Hunger Games. It's worth reading if you're a hardcore fan or if, like in Allie's case, you're planning on teaching it.

One of the themes through several of the essays is that it's not about the love story. The main conversation shouldn't center on Team Gale vs. Team Peeta. Personally, I don't feel like the conversation has centered on that, which is what these essays seem to imply. Although, I don't usually talk about them with teenage girls either, so perhaps they're having different conversations than I am! However, at the same time, several stories veered off into an argument defending Katniss's choice at the end. This annoyed me, especially since I disagree. :)

A lot of the essays focused on politics, freedom and reality TV. That's what interested me the most in the series, being able see how Collins took real issues from today's society and showed how they could turn into this crazy world of the future. That's why I love dystopian fiction. I also hate reality TV, so a whole series about how terrible the genre is makes me happy.

On that note, it reminded me of how horrified I was at the audience reaction at some of the scenes. People cheered and laughed at several violent death scenes. It was bad enough that Ryan and I actually turned to each other and said, "did that just happen???" I was appalled to be in the same theatre as these people and couldn't believe they were not only entirely missing the point, they were sadist crazy people disguised as normal human beings. It completely creeped me out. It made it seem more feasible that our society would allow something like The Hunger Games to actually happen.

While I enjoyed this, it really made me crave more academic literary criticism. I may have to take advantage of Ryan's access to a college library to check out some books along those lines. Because I don't already have a million books checked out from the public library and towering in my TBR stacks. :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lost to Time

Lost in Time by Martin Sandler is a book about unforgettable bits of history that time has managed to forget. It read like a manifesto for the importance of PR, although admittedly I'm biased to see that since that's my field. Most of the stories are similar to famous stories that we know well, but for whatever reason those other stories got more publicity and stuck in the public's mind.

For example, one of the stories about two people who completed longer, more dangerous rides than Paul Revere to warn the Americans about the British  during the American Revolution, yet neither of them are remembered while people flock to Revere's house to celebrate him. One of those riders was a 16-year-old girl who rode through the woods in the middle of the night, warning more people than Revere and saving hundreds of lives. But she and the other rider didn't have Longfellow as a friend to write a poem about them.

A similar story is the tale of Gustave Whitehead, who built and flew an airplane two years before the Wright brothers. Yet Whitehead didn't seek out media attention, and despite receiving a few articles about him, has faded from memory and the Wright brothers are credited with the first flight. Part of this is attributed to the fact that Whitehead was a German immigrant and as the World War approached, nobody wanted to credit him with the achievement over two American-born men. It also appears that the Wright brothers touted themselves as the first, even though they visited with Whitehead and saw one of his flights!

One of the other stories that stuck out was about a massive fire in Peshtigo, WI. Everyone's heard of the Chicago Fire, but few have heard of Pestigo even though it was much more destructive. Over 1.5 million acres burned and at least 1,200 people died, although many think it was probably nearly twice that. Whole families died trying to flee. People had to try to make it to the river and just stay there for hours until the fired died out. The excerpts from some of the first-hand accounts were horrific.

Finally, a man decided to start building a subway in NYC in the 1860s - secretly, at night! He knew the leaders at Tammany Hall wouldn't go for it, so he got approval to build a mail carrying system. Instead, he secretly began building the subway. By the time he was caught, he had nearly completed the first phase. He was allowed to finish that part and riders were able to use it temporarily, until the corrupt government and an economic slump that cut off private funding and it was shut down. It wasn't until about 25 years later that there was a terrible blizzard and many people died trying to travel in the city. They decided to build a subway at that point, which opened in the early twentieth century.

These are just a few of the interesting stories found in the book. I really enjoyed the book overall, but I will admit there were a few less interesting chapters and something about the writing overall didn't really grab me, but it was easy to skim through the stories that weren't of as much interest to me and I liked the knowledge I gained overall, so I still recommend it. It was definetly one of those books that made me stop and read out random facts to my husband while he was trying to play video games!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cloud Atlas

I'm still not entirely sure whether or not I actually liked David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Perhaps that makes sense, as the novel is really a series of connected but highly different stories, nestled like Russian dolls within each other. It's like Oklahoma weather - if you don't like it right now, just wait a few minutes and it will change.

When I first started reading, I had a hard time getting into it. I rarely like sea stories, and that's how it starts out - on a boat. The next section features a musician who finds a diary of a sailor, the excerpt from the first section. Then things started picking up. I loved the interconnectedness of all the sections, seeing how things happened across time, not being sure of what actually happened and what's fiction. I thought this was an original way to tell a story and like playing around with the different forms and styles.

The problem is, I still felt like something was missing. I think several of the stories could have been more interesting. Sometimes it felt like Mitchell was trying too hard to be clever and wasn't overly concerned about things making sense or being remotely logical. I'm having a hard time pinpointing exactly what was wrong, but too much of the time I was more focused on how Mitchell was trying to be clever rather than focusing on the characters or the story or the ideas. I had a hard time sinking into the story, and even though the plot really isn't the point, this bugged me because the whole thing just felt forced.

I'm interested in seeing how this will be made into a movie. That seems like quite a challenge, and I'm not sure if it will translate well on film. I think it will still be worth seeing, just like the book was worth reading even though I ended up with mixed thoughts on the book.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Along with a lot of country (but not nearly enough), I've become increasingly aware of human trafficking and how this happens right here in my country, my state, my city. Oklahoma City is the crossroads of America, with major interstates crossing through and an easy route to and from Mexico, so it's unfortunately a hotspot for human trafficking. I've done some volunteer work for OATH - Oklahomans Against the Trafficking of Humans, but wish there was more I could do. Helping raise awareness is something we can all do, and I hope books like Trafficked by Kim Purcell help do just that.

Trafficked is a young adult book about a young girl from Moldova, a former part of the USSR near the Ukraine and Romania. Hannah leaves her life their behind when it becomes clear and she can't earn enough money to keep her and her ailing grandmother afloat and is given the opportunity to come to America. She's promised $400 a week to work as a nanny for a Russian family. She'll be able to work on her English and save money so she can go to college in America. But her dream quickly becomes a nightmare as she becomes a slave to the family she works for, with threats to her family in Moldova and to herself if she doesn't go along with everything they say. She could end up arrested, and the family paints horrible pictures of how America treats illegals. She could be sold into prostitution. They'll hurt her family. What can she do?

The family she lives with lives in a normal upper-middle class neighborhood, painting the picture that this can happen anywhere. And sadly, it does. The question is, will we do something? I just watched the movie Sarah's Key (which was great and the book is excellent), and one of the characters talks about how she can't understand how people did nothing when the Nazis were mistreating the Jews. We criticize those who stood by and did nothing when slavery was carried out in the open. But are we any better? I hope we are.

If you aren't familiar with trafficking, this is a good place to start. Purcell is a former journalist who put a lot of research into her novel, and she also worked with immigrants through teaching ESL and working with an organization in LA where she met many who had experiences similar to Hannah's. In addition to organizations like OATH (their website has resources that don't just pertain to OK), Purcell lists several ways to help and other organizations on her website. Also, I'd like to note that Trafficked is an age-appropriate YA book. I felt like the level of graphic detail was appropriate to YA, rather than to an adult book, so if you're thinking about sharing it with a teen or staying away from it because of the possible graphic content, please know that while it doesn't shy away from disturbing topics, it's not overly graphic. It's also just generally a good book - well written, fast paced and as enjoyable as a story like this can be.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why Be Normal When You Could Be Happy?

It's a bit difficult when you read a memoir and are rather bored with it. I picked up Why Be Normal When You Could Be Happy by Jeanette Winterson because I liked the title and it had received quite a lot of praise. I've never read any of her novels before, and I think this memoir might be better suited to those who have and are interested in learning more about what's true of the author herself since her books apparently highly autobiographical.

Unfortunately, the book just fell flat for me. Winterson has had a difficult and interesting life, yet she somehow made her life story rather boring. Perhaps it's part of being British - she's very dry and recounts the craziness of her mother as if she reading a grocery list. An American would have dramatized everything, described every last detail of being locked outside a child and forced to sleep on a cold damp stoop, with no pillows or blankets or coverings, worrying about bugs crawling over you as you try to sleep. Instead, she just states that her mother used to lock her out and she would have to sleep on the porch. Moving on now.

While for her own mental health I think this attitude is probably best and it appears that she's moved on, quite frankly it doesn't make for a compelling story to read. I didn't even get the sense of hope that should come from recovering from abuse. Her writing style plays into this - she doesn't make transitions. She just jumps from paragraph to paragraph, topic to topic. Perhaps this comes from avoiding problems; she can just change the topic when she no longer wants to think of something. It didn't make me want to read any of her other works since I wasn't a fan of her writing style, and I also thought it was weird how many autobiographic elements she uses in her novels, even naming the main character in her first novel Jeanette and giving her basically the same story. Then she seemed surprised that people wanted to compare the novel to her life. What did she think was going to happen? So, I would recommend skipping this one unless you're already a fan of Winterson's works.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Speed Blogging

Since I'm so behind in posting and have several books that I don't have a lot to say about (like some of the books I read during the readathon), I thought I'd do a "speed blogging" post. It's sort of like speed dating but with books. :)

The Virgin Blue:
I've really enjoyed the other Tracy Chevalier books I've read - The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn. The Virgin Blue on the other hand didn't quite stand up to her other works. The story was weak and the ending didn't really make sense. I'd skip this one unless you're a big fan who just wants to read all of her books.

While My Pretty One Sleeps:
In high school, I graduated from RL Stine and Christopher Pike to Mary Higgins Clark (although Pike and Stine were actually more gruesome). I have a couple of her books still hanging around from those days that I never read. I really enjoyed this one but two weeks later I don't remember anything about it.'s a good rainy day read if you're looking for an easy-to-read mystery with a gripping story that won't make you think.

Pretty Little Liars:
Why am I admitting I read this? Well, I've really enjoyed watching The Lying Game (I started watching because I like several of the actors, don't judge) and so I thought I'd try reading Pretty Little Liar, which is by the same author, when I saw it as an ebook through the library. I think ebooks are why I've read more YA lit lately - I don't usually go to that section in the library, but I usually stumble across it when looking for books for my Nook. The book itself was okay, decent enough that I might read on if I'm craving something light, but nothing to make me rush forward.

The Bridge to Terebithia:
I had never read this and so I remedied it that during the readathon. I was very meh about this. It's not a bad book, I was just bored with it. I don't see why it's award winning.

Big Stone Gap and Big Cherry Holler:
I liked Big Stone Gap and had read it about 10 years ago, but hadn't read the sequels. I read Big Cherry Holler and didn't like it as well - it jumped forward in time too much and didn't let you grow with the characters, so they seemed to just be acting weird. I got a little bored with the story too. I'm still going to try the third one, Milk Glass Moon, but these will all be heading to Half-Price Books to be sold back rather than hanging around my shelves.

Dragonfly in Amber:
I got over my disgust with some of the things in Outlander and let my love of Jamie carry me on. I enjoyed this book and it didn't have the same type of issues as the first one. I still think Diana Gabaldon has a rather sick mind and that came through in a few places, but I really enjoyed it overall. I immediately checked out the ebook version of Voyager after finishing this one and am now working my way through it. That's the nice thing about my Nook - if I don't have the next books in a series, I can usually get them immediately from the library and didn't even have to leave my living room!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children:
This was another Nook book from the library and an another YA title. It's got a great concept - the author find a bunch of old, odd photos and wrote a story around them. There's time travel and interesting occurrences, a touching relationship between a boy and his grandfather, elements of WWII and an original story complete with real-life photos. I thought this was a good read that kept me hooked.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond:
Yet another YA title! I loved this one. It's a historical novel about a young girl accused of being a witch in Massachusetts back in the 1700s. She's not from the area and doesn't realize how strange her actions seem. There is a cast of likeable characters (and plenty of not likeable ones) and good details about life back then, but not nearly as many as sometimes crowd adult historical fiction. Near the end I was flying through the pages to find out what happened. I think this would be a good book to teach junior high kids - it's interesting and is a good precursor to The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

For some reason, I've read several young adult books lately. I don't tend to read much YA lit, despite my obsessions with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. But, I enjoyed The Future of Us and have gotten quite a few recommendations for good YA books recently, and it is nice to just speed through a book now and then.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower actually came out while I was in high school, but I thought I was way too cool to read YA then. I had moved on to adult books completely some time in early junior high. It's probably just as well. I don't think I would have appreciated this book back then. I would have been too judgemental of all the characters to get anything out of the story.

This book is one of those books that proves you don't have to like the main character to like the book. Charlie is annoying. Whiny. A crybaby. Passive. Overly sensitive. Emotional. He's not someone I'd want to hang out with. But that's okay. He still has an interesting story to tell. He still matters.

And maybe that's the point of this book - even people who are a bit messed up, or who make mistakes, or who are a little annoying deserve to be known and their lives still matter. Charlie makes several references to "It's a Wonderful Life." He wonders what the story would have been like if it had focused on the drunken uncle. How would they have shown that his life mattered?

I also liked the imagery of Charlie coming out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel. If you've never been to Pittsburgh, I think that would be hard to understand. Pittsburgh isn't know for its beauty - it's known as a steel town, for football and hockey. But the first time I went through that tunnel and arrived on the other side? Wow. It was an amazingly beautiful sight. In most cities you slowly approach the downtown area, driving through blighted areas before the streets start to get better and slowly transform. Going through the tunnel, there's a drastic change. You come out and see the skyline rising above you and the light sparkling off the three rivers. At night time, the buildings are all lit up and twinkling. It was not what I expected, and it's one of the best views I've seen because its so striking. And just like there's more to Pittsburgh than people expect, there's more to Charlie.

Even if you don't read a lot of YA, this is one worth trying, especially before the movie comes out. I think it would be great for a teen who is struggling to find their place. It is worth sticking with it - I wasn't enjoying it for the first 30 or so pages and had to overlook some annoyances about Charlie, but overall it's a good read.