Monday, October 15, 2012

January First

For some reason, I thought this was a novel until I started reading and realized it’s a memoir. Oops. It actually reads like a novel in many ways, with an intriguing narrative and tight writing. The raw emotion spilling forth from it surprised me though. Usually people, even those writing memoirs, step back and don’t put quite everything out there the way Michael Schofield does.
The book is about Michael’s young daughter’s descent into madness. From the time she was three it was clear she had mental issues, but it took a long time to determine exactly what because of her age. The family had to deal with her wild behavior and the uncertainty of how to fix it. The cover explains that it’s schizophrenia, which is rarely diagnosed in children and is why it took so long to diagnose her. It’s also extremely difficult to distinguish a typical child’s fascination with playing pretend and creating imaginary friends and a schizophrenic’s hallucinations.
Young January becomes worse after the birth of her baby brother, and she often lashes out at him, violently attacking him and her parents. I cannot imagine dealing with what this family goes through. They have to protect their son from January and can’t get through to her. At first, they think it’s just an extreme version of a child misbehaving, but then know it has to be something more. They love their daughter and want to take care of her, but how can they do that and keep their son safe? Who believes them when they talk about how hard she is to handle?
Reading about the family’s experience with medical professionals was extremely frustrating. I would lose my mind if I to deal with what they did, and this book would scare me off having kids if I wasn’t already sure of decision not to have them.
There’s something that bugs me about Michael though. Despite his focus on helping his daughter, I just don’t like him. I think it’s the way he treats his wife. I’m a bit shocked that they’re still married after the way he tended to portray her. Although since at one point he admits they went two years without kissing, they don’t seem to have much of a marriage anyway. Everything is focused on the kids. I understand circumstances drove them to that, but if I were her, I’d be pissed about the book. He lifted himself up as January’s savior, while the evil wife just wants to lock her up.
I recommend this book if you’re interested in mental illness or like memoirs about people working through difficult circumstances. I read this at a good time because Ryan is currently taking a class on teaching students with special needs, and that came up in the book because they try to keep January in mainstream classes. It was interesting to talk to him about how they handled things and issues he may have to deal with once he’s a teacher.

Into the Darkest Corner & Broken Harbor

In high school, I read a LOT of mysteries, probably more than I read any other genre. Since then, I rarely read them but have craved them recently and heard great things about two more literary mysteries and enjoyed both of them. I think a lot of mysteries follow a pattern, especially when you read a lot by one author, so it was refreshing to read these two, which both have more developed characters and stronger writing in addition to a gripping story.
Into the Darkest Corner
In Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes added depth by giving her main character OCD and having her in recovery from a traumatic experience before the action even starts. The narrative alternates between her present and her past, and you aren’t sure if the thriller part will only be in the past part of the narrative or if it crosses over into the present.  It surprised me by focusing quite a bit on how screwed up female friendships can be.
While Haynes does a better job at explaining why a woman would stay in an abusive relationship than most stories of domestic violence do, I still don’t understand why she went back to Lee the first time? She knew it was a bad idea and did it anyway. After that, it became impossible to leave and I understood that by then he had too much control by that point for her to get away even when she plans carefully and tries her best. Haynes tries to show how her friends liked Lee and didn’t understand why she broke up with him, but that still seems crazy to me since she knew there was something wrong with him. But, when reading about domestic violence I usually spend most of the time yelling at the woman to leave and didn’t do that as much here, so she did something right.
Broken Harbor
One random thing about both of these novels – in England and Ireland, it appears common that you can lock someone inside a house or room. This happened in Into the Darkest Corner with a room, and I assumed that the person probably added an external lock to the door. But then, it came up again in Broken Harbor. Someone was worried about whether to lock someone in the house and risk a fire starting and her not being able to get out, or not locking the door and her possibly leaving in a bad mental state and getting into trouble. I’m confused as to how you can lock someone in a house, or more accurately, why houses would be set up that way unless you were a bad guy trying to hold someone captive. It wasn’t noted as something strange, so I assume this is common practice over there?
Anyway, on to the review. Broken Harbor by Tana French was much more literary than I expected, delving more into the detective’s psyche and personal issues than you usually find in mysteries. Usually even with recurring detectives, they usually have a couple of quirks, maybe a romance or two, and that’s it. You don’t go much below the surface with them, and the focus is on the plot, the murder, not the detective’s life.
At the same time, French does a good job with the mystery, slowing giving you clues and suspects and evidence and making you question everything, except sometimes the thing you should be questioning. It made me think about how when things are presented as fact we have less of a tendency to mistrust them, we make assumptions based on “facts” and then that can lead us down the wrong road.
French also points out that sometimes we never learn why something happens. We might not truly know what caused someone to snap. This is one of the most frustrating things about life to me – I want to know everything. I hate it when I hear about something that makes no sense to me, whether it’s an act of horror or the popularity of Honey Boo Boo. (Who are these people watching that crap and WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???)
I will definitely check out French’s other novels and hope to read at least one of them this fall. I love this time of year and the good reading that fits with the cooling weather and Halloween and grey skies.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dewey's Readathon - Post the Fourth

And I'm back to Dewey's Readathon! OU stomped Texas 63-21 (and those last 14 points for them came against our second/third string). It was awesome. Since then I've done a little more reading and finished another book. Now I'm either going to continue the Agatha Christie, try to make a dent in The Casual Vacancy (I'm about halfway through), or start The Shining. It might depend on if the rain starts back up and my headache. I may have to take another break because of the headache if it doesn't clear up soon. Ugh. I hope everyone's having a great reading day!
  • Books in Progress: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (reread), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  • Books Complete: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer Smith and When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald  
  • Snacks: chips and queso, carrots and hummus, white chocolate
  • Blogging stuff: some commenting on other posts, some time on Twitter (@Sparksmarks)
  • Time spent reading: 4 hours and 20 minutes  
  • Pages read:   537 (236 in The Statistical Probability of Love, 31 in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 33 in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and 237 in When It Happens to You)

Dewey's Readathon - Post the Third

 Dewey's Readathon is going well for me so far! I'm enjoying Molly Ringwald's When It Happens to You. I like short stories that are connected, giving you snippets of different characters and perspectives. But now I'm off to cheer on the Sooners as they beat Texas! Boomer Sooner! I'll be back after the game!
  • Books in Progress: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (reread), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, and When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald  
  • Books Complete: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer Smith
  • Snacks: scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese for breakfast
  • Blogging stuff: Introduction meme, some commenting on other posts, some time on Twitter (@Sparksmarks)
  • Time spent reading: 3 hours and 20 minutes  
  • Pages read:   424 (236 in The Statistical Probability of Love, 31 in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 33 in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and 124 in When It Happens to You)

Dewey's Readathon - Post the Second

Time for my first update for Dewey's Readathon! I cheated and got started reading a little early since I'll be watching OU/Texas later and won't make it all night.

Introductory Questionnaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Oklahoma City! Boomer Sooner! :)
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I guess I was most excited about The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight since I started with it, but I'm also excited about starting The Shining later on.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Probably chips and queso and salsa during the football game
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I'm Lindsey and obviously I love to read. I'll read just about anything, although I particularly like classics - especially British literature, literary fiction, and YA (and I'm attempting to become a YA author). I also read quite a bit of nonfiction, mainly histories and biographies/memoirs. When I'm not reading, I'm working in PR, spending time with my husband and two cats, watching college football and hockey (although not so much this season with the lockout), writing, or spending way too much time on Netflix. My favorite teams are the OU Sooners and the Pittsburgh Penguins. I'm happy to have the AHL (the minor league for the NHL) in OKC now and we have several awesome NHL players with us this season due to the lockout.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I've participated in several readathons, but none on OU/Texas day! So...that will definitely be a big a interuption. We're not going anywhere or having people over though, so it might not be too bad. I just hope the game goes my way and I'm not depressed the rest of the day.

Anyway, here are my stats so far!

  • Books in Progress: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • Books Complete: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer Smith
  • Snacks: Almond milk, water, raisins
  • Blogging stuff: This post, about to check out a few other people's intro posts and see about the mini-challenges
  • Time spent reading: 2 hours
  • Pages read:   267 (236 in The Statistical Probability of Love and 31 in The Mysterious Affair at Styles)
Happy reading!

Dewey's Readathon - Post the First

Woohoo! Dewey's Readathon is here! I scheduled this last night, so hopefully I'm up and reading already. :) I've got a stack of books ready to go:

  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • Various poems and stories by Edgar Allen Poe
  • Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler
  • When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer Smith
And I'm sure I'll get distracted and read from some other books too. :) If you're participating, I hope you have fun and look forward to connecting with you!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Weekly Update: Oct. 12, 2012

I feel like I had a long week at work this week, culminating in an all-day video shoot today. Video shoots drain my energy because you spend all day hurrying up and waiting. I also got my first two rejection notices on my query about my novel, which hasn't bothered me so far. I'm just glad they're responding instead of leaving me waiting. :) Hopefully something will happen at some point. Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting lost in some good books tomorrow for Dewey's Readathon. I'm just sad the Readathon is on OU/Texas weekend! I'll be spending quite a bit of the day watching the game, yelling Boomer Sooner and insulting Texas. :) I'm sure I'll get a good chunk of reading done too. I'm planning to get up early a read for several hours before the game and get back to it afterwards. I don't plan to stay up all night though - I'm cranky without sleep!

Update from last week:

  • Books I'm currently reading:

    • Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
    • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling - still having mixed feelings
    • The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
    • The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
    Upcoming reads:

    • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
    • The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
    • The Shining by Stephen King
    • Stories/poems by Edgar Allen Poe
    • Lots of YA for the Readathon
    Books finished:

    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
    • All Road Lead to Austen by Amy Smith
    • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    • Crossed by Ally Condie
    Posts this week:
    Books abandoned:
    • Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie - I only read about 40 pages and was enjoying it, but I knew I wouldn't be able to finish it by it's due date at the library so I decided to stop and check it out later rather than try to rush through it.

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    The Secret History

    I am so behind in my reviews. I read this over Labor Day weekend! The Secret History by Donna Tartt languished in my TBR stack from the library for a few weeks before I finally got to it. I can’t believe I almost took it back unread! It’s beautiful. The writing is lush and eloquent but never overdone and the story grips you from the beginning and never lets go. It’s rare for a literary work to be such a page turner, but I couldn’t set this one down once I picked it up.
    From the beginning, you know something bad happens, but you don’t know why.  It starts with Bunny’s death, then jumps back in time where we learn Bunny is friends with his would be murderers. The book is about determining why Bunny dies and gets its drama and tension from that psychological element rather than from action. Each sentence is carefully constructed, pulling you into the story and forgetting the world around you, until when you finally do come up for air you have to shake off the feelings from the book before moving on. The books is straight-up creepy, made extra disturbing because you start to understand why Bunny had to die and almost feel like you would have done the same thing. It does that good a job rationalizing everything and getting you inside the story.
    The story takes place at an east coast college, with a small group of highly intelligent students gathered around an eccentric professor named Julian. He has them study solely with him, studying Greek and isolating them from reality in many ways. Despite the creepiness, it made me long to be back in an academic environment, with a Julian pushing me to improve. Minus the whole murder aspect.
    Random quote that made me laugh because I don’t want kids: “The fulfillment of the reproductive cycle was, in nature, a harbinger of swift decline and death.”
    Book Riot recently did a story on who they would cast in the move, as did Flavorwire. I have to go with Flavorwire’s pick of Joseph Gordon-Levitt over the guy who plays Peeta for Richard’s role.  I think this would make an excellent movie, so hopefully someone picks up on that and the book’s recent resurgence in popularity. The novel was originally published in 1992, but I’ve seen it all over the place lately. When I was poking around trying to see why, I stumbled across an interesting fact from Wikipedia. Apparently this novel and Bret Easton Ellis’s novel The Rules of Attraction contain references to each other. I knew from the notes in the copy of The Secret History I read that the two went to college together and are friends, but Tartt didn’t mention that part. I thought that was fun and will have to give The Rules of Attraction a try now. The other random fact from my notes is that the novel was over 1,000 manuscript pages, but they got it down to 559 printed pages! The publishers didn’t think such a long debut novel would sell, especially since it’s not fantasy or science fiction, which gets away with longer page counts. So, it’s a dense book but still manages to be a quick, intense read.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

    I usually try to read a book from the challenged books list every year in honor of Banned Books Week. I had to laugh when I went down the top 10 list for 2011 and all of them were checked out of the library or books I'd already read. Remind me if I ever get a book published to get a bunch of people to challenge it - that's one way to guarantee an increase in readership. :)

    Anyway, I picked The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. So many people have blogged and raved about this book. Now I see why. It's funny, entertaining, heartfelt, and real. I could also see why it's been challenged, not that I agree with that, but it doesn't always portray Native Americans in the best light and really seems to be an inside look at a 14-year-old boy's head, which can be a bit dirty, unsurprisingly. Alexie is Native American and doesn't shy away from the negatives of life of the reservation. At the same time, he shows the good in their culture, their close-knit families.

    Arnold, the main character, must balance between being Indian on the reservation and "white" at the school he transfers to, the one he wants to go to so he can someday get off the reservation and out of the cycle of poverty. His fellow Native Americans resent his choice, seeing it as a rejection of them. It beautifully captures teenage life and felt so real, I actually doublechecked that it's a novel and not a memoir, even though I knew it wasn't. Interestingly, it's story is extremely similar to Alexie's own biography, so there was a reason why it felt so real. I don't say that to take anything away from his writing, which is wonderful. He excels at telling a story, pulling you in. Despite the sometimes dark subject matter, it's also really funny. The illustrations are great and enhanced the novel. I highly recommend it and will definitely check out his adult books.

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    The Italian - Week 1

    I read the first volume of The Italian by Ann Radcliff for Jean's readalong this weekend. So far, I'm enjoying it, but not as much as The Mysteries of Udolpho.

    I really like Ellena, the main character's love interest. She's smart and strong, willing to stand up for herself even when it's the hard thing to do. I like that she doesn't fall for Vivaldi immediately, which is what you expect when the handsome rich man woos the poor young girl. She doesn't go for him for shallow reasons. I liked hearing things from her perspective, so I hope the narration continues to switch between her and Vivaldi.

    The Marchesa's hatred of Ellena seems a bit over the top, so I'm curious if that's just the melodrama common in Gothic novels or if it's something deeper. I'm also interested in learning more about Olivia and what brought her to the convent.

    I think the action will pick up more in volume 2 and have a feeling bad things are in store for Ellena in next week's reading.   

    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    Weekly Update - Oct. 5, 2012

    I made some progress cleaning up my library pile this week, returning some books I knew I wouldn't be able to get to and trying to focus my reading a bit more. I'm looking forward to some Halloween reads this month and hopefully cleaning up my library stack some more. I've got to stop reserving everything in sight and put some things in my cart to read later. I can't read everything at once, no matter how much I want too!

    Update from last week:

  • Books I'm currently reading:

    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
    • Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
    • All Road Lead to Austen by Amy Smith
    • Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie - I may not have time to finish this before it's due back to the library. :( It's good though, just dense.
    • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling - I have mixed feelings so far... 
    • The Italian by Ann Radcliffe - Views on Volume 1 coming tomorrow!
  • Upcoming reads:

    • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
    • The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
    • The Shining by Stephen King
    • Stories/poems by Edgar Allen Poe
    Books finished:

    • Broken Harbor by Tana French
    • Stolen by Lucy Christopher
    • Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
    • No Easy Day by Mark Owen
  • Posts this week:

  • Books abandoned:

    • The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt - I really liked this one and the next book, but I just haven't been in the mood or had the time for these. I want to return to both of these some day, and would like to own a copy of The Greek Myths for reference.  
    • The Greek Myths by Robert Graves
    • The Convert by Deborah Baker - The premise of this biography was good - Jewish American girl moves to Pakistan in the 60s and converts to Islam - but it just bored me. Again, I may just not be in the right mood.
    • Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King - I got about halfway through and was enjoying this one, but then it alluded to upcoming scenes involving animal cruelty. I literally let out a yelp and dropped the book. I just can't handle that.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Song of Achilles

    While the idea of Song of Achilles intrigued me, I wasn't confident about liking the result. It's a retelling of the events leading up to and during the Trojan War told from the perspective of Patroclus. I enjoy ancient Greek literature, but wasn't sure how this would come together. It might be boring and dry. It might not hold up well in comparison to The Illiad. It might not say anything new. Fortunately, it's engaging and tells a familiar story from a fresh perspective.

    Miller weaves together a beautiful, moving story. It begins well before the war, when Patroclus is a child. You see the downside of being a prince as he is exiled, bringing him into Achilles' world when he's sent off to another kingdom.

    Despite being a hero, I've never really cared for Achilles. In Homer, he comes across as arrogant and whiny, unwilling to do his duty if he doesn't get his way. Shown here, through Patroclus' eyes, Achilles is different. We see him as a young man who takes an exiled prince under his wing, caring for him and giving him friendship and love. My opinion of Achilles changed, so by the point where we get to the fit he throws during the war, I'm on his side. I never liked Agamemnon anyway.

    One of my favorite aspects of the novel was learning more about Briseis and seeing Patroclus try to help the captured woman. I also enjoyed Thetis, Achilles' immortal, controlling mother. I don't remember her from Homer or anything else, so that helped make the story fresh to me.

    I think this would be a good starting point for someone who wants to read the ancient Greeks but is scared to jump into Homer. Miller uses poetic language to capture the same tone as Homer, but isn't nearly as intimidating as Homer can be. It's still a novel, not an epic poem. It would give you a familiarity with some of the key characters to make Homer's story easier to follow. It made me want to get back to reading the Greek tragedians.

    Monday, October 1, 2012

    YA Reading Update

    As I finished edits for my first young adult novel (woohoo!) and started the process of writing query letters and researching agents, I read a lot of YA novels to help me work on all of that. I decided to do mini-reviews of a lot of these so I don’t get horribly behind in my reviewing. Here we go!
    Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    This book is all over the book blogosphere for a good reason – it’s awesome. I avoided it for a while because it deals with cancer, but it’s worth it. Hazel and Augustus are two of the best characters I’ve read about in a while – they stick with you almost like old acquaintances instead of fictional characters.
    I was surprised by the parts about Amsterdam and liked reading about the city. Ryan and I are tentatively planning our 10-year anniversary trip (which won’t happen for nearly two more years but I love travel planning!) and are leaning toward a trip to Brussels with a side trip to Amsterdam. It was nice finding a bit about the city in an unexpected place and made me want to go there even more, especially since it talks about one of the things I most want to do there.
    Forever… by Judy Blume
    Reading all these YA books made me want to read the book that started it all. I’m not sure that YA as a category really even existed when Blume wrote this and to me at least, she started the movement to write books specifically for teens. I’m sure someone who has studied that more will correct me, but it seems to me that she’s the mother of YA lit.
    Forever… holds up well. I first read it in somewhere in the early 90s, when I was in late elementary school. At that time, we were more focused on the sex scene than anything else. I read it again a few years later, and loved it. Blume perfectly captures teenagers while crafting a readable story without all the vampires and controlling governments and craziness that’s in a lot of YA today. It focuses on a girl and her boyfriend and an average teenage relationship. It’s wonderful.
    One thing that bugged me though on this reading – why does Katherine have to ask her mom’s permission to wash her hair??? She also mentions having oily hair, so she needs to wash it at least every other day – implying that most people wash it less than that? This was written in the 70s, not way back before indoor plumbing, so this really confused me. I need to ask my mom if she knows what’s up with that.
    Matched by Ally Condie
    I avoided this series for a while because I’m burned out on dystopian/paranormal stuff but I finally gave in. I think the characters come alive in this series and it held my interest so much that I read it in nearly one sitting and immediately checked out the next book. It has a lot of normal relationship and teenage issues in addition to the issues coming from the society, so I think that helped get me past my initial hesitation.
    Tyrell by Coe Booth
    If you want more realistic YA, here you go. Tyrell is about a 15-year-old homeless kid in the Bronx. His dad’s in jail, his mom is worthless, and he’s struggling to provide for the family when he should be in school. While the book is fictional, it feels very real and the author worked with homeless kids in the Bronx and grew up there, and it felt like a story she’s seen many times.
    My heart broke for Tyrell. He tries so hard, but he’s just a kid. How is he supposed to support himself, his mom, and his little brother without turning to a life of crime like many of the people he knows? The people with money are the drug dealers, while he’s living in a nasty motel room that’s serving as a homeless shelter. I wanted to reach through the pages and help him, and give his mom a good lecture, not that it would do any good. I just don’t understand how she could not even try to do anything, and how she tried to keep her younger son in special needs classes so she could get extra money from the government. That made my blood boil.
    I noticed Booth realized a sequel to Tyrell’s story, called Bronxwood, that came out last year. I need to check it out!
    Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
    I’ve read several of Dessen’s novels and have enjoyed them all. In this one, I noticed how she incorporates a lot of family life and issues into her stories, so it’s not just about a girl and her relationship struggles. That was one of the weak points in my novel, so this inspired me to go back and work on the family scenes and develop those characters more. Dessen writes parents as people with their own lives and the parents in my book at that time weren’t written that way. I think my novel is much stronger as a result and just hope some agent out there feels the same way!
    Do you have any recommendations for realistic YA novels?