Feverish(-ly Writing) Friday

Photo credit: website for Geauga Public Library in Cardon, Ohio.

Photo credit: website for Geauga Public Library in Chardon, Ohio.

Batten down the hatches, mateys.

NANOWRIMO is coming!!

Huh? You ask.

NAtional
NOvel
WRIting
MOnth

I’m about to write a novel in thirty days.

Oh boy.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or NaNo as I like to be lazy and call it) is a month long writing experiment created by a man named Chris Baty who thought, hey, what better way to light a fire beneath the pants of a writer than put them on a crazy deadline? It is the locomotive ramming the roadblock that is Writer’s Block. It is the coffee-swilling, obsessive-word-count-checking, exhausting, exhilarating ride of a month. The idea is quantity over quality. 50,000 words is a small novel. Just get the words on the page, worry and second guess yourself later.

To be fair, I’ve done it before. Last year, I wrote a sizable novel (admittedly of sub-par quality) of 50,201 words, to be exact. It had to do with college kids and flash mobs. I’m proud that I did it, but I don’t feel the need to revisit the text, to run any further with it.

But since I now know that I can do it, I’m super stoked about this year’s project: a dystopian (come on, are you really surprised?) where a list governs happiness and status of a small population of people who live entirely underground.

I’m excited for it. And terrified.

Cross your fingers for me! And I’ll see you in December! Hopefully with a screenshot of a successfully reached word count! And don’t worry, November’s posts are already set – sometimes I’m good at thinking ahead 😉

Oh, and also:

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

*throws candy*
Strawberry pumpkin cupcake Strawberry skull cupcake

One day I will make these bad boys….in the meantime, photo credit: blog Cupcakes Take the Cake. The cupcakes themselves were made by Tony Albanese, head decorator at the Whole Foods Market in New Jersey.

& Review: Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Rooms by Lauren Oliver.  Fiction. Publisher: Ecco

Rooms by Lauren Oliver.
Fiction. Publisher: Ecco

The Book Itself: I had the ARC of this a few weeks before the book was released. And the hardcover cover art is much better than the ARC – brighter colors, roots from the roof and basement of the house branching out (reminiscent of veins?). ‘Tis haunting and bright, all at the same time.

My Review: Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.

Apparently this is Lauren Oliver’s first adult book. She’s primarily a YA author, but I’ve yet to read her other works. Anyone read Delirium? Before I Fall? Panic? (Did I miss any?)

Anyway, Rooms has a lot of characters going on.  Every chapter alternates views between ghosts Alica and Sandra, and then the living inhabitants Caroline, Trenton, Minna, and even Minna’s young daughter, Amy. And there’s a lot of tension at play: Caroline drinks, Trenton is depressed and suicidal, Minna is promiscuous and lost, and the ghosts hate each other. It’s a lot of emotion, a lot of pasts to reconcile.

It gets messy.

Which, I mean, it should. It’s a messy situation: the estranged patriarch dies, leaving piles upon piles of stuff in this haunted house, as well a large sum of money to another woman (SCANDAL!). These people don’t get along. These ghosts don’t get along. So the book should not get along smoothly.

Despite the mess, the prose is smooth, even beautiful. There are secrets abound, and when each one is revealed, it is done so with just the right amount of impact.

I did feel that there were a lot of similar secrets. Infidelity and depression, especially. Now, I don’t mean to downplay either of these things. Both are serious issues. Anyone dealing with them, whether within themselves, or helping out someone else go through it, has a long hard road to recovery. But there was a lot of cheating going on in this book, for several characters. It almost felt like a crutch at one point. Sort of a what-should-be-this-characters-deepest-darkest-shame? Infidelity. Either they were cheated on, or they cheated on others, multiple times. It stopped being shocking, it stopped being sad.

There’s sort of this side story where Trenton befriends a girl who basically breaks into the house one day. The girl I don’t think was made into a round character at all. She’s kind of a red herring, in fact, and isn’t formulated much beyond that. Her connection to the story was tenuous, and could have been cut. I would not have missed her (there are enough characters as it is!)

In the end, not everything is patched up. Which I also found fitting. If all the characters left as changed people, I would have called foul. The final scenes are bittersweet. We leave the ghosts, we leave the Walker family with the idea that maybe (hopefully), they’ve all learned something, but there is still a long way to go.

If you’re good with a little ghost story, if you can deal with the messy voices of a dozen messy people, pick this book up. Enjoy the well-written prose, enjoy the atmosphere.

My Grade: B

Fictitious Fridays

bookstorechalkboard

Hello, and happy Friday!

First of all, credit: this picture is from a compilation of photos depicting “15 Hilarious Bookstore Chalkboards” at Buzzfeed.

Being a bookseller is awesome (for the most part. There’s the common retail-job pitfalls. Rude customers. People who don’t remember anything about the item they’re looking for, rude customers…) I’m surrounded by books all day long and occasionally I get to make recommendations. I’ve loved books since a very young age, and it’s awesome to get full-time pay for work that lets me be near the objects of my affection. My idea of a perfect summer’s day is sitting with the porch doors open, sitting on the patio furniture while reading (she says in the midst of fall).

And you? In what way have books enriched your life? What about your work is enriching? What do you like to do on a beautiful day, and are you as much of a homebody/bookworm as me? 🙂

& Review: A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall

A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall. Young Adult Fiction. Publisher: Swoon Reads

A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall. Young Adult Fiction. Publisher: Swoon Reads

The Book Itself: Definitely a rom-com book, obvious from its cover. Flourishes, swirls, coffee and takeout, lots and lots of books (you assume this book will have a lot to do with books, there are five icons of open books on the cover). It’s pink, there are hearts…I feel like I should read it on Valentine’s Day!

My Review: The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.  But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship. 

Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….

Sounds cute, right? Goofy, romantic, everyone can see it but you two! kind of scenario. Very romantic-comedy-chick-flick-movie-esque. Unfortunately, poor Gabe and Lea, our Romeo and Juliet are just not rounded out as characters, and they grate on one’s nerves.

The book is told from everyone’s perspective but theirs. And it’s all very cute little vignettes (I wouldn’t call them chapters, at most the installments cover only a page or two). But there’s no differentiation between characters. The angry Creative Writing classmate, the Chinese food delivery guy, the gay best friend, the mature older brother, even the bench and the squirrel talk in the same voice. One girl supposedly talks like a Valley Girl, but there isn’t enough color, enough variety in her voice to differentiate between her and any of the other female characters, let alone the male ones! And most of them just come off sounding pissed off at Gabe and Lea! Which honestly, I could understand.

Because Gabe and Lea are obnoxious.

Gabe’s Thing is that Something Happened to him a while ago, and it’s affected his mood and progress in school. It also makes him act like he’s allergic to girls, and that half the time he hates the people he interacts with. And when we find out about the event that makes him act like a shrugging weirdo, he suddenly, miraculously, lifts himself out of the doldrums and everything is fixed. Of course, he’s weirded Lea out enough at that point that they – gasp! – might never get together! But of course they do, because that is the entire point of this book.

Lea doesn’t ever seem to talk above a whisper. She whines a lot about Gabe to the point that I’m totally on her roommate and best guy friend’s side: just shut up and do something about it.

I’m under no delusion that this isn’t accurate to young relationships. They just like each other so much but they can’t tell each other that! That would be unthinkable! But it doesn’t mean I want to read a book about that frustrating frame of mind.

The fight before they get together is seriously lacking in vocabulary and nuance. The big confessions they make to finally profess their feelings to each other (spoiler alert: they read those feelings aloud in Creative Writing class) aren’t sweet or tender or really romantic. They’re repetitive and confusing.

It strives too hard for cute, when it should be looking for story and character development.

My Grade: D

Fascinating Friday

Tsundoku - "Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books."

Tsundoku – “Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.” also…it sounds like “Sudoku”!

Hello, my friends! How’s your Friday?

This here wonderful image is from a Buzzfeed article, and from a book about words that do not have a perfect translation into English (Credit and links down below).

So, how precarious is your to-be-read pile (TBR, if you’re one for abbrevs)? I actually have a small bookcase full…it’s three full shelves, and the TBRs fill only a shelf and a half of it…but still. It’s absurd.

And do I stop buying books? Of course not! Do I reach for them in sequence, in regularity? Nope. I’ll borrow a hardcover from work. I’ll download a netgalley ARC on my eReader. It could be months before I have to reach for my TBR shelves.

It’s a sickness, this book reading. Isn’t it wonderful? 🙂

Books Mentioned in this Post:

lostintranslation

Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders is an awesome book of illustrations depicting the closest English translations of obscure words in other languages. Did you know “Commuovere,” is a Norwegian word, roughly meaning: “To be moved in a heartwarming way, usually relating to a story that moved you to tears”? There is even a word out there for the unit of measurement for the time it takes to eat a banana. Delightful 🙂

& Review: I’ll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich with Rebecca Paley

I'll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich with Rebecca Paley. Biography. Publisher: Penguin Press

I’ll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich with Rebecca Paley.
Biography. Publisher: Penguin Press

“for me, dressing someone well is as divine as helping someone to walk, to see, to smile, or to bake a tall, light angel food cake.”

The Book Itself: Playful, fashionable cover, scrawled font, very fitting to the subject.

My Review: “Eighty-six-year-old Betty Halbreich is a true original. A tough broad who could have stepped straight out of Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire, she has spent nearly forty years as the legendary personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman, where she works with socialites, stars, and ordinary women off the street. She has helped many find their true selves through clothes, frank advice, and her own brand of wisdom. She is trusted by the most discriminating persons—including Hollywood’s top stylists—to tell them what looks best. But Halbreich’s personal transformation from a cosseted young girl to a fearless truth teller is the greatest makeover of her career.

A Chicago native, Halbreich moved to Manhattan at twenty after marrying the dashing Sonny Halbreich, a true character right out of Damon Runyon who liked the nightlife of New York in the fifties. On the surface, they were a great match, but looks can be deceiving; an unfaithful Sonny was emotionally distant while Halbreich became increasingly anguished. After two decades, the fraying marriage finally came undone. Bereft without Sonny and her identity as his wife, she hit rock bottom.After she began the frightening process of reclaiming herself and started therapy, Halbreich was offered a lifeline in the form of a job at the legendary luxury store Bergdorf Goodman. Soon, she was asked to run the store’s first personal shopping service. It was a perfect fit.Meticulous, impeccable, hardworking, elegant, and—most of all—delightfully funny, Halbreich has never been afraid to tell it to her clients straight. She won’t sell something just to sell it. If an outfit or shoe or purse is too expensive, she’ll dissuade you from buying it. As Halbreich says, ‘There are two things nobody wants to face: their closet and their mirror.’ She helps women do both, every day.”

The first few chapters are pure sumptuous reading delight. The fabrics she dresses her clients in, the formal dinners her parents threw for guests when Halbreich was a child, the food, the palazzo pants, the shoes (oh my!) paint a vivid picture for the reader. Halbreich lived a charmed childhood, and from an outsider’s perspective, a charmed life. Descriptions of a life “doing as [she was] told” get darker as the narrative, and Halbreich’s life, go on, but it is made in interesting for the reader.

A boon for those of us who don’t tend to stray towards biographies.

I picked this up, when I normally wouldn’t have, for a number of reasons. A friend of mine loves fashion and I basically gift him a book about fashion and/or art every gift-giving holiday (his coffee tables are laden with large books from yours truly). Two birds, one stone with this one: I buy it, I read it, review it for this here blog, and then I have a gift ready for Christmas 🙂 Secondly, the first couple of pages really pulled me in. Gotta love when a book does that. And thirdly, there’s been a fair bit of buzz about this book in entertainment circles: Lena Dunham of Girls is in the works to pen a TV series about Betty Halbreich herself. The two of them have a relationship and I was curious to see what kind of life Halbreich has that is rife for episode creation.

Overall, I found it to be a bit piecemeal. There are some wonderful moments. The first few chapters, as I mentioned, are wonderfully descriptive. They read like colorful fiction. As Halbreich and her biographer zoom through her life, it gets choppy. Halbreich faces challenges: a marriage unhappy from the start, a dependent, lonesome relationship with both parents, a messy separation and subsequent admittance to a psychiatric hospital, and arms-reach relationships with both of her children. But it’s all delivered rather one-note. I read scenes about her desperately seeking attention from her booze-swilling husband and domestic scenes between her and her beloved housekeeper in the same pitch. The timeline is patchy. She skips years, then methodically sorts through weeks and months (I realize there have to be fast-forwards in biographies – no one wants to read the day-by-day on anyone, famous or not). Her thoughts read as very scattered, and out of the blue she’ll jump to a client she helped recently, then back to her fractured life after a fractured marriage. One chapter is so name-drop heavy that my eyes skimmed a bit (maybe to someone tuned into the classic movie/fashion scene would enjoy that more than I).

And there are places I lose some sympathy for her (ah! That makes me feel so mean, to say I lose sympathy for someone). Hers is a charmed life, one filled with nursemaids and housekeepers and many many closets (the apartment she still resides in has twelve closets and three dressers – all full. And I had to read the sentence twice where it said she made $200,000 a week beginning at Bergdorf Goodman). Her husband cheats on her, so she cheats on him back and admits freely to viciously throwing that knowledge in his face. She’s honest, at least. You get a sense of voice in this biography, even if that voice is polished to the point of deadpan.

Some bits are often repeated. She jokes several times that she should wear a carnation on her lapel, as she rides the elevator in the store so often. Her main complaint of fashion today is that people “dress like they’re going to the beach.” Her father worked for Mandel Brothers, a fact that accompanies his name every time he’s mentioned. I’m not sure if this is because Betty Halbreich sat with her biographer several times to relay her stories, and these facts were repeated often, but in my mind after the third mention they should have been edited out.

There are lovely pieces in here. I favored her musings on helping women dress to be individuals today, to dress to their shape and leave happier than when they came in, no matter how many pieces of clothing they purchased. It gets rough in the middle there, for a number of reasons, but it’s a decent read, and absolute candy for anyone with a fierce interest in fashion.

My Grade: C

More Fashion/Photography/Coffee Table Gifts: That fashion-loving friend I mentioned has copies of these. Should you have someone in your life with similar interests, I hope this helps!
fashionableselbyhumansofnewyork Fashionable Selby by Todd Selby is a huge honker of a book, thick with thousands of pictures of one man’s fashion exodus around the world to interview and photograph fashion designers abroad.

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton is a viral online sensation. This guy had a simple mission: go out and take photos of people on the streets of America’s melting pot and do short interviews with them to get their stories. His Facebook feed is truly inspirational, and he’s traveled elsewhere to get even more gut-wrenching, beautiful photos and stories of people in third world and war-torn countries. It’s awesome. He’s awesome.

Food for Thought Fridays

burningthroughpages

Hope this Friday finds you buried in a good book! Or looking into a weekend in which you get to do so.

This is an awesome advertisement for a charity called Burning Through Pages, based in Denver, which encourages teens to read through book clubs. The kids get to keep the books if they like them, they get the benefits of reading great books, everybody wins!

What got you reading as a kid? My parents read to me before bed as far back as I can remember. Eyewitness science books, Wishbone mystery chapter books, the His Dark Materials series, etc. etc. etc. As soon as I could read full sentences on my own, I was dragging my parents to Barnes & Noble. I got into Harry Potter after the third book came out and devoured those. Without my parents and their attention paid to reading, I might not be the bookworm I am today. I’d like to think I would be, but you can never be sure 😉

I don’t live near enough to Vancouver to volunteer or even really experience what Burning Through Pages is all about. In fact, this advertisement was one that was going viral on Pinterest 🙂 But if you are passionate about reading, I encourage you to volunteer with, or make a donation to organizations like this. Research them, of course. There are websites out there that analyze what portion of donations go to what the organization says they go to (if that makes sense). One charity I got to work very close with was Better World Books, and by extension, Books for Africa. I helped collect textbooks on my college campus to be resold online, where profits then went to provide relevent books and fund literacy programs in over fifty African countries. I was really passionate about the subject, and was so happy when the drives were so successful (second in the nation, proud to say :)).

Any hey, if you read for fun and reading charities aren’t your thing, that’s cool, yo (picture the person with the least amount of street cred in the world saying that, and you’ve got me). But if there is something else out there that has to do with your passion, do a quick Internet search to see if there are any places out there that could use your passion to help them out.

It feels awesome, trust me 😉

& Review: The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl.  Publisher: Algonquin Books.

The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl.
Publisher: Algonquin Books.

“In the case of true love, there can be system failures”

The Book Itself:
What a great title! And book cover! Intricate line art, monochromatic but still really interesting, silhouette art – I love everything about it!

My Review: Meet Evelyn and Godfrey. Evelyn is breaking up with her boyfriend, who’s passing out advertisements for his band on a snowy street corner in Baltimore. She’s seen their dismal future together at Dr. Chin’s office: she and her boyfriend, both many years older, singing Happy Birthday to a Chihuahua and arguing about cheese. She hopes for more. Meanwhile, Godfrey is proposing to his girlfriend, Madge, who’s not quite willing to take that leap; she wants to see their future together first–just to be sure they re meant for each other. The Future for Curious People follows Evelyn and Godfrey’s soon-to-be-entwined lives, set in motion by the fabulist premise of a world with envisionists like Dr. Chin. As the characters struggle with their pasts and possible futures, they wrestle with sorrow, love, death, and fate. This novel will capture you with its brightness, its hopefulness, its anxious twists and turns; it is a love story that is ultimately a statement about happiness and how to accept our fleeting existence.

So this is a weird little story. What’s weird about it is our little friends, Godfrey and Evelyn. They take “quirky” and walk a mile away with it. They’re looking at quirky in the rearview mirror (tell me what TV show I just quoted that from, and you get a million imaginary golden ponies). Which is cool, I like a little quirk. But the quirk gets in the way of actual character building.

Both Godfrey and Evelyn have parental issues. Many characters and Real People do. But Evelyn and Godrey constantly reference their parental issues. Constantly. I don’t think there’s a chapter in this book where Godfrey doesn’t talk about his skirtchasing dad. If it’s Evelyn’s turn to narrate a chapter, she laments at least once that her parents ignore her. And that her sister’s death when she was little caused her to be born as a replacement. With such constant repetition of issues, I’d expect them to grow from such adversity, or try to move past them. But neither of them get a firm resolution to these issues. In fact, both of them get a fresh whammy about their respective parent issues (a letter, an Envisioning session) in the last few chapter of the book, both of which make them feel even WORSE about their issues. It was incredibly frustrating.

That aside, I loved the premise. It was, of course, the reason I purchased the book. Evelyn is obsessed with finding out about her romantic futures with various suitors. She can’t help but feel there’s something better out there. Godfrey is unsettled by his Envisioned future with hopefully-fiancee-but-she-won’t-wear-the-ring-Madge. Obviously the two of them are going to be meant for each other and obviously there will be some “system failures” as mentioned in the quote I pulled above (a required-by-law caution emblazoned before every Envisioning session). My favorite parts were when Evelyn and Godfrey finally met up and realized how great they were together. Their mutual oddness is cute. It’s like watching Zooey Deschanel fall in love with a male version of herself. And some of those declarations of love are truly endearing.

But the characters weren’t allowed to grow enough. They didn’t develop into real people for me. They wheedled, they had implausible best friends (Evelyn’s pal, Dot, sounds a little awful), and even at the end I wasn’t sure if it was set up to be a happy resolution or very very sad (there’s an awful lot of medication involved?!).

Overall, great concept, but the characters were too dysfunctional, too weird to feel real in any way.

My Grade: C-

Food for Thought Fridays

bookrecommendaperson

Photo Credit: themetapicture.com

Happy Friday, friends! Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever walked up to someone reading a book you love and just given a quick, “That book’s wonderful,” Or “That’s one of my favorite books!” In my job (bookstore), I fortunately get to do this all the time. Whenever someone comes up to me to buy a book I’ve loved, I tell them.

Of course, since they’re reading it or purchasing it in front of you, they’re presumably reading it for the first time, and it is completely possible that they will hate it while you loved it. And that can suck, and sometimes it can seem even a little personal. I’m inwardly still a little appalled that both my best friend AND my significant other have not read the Harry Potter series. But I’ve learned to live with it.

I just tease them mercilessly about it 😉

And also: logistics on the whole guys-should-buy-books-for-girls-in-bookstores-like-they-do-drinks-in-bars. Feasible? Or would someone coming up to you offering to buy the book you just picked up be really creepy? I’d be tempted to put the one I was looking at down, smile, and say “Not this one, but that $50 special edition copy of [insert a favorite book of mine here] would be nice.”

Just kidding.