Sunday, February 20, 2011


Beastly by Alex Flinn

My friend Jessica recently read Beastly and recommended it to me. It's a modern retelling of Beauty and Beast set in New York City. The Beast-to-be is Kyle Kingsbury, a rich, gorgeous, arrogant guy who is the top pick for homecoming king at his posh school. He's changed into a beast after his attempt to humiliate an unattractive and overweight goth girl (who is really a witch in disguise) in front of the whole school.

While I did enjoy Beastly overall, I was put off by it in the beginning. In addition to the main storyline, Flinn imagines an online support group for individuals who have been magically transformed run by Chris Anderson (presumably Hans Christian Andersen). He uses the group to bring in other fairytale characters like the little mermaid, the frog prince, and the bear from "Snow White and Rose Red." I personally don't think that the support group added all that much to the story and listening to the audio version I was quite put off by the chats. All the characters have screen names, but it was a bit hard to keep track of who is saying what (especially at the beginning).

Last night I saw a commercial for the movie adaptation and I have to say that I'm a bit confused. The casting is a bit odd. Neil Patrick Harris is perfect for Alex. Alex Pettyfer makes a great Kyle, but the make-up they use to transform him into the Adrian character comes across as odd body modification rather than animal transformation. He definitely doesn't look beastly and I can't imagine the movie version of Adrian causing a fear-induced riot in a New York City subway. Vanessa Hudgens probably has the personality to play Lindy, but she's far too pretty to play a character who is so plain she's beneath notice (Lindy is described as a "somewhat mousy-looking girl with a red braid and freckles"). Mary-Kate Olsen as Kendra may be a good fit (despite the fact that they don't have her look as she's described in the book), but I'd really have to see how she plays the mellower Kendra from the end of the book.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Kathryn Stockett explores the complexities of female friendship and race relations in her debut novel. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s, The Help explores what happens when you decide to take a good hard look at "what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else" (72).

As the story unfolds, it is told from the viewpoints of three different, but equally plucky women:
Eugenia Phelan, known to one and all as "Skeeter" (short for mosquito), is a 24-year-old college graduate who dreams of becoming a writer. Both physically and socially awkward, Skeeter is lucky to have a cotton trust fund (according to her mother) since it's her only chance of landing an appropriate husband.
Aibileen is a maid in the home of Skeeter's friend, Elizabeth. A gentle, patient, and wise soul, Aibileen has raised seventeen white children over the years, but only one of her own.
Minny is hot-headed and liable to mouth off. She's working for the aging mother of Skeeter's friend, Hilly, but the only reason that she's managed to keep that position for any length of time is because Mrs. Walter's is deaf.

I really love the design of this cover. Yes, I know that we shouldn't judge books by their covers, but we can't help being drawn to some books by their looks. There was quite a bit of hype about The Help, which came out in 2009. That's something that tends to put me off (will the book be as good as expected or will it let me down?) so I didn't try to get my hands on a copy despite the compelling cover and the fact that it's a debut novel.

I ended up requesting the ebook from the library recently, but not even starting it until I had less than a week left in my loan. I am so happy that I did read it. It wasn't perfect (for example: the black characters speak in dialect while none of the white characters do, even the woman who grew up out in the country), but it was gripping. I really wanted to know what would happen to the various characters, whether they'd get what was coming to them (good or bad) and whether what the protagonists were doing would make any difference. What I liked best was revelation of all the good secrets.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Possessed

I was intrigued by The Possessed when it was featured in Powell's Review-a-Day in May. I put it on my mental list of books to feature on the student services blog. Strangely enough our library has since acquired two copies of the book.

The Possessed by Elif Batuman
I stopped believing that "theory" had the power to ruin literature for anyone, or that it was possible to compromise something you loved by studying it. Was love really such a tenuous thing? Wasn't the point of love that it made you want to learn more, to immerse yourself, to become possessed? (22)
Elif Batuman went to college intending to study linguistics in the belief that "learn[ing] the raw mechanism of language, the pure form itself" (10) would inform her development into a novelist. Her introduction to the Russian language inspired a fascination with Russianness, which eventually landed her in a PhD program studying the form of the Russian novel. Batuman has yet to publish a novel, but she's had great success as an essayist in large part due to her ability to make both literary theory and staid academic life accessible to a broad readership.

The Possessed is a book that defies genre classification: it's a travelogue and an intellectual coming of age tale with a healthy dose of literary criticism and dry humor. Some of the essays contained within The Possessed have appeared, in slightly different form, in Harper's Magazine, n+1, and The New Yorker, but when read together they become an ecclectic, cohesive whole.

The book's title is taken from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel Demons, the title of which had previously been translated as "The Possessed." In the book's final essay, Batuman admits that Demons "haunts [her] like a prophetic dream" (255) and then shows just how much certain things that happen between the students in her graduate program parallel the events of the novel. While the titular essay isn't the most entertaining in the book, it's a perfect illustration of The Possessed's theme: the intersection between life and literature.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

PSA: book giveway

Presenting Lenore (a great book blog!) is currently hosting a giveaway for a fantastic-sounding new YA novel.

I've shared the publisher's book description below, but please rush over to Presenting Lenore to read Lenore's review of Bumped (in honor of Dystopian February she's using zombie chickens instead of stars, who cool is that?) and her interview with the author Megan McCafferty. Then sign up for the giveaway. You know you want this book.

Bumped by Megan Mccafferty

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

From New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty comes a strikingly original look at friendship, love, and sisterhood—in a future that is eerily believable.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I've been listening to the audio version of Shades of Grey for the past couple of weeks. I am a huge Jasper Fforde fan so one can imagine how much I was looking forward to a new book from him, especially one not from his Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series. My favorite thing about Fforde is his seemingly boundless imagination and I was eager to see what new world he dream up as a setting for this new novel.

I have to admit that I wasn't sure I'd like Shades of Grey when I first started it. First off, protagonist and narrator Eddie Russett begins the story by announcing that it will end with him being eaten by a carnivorous tree (even if I haven't gotten to know and like Eddie yet, I definitely don't want to know how the story will end). It's also a bit slow to start. This new world is complex and at the beginning you are thrown into it and need to get your bearings while not missing any important detail. But, the further I got into the novel, the more I liked it. I can see Shades of Grey as the first in a series of books set in this new world and I hope that Fforde gives them to us.

Fforde's books are a bit difficult to explain and Shades of Grey is no exception. It takes place in a dystopian future, in which society is regulated by the Colortocracy, a rigid social stratification system in which classes (and relative place within classes) are based on individuals' color perception. Eddie wants nothing more than to take the exam that establishes once and for all his place within the social hierarchy, marry Constance Oxblood (a match that will help his family progress up the chromatic scale), and become productive member of society. Everything changes for him when he commits a prank and is sent to the Outer Fringes to conduct a chair census as punishment. Away from the urban centers, the rules seem to make less sense.

While there is humor in Shades of Grey, it is definitely not a zany as his other novels. It's also more thought-provoking.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Alphas by Lisi Harrison

Alpha Academy is an exclusive boarding school founded by eccentric billionairess and prototypical alpha female Shira Brazille. Shira intends that the 100 girls she handpicks for the academy will become the next generation of alpha females. The girls are expected to grow up to be the very best in their fields and everything at the school is personalized to fit their unique needs (from classes to meals).

Alphas is the first in a series that builds at least in part upon Harrison's successful Clique franchise (19 books and counting; one of Alphas' main characters, Skye, is an import from the Clique books). I haven't read the Clique books, but they bring to mind rich, mean girls so they wouldn't be my first choice, but there was no wait for Alphas e-book, which is why I ended up checking it out.

I'm happy to report that Alphas was much less mean-girlsy than I expected it to be. One of the main characters (Charlie) is the daughter of the Shira's assistant (she's extremely gifted, but not full of herself like many of the other girls), another one (Allie) is pretending to be a famous and famously reclusive singer/songwriter/environmentalist who happens to share her name in order to attend the school.

There are certain things about the book that made little sense to me. For example, the Shira doesn't want the girls to be distracted by boys, but she keeps her five age-appropriate sons on campus (campus is actually a private island) and has them attend classes with the girls. Beyond the distraction factor, if the school is supposed to be all about girl-power why on earth keep the boys there when you could afford to send them any in the world (how good an environment could it possibly be for them?).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Victorian Writers Knitting Club: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

[This post includes spoilers for the club mentioned in the title]

Last year Woolgirl announced a new club inspired by the writers of the Victorian period. I signed up for only two of the shipments: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (February 2011) and Bram Stoker (October 2011).

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes package arrived yesterday:

It includes a sock pattern designed by Anne Hanson and a skein of Zen Yarn Garden Serenity Sock (Hound of the Baskervilles colorway) as well as a bunch of other goodies (stitch marker, bookmark, notion bag, etc). I'm quite pleased with it. Russell has already claimed the little wooden clock-face box and the soap (orange clove goat's milk from Dancing Mooney). Since I've knit with the Serenity sock before I know that it is a luscious merino/cashmere/nylon blend.

I've also been inspired to read some Sherlock Holmes stories. I have The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on my Nook. I read the first two stories ("A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Red-Headed League") before I confessed to Russell that I'd expected them to be the first of the Holmes stories and he dug out his Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes so I could start from the beginning.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Jules Verne

Apparently today is Jules Verne's 183rd birthday. I have to say that I wouldn't have known, if I hadn't seen the cool Verne-inspired interactive doodle on Google's homepage this morning. This PC Magazine article discusses the doodle. I have to admit that I spent some time finagling the controls in order to grab a screenshot that included the little hot air balloon (the above was the best I could do).

In any case, the doodle serves as a reminder that I've been wanting to read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Some readers will know that I am a bit of an ichthyophobic, but I always enjoyed the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride a Disneyland as a child and between Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Sarah Brightman's Dive album I've developed a fascination with Captain Nemo.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Bright Young Things

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

The year is 1929. New York is ruled by the Bright Young Things: flappers and socialites seeking thrills and chasing dreams in the anything-goes era of the Roaring Twenties.

I requested Bright Young Things from the library after I read this article. I figured it was worth a shot. I legitimately enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby in high school and I can't remember the last time I read a book set in 1920s New York.

I read Bright Young Things over the weekend. It was a quick read and while it was enjoyable, I don't know that I'll continue with the series.

Cordelia, the novel's primary protagonist, sometimes made decisions that made absolutely no sense to me and I'm not even sure that the decisions were necessarily in character for her. Some of them furthered the story, but for example, the book begins with Cordelia's wedding day (the aunt who raised Cordelia found out she'd had sex with her boyfriend John and forces them to get married; John is not unhappy about this and it appears that he genuinely loves her). After the wedding Cordelia and her best friend Letty run away to New York. Not days or weeks after the wedding, but hours. They'd be wanting to do this for years and had been planning and saving money.

I have to say that I really don't understand why the girls don't they leave before the wedding. There was time enough for Cordelia to make a wedding dress so it wasn't a complete rush job. While Cordelia doesn't want the life being married in small town Ohio would bring her, she does care for John. So, why would she go through with the wedding ceremony only to abandon him? It seems unnecessarily cruel.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


- assuming [of superiority], haughty, petulant, huffy.

Yesterday I finished knitting a pair of socks. I wouldn't normally consider the socks themselves worthy of a blog post if it weren't for the yarn I used.

The Plucky Knitter's Primo MCN in the Hoity Toity colorway, which was inspired by Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice. There's the literary connection.

Hoity-toity is a perfect adjective for Caroline Bingley, who is the epitome of snootiness.

I was interested to learn, however, that the meaning I've always associated with the term is its secondary one. Apparently hoity-toity can also refer to "riotous or giddy behaviour; romping, frolic; disturbance, ‘rumpus’; flightiness" (OED).

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


"She thrived immediately in the bleak, gray confines of the Hyde Park campus" (The Man on Whom Nothing was Lost, 275).

Russell's reading this book about Charles Hill and sharing bits of it with me. I just couldn't resist posting this quote. How I miss Chicago...

The Summoner

The Summoner by Layton Green

"Grey was no saint, but [...] he stuck to the vices that only affected himself" (20)

When William Addison, retired head on Consular Affairs at the US Embassy in Zimbabwe, disappears under mysterious circumstances, Zimbabwean officials refuse to allow the Ambassador to bring in federal agents to investigate. That's when Dominic Grey, a diplomatic security agent whose time is usually spent escorting government officials around the capital and dealing with passport and visa fraud, is put on the case.

Grey will be shadowed by Nya Mashumba from Zimbabwe's Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the investigation. Though Nya is easy of the eyes, she's reticent to the point that Grey suspects that she may be withholding important information about the case. His only other assistance comes in the form of an expert the Ambassador brought in from Interpol. Viktor Radek is a professor of religious phenomenology and an expert on cults. The deeper Grey and Nya delve into the mystery of Addison's disappearance and the people behind it, the more they realize just how much they need Radek's expertise and the closer they come to becoming targets themselves.

The titular character, N'anga ("the summoner" in Shona), is a babalawo (priest) practicing a perverted version of Juju, the traditional Yoruba religion. He uses human torture and sacrifice to garner favor with the most malevolent of Orisa spirits. Because of this The Summoner is not for the faint of heart. I'm a bit on the squeamish side and had to skim through some of the more disturbing passages.

While I do read this type of book occasionally, the thriller genre is not one that I particularly favor (and I generally prefer my mysteries on the cozy end of the spectrum). I did think The Summoner was very well done. The novel's protagonist is a complex and compelling character with an interesting backstory. I appreciated how Green was able to incorporate the culture, history, and current political milieu of Zimbabwe and Nigeria into the story without being heavy-handed. I can think of quite a few people to whom I'd recommend this novel.

The Summoner is the first book in a series, which I assume will follow Dominic Grey as he investigates other crimes committed by fringe religious groups. The way things are left at the conclusion of the The Summoner, it seems that the novel's two most interesting secondary characters (Radek and Nya) will be reappearing in future installments.