Sunday, June 30, 2013

The School for Good and Evil

 The School for Good and Evil by

(Design & Animation: Manny Palad & Michael Blank
Original Music: Luciano Storti)

Have you ever seen a trailer for a BOOK before? This was my first, so I found it really fascinating. Of course, it tells you little of what's actually going on--much like its movie counterparts.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far in 2013

Today, I found a weekly feature through Word Hits hosted by The Broke and the Bookish that is so much fun! It's called Top Ten Tuesday. Every week, they feature their top ten in something book related, and this week it was Top Ten Books Read So Far in 2013. (Each of those links leads to a different page, so make sure you check them all out!) I decided I'll participate, even though you all have heard about most of these books already, and I've divided them into a couple of sections. The books themselves are in no particular order, and if I've written about them on my blog, I'll link them to the original post as well. Also, some of my entries are actually series which I've finished, and I didn't want to pick a favorite book from the series. I'm not including any books that I re-read this year, that I have yet to finish, or that were written for elementary school ages or younger.

Two Guys Read Jane Austen--What a great way to delve further into Jane Austen!

Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths Vol. 1 & 2--I don't know how many of you have seen The Dark Crystal, but I simply adore that movie! These graphic novels tell the history of Thra (the world in which the movie is set) and how it came to be divided by the devastation of the crystal. I loved being pulled back into this story--it challenged my imagination and my moral compass. Also, the copies that I have included some background information on the making of the movie and the characters, which I found intriguing.

Liked a Lot:
Austenland--This was my first review for the Pride and Prejudice bicentenary challenge. I really enjoyed the playfulness and uniqueness of it.

A Wrinkle in Time--It would be hard for this book to get more awesome. Meg (and all of the main characters) is fantastic, but my favorite is probably Aunt Beast. What a cozy, happy character! I can't believe it took me so long to read this book.

Sookie Stackhouse series--I loved the voice that Charlaine Harris gave Sookie. She may not be my favorite character, but she is definitely unique. Also, I find the mix of mystery, comedy, romance, and paranormal activity very interesting.

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls #1)--With all of the other paranormal books out right now, it's hard to find one that really feels like an original, and this is one. Deborah Harkness has my attention; we'll see what she does with it when I read the second book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks--Science is not my strong suit, but this book really captured me. Skloot does a fantastic job balancing the family's story of Henrietta with the medical community's story of HeLa.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series--This is the first series I've read by Rick Riordan, and I love how he transformed Greek mythology, adapting it for the modern world and making it more accessible to the reader. Well-written and very inventive.

The School for Good and Evil--Just your typical fairy tale...or is it? This book took me on one of the craziest psychological roller coasters I've ever been on. Chainani plays games with your head and makes you believe things only to switch it up later. I liked this for it's original take on fairy tale ideals and technicalities. Look for a post on this book later this week.

Unbearable Lightness--I have always liked Portia de Rossi for her wit, humor, and "stage presence," but this book gave me another reason to see her as a strong, admirable woman. I am excited that she decided to share the story of her struggle with anorexia and other eating disorders, and I'll be writing a post about this one soon.

Cookbooks: I don't really "read through" cookbooks; I just glance through, reading bits and trying the recipes that sound the best to me. But I've found some interesting ones this year that I wanted to share with you. They're not exactly part of my ten, and I'm still working on a good way to review cookbooks. Meanwhile, find these and rifle through them--I'm sure you'll find something fantastic!

Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook
Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream
The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

Series: Sookie Stackhouse

I recently finished the Sookie Stackhouse series written by Charlaine Harris, which inspired the TV series True Blood. Since I already wrote a short review on Goodreads after reading each book, I just copied them all here for you. As you can see by reading, I really enjoyed this series early on, but Harris began to drag toward the end, which I guess is to be expected with such a long series. The series centers around a young telepathic woman, Sookie Stackhouse, who lives in a small town in Louisiana near her friends and family. It all starts with the first time she meets a vampire, whose thoughts she can't hear, and goes from there on a wild ride of mystery, comedy, and para-normalcy.

#1 Dead Until Dark: This was great! Charlaine Harris creates a world that I find very believable. If vampires were real and "came out of the coffin," as she puts it, I'm pretty sure some parts of the world would be similar to how she writes it. I've seen a little bit of True Blood, so I knew some pieces of story to expect, but I was certainly surprised at some of the differences in character which I found. I also liked the extra background information that I got (as always) from the details in the book that you don't get from television. I enjoyed the book a bit more than the show, and I plan on reading more in this series.

#2 Living Dead in Dallas: I've enjoyed both of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that I've read so far. This one is quite a bit different than the TV show True Blood, while the first one was fairly similar. I figure they'll become more and more different, which is alright. They're both good in their own rights, but I like the books better, to be honest. There are a few things I don't like as much, such as Jason's attitude to Sookie in the first novel, but overall, it seems more real/detailed/enjoyable, etc. The main reason might be Sookie's narration, but I suppose I'll learn more as the series goes on. Overall, it keeps the blood pumping with mystery, action, intrigue, and it's just a nice, quick read.

#3 Club Dead: I'm really enjoying this series. It's almost like a palate cleanser for other things I'm reading, since the language and the general concept are easier to grasp. The best thing about the writing, I think, is that the narration is so consistent. Harris really has a grasp on Sookie's character. One thing I don't like is some of the rehashing. I understand a little rehashing of vampire capabilities and such toward the beginning of each book, I assume for the ease of those who didn't start the series at the beginning, but it bothers me when those comments continue throughout the story, almost to the very end. Even if some of the main characters aren't the smartest people (a flaw which isn't often found in main characters and is appreciated by this reader for its rarity), Harris might improve parts of the book by assuming that her readers are a little smarter. Just a sidenote. In general, I really liked this story and the fact that Sookie decides she isn't willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of a cheating, abusive vampire boyfriend, since every other vampire's girlfriend in modern writing seems compelled to do so.

#4 Dead to the World: I really enjoyed the step aside in Eric's amnesia. This one was a bit different than the usual Sookie Stackhouse book, but not in a bad way. I appreciate how Charlaine Harris can keep two intertwining plot lines going so well; it leaves a really nice way to emphasize her choice of first-person narrative, since Sookie always has suspicions of things being connected in ways that they never are. Also, I liked how she introduced witches to the series, although I think that became a "bark bigger than bite" situation.

#5 Dead as a Doornail: This book was a "win some on this part, lose some on this part" for me. There were definite sections to the book, and I think readers will probably take a very certain stance on which parts they liked and which they did not. What I mean to say is that the entire book will not appeal to one person or another--different parts will appeal to different people. That being said, the parts that I didn't like were excusable because I can still see how it fits in the world Harris is creating. The werewolves' competition for a new packmaster was not something I agreed with or that I would have written, but I can see how it works with the persona of the pack. Also, I'd like to mention that I never quite predict how these Sookie Stackhouse books will end. I like that I can read the series and, although I can predict certain events, I can never completely know what's going to happen. Harris goes very different directions than I would personally, and there's a lot I admire about that. She has a unique way of writing and represents the voice of her main character very well.

#6 Definitely Dead: I'm not sure how to feel about this one. I liked it, but I was suspicious the whole time since there were so many newly-introduced characters. Everything with the Pelts was insane, and I don't like that Sookie keeps getting almost sexually-assaulted. Other than that, the book was really good, and Quinn was a unique addition to the characters.

#7 All Together Dead: What a roller-coaster ride! This book was on high speed almost the whole time, but it almost provides a crazy adrenaline rush for the reader! The vampire summit was a brilliant event idea on Harris's part, I think. It provided new territory with basically unlimited possibilities. I cannot put this series down! You can ask my husband--as soon as I finish one, I pick the next one up. This was one of my favorites in the series so far, and I can't wait to see what's next for Sookie and her (sort-of) friends.

#8 From Dead to Worse: What?! From Dead to Worse is a bit scattered, and boy, does it end with a bombshell! Rather than the usual two plot intertwining, Harris uses a bunch of smaller plots to pull this book together. Between the Were succession, the vampire takeover, Sookie's great-grandfather, and Amelia's witch dilemmas, I think this book is meant to be a segway in the series connecting larger plot lines. Harris puts everything together with clever attention to detail. Harris allows Ms. Stackhouse to make peace with her past and brings in other family so Sookie won't be alone after Jason's mistakes. Also, she makes way for a reconciliation with Bill, more open communication with Sam, and a closer connection to Eric (possibly without the same expectations). And as Sookie appears to break further away from the humans around her, she makes more connections to supes across the country, an effective substitute for the storyline. This book didn't give me the same emotional roller coaster I felt with the others, but it seems to be a very smooth transition, and I look forward to reading the next one in the series.

#4.1, 4.3, 5.1, 7.1, 8.1 A Touch of Dead: I liked having the short stories that belong in-between the books. It was kind of fun to read some smaller events going on in Sookie's life, although the books are set in such a close timeline to one another that I didn't find it necessary. I was a little surprised that she had such little interaction with some of the main male characters, considering what a large role they play in the books themselves. Overall kind of fun to read through, but I wouldn't spend a lot of time on it or want to own the book.

#9 Dead and Gone: This is the saddest of the Sookie Stackhouse books that I have read so far. In all of the series' books, there is some death and some crazy wars and things, but in this one it becomes personal. Not only is the war taking place primarily centered around Sookie's family, but the people who die are ones you never would have wished or expected, and Sookie is damaged (emotionally and physically) more than ever before. Who knows where the series will go from here.

#10 Dead in the Family: I like how this one started--slowly, with a focus on Sookie's physical and emotional recovery after the insanity of the last book. The entire book was really an aftermath of previous events, a picking-up of pieces, if you will. Although the "mysterious players" (because there's always at least one in each book) in this book were easier to discover than they usually are, the ending was fairly unpredictable. Also, the characters were changing quite a bit as the story went on, which confused me a bit. I understood how they were changing, I just didn't know how to feel about it. I'm still not sure how I feel about some characters that were very clear to me before.

#11 Dead Reckoning: This book was...complicated and frustrating, to say the least. Not that it wasn't good. It's one of those where you want to yell at the characters constantly for saying certain things or not taking action that makes sense to you. Also, most of the Sookie Stackhouse books end somewhat happily, but this one didn't. Each plot within the story culminates into something sad or horrible from which Sookie might never recover. Harris's book ends with a cliffhanger of epic proportions, and I know I'm nearing the end of the series. I believe there is one book after this one and one that has yet to be published, but I might be wrong. There are about six reasonable pathways I could see this story taking. I won't reveal them at this moment, but I'm waiting on the edge of my seat to see what will happen to complete the Sookie Stackhouse series.

#11.5 The Sookie Stackhouse Companion: I was a bit disappointed by this book. I guess I didn't really understand what it was supposed to be until I read it. I'll explain: the book is a companion, as it's described, and it contains lots of recap information to keep the book straight as well as some extra information. I'll cover this in three sections. Parts I knew I wouldn't care for: the recap of each story (I already read the books), the index of everyone in the series (read above parentheses), and the fan narrative (pointless?). Okay parts that disappointed me: the interviews with the author and the director of True Blood (these were interesting, but not enough for me to ever read again--they might make more sense as a magazine article or a post online) and the secret conversations between Eric and Bill (I was really excited about these and expected them to have new, interesting information, but there was only enough to brush the references in the series to their conversations). The third part is the short story in the beginning, which saved this book for me. I think my problem was in buying the book. I never had any trouble keeping track of the characters or events in the series itself, and the primary purpose of the book (apparently) was to lay-out these things. I should have borrowed it from the library or tried to find it used. I'll probably pass my copy on to someone else and never pick it up again.

#12 Deadlocked: Wow. I'll be honest: after everything that has happened in this series, I don't like the characters nearly as much as I did before. I guess I still like some of them, but their actions make it harder for me to root for anyone to survive or be happy. I guess this is good, since the series is almost over. It makes it easier for me to let go. I really feel like I've been watching a TV show rather than reading a series, which I guess is why it translates so well into the show True Blood (although they've changed it quite a bit for the show). Although I'm not as emotionally invested in the series since my disappointment in the characters, I've still enjoyed reading it, and I'm looking forward to reading the conclusion in May.

#13 Dead Ever After: I can't decide what to say about this book because it's the ending of such a long series. I won't say I'm disappointed, but I will say that this book felt anti-climactic to me. Harris does a good job pulling in a lot of loose threads from the old books. Unfortunately, she also pulls in some threads that I thought were tied and could have been left out. Without ruining it for anyone who doesn't know, I'll say this: Instead of taking care of random people I barely remembered, she could have spent a little more time settling things with the people I did. Harris uses her beloved signature writing style for this book, which still makes it worth the read, but it felt like she just put together a bunch of little ideas for ending the series, and the only way they connected was in having contact with Sookie at some point in the series.

Monday, June 17, 2013

P&P Challenge: Two Guys Read Jane Austen

This month for the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge, I read Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill. This book is composed of e-mails and letters exchanged between Chandler and Hill while reading Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, both by Jane Austen. They discuss their thoughts on the novels, what is happening in their own lives, and how everything we read and do affects us.

(cover designed by Cleone Lyvonne;
cover photos by Kathy Eimers and Jon Helgason)

First Impression: This is such a fun book! Chandler and Hill approach Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park with commentary rather than criticism. Their analyses are mingled with the application of ideas to their own lives and general thoughts on seemingly unrelated topics. I like the comfortable, laid-back feel of this book--just two long-time friends e-mailing and writing each other with discussions of the books they're both reading. Also, I find that I agree with a lot of their thoughts and ideas, probably more than I do with most women and people closer to me in age--what does that mean?

Conclusion: I love Two Guys Read Jane Austen! In college, I read quite a bit of literary criticism. This book has just as much value with a much more casual approach. Throughout the book, Chandler and Hill refer to experiences from their own lives and thoughts on other things they were reading at the time. They relate reality to the novels without pining after Elizabeth Bennet or Fanny Price, which I appreciate. (That's not to say they don't reflect on the romantic value of the characters, because they do.) And I love my fellow Austen readers, but let's face it, most of us are women, right? It's nice to get a different perspective on Austen from a man's eyes--and two men reading it for fun, nonetheless.

Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill provide a fresh and exciting perspective on an old favorite. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves Jane Austen and even to anyone who has their doubts about her--maybe it will change your mind!