My poor poor neglected blog. This is ridiculous; here I am, reading even more than ever, thanks to my job as a teen librarian, yet I've been ignoring my blog which deals with reading and books that I find worthy to talk about. I've skipped the entire month of March! Pathetic, isn't it?
So...as an attempt to drum up motivation to write about books again on a more regular basis, I'm planning on listing the highlights that I've come across in the last two months and maybe it'll lead me back to my old formula of stringing together a book review and the witty personal story from my life that said book reminds me of.
1. Out of Sight, Out of Time, by Ally Carter: Ally Carter's newest Gallagher Girl novel. I reviewed the first four last year (go here, if you're interested). Excellent but tense fifth novel. Great use of unreliable narration and I love it that the story is getting more and more complex and darker as the main characters mature.
2. Pandemonium, Lauren Oliver: I've noticed theat oftentimes, trilogies can suffer from "Second Book Syndrome." The dread symptoms of "Second Book Syndrome" are: weak follow up after a strong first novel, too much time working on development of characters and not enough storytelling, and tiresome love triangles. I was less than impressed with Oliver's first book in this series, so I was not expecting much. Especially after looking at that atrocious cover--seriously, that girl looks like she's part lizard with all those green and brown plants around her. But I felt like it was my duty to finish what I started with, so when I picked up Pandemonium and I was pleasantly suprised at how much I liked it. The weak female character of book 1 morphs into a strong and independent heroine and the relationships take on a more realistic and deeper development.
3. The Spellman Files, Lisa Lutz: This is not a young adult novel, but I enjoyed it so much that I had to include it on this list. This is one FUN read about one seriously screwed up family of private investigators! And there are a lot of footnotes--which I love to distraction.
4. And two others that I'm saving for full reviews because I loved them so much that they deserve special acclaim on my blog!
I was expecting a longer list, but I guess I'm saving all my writing mojo for the next two reviews. Please channel motivation and good writing vibes in my direction; perhaps that will compel me write more often. I am NOT giving up this blog!
Rot Yo' Mind! 02/20/2012
"Oh shame, where is thy blush...."
(courtesy of ol' Willie Shakespeare, from Hamlet)
Whoops. I've just survived the first month of my new librarian position and I'm supremely happy to be surrounded by children's books, kids, and other like minded adults. And I've displaced this blog with my job, rather like what happens to a well-beloved dog/cat upon the birth of a new baby. I've even felt the accusing eyes of this blog burning holes in the back of my neck. Sorry! I think things might settle down more and I'll find the time to spread the word on the books I like to read.
Before I start talking about today's book/series, I'd like for you all to do something for me. Imagine a cake... I'll wait. *Twiddles thumbs, tries to whistle a tune (I can't whistle worth a damn)* Ok, what kind of cake is it?
Is it a confectionery and gustatory wonder expertly baked with the finest ingredients by a Parisian baker?
Or is it a saccharine sweet grocery store concoction made from a mix, designed to stain your mouth blue/green, and littered with a indiscriminate mixture of plastic toys and sprinkles?
Of course, one is better than the other. Clearly MOST people would prefer the first cake...
But haven't you ever wandered into an office break room, been at a little kid's birthday party, or been in a situation where a leftover birthday cake is in front of you, and being alone with your vices, cut yourself a big piece of violently buttercreamed delight and guiltily gulped it down? Anyone? I KNOW I'm not the only one.
(Sorry mom, I know you taught me better, but my inner teen can't help rebelling against all the healthy diet tenets you drilled into me from day one. Also, guess what... I eat Pringle chips every now and then. Confession is good for the soul...)
And so it is with books. Today's review for a series that is a giant honking grocery store sheet cake designed to rot your mind. It's a train-wreck so bad that you just CAN'T resist watching it develop: Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires series.
Yeesh! Anyway, these books came out just before the whole "vampires are hot" phenomenon became an established fad in pop culture, thanks to a certain overbearing angsty micromanaging vampire character that has made thousands of tweens and teens lose their head (coughcoughEdwardCullencoughcough).
These books feature the adventures of Claire Danvers, a student at Texas Prairie University, and her housemates in the vampire-controlled city of Morganville, Texas and that's just the tip of the iceberg... Stay with me here, it get confusing. This synopsis covers roughly the plots of ten books.
Claire Danvers starts off as a 16 year old super intelligent college student in Morganville. Her anxious helicopter-parenting mom and dad didn't want her to go too far from home to an Ivy League School, so they sent her to a college town that would be close to their Texas home, where she would be "safe." Little do they know (and well within the YA-land rules), Claire gets off to a rough start right away when she raises the hackles of the local Mean Girls group. After getting hurt from an altercation that would get any Mean Girl type expelled in real life, Claire decides the best thing to do is suffer quietly by not telling anyone and move out of her dorm.
(Ugh, why why why do so many YA books have their characters suffer from highly IMPLAUSIBLE conflicts and make them come with extremely unhelpful solution?????)
She finds an ad for a house of people looking for a roommate and immediately heads there to see if she can get in.
While house-hunting, Claire meets three outcasts: Super goth girl Eve, bad boy Shane, and boy scout angelic Michael who mysteriously disappears during daylight hours. Claire immediately falls for Shane's good looks and rebellious attitude, and becomes close friends to Eve and Michael. The quartet end up being friends and also protecting each other from the bad things that happen in the town of Morganville. Each character has a past--except for Claire who grew up in a good home OUTSIDE of Morganville. The Morganville natives, in order to survive and escape being killed or changed over to the dread vampirism sign contracts of "ownership" with powerful vamps to protect them--rather like paying the mob for "protection." Those who escape Morganville have their memories conveniently wiped so that they can't tell anyone what has happened once they leave.
Things really start getting really cray-cray for Claire when she uncovers the real truth of Morganville's vampire rule, and that her new boyfriend's father is a homicidal vampire hunter with a biker gang to back him up (Yes, you read that right).
Claire soon becomes deeply involved with Amelie, the ruler of Morganville, and ends up signing a "contract" with her for protection. Amelie definitely has different intentions for signing a contract with Claire. She doesn't just want blood once in a while, she wants Claire to be mentored by Myrnin, a brilliant scientist as well as deranged vampire who is on the verge of going totally insane if him and Claire can't figure out the cure to help him and keep the rest of the vamps from following down the same path.
Brain giving out yet? Mine too.
In a nutshell, the Morganville Vampire series is about Claire and her friends dealing with the ups and downs of living in Morganville, with relationships being put to the test, as well as their fears...and they all have one thing in common--staying alive long enough to live a normal everyday life.
So. Yes. My main problem with this series, aside from the terrible storyline that never seems to advance beyond a certain point, is Caine's writing style, the development of the characters and the rather aimless and extreme violence within the series. The storytelling is a bit too cluttered with "chatty" asides that could sorely benefit from the use of an editor's red pen. The characters within the series never emerge out of their typecasts. Shane is predictably macho and muscular, the mean girls are predictably pretty, rich, and blonde. Eve, as Claire's sidekick, is predictably quirky and bad-ass. And then, you have the villians and the havoc they wreck upon Morganville--you have sociopaths lurking around behind houses and mutter vaguely threatening threats, mean girls that push people down the stairs for no real reason. Just a big hot mess that you cannot resist. Somehow, I have worked my way through this series; I do not know why, or how, I have done so. Many many many times, I've thrown the book down in disgust and sworn to never read it again. But....
Have a slice?
Love of Quiche 01/17/2012
Boy, 2012 has had a slow start on this blog. My apologies. I will try to update things around here a little more often, but I'm NOT making it into a New Year's resolution because then it'll never happen. The next few weeks will be intense for me-- two words: NEW. JOB (Yippeeeeee! I'll finally be a Teen Services Librarian!)--need I say more?
But before I jump into full-fledged librarianship, let me launch into a book review:
There's movie out right now that's causing a ripple amongst school-aged kids, young at heart adults, graphic novel nuts, and serious, responsible, upstanding citizens with mortgages:
Well, I don't want to brag, but I've been a longtime fan of our intrepid boy hero/reporter since the early 1990's, way before Tintin was made available over on US grounds. And then, there's another pre-graphic novel era graphic novel that I really enjoyed--the Asterix and Obelix series by Uderzo and Goscinny:
Both the Tintin and Asterix series were published in Europe and have been long loved by millions of Continental youth--rightly so, because the humor and historical lessons aimed at the youngsters are clever, not at all condescending, and sophisticated enough to be enjoyed throughout the ages.
Anyway, American comics continually fell short for me, thanks to Tintin and Asterix setting my expectations so high. All that was available then were Marvel, DC, and the Sunday funnies (however, my fervent adoration of Calvin and Hobbes kept me in hope). I began to think that maybe "comic-strip" stories was just a European/Asian thing and the USA would forever be deprived of these literary gems.
But... all that changed in 1992, when my cool uncle Philip gave me a copy of Jeff Smith's Bone. At last, an American counterpart to rival Tintin and Asterix!
This is an excellent and sweeping series housed in nine books, drawn by Jeff Smith, centering around the adventures of the Bone cousins--bald, white cartoon caricatures. The story itself is on the lower end of scale of the Lord of Rings, but way way funnier and perfect for school-aged children. The Bone cousins are: avaricious and scheming Phoncible T. Bone, the perennially cheerful and rather goofy Smiley Bone, and (my favorite) the everyman Fone Bone. After crossing a desert, the cousins are separated by a sea of locusts. Fone Bone (our hero) finds a secret valley where he encounters weird weather, strange friends (a cow racing grandmother and a tiny green bug), frightening foes (homicidal rat creatures), and a strangely protective dragon that no one else can see.
What made this series so fantastic to me is pretty much what makes or breaks every story – the characters. The three Bone cousins are hopelessly flawed and incredibly endearing. They each have their own original stamp in the storyline and while their personalities are strong and original, they all at some point add humor, heart, and even a little heartache to the plot. The supporting cast is equally interesting and perhaps even more complex and enigmatic than the Bone cousins.
Jeff Smith does a superb job of blending humor and suspense. The first few volumes of the series certainly have a more lighthearted, humorous feel than the last few, however, even in the direst situations, there are some genuinely funny moments. Even the monsters pepper the story with humor, such as the two “stupid rat creatures” that let their prey escape because they’re too busy arguing over whether to serve them up in a quiche or a stew. Whether humorous or ominous, the dialogue is always sharp and clever.
Yet Another Best of 2011 List 12/28/2011
My blog turns one today! Happy birthday, dear Infinite Variety!
As you may have surmised, I'm an obsessive list maker. Always have been. I have a perpetual weekly "to-do" list in my appointment calendar that I strive to complete before the week's end. There's a grocery list that acts as a reminder of things we need to replenish stuck on our refrigerator. I also tend to make lists when I daydream--in fact, when I was seventeen, deeply embroiled in girlish dreams, I made a flowery list of attributes that I wanted "The One" to have.
It was along the lines of: "The perfect guy should be/have:
1. a good sense of humor
2. like to ride bikes
3. like to camp and travel to places
4. be progressive in politics
5. like reading Shakespeare
6. and on and on ad naseaum."
*Insert virtual eye roll* I was such a dork.
Funnily enough, the guy who wound up being "The One" a few years later fit all the the criteria and even used Shakespeare to ask me out for the first date. Smart guy..that's why I married him!
2011 is ending, and the "best of 2011" lists are beginning. So, I'm throwing my hat into the ring and compiling a list of books that made Infinite Variety's year, with 10 as "good...good", working my way up to 1 as ZOMG! I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH THAT I WANT IT TATTOOED ON MY FACE!!!! (Ahem...figuratively, of course!)
10. Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
_Get ready guys, 'cause when you pick up this book, you're in for a eccentric real literary experience. Part fantasy, part adventure, part eccentric photo collection, this is a story that will enthrall, enchant, and also baffle teens and adults. Read my review here: http://bit.ly/tJCXXA
9. Anna Dressed In Blood, by Kendare Blake
_This book seriously RAWKS! You have a great male hero who kills the dead, yet is half in love with death, an enigmatic and compelling ghostly character, and some truly hair-raising scenes that kept me up long after bedtime. Here's my review: http://bit.ly/pIgcY2
8. Cloudette, by Tom Lichtenheld
_Cloudette's immensely delightful and relatable story of her pursuit to greatness, coupled with Lichtenheld's cute illustrations, do the job in creating a wonderful parable on how everyone, despite their size, can find their purpose in the world. You can partake of my review here: http://bit.ly/qwoMbN
7. Where's Walrus, by Stephen Savage
_ Where's Walrus is a delightful wordless story of a bored walrus who manages to escape the zoo. With the zookeeper (who sports a great walrus mustache himself) in hot pursuit, the walrus tries on all sorts of disguises and hiding spots to evade capture. Read my review here: http://bit.ly/sWJmfS.
6. Divergent, by Veronica Roth
A real crowd pleaser with a great heroine and supporting cast. It has fight scenes, cliff diving, and a swoony hero that made me bat my eyelashes and head for my fainting couch. Also loved the exploration of how a human being can, and should, strive to be not only brave, but also selfless AND truthful AND peaceful AND intelligent, and how the of achievement of such virtues is a continual process that we all undergo. Review located here: http://bit.ly/o1ycRT_
5. The Mortal Instruments Series, by Cassandra Clare
I have one word for this series: WOW! It's a fantasy and one can see some similarities to pop culture fantasy/sci-fi shows all right, BUT, the storyline and characters have a punch, wit, edginess, and depth that separates it from all the books out seeped in fairy/zombie/demon/werewolf/angel/whatyouwill dust that clings to a lot of teen books these days. It's the kind of book people will either really really love or really really loathe, and I seem to fall in the former category. Read my review here: http://bit.ly/tQQWIG_
4. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan
The premise of the book is about two Will Graysons, both living in different suburbs of Chicago who start out not knowing each other and by a bizarre train of events find their lives colliding and overlapping and ultimately launching their lives into new and unpredictable directions. And, two words...TINY COOPER! The message of tolerance and acceptance of differences is displayed beautifully and had me all misty-eyed and laughing throughout the book and especially at the end. Review is in this here link: http://bit.ly/sh7O88_
3. Bumped, by Megan Cafferty
This book is a toughie, but I'm really rootin' for it. It really examines some hot button issues and manages to depict the genuine struggle many teen girls have to go through in order to define how they feel about their developing sexuality. Political message aside, McCafferty managed to create a story that was utterly tender, sweet and relationship-positive without any kind of Twilight-esque hijinks. Read my review here: http://bit.ly/mGgQNR__
2. Chaos Walking Trilogy, by Patrick Ness
I only reviewed the first book, but the next two were JUST as good... nay, BETTER, than the first one! Ness is one helluva of a storyteller; once you think you know how the plot might be going, he'll just take it by the straps and jerk it in another direction. I read this whole trilogy in state of breathlessness and suspense, dreading the worst every time and sometimes it happened, sometimes not. Nonetheless, there are some excellent comic scenes that unfold in story, namely due to Todd's dog Manchee, in all doggy glory. The characterization is tight, realistic and illuminating. The dialogue is conveyed in a country dialect that heightens the Wild West feel of this storyline. The whole time I was so wrapped up in suspense that I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. It's that good! Review is here: http://bit.ly/tRhPAy
Now we come to number one..... This was a really hard decision for me to make. I had so many choices and was attached to so many books that it took me a few days of mulling things over before I could really make up my mind. I picked this book because of the excellent story-- free from cliches and cynicism, and for the incandescent and rich writing style that left me aching at the beauty of its descriptions, the kick-ass characters that I took to immediately. Without further ado, let me present.....
1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor
_The world that Laini Taylor creates is intricate, bright, original, and it will stretch your imagination. The characters are layered with concealed motivations, and they’re heartbreaking and real. The love story is tragic and intense (and takes advantage of perhaps the only justifiable excuse for instalove). And the writing! Beautiful, emotional, lyrical, shattering…all those words don’t even begin to describe it. This woman can write. I wrote my review on this book earlier this week: http://bit.ly/sEXr8G
I declare 2011 a success! Onward with more books! So many things to read, so little time!
Resolutions and a Literary Spice Swirl 12/26/2011
Whoops! Christmas came and went without me updating. Sorry! I'm back now with some excellent book reviews for ya.
As I was cruising through my morning internet routine of Facebook, various news websites, and email, I noticed the phrase "New Year's Resolutions" being bandied about with an alarming frequency. You wanna know my experience with all that? Here's what happens:
1) I drink a huge cup of coffee right before I start generating my goals for the new year.
2) Since I'm a caffeine lightweight, I get all excited, overambitious, and unrealistic about what I can or can't do.
3) Two weeks later, my bright goals have faded into dreams deferred....
So, I simplify things. I just think of a word or a concept that I'd like for the new year to embody. The concept has to be vague and applicable to many areas of my life. Last year's was "Advance"--at this point last year, I was still job hunting, and there were a lot of things in my life that just needed to progress or be developed further. Twelve months later, I now have a job with benefits, a neat blog where I can rant and rave about books, a better understanding of PR (personal relations with others), and more developed dreams and aspirations.
Two weeks ago, I ran across this lovely quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
_And it occurred to me that I had 2012's concept right in front of me--"Challenge and Discovery"--challenging myself, daring to try new things, and being adventurous. The year to come will provide lots of opportunities for me where I will have to step outside of my comfort zone and be a more outgoing version of who I really am. So, once again, Eleanor Roosevelt nailed it on the head. So, challenge and discovery it is, I'm ready! I think......
Now, onward with the book review. Speaking of discovery; one of my favorite places in Austin is an amazing store called Uncommon Objects.
_ Uncommon Objects is a neat antique store that has all kinds of paraphernalia--basically providing one with the "raw objects for creative living." You need a collection of old pictures? They have a baskets full of them for .50 a piece! You need a tiki lamp from the fifties for your next luau? They got 'em! Or maybe you'd like a bust of an obscure author to grace your fireplace mantel? Uncommon Objects has them in spades!
_Going in there is like walking into Diagon Alley with Harry P. (which is one of my favorite parts in the whole Harry Potter series). You just nearly jump out of your skin in wonder and astonishment at all the interesting stuff happening around you. You can easily lose a few hours in Uncommon Objects in a blink of an eye while on a voyage of discovery.
I encountered the literary version of Uncommon Objects with Laini Taylor's transcendent Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Seriously, this book easily fits into the top ten best books I read in 2011.
The book's jacket teaser hints at the story way better than I could ever put it, so allow me to indulge in a rare cut n' paste:
AROUND THE WORLD, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth has grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
MEET KAROU. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands;” she speaks many languages — not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.
When one of the strangers — beautiful, haunted Akiva — fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?
--Credits to the book flap
Seriously guys, I loved everything about this book. The story (see teaser above), the characters (a blue haired heroine that was raised by kindly demons, a tortured angel, an idiotic ex-boyfriend, a petite and plucky sidekick), the setting (Prague, Morocco--two places to go on my "bucket list"), but most of all, Taylor's beautiful and lyrical writing style.
The world that Laini Taylor creates is intricate, bright, original, and it will stretch your imagination. The characters are layered with concealed motivations, and they’re heartbreaking and real. The love story is tragic and intense (and takes advantage of perhaps the only justifiable excuse for instalove). And the writing! Beautiful, emotional, lyrical, shattering…all those words don’t even begin to describe it. This woman can write.
But perhaps the most astonishing thing to me is this book’s complete dearth of cynicism. This book is all about love, peace, and the magic of hope.
”Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”
This is a book for the gods!
8...9...10! Ready or not, here I come!!!! 12/13/2011
Hide and Go Seek was THE game of my childhood. I was best friends with my cousin, who lived next door, and we spent hours and hours and hours running around all over the place, wedging ourselves into tight spaces and holding our breaths, while the seeker prowled furtively around looking for her next victim. I can still recall hiding way in the back of her walk-in closet, holding my breath, and hastily chancing a peek between the hanging clothes to seek if my cousin had found my hiding spot.
We were serious Hide n' Go Seek players; however, my cousin, who is double jointed and seriously part feline, had the art of hiding down to a science. Dark corners and spaces under the bed were too trite and mundane for my cousin; it had to be original, unlikely and a spot that I would never even dream of looking. You don't think that's possible? Ok, fine, beat this: she once hid in a basket of clean laundry, no joke.
When I found her (and it was hard for me to realize that the human sized lump in the laundry basket wasn't just another wad of clothing, but my cousin), the effect was so amazing that I ran and got my mom to show her. My mom promptly grabbed the camera and we still have the pictorial evidence of my cousin's amazing powers of hiding
_One of my favorite variations of Hide and Go Seek was a game we called "Murder in the Dark." Oh yeah. That was the heart attack inducing, adrenaline pumping, hard core version of the sweet innocent game of "go seek and ye will find." Here's what you do.
1. Get a group of kids on a sugar high; if their mouths are ringed with red dye or chocolate and their eyes are jittering in their sockets, even better!--We usually played this game after dessert and multiple glasses of sodas (soft drinks were a big no-no in my childhood, so I would usually hit the bottle hard whenever I had the chance) at family functions.
2. This game works the best when it's getting dark outside.
3. Find the master bedroom and make it completely dark. There should be no hint of light anywhere. If you need to, drag the blanket off the bed and hang it over the windows. If there's a master bathroom, close that door, 'cause it's not fair to hide in there--according to the ever-practical logic of nine year olds.
4. Designate one person to be the victim--usually the youngest and most sensitive kid in the group.
5. Everyone else scatters and hides in the dark dark dark room.
6. The poor victim, after counting to ten, must open the door, unprotected and completely vulnerable, and walk into the room full of wolves, lying in wait for their prey.
7. When the victim feels their way around the room and gets close to one of the hiders, then the hider, as the "murderer," is supposed to jump out and scare the person, which usually caused lots of screaming and yelling.
8. Everyone gets a turn to be the victim.
Caution: this game produces a lot of hyperactivity and has the potential to trash your parents' room.
So. much. fun.
So, on the theme of Hide n' Go Seek, today's book is the delightful Where's Walrus, by Stephen Savage.
Where's Walrus is a delightful wordless story of a bored walrus who manages to escape the zoo. With the zookeeper (who sports a great walrus mustache himself) in hot pursuit, the walrus tries on all sorts of disguises and hiding spots to evade capture. Each two-page spread highlights a different location – water fountain, storefront, restaurant, etc. Each time, Walrus humorously blends into the surroundings to evade capture. But when the zookeeper finally finds his escaped charge delighting an audience with amazing high-platform dives, Walrus returns to the zoo – this time as the featured attraction.
Honestly, wordless books are big risk-takers; they can either soar or flounder. Without the text to do the heavy lifting, the illustrations have to be substantial and aggressive enough to carry the story along. Stephen Savage takes the wordless book a step further and the effects are just amazing: he's known for his economical style of illustration that conveys complex ideas and emotion with simple lines and color. I also really dig the retro style of the drawings, as well, since it softens the hard lines of the minimalistic drawing style.
_I can see young kids enjoying this book. As I recall, books of the "seek and find" bent, like Where's Waldo and Walter Wick's I Spy Books, have always been immensely popular because it renders the act of reading to become a game. Savage's book feeds into that vein, but in a stylistic and cuddly way--and it will really delight kids and adults alike.
Most Wonderful. Most Strange. Most Peculiar. 12/07/2011
_Based on a true story with a few minor embellishments....
Once upon a time there was a young married couple skipping around Tartu, Estonia on their honeymoon. They had no worries, no cares, and were full of savoir-faire. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, the statues were smiling, and fountains were sparkling. After consulting a brochure on the delights of Tartu, they decided to go visit a Zoological Museum. The young couple, arm in arm, danced their way up a hill, not noticing that the buildings were getting darker, more grimmer, and that the gargoyles perched on the rooftops were eying their every move. They stopped in front of a huge ancient pink building with a sign that said Estonian Literature Museum. They went in, only to be stopped by an old lady wrapped up in a babushka, “Ah, you are going to the Zooloogia? Thank god it is not here! Are you sure you want to go to the Zooloogia????”
The happy couple chimed cheerfully in unison, “Oh yes, dear madam, oh yes! It’s our life’s dream to see the Zooloogia!"
The old woman sighed, “You have been warned. This is not the place you seek. The Zooloogia is next door in the yellow building.”
“Whoops! Our mistake!”
The guy and the girl cartwheeled out the door and walked into a dark, dank forbidding yellow building in which their every footstep echoed down the vast halls. The girl reached for the big heavy doors and walked in and emitted a series of bloodcurdling shrieks! The guy, who was in the bathroom, ran out, heart pounding, mind twisting in agony at the sound of his wife’s fear. He walked into a huge room, painted in institutional green, and stopped short in mighty horror. The room, stretching out as far as the eye could see was full of DEAD ANIMALS STUFFED INTO OBLIVION!
And his wife was nowhere to be found.
“Lela, where are you?” he burst out.
No answer. Not a sound.
He looked wildly around, but there was nothing except for the blank eyes and moth-eaten fur of the STUFFED ANIMALS.
All of sudden, a creak quietly broke the utter and eerie stillness. It came from a creaky ancient badger. Tom walked closer to the badger, wondering, fearing, dreaming dreams never dreamt before, looking up at the badger’s blank eyes.
Closer. Cloooooooooser. Even more clooooooooooser.
Before him, the badger slowly bent his head to look straight at Tom with an evil glint.
“Looking for your wife? You’ll never find her! In fact, you’ll never leave this place ever again Mwahahahaha!”
Pardon the bad story. All right, this account of our time at the Estonian Zoological Museum is pretty fictional. Two summers ago, my husband and I went on a three month trip to Europe. We spent some time in England, Italy and finished off our trip in Estonia, a small northeastern European country, to visit a relative there.
As you can see, we are alive and not eaten up by a stuffed badger, but what is true is that we DID go to a Zoological Museum, affiliated with Tartu University, one of main universities in Estonia. And it happened to spook the living bejesus out of me, hence the story. The "Zooloogia" (Estonian word for...you guessed it!...zoological) collection was actually quite old--some of the animal taxidermy specimens were more than 100 years old, before Soviet-rule. It was an old-school museum experience, where things are set up for you to look, rather than experience. The labels naming the animals were hand-written in both Russian and Estonian. They had specimens from each category of the animal kingdom from all around the world. Here is a glimpse of a few animals housed there….
It was quite the experience. Due to the age of these taxidermy art pieces, some of the animals were pretty dilapidated and falling apart. Some animals were submerged in an ancient chemical bath:
_The whole effect was rather disturbing and off-putting in a weird way. After a while, I noticed that I was starting to close my eyes rather than look at the poor animals behind the glass cases. To add to the surreal environment, the museum guard was a toothless and ancient old lady that looked like she hadn't left the building in sixty years, plus the walls of the building were painted in this sickly mental institute green that caused me to feel like the walls were closing me in. I had to leave and sit outside after about 30 minutes.
For some reason, I feel that this little account of seeing the Zoological Museum in Estonia is the perfect pairing for me to begin reviewing Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs.
Get ready guys, 'cause when you pick up this book, you're in for a eccentric real literary experience. Part fantasy, part adventure, part eccentric photo collection, this is a story that will enthrall, enchant, and also baffle teens and adults.
Jacob is the sixteen year old narrator, and he is intelligent, funny and perceptive. In the beginning of the story, we find that he was once very close to his secretive grandfather, who used to tell him fantastic tales of his youth, and the children's home where he grew up. These tales were accompanied by odd old photographs (these same photographs are included in the book, creating a rich visual element for the story itself). As a child, Jacob had fervently believed in the possibility of a magical life because of his grandfather and the tales he told. But as Jacob grows older, he stops believing in magic as his grandfather begins to age and show signs of senility.
However, his grandfather's terrible murder completely changes everything for Jacob. At the murder scene, he sees the shadow of something unbelievable, something that lends credence to his grandfather's stories. Of course, like all sensible and reasonable (aka BO-ring!) people, his parents and the police question his mental stability make him go through therapy, put him on anti-psychotic drugs, and generally dismiss Jacob's account of his father's death. As an attempt to help Jacob reconcile what is real from the fantastic, his father takes him to remote and mysterious Cairnholm Island off the coast of Wales--where the children's home of his grandfather's youth is located. Cairnholm Island is a remote island completely cut off from the modern world and the curtains fog seem to provide a tenuous barrier between the present and the past. In the center of all the fog, the old Home, with all its secrets, sits there....waiting....waiting...waiting for Jacob.
Hee. I don't think I could write a scary story, ala Stephen King, because I'd creep myself out and I would have to plumb into the dank depths of my imagination to try to come with the spooky effects. Anyway, this is one...wait for it...PECULIAR story. It starts off one way and just when you think you have a handle on how this story is going to unfold, it completely changes gears, winds up being a different story altogether. The book's schizophrenic nature may (and does) turn off some readers, but it charmed me, partly because it was so refreshing to read something original and quirky. I was definitely entertained and occupied a good few hours in reading this book, but I also felt that this book suffered from indecision, lack of focus, and was perhaps a little too ambitious on what it wanted to be. There were so many tangents, possibilities, characters, and special abilities/powers/paranormal occurrences all taking place at the same time that it really diluted the strength of story. In my opinion, it could have benefited from a better editor, a narrower scope, and less "busyness" within the story.
But.....buried underneath all its peculiarity, this book is a classic coming of age tale where the protagonist struggles to trust his instincts and allow the truth to unfold itself, partly because the truth itself is just too bizarre to be truly true. And I am a sucker for tales like that. In a way, this book reminded a bit of the famous Matrix quote: "You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
In Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the rabbit hole goes pretty deep indeed.
To be a human being is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for all the gifts of life.
--Native American Thanksgiving Address
Right now, the smell of sizzling sage and thyme is wafting through my house, acting as a wonderful reminder that my favorite holiday of the year has now arrived. I'm firmly Team Thanksgiving amidst the array of holidays that cluster around the year's end. There's nothing more enjoyable than busting out your cooking chops, spending time with your family and eating the delicious results of your efforts.
Last year, I had my traditional Thanksgiving cook-down with my family a few hours before my relatives arrived. For those of you that are not well acquainted with my family, it can be a terrifying sight to behold. The kitchen becomes a boxing ring with four cooks (me, my mother, my sister, and my father) darting back and forth, chopping, measuring, stirring, sauteing furiously. Piles of chopped vegetables, dirty bowls encrusted with batter, a full sink, bags of flour and a refrigerator teeming with food clutter the area.
And to make things even more complicated, we are ALL unrepentant kitchen-Nazis lobbying for the chief position of the master cook. It can get brutal; my mild-mannered cheerful disposition can transform from one being easy to get along with into someone you'd avoid at all costs. In fact, my husband hides in the living the room or goes upstairs for a nap whenever he senses my family circling for a cooking battle. (Smart guy, huh? That's why I married him--hee hee!)
For instance last year, my sister and I had a huge onion chopping debate that only ended when my mother and father shrilly reminded us that people were coming over in ONE HOUR!!! We'd been cooking for two hours already and the pressure to finish everything was ON. So the mood was already a bit contentious to say the least. Staci and I were cutting the onions for our cornbread stuffing. I was slicing the onions into rings and then chopping them up into neat little pea-sized cubes. She was haphazardly cutting the onions into huge chunks. We threw our onions into a bowl. I, being the library science detailed oriented person that I am, started taking Staci's onion pieces out and chopping them into smaller bits.
My sister, noticing what I was doing, said, "What are you doing??? We need to cook these onions and this is slowing us down!"
I replied, "The onions need to be cut smaller, plus they should be in uniform size so they can cook evenly."
Staci rolled her eyes at me and retorted, "Well, this is the way I cut my onions and I don't see anything wrong with having them this way."
Me: (getting annoyed at my sister's attitude) "For the sake of having everything cook well for THIS dish, we should have the onions all the same size. When you cook in your own kitchen, you can chop the onions however YOU want them. But today, this...," I take a onion chunk from the bowl and slowly and precisely cut it into perfect little onion squares, "...is how WE'RE going to do the onions."
Staci started huffing and puffing with unsuppressed annoyance and began taking out the onion chunks and throwing them down on the counter, "Gaaaah! You're too OCD, Lela!"
I, being unable to resist rubbing my "superior" knowledge of onion cooking further in, said, "Plus when you chop the onions really big, they sort of overpower the whole dish. If you eat something that has a lot of ingredients, and you are meant to taste the complex layers of flavor, big onion chunks will ruin that."
My father had been listening to us squabble over the onion chopping, chimed in bravely, "You know, Staci...Lela is actually right on that. Smaller onion pieces can be better in some dishes."
SCORE! Onion chopping-- Lela:1 Staci:0
I resumed onion chopping smugly, while Staci sulked. And so it goes.
Anyway, aside from showcasing your mad cooking skillz, Thanksgiving is also about taking stock of all that is good and wonderful in your life. Take that gratitude into your heart and let it warm you for a good long time.
Amongst the many many things that rock in my life, I am thankful for:
1. My awesome husband--for his great sense of humor and unfailing love.
2. My parents--for supporting and loving me since day one.
3. My sister--for her friendship and skill in onion chopping (sorry, I couldn't resist! She's actually a great cook.)
4. A good cup of tea--for being the elixir from heaven that gets me through everything. I drink tea for every reason under the sun.
5. My garden--for helping me comprehend how the complex webs life sustain and support each other whenever I put my hands in the earth.
6. Good books to read--for the hours of entertainment and flights of fancy they give me.
7. My running shoes--for being the vehicle to allow me the chance to hit the trails for life-enhancing exercise and relaxation.
8. The stars in the night sky--for showing little pinpoints of light in the darkness, which is a metaphorical reminder to keep in mind when life begins slinging lemons at you.
9. Chocolate--for the therapeutic flavonoids and endorphins that course through your body when ingesting it.
10. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, by Chief Jake Swamp, with its fabulous illustrations by Erwin Printup, Jr.--for expressing exactly and perfectly of the larger things I'm thankful for, amidst all the other smaller things that I hold dear.
This book is one special deal--Mohawk parents have traditionally taught their children to greet the morning with a Good Morning Message/Thanksgiving address. The message imparts the idea that the natural world is a precious and rare gift. Every aspect of nature--the waters, wind, plants, moon, rain, ancestors of past and present--are all addressed and acknowledged as forces to express peace and appreciation to. It really drives home the idea that we human beings are merely part of one great family and that all of the earth's inhabitants have a crucial and special role in the web of life.
The words of the Thanksgiving address, loosely translated by Chief Jake Swamp of the Mowhawk nation, are simple, heartfelt and really hit my heart, giving me profound gratitude for the world around me, along with gorgeous and striking illustrations by Cayuga/Tuscarora painter Erwin Printup, Jr.
Here's a sample of their work from two pages of the book to act as a teaser:
Thank you, good foods from Mother Earth, our life sustainers, for making us happy when we are hungry. Fruits and berries, we thank you for your color and sweetness. We are all thankful to good medicine herbs, for healing us when we are sick.
Thank you, all the animals in the world, for keeping our precious forests clean. All the trees in the world, we are thankful for the shade and warmth you give us. Thank you, all the birds in the world, for singing your beautiful songs for all to enjoy.
This book is a keeper, one that is worth going out to a bookstore and purchasing. I find this book appropriate and necessary for ALL ages and ALL mentalities.
I Will Be Livid If They Mess This Up! 11/14/2011
The Hunger Games is an awesome trilogy. I just wonder if it can be a good movie...
I'm Lela Ellison. I think about books way too much.