Fire is, in fact, catching: A Review of The Hunger Games Trilogy

Title: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Author: Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Dystopian

Where I Got It: Gift

Score: 5 out of 5

So, one of my best friends bought me The Hunger Games series boxset for Christmas, and because I didn’t have enough time to read it during the semester, I promised him that I would read it first thing when the summer started.  And I did.  I started the first book a couple weeks ago.  And I just finished Mockingjay (the 3rd book) last night, by which point I was seriously depressed, because the ending: Seriously depressing.

I thought, instead of doing separate reviews for each novel, I would do one review for the whole trilogy.  Partially because I think these books work best when you keep in mind the build up of the whole series, and partially because I simply don’t have the energy to write three separate reviews.  I will try my best not to give too much away, however: a) its hard to talk about a whole trilogy without at least spoiling parts of the first couple books, b) even if you haven’t read the book, you probably saw the movie, and c) I realize I’m seriously behind the curve and practically everyone else has read the books already, so it probably doesn’t matter much anyway.  In other words, yes, there will probably be spoilers.

Briefly: The Hunger Games is a YA dystopian about a girl named Katniss Everdeen, who in the first book volunteers for the Hunger Games (a brutal, televised bloodbath in which children are sacrificed for the entertainment of the Capital) in order to save her sister, and accidentally becomes a symbol of resistance to the government.  In the second book, Catching Fire, having survived the Hunger Games, Katniss is paraded around in attempt to calm the masses, and then is thrown into the Quarter Quell, which is essentially an uber-Hunger Games in which former winners are pitted against each other.  Finally, in the third book, Mockingjay, Katniss takes up an active role as the face of the resistance, as things get crazy and complicated.  In the midst of all the fighting, blood-letting, and political intrigue, there is a growing-up story (as Katniss tries to figure out who she is, what she wants, and what she believes in), and a love triangle.

Now, before I say anything, I would like to make it clear that I definitely enjoyed these books.  They were fun, (mostly) quick-paced reads.  That being said, I am a little baffled by some of the people I’ve heard talk about these books, or some of the comments I’ve read in various places online.  A lot of people rave about these books like they are the best thing ever, as if they are brilliant writing on par with some classic piece of literature like… I don’t know, Farewell to Arms or something.

Maybe I’m simply more critical than most people (I’m a PhD, so I can get away with that), but I’m sorry, these novels are NOT brilliant prose.  The prose itself is decent.  It’s clean, it’s simple, it keeps the focus on the story and does not get in its own way too often.  That’s the most that can be said for it.  But that’s OKAY.  Because I’m not reading a YA novel because I expect or even want beautiful, poetic, brilliant prose.  If I want that I’ll go read Rikki Ducornet or Margaret Atwood or something.  What I want from a YA novel is a fun, entertaining story, a quick plot, and likable (or at least relatable characters), and THAT The Hunger Games gave me, absolutely. Let’s just not pretend it’s the next great American classic or something like that, okay?

So, What I Liked: 

The story.  Now, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about how The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale.  And I’m not denying the similarities in theme and basic premise.  But the people who are angry and ranting about it (I could name names, but I won’t…) need to get over it and themselves.  The premises are similar, especially in the first book, but the basic premise also has similarities to Lord of the Flies, Ryan Gattis’ Kung Fu High School, a variety of Star Trek episodes, and of course reality television and ancient Roman gladiators (which Suzanne Collins cite as main influences).  Battle Royale can just as easily be seen to be a rip-off of Lord of the Flies and, as Stephen King once pointed out the similarity: the Survivors reality tv show.  The POINT is that all of them begin with a very common premise/theme that is a deep part of human culture, and go off into many different directions, with different end goals and messages in mind.

So yes, I liked the story.  I thought Collins took a common, oft-explored trope and made something interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining out of it.  The amount of thought that went into the world-building and the logic behind the government workings was impressive.  I think it was highly important that Collins made the resistance’s own possible corruption a part of the plot as well.  The love triangle sub-plot is not strictly necessary but is a common and accepted element of many (perhaps even MOST) YA novels that I just have to learn to deal with it.

And, of course, I loved the characters.  My friend who gave me the books prefaced the gift by telling me I would love the main character, Katniss Everdeen.  And I definitely like her.  She’s a complicated, strong-willed character who grows a lot throughout the series.  However, she’s not my favorite character.  Peeta, one of her two love interests, is by FAR my favorite character. BY FAR.

Now, let me make something clear: I like flawed characters.  I saw some complaint a while ago about how people don’t seem to like flawed female characters.  For me at least, that’s not true.  I like flawed female characters.  And Katniss is definitely flawed.  So flawed that it really started to frustrate me after awhile.  But not in a way that means I don’t like her as a character – her flaws are what drive the story, her flaws are necessary and fitting for both the story and character.  Her flaws did, however, often make me very frustrated with her as a PERSON.  There were many times I just wanted to SMACK HER.  HARD.

Peeta, on the other hand, though still flawed, was the real moral compass of the series.  The kindest, wisest, and most moral person in the whole series.  And I adored him for it.  Even though it got him screwed over several times over.

(A couple of my other favorite characters: Finnick and Johanna.)

Which brings me to, What I Didn’t Like: 

Starting with Gale, the other love interest in the triangle.  H really rubbed me the wrong way.  While he certainly had many good qualities, and Collins meant him to be likable (and he probably is to many others), I found him pushy and morally questionable.  He makes some very dubious moral choices.  And while Collins tries very hard to still make him sympathetic, to couch all these choices in the necessities of war and the understandable rage of recent loss, it was not enough for me.  I really REALLY disapproved of the character, and I don’t think Katniss (or Collins) does enough to demonstrate that Gale’s choices were WRONG and SHOULD be disapproved of.

In fact, Katniss’s inability to articulate the wrongness of many of the choices in the novels bothered me as well.  She often had a vague FEELING of their wrongness, but she could almost never actually say WHY they were wrong, or really confront anyone about them.  I get that its just one of those flaws in her character.  And I get that some people in real life often have trouble with things like that. But I feel that by the third book, after she’s been through SO MUCH, she would have be able to more clearly SEE what was wrong with some of things that are going on (and I’m trying very hard to be vague so as not to give too much away).  In her defense, she does rectify this in the end, but it still really bugged me.

(Also, Katniss’s mother really pissed me off. Like REALLY.  REALLY REALLY.)

Most of the other things I don’t like have to do with the writing itself.  For instance, at a number of places in all three books, Katniss is rendered unconscious or whatever and then when she awakens, both she and we as readers are gifted with an enormous info-dump, often with things that feel rather too deus ex machina for my liking.  This felt like lazy writing to me.  I feel that more of the info could and should have been incorporated into the action of the story, rather than as some kind of report giving to Katniss because she missed it all while she was sleeping.  On that same note, some times the descriptions of things often felt rather clunky to me, and I found myself skimming over whole sections of setting description without any problems or confusion later on.

AND all three books have excruciatingly slow beginnings.  Most “experts” will tell you that beginnings are IMPORTANT.  If you don’t hook someone quickly enough you could easily lose them completely.  Honestly, if I had just picked up The Hunger Games (the first book) in a store to skim through the first couple pages – without it’s having a reputation in the media or among readers, and without the recommendation from my friend – I probably would not have kept reading.  Obviously, I would have been missing out, because I did really enjoy the series after I got through the first few chapters of each book, but STILL.  When all three books have painfully slow openings, that’s a bit of a problem.

And then there’s the ending. Well, it’s not that I don’t like it exactly.  I mean, from an emotional standpoint, I DON’T like it; but from a narrative standpoint I think it’s appropriate.  I knew going in that with the subject matter and tone that there could not be a “happy” ending.  At least, not if Collins knew what she was doing.  A nice, everything-is-tied-in-bow, happily-ever-after ending would have been inappropriate, inauthentic, and an insult to the tone of the series as a whole.  STILL, the ending was DEPRESSING.  Good grief, was it depressing.  There was a war, of course there were going to be casualties, but some of the deaths surprised me, and some pissed me off, and some just did not seem necessary for the story.  I really do think the last really horrible death (if you’ve read it, you know which one I mean) was really only put there to resolve the love triangle, and I think that’s cheap.  In fact, now that I think about it more, I really DON’T like that part of the ending.  The rest of it, while depressing, was appropriate.  But that last important-character death felt like cheap writing to me, like it was the only way Collins could figure out to resolve who the hell Katniss would end up with – rather than letting it come out of the character development, she had to use a cheap plot device.

*deep breaths* Okay, I’m all right now.

In any case, while I definitely think there are some flaws in the writing, overall, I really enjoyed the series.  It was a blast to read, I was able to relate to many of the characters, and the story had a lot of interesting things to say about how and why governments function, the ability to humans to turn anything into entertainment, and become inured to violence, pain, depravity, etc.  It also says a lot about courage and duty and doing the right thing for the right reasons.

All in all, I highly recommend The Hunger Games – except, of course, that I’m probably the last person to actually get around to reading them so there’s no need for me to recommend them anyway. 😀

(Also, I apologize for the egregiously excessive use of capitalization in this post.)

Arrietty’s Secret is She’s Boring

So, I finally got around to seeing The Secret World of Arrietty, and as you may be able to guess from the title of this post, I was not less than impressed.

For those who aren’t in the know, The Secret World of Arrietty is a Japanese animated film, produced by Studio Ghibli, based on the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton, with a screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki (of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle fame), directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and distributed in the U.S. by Disney (as most of the Studio Ghibli films have been).

Now, I’ve never read the original book, which may or may not be a good thing in trying to evaluate this movie, so everything I say is based purely on the movie and Miyazaki’s adaptation, rather than the novel itself.  I’m going to skip an involved summary because I think most people know the basic story, but generally: it’s about Arrietty and her family, the tiny Borrowers who live in the floorboards of a house and “borrow” things they need to survive.

As always with Miyazaki, the animation was gorgeous.  Simply GORGEOUS.  He and his production crew have an amazing eye for color and detail and depth – every scene is lush and vivid and inviting, full of life and color and a strong feeling of nostalgia.  That has not changed with this movie.  I think I will always be impressed and awed by the art direction in all of Studio Ghibli’s movies, and nothing can change that.  For example, check these out:

The problem starts, for me, with the voice acting.  I have grown quite sick of Disney’s management of the Studio Ghibli films they bring to the U.S.  Their casting choices are often horrendous.  I hated most of the voice-acting in Ponyo, and I hated ALL of the voice-acting in Arrietty.  It was astoundingly bad.  Not only did they cast a couple annoying, talentless, Disney Channel “actors” (Bridgit Mendler and David Henrie) but even Carol Burnett (whom I usually adore) did an atrocious job.  And Will Arnett, who played Arrietty’s father, was so flat and lifeless I thought for sure they had actually hired a zombie version of him.

To make matters worse: the SINGING!  Normally, Joe Hisaishi composes the scores for Miyazaki’s films, but this time they hired a French songwriter/singer named Cecile Corbel.  I’ll say this, she is a good composer.  I liked the score, and the songs with lyrics had nice melodies.  Sadly, I don’t understand WHY she’s a popular singer, because her voice was so tinny, infantile, and cloying I wanted to throw up every time she started singing.  And she did at least three times through the course of the movie.  In comparison, Bridgit Mendler’s song during the credits was almost bearable.  ALMOST.

What’s really sad though, is that even if Disney had cast better voice-actors, and even if Cecile Corbel had found someone else to do the singing for her, it would not have been enough to save this movie.  The plot was, sadly, really REALLY BORING.  It was slow and dragging.  By the end of the first half-hour I was tempted to turn it off.  It lacked all the depth, liveliness, and touches of humor that Miyazaki’s films normally have.  And after  Ponyo (which was cute, but fairly forgettable) and THIS, I’m really beginning to worry that Miyazaki has lost his touch completely.

And if that’s true, it’s a sad sad day in cinema.

Old Town Charm in Brenham, Texas

About two hours north-west of Houston is the small town of Brenham, TX in Washington County.  According to the brochures and signs, Washington County is known as the “birthplace of Texas,” where the Texas government first formed.  There is an astonishing amount of history in the area, as well as an old plantation-turned-museum, and several vineyards, and two lavender farms.

But we (my mother, brother, and I) went to Washington County for one very good reason: ICE CREAM.  For Brenham, TX is the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream, a company that some people will not be familiar with (as it is regional and has not yet reached the coasts or the northern-most states), but if you live in the South or Midwest, you know the wonders of Blue Bell Ice Cream. And Brenham is where it began, and where it is still headquartered.

We’d heard that the Blue Bell creamery gave tours, and so during my mother’s short vacation we decided to make a day-trip of it.  The tour was a lot of fun.  Seeing the inside of a creamery, with the huge tanks of ice cream ingredients, the frozen-over pipes, the actual ice cream being cartooned and stored… It was all pretty cool.  But the best part was, of course, the free sample of ice cream at the end.  I got peaches n’ cream.  DELICIOUS.

Sadly, photography was not allowed inside the creamery (understandably), but here are a few photos from outside the creamery, where they have a beautiful little courtyard, and an ice cream delivery truck, circa 1920s that still runs and is occasionally taken out for a spin for carnivals and parades.

courtyard outside the Blue Bell Ice Cream Creamery

the founders of Blue Bell Ice Cream

the girl and cow that make up the logo on every carton of Blue Bell Ice Cream

my brother and I in front of the 1920s ice cream delivery truck

After we had finished the tour, however, we discovered that Brenham also has an historic main street district, with antique shops, cute cafes and restaurants, a couple bed and breakfasts, the Washington County Courthouse (which also meant lots and LOTS of lawyers offices), and the FIRST paved road in Texas.  So we had to go check out it.  My photography leaves much to be desired, but I still think the photos are better representative than any description would be, and so, and give you:

Brenham, TX!

Washington County Courthouse – I LOVE this building, seems somewhat Art Deco to me (though I’m definitely no expert)

We’ll DEFINITELY be going back. The antique shops alone made the trip well worth the gas.  And there are some more restaurants I want to try out.

‘Til next time, folks! Have a good day!

And Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Program

A Letter from Your Host:

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I saw you last!  I’ve been gone far too long, and for that apologize.  As my previous posts have made clear, this past semester nearly did me in.  I’m rather disappointed with myself, actually.  During the Fall semester I managed to keep mostly on top of my blogging despite my PhD study and teaching, but for some reason I just could not do it this semester.  In my defense, it has been universally agreed among my fellow English grad students at UH that this semester was especially heinous for some reason we can’t identify.  For some reason the workload, the time-crunch, the number of things going wrong, the stress, were all WAY worse than usual.  Bad juju. Gypsy curse.  Karma biting us in the ass.  I have no idea.

Anyway, the semester officially ended for me a week ago.  I wrapped up three papers (I got an A- on one which I am particularly bitter – an A- is grad work is about equivalent with a B-, maybe even a C, in undergrad work, and I know for a fact that the prof simply did not AGREE with my argument).  I graded an enormous stack of freshman papers, and turned in my grades to the department.

The same day I turned in my grades, my mother graduated, receiving an Master of Science degree in Technology Projects Management, with a focus in Future Studies (pictures of which I have been forbidden to put online because my mother is paranoid about the internet, despite – or because of – being a computer programmer/engineer).

That was two Fridays ago.

I have spent the last week wrapping up a last bit of work as part of the editing staff of University of Houston English Department’s literature journal Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature.  It’s our second year doing the journal, so we’re still getting the hang of things, but we’re pretty proud of it.  It is free and (as far as I know) you don’t need an account to view it, so please feel free to take a look.  It showcases the work of my fellow graduate students, and is affiliated with the graduate student conference I mentioned early in the semester.

I also spent the last week with my mother, who took a week off her day-job to celebrate graduating and get a little bit of a vacation.  We’ve been up to a lot this past week, and it’s too much to cover in one post so I’m spreading some of the fun out over the next few days to stretch my blogging-muscles and get back into the swing of things.

Besides spending a lot of money at the mall as a belated birthday present to myself (my birthday was May 6th, right in the middle of finals, so I didn’t have much chance to celebrate), there were several highlights: a trip to Brenham, TX where Blue Bell ice-cream is made, my mother’s birthday (which was May 18th), and seeing the Irish alternative rock band Snow Patrol in concert (but more on all of that tomorrow, and probably Wednesday).

I have a lot of plans for this summer that I’ll probably be sharing with you as well.  I intend to start revising Midnight’s Knife, the novel I wrote a first-draft of last summer.  I want to start practicing the piano again (I say this every summer, and I always do for a while before it falls away again).  my mother bought me a fantastic painter’s easel for my birthday and I’m going to start drawing (again) and painting (which will be a bit new, despite a little experience from high school).  I have an ENORMOUS stack of books I want to read (I started Hunger Games – FINALLY – on Friday afternoon, and finished it on Saturday night).  And I’ll be doing a bit of traveling as well.

On top of that, I am planning to sit down and build a new syllabus/curriculum for my freshman writing course, which will incorporate a lot of student-blogging.  I was not at all happy with my performance as a teacher this semester.  I mean, I was admittedly extremely busy with PhD stuff, and I still did okay by my students – I didn’t completely slack off or anything.  But I had much more trouble this semester staying on top of things, and keeping my students engaged.  I firmly believe that what I do is important, but that only remains true if I do a good job, put serious effort energy into it, and I did not do as good a job as I could have this semester.  That’s going to change in the Fall.

I also have some ideas for ways I want to change-up the blog.  And I’ll be frank, that’s not so much for the benefit of you, my readers, as it is for my benefit.  To keep myself moving, to keep myself interested, to find a focus or a rhythm or whatever that will work for me, and will hopefully make it possible for me to keep this up through the Fall semester when things have gone upside-down-wacko again.  I’m fiddling with some ideas/plans, and I’m waiting on one major component before these changes will begin to take shape.  But I’ll keep you in formed about that.

In the meantime, I hope I didn’t lose too many of you during my extended absence, and I hope I can keep you entertained over the summer at the very least.  I’ll see you tomorrow!

Sincerely,

Amanda

The Avengers KICKED ASS, and other films worth considering

Hi folks! I’m being a bad bad student… I should be working on a paper that’s due next monday, but instead I’m here.  But I just had to share a few things.  So give me a few minutes and then I’ll be out of your hair and back to work.

Thanks to my brother, who is a film production student and can get a hold of these things, I was able to go to an advanced screening of The Avengers last night.  The advanced ticket passes did not guarantee entrance, so we had to stand in line for 2 1/2 hrs, and the event was BADLY organized by the AMC people and the Disney reps.  So much so, that I was really REALLY beginning to regret going to thing as I finally sat down in the 2nd row of the theatre.  Half-way through the movie: I wasn’t regretting it anymore.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I want to take a few minutes to sing this movie’s praises.

First of all, The Avengers was visually STUNNING.  I saw it in 3D, which I’m not usually a big fan of, but this 3D was done very well.  They didn’t overdo it, and a few times I was actually impressed by the depth it added to the image.  The special effects were AMAZING.  And the fight scenes were AWESOME.  So well choreographed, so well done by the actors, stunt-men, and FX people, and for the most part very cleanly filmed.  You know how sometimes in movies the fight scenes get very blurry so you can’t quite tell what’s going on?  This is a problem in a lot of Christopher Nolan’s films, for instance, because of the way he shoots things: too close to the action, too many close-ups on faces and various body-parts, lots of zooming around with the camera, so you can’t tell who’s doing what.  This movie did that one or twice (every action movie does), but for the most part it was very easy to keep track of what was going on.

Second, the moment I first heard Joss Whedon would be directing and writing the screenplay, I was pretty much sold.  I knew he would do a good job, and I was SO right.  Whedon put his signature on this film.  Lots of little references (Galaga, for one), and, of course, really really snappy funny dialogue.  The dialogue was HILARIOUS.  And, thanks to good acting and good direction, the dialogue worked really well in the movie.

And that’s the third big thing: the actors were fantastic.  Of course, I already loved Robert Downey Jr, and Chris Evans had done a good job in Captain America so I was okay with him, but I was pretty skeptical about Mark Ruffalo – especially because Edward Norton had done such a wonderful job as The Hulk, and I was pissed that Marvel had kicked him off the project merely because they didn’t want to give him the credit he deserved.  But Mark Ruffalo did a good job, and made the character his own.  And everyone else was marvelous (hehe) as well.

The plot was fun and quick paced.  The ending was satisfying.  There was so drama, but lots and LOTS of laughter in the audience last night.  The dialogue seriously had the whole theatre in stitches.  People, you seriously need to see this movie.  It was absolutely FANTASTIC.

Okay, time to switch gears for a moment.  I’m still talking about films here, but these are two Kickstarter projects I would to give shout outs to.

For those who don’t know what Kickstarter is: it’s a crowdsource funding site.  People pots projects on Kickstarter in order to ask for pledges/donations, and offer various awards for different price levels.  You can donate as little as a dollar, but of course the more you donate the cooler the awards.  The thing is, Kickstarter puts a 30 day limit on all fundraising events, the project must indicate a minimum price goal, and if that goal is not met by the end of the 30 days, they don’t get ANY of the money pledged so far.

Both of the projects I’m talking about today are ending on May 6th.  They only have a couple days left, and they are SO close to meeting their goals, but are having trouble making that final push.  I have donated to both, and I REALLY want to see how they turn out, so here’s me hoping some of you will consider checking them out and donating something.

#1: Dust, a scifi/fantasy film by indie company Ember Labs.  Check out their fundraising video:

Check out their Kickstarter page for more info, and to donate.

#2: Even Though The Whole World is Burning, a documentary about American poet W.S. Merwin (who has won the Pulitzer twice, and is also a political and ecological activist).

I couldn’t get the embedded video to work for this one, so please check out their Kickstarter page to watch their fundraising video and get more info.

I hope you all will consider donating a few dollars.  I think these are both very worthy projects.  If you aren’t impressed after you see the videos, well… I worry for you. ^_^

Okay, folks, that’s everything.  Time for me to get back to the scramble through final papers.  See ya later! Thanks! 

Blog Tour: Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl

Hello all, I have crawled out of the grave I buried myself in because I promised months ago to do a review of this graphic novel, Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl, for its blog tour.  I thought for sure I would have a lull in my schedule by now, but alas, that has not been the case.  So this is going to a guerilla-blog.  A blog-and-run.  A ninja-post-in-the-night-and-vanish.

You get the picture…

Anyway, on to the review.

Title: Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl

Author: Kristin Alexandre

Illustrator: Tim Loepp

Genre: Historical Fiction/Graphic Novel

Where I Got It: ARC in exchange for honest review

Score: 3 out of 5

Summary:

Intense, passionate, and thrilling Nuncio is a romantic thriller series for anyone wanting a good read (or even perhaps a good television series). Come on this journey filled with drama and mystery. Nuncio is a romantic thriller based on the intense and passionate relationship between Ezra, a composer and the insightful and lustful gypsy girl Neci. This graphic novel series is narrated by the magical African Grey Parrot, Nuncio and takes place at the turn of the Century.

Neci, the young and willful gypsy, is willing to risk everything to fulfill her need to be with Ezra, the object of her affection. She feels a calling to protect Ezra from his love, Marlene, a beautiful pianist. We hear her mental wanderings and feel her pain as she struggles to make a place for herself in his world. She feels no connection to girls her own age and Ezra struggles to resist her allure. This drama and romantic thriller is based on real people and real events that take place between 1912-1960. Ezra interacts with Orville Wright, Charles Kettering and Elbert Hubbard, celebrities from the day.

What I am reviewing is the first volume of the series, in which we are introduced to Neci, Ezra, the many animals, including a dog, a snake, and Nuncio the parrot.  Neci is a gypsy girl with a group outside Dayton, Ohio, who has befriended the composer Ezra.  They’re friendship is sweet, and Ezra feels great affection for Neci, but Neci wants more and Ezra is afraid she is too young.  Instead, he ends his visit with the gypsies to return to Dayton, entertaining the great inventors of the day and also meeting Marlene, a quick-moving, manipulative, and Neci’s rival.  I won’t say anything more about the plot, except to say that the volume ends on the Lusitania.  Yeah, that Lusitania.

What I Liked:

I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story.  Using people like Orville Wright and Charles Kettering as characters was interesting and fun.  I also like the illustration for the most part.  They take some getting used to: they are very sketchy, almost unfinished-looking, and it’s difficult in the beginning to keep track of the characters because the faces start to look alike.  But the understated nature of the illustrations is often attractive as well, and by the end of the volume, I was really started to enjoy the art.

I also liked the idea of Neci, the gypsy girl.  She has a passionate, in-touch-with-the-earth kind of outlook on life that I appreciate and I love that she has a snake for a pet.  But she is underdeveloped – it’s not really clear why exactly she is in love with Ezra, and she has very few other personality traits other than the fact that she is desperately in love with him and painfully jealous of Marlene.  Which leads me to…

What I Didn’t Like:

First of all, all the characters were a little underdeveloped.  Obviously, this is the first volume, so there is still room for plenty of development.  But you have to be very careful with these kinds of things to get the reader hooked on the first volume, get them to care about the characters quickly, or you run the risk of the reader deciding not to buy anymore.  After all, a graphic novel series is a big investment in both time and money, and readers want to know the investment is going to worth right from the get-go.  But, back to the characters, both Neci and Ezra had some interest, but definitely could have been stronger faster.  Though, actually, Ezra has a little more personality than even Neci does, if you ask me.  Where Neci seems to be defined only be her love for Ezra, Ezra has several things going for him: he is affectionate with Neci, but also seems to be in love with Marlene, he’s passionate about his music, loves animals, and is inspired by all the inventors he associated with.

As for Marlene: she was a cypher for me.  She is introduced, and its obvious that she’s Neci’s rival and that she moves quickly in her relationship with Ezra.  But when Neci learns about Marlene, Neci freaks out and rants about how Ezra can’t see how horrible Marlene is, etc etc etc.  Now, jealousy is one thing, but there seemed no reason to me to assume that Marlene was some kind of evil conniving bitch – she just happened to catch Ezra’s interest.  Yet both Neci, and the narrative, seemed to want me to think Marlene was up to no good.  And when Marlene finally does do something that is “up to no good,” I think the narrative wants me to see it coming – but honestly, I didn’t think anything in her character before that really foreshadowing anything half so horrible.

Lastly, I had a problem with the dialogue.  It was often very stilted and awkward.  There was a lot of unnatural info-dump with characters saying things to each other that they obviously should and do know, and which is being said merely for the reader’s sake.  Things like: “I love that fox TwoBucks. What a devoted creature, and who would have guessed that he would play so well with Theda, my Dog,” when it’s obvious that all the characters know who “TwoBucks” and “Theda” are.  This is a problem not only at the very beginning of the story, when readers understandably need some intro.  The dialogue is awkward throughout.

As you can see, the things I didn’t like slightly outweigh the things I did like.  However, the first volume ended on a cliffhanger, and I do see some potential, so I will probably give the second volume a try.  I’m hoping some improvements will be made, and I’m curious enough to see what happens next, so we’ll see how it goes.

In other words, it’s not high on my list of recommendations, but it might be worth a shot if you like historical fiction and graphic novels, and are willing to overlook some problems in order to give a new writer and new story a fair chance.

For those who are interested, you can also check out this book trailer for Nuncio and the Gypsy Girl.

Also, the book is only being released today (April 16th) and I will provide links for purchasing as they are released.

Because I Do Not Hope…

I’ve been thinking about this poem a lot lately… T.S. Eliot is one of my all-time favorite poets.  And, while I love The Waste Land, my favorites poems by him are “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “Ash Wednesday.”

It’s “Ash Wednesday” that has been on my mind so much recently.  I can’t pinpoint exactly why, though have a few ideas on it that I won’t be sharing here.  In any case, the words are ringing in my ears and vibrating between my ribs.

(EDIT: …and apparently today is World Poetry Day, which I’m embarrassed to admit I did not know.  But I’m also highly amused that I managed to post a poem on World Poetry Day despite the fact that I DIDN’T know it.  So… Happy World Poetry Day!)

“Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jagged, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

IV

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Kind Blogger Friends Make for a Good Week

Over the last couple weeks, I have received a number of awards and prizes from a variety of wonderful bloggers, and I wanted to make sure to thank them all.  So let’s go through these:

Jill from The Cinquecento Project awarded me the Liebster Blog Award, coming from the German word “lieb” meaning “dear,” “good,” or “kind.”  Thank you so much, Jill!

The Liebster Blog Award is for bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. It is a peer award, bestowed by a blogger who recognizes worthwhile content when she reads it, or when he follows it.  I actually have more than 200 followers by now, but Jill was kind enough to give me the award so I will do my best to spread the love.  The hard part will be finding bloggers among my favorites who have fewer than 200 followers.  Actually, half the time I can’t even FIND how many followers they have, so I’m just gonna have to go with the blogs I love.

The rules of this award are simple:

1) Copy and paste the award onto your blog

2) Thank the person who gave you the award and link to their blog

3) Choose five other bloggers to give the award to, post them here and let them know via their comments

4) By spreading the love, hope that readers/other bloggers will “pay it forward”

And so, I would like to spread the love to the follow blogs:

Jess Witkin’s The Happiness Project: Jess is always cheerful and supportive, her blog posts are fun, and she always has something interesting to say.

The Bibliophile’s Corner by Ashley Prince: Ashley posts fantastic book reviews, great top 10 lists, and she’s participating in an INSANE number of reading challenges this year.

Elisa Knuckle’s blog: Elisa blogs about a variety of fun things that come up in her life, and she’s working on a few different writing projects.  She always leaves kind and enthusiastic comments, and also kindly awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award (which I’ll get to in just a minute).

Marcy Kennedy and Lisa Hall-Wilson, the Girls with Pens: These two lovely ladies offer up great advice for writers of all kinds, and are enormously supportive as well.  I simply love their useful posts.

Lucid Dreams and Saturn Skies by Andrew Kincaid: Andrew’s blog is the home of all things creepy and scary, with posts about horror books and movies, creepy paranormal tales, and links to his own short stories.  Also, the blog title is just cool.

There are some more blogs I could come up with, but they have already received the Liebster Blog Award (a few of them several times), so I’ll just leave it at this.

Next, (as I mentioned) Elisa Knuckle awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award.  Thank you very much, Elisa!  (Go check out her blog, folks!)   The rules of this award are that you must post 7 facts about yourself, and send the award along to other bloggers.  However, as I have already received the Versatile Blogger Award twice before, and I have sent it along to as many bloggers as I could possibly think of, I will simple give you 7 more facts about myself, and move on.

7 Facts:

1)     I am absolutely mind-numbingly terrified of spiders.  Seriously, I can’t look at them on tv, when I see one at home and I can’t even get close enough to it to kill it, I have nightmares about them.  *shudder*  I just can’t handle them!

2)     I LOVE roller coasters.  I’m obsessed with them.  They are AMAZING.  One of my goals into ride ever roller coaster in the United States.

3)     I have read the book Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede AT LEAST 50 times.  Possibly more.  That book and Pride and Prejudice are my two biggest comfort books.  Whenever I get really depressed, I read Mairelon the Magician.  Whenever I finish reading a really heavy, intense, involved book or series, I read Mairelon the Magician to “clean my palette,” so to speak.  Every summer, I take a couple days to re-read Mairelon the Magician.  See a pattern here?  Yeah, I’m obsessed… I know it.

4)     I’m an anime geek.  I don’t watch quite as much anime or read as manga as I did in high school and during my undergrad, but I will always love them.  I have spent more money than I care to admit on anime, manga, posters, t-shirts, figurines, etc.

5)     I have four cats and a dog.  Well, technically the dog and one of the cats belong to my brother, but we all live in the same house, and they all keep my on my toes.  It is NOT easy to take care of four cats, especially since 1 of them is 15 yrs old (he’s my old man and my baby all wrapped up in one), one is a coward, and the other two DON’T get along.  Also, the dog’s an idiot…

6)     I buy WAY too much clothing.  Yes, I am one of those women who just can’t stop buying clothes.  I’m not as bad as my aunt (take my word for it), and I only buy what I can actually afford (without credit cards, I might add), but I still have more than will fit in my rather large closet.  It’s a problem. *sigh*

7)     One of my biggest guilty pleasures is watching all the HGTV interior designs shows AND Say Yes to the Dress on TLC.  I love interior design, architecture, color designs, etc.  Someday, I really want to design and decorate my own house (though that isn’t likely to happen).  And as for Say Yes to the Dress… well, it’s just addictive.

Lastly, I’ve won a couple different prizes recently.  First, on The Happiness Project, Jess Witkin’s ran a contest for predicting the Academy Awards a couple weekends ago.  I got the most right, and won some movie-related prizes.  And, as part of the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge that Emlyn Chand is hosting, I won the February random comment prize, and won an amazon gift card and a signed copy of Emlyn Chand’s excellent YA novel Farsighted.

Okay, I think that brings me up to date!  The semester is still keeping me crazy-busy, but next week is spring break, so hopefully I’ll have some free time on my hands to post a couple times.

Until then, take care everyone!

My First Scathing Review: The Priest and the Peaches

My First Scathing Review: The Priest and the Peaches

So, here’s the next book for the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge.  It just came out in December, but I’d planned to read it over Winter break, and just now got around to it.  Boy, do I regret that…

Title: The Priest and the Peaches

Author: Larry Peterson

Release Date: December 2011

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Publisher: Tribute Books

Where I Got It: received an ebook copy from publisher in exchange for honest review

Score: 1 out of 5

The Priest and the Peaches has a premise with potential: set in the Bronx in the mid-1960s, in the story of five orphaned children who try to pick up the pieces after their alcoholic father dies (3 years after their mother and grandmother had died), leaving them with almost no one to turn to.  Except the local priest.   Throughout, the children see various “signs” that they take to be messages from their father, reminding them how he wants them to live their lives, with the basic motto of L-Y-N: “Love Your Neighbor.”  In the meantime, they must deal with pushy relatives, and busy-bodies who think the younger children should be split up and put into foster care.

This book tries to convey an uplifting message of hope and love and sticking-together-through-thick-and-thin, and all that fun stuff.  It is also heavily influenced by Catholicism (not a problem in and of itself as I am, myself, Catholic).

But.

But.  I couldn’t finish this book.  I couldn’t do it.  I got about 1/3 of the way through by sheer will power, having wanted to give up after the 3 chapter.  I don’t believe this has ever happened to me before, and I feel bad about it, but I honestly could not get through this book.  And I’ve been trying to for THREE WEEKS.  It is simply badly and amateurishly written.

There are many problems with this book.  The writing is stilted and clumsy, with awkward (sometimes flat-out incorrect) use of punctuation, that makes it difficult to decipher a sentence.  The dialogue is extremely awkward.  In several places it was just bad, and wholly unbelievable.  There is far too much head-hopping: in just the first few pages (and I mean pages on my Kindle, not even book-sized pages), we get a look inside Joanie, Teddy, Dancer, and a random doctor.  By the end of the 3rd chapter we’ve also jumped into Sarah’s head, Scratch’s head, and the Priest’s head.  I wanted to shake the author and tell him to PICK a perspective and STICK with it!  There was also a lot of really bad attempts of humor that were so forced and so NOT-funny, that I physically cringed on several occasions.

Worse yet, and by far the most annoying part, was the amount of info-dumping.  In Chapter 6 I made a note to myself: “oh look, info dump number 1 million!”  Obviously, a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  This book comes down to a series of badly-written info-dumps broken up with bits of badly-written dialogue.  I’m sorry, but I’m not kidding.  Rather than letting the characters grow, letting the readers slip into the world like slipping into a pool, the author simply keeps dumping buckets of water over ours heads: Look, here’s the entire life history of this character!  A couple pages later: look, here’s the entire life history of THIS character and this one isn’t even a main character, he’s a walk-on, walk-off drunk the dead father knew from a bar, but I’m going to tell you his whole life story anyway!  On and on and on.

On top of that, the narration telegraphs all over the place where the reader should be getting a message, or what should be foreshadowing, or “look, this is an ironic tie-in!” with things like: “they were about to find out how much they did not know…” and “little did they know that…” and “he would come to regret that choice in time…”  And these things are ALL OVER THE PLACE.

I kept going, hoping it would get better.  Hoping it would pick up.  Hoping the plot and/or characters would be interesting enough to keep me going.  But no.  A little over a third of the way through, and barely anything of note has happened, the characters are still just as flat and obvious as they were on the first page (the eldest brother who takes charge, the eldest sister who’s been playing mother for the last three years, etc, etc, etc).  I’m sorry, but if you’re a third of the way through a book and nothing has happened (excepting the father’s death right at the very beginning), well, then you’ve got a problem.

I tried, folks, I REALLY TRIED to give this book a chance.  I hate giving scathing reviews, and this is actually the first time I’ve had to do it, but I HAD to do it.  To be honest with myself, with the author, and with all of you, my readers who might have lynched me if I’d sugar-coated this review, and you went out and read the book and hated me for it.

So, in a nutshell, save yourself some pain and frustration, and don’t read this book.  If you’d rather see for yourself, you can find the book on Goodreads.

Nightmares and Beasts for Children

The 2012 “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge: February Edition

Hello all! It’s been a while since the last time I posted anything on the blog. I’m sorry I’ve been so absent, but I’m seriously drowning in work right now. BUT, I decided to give myself a bit of a break today. I’ve caught up on a tv show a started watching a few weeks ago, called Lost Girl (totally fun show, by the way), and I made myself an enormous sub sandwich for lunch, and now I’m taking the time to write a couple blog posts.

For today, I have two more books for the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge.  Like last time, they are picture books (they’re short and quick to read in what little spare time I have, and I just love them).

Fore info on the Challenge, see Emlyn Chand’s post: “The Books That Made Me Love Reading Challenge.”

For January’s edition, see “How Alexander and Garfield’s Terrible Days Made Me a Writer.”

First, There’s a Nightmare in My Closet, written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer:

Let’s be honest: EVERYTHING Mercer Mayer does is completely awesome. I love every picture book he has ever done.  But I think this one might be my favorite.  My mother read it to me so many times when I was growing up, I could probably STILL recite most of it.  This book, about a boy who decides to confront the scary monster in his closet only to discover it’s as scared as he is, is so easy for children to relate to, and so adorably illustrated, how could you HELP but love it?

The funny thing is, I don’t remember EVER being afraid of monsters in my closet or under my bed.  Maybe it’s because my mother read it to me at a young enough age that I learned that monsters were scared of me before I was even old enough to be scared of them first?  I have no idea.  I was, admittedly, always scared of the possibility of things being right outside my window (and still am, quite frankly), the whole monster-under-the-bed (or in the closet or basement) thing never really occurred to me.  *shrug*

I just sat down to read this book again (I bought a copy at Barnes & Noble recently expressly for this purpose, as my mother’s original copy was destroyed in a flood, like many of our books, a few years ago), and it’s as wonderful as I remember it.  I like to think that this book has helped many children learn to not be afraid at night over the years.  It’s hard to tell how much a book really helps with things like that.  Maybe it’s more about how the parents deal with such situations.  But it’s still nice to think books like this help.  In any case, this book still makes me smile.

With pictures like this, is it any wonder?

For the curious, Mercer Mayer also wrote There’s An Alligator Under My Bed, and There’s Something in the Attic, which are along the same vein, and both equally adorable.

Second, Beauty and the Beast, retold and illustrated by Jan Brett:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love fairy tales.  I’ve read many, many versions of Beauty and the Beast (and seen many film and tv versions as well), but Jan Brett’s rendition is still one of my favorites.  Brett was mainly inspired by the version of the tale as told by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, which was published in 1910.  The story itself doesn’t change too much from the version most people are familiar with (merchant cuts a rose from the beast’s garden and Beauty goes back in his place, etc etc etc).  What really makes this version so special are the illustrations.

For me, a picture book is ALL about the illustrations (it’s a PICTURE book for cryin’ out loud!).  Obviously, the story should be good or cute or easy for kids to relate to, but I will not by a picture book that doesn’t have outstanding art.  And this one (like everything Jan Brett does) has it.

Don’t believe me? Here:

Picture books like this, with detailed, luscious, colorful, elegant, BEAUTIFUL art, opens my mind up to joy and wonder and possibility just as much as a story does.  A good picture book reminds me of the wonders and beauties of the world, of people, of imagination.  This picture book (as well as many others) is the reason I really wish my artistic skills were more up-to-par.  I really want to write and illustrate a picture book someday.  My drawing skills are… okay… but not great, and finding the time to improve (on top of the million-and-one other things I do) has proven difficult.  I’ll probably have to cave in and collaborate with an artist if I ever want to get that picture book idea off the ground.

But I guess we’ll see.

So, there a couple more of my favorite children’s picture books.  There’s plenty more where that came from, but I think these are the last ones I’ll do for the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge.  Maybe I’ll get around to sharing more from my picture book collection one of these days.  In the mean time, which picture books do you still love?