Friday, November 13, 2009

Harry Potter - SPOILER ALERT

So, I recently went on a quick jaunt to London town, and when I got back I reread all 7 of the HP books, because I felt that I had a new appreciation for places like Kings Cross and Tottenham Court Road, etc.

In Book 7, there's a bit toward the end where Harry is entering Dumbledore's office to make use of the Pensieve, and he doesn't know what the password to get in is, but he blurts out "Dumbledore" and it works.

It just occurred to me what a genius password this was on Snape's part, because Deatheaters and Voldy would never guess it of Snape, but Order of the Phoenix might in desperation . . . very clever. Nice little detail.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Reading in Transit

I studied abroad in Vienna in the Spring of 2004. It was a wonderful experience, and it's not unusual for me to dream about my time there, especially January through May of each year. The NYT has an article today entitled "Reading Underground" which talks about the act of reading on the New York subways. In addition to just generally missing fast, clean, cheap mass transit in Europe, I miss the opportunity to read on trains. It's a great chunk of time to just devote to a book or magazine as the train does the driving for you. I hope I get to spend some quality time reading in transit soon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Catching Fire

Warning: the end of Catching Fire may cause you to obsess about your own mortality in an unhealthy way, because it would totally suck to never get to read the sequel. Which I now have to wait, what a year for? A YEAR. IT'S HARRY POTTER ALL OVER AGAIN. THE AGONY. YOU CAN TELL IT'S AGONY BECAUSE OF THE ALL CAPS OF PAIN.

So yeah. It rocked. It totally rocked. I want to insert a conjugation of the f word before rocked in the previous sentence but have not determined who I want my readership to be, so I'm holding back. But you get the idea. So so so good. Plot twist after plot twist - and I did not see them coming, and it was like riding a mental roller coaster, and it was amazing. After I read The Hunger Games, I read Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander series and honestly, I personally didn't like it much. After awhile it was sort of like The Red Badge of Courage, where you kind of want to main character to just go ahead and die, maybe by falling in a ravine, and stop the incessant boohooing and whining. Like yes, life sucks, yes, other people will try to use you for their gain, yadda yadda, this is why we need to teach great books young, you are not the first to be so treated and should sit down and eat your soup and shut up. (Wanted to put a different conjugation in that last sentence. You guess where!). Anyway.

The main character in The Hunger Games series (Trilogy? Tetrology? Did I just make that word up?) is not nearly as wonky as Gregor and I like her quite a bit. Katniss, despite her lame name, is pretty cool. And one thing that is similar to the Overlander series is that Collins' writes her main characters so that they're truly discovering things as we do - they're not all powerful and often not well-informed, and it makes the narrative very, very exciting. As mentioned above, both books in the Games series feel like riding a rollercoaster, only without the risk of a 12 year old vomiting on you.

This is perfect for someone who normally doesn't want to sit down and blast through a book (weirdos), and ideal for long plane rides, although it took me about 2 and a half hours - s0 maybe 4 hours of reading for most? You'll have to let me know.

5/5 Swallows for Catching Fire and the series thus far.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Coralie Bickford-Smith Penguin Classics: Or, Jizz in My Pants

So, I ought to start by explaining that this blog post title is a clever reference to an SNL digital short which you should see ASAP, but not with parents, in-laws, children, or people you've only known briefly. Also probably most Mormons, and some Catholics, although I bet that if they thought you were ok with the whole premise, they would be too. Just saying. Uptightness is relative to who is sitting next to you on the couch.

Anyway, after having seen this clever little video, I started using the phrase "jizz in my pants" to refer to anything really, really, amazing. I find it funny. Eg. "Did you see those white porcelain antler necklace trees at Anthropologie!?!" "OMG, yes! Jizz in my pants!" Note: I don't know if Anthro has such things, but they should probably get some.

So. This amazing illustrator and designer, Coralie Bickford-Smith (I am totally jealous of her name) has The. Most. Amazing. hardcover Penguin Classics coming out. Brighter minds than mine noticed this long ago, and Design*Sponge has fantastic pics up, which is how I found her work. Here are some more pictures from Penguin:

Oh my. You know, I don't actually have a copy of Pride and Prejudice. Well, other than the one I downloaded for free to my iPod Touch so that I could wallow in marvelousness whenever I felt like it. I'm just saying.

See? Insane. So, so pretty. Jizz in my pants. And, because she loves to tempt us, Cordelia Bickford-Smith is at it again. Yes, she is doing another set of Penguin Classics for Waterstone. Not going to lie, I want to sleep with them. Or, as one commenter on Design*Sponge put it "I want to rub these all over my face."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Naamah's Kiss

Yesterday I was delighted to discover that the latest novel in Jacqueline Carey's alternate world series was out. These books center around an alternate France with inhabitants descended from angels and the divine offspring of Christ's blood and the Earth - or something. I don't recall, but basiclaly it suffices as a good reason why Terre d'Ange is populated by such pretty and talented people. The first novel to come along, Kushiel's Dart, is still by far my favorite (five sparrows!), but Naamah's Kiss might be my second favorite! And since there are five other novels besides those two set in this world, that's saying something.

I picked up a copy yesterday afternoon, read for an hour, went to work, and came home and finished it in about two hours. Because let's be honest, folks, my brain is the reading equivalent of those people who can do funny math in their heads.

Anyway, I lurved it. I really really enjoy when Carey tells the story of a character's childhood, and since she's been writing in trilogies she's only gotten to do that once per character so far. My favorite story is still Phedre's from Kushiel's Dart, and that's where I would encourage readers to start; she goes into long and enticing explanations of how the country and world work, and who people are. A word of warning: I would not recommend these books for anyone younger than teens, and definitely not for the sexually squeamish. Especially the last two books in Phedre's trilogy, yeesh. Explicit? Quite. On the plus side, it is possible to follow the plot just fine while skipping over the sex scenes, although Carey writes well and has a great sense of humor, so I think you might as well read it all.

Back to Naamah's Kiss - it's a first person narrative told by an engaging, human, and funny narrator named Moirin. She has atrocious taste in men, which is my main objection to the book - if her love interests had been more appealing, I would have rated the book higher. I mean, honestly, after Joscelin and Sidonie you give me this, Jacqueline Carey? Joscelin first shows up in Kushiel's Dart, and Dear Reader, let me tell you, he is right up there next to Mr. Darcy and Edward Cullen in the List of Fictional Men Getting in the Way of my Real Love Life. To quote Rachel Ray, yum-o! The guys in this book? Not so much.

I won't reveal names so the plot can unfold properly, but let's just say I'm seriously disappointed that two people didn't just keel over and die at key points. One of the men is at least attractive, albeit a complete user, but the other one struck me, personally, as so uninteresting that I found the sex scenes with him boring and unlikely. The main character is all, "Oooo, he's so dreamy . . ." and I'm off in a corner scratching my head and going "No . . . really, no." And the way Carey leaves it, I'm going to have to deal with these guys for some time yet. Since a lot of the first book was about figuring out Moirin's destiny and who she loves, etc., the boys were not too much trouble. I'm a bit worried about how much they'll wander around banging into things and making messes in the sequel, though.

But, overall, Naamah's Kiss was a great deal of fun, funny and sweet and adventurous. Four sparrows!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

What do you get when you cross Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret with The Catcher in the Rye with Gossip Girls? E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks! Adolescent angst, problems with the way the world works, and an elite boarding school? Genius!

Allow me to just say - I am this girl. No, really. It's like Lockhart was inside my head when she wrote Frankie. I actually did the randomly sitting at the cool kid table to see what would happen thing in middle school! Really! It worked fine, they accepted me and dealt with it, but their conversation was terrifically boring, so I decamped back to my beloved geeks.

And oh - pranks. I know how to pull pranks. And I've always been astounded at how lame most pranks pulled are. Lockhart's reference list for this The Disreputable History includes a text by one Neil Steinburg entitled If at All Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks. I have got to get my hands on that book. She also has her main character, Frankie, reference SantaCon. Ah, glorious.

Furthermore, I know a bit more than I ought about certain tunnels in town, and I also know who has a master key. I'm just saying.

I think most girls know what it's like to be judged on their sweet little faces and figures and placed in a mental box with a bow on top. Generally whenever this is happening (with the exception of an impending speeding ticket, when I use it like mad) I find a very direct and polite way to indicate that I am not sweet or little, I am hell on wheels, and I will run you down, probably figuratively with my intellect, but an eighteen wheeler might be an option too.

Frankie is dealing with this same issue, but it's somewhat complicated by her adorable, rich, old money boyfriend and his adorable crew of friends. To be accepted and fake or to live up to your potential? Don't worry, Frankie chooses the right path.


I love Malcolm Gladwell. Maybe even really. I checked out his website, and he's pretty cute. Blink and The Tipping Point, his previous two books, are my go-to recs for pretty much anyone. He's very easy to read, has a smart but conversational style, and tells stories very, very well. I think he's especially fantastic on any kind of mass transit and a safe bet for "guys who don't read" aka the "undatable." Sorry, boys. But hey, you can replace me with a few hours spent with the scholarly but entertaining Mr. Gladwell, who as I mentioned above, is also quite the looker. In case you're interested.

Outliers is all about things that at first appear genuinely unusual (eg. sports stars, multimillionaires, successful law firms, first generation college goers, etc.) but that are actually not quite as unlikely as they seem. Gladwell's opening example deals with the months in which elite Canadian hockey players are most likely to have been born. Turns out being bigger then everyone else makes you look good when you're six, which gets you onto the advanced team, so you want to be just on the right side of the cutoff - in this case, January 1st. He explains this much better, so if I'm confusing you, go the matresses. In this case, the mattresses can be read as the library or the bookstore or your friend's bookshelf. If you don't recognize the original quote, watch The Godfather. Like now. If nothing else, the movie will make a lot of seeming non sequiturs make sense.

Reading Gladwell also makes a lot of apparently inscrutable things suddenly scrutable (this is a "neglected positive" and will be discussed in the review for The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and is really all P.G. Wodehouse's fault). Gladwell's careful and masterful blending of the technical and the human makes his books a joy to read.

5/5 Swallows

P.S. Please don't use "scrutable" in public, it's not a real word, and people will think you're an idiot.

If you liked Outliers, try Gladwell's other books, Levitt's Freakonomics, and Glibert's Stumbling on Happiness.