Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Want on a Deserted Island

toptentuesday

The Topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Characters I’d Want On a Deserted Island.

Katniss Everdeen- Duh

Seregil of Rhiminee- For eyecandy and amusement, sure, but he’s also quite the smart and resourceful character

Alec of Rhiminee- For the mad hunting skills, and also because he’s Alec. (Trust me, it’s reason enough)

Daine Sarrasri- She can speak with animals, so I figure that oughta be a valuable skill when stuck on an island

Tyrion Lannister- Just make sure there’s lots and lots of wine

Gandalf- A wizard would be helpful

Lisbeth Salander- badassest of badasses

Carrot Ironfoundersson- I haven’t read a Discworld book in years, but I remember being quite fond of Carrot, and he seems like he’d be good to have in a crisis. (I’m really reaching for this list, guys)

Sieh- Probably my favorite fictional trickster god

Cassie Maddox- That girl is messed up, but something about her truly charms me and I think she’d be good company

Whew. That was surprisingly difficult. Who’s on your list?

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Other Media

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Movies/TV shows.

I’m a total TV junkie, especially since the “TV Renaissance” of the last decade or so, where original programming on cable exploded. TV is consantly finding new and exciting ways to tell stories. I’ve started getting interested in things I never would have thought, like cinematography and costuming, because of the way stories are told through those mediums and not just through the actors and their lines. Every show I’m going to talk about had its flaws, sometimes spectacularly so, but on the whole they tell deep, layered stories about character and place.

The Oh-So-Serious Stuff

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Mad Men- Mad Men was the first show I watched on dvd, the first show I binge watched. I’ve seen it compared to great short story collections like the stories of John Cheever, and I have to agree. Each episode can be highly self-contained, and it can be hard to see the overarching narrative, until suddenly the season ends and it all comes into focus. It frequently appears to be a show where “nothing happens,” and yet so much is happening. And Peggy Olson is my spirit animal, so…

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Breaking Bad- The most beautifully shot, written, acted drama ever. I will brook no arguments. Also, and always, JESSE.

Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica- I never thought I would like BSG. I don’t really go in for hard scifi, and when they tried to go all mystical it really went off the rails. But the strength of this show is the amazing characters. The extremity of the premise helped strip characters to their essential elements and then play off each other. Also, Bear McCreary’s score is consistently amazing (I’d never even paid attention to the score of a TV show before I saw BSG).

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Orphan Black- I have yet to see season 2 because of life, the universe, and everything (everything in this case being the lack of BBC America) so please please please, I beg you, no spoilers. But Orphan Black has got to be the best scifi thriller I have ever seen on television. Tatiana Maslany is a godess.

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The Americans- Still working on finishing season 2, again because of life. But I adore The Americans. It doesn’t play dumb to its audience–half the time, its even subtitled. I love that it skews and reverses gender expectations (Elizabeth is most often the “hard” character while Phillip seems to more actively struggle with moral decisions and even comes across as more feminine) And there are a ton, a ton of amazing female characters of different shapes and sizes and stripes. Yes, they often have to use traditional objectification of their bodies to get what they want, but this is a show that examines why women are forced to play the honeypot, rather than just showing them doing so.

Just for Fun

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Sleepy Hollow- Sleepy Hollow was my favorite thing ever last year, and I can’t wait for it to come back. It’s cheesy as hell, but it acknowledges that cheesiness in refreshing ways, and I’m just lapping it up. Ichabod Crane is sex on two legs, the cast is incredibly diverse for a network show, the leads have awesome chemistry (that I hope never, ever, ever turns romantic because I love platonic soulmates, sorry not sorry) and to top it all off, it’s filmed just down the road from where I live (well, within a few hundred miles anyway).

Adventure-Time

Adventure Time- Yes, an 11 minute children’s cartoon is one of my favorite things ever. I first started watching Adventure Time because I loved the way they played around with language. They have their own sort of lexicon that is fluid and fascinating. Finn, the main character, actually grows and changes over the course of the series, which is unusual in cartoons like this. And again with the multiple, diverse female roles. Most of the female characters are “princesses,” but princesses here are gloriously diverse, non-Disneyfied people. Seriously, if you scoff at the idea of cartoons, try episodes like “The Hard Easy,” “Princess Cookie,” “Memory of a Memory,” “Hug Wolf,” “Princess Monster Wife,” “I Remember You,” or “The Vault,” some episodes that I think showcase how innovative, genrebending, funny, and deeply moving this show can be.

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Game of Thrones- Game of Thrones, you are a hot mess. And I love you. No other show out there gets so much right while simultaneously getting so much wrong omg.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer- BtVS (how ya like that? Going old school 90s on ya.) was my first ever favorite TV show, and so it will be my last ever favorite TV show. It…has not aged well. And the post-high school years already made me groan more than they made me cheer even when they were airing. But so much of what I love is reflected in BtVS, and it’s been a huge part of my cultural makeup since I was 12 years old, so its pretty engrained in my DNA.

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When Books Break The Rules

16061734I’m a pretty orderly person. Some might even say obsessive compulsive. I like my routines, I like lists, I like life to follow logical patterns. This way of functioning applies to the way I read as much as anything else in my life. I keep lists. I have to read books in a certain, set order. I can generally only read one book at a time–or, at the most, one book of fiction and one book of nonfiction. I have trouble DNFing, even when I think a book is atrocious. And when it comes to the structure of books, how they are written, there are certain stylistic elements I absolutely despise. There are rules. And if you break those rules, I’m going to hate your book.

Except when I don’t.

Except when, somehow, you manage to break every reading rule in my arsenal and, despite myself, I enjoy it.

I’m writing this while in the middle of reading May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. That breaks one of my blogging rules, never talk about a book until you’re done and have some distance from it. But since it breaks all of my reading rules, I figured that might be appropriate.

I picked up May We Be Forgiven for literally one reason: the cover. Didn’t even read the jacket copy (it was a library book, so I was ok with that). To understand why you must understand my enjoyment of–nay, obsession with–that culinary delight known as cranberry sauce shaped like the can. But that is another story for another day.

The novel is about Harry Silver, a rather boring, lackadaisical history professor whose life gets turned upside down when his brother George causes a fatal car accident and goes a little (a lot) nuts. In the aftermath of the crash, Harry starts sleeping with his sister-in-law, and when George finds out, he murders her. In a rapid series of increasingly absurd events, Harry becomes custodian to three tweens, two pets, and an elderly couple, starts sleeping with two very strange women, gains access to long-hidden Nixon papers, and travels through a series of hospitals and nursing homes, rehab centers, a survivalist prison camp, and an African village.

There are resons, plenty of them, why I should objectively not like this book, why I should have put it down in the first few pages.

-First Person Present Tense. I despise first person present tense. (I think I’ve said it before- short stories, sometimes ok. Novels- aw, hell no not again). It seems to be the thing everyone is doing now, as if The Hunger Games is infecting every other book out there. And yet, I didn’t even notice it here until I was about twenty pages in. It tricked me! Ok, so I was stuck on it, POV put aside. (P.S. I like The Hunger Games. Really. But first person present tense is a trend that needs to die).

-No Chapter Breaks. This is a nearly 500 page book with no chapter breaks. There are scene breaks, sure, but otherwise it is an unrelenting Wall of Text. Yikes.

-Kids Who Don’t Act/Talk Like Kids.

It’s a fine line, because I don’t like sterotypical apple-cheeked, lisping child characters, either. But the kids here are so absurdly un-kidlike. The twelve year old is the founder of a South African village. The founder. The eleven year old is being seduced by an adult teacher, starts cutting “tribal” tattoos into her arms, and is writing what seems to be a college-level thesis about the intersection of soap opera and puppet theater. They are more perceptive than the adults, seemingly more poised and articulate, and very often completely creeped me out.

-A Year in the Life

Perhaps most potentially bothersome to me is that May We Be Forgiven is a year-in-the-life story, where in 365 days, the protagonist goes from sadsack loser to being full and alive with a patchwork family. It’s reeks of some dumb indie dramedy starring Steve Carrell. I should hate it. And yet.

Another day, another frame of mind, I absolutely would have hated May We Be Forgiven. There just happened to be something in the air the day I picked it up that let me overlook all the things that bothered me until I was so hooked that I couldn’t stop. The elements that usually turn me off instead made the book feel propulsive, vital, and absolutely stinkin’ hilarious. It makes me wonder, a bit, if there are other books I’ve missed out on because they broke my rules. (But that would mean I’d have to go back to never DNFing, which would mean I miss so many more books because, hey, you can’t read them all.)

Oh well. I think this is a dilemma that will not be solved. What are some of your reading rules? And what worthy books break them?

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Choose my next book

I’m kind of overwhelmed by my TBR shelf right now. It’s absolutely overflowing–not to mention all the books and magazines sitting on my nook. I have no clue what I really want to read next so you, lovely readers, get to help me out. Do I pick up:

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There are many, many (many) more books on my shelf, but these are what I’ve narrowed it down to for now. Thoughts?

 

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Classics

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Favorite Classics.

I was well into college before I started enjoying “classics.” Where in high school books felt compulsory and out of touch, in college I was able to choose my own curriculum, to a degree, and I started to get deeper into books. There’s still some classic authors I’m never going to enjoy (here’s looking at you, Dickens). But here in no particular order are my top ten classics (which basically I’m defining as being written at any point before my birth).

1. Mary Shelley- Frankenstein

2. Fyodor Dostoevsky- Crime and Punishment

3. Jane Austen- Pride and Prejudice

4. William Faulkner- The Sound and the Fury

5. E.M. Forster- A Room With a View

6. Fyodor Dostoevsky- Demons/The Possessed

7. Vladimir Nabokov- Lolita

8. Geoffrey Chaucer- The Canterbury Tales

9. Frances Hodgson Burnett- The Secret Garden

10. Harper Lee- To Kill a Mockingbird

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Help Me Find New Authors

On the one hand, I need new book recommendations like a hole in the head (currently trying to pare my to-read list down to a manageable size, and weeping.) On the other hand, there’s something I’m slack on. Something I’ve really been meaning to address. I need to read more African American authors.

Being a big reader who has the benefit of a solid liberal arts education and a number of library jobs behind her, my bookshelf is probably more diverse than a lot of other readers’. But the isn’t saying much. I haven’t run the numbers or anything like that, but I definitely read mostly white women authors, followed by white men. Next is probably black women and then other writers of color, though I can’t be sure. And that needs to change.

When it comes to my writing, because I am vey much still learning and crafting my own voice, I try to write from a different perspective in every story. Male, female, POC, queer, physically handicapped, etc. Maybe it’s not ideal. Maybe I get things wrong. (Maybe I get things spectacularly wrong.) But writing fiction is the way I process and understand the world, and there’s a lot of different people out there, so I have to make a concious effort to try. (Otherwise I’d end up with a ton of stories about a white, twenty-something female with a middle class background and social anxiety, and who wants to read about that?) So, if I make a concious effort to make my writing diverse, I have to also make a concious effort to make my reading diverse. I’m not going to like every author or every book. But I need more experience and knowledge of a variety of authors. And that is where you come in.

Who are your favorite black authors?  I’ve read and enjoyed novels by Tayari Jones and N.K. Jemisin. I’ve read and been disappointed by Octavia Butler and Beverly Jenkins. I’ve read the usual books you get assigned in school, like Invisible Man and There Eyes Were Watching God and Beloved, though I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve missed along the way. What are some books I have to try? I’m interested in any genre, though I pretty much know already I’m not going to be into “church books,” anything strongly contingent on Christianity, and on the other side I’m not going to be interested in heavily urban books (at the library, we get a lot of books about “thugz” and “playaz” that seem really stereotypical and offensive to me, but what do I know?). Who am I missing out on?

Recommend me things in the comments, and I will add them to my absurdly long list!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Book Cover Trends

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The topic of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Book Cover Trends I Like and/or Dislike.

There’s really only one trend that has my attention right now, but I loooove it.

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Text!

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Specifically, covers where text is the primary, or only, element.

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I’m a bit of a typography junkie, and I love to see publishers and designers being creative with their typefaces and the composition and layering of text. There’s a million different things you can do with text, and it can convey lots of different moods or styles.

But there are plenty of cover elements out there that I can do without. Not quite nine, so I’m kind of cheating with this list, but here’s some cover elements I’m sick of.

1. Look, look, look how big my name is!

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I get it. You’re big time, and probably have a half dozen ghostwriters on the payroll.

2. Foot Fetish

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I am so, so sick of feet. There is only one shoe cover that is ever going to work, and that is:

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3. Women at the Beach

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Chilling under umbrellas, wearing vintage looking swimwear, being generally Chick Lit-y. You just know it’s going to be all about middle age and divorce and body issues.

4. Holy Eyeballs, Batman!

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OK, so for this one I actually have a thing. I have a giant phobia of eyeballs, enough so that when I saw the cover of Karen Russell’s new novella (which nothing in the world could induce me to look up and post here), I actually screamed. Out loud. At work. These aren’t as bad, even kind of pretty, but at the same time they gross me out. I definitely won’t ever be picking up any eyeball books, I can assure you.

What do love about covers? What do you hate? Any trends I’m missing?

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Review: Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes

18379031Title: Chaplin and Company

Author: Mave Fellowes

Rating: 2 stars

I received this book through Goodreads First Reads program. 

I really should have known better when I picked up Chaplin and Company. Pretty much every element of the book was something I hate in my reading experience. I can’t stand circus books (it wasn’t quite a circus book but was, shall we say, circus-adjacent). POV hopping is irritating, especially without any apparent structure behind it. Contrived coincidences annoy me. And the only thing I loathe more than excessively quirky characters are excessively quirky characters who feel smugly superior to everyone else.

So I should have known that I was never going to like this book, but I read it anyway. The end is more promising than the beginning, but that couldn’t save it for me.

Chaplin and Company is the story of Odeline Milk, a biracial outcast who decides to leave her stifling hometown when her mother dies to pursue her dream of becoming a world famous mime. She promptly buys a decrepit houseboat, goes on a quest to find her father, and meets a cast of quirky characters whom she initially despises but gradually comes to care for.

I could not stand Odeline. That’s partly the point, as the whole book is about her journey of growth, but that didn’t make reading her anymore pleasant. She was snotty, smug, overbearing, and chock-full of ridiculous quirks. She walks around in an oversized suit, complete with bowler hat and clown shoes. She drinks hot chocolate in August and talks like a 1920s movie star. She wants to be a performer, but sneers at the idea of busking, or performing for children, or doing anything less than debuting on a grand stage with her idol. The cast of supporting characters were equally unpleasant. Ridley, the love interest, John Kettle, the drunk, and Vera, the fat immigrant, all had their own sets of ridiculous quirks, and the cast was rounded out by some cartoony thugs and some broken-down people who have convoluted and contrived past histories with Odeline’s boat. Oh, and her father, who is, unsurprisingly, an awful conman. Vera is probably the best of these characters, but Odeline has such initial disdain for her that it’s hard to do anything but pity her.

They are interesting characters, for the most part, but they are not enjoyable, and that was really offputting. My main problem with the book, however, was the structure. It was primarily in present tense, which is a trend I cannot stand. It works, when it’s done well, for short stories, but in novels is just distracting and exhausting. It also jumps around between viewpoint characters, tenses, and time periods, trying to present omniscience but instead creating somewhat of a mess. Nothing about the writing really appealed to me.

The ending of the book is stronger than the beginning. Odeline does change. But it’s almost too much too fast; given who she was at the beginning of the novel, I didn’t quite buy who she became. I knew from pretty much the first page that I wasn’t going to like the book, which colored my final opinion, so take my review with that in mind. Too many things about it just rubbed me the wrong way.

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Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

18764828Title: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

Author: Genevieve Valentine

Rating: 4 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a difficult book to classify. I’ve read Genevieve Valentine’s work in some of my favorite speculative magazines, and so I was a little surprised to see that The Girls at the Kingfisher Club was, on the surface, a fairly straightforward historical novel. Of course, once you open it, it isn’t that simple. The short novel is based on a fairy tale, though one I wasn’t familiar with (so it took me a while to realize it). Though there is nothing overtly fantastical about the novel, the language and structure serve to make it feel magical.

The twelve Hamilton sisters have spent their lives as virtual prisoners, as their father tries and fails again and again to sire a male heir. Eventually, chafing under the restrictions, they begin to sneak out at night to dance at speakeasies. The twelve “Princesses,” as they soon become known, are a mystery to all who know them, and live only to dance. But when their ruthless father begins to plan to auction them off to men, their desperate attempts to escape threaten to separate them all forever.

Eldest sister Jo, “the General,” is the only real character in the story. The others are archetypes, often interchangeable until the very end, each defined by a specific trait or habit. Normally, this sort of thing should bother me, but in this case I felt it added to the foggy, fable-like feeling of the novel. And as main characters go, Jo is a fascinating one. Instead of being motherly and feminine, as readers might be forgiven for assuming, Jo is flinty, obsessive, determined, and often cruel. This is very much her story, and she was a refreshingly unique character to follow.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club will no doubt appeal to readers of both speculative and mainstream fiction. (Plus-cover! I have to admit, the cover was the entire reason I wanted to read this book.) It will perhaps be a polarizing novel–not everyone is going to like the brevity or the extreme stylized writing. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to reading more from the author.

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Mini Reviews

Since I’ve gotten so behind on my reading the past few months, I missed a number of books from Netgalley and Goodreads that I had planned to review. So I’ve decided to do some mini reviews instead of my usual longer ones. Here’s what I’ve been catching up on:

18404173The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

Everyone knows the end of the Romanov story, but when it came to The Romanov Sisters, for one, discovered that I knew more about the legend than the reality. Rappaport brings pre-Revolutionary Russia exhaustively to life, through letters, diaries, and memoirs of those closest to the Romanovs and the family themselves. Unfortunately, this detailed scene-setting is not backed up with a lot of analysis or political context, something I really found myself wanting. The Romanovs were so domestic and “average” a family, despite the royal trappings, that they were kind of boring, and the girls were often difficult to even tell apart. I liked learning some more of the history of the dynasty, but the book was somewhat dry and boring in the end.

The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett 18404299

Set amidst the coal mine fires of 1960s Pennsylvania, The Hollow Ground is the story of a dying place, a family destroying itself from the inside, a girl learning truths that are hard for anyone to face, and a curse that hangs over it all. The Howleys are a truly interesting and twisted American family—mother Delores, who was abandoned to an orphanage by her stepmother as a child, father Adrian, who has always felt overshadowed by his dead younger brother and carries a huge secret, Adrian’s bitter and brittle mother and enigmatic father, and, at the center of it all, narrator Brigid, who fears she carries the family curse inside her and uncovers the secrets the adults in her life are hiding as they all face the threat of their town’s destruction from the mine fires. The setting, prose, and characters of this debut novel were fantastic. I’d vaguely heard of the coal mine fires before, but I had no idea they were so dangerous and destructive. Unfortunately, it starts slow, as a rather banal coming of age story, and the end felt unsatisfying as well, resting on cliché and easy solutions. But the flawed characters were fascinating, particularly Delores, who was angry, vicious, vindictive, proud, and childish by turns. All in all, a compelling piece of historical fiction

18006456Shards of Time by Lynn Flewelling

I was really excited for Shards of Time. Really, really  excited. That’s probably the problem. I’ve loved Flewelling’s books since I was sixteen, but I’m not sixteen anymore and she’s not writing the same books, either. Thus Shards of Time, which was a decent if not altogether exciting fantasy novel, was a fairly big disappointment for me. Something happened that I’ve been expecting since book three, and once would have made me jump in excitement, but the execution of it left me decidedly meh. Seregil and Alec, who I love and adore, have been with each other for so long and are so damn domestic and comfortable that their relationship is—dare I say it?—boring. The faie, who once upon a time were so rare and exotic that Alec thought they were a legend, are suddenly everywhere. The villain was flat and cliché. I should stop, because it’s starting to sound like I hated Shards of Time, which I didn’t, not really. But I do have to say something I never thought I would, which is that I’m glad the Nightrunner series is over. It was starting to feel stale, even to me, a huge fan. I’m excited to see what Flewelling writes in the future, because she has a gift for great characters and usually for plot. But in the end, this one was a miss for me.

Coming soon, there will be reviews for Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellows and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. Stay tuned!

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