Saturday, February 27, 2016

Jenny Reviews: Trigger Warning

 The Vitals

 Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
 Release Date: 3 February 2015
 Page Count: 310
 Genre: Fantasy/Horror/Poetry
 Target Audience: Adult
 Series: No
 Source and Format: Purchased :: eBook
 Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (From Goodreads) 
In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction—stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013—as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In Adventure Story—a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience A Calendar of Tales are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year—stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale The Case of Death and Honey. And Click-Clack the Rattlebag explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

Notes on Trigger Warning
Let me start off by saying that short stories are not my favorites. I am a drawn to completeness and to characters, both of which are hard to manage well in short stories. More often than not a short story has a comprehensive, cohesive narrative or it has well-devolved characters; it is very difficult to accomplish both. Neil Gaiman is an author who has worked long and hard on his craft, constantly pushing himself (and his readers!) by exploring all sorts of storytelling formats so I knew that if there were short stories for me I would more than likely find them here. Are all the stories and poems wonderful? No, but that is okay. There is much good here to be read.

Overall, I enjoyed this book even more than I thought I would. There are a lot of stories and poems that make it worth the price and time. Not everything has the same format or the same genre, though the majority would be classified under fantasy. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book (yes, I read introductions and yes, you should too). It would be nice if he developed it further into a talk or paper. It has the potential, in my opinion, of being very influential in literary and academic circles. Plus, it is something that needs to be said and he says it very well and very kindly, which goes a long way in getting people to listen. If you get the chance to read this, whether borrowed or bought, I highly encourage you to do so. 

Some of my favorites:
  • "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains..." - I am not sure why I like this one as much as I do. I think because the narrator is so compelling. Plus, the twist at the end is awesome. 
  • October Tale from "A Calendar of Tales" - A sweet story about love, obligation, and contentment. This one is very profound for being so tiny. 
  • "The Case of Death and Honey" - A Sherlock Holmes story that is, in my opinion, flawless. It would fit seamlessly into the Conan Doyle canon.
  • "The Sleeper and the Spindle" - This has been turned into a book with wonderful illustrations. Probably my favorite, it is a retelling of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty (y'all know how I love retellings!) and I am going to buy it on its own so I, too, can have the illustrations.
  • "Feminine Endings" - This one was not one of my favorites but the title is, hands down, one of the most perfect titles I have ever come across. It actually enhanced the story for me, which I do not think has ever happened.
I fully admit that this book will not appeal to everyone, but if you are looking for something out of your comfort zone or just something different, then you should give it a try. 

Memorable Quotes:
"What we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: enter at your own risk. We need to find out what fiction is, what it means, to us, an experience that is going to be unlike anyone else’s experience of the story."

“Better to have flamed in the darkness, to have inspired others, to have lived, than to have sat in the darkness, cursing the people who borrowed, but did not return, your candle.”

“In my family ‘adventure’ tends to be used to mean ‘any minor disaster we survived’ or even ‘any break from routine’. Except by my mother, who still uses it to mean ‘what she did that morning’. Going to the wrong part of a supermarket car park and, while looking for her car, getting into a conversation with someone whose sister, it turns out, she knew in the 1970s would qualify, for my mother, as a full-blown adventure.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Jenny Reviews: Jane Slayre

 The Vitals

 Jane Slayre by Charlotte Bronte and Sherri Browning Erwin
 Release Date: 13 April 2010
 Page Count: 391
 Genre: Fantasy/Classic
 Target Audience: Adult
 Series: No
 Source and Format: Purchased :: Paperback
 Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (From Goodreads)
Jane Slayre, our plucky demon-slaying heroine, a courageous orphan who spurns the detestable vampyre kin who raised her, sets out on the advice of her ghostly uncle to hone her skills as the fearless slayer she’s meant to be. When she takes a job as a governess at a country estate, she falls head-over-heels for her new master, Mr. Rochester, only to discover he’s hiding a violent werewolf in the attic—in the form of his first wife. Can a menagerie of bloodthirsty, flesh-eating, savage creatures-of-the-night keep a swashbuckling nineteenth-century lady from the gentleman she intends to marry? Vampyres, zombies, and werewolves transform Charlotte Brontë’s unforgettable masterpiece into an eerie paranormal adventure that will delight and terrify.

Notes on Jane Slayre
In order to enjoy this book you must have a sense of humor. Actually, you must be able to appreciate cleverness. It also helps if you already enjoy the story Jane Eyre, though that is not necessary. I have read 2 other books in this literary mashup genre, both by Seth Grahame-Smith, and enjoyed them far more than I thought I would. The first, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was really good. I picked it up on a whim at 2nd & Charles and devoured it in 2 days. I then read his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which I did not enjoy as much but I enjoyed more than the original (Matt and I saw the movie a couple weekends ago and it is pretty good - definitely worth a rental). 

I expected to like Jane Slayre more than the previous two books because I really like Jane Eyre. It is my favorite novel from that period and I knew I already liked this horror/fantasy/classic genre, so I was pretty confident going into it. I will say I enjoyed it. It started off pretty well. Jane is being raised by a vampire aunt who does not allow her children to eat those of common blood, only the nobility, thus preventing Jane from becoming one. When she gets to Lowood she discovers they are creating zombie servants that are fine unless they eat meat. This, too, is fairly well done and fits well into the original story. When Jane moves to Thornfield Hall, however, things get less cohesive. 

Throughout the novel Jane is slowly realizing she has a talent for sensing and dispatching the supernatural. It isn't until she hooks up with St. John and his sisters that she is able o get answers and to fully explore her Slayre heritage. While it makes sense that this is where she gets answers, the problem is it comes late in the narrative (not Erwin's fault, she is following Bronte). She is randomly dispatching vampires during her time at Thornfield Hall with Mr. Rochester and he seems completely oblivious, which is rather disappointing. He notices everything except that one tidbit? Unlikely and unbelievable. The supernatural is inserted rather haphazardly during this portion of the novel, which makes up quite an important part. Aside from the werewolf, no one at Thornfield Hall seems to even be aware of the supernatural creatures that cohabit their world. It is all very odd.

All in all it was an enjoyable read. Will I read it again? No, definitely not. I wanted it to be the same caliber of narrative as the Grahame-Smith novels and it was not. Had I not read them first I might have enjoyed it more. The cover, however, is fabulous. If you do not have high expectations you will be pleasantly surprised, I think.

Memorable Quotes
“Sighing, he paused a moment as if to take in my essence or to gather his wits. As he had no wits to gather, it must have been my essence giving him pause.”

“Nothing like a little zombie beheading to take the edge off staking one’s aunt.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

Jenny Reviews: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

 The Vitals

 Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
 Release Date: 16 June 2015
 Page Count: 277
 Genre: Non-fiction
 Target Audience: Adult
 Series: No
 Source and Format: Borrowed :: Hardcover
 Goodreads | Amazon

Summary (From Goodreads)
At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?”

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

Notes on Modern Romance
Before I begin, I hope y'all were able to make it through the summary. That is seriously the longest summary I think I have ever seen. 

Okay, the book. I really enjoyed this book. It is not a memoir or even Ansari's views on love. This is a research book, written with a sociologist and has actual notes in the back of the book. My kind of book :) It is a study of love in the modern age — What do we think love is? How do we show love? When do we feel loved? How do we find love? It is a fascinating look into the modern human psyche and it definitely stings at times. He talks to a wide range of people about love, from senior citizens to college kids, people who live in big cities and people who live in small towns. The most fascinating chapter, to me, was the chapter on love in foreign countries. The world does not see or approach love the same way. My other favorite part was the role of technology in the search for love. He had some very interesting things to say about that, some things I was saying, YES! to and others I was like, Huh, never would have thought that. This is an easy read that will make you laugh and make you think, but not too deeply. (If you are a Parks and Rec fan then you will definitely hear Tom Haverford in some of the writing)

Memorable Quotes
Why do we all say we prefer honesty but rarely give that courtesy to others?”

“When I've really been in love with someone, it's not because they looked a certain way or liked a certain TV show or a certain cuisine. It's more because when I watched a certain TV show or ate a certain cuisine with them, it was the most fun thing ever.”

“For me the takeaway of these stories is that, no matter how many options we seem to have on our screens, we should be careful not to lose track of the human beings behind them. We’re better off spending quality time getting to know actual people than spending hours with our devices, seeing who else is out there.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Happy Birthday, Coach Medlin

Today is my (Jenny) husband's 35th birthday so I thought it appropriate to embarrass him on the blog. This has nothing to do with literature (other than the great quote above) so if you do not want to keep reading I understand. You will only miss out on how awesome my husband is.

I was subbing for an English teacher the other day and the class was discussing dating. I mentioned that I am more classically "male" brained, while my husband, Matt, is more classically "female" brained. One student said that seemed to be the case for most marriages where the wife's default mode is logic instead of emotion. Of course this made me reflect on Matt's personality; what parts of our personality mesh well? Which parts are more sharp and prone to hurt?

After mulling over this for a couple of days I have come to this conclusion: I love him more now, today, than I did the day we got married. His emotion-driven personality was such a mystery to me when we were dating and even into the first couple years of marriage (and still is at times). He saw things so differently than I did it was hard to reconcile with the way I understand things. I am just now, 9+ years into being together, getting a handle on his thought patterns and what drives him. Does this mean that I understand him completely and we never argue? Heck no. It does mean that living life with him is softening and molding me in ways I never thought possible or desirable. We are much more different than I initially thought we when we started dating and I am so thankful for that fact. He is constantly challenging me; most times he does not even realize he is doing so.

Matt Medlin does not do anything half-way; he is either all in or all out. He wanted to start an early morning P.E. club like he had in elementary school; it now has so many kids that the fourth and fifth grade have to do it on different days because there are so many kids that want to be a part. He started deejaying the father/daughter dance at his school and enjoyed it so much he bought some nicer equipment and now does all type of events. This all or nothing also carries into his personality. I do not know anyone as stubborn as him. Up until last year he insisted he did not like Moe's. Every time I went and offered to bring him back something he would not want anything. I eventually stopped asking and, lo and behold, he has suddenly started like it and wants to go there every. single. day. Stubborn. He is also the most loyal person I know; if you are one of his people he will never give up on you. This is both wonderful and hurtful. It is hard to watch him value people that do not value him. He is generous in ways that most people never know unless you are on the receiving end. He understands people and what motivates them almost from the moment he meets them. He is super competitive and can turn anything into a game. (On a recent trip he somehow turned a game of skipping rocks into a competitive rock-golf game)  If he is excited about something then everyone else around him is excited, too, because his joy is infectious. The world is lucky that he has always wanted to be a P.E. teacher and not a lawyer - he could convince an eskimo to buy snow.

I will stop here, but suffice to say my husband is a complicated, wily, funny, sensitive guy and I am the better for it.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Jenny Reviews: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

 The Vitals

 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
 Release Date: 10 January 2006
 Page Count: 247
 Genre: Literary Fiction
 Target Audience: Adult
 Series: Gilead #1
 Source and Format: Purchased :: Paperback
 Goodreads | Amazon

 Summary (From Goodreads)
Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping,   Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three   generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.

Notes on Gilead
This short novel blew me away. I was compiling a list of people to recommend it to before I was even half way through with it. It is an epistolary novel (a novel written in letter, diary, etc. format) whose narrator is an old man who has reached the end of his life. He did not have a son until late in life and wants his son to be able to know who he was in his own words. As he reflects back on his own life and the events and people that shaped him, he is working out his thoughts, feelings, and salvation in the events that are happening in his present (as he is writing the letters). 

This is a book that you savor. It is not meant to be read in one sitting, though there is a great temptation to do just that. The reflective, self-aware tone of the novel is lost if one does not respect it and adhere to the pace Robinson sets for the reader. John Ames is one of the most honest, clear-thinking characters in modern literature. His is an honesty that soothes and convicts, that alternately tears and heals. I hope everyone is able to experience just a fraction of the self-awareness Ames has. To be able to see ourselves clearly, even for just a bit, is truly life-changing. I say this with full confidence, having survived my own season of self-awareness not too long ago. It is exhilarating, humbling, and defeating. But totally worth it. 

Even if you are not given to contemplation I think you should read this book. Learning how to think critically of yourself is a gift (and burden) that should be nurtured. When we strip away the lies that we believe about ourselves we are, finally, truly, able to grow into who we were meant to be. Is it painful? No doubt. Is it worth it? Read Gilead and see.

Memorable Quotes
“Love is holy because it is like grace--the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.”

“There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?”

“I don't know exactly what covetous is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else's virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.”

“Nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Jenny Reviews: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Vitals

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Release Date: 21 May 2015
Page Count: 438
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience: Young Adult
Series: No
Source and Format: Lauren B. :: Hardcover
Goodreads | Amazon

Summary (From Goodreads)
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood's powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia - all the things Agnieszka isn't - and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

Notes on Uprooted
I loved, loved, loved this book. It is, to me, fantasy at its finest. It has one of the best first lines of any book I have read - "Our Dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley." You're intrigued now, aren't you? It only gets better from there. 

This book is, at its core, a book about community. Agnieszka's village is in close proximity to the Wood, a malevolent forest that tries to kill anyone it can. The Wood is sentient; it is actively trying to do the villagers and, as we find out later, the whole kingdom harm. Terrible things live in the Wood that come out on occasion and snatch unsuspecting villagers. The Wood sends harmful seeds and winds to infect the village's crops and livestock. It is a dangerous place to live, which only serves to strengthen the ties of the community. The one thing helping to keep the Wood at bay, besides the villagers sheer stubbornness, is the Dragon. He is a wizard, sent by the king, to help to combat the Wood. His purpose is to keep the Wood from claiming more ground, a task he has been at for a long time. The measure of his success is the fact the Wood has not been able to move further, though it has not been forced to retreat, either. 

My favorite part of the book is the relationship that Agnieszka and Kasia have. They are best friends who have grown up together knowing Kasia would be chosen by the Dragon because she is beautiful and brave and smart; you know, all the classic heroine attributes. They refuse to stop being best friends even though they will not see each other for 10 long years, after which most girls the Dragon takes are so changed they cannot stay in the village for long and move away. Their bond is one of the main driving forces of the book. Real, solid friendships like these two share are so rare in books these days, which is terribly unfortunate. Part of what makes books like The Lord of the Rings so wonderful is the friendships the characters forge. Novik does an excellent job of giving her girls the type of bond that is so crucial to quest-type narratives. Having been blessed in my own friendships I love being able to read about healthy friendships that are not romantic. Too often (it seems to me, anyway) characters cannot be just friends, they have to be something more. Or if they are just friends then that relationship is not a central part of the book, but rather an after thought. That is not the case in Uprooted and it is the better for it.

What does the Dragon do with the girls? Why does he need them? Why is the Wood so bent on destruction? You will have to read to find out. You will not be sorry that you did.

(Side note: This is the UK cover. It is more beautiful than the American edition and Lauren was awesome and ordered this one for me.)

Memorable Quotes
“I don't want more sense!" I said loudly, beating against the silence of the room. "Not if sense means I'll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that's worth holding on to?”

“But she hadn't been able to take root. She'd remembered the wrong things, and forgotten too much. She'd remembered how to kill and how to hate, and she'd forgotten how to grow.”

They all had stories. They had mothers or fathers, sisters or lovers. They weren't alone in the world, mattering to no one but themselves. It seemed utterly wrong to treat them like pennies in a purse. I felt the soldiers understood perfectly well that we were making sums out of them-- this many safe to spend, this number too high, as if each one wasn't a whole man.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January Goals Recap

As I shared earlier here, I (Jenny) am doing monthly reading goals rather than year-long ones. January's goal was to read only classics and non-fiction. Well, I failed. I was doing well until I got a really nasty cold about mid January. I did not realize how much comfort I draw from reading <insert nerd joke of choice> until I could not read something mindless. Classics and non-fiction tend to require greater concentration and I just wanted something easy while I laid on the couch. I broke and read a  book that was a kindle daily deal which was, of course, the first book in a series that got me hooked so I needed to read the other two that are currently out. It was a slippery slope that I, honestly, did not try too hard to avoid.

I did not realize how difficult of a goal this was going to be when I made it. I am trying to be more disciplined in my reading but I think I went a little overboard for this month. Good news is that I gave myself more leeway in the rest of the months so I am feeling pretty confident about them. Oh, there was one fiction book that I was allowed to read this month - Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It was the book for book club (for me) in January so I was allowed to read it. I LOVED IT. I will be posting a review soon. In interest of full disclosure, here is my reading for January.

  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Non-fiction. This book has been on my TBR list for a long time. Very easy to read, super fascinating material. I recommend it for anyone who likes to think. Not necessarily deep thinking, just thinking about the whys and hows of life. 
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, Classic. I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would! It is creepy and dramatic in a fun way. The Phantom is much scarier in the book than the movie. 
  • The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John Walton, Non-fiction. Walton's The Lost World of Genesis is one of my favorite books about the Bible. It deals with Genesis 1, whereas Adam and Eve deal with Genesis 2 & 3. I did not enjoy it as much but I still really liked it. 
  • Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman, Non-fiction. This is the story of an heiress, Huguette Clark, who lived through the entire 20th century. It was a sad, sad story. I would not read it again. If you are interested in American history, however, I think you might enjoy it. 
  • Seven Viking Romances by Anonymous, Classic. I really, really enjoyed this book. Medieval romances are adventure stories that contain elements of the fantastic, much like modern fantasy stories. They are not romances the way we think of the genre in modern literature. They are way better.
  • Marie de France Poetry (Norton Critical Edition) by Marie de France, Classic. I have been waiting for this edition to be published for 2 years. Norton Critical editions always include essays by leading scholars on the work, as well as contemporary works for intertextuality. Love, love, love intertextuality. 
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Classic. This book was so good. I am not a huge fan of American fiction but Wharton is someone I could easily enjoy. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys American history/fiction or well-developed characters. I do not think I would have ever picked it up on my own if my friend Ashley B. had not raved about it. Thanks, Ashley!
  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, Fiction. I started this book in December but did not finish it it before January so I put it away. I flew home from Portland on a red eye so I blame lack of sleep on my picking this back up before the month was over. I ended up not liking it at all, which serves me right.
  • The Others series by Anne Bishop, Fantasy. I really, really enjoyed this series. It is a solid fantasy series with lots of fun supernatural creatures. Bishop stays true to the world she has built, not letting hard characters become softer as the series goes on. The second one was the strongest so far, with the third being my least favorite. I am hoping she finds her stride again for the fourth. 
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik, YA Fantasy. I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH I HAVE TO SHOUT IT AT YOU. Review coming soon!
So, that is my very long, very involved recap. My goal for February is to review 5 books on here. I already have two that I am planning on doing. Hopefully this goal won't kick my butt the way January did!