Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BEA Update #1


Having fun at BEA!






Hi gang,

Just wanted to check in & say we're both having a blast (albeit an exhausted one already!) at BEA, and we can't wait to share more with you through Armchair BEA and some smaller daily updates on this blog. 

For the time being, here we are wearing our Evil Librarian devil horns in anticipation of interviewing Michelle Knudsen - keep an eye out on Armchair BEA for our interview!



xoxo,
Arianna & Amber 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

ArmchairBEA Introductions ~ AmberBug


ArmchairBEA Introductions ~ AmberBug






Pick 5 questions from those listed below:


1) Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

2) Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details -- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. -- so we can connect more online.

3) What genre do you read the most? I love to read because ___________________ .

4) What was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year?

5) What does your favorite/ideal reading space look like? (Pinterest encouraged!)

6) What is your favorite blogging resource?

7) Spread the love by naming your favorite blogs/bloggers (doesn't necessarily have to be book blogs/bloggers).

8) Share your favorite book or reading related quote.

9) If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 3 books would you bring? Why? What 3 non-book items would you bring? Why?

10) What book would you love to see as a movie?



Dear Reader,

Hi Everyone, AmberBug from ShelfNotes here. I’m so excited to be sharing my blogging self with Armchair BEA this year. Not only will I be going to BookExpo this year but I’ll be blogging all about it and posting it on Armchair BEA, stay tuned! One of the things that makes ShelfNotes so different is the wide variety of reviews we offer. Between the two of us (Arianna and Amber) we cover everything from Graphic Novels, Teen Lit, Historical Fictions, Literary, Non Fiction, and everything in between! Coming soon, we’ll be working on reviewing cookbooks (I don’t want to give it all away but it’ll be super fun). 

So without further ado, I give you my Armchair BEA Introduction:

What genre do you read most?

Literary Fiction, I suppose but my taste is pretty eclectic. I try to mix things up throughout the year. For example, if I just read a “horror” book, I would usually steer clear from that genre for the next couple books. I like the “freshness” this creates and it makes it so that a topic never seems hashed out over and over again. I have trouble reading more than one book in a series unless the book rates about 4 stars, and even then I’ll wait to read the next one and space it between a few books.

Part 1: If you were stranded on a deserted Island, what 3 books would you bring & why?

-Les Mis√©rables by Victor Hugo - One of my favorites, and on the plus side… the book is really long!
-Moby Dick by Herman Melville - Haven’t read this yet (yes, I know!) and what better time to tackle a book of this magnitude (and setting)!

-The Stranger Next Door by Amélia Northomb - Another book I adore but I would love to go over this book with a fine tooth comb.

Part 2: What 3 non-book items would you bring & why?

-My Cat, Richard Dean Anderson (also known as MacGyver). He is the best cat ever and would be able to hunt down some smaller animals to eat, and maybe even figure out a way to get off the island. 


-My boyfriend (does that make me cruel?) 


-My mind keeps going back to books… so books, that’s my final answer.

What was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year?

Last year? “The World According to Garp” by John Irving. 

This year, so far? “Oryx & Crake” by Margaret Atwood. 

Share your favorite book or reading related quote.

If you don’t like reading, you’re doing it wrong. Not quite sure who said this but I love the quote anyways. The quote is actually highlighted on our bookmark/business cards.


What does your favorite/ideal reading space look like?

-My favorite space is outside on my porch on a nice day. 

-My ideal is at Fishers Island, on THAT porch on a nice day.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

ArmchairBEA Introductions ~ Arianna


ArmchairBEA Introductions ~ Arianna






Pick 5 questions from those listed below:


1) Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

2) Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details -- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. -- so we can connect more online.

3) What genre do you read the most? I love to read because ___________________ .

4) What was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year?

5) What does your favorite/ideal reading space look like? (Pinterest encouraged!)

6) What is your favorite blogging resource?

7) Spread the love by naming your favorite blogs/bloggers (doesn't necessarily have to be book blogs/bloggers).

8) Share your favorite book or reading related quote.

9) If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 3 books would you bring? Why? What 3 non-book items would you bring? Why?

10) What book would you love to see as a movie?




  1. I've been blogging for ... oh gosh, I started my first blog in October 2003.  It was a personal blog, mostly meant to share with my friends & family (and fellow knitters).  I kept that up pretty regularly until about 2008, when I went through some pretty crappy relationship stuff, was super depressed, and wanted to keep things more to myself.  For a few years after that I kept trying to revive the blog, but couldn't stick to it.  Luckily, after Amber & I went to BEA last year, we decided to start up our own BOOK BLOG!  And of course, it was perfect for us, and we're obsessed. :)

    Oh, and I blog from Connecticut, USA.
  2. "Book reviews for book lovers."  That's our official tagline, I do believe.
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/arianna.schlegel
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/ariannaschlegel
    portfolio of sorts: librarianna.com
  3. (Actually, this is #5.)
    My book-related Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/starianna/library-love-book-geek/

    And I can read ANYWHERE, believe me, but the above (not sure why I can't paste it down here!) has always made me feel so cozy - love autumn.
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/13088655137776533/
  4. (Actually, this is #6.) I've used 'em all, and honestly I mostly end up using Blogger.  I was also a big fan of WordPress, but the one site I had set up with it was great while it lasted, but then I lost all the content (I ran a hosted version on someone else's server).  So, that kinda sucked, and (through no fault of WordPress'), kind of left a bad taste in my mouth that I've yet to overcome.  Plus, Blogger is just so EASY.  (And, I'm pretty sure Google could sell me anything.  Anything.)
  5. I'm currently reading Michelle Knudsen's Evil Librarian, and I think it would make an awesome movie!  

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Eleanor & Park (review by Arianna)


Eleanor & Park
Rainbow Rowell
3.5 / 5

Published 2012

First Sentence
"He'd stopped trying to bring her back."
Publisher's Description:

Two misfits. One extraordinary love.

Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Dear Reader,

I read this a while ago, but it's taken me some time to get around to writing a review.  I guess because I didn't love OR hate it, really, so my dispassion helped me avoid considering it really at all.  I actually did LOVE reading it, weirdly enough.  It was an engaging story which I couldn't stop listening to.  The audiobook was read by two different voices (Eleanor's and Park's) and it was well done by both the (I think they were) teenaged readers.  The story was really interesting: Eleanor is a new girl who was considered a serious "weirdo" in the 1980's by her schoolmates, who connects with quiet but cool Park over comic books and music.  I loved the premise, of course - I was certainly never the "cool kid" in high school, so I understand Eleanor's situation (although I was lucky never to be treated as poorly as she was!).  I loved the idea of the two bonding over the kinds of things I love.  I loved that they were two misfits who found love with each other, and how they supported and cared for each other so well, despite all of the obstacles to their being together.  And I don't really know what I didn't love about this book, but there was definitely something.  As much as I could really relate to a lot in the book, I just couldn't connect to it on the level I wanted to.  There was something holding me back.  And that's why I haven't been able to review this well - because I can't really pinpoint my feelings towards it.  I would definitely recommend this book to people, too.  I just can't express why I would, save from that it's about the 80's and mix tapes and teenage romance and how you feel at that age that you can save each other from the rest of the world.  I'm gonna change this to a 3.5, at least (I had it rated as a 3 before).  I'm sorry that I can't really review this one well.  (Maybe part of it was the build-up from others who had read and enjoyed it - almost nothing lives up to the hype, I've found, and my expectations are probably always too high.)  I'd still definitely recommend reading it.   

Yours,
Arianna

P.S. Amber's review of this book was WAY more articulate than mine, and actually explains why she felt the way she did about the novel.  I think she's right - it started off GREAT, but didn't stay great, and that's really where the problem lay with it.  I think the ending was ultimately also great, but the middle had some blah-ish parts.  Plus, she's right: having to be dragged back to the feeling of teen angst and super-dramatic relationships might just have not worked as well with those of us who were lucky to survive it and move past it, haha.  Thanks, Amber!


Support Shelf Notes! Purchase your copy of Eleanor & Park here:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dark Places


Dark Places
Gillian Flynn
3.5 / 5

Published 2009

First Sentence
"I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ."
Publisher's Description:
"I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ."

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.

Dear Reader,

I could not put this book down.  I selected it, having read Gone Girl, on the recommendation of a friend who assured me it was way better than Flynn's most famous novel to date.  I do agree with the friend, although I still didn't adore it.  (I've since had Flynn's novel Sharp Objects also recommended as even better than both, so perhaps I'll have to check that out, as well!)  In any case, both of the books I've read by this author have been gripping and suspenseful, and they constantly throw you for loops.  You cannot stop reading until you learn the truth!  I really enjoy those sorts of books, even if they are not my favorites, and even if they're not the best literature in the world.  You can't help but be sucked in by the characters, dying to learn their motives and certain you know what the real story is, only to be thrown off the scent by a little clue tossed in by the author.  (This is very much like Gone Girl, for those who are familiar with the feeling of reading that.)

Libby is not a very likable character from the get-go.  She's lazy and unmotivated and a general misanthrope, although all of that can of course be explained by her formative experience of hearing her mother and siblings murdered when she was seven years old.  The author thought up a really clever way to draw this totally uninterested character back into real life, including back to the night of the murders, which she'd been assiduously avoiding for over two decades.  Flynn also introduces a wonderful cast of characters, both in the flashbacks as well as in the wide assortment of wacky personalities that Libby encounters as she searches for the truth.  They are enough to save the book from Libby's attitude, and ultimately you kind of end up liking her, I think.  It's just that you have to read the entire book to really understand who she is and where she comes from.

I think I especially connected with this book because it was essentially about the Satanism scare that was a popular scapegoat for many bad things that happened in the 1990s.  I vaguely recall that being a thing, and that many people suspected their own loved ones of being drawn in by the devil.  It was a sensation much like the Salem witch trials or McCarthy's Commie hunt.  I always find those "groupthink" situations fascinating; how people buy into them and how they will find ways to make anything fit into their predefined conceptions.  We live in a strange and fearful world, we do.

Yours,
Arianna
Support Shelf Notes!  Purchase your copy of Dark Places here: 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mathilda


Mathilda
Mary Shelley
3/5


Published 1819

First Sentence
"It is only four o'clock; but it is winter and the sun has already set: there are no clouds in the clear, frosty sky to reflect the slant beams, but the air itself is tinged with a slight roseate colour which is again reflected on the snow that covers the ground."


Publisher's Description:


But my father, my beloved and most wretched father... Would he never overcome the fierce passion that now held pitiless dominion over him?

With its shocking theme of father-daughter incest, Mary Shelley’s publisher—her father, known for his own subversive books—not only refused to publish Mathilda, he refused to return her only copy of the manuscript, and the work was never published in her lifetime.

His suppression of this passionate novella is perhaps understandable—unlike her first book, Frankenstein, written a year earlier, Mathilda uses fantasy to study a far more personal reality. It tells the story of a young woman whose mother died in her childbirth—just as Shelly’s own mother died after hers—and whose relationship with her bereaved father becomes sexually charged as he conflates her with his lost wife, while she becomes involved with a handsome poet. Yet despite characters clearly based on herself, her father, and her husband, the narrator’s emotional and relentlessly self-examining voice lifts the story beyond autobiographical resonance into something more transcendent: a driven tale of a brave woman’s search for love, atonement, and redemption.

It took more than a century before the manuscript Mary Shelley gave her father was rediscovered. It is published here as a stand-alone volume for the first time.



Dear Reader,

Did I tell you how much I ADORE Melville House for coming up with a Novella subscription service? Each month, I get two small but colorful volumes dropped at my door! Just the right size, and I get to read some classic lit mixed in with all the other books I happen to be reading. Genius! Want to be included in the fun? Check it out here! The Art of the Novella. So yes, now that I have that out the way... I can tell you ALL about how this first Novella didn't quite strike my fancy, unfortunately.

Oh Mathilda, this one seemed promising but it became apparent early on that this was going to be very long-winded (even for a novella). Don't get me wrong, it was written beautifully (I mean it is Mary Shelley!) To be frank, the book started off pretty interesting but after the part with her father panned out and we met her poet beau, I found it downright dull. I can barely understand the idea behind her father lusting after her (super creepy). I mean yes, the father wasn't in her life growing up and I'm sure she looked quite a bit like her Mother when they finally met... but REALLY? To make matters worse, he made her life miserable because of his own guilt. The guy was a terrible human being, so why should I care that he met his fate tragically? I don't. It made me so angry that Mathilda succumbs to depression after he passes, she has the chance at a normal life but she is stuck under the shadow of her dastardly father.

It wasn't a waste to read this though, the book is quite unique and has a very interesting background story. Apparently, Shelley and her Father shared a different kind of relationship themselves (cough, gag). When Mary wrote this novel, her father (who was sent the Novella to be published) never allowed her to do so, saying that the themes were "disgusting and detestable". This Novella wasn't published until 1959, but was written 1819. The story behind the book is fascinating and definitely gives the book a little more depth. I can't wait to check out my next Novella, and I encourage you to join me in this endeavor.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

An Untamed State


An Untamed State
Roxane Gay
4.5/5


Published 2014

First Sentence
"Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bodies."


Publisher's Description:


Roxane Gay is a powerful new literary voice whose short stories and essays have already earned her an enthusiastic audience. In An Untamed State, she delivers an assured debut about a woman kidnapped for ransom, her captivity as her father refuses to pay and her husband fights for her release over thirteen days, and her struggle to come to terms with the ordeal in its aftermath.

Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.

An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places. An Untamed State establishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.



Dear Reader,

Wow, just wow. This book is very powerful, cruel and terror inducing. After reading this, you might never leave home again. If you know anything about my tastes (from reading this blog, or just knowing me), you'll know why a book like this will shine for me. Not because I need to be shocked but I need to "feel" something, when a book elicits an emotion (good or bad), the Author is doing something right. Roxane Gay did everything right with "An Untamed State", so much that I even had tears in my eyes and even had quite a few gasping moments (which is VERY unlike me, it takes a lot to make me upset).

Roxane writes so believable, I could feel way too much of what the main character was going through (it was that good). I almost wished the Author didn't have that talent due to the graphic nature of the novel (although, I think that was the idea, to get through to you in that way). The main character, Mireille is a privileged woman who lives a pretty "normal" life with a caring husband and a beautiful new baby. She was born in Haiti but the family moved to the United States during her early childhood. The parents decided to move back to Haiti when the kids had grown up and the family business was booming. Although the family comes from Haiti, Mireille considers herself an American with Haitian parents. The family has an enormous compound in Haiti and will never be "without" (which is a stark contrast to the majority of residents of Haiti). Mireille's friends don't understand her origins very well, thinking Haiti to only be the one depicted on the news (poor and crippled).

Her world falls apart when she is kidnapped (right in front of her family compound in Haiti), and things grow darker when her father refuses to pay the ransom, thinking if he gives in, the kidnappers will just come back and take another member of his family. Her husband, not having the money to pay the kidnappers, tries to find another way to find Mireille. The worst part, Mireille is so proud and strong, she doesn't give into the kidnappers demands of her and she ends up suffering at the hands of her captors because of it. She suffers some unimaginable things and almost everything you CAN imagine. Part of the skewed beauty of the story is the main character discovering the other side of Haiti, even though the circumstances, kidnapping, aren't ideal for a sociology lesson.

Before reading this book, I was very unaware that Haiti was so dangerous. I've heard of kidnapping cases but didn't know what countries and areas they were prevalent in. An Untamed State really opened my eyes to certain things, I learned quite a bit about a place that I knew only by name. This book also made me search within myself, asking if I would have been strong enough, if I would have survived? How would I have coped with the situation after? The entire situation is so far removed from my life and yet... It had me thinking and trying to relate in ways I couldn't fathom. One of my favorite parts of the book was the relationship that formed with Mireille and her Mother In-Law, both when Mireille came and stayed to nurse her back to health and then when she herself was nursed back to health. I found that relationship comforting and true, the way her Mother In-Law treated her before she truly got to know her. I'm always fascinated when characters go through a transformation in their way of thinking (especially in this case), being weary of someone who comes from a different culture but coming around in the end and seeing that everyone has feelings that are not unlike our own.

I'd like to say this book should be read by everyone, but I know there will be those who won't be able to handle it. This book will make you feel dirty and it will hurt to read it, but I'm still going to recommend it to everyone who I think can stomach it. Roxane Gay brings up so many topics that are gritty and challenging, she wants us to really look inside the deepest, dark parts of ourselves and come out with a little clarity. I think I've come out with a better understanding of Haiti, human trafficking, bondage, rape, kidnapping and how far a human mind can go before snapping. So, if you think you can stomach a few scenes within the book that will make you queasy, then you should read this book and learn from it (more about yourself and the world around you). Step out of the bubble and join us in the land of uncomfortable ideas, I believe it's important to feel squirmy about things every now and then.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Support Shelf Notes! Purchase your copy of An Untamed State here:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Humanity Project


The Humanity Project
Jean Thompson
3 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentence
"We were afraid of so many things: Of our children, who lived in their own world of casually lurid pleasures, zombies and cartoon killers and thuggish music."
Publisher's Description:
After surviving a shooting at her high school, Linnea is packed off to live with her estranged father, Art, who doesn’t quite understand how he has suddenly become responsible for raising a sullen adolescent girl. Art’s neighbor, Christie, is a nurse distracted by an eccentric patient, Mrs. Foster, who has given Christie the reins to her Humanity Project, a bizarre and well-endowed charity fund. Just as mysteriously, no one seems to know where Conner, the Fosters’ handyman, goes after work, but he has become the one person Linnea can confide in, perhaps because his own home life is a war zone: his father has suffered an injury and become addicted to painkillers. As these characters and many more hurtle toward their fates, the Humanity Project is born: Can you indeed pay someone to be good? At what price?

Thompson proves herself at the height of her powers in The Humanity Project, crafting emotionally suspenseful and thoroughly entertaining characters, in which we inevitably see ourselves. Set against the backdrop of current events and cultural calamity, it is at once a multifaceted ensemble drama and a deftly observant story of our twenty-first-century society.

Dear Reader,

For some reason, I was REALLY eager to read this book for quite some time when it first came out.  But, when I finally got my hands on it, it was nothing like I was expecting.  I loved the idea of examining the philosophy behind what makes a person do good in the world, but the story itself was kind of ... superficial.  Very interesting how the book revolves quite a bit around a school shooting, which feels still a little soon and a bit too raw for a lot of people these days.

I got the impression that the book revolved around two single fathers, basically.  One was trying to raise a teen-aged son alone, and was struggling quite a bit to make ends meet.  The other was suddenly raising a teenage daughter who had recently experienced a severe trauma, and who he hadn't seen since she was a baby.  I often got the two men mixed up, though, which made the story a little hard to follow.  The men both felt very pathetic and lost, and their stories seemed strikingly similar.  Which is why it seemed like there was such potential for a good story when their children became friends, as they seemed to have very parallel family situations.  But I don't feel as if the book had much of a focus, and while I enjoyed it as a great character study, the story itself didn't seem to hold up very well.

The title of the book implies that it centers around this "Humanity Project" which the reader finds out (maybe halfway through the book, and rather outside of the main story line) is the name of a foundation which a rich widow starts in order to make the world a better place (yes, that is really what the board is tasked with doing).  Much like the wishy-washy nature of the nonprofit organization itself - they don't ever have much direction - the book also followed a similar and very indecisive path.  I was pretty disappointed, because there seemed like so much great material to work with, but it didn't resolve into much.  I didn't really like any of the characters; they all mostly just annoyed me.  And the book started out with so much promise and intrigue: one of the fathers meets a woman on Craigslist and goes out for a drink with her on one of his last dollars (even while his house is about to be foreclosed on) and ends up seriously regretting the decision.  I won't tell you why, because that is probably one of the best parts of the book, and you'll have to read to find out.  I kind of want other people to read the book, too, and let me know what they think, because perhaps I was just missing something big.  I kept thinking I must be.  Maybe it was just my warped interpretation of the story?

Yours,
Arianna
Support Shelf Notes!  Purchase your copy of The Humanity Project  here:
 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monster on the Hill


Monster on the Hill
Rob Harrell
4 / 5

Published 2013

Publisher's Description:
In a fantastical 1860s England, every quiet little township is terrorized by a ferocious monster--much to the townsfolk's delight! Each town's unique monster is a source of local pride, not to mention tourism. 

Each town, that is...except for one. 

Unfortunately, for the people of Stoker-on-Avon, their monster isn't quite as impressive. In fact, he's a little down in the dumps. Can the morose Rayburn get a monstrous makeover and become a proper horror? It's up to the eccentric Dr. Charles Wilkie and plucky street urchin Timothy to get him up to snuff, before a greater threat turns the whole town to kindling. 

Monsters of all ages are sure to enjoy this tale about life's challenges, the power of friendship, and creative redemption, packed with epic battles and plenty of wild beasts!

Dear Reader,

As the publisher's description notes, this graphic novel was perhaps written for children, but can easily be enjoyed by any reader.  My boyfriend and I both devoured the book in one sitting, and we thought it was really well done.  The concept itself was so unique: a Victorian England where each town has its own monster, which is not scary but rather their claim to fame - as well as a strong source of tourist revenue.  So Stoker-on-Avon is disappointed to have a very ineffective monster, and they decide something must be done about it.  A disgraced doctor and a vagabond boy are roped into looking into the situation, and the story unfolds from there.  What I loved most (besides the great illustrations) were all of the little asides and sarcastic comments which peppered the story - things that could almost go unnoticed without a sharp eye.  The illustrations only add to the reader's enjoyment.  The story is definitely one of learning to be happy with oneself, and to own and make the most of what you have to offer.  But it's certainly done quite differently this time!  Who would've thought of using town monsters and their self-esteem to teach such a lesson?

This book was recommended by a co-worker with excellent taste, and I will continue to follow her recommendations if all of them are as good as this one!

Yours,
Arianna
Support Shelf Notes!  Purchase your copy of Monster on the Hill here: 


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

This Is Water


This Is Water:
Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life

David Foster Wallace
4 / 5

Published 2009

First Sentence
"There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys. How's the water?'"
Publisher's Description:
Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? The speech captures Wallace's electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend.

Writing with his one-of-a-kind blend of causal humor, exacting intellect, and practical philosophy, David Foster Wallace probes the challenges of daily living and offers advice that renews us with every reading.

Dear Reader,

As far as graduation speeches go, this one was pretty great - despite its not being the usual fare of one part mushiness and nostalgia, one part rose-colored optimism.  I love David Foster Wallace's work, and his outlook on the world.  And I think that's why this speech resonated with me.  It was all about how you may learn how to view the world in college, but how you truly learn to live in the real world once you leave it.  And how you must continually question your complacency in adult life.

It also made me glad to see that Wallace - such a great writer of people - lived his life much like I try to live my own: trying constantly to interpret strangers, and perhaps give them a back story which would explain this sleight or that bout of anger.  Things that seem aimed at me, and that I make the center of my own universe, but which might not have a thing to do with my presence.  (My sister will understand what I mean, especially!)

The format of this little book itself was a neat concept, the way it broke almost every sentence (and thus idea) up into a new page, but I found it frustrating to read that way; it made it difficult to inhale the speech as a whole, rather than swallowing the small disparate bits separately.  I'd be eager to re-read this in a more cohesive format, or hear a recording of Wallace's delivery of it.

All in all, I'd recommend this quick read to anyone who wants a little bit of real-world inspiration.  I don't think that and Baz Luhrmann's "Wear Sunscreen"* are in the same league, but I do love them both equally, for very different reasons.

Yours,
Arianna

* (The original text was actually written by journalist Mary Schmich.)

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Babbit


Babbit
Sinclair Lewis
4.5 / 5

Published 1922

First Sentences
"The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly and beautifully office-buildings."
Publisher's Description:
Prosperous and socially prominent, George Babbitt appears to have everything a man could wish. But when a personal crisis forces the middle-aged real estate agent to reexamine his life, Babbitt mounts a rebellion that jeopardizes everything he values. Widely considered Sinclair Lewis' greatest novel, this satire of the American social landscape created a sensation upon its 1922 publication. Babbitt's name became an instant and enduring synonym for middle-class complacency, and his story remains an ever-relevant tale of an individual caught in the machinery of modern life.

Dear Reader,

This book reminded me in many ways of Updike's Rabbit, Run - and I don't think that's just because the titles kind of rhyme.  They both revolve around an indecisive protagonist who is striving desperately to figure out happiness in a postmodern world.  I think I liked this one better, though, perhaps because the main character - despite his many flaws - was much more likable than Updike's. 

It's taken me a pretty long time to write the review of this book.  I am unsure why.  I really loved it; it is truly a classic and has so much to say about America at the time.  But...I wasn't quite sure what to SAY about it.  I'm still kind of at a loss for words, except for: I highly recommend it!

I did find it interesting that the book was written & took place in the 1920s.  Oddly, I had a difficult time keeping that in mind, for two major reasons:

One, I couldn't equate it in time with other books I'd read recently (The Other Typist, The Dressmaker), even though they were written about relatively the same time period.  This, I believe, was due to Lewis writing about an entirely new & different place: suburbia!  And this book examined in depth the fragility of the modern American dream, which the other two books did not do.  The Other Typist, for instance, centered much more around Prohibition than did Babbit, although Babbit's life did revolve somewhat around the illegality of alcohol.  Strangely, though, the author made it feel like this was just a fact of life, and that people were going to drink anyway.  Perhaps it is how society feels these days about marijuana - nobody really seems to care who uses it, but it is still against the law in many places.

Two, I kept pausing to think about how so much didn't change for entire decades in the early twentieth century -- this book just as well could have taken place in 1950, rather than 1920.  Or in any of the intervening years!  I often found myself thinking it was written in the post-WWII era.   And when I'd catch myself doing that, I would go off on a tangent thinking about how things didn't change for so many years.  But when they did, they did so exponentially.  Nowadays, if a protagonist uses a flip cell phone instead of a smartphone, the book is already dated for the reader.  How strange is that?!

I know this isn't speaking much to the actual quality or content of the book, but I can't really say much about the story itself - there was one, but it was pretty much the vehicle for an examination of poor George Babbit's life.  His experiences as he became roped into being a family man at a young age, found himself in the rat race without even really noticing, first trying to embrace the situation, then rebelling quite drastically, then trying once again to find his place.  A very interesting study of a very distinct slice of life: the America of "yesteryear."  And a man who could be truly be anyone.

Yours,
Arianna

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Frog Music


Frog Music
Emma Donoghue
4.5 / 5

Published 2014

First Sentence
"Sitting on the edge of the bed in the front room, Blanche stoops to rip at the laces of her gaiters."
Publisher's Description:
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. 

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.

Dear Reader,

This book thoroughly enchanted me.  I did partly race through it in order to have read as much as possible before going to see this author give a talk (more on that in a future post!), but I also just didn't want to put it down (or, er, stop listening - I audiobooked this, which I highly recommend doing - great reader!).

I don't know what it was about this story in particular, because as you probably know by now, I'm a sucker for historical fiction.  This was just one of many that I've found myself reading lately.  I first loved the setting of this book: 1876 San Francisco, so post both the gold rush and the Civil War, but before the city or state had really settled into their new identities.  This made for a really interesting background to a fascinating real-life story, fictionalized by Donoghue.  I have to admit that I wasn't really the biggest fan of Room, so I was a bit wary of this new book, but I thought the premise sounded promising enough to give it a shot - and boy, am I glad I did!  The historical details she added - everything from burlesque shows to high wheelers to frog-catching to awful "health facilities" which would never stand up in court today - really made the story.  Blanche's former life in a French circus was also fascinating to hear about, especially in light of her new life in America, complete with the awful, opportunistic men who were apparently pretty typical companions to French immigrants at the time.  And their house was based in Chinatown, which at the time still featured oddities such as new laws against the use of bucket yokes to carry large loads. I just loved all of the details that Donoghue added to her story to make it so much more real and vivid to the reader.  This was especially great because the bones of the story (Jenny's reputation and murder) actually did happen in 1876 California, and Donoghue crafted her novel around what she thought might have transpired on those hot summer nights to lead up to Jenny Bonnet's death.

The friendship between Blanche and Jenny was fun to watch develop, and was certainly the central part of the story.  Even though they had just met, they had a relationship much like dissimilar sisters.  They both leaned on and supported each other, without really even realizing they were doing so.  Blanche often found Jenny frustrating, as she watched the woman deliberately dress like a man (there were also laws against that at the time) and get herself into various scrapes and adventures on a regular basis.  Jenny herself often seemed somewhat simple at times, but really she just enjoyed the little things in life, and didn't let others stop her from what she wanted to do.  It was a brave way for a woman to be at that time, and it's probably why I loved the character so much.  Jenny definitely taught Blanche how to take care of herself for the first time in her life.  Her influence was life-changing, and her legacy continued on long after she was murdered.

Yours,
Arianna
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Friday, May 9, 2014

Life After Life (review by AmberBug)


Life After Life
Kate Atkinson
4/5


Published 2013

First Sentence
"A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the cafe."


Publisher's Description:

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

Dear Reader,

I have been waiting to read this book ever since Arianna wrote a glowing review of it (check it out). I'm glad she convinced me to read the book, because I really enjoyed it. I thought the idea of reading someone living life over and over again would get annoying, but the Author makes very good use with repeating subjects (hardly at all) and jumping through time (skipping long bits to catch us up). I really appreciated the timeline of the story and the delicacy in which she traveled on it. Ursula, the main character, is the one who ends up living her life over multiple times... giving her the chance to set things right and change her future/history. In the beginning life, she is strangled by her umbilical cord, making her first life very short and tragic. Whenever Ursula dies, the "black bat of darkness" comes and then snow falls (Arianna points out the symbolism of that in her review).

The remarkable thing surrounding each life, is that she gets to change her situation (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse). I loved the anticipation of the "do-over" that you started to realize was coming. My one gripe revolves around this as well though, I kept reading a little too quickly... anxious to get to the next part. This might be my own problem though, I get overly curious and anxious sometimes and this can be detrimental when reading a book that needs you to stay in the "here and now" without looking to what might be ahead. I don't think this is a universal problem and it probably didn't have the same effect on others reading this book. When something went "wrong" in her current life, I was just focused on what she would do to fix it in the "next" life. Smartly, the Author doesn't make Ursula's memory of her past lives clear cut. Each time she comes across an event that was troublesome in her past life, she has a feeling (almost like a dream) that something should be done about it but she doesn't really know why. The vague cloud of memory is a nice touch and might have been my favorite small detail to the crazy idea behind reincarnation (if you'd call it that).

I loved the way the story progressed (even if it had me wanting to jump ahead), each life was unique and Ursula had fantastically unusual experiences in all of them. One of my favorite moments was when she rescues (more than once) a dog she dubs "lucky" from a building about to come down. I almost wished there would be more to the dog and the connection they might have shared. Alas, he plays a very small part but still won my heart over. I also liked how in each different life, she seemed to have different connections with her siblings, the situations changing the closeness she felt with different ones. In one life, she was best friends with her sister, Pamela (told her absolutely everything), while in another life... her younger brother was the one she constantly turned to. I found that fascinating, the turns and bends through life becoming waves that change small things but effect the larger picture (such as sibling relationships).

To sum up my thoughts on this book, I loved reading it. Atkinson has a beautiful way with words and she thinks outside of the box (a value I absolutely love). I wish I could have slowed things down a bit, my anticipation got to me and I found myself on edge too many times. Again, this is my own silly personality and I shouldn't fault the book for this. I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes to read thoughtful literary novels with beautiful writing.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

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Saga, Volume 2 (Saga #7-12)


Saga, Volume 2
Brian K. Vaughan (Writer),
Fiona Staples (Illustrator)
4.5/5


Published 2013

First Sentence
"<---This is my old man

 back when he wasn't."
Publisher's Description:


From award-winning writer BRIAN K. VAUGHAN (Pride of Baghdad, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist FIONA STAPLES (Mystery Society, Done to Death), SAGA is sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and horrific monsters, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters her strangest adventure yet... grandparents.

Collects Saga issues #7-12

Dear Reader,

The magic continues! So, it's not a fluke... this really is a fantastic comic. Just look at the cover, look at that illustration!!! Just look at it. Amazing, right? Yes, even though Marko is covered in blood, it's still amazing. Yeah, thought so.

Volume 2 continues where Volume 1 left off, we are thrust into the back-story of Marko and Alana, finally! We get to learn how they met, where they come from and what made them want to risk everything for love. All this while still being followed by assassins and trying to escape the grips of everyone who wants the baby, Hazel. More adventure, some mysteries are solved but more are added, the plot thickens, the characters develop and the quirkiness continues. Imagine a seal in overalls walking a walrus on a leash!?!? Since I don't want to give much away, the reviews of these volumes will be short and sweet... but...

You haven't read this yet? What the HECK are you waiting for??? Start with Volume 1, which you can click to read the review here.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

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Twelve Years a Slave


Twelve Years a Slave
Solomon Northup
4/5


Published 1853

First Sentence
"Having been born a freeman, and for more than thirty years enjoying the blessings of liberty in a free State - and having at the end of that time been kidnapped and sold into Slavery, where I remained until happily rescued in the month of January 1853, after a bondage of twelve years - it has been suggested that an account of my life and fortunes would not be uninteresting to the public."
Publisher's Description:

This unforgettable memoir was the basis for the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave. This is the true story of Solomon Northup, who was born and raised as a freeman in New York. He lived the American dream, with a house and a loving family - a wife and two kids. Then one day he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the deep south. These are the true accounts of his twelve hard years as a slave - many believe this memoir is even more graphic and disturbing than the film. His extraordinary journey proves the resiliency of hope and the human spirit despite the most grueling and formidable of circumstances.

Dear Reader,

Reading this was very powerful and something I would recommend everyone to do. This journal (or would you call it a memoir?) is written with such a story-telling feel that I had to constantly remind myself this was a true story. I haven't seen the movie yet, I'm a purest at heart and love to read the book first. I find if I see the movie, it construes the images while reading the book, taking away the fun of imagining what things would look like. I'm actually reviewing this book without watching the movie at all! I will get to the movie, it won awards for obvious reasons and the book clearly presents some fantastic reasons of it's own.

For those of you, like me, that wanted to wait to see the movie (or live under a rock)... I will start with a short synopsis of the book. Solomon Northup, the Author, was a "freeman" living in New York with his wife and family. One day he takes on a job with some characters and winds up drugged and kidnapped to be sent South and sold into slavery. This amazing account of his struggles goes into massive detail (even though the book is fairly short), each chapter gives us insight into what it was to be a slave. Since Solomon started off as a free man, he had to learn how to be a slave himself... this journey tells us exactly how it was and we learn step by step along with him.

For example, he goes into lengthy detail on how to pick cotton, cane sugar, harvest crops and more. We learn that the only Holiday slaves got off was Christmas, and we get to peek into the celebrations of the Holiday. We learn what it feels like to whipped and left out in the sun for punishment. Every detail Solomon gives us, brings us one step closer to an awful truth, one history should never forget. To be honest with you, I started thinking I've read so much on slavery and the Civil War that I couldn't be surprised by much on the topic. I was wrong! I did NOT know that "freemen" were kidnapped and sold as slaves. It just goes to show you that there is SO much we don't know and we should never stop learning from our past. I urge you to pick this book up (the e-book is FREE) and read it.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

P.S. - As usual, I feel the need to share some of the things I've come across while googling.

Clipping from "The New York Times" article from 1853.

Solomon wasn't the only "freeman" kidnapped & sold into slavery!

Solomon Northrup's Descendants
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