[Book Review] Conceptually intriguing, casually terrible

Eyre Affair.jpgBook Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

So many things to dislike, so little time to talk about them all.

(Spoilers ahead. All the spoilers, because idgaf.)

I rarely try books more than once, so I should have trusted my gut when I got stuck a couple chapter in – not once but twice. But this week, I got the audiobook, because I really wanted to get through this book about a murder mystery in an alternative history fantasy world of time travel and literature. Lesson learned, because this book was terrible.

I grit my teeth through the prose style and weird perspective shifts. I was willing to suffer through the self-indulgent literary babble and fangirling, because, okay, literature is as religion in this world, and as a book lover, I totally get it. I even powered through the weird inconsistencies: Okay, this universe has casual time travel, and yet the biggest mystery in Fforde’s world is the identity of the true author of Shakespeare’s plays? And Thursday is the first person ever to ask a time traveler to check? Fine, whatever. Continue reading

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[Small Chirps] Goodreads Choice Awards 2012 – and our favorite genres!

It’s that time again, as 2012 slowly rolls on closer to the new year. Before we know it, it’ll be 2013. December is the perfect month to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a book – or celebrate this year’s favorite books! 1,156,852 votes (woohoo!) and Goodreads releases its top reader choice award picks for 2012!

Here are the highlights for our favorite genres:

YA Fantasy and Scifi

Dystopian YA is still the new black, with Insurgent by Veronica Roth taking first place with her oddball (albeit creative) world of factions, intrigue, and a society that’s imploding in on itself. The author, Veronica Roth also finds herself at the top of the Best Goodreads Author category, with over twenty-thousand votes, making her a three-time winner (once for Divergent in 2011, and twice again this year). I know I’m curious  whether Roth’s third book, coming out  September 26th next year, will place first at the 2013 Reader’s Choice Awards, collecting a full set of awards for the trilogy (gotta collect them all!).

We’ll just have to see.

The paranormal teen romance genre is represented with Cassandra Clare’s latest book in the Mortal Instrument (the trailer for the upcoming movie is looking pretty good!) and Richelle Mead’s Golden Lily. The android-meets-moon-prince retelling of Cinderella, coming in fourth, had our canary vote, and –

– oh, why, hello there, Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore. In almost-fate, Rise of Nine misses ninth place by just a few votes, coming in tenth. Continue reading

Top Five: Literary Wizards

Who doesn’t want to be a wizard? In that secret little place in our hearts – the place that still thinks the admissions letter from Hogwarts might come in the mail at any moment – there’s an undying dream that one day we might discover that we can wield magic. And while we’re waiting for our powers to kick in, we consume everything there is to know about our comrades in books about magical escapades. Wizards abound in literature right now, making reading a magical event indeed.

We bring you the Canary collection of top wizards in literature.

Honorable Mention:

Septimus Heap, from the Magik series by Angie Sage

Something about this young wizard is so intriguing. It may be Sage’s straightforward writing style, but the no-nonsense, always-ready-to-do-right and eager-to-prove Septimus is just so dang endearing. The reading level is fairly low – I’d say a precocious fifth grader could tackle the books just fine – and he is a great introduction to the wizarding world. Continue reading

[ Best and Worst ] Little Lo & Big Blu

Incidentally, both the best and the worst books I’ve read were courtesy of the same professor. One was an unassigned, personal recommendation, and the other required for class. One of these books I’ve read so many times in the intervening three years that I’ve inadvertently memorized the first chapter. The other I will never, ever forgive my dear professor for implanting in my memory.

Best: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Once again, I return to my original Lolita, with its ailing spine, peeling cover, and well-thumbed through pages. It’s the 50th Anniversary Vintage Edition, with fleshy pink lips gracing a cover that I know Nabokov would abhor. The précis, which I am fairly sure Nabokov would decry as a clumsy, cliché, and cursory sketch of his most complex novel, reads:

Awe and exhilaration – along with heartbreak and mordant wit – abound in Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Most of all, it is a meditation on love – love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

When I learned that half my task was to write about my best read, it took less than a millisecond for Lolita to burst to the forefront of my prefrontal cortex. It was instantaneous, reflexive. I’m not even sure it came from my memory, but rather my spine. However, it took only another half a second for me to say to myself, “No, Whitney, you cannot write about Lolita. I forbid it.” Continue reading

Fantasy Watch: Fairy-Tales the New Trend?

One day, they found themselves trapped in a world where all their happy endings were stolen. …our world.

Whenever a new paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction show appears on my TV watching radar, I pounce. This Halloween week, we have the pleasure of seeing two fairy-tale related premieres. Grimm, a detective-style story about a guy who can see the fairy tale creatures all around us, and Once Upon a Time, a story of fairy tale characters who find themselves in a small modern-day USA town.

The Story: Once Upon a Time…

…an evil queen got her revenge on Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) by cursing them to be sent to a parallel world, their memories wiped and their happily ever afters gone.

“Where are we going?” Snow White demands, as a maelstrom of psychedelic curse clouds consumes the walls of the nursery.

“Somewhere horrible,” the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) says. “Absolutely horrible.”

Modern-day state of Maine.

But the story really starts when a ten year old kid (Jared Gilmore) takes a Greyhound bus upstate, turns up on bail bondswoman Emma’s  (Jennifer Morrison)  doorstep, and announces, “I’m your son.”

Not only that, he insists that Emma needs to come back with him to Storybrooke, Maine to save everyone from the Evil Queen’s curse. Everyone there is a fairy tale character, he tells her, and they’ve all forgotten who they are.

By pairing the two worlds, Once Upon a Time promises something to both fantasy-lovers and those of us in it for the mystery, drama, and small-town angst. Each episode will spend time in both worlds, moving Emma’s story forward, even as it retraces the steps of Snow White’s happy ending and the lead up to the Evil Queen’s curse.

The performance is top-notch, with the actors playing up the melodrama of their fairy tale roles, and the gritty humanity of their modern day counterparts. Robert Carlyle (Mr. Gold aka Rumpelstiltskin) plays his creepy, mad role to perfection and there’s something so adorable about Jennifer Morrison’s frustrated confusion as the little boy demands she return to Storybrooke with him.

And of course, my personal favorite bit of the first episode? The soundtrack as the Evil Queen crashes the wedding.  Dun-Dun Dun-Dun Dun-Dun.

The pilot creates and builds on its dramatic tension. We, as viewers, know the truth about Storybrooke and we also know who everyone’s alter ego is. But it’s a secret between us, the town mayor (aka Evil Queen), and the little boy. Fairyland itself incorporates an interesting cross-section of fairy tale characters: Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio exists alongside Brothers Grimm’s Snow White and Red Riding Hood, promising variety and vivid characters.

With its premiere on ABC netting over 12 million viewers, Once Upon a Time is sure to stick around. But only time will tell if it’s a story worth watching.

Banned Books Week: What’s your reading score for the 2000’s?

So you were a Subversive Canary in our Banned Books Challenge Part 1, but how are you in the modern age?

Here are the top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009, courtesy of the American Library Association. How many have you read?

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Continue reading

Why We Read Banned Books

It’s Banned Books Week, so like many other readers, I find myself coming back to the question of censorship.

When I look over the list of books that most frequently get challenged or banned, my overwhelming thought is that, with a few exceptions, these are all either established classics, or stories that particularly moved me when I was growing up. It’s amazing to me, and a little fortifying, that stories still have the power to frighten and move so many people. So why are some people or groups trying to get rid of them?

Book banning stems partly from fear, of course. I’ve read before, somewhere, that horror movies are one of the best ways to tell what a culture is afraid of—zombies represent mindlessness, vampires represent sex, and so on. The same goes for what we don’t want others to read. Books tell us about who we are, and book banning tells me what we’re scared to admit about ourselves and the world we live in. Continue reading