Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: "The Picture of Dorian Gray" Classic a Month #2.2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
3 out of 5 stars

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. 
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

I asked a group of friends for a suggestion for a "romantic" classic for February and this book came up. Since it had already been recommended by another friend before, I decided to give it a shot. Now that I have finished it, I find it incredibly interesting that the first friend considered this a romance. Brief warning: my classics reviews always discuss the books in full, so if you haven't read it and prefer to remain spoiler free, please stop here! :) I read this on my Kindle, which had the boring plain cover, so I found this one instead. It was the most how I pictured Dorian (get it? "pictured Dorian"? I crack myself up).

This book is, in its essence, a story of the constant struggles between the soul and the brain. Sin and guilt, beauty and intellect, youth and mortality. It is also highly quotable, so I apologize for that in advance! A young man, Dorian Gray, sits for an artist named Basil and the two become close friends. Basil is enchanted and inspired by Dorian's beauty and creates his most perfect painting in the boy's likeness. He refuses to show it to anyone beyond his immediate friends though, as he is afraid he has put too much of his own soul into the painting and people will be able to read all his secrets. Basil's good friend, Lord Henry (or Harry as he is confusingly called throughout the book), insists on meeting the innocent Dorian and when he finally does, succeeds in turning the boy's head with fancy double talk and flourishing soliloquies. 

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also.

For nearly ten minutes [Dorian] stood there, motionless, with parted lips and eyes strangely bright. He was dimly conscious that entirely fresh influences were at work within him. 

At times reading this book, I wondered if Henry were the devil or a truly magical creature of some sorts, but it seems that he is only brilliant at putting ideas into people's heads, especially Dorian. After Henry changes his entire outlook on life and Basil shows him the true beauty of his soul, Dorian utters those magic words that make the story what it is..."If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that--for that--I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!" And with that the handsome, young man stays forever youthful while his soul shrivels and twists within the picture. At first he is horrified when he sees what is happening, but eventually he delights in his new freedom. Soon rumors are flying around about the perpetually young man who seems to bring shame to everyone he encounters. Respectable young men can no longer show themselves at the club, fine upstanding ladies are now rumored to be ruined. He no longer has any close friends, except for that rascal Lord Henry.

Henry's attitude towards women must be discussed as it is truly abysmal. But really, it's kind of laughable as well because we get little gems like this: "My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals." Henry's blatant sexism is counteracted by Dorian's love for women and his assertion that "women give to men the very gold of their lives." Dorian seems to be in love with the idea of love and most definitely enamored with his own reflection.

The story continues on, with Dorian living in sin (literally it seems, there are strong hints of homosexuality throughout the book, which was illegal at the time). He reaches his breaking point though, when Basil confronts him about all the nasty rumors. Dorian blames Basil for all his troubles and ends up killing him in his attic, after showing him the painting. He then blackmails one of his former friends into disposing of the body. But soon the guilt starts eating at him and after a strange conversation with Henry, who implies that he knows Dorian's secret, Dorian decides that he can't take it anymore. He'd rather grow old than be so corrupt. He gets it in his head that if he destroys the painting, then he will be able to live his own life again. But of course, it doesn't quite work that way. By stabbing the painting, he stabs himself thru the heart and is immediately transformed into the hideous man from the portrait and dies. And that's the end of the book.

I am too fond of reading books to care to write them.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: "Morning Glories Vol 1 & 2"

Morning Glories Vol 1 & 2
words by Nick Spencer
pictures by Joe Eisma
covers by Rodin Esquejo
2.75 out of 5 stars combined

I'm not sure where I first heard of this series but I have been wanting to read them for probably a year or more. I got lucky at Half Price recently and found the first two volumes, so I decided to give them a shot. And...I'm not sure about them yet. There are some things I really liked and then some things I pretty much hated. I ordered the next two volumes on Amazon yesterday though and am going to give them another chance. Actually, I went graphic novel crazy yesterday :) so I'll probably have another haul post up again when they all arrive.

Okay, so let's start off with a brief summary and then move on to the good and bad. Morning Glory Academy is a fancy pants boarding school that handpicks its students using a strange and mysterious criteria. Six new students arrive at the school for the new year (or maybe in the middle of the year? not sure) and are immediately thrown into some crazy and dangerous situations. And by "dangerous" I mean people dying in the first few pages. Graphically. So this series is not for the faint of heart. Or those annoyed by mysteries within mysteries within mysteries. Because there are lots of those too.

I've seen many reviews refer to it as a twist on the TV series LOST and I'll just have to take their word for it, because I've never seen a single episode. But I know enough that it has those same twisty mysteries that hardly ever get solved and I really hope that MG doesn't end up like that, because that's one of the things I didn't like. I would like to have some explanation, eventually, of why there are weird bald, ghost girls wandering around the basement and what the spinning sphere thing is and what the kids have to do with all of this.

The second thing I wasn't crazy about was the artwork, or more specifically, how the teenagers are drawn. And getting down into the minutia, the teenage girls. They wear school uniforms, which is fine, but there are lots of heaving bosoms straining the buttons of their shirts and waaaaay above dress-code short skirts. Is that really necessary, especially for a series geared towards teens/young adults? It was difficult at times to tell who was a teen and who was an adult, other than the uniforms.

Volume 2 was a smidge better, in my opinion. We get some background on each of the six new students (one story per chapter/issue) and it was really interesting to see where the kids were coming from. There were still some mysteries thrown in from the present day, which was frustrating, but for now I am going to trust that the author knows what he is doing and wait anxiously for my next books to arrive.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Favorite Children's Books #2: "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"

This is a feature I decided to start to share my favorite children's picture books. And I want to hear about your favorites too!

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
written by Judi Barrett
drawn by Ron Barrett

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs movies, but did you know it was first a children's book? Even though this book was first published in 1978, I had never heard of it until I did a children's book swap on Craftster back in 2003-ish. I received this book from my partner and had to create some items for her based on the story. I only remember that I made her a wind chime out of a plastic bagel and plastic cutlery with jingle bells lol. And just now, when I was adding the Goodreads link above, I found out there are 2 more books in the same land! How cool.

This story kind of goes along with Rain Makes Applesauce...both are nonsense stories about food. Actually I just realized they both have weather too. I made a theme and I didn't even know it! Cloudy starts off with a normal family eating breakfast and when a pancake flip goes haywire, it sets off a story about a small town called Chewandswallow. Chewandswallow is a normal town in many respects, except for one very important detail. Their food does not come from the store but from the sky.

It never rained rain. It never snowed snow. And it never blew just wind. 
It rained things like soup and juice. It snowed mashed potatoes and green peas. 
And sometimes the wind blew in storms of hamburgers.

Everything is hunky dory until the weather turns nasty one day. There are maple syrup floods and giant meatball hail and tomato tornadoes. The sanitation department, usually so efficient with their giant scoopers and tupperware, can't keep up. The townsfolk decide they must leave and so they sail away on boats made of stale toast and pizza sails.

Rereading this just now, I was surprised that it differs so much from the movie. There is no scientist and the reason for the foodnomaly is never explained. I haven't seen the sequel yet, but I want to. The part with the "leek" in the boat makes me giggle every time I see the commercial. (In case you didn't know already, I'm basically a toddler!)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book Hauls of far.

Oh wow, I haven't done a book haul post since last September?! I know I haven't bought a lot of books, but that's crazy! I've been posting them lately on my Instagram so I'm going to do a quick overview of my bookstore and library hauls for the new year so far. And I made a new graphic for you like it? :) That's my actual to-read shelf, so it's a hodge-podge of books.

Okay, my first haul of the year was courtesy of the library and had two big hits, a decent read, and a snooze-fest. I'll let you decide which was which lol.
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz
Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski
A Midsummer Night's Scream by RL Stine

My next haul was thanks to a little bit of cash and a lot of luck at Half Price Books. I very rarely find any of the graphic novels I'm reading there, but I found volume 1 & 2 of Morning Glories, which I had been wanting to try for a long time. Review will be coming up of those some time this week! I also found the 3rd in the Hater series by David Moody, which was slightly annoying because I still needed the 2nd one lol. So I ordered it cheap on Amazon and am excited to start on those soon. And finally Shrinking Violet.

In between here somewhere, I picked up two holds from the library, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Cress by Marissa Meyer. Both loooooved.
Next up is my library haul from this weekend. I'm reading Eleanor & Park right now and it is so good. I seriously need all of Rowell's books for my very own.
This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E Smith
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd -impulse pick! But dangit, just realized it's a series. I hope they have all of them.

And finally, another Half Price Books haul this weekend. I couldn't help myself, I had that 20% off coupon burning a hole in my phone lol. I only spent $18 total though, so a great deal! Do you like my fancy graphics? I'm finally using the 50 thousand photo apps on my phone lol.
Messenger & Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry-sequels to The Giver
2 Wayside School books by Louis Sachar
Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray-3rd book in the Gemma Doyle series, I'm on the 2nd right now.

And that's it for now...what was your last big book haul? I want to see or hear about it! :)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: "Fangirl"

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
5 out of 5 stars

I feel like I'm the last person in the world to read this book, even though it just came out this past September. There has been so much hype in the blogosphere (rivaling TFIOS mania) and I was a bit leery at first about it. But then my library hold came in and I started reading it Saturday afternoon (at the library!) and I stopped briefly to drive home and eat dinner and then I read...and read and read until I finished it around 11pm. And now I am a Rainbow Rowell convert and I must have ALL THE BOOKS!! :)

I didn't know a whole lot about this book going into it, in fact I thought Simon Snow was a rockstar not a book. Oops. But then when I figured out that he was actually a Harry Potter-esque boy in a huge book series, that just made it all that much better. This book really feels like the ultimate thank you to JK Rowling for all her hard work on Harry Potter. And that is awesome. But then it goes so much deeper than that and you start having feelings and then you cry and laugh and it's just ugh. I'm trying not to fangirl too much here, but it's hard!

Cather and her twin sister Wren (another confession: I didn't get their names until Levi did) are starting their freshman year of college and for the first time ever, they are going to be living separate lives. For Cath, it was not by choice. She is perfectly happy being a twin, a matching pair, but her sister is ready to be an individual so she requests different dorms and totally different class schedules. Cath is pretty upset by this, understandably, but she is devastated when Wren doesn't want to do their fanfiction for Simon Snow anymore either. Cath has developed a huge following with her stories and Wren doesn't care anymore. The mixture of the real story and the Simon Snow story by made-up author Gemma T Leslie and the fanfiction by Cath is a little confusing at first, but you get into the rhythm pretty quickly. I loved loved loved Cath's twist on Simon and Baz's relationship. Like seriously, I would read all kinds of stories about that.

Cath and Wren's relationship is strained to say the least. Both girls were pretty damaged when their mother left them as children. The girls and their father were broken for a long time and all 3 still show signs of not being totally okay. The discussion of mental health and getting the help you need was refreshing to see in a young adult book. Cath is probably, in most people's minds, a typical fangirl/blogger...a little bit nerdy, quiet on the verge of being mute, unable to make real relationships or see when people actually want to be her friend. Her upperclass(wo)man roommate, Reagan, is pretty anti-social herself but even she tries to bring Cath out of her shell. And then there's Reagan's male friend, Levi. Oh yes, Levi. Slightly weird looking, always smiling, and always trying to get Cath to react/interact. You see where that's going, right? I don't have to spell it out for you? I knew y'all were some smarty pants!

This may just be the perfect book for me. And maybe for you? I think so. :)
It's got it talk within a book (and within a book?), romance, humor, sister relationships, father/daughter relationships, mother/daughter relationships, Harry Potter fanfic, school, snow, sweaters...

"Look at you. All sweatered up. What are those, leg sweaters?" [Levi]
"They're leg warmers." [Cath]
"You're wearing at least four different kinds of sweater."
"This is a scarf."
"You look tarred and sweatered."

This review written with the help of Fangirl mixes on 8Tracks. Check them out! :)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sleeping Guys in Libraries...

Who doesn't love a nice catnap in the sunshine and a comfy chair? Unfortunately, some chatty teenagers came and sat down at the table in front of him, so his nap was cut short. And he looked super cranky as he was leaving lol.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: "Demo: The Collected Edition"

Demo: The Collected Edition by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan
3 out of 5 stars

I think I should have liked this more than I did. Brian Wood did New York Four & Five, which I enjoyed a lot, and Demo has a similar feel to that. All the stories are connected to New York City and center around young people (late teens/early twenties) going thru identity crises in some way or another. So it has all the right ingredients for me to love it...but. But, I just didn't connect to the stories. I've never had a problem reading an anthology or trade paperback edition of graphic novels, in fact I prefer it so I don't have to wait. Demo is the first one that I've come across where that is a negative thing. The stories are not connected to each other, which I was expecting, so reading them one after the other didn't let them sink in. I would have done much better reading one a night, so that is my advice to you! And now let's look at a few of my favorite stories in particular.

All the teens have super powers of some sort or another. Some of them are very subtle or never fully explained. In my opinion, several of the stories would have done great as full length graphic novels. For example, Emmy is a young girl who stops speaking after she realizes her words have power...real power. People listen when she speaks and sometimes there are deadly consequences. And in "Bad Blood", Samantha not only has to deal with her estranged dad's sudden death, but she finds herself strangely attracted to her half-brother and must deal with a surprising family secret.

"Girl You Want" confronts the stereotypical images that people (mainly men in the story) see in a youngish, seemingly single girl. The heart of this story, that people see what they want to see, really gets to you when you start thinking about it. As does "Mixtape", about a man who must come to terms with his girlfriend's suicide thru a mixtape last note she made him.

And finally there's my personal favorite, "Midnight to Six", or better named "The Slacker Pledge". Who hasn't had that feeling of utter slacker-dom in their twenties (thirties...) where they just want to do enough of their job to squeak by and get it over with? Three teens sign a pledge to always do the bare minimum, so as to live life to its fullest. Ten years later, they're still doing the exact same thing, but for two of the friends, that's not enough anymore.  

"If wanting a better life for myself makes me a fascist, whatever. I'll accept that."

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: "Shrinking Violet"

Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph
3.5 out of 5 stars

I really need Goodreads to allow half star ratings. This is a perfect example for why: it's not destined to be one of my favorites like a 4 star but it's also not so average that it only needs 3 stars. Ah, book nerd problems. :) I read the majority of this book Friday night, while watching the Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Did you watch? The main thing I got out of it was that I wanted to watch Cool Runnings and Netflix streaming doesn't have it boo.

Okay, back to the book! Tere is a painfully shy girl who just wants to get thru the last few months of her senior year without embarrassing herself completely. And when I say "painfully shy", I mean it was downright painful to read sometimes. The poor girl could probably benefit from some medication or therapy. Her mom is the complete opposite and as such, they don't get along at all. Tere only really comes to life while talking about her passion for music. I know, you're thinking "another music themed book??" I can't help myself, I've just been enjoying them lately! (Check the "Music" tag for the last few I've read & comment below if you have a recommendation!) 

Tere wants to be a DJ more than anything in the world. Conveniently, her stepfather owns/runs a radio station and one of their late-night DJ's suddenly quits. Tere finally works up the courage to ask if she can help out and bam, Sweet T is born. Emma, on Goodreads, mentioned that this book reminded her of the early 90s film Pump Up the Volume with Christian Slater and she is so right! Ooh I may need to watch that again soon. Tere slowly comes out of her shell a bit at the radio station and manages to actually talk to her group members during a school project. That might have been helped by the cute, sort of quiet, musically inclined Gavin. But she is mortified when shock jock DJ Derek puts her up as the prize for a song-writing contest and her cover as Sweet T is set to be blown out of the water.

The journey that Tere takes throughout the book will make you root for her and her super predictable happy ending. While some of the band names were high on the cheese factor (PJ Squid?) it was fun to read about the inside workings of a radio station and it will make you want to pull out your old high school poetry books and try to turn it into a song. (I know I'm not the only one, don't make me start posting my poems again!) And with that threat, I'll leave you with the first stanza of the winning song, that just might make Tere take a chance on love. ;)

The moon stops for you.
Not a cloud in sight
Gleaming down at your pretty face
Just enough glow to make you sparkle.
The moon stops for you.
Who needs the sun when you're around?
You're a natural satellite, always shining bright.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Favorite Children's Books #1: Rain Makes Applesauce

I've been wanting to start this feature for a long time but just got around to doing it this weekend. Growing up, I always wanted to be a 1st grade teacher (still do, actually) so I amassed a good collection of children's picture books over the years. I thought it would be fun to feature one every now and then and maybe discuss your favorite picture books too! This is not going to be a real review, because when I asked my sister how you would review a children's book she said in a sing-song voice "It was good, it had pretty pictures, it made me sleepy so I could go to bed!" Hah! So I'll just give a brief description and show off a few pictures.

Rain Makes Applesauce
words by Julian Scheer
pictures by Marvin Bileck

I'm going to start things off with one of my favorites that I discovered in a children's development class in high school. And I have a confession to make first...all this time, I thought Julian Scheer was a woman. Sorry Julian, I read your name as Julianne! Oops!

Rain Makes Applesauce came out in 1964 and was a runner-up for the Caldecott Medal in 1965. It's a nice sing-songy book that is all about the nonsense. You will definitely be reciting this one in your everyday life after reading it! The beautiful illustrations, that are almost like an "I Spy" book, compliment the poem perfectly.

Monkeys mumble in a jelly bean jungle
and rain makes applesauce.
Candy tastes like soap soap soap
and rain makes applesauce.
Oh you're just talking silly talk...

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: "Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany"

Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany by Hans J Massaquoi
3 out of 5 stars

I added this book to my to-buy list almost exactly a year ago which happens to be when Massaquoi died. Maybe I saw an article about him and that sparked my interest in his memoir (what's the difference between a memoir and a biography?) but after searching in tons of bookstores for it, I finally just gave up and ordered it on Amazon over the summer. Then it sat on my shelf for months (I'm so bad about that!) and I finally decided I needed some serious reading for the new year. I read this for the whole month of January at work (minus the week I was on vacation) and while it was a long read, I never really lost interest in it.

As much as I hated history throughout school (I have a horrible memory for dates and places), I've always been interested in reading about Nazi Germany. How do you say you're interested in something that destroyed so many people? I don't know. Anyway, Hans Massaquoi's story was such a different perspective, one that I had never even considered, and I highly recommend it. And I'm sorry, Dad, but I still don't want to read Rise & Fall of the Third Reich. ;)

Hans Massaquoi was born in 1926 in Hamburg, Germany. He was the son of a white, German woman and black, Liberian man. After his father returned to Liberia to help Hans' political-minded grandfather gain the throne back, Hans was raised exclusively by his mother in a tiny one-room apartment. This stark change of scenery, from riches to rags essentially, made life difficult for Hans at first. "If...I believed that the universe revolved around me and that I was something quite rare and extraordinarily precious, I came by my belief honestly enough." He had spent the first 4 years of his life believing that his dark skin and curly hair were enviable assets and now he was learning a harsh new lesson in his predominately white neighborhood and school. After a few skirmishes with classmates and quickly learning to keep his mouth shut against racist teachers, Hans began to fit into his new life. And fitting in meant becoming a Hitler supporter.

Barely seven, I, of all people, became an unabashed proponent of the Nazis simply because they put on the best shows with the best-looking uniforms, best-sounding marching bands, and best-drilled marching columns, all of which appealed to my budding sense of masculinity.

It was so interesting and heart-breaking to read how Hans came to realize that he was classified as non-Aryan and therefore unable to join his friends in the Hitler Youth Movement. His struggles as a black child in white Germany continued thru his teen years and into adult-hood. Although he managed to escape serious harm or capture, he definitely did not have an easy time. I don't want to go into a lot of detail, because I think it's better if you read it yourself, but he got into plenty of trouble in school, work, and beyond. Hans also had good times though and worked to make something of himself, in honor of all his mother's hard work. His ultimate goal, like many Europeans at that time, was to move to America and have all the freedom it offered. Or so he thought.

During his time exploring a US Military base after the war with a black friend, he discovered "...racial discrimination was not only condoned but openly practiced by the United States government. As much as [he] hated the Nazis for it, somehow, their overt racism and refusal to accept [him] in their military ranks seemed more honest to [him] than the United States' lip service to democracy and eagerness to recruit blacks while keeping them at arm's length in segregated, low-status service units commanded primarily by whites. [His] newly created ideal of an America that had mounted and won a crusade to free the oppressed had received a severe, perhaps fatal blow."

This book has a good balance of serious and humor. " most self-respecting German men of his era, [he] wore the symbol of manhood, a heavy handlebar mustache." It did slow down a bit after adulthood, but Hans wisely kept that part of his story brief and succinct. I think it's an important lesson to realize that the Nazis' persecution did not just end with the Jewish people and I'm sure it is probably still not mentioned in schools.