Friday, May 31, 2013

PHXCC 2013 Report: Cherie Priest Spotlight Panel

Hi guys! More Phoenix Comicon coming your way. I’m proceeding in chronological order, so the next booksy-authory panel I attended was for the lovely Cherie Priest!

This is Cherie Priest:

Here are some books she has written:

I first heard of her because of the popularity of her Clockwork Century series (that’d be the first four pictured above), and I think she is probably most famous for these steampunk/alternate history books. She had her very own spotlight panel at Phoenix Comicon on Friday morning, and I was there to record, take notes, and have fun (she’s a very funny person, so lots of laughter).

The panel was pretty much Q&A for an hour, with lots of digression (the good kind!) in between Qs—as Cherie herself said, “I can ramble about anything for like an hour…just point me in a direction, I’m like a bottle rocket of nonsense!” Here were some of the highlights of the panel, in eyeball-friendly bulleted format.

• An audience member asked, why zombies in Boneshaker? To which she replied, “I really like zombies.” She continued on to talk about the inspiration behind the gas that turns people into zombies in the book, which she explains as Mt. Rainier being right there (the book is set in Seattle), and it’s a volcano, so the idea of the underground gas came from that.

• Another author, Charles Stross, made a post online about how steampunk shouldn’t be categorized as science fiction because it isn’t really scientific, and said, “I’m looking at you, Cherie Priest, with your gas-powered zombies” (she assured us that he is a lovely man, and the way she was telling the story it was clear that she didn’t take any offense). She told us how she had made a response post stating that it had been called to her attention that her zombies were unscientific, and said “Charlie’s right, and I am so embarrassed. If only I had consulted more zombie scientists! I need your help, then. I need for you people to buy my books and read my books and tell me what I’ve done wrong so that I can fix it in the future.” She said most of the commenters on the post saw the humor in it, but a few did leap to her defense. :)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

PHXCC 2013 Report: Books & Authors Kickoff Panel 5/23/2013

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So Phoenix Comicon was super fun. Not that I didn’t expect it to be! It just ended up being way more fun than I could have hoped. It was also rather exhausting! But it was extra awesome because we didn’t really have to wait in line for much of anything, as I worried we might. The one thing we did wait in line for (Wil Wheaton’s standup hour) we didn’t really need to, since there were tons of seats and we had bought tickets since it was a special event, and the thing we might’ve needed to wait in line for (John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton talking back and forth on a panel) we managed to avoid by attending the panel held in the same room right before it. All in all, it was great value for what we paid for a weekend of fun.

Thursday was the preview day of the convention, and the only book-author-y event we attended that night was the Books and Authors Kickoff panel, featuring Cherie Priest, Brandon Sanderson, Peter Orullian, Terry Brooks, and Timothy Zahn. To give you a quick rundown: Cherie Priest is most famous for her steampunk Clockwork Century series, which began with Boneshaker. Brandon Sanderson is famous in his own right as a fantasy author with the added fame of having finished Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series after RJ’s death. Terry Brooks writes the long running Shannara fantasy series. Timothy Zahn writes in the Star Wars universe and other sci-fi. And Peter Orullian, with whom I was not familiar before this, writes fantasy.

This panel was just a sort of fun, low-key roundtable discussion led by Orullian. He introduced everyone and then asked some questions of each author to get the discussion going and prod it along when it lulled. Here are some of the funny and/or interesting things that were discussed:

• In Orullian’s introduction of Brandon Sanderson, he mentioned that the first Wheel of Time book that Sanderson wrote knocked Dan Brown off the number one spot (of I’m assuming the New York Times), to which Sanderson replied, “It’s a little like sauntering in after someone’s been boxing for, y’know, 6 hours and defeated 12 opponents, and you’re like, ‘Hey!’ Bam, suckerpunch.”

• Timothy Zahn has a BS in physics from Michigan State. Not University of Michigan! A very important distinction that both Zahn and the audience noted and laughed about.

• Terry Brooks has written 35 or so NYT bestsellers, and Orullian asked, “What gets you up to write book 36?” To which Brooks jokingly (or not, who knows!) replied, “Fear of creditors?” In a more serious vein, he noted that he has been writing for 50 years, and it does get to a point where you ask yourself if you can do it anymore. If the passion isn’t there, readers will pick up on it, but he believes that in this business, you’re a writer because that’s what you do, what you were born to do. And if he is not writing or working on a project in a serious way, then he is not a good person to be around (“Just ask my wife,” he added). Writing is essential to his happiness and that’s what gets him to wake up and write each day.

• Brandon Sanderson talked about instinct and writing—that for him, the more he writes the more instinct he develops for knowing when something is wrong or right, or works or not (he related it to a baseball player swinging the bat and either hitting or missing the ball—something you develop with practice and instinct).

• Cherie Priest moved around a lot as a kid, and she talked about how because of that she quickly learned the importance of sounding like a local for fitting in in a new place. People have told her that characters in her books have very distinct voices, which she really appreciates, and thinks maybe that has to do with the skills she developed for fitting in and quite literally sounding like the locals when she moved from place to place.

• Orullian asked Zahn if, as a physicist, he ever reads speculative fiction novels and just cringes, but Zahn said that he actually has more problems with movies these days. “At least in novels there is an editor who may be actually knowing something about physics, or knows someone who knows something about physics and can run it by that person…I don’t think anyone in Hollywood knows anything about physics.” (much laughter ensued)

• Terry Brooks was a lawyer before he was an author, and at the time it never occurred to him to write a legal thriller. “Why I didn’t think this at the time, I don’t know, because I could be John Grisham by now!” (more laughter ensues)

• Brandon Sanderson is a gamer, and his favorite video game is Final Fantasy X

• Cherie Priest and her cousin once convinced her sister she was being haunted by a poltergeist—they recorded spooky stuff, silly rhymes, etc. on a cassette tape, and hid it under her bed

• Brandon Sanderson talked about Hollywood vs. publishing—Hollywood starts with “Great news!” before telling you not-so-great news, whereas publishing starts with “Your book is terrible!” before you find out that they actually like it. XD

• Cherie Priest talked about the spooky family legend that inspired her to write Those Who Went Remain There Still.

Many other things were discussed as well, but these were some of the tidbits I found particularly interesting or amusing. I’ve finished importing all my recordings, so more panel reports coming soon!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Read and Watch: Sanditon

Title: Sanditon
Author: Jane Austen
Publication Year: 1925, but written in 1817
Read: May 2013 Genre: Classic, as in old (not classic, as in everyone should have read it in high school)

I was a major Pride and Prejudice fan throughout high school. I started with the 1995 miniseries, went to the book, and then lived on the DWG fanfic site. The elderly Harvard alumni were very confused about what fanficiton was when I was interviewing with them, and at the time I was foolish enough to explain to them that I wasn’t spending every minute of my free time analyzing Jane Austen’s prose. (Later, at home, I was able to put together a list of reasons why my real interest was as noble as the one they hoped I had. Check it out at the end of this post, especially if you foresee the need to justify a fanfiction hobby.)

Even though my enthusiasm for Pride and Prejudice has reasonably abated since high school, I was still eagerly checking the Lizzie Bennet Diaries twice a week this past year, and I’m following the team’s new Welcome to Sanditon.


Sanditon is the novel Jane Austen started to write a few months before she died, and what we can read of it today is only the first 12 chapters. In the world of Austen academia, there seems to be an impressive amount of debate over this little fragment of a novel. Questions the scholars have been asking include:

  • Who is the heroine? Who is the hero?
  • Does the plot contained within the fragment suggest Austen’s intended length for it?
  • Is there any indication of what was likely to happen in the plot?
  • What was Austen’s emotional state while writing the book?
  • Was the book an original story, or was it a reworking of Austen’s previous writings or ideas?
  • What is Austen’s attitude towards the speculative seaside resort culture?

I personally love scholarly debate like this. Making educated guesses about fragmented literary works is delicious, so I will butt in with my less-than-PhD-worthy opinions about some of them.

The heroine of the book was meant to be Charlotte Heywood. Unlike the editor (Margaret Drabble) of the Penguin Classics edition I was reading, I like Charlotte as a main character. Of the twelve characters I can think of off the top of my head, fully seven of them talk nonsense, but Charlotte is the most clear-headed heroine I’ve seen in all of Austen. Charlotte listens politely to people as they babble, yet she’s fully aware that they’re ridiculous. Here is Charlotte after a young man drones on and on about Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, using words like “hyper-criticism” and “pseudo-philosophy.” Another Austen heroine might be cowed by this talk, (cough Catherine Morland and Anne Eliot), but here’s Charlotte’s response:

She began to think him downright silly. – His choosing to walk with her, she had learnt to understand. It was done to pique Miss Brereton. She had read it, in an anxious glance or two on his side – but why he should talk so much nonsense, unless he could do no better was un-intelligible. – He seemed very sentimental, very full of some feelings or other, and very much addicted to all the newest-fashioned hard words – had not a very clear brain she presumed, and talked a good deal by rote. – The future might explain him further – but when there was a proposition for going into the library she felt that she had had quite enough of Sir Edward for one morning, and very gladly accepted Lady Denham’s invitation of remaining on the Terrace with her.

So clear-headed is Charlotte that Austen doesn’t expend any effort on an omniscient and biting narration to describe most of her characters. Charlotte does all the work the narration usually does. Everyone wants to be Elizabeth Bennet for her wit and ability to tease, but there is certainly a lot to admire in a heroine who sees the ridiculous and finds an extremely polite way of handling the circumstances.

The hero of the book is slightly more difficult to place because the best guess is that it’s the character who literally has arrived one page before Austen stopped working on the manuscript. Based on the three paragraphs about Mr. Sidney Parker, it seems like he would be a perfect match for Charlotte. He is the only sensible person out of five adult siblings, which says enough of his charms for me. (He’s also so handsome that his siblings are convinced his very presence will attract young ladies to Sanditon like moths to flames.)

As for how long the book was going to be, all I can say is that based on this chart I assembled, there is no way to tell. In fact, the only reason I am showing you the chart is that I love to see the word-count pairs, and figure someone else might like to see them too.

I’ve started to sketch a plot summary of the book fragment for everyone who’s curious about it, but not curious enough to actually read it. This one covers almost half of the chapters, while omitting almost everything about Sanditon. (I like characters more than setting.) As I post the remainder of the existing story, I'll speculate on the direction of the plot (as long as you bear in mind that there is no evidence that my theory is more or less accurate than another). Sanditon Pt. 1

Welcome to Sanditon

Armed with my plot summary sketch, you have enough information to join me in wondering where the Welcome to Sanditon writers are going with their adaptation (which has four episodes currently, and is a summer venture for the creative team). Apparently, they are in the Margaret Drabble camp that hates on Charlotte Heywood, because the main character of Sanditon is not even a character in Welcome to Sanditon.

It seems that Georgiana Darcy is taking Charlotte Heywood’s place as an observer on the zany characters of the town, but that is a bit of an awkward substitution. Gigi Darcy is an impulsive character in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries universe, whereas Charlotte Heywood is a sedate but smart one. My best guess for this change is that the actress who played Charlotte Lu in the LBD was unavailable for WtS, because how much more natural would it have been for the writers to substitute one calm and clever Charlotte with another?

The Georgiana Darcy factor should also change Mrs. Denham’s plans for Edward Denham. In the book Lady Denham, while considering leaving thousands of pounds to Sir Edward, is hopeful that Sir Edward can find a rich heiress to marry, and thus make his own fortune (in the uniquely gentrified way of making a fortune). Thus, she initially is worried that Sir Edward may throw away his chances by marrying Charlotte, who, as one of fourteen children, is not wealthy enough to do him any good. But Gigi Darcy in WtS is a promising prospect for any aunt with ambitions for her nephew. Rather than seek to throw him into the path of the Caribbean heiress, this Mrs. Denham should be hoping that Gigi really will pull strings to get Edward a job at Pemberley Digital (already suggested in Episode 3).

The logical theory I can propose about this series is that most of the creative team is uninterested in being faithful to the limited text available. They found an Austen they could use without alienating a large fandom, and they’re using a few names and the general premise of a growing health community as a way of encouraging fan-participation in vlogging.

And the interactive vlogging and tweeting thing is a cool premise, so I can’t be particularly upset. But part of me still regrets that with almost any direction possible from the text (I’ll mull about Clara Brereton another time), this adaptation seems to be throwing away most of the interesting foundation.

Episodes of Welcome to Sanditon are uploaded to Youtube on Mondays and Thursdays.

Legitimate Benefits of a Fanfiction Obsession

  1. Participating in a fanfiction forum is a way of analyzing experiments with writing. After reading enough, you can gauge which parts of Austen make Austen unique. Is it the vocabulary? Nope. Some fanfics have archaic words that clunk. Characters? Possibly. But since 90% of the writers are using Darcy and Elizabeth in some form, that’s not what really makes it. Ironic observations? Yes. I never read a fanfic that matched Austen in this aspect.
  2. By reading works-in-progress, you have the opportunity to critique authors and see if the changes you suggest get made or make a difference.
  3. By spending so much time seeing variations, you learn the difference between the Canonical source material and the fan memes that make their way through stories. (Case in point is Colonel Fitzwilliam’s first name.)
  4. There’s actually a fair amount of literary criticism implicit in fanfiction. Rather than exploring the onset of Darcy’s love through an analytic essay, authors will make variations to the original plot or its timeline, and show how slight changes could have affected the story. Thus you can begin to determine if the Netherfield Ball is the necessary catalyst for Darcy’s feelings, or if he was on the path to proposing as far back as the Assembly when he rejects asking Elizabeth to dance.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Just a reminder...

Live-tweeting Phoenix Comicon today through Sunday, with panel reports to come later! Check out our feed or follow us @ReadThisEatThat on Twitter to vicariously experience all the geeky goings-on. (We're prioritizing the book-and author-related events, but might sneak in a zombie walk or My Little Pony screening.)

(I hope you know I'm joking about the My Little Pony thing.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Recipe Challenge: Strawberry Basil Tart-Pouches

Strawberry Basil Tart-Pouches

In our recent fascination with Kiera Cass’ The Selection, we came across a mention of strawberry tarts:

I picked up a strawberry tart from the basket in the center of the table. [other random thoughts] I mulled this over as I bit into the strawberry tart. It was so sweet and the dough was so flaky, every millimeter of my mouth was engaged, taking over the rest of my senses entirely. I didn’t mean to make the little moan, but it was by far the best thing I had ever tasted. I took another bite before I even swallowed the first. (135)

I don’t think we were necessarily inspired by the description, but Susan and I were talking and decided we needed more recipes on the blog, and wanted to do another challenge, and were both in possession of strawberries at the time, and remembered there were strawberry tarts in a book we had read recently. Ergo, we both invent strawberry tart recipes!

I decided I wanted to make little ones (since in the book the prince sends a bunch of them to the heroine’s family—doesn’t make much sense to send lots of full-size tarts, so I interpreted that to mean that they were mini), and quickly decided on a dough-purse construction rather than the traditional tart crust. I also remembered I have basil plants proliferating in the garden, and thought basil would add a little something different to the strawberries.

I realized this was probably going to end up being a little apple dumpling-like (only with strawberries) and I wanted to have a nice, flaky crust reminiscent of the family shortcake, only in dough form. I adapted the dough from this Cook’s Country apple dumpling recipe to surround the strawberry-basil filling. The result is 8 cute little strawberry tart-dumpling-turnover-shortcake-pouches! They taste nice with, a) extra strawberries added on top, (b) a little milk poured over them, (c) some whipped cream, or (d) all of the above.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Excitement on the horizon!

In addition to some awesome dueling strawberry tart recipes making their way to a computer near you, there is EVEN MORE excitement coming in the near future! Now that it's (nearly) (or already has been, if you live in AZ) summer, there are all sorts of exciting book-y events on the way, and Susan and I will be attending/reporting on some of them for our own edification and for yours as well. Susan will be attending the very exciting Book Expo America 2013, learning more about the book blog trade and meeting some cool authors, and I will be going to Phoenix Comicon and getting my nerd on with some heavy-hitter science fiction/fantasy authors. Not sure if anyone reading this is into the SFF scene, but here are some of the authors who will be speaking at Phoenix Comicon: Cherie Priest (of Clockwork Century fame), Brandon Sanderson, Terry Brooks, John Scalzi, Kelley Armstrong, Melissa Marr, Wil Wheaton (more famous geek than AUTHOR author perhaps, but I do think he has written some things and he definitely read for the Ready Player One audiobook)...if you have any questions you're just dying to ask any of these people, let me know and I can pipe up during a panel if I'm feeling brave. At any rate, I will be posting reports on the author events and panels after they happen. Woot! Join us for live-blogging and -tweeting fun!


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Genre-ally Speaking: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Title: Out of the Easy
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Year: 2013
Read: May 2013
Genre: YA-historical
Rating: **** (4 stars)

The Quick and Dirty:

Josie lives in the bustling world of prostitutes, gangsters and booksellers in the 1950 New Orleans French Quarter. Over the course of half a year she explores a way to get away, but the pressures of her world threaten to trap her there. Exciting reading, but could have had better character development.

The Wordy Version:

Josie’s mother is a prostitute in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, but Jo craves respectability. Visitors to the bookstore where she works and lives start to assume that she’s a college student, so she sees applying to Smith College as a way to leave the town that knows she’s connected to a brothel, and escape from the trouble her mother makes. As her acceptance to Smith begins to look more improbable, Jo’s need to get away increases—she may have implicated herself in a murder, gotten mixed up with the mob, and alienated her only friends.

Considering how hard it was to pull away from the book while I was reading it, I’m a little surprised that my feelings towards the book a few weeks later are mixed. There was a lot of crazy drama in the story—mobsters, prostitutes, blackmail, theft, secrets, guns, murder—and a lot of more normal drama—parent/child relationships, coming-of-age, gentle romance, college applications. With so much happening in the story, it was far from a dull book. Towards the end it was almost impossible to put the book down.

And it’s not just the elements that grab you; Sepetys has a great sense of suspense. The first sentence is, “My mother’s a prostitute.” It’s short, direct, tonally neutral, and pulled me straight into the book. The second chapter introduces some of the foreboding that will overtake the story later. Everyone begins to warn Josie of the return of “Cincinnati,” the dangerous low-level mobster Jo’s mother loves. Josie locks down her room, but closing the drapes can’t block out the ominous “CINCYNATTY” written on a note for her.

There is so much excitement that I think character development is short-changed. Cincinnati is bad, but in a boogeyman sort of way; Josie’s mother is stupid but still has some hold on her that isn’t fully explained; Patrick is a devoted son struggling with his romantic feelings, yet Jo doesn’t figure it out until after Patrick leaves so that aspect of his character essentially goes nowhere. The guy trying to get Josie to pimp herself to him is gross. Jesse, the too-attractive-for-me, smart motorcyclist, is basically just those adjectives. I wanted to cheer him on in his romancing efforts, but I didn’t think he was developed enough to make chemistry.

The characters that are most successfully rendered are Willie, the madam, and Cokie, the brothel’s driver. It helps that these are the closest people to parents that Jo has, and so the only development that truly has to occur for them is for Josie to see, through her teenage parent bias, the depths of their love for her. The book could have used more Willie instead of one of the other supplemental characters.

Josie is half cool and half irritating as can be. She’s a hard-worker, realistic but hopeful about the future, and her seven-year-old self was very spunky. But she’s so immature in her dealings with Willie in the second half of the book that I just wanted to shake her. This is probably just some facet of naturalism about rendering a teenager, but Jo handles many things so well that when she starts to get tunnel-vision, it’s jarring.

So, great plot populated by flat characters = exciting reading but a little disappointing in retrospect.

Coming soon!

The latest recipe challenge has been thrown down: strawberry tarts, inspired by the existence of a strawberry tart in The Selection. Keep your eyes peeled for the impending culinary face off! :D

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Read in Progress: An Ephesian Story

Title: Ephesiaca, or, Anthia and Habrocomes
Author: Xenophon of Ephesus
Publication Year: Mid-2nd century CE
Genre: Classic, as in old (not classic, as in everyone should have read it in high school)

The other day I was rummaging through some bins for stationary when I found, to my delight, my copy of the Ephesiaca (Book 1) by the Xenophon most people don’t encounter in their reading. You may be scoffing, “As opposed to the other Xenophon I don’t know?” And that’s okay, because unless you’re really into classics, history or philosophy, you don’t particularly have a reason to know of the Xenophon who wrote about Socrates (yup, Plato is not the be-all and end-all of Socratic wisdom) and concluded the History of the Peloponnesian War (you’re forgiven if you thought only Thucydides touched that subject too).

But Xenophon of Ephesos is not that guy. Xenophon of Ephesos is like the Danielle Steele of Greek writers, as opposed to say James Madison. This Xenophon is so lightweight that Wikipedia only has a stub about him, but the Ephesiaca has a lengthy plot summary on a separate page.

And here is where the fun starts, because the Ephesiaca is one of the oldest surviving novels, and it’s an adventure/romance. Pirates, true love, robbers, forced marriage, deathlike sleep, torture…can we say, proto-Princess Bride?

I should probably wait until I’ve read more to post about this, but I’m having too much fun so far. Here’s what’s going on in the first page:

Some youth Habrocomes is a popular guy, good at sporty things, with a rocking body and noble soul. I’m not totally convinced I’m translating the soul thing correctly because a sentence later we find out that he’s conceited. People will tell him that they’ve found some beautiful boy or shapely virgin, and he’ll look and laugh, saying that he doesn’t see anything great. (I couldn’t help hearing Colin Firth’s Darcy: “I saw little beauty and no breeding” and “She a beauty? I should as soon call her mother a wit.”)

Habrocomes is so convinced that he’s hot stuff, he’s been mocking shrines and statues of Eros (Cupid) under the belief that he’ll never fall in love with anyone.

This is clearly foolish on Habrocomes' part. And where I left off, “Eros rages at these things: for the god loves to win and is merciless to the conceited. He searched for something to use against the young man, yes for even to the god, Habrocomes seemed hard to beat.” Ha, Habrocomes, you are going down!

I can’t tell if it’s because I was just reading Wodehouse, but I love that Eros is kind of in awe of Habrocomes to the point that he can’t immediately find an opening to teach him a lesson. It seems like the sort of reaction that Bertie Wooster or Lord Elmsworth would have—but in an age of unironic togas. Sweet stuff.

Anyway, you know you want to read this one with me!

(Bonus points if you do it in the Greek! :-P)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Prince: A Selection Novella, by Kiera Cass

Title: The Prince
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Year: 2013
Read: May 2013
Genre: YA-dystopian
Rating: 2.5 stars

A Mini Review for a Mini Novella:

The description says it’s 64 pages, Amazon says it’s 55—either way, it’s short. This is one of those exclusive e-book prequel/interim/alternate P.O.V. novellas (so prevalent in YA these days) published to tide readers over while waiting for the next book in a series. In my admittedly little experience with them, I have not been pleased with the results. But of course every author and every series and every book is different, and since I enjoyed the Selection quite a bit I thought I would give this one a go.

This one just wasn’t all that interesting to me. It’s told from Prince Maxon’s point of view from his 19th birthday in the weeks before the Selection happens, up through his initial meeting with America and his first interviews with all the Selection girls. I thought it would be fun to see things from Maxon’s viewpoint and to see America and the other girls who we know become fairly major characters through his eyes. And it was. Kinda. A little bit. But it just didn’t add all that much to the story overall (which I guess is okay, since these interim e-books aren’t supposed to be integral to the overall series—just like deleted scenes from a movie or something).

The most interesting things I gleaned from it are a) Maxon’s age (19, just like Aspen), and b) his father King Clarkson is a real d-bag. In The Selection I thought the king seemed kind of distant and vaguely displeased with some of Maxon’s decisions, but I never got the impression he was a complete, abusive asshole. But apparently he is! Poor Maxon.

Other than that, meh. Mostly just rehashing events we already knew about, with the new perspective not adding as much as I had hoped. America from Maxon’s point of view wasn’t all that different from the America we’ve gotten to know from reading a whole book from her perspective. One thing that was mildly interesting was seeing Celeste through Maxon’s eyes, and gaining a bit of understanding as to why he might see something in her when all of the other girls see her as a complete beeyotch. I was also relieved to see that Maxon’s thoughts in his own head are surprisingly fluid and normal, and not as awkward and stilted as his dialogue from The Selection would lead you to believe. The discrepancy between the way he speaks in his own head in this novella and the way he speaks out loud in The Selection becomes apparent in the revisitation of some of the prominent scenes from the first book, such as meeting America in the gardens. In his head he sounds completely normal, but when he gets to the point where he says the actual lines from the first book he sounds bizarre—there’s some disconnect and difficulty in integration of book 1 Maxon with novella Maxon there.

I usually reserve 2 stars for things that I really have problems with, and I didn’t have MAJOR major problems with this one, so I gave it half a star to boost it up above that level. It was just a little on the boring side. Like an empty-calorie treat to tide me over between meals. Which I guess is kind of what it was! Good thing the next book-meal just came out recently so I can move on to that. I probably couldn’t recommend paying $1.99 for this, but if it’s in your library’s e-catalogue, you already know you like the series, and you have an hour to kill, go for it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Library Haul Update: April

I can’t believe this, but a month has passed since I shared my library haul with you, and the books’ due date has come.

As you may remember, my haul separated into four general classes of books:

  1. Cookbooks
  2. Light Classics
  3. YA Fiction
  4. Audiobook Nonfiction

And my guess was that I would spend two months enjoying the food-porn, two months reading the light classics, one month speeding through the YAs, and listen to the nonfiction while jogging.

Progress Report:

Audiobook Nonfiction

The exercise thing hasn’t happened, so audiobook progress has been slower than hoped. To my credit, I did listen to some poems in The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work.

My assessment so far is that hearing some poets reading can make a poem clearer. For example, one track is Dylan Thomas reading “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” and I can only wish that the Matched author had listened to it. As much as the poem is saying to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” Thomas does not read it with the violence you might expect. It’s not that Dylan Thomas can’t make an angry voice—his tone is very forceful as he reads “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London.” His reading instead draws attention to the grief of watching his father die.

Some other poets though can’t hide that their poems are not meant for oral reception as much as they’re meant for seeing on a page. Case in point, “The DNA Molecule” by May Swenson (1968). I listened to the poem a few times and it sounded too much like a science lecture for me to figure out what was going on. Reading it myself hasn’t necessarily resulted in my sudden comprehension of it, but seeing the undulating shape helps me not reject the whole thing as gibberish. The poem is interesting enough that I urge—no, beg—you to follow me to another post and chat about it.

Final thoughts on the Poetry Collection: Robert Graves has the exact dialect you would expect an English classicist to have; I would never have crossed paths with most of these poems if they weren’t in line on my playlist, and Carl Sandburg is too gravelly-voiced to make “Fog” sound like fun for children to read (which it totally is).

Poetry: "The DNA Molecule" by May Swenson

I was listening to the Caedmon Poetry Collection when "The DNA Molecule" caught my attention. I was on my way to Robert Graves' "Poem to My Son" when what sounded like a science lecture started playing. This was naturally confusing. In the past year I have reread some chapters of a biology textbook and skimmed some Science journals, but I have not taken out any audiobook more natural-science-oriented than Guns, Germs, and Steel, to which I was familiar enough not to confuse with the explanation of base pairing that I was now hearing.

As you can tell from this post, what I was listening to was a poem, and not a science book. I still don't fully understand the poem, and I've read and listened to it at least ten times now. Part of me is still confused to see DNA in a poem, and I am curious about her biology choices. The other part of me is able to stop and appreciate the image of butterfly wings in juxtaposition to replicated DNA.

Genre-ally Speaking: The Selection, by Kiera Cass

Title: The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Year: 2012
Read: May 2013
Genre: YA-dystopian
Rating: ***.5

The Quick and Dirty:

In a dystopian future North America where life is dictated by a strict caste system, America is chosen as one of 35 girls to go to the royal palace and participate in the Selection, a reality TV The Bachelor-style competition to choose the girl who will marry Crown Prince Maxon and become the future queen of Illéa. I expected dystopian fatigue, and was pleasantly surprised by compulsively readable fun.

The Wordy Version:

I was not expecting all that much from this book, to be honest. There’s so much dystopian fiction out there right now, and not all of it can be good. The cover is pretty, and seems to be going along with the recent trend in YA book covers--girls in pretty, foofy dresses! From what I’d heard about the book beforehand, I was expecting a dystopian fairy tale. It turned out to be more just straight up dystopian, with the monarchy prince-princess thing being less fairy tale, and more just the form of government employed in the society. Which was fine! (I’m still intrigued by the idea of a dystopian fairy tale. Does this sort of book exist, to anyone’s knowledge?)

Anyway, Susan mentioned this book to me as one of those books that at the beginning you’re like well, this isn’t that great, but then as you keep reading it becomes enjoyable frothy fun, which is precisely the experience I had. At the beginning of the book, I was pretty okay with the world building. The existence of TVs and phones and electricity and other trappings of modern real-life life laid to rest any ideas I’d had about this being traditional-fairy-tale-like, and the numerical caste system was okay. I liked that teachers were as high as being level 3, but had to suspend my disbelief that artists and musicians would be down at level 5 (given the high status of entertainers in our own society). It isn’t the kind of dystopian society where it’s horrible but everyone seems to be tolerating it, but rather the people seem to be pretty okay with the current system of government, although they acknowledge there are some flaws to the system. There are mentions of rebels, but the characters see the rebels as the enemy of the monarchy, the state, and themselves, rather than a revolution that they’re hoping for. I thought this was an interesting change from the usual set up.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

AGoT Read-Along: An early morning ride, a road trip, and an assassination attempt, a.k.a. Eddard 2, Tyrion 2, and Catelyn 3

After a two-week hiatus from the read-along, we are back! It took an epic newbie round of the Game of Thrones board game to convince me to get back to it. The game was awesome. Some friends and I decided to dedicate a Saturday to it, because it looked like a really confusing version of Risk set in Westeros. Which is pretty much what it is, but it is great fun! We started at 2 p.m. and finished at 8 p.m., with only string cheese and cheez-its to sustain us. Damn those supply lines!!! Anyway, it was really fun and I recommend it, but patience is definitely needed the first time you try it out (and probably the second and third, too). But I digress! Time to return to the business at hand, which this week is Eddard 2, Tyrion 2, and Catelyn 3. Let’s dive in!

Eddard 2

Ned and company are on the Kingsroad heading south to King’s Landing. It’s the wee hours of the morning when Ned is awoken to go on a cold ride with King Robert, who apparently suffers from insomnia. The purpose of this ride is ostensibly because Robert wants to ride around like a wild man and remember his younger days when he didn’t have the responsibilities of a king, but rather seems to be for Ned and Robert to chat and elucidate back story for the readers. Points of interest:

• Robert prods Ned about his bastard’s mother. Ned names a commoner woman called Wylla as Jon’s mother, and refuses to speak anymore on the topic. (That’s twice now he’s refused to discuss the subject with people he esteems! First with Catelyn, and now with Robert. Hm.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Hello, bookworms and moths! We’ve gotten some feedback (yay!), and are working hard to keep making the blog better. Items of business:

• We have heard that there’s a problem when trying to comment on a post via your mobile device--your comment magically disappears and doesn’t post. We are exploring and hopefully implementing a new comment platform soon that should get rid of that problem (fingers crossed!). We love comments, and don’t want anyone to feel dissuaded from commenting because of this issue!

• On the right side of the webpage, there is a box where you can type in your email address to subscribe to the blog (meaning that you’ll get an email alerting you whenever a new post goes up, so you don’t have to remember to keep checking the blog page). If you would like to subscribe, you will need to input your email address, hit the submit button, and then you should get an email confirming that you do indeed want to be on our subscription list. You must click the link in that email before you will be able to get our posts emailed to you! Apparently this email with the link has been appearing in people’s spam boxes, so make sure to check there if you’re running into problems with your subscription.

• And last but definitely not least, we’ve heard that while it’s fun to read reviews, it’s even MORE fun when you’ve read the book in question and can join in the discussion. So, to that end, we will make sporadic posts with our more-or-less-immediate TBR (to be read!) lists, so you will know what we’re planning on reading and talking about in the near future, just in case you’d like to pick up one the books and discuss it in the comments with us when we make a post about it.

Upcoming Reviews:

Alyssa’s Docket for the Near Future:

These are just my plans and the general order I think I might read them in. I reserve the right to add, subtract, and rearrange books according to my whims! But if you don’t know what book to read next, maybe you can pick up one of these and then join us in the discussion whenever it appears on the blog. :D

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Texting on Text: The Selection and Out of the Easy

Lest it seem like all we do is write lengthy rants posts about books we read (which, of course, ranks in our personal Favorite Things anthems), we're sharing our thoughts with you the way we usually do with each other. And by that, we mean unedited to make ourselves look less enthusiastic (exclamation points may also appear in our Favorite Things based on this conversation) or unnaturally insightful for text messages.

Thursday, 2 May, 12:00 am EST

Alyssa: Also, I started the selection!
Susan: :-D
Susan: I started out of the easy!

Friday, 3 May, 2:24 pm EST

Alyssa: Okay, I can’t stop reading the selection. XD very glad the sequel just came out
Alyssa: Not the best thing I ever read, but strangely addictive XD
Susan: Yay! It’s not just me!
Alyssa: Jeez, just put a hold on the elite for when it comes in. Contemplating reading the interim novella
Susan: Yes i completely agree! I finished out of the easy at 7 this morning. Addictive as well! More meat too.
Alyssa: I srsly think it came out like just 3 days ago
Susan: I must do the same! I didn’t realize it was out yet. Bad fan, i am.
Susan: Alas! Fourth in the line at my library!
Alyssa: LOL. Me too! Long Island and Phoenix must have similar tastes!
Susan: Hahaha—we’ll see which place reads faster. I am worried about the sequel though—can a sequel match the pleasantness of the first?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bran Muffins

Evenly filled muffin cups photo IMG_0123_zps63f558cc.jpg I think it would be incredibly fun to be a diet guru. My friend and I perused The Primal Blueprint a few months ago, and we marveled at the pseudo-facts a diet guru can cite in an official-looking book. (Not to say that this diet is completely bad, just that the writing seemed to manipulate studies, jump to conclusions, and make absolute statements.)

Anyway, if I were a diet guru, my mantra would be Fiber Fiber Fiber. It’s so delicious I can’t just say it once. Or twice. Fiber FTW! There are many very good reasons for my not being a diet guru, and it’s clear that my unsexy mantra is one of them.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Genre-ally Speaking: Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger

Title: Etiquette & Espionage
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Year: 2013
Read: April 2013
Genre: YA-steampunk
Rating: **.5

The Quick and Dirty:

14-year-old Sophronia Temminick begins attending a finishing school for lady-spies in a steampunkified supernatural version of Victorian England. Boarding school shenanigans ensue, without much really happening. A good, solid “meh” on this one.

The Wordy Version:

I’ve been pretty into steampunk for the past couple years, and was really looking forward to this one. It’s set in the same universe as the author’s Parasol Protectorate series for adults, which I have not read, but friends have enjoyed it and recommended it to me. So when the WordNerds book club chose this as our May book, I was very excited! I was kinda bummed when I sat down to read it and only thought it was okay—there were some things I liked, some things I didn’t, and overall I think the book and I just weren’t suited to each other.

First off, there was one big obstacle to me reading this book, and it had nothing to do with the writing. The main character’s name is Sophronia, and unfortunately a friend of my family used to have a dachshund named Sophronia. It’s such a unique name that that’s the only place I’d ever heard it before, so the whole time I was reading the book I kept thinking about the bratty wiener dog that ate my shoe. AND THEN the Sophronia from the story acquired a robot dachshund! It was just too much for me… XD

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