REVIEW: Slip of the Tongue

Slip of the Tongue: Talking About Language, Katie Haegele’s latest book is filled with ruminations on how we use language, how it has changed, and perhaps how it can even change us.

Filled with personal essays reminiscing on how English’s past is still part of the present, even when it doesn’t seem like it, journalism filled with warmth, and wit, Haegele will change how you think about language forever.

Check out the full review on Utne Reader.

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Review: Divergent

*Note: SPOILER ALERTS

Likes:
Easy eading
Pacing
Lots of action

Dislikes:
Simplicity

Honestly, I only read Divergent because I saw the movie trailer and instantly wanted to see it. But, the book and Veronica Roth definitely delivered!

Roth and Divergent are probably ranked in the same vein as Hunger Games. Not that that’s a bad thing, because Suzanne Collins fans will definitely enjoy this book/trilogy. I just think that Roth is much better writer/author than Collins, and for me this book ranks up there with Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

Yeah, that’s showing my age, but…
The worlds of Beatrice (aka Tris) and Jonas are so similar that I was hooked from the start.

I remember reading The Giver in elementary/middle school and just being blown away. Literally mesmerized by this idea of society! It’s as if Roth took an idea like the Districts in Hunger Games and the lottery aspect of The Giver and melded them together. I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising since JK Rowling essentially did the same thing in Harry Potter with that sorting hat. Yet, somehow Roth’s version is so very different from those.

Not only do the citizens of the factions have to undergo the stress of being “tested,” they’re plagued by their own free will. Regardless of what results they receive, it is ultimately up to the individual to choose where they end up and the path life will take. It’s almost like the Amish Rumspringa.

Take a year off, see how you like your new environment and world, then make a life changing (or not-so-life-changing) decision. Only make that decision in a week! There are consequences and sacrifices either way. So, beware. The choice is yours. Should you return, or leave, be even more aware that if you don’t fit into the box so neatly laid out for you, things won’t go as you planned.

As difficult and stressful as life is for Tris, before and after making her big choice, there was just something about her that was appalling. She might be a quick learner, but she’s still dense as hell!

The fact that she, never once, thinks either of her parents could have been from a different faction baffled me. Given her tendency to be curious (which is outside of her allotted nature), that’s probably one of the first things that would have popped into anyone else’s mind! Yet, when she finds out her mom was Dauntless I wanted to slap her because I had figured it out when she came to visit after initiation. Lord, help that poor girl.

Then there were the relationships between characters. To say that none had depth or interest isn’t entirely true. Some did, but Tris’s relationships were where I really wanted the bulk to be. Maybe because she’s oblivious to things (i.e. her brother considering a different faction, Four liking her, her mom’s background). Maybe it’s because the story focuses so much on her, outwardly, that those relationships never really fleshed out. I’m not sure, but I wanted…and expected…more from Tris and Roth on that front.

I’ve yet to indulge and buy the second book, although it has a high chance of happening. Divergent is a way better, and more fun, choice if you’re introducing youngsters to dystopian worlds than Hunger Games would be. Tris and her friends/family are easy to relate to and there’s a ton of action to stay engaged with. There was never a dull moment and once I give in to Amazon, I’m excited to see what will happen between the factions now.

REVIEW: Recipes for a Sacred Life

Likes:
Short chapters
Voice

Dislikes:
My inability to read just one
Lack of closure

Rivvy Neshama’s Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles is a light, quick read to keep on the bedside table. Meant, most likely, to be read in a daily proverb way, chapters are short and too the point. Due to their conciseness at times they lack the amount of detail needed to convey emotion or closure fully.

That aside, Neshama has a spirit that is boundless. It radiates out from her words into your mind and soul. Several stories hit so deeply I found myself getting a bit choked up and teary-eyed from time to time. Even read like a “normal” novel, the point won’t be missed.

Recipes for a Sacred Life, as laid out by Rivvy Neshama, is easy for anyone to follow. Whether you’re a yogi, meditation student, teacher, or average joe with no experience of spirituality or enlightenment, Neshama has plenty to offer–from family and life anecdotes to glimpses of the Divine in every day drudgery.

REVIEW: White Oleander

Likes:
Locale descriptions
Astrid’s honesty in emotions

Dislikes:
Abundance of similies
Ending

Before really getting into White Oleander, I perused the Goodreads reviews I could find. Many praised Janet Fitch’s writing–from style to voice to character development. People LOVED her and her book. Hell, it’s an Oprah Book Club book, it has to be great right?!? Maybe not so much.

Oprah is clearly not as literarily inclined as everyone likes to pretend. Does she pick good books? Yes, of course she does. However, a good many are clad with a “bestseller” emblem on the front and coming from someone who is somewhat of a book snob, the people who decide what makes a bestseller usually don’t know anything about literature or what makes it quality or not. But, Oprah has picked quite a few that I would consider of high literary merit (lots of great Classics, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou). Somehow Janet Fitch just doesn’t quite measure up.

White Oleander is beautifully written. Fitch has a way with words, stringing them together in a most eloquent way, that solidfies Ingrid Magnussen as a poet. Descriptions of Los Angeles paint a picture of the very differing locales it holds; the seasons play a huge part in the unfolding of Astrid’s life, and personally I found that extremely relatable. Regardless of the many pretty words Fitch chose, her use of the similie is over done.

Similies can be a great help in creating adequate visualization for the reader, there are even several that utilize comparisons not traditionally thought of and these work to her advantage. The rest, on the other hand, are superfluous and make me doubt her ability as a writer. Without the similie can Janet Fitch paint me as grand a picture? I’m not sure, I hope so. But, it might explain why I’ve seen no other books from her. She ran out of similies and gave up.

Which is exactly what the end of the novel felt like. Giving up. It was anticlimactic to the max, and left poor Astrid in yet another form of limbo. Longing, yearning, and not growing much as a character. It was a quick, good read. It was even a bit enchanting to read from a perspective very different, yet similar in some ways, to my own. The personalities of mother and daughter so thoroughly interwined yet juxtaposed made for diverse exchanges between the various characters. I won’t resell it, but I doubt I’ll read it again either.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Interesting Literary Facts for Halloween

Have a spooky, booky Halloween!

Interesting Literature

‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ as Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton began his 1830 novel Paul Clifford (and, in doing so, gave us perhaps the most famous – or infamous – opening line of them all). Since Halloween is looming, we at Interesting Literature thought we’d blow the dust off some mouldy tomes in the Gothic library here at the Castle, in order to bring you some of the most eye-watering literary facts and fancies from the season.

Halloween – or Hallowe’en, as in ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ – is a Scottish term, first recorded in print in 1556 (where it’s spelled, almost unrecognisably, ‘Halhalon’). This Scottish origin of the specific word ‘Halloween’ was continued when Robert Burns wrote a poem titled ‘Halloween’ in the late eighteenth century, which can be read here. The first reference to a Jack-o’-lantern (or pumpkin lantern), however, is, unsurprisingly, American: it’s found in a short…

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REVIEW: Memoirs of a Geisha

LIKES:
Landscape

DISLIKES:
Lack of action

Reading for about a week only got me nearly 150 pages into the story. Still, I have no real feelings for Chiyo/Sayuri (our main character). At this point, it’s pretty clear that I won’t be developing any either. The most exciting thing that has happened is that she fell off a roof and broke her arm. Even that wasn’t too exciting.

I really wanted to like this, but I don’t. I can’t. Memoirs of a Geisha is one of the most anticlimactic books I’ve ever read. How Arthur Golden managed to get this to #1 International Bestseller status is beyond me. I’m going to assume that it managed to do that well because it’s a book about pre-WWII, and during the war, Japan and the life a geisha. Two things I imagine many people, particularly Americans, would be more than curious about.

In all honesty, there’s not too much I feel the need to say about the novel. With the lack of action, each time I thought that something “exciting” was about to happen I was let down. The amount men of power were willing to pay for a geisha’s virginity was astounding, and the thought of people bidding on a teenage girl is also a bit disgusting. But it was a different place, in a different time…culturally speaking.

Memoirs of a Geisha isn’t a book I’d recommend to anyone. As much as one would like to feel sympathy for Sayuri, or any of the geisha, it never happens. There isn’t enough depth to any of the characters to make the connections so many book lovers I know look for in a good story, or book.

Review: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

New York Times Bestselling authors, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett”

LIKES:
Cover art
Motif
Personification/humanization of otherworldly creatures

DISLIKES:
Occasionally confusing

Purchased after reading American Gods a few years ago. And under the assumption that Terry Pratchett, who was highly recommended by a trusted book friend,  would suit my tastes as well as Neil Gaiman, unexpectedly, had. Good Omens did not disappoint.

Pratchett and Gaiman are seamless. If I had to pick the pieces written by whom, I wouldn’t be able to. The story, characters, and plot flow so well together that it’s as if they shared the same brain, writing space, and vision. Lucky for me, the edition I own has a section at the end where each writer talks about working with the other and a little Q&A.

Collaboration in writing can be daunting. As a “writer” myself, I have other writer friends, but only one or two I would trust to help me complete anything. Mostly because I don’t fear that they’ll steal my idea(s) or try to pawn their work off as my own. It’s a sort of mutual respect and understanding that exists between writers who work together. That we’re all brilliant and a little insane; and just because you thought up this crazy idea before I did, doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of it.

Good Omens is beautifully written, funny, and thoughtful. An angel and demon who have come to love this Earth over 4000 years aren’t looking forward to the coming Rapture. The Antichrist is an eleven-year-old boy who has no idea he’s the Antichrist, or anything other than an eleven-year-old boy. And when he does begin to realize there’s something different, he can’t pinpoint it and is nearly sucked in by the darkness that lives within.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are right on target with the consumerist world we live in (even if Gaiman and Pratchett wrote it 1985). Famine is a brilliant businessman who has created a food enterprise that could easily be a satirical McDonald’s; honestly, the description isn’t too far off as far as I’m concerned. Pollution is a boy who rides a scooter and just makes a hot mess wherever he goes. War is a beautiful journalist, war correspondent to be exact, who is always in the thick of it before anyone even knows tensions exist. Death is a Hell’s Angel.

In the end, the world that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett managed to create is merely a farce of the real world. Things are bit more extreme, perhaps, but ultimately relatable. While both are genre writers through and through, in my humble opinion, their scifi/fantasy isn’t really a leap for the imagination. And unlike some SciFi writers/novels the sense of disappoint in humanity isn’t just disappoint or disdain, it is gently cradled in a nice, warm, snuggly blanket of hope.

Review: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

LIKES:
Characters…all of them, fantastic
Authenticity

DISLIKES:
Sudden leaps in time

My mom gave me this book years ago, after she’d read it, assuming I would like it. Until last week, it had been sitting ever-so patiently on my “to read” bookshelf, among numerous other books that probably feel forgotten and unloved. Finally finished with the books I needed to review for The Celebrity Cafe, I was able to read something, anything, from my own collection of books. How I came to choose this one is beyond me, but it was a great place to start digging into that shelf.

Edwards writes beautifully and with an honesty that is admirable. I mean, I really adore her for the disgusting, hateful, and vile things that her characters think, feel, do, and even sometimes go as far as to say. One minute there’s a description of a landscape, that in any other scenario may seem useless and boring to readers, then the next you’re delivered the insight necessary to understand the personal meaning so crucial to that moment. These usually irrelevant, plot moving scenes are laced with so much hidden meaning and potential–as if to replicate the characters and their current states of being.

And there’s a lot that is always just below the surface for Norah, David, Paul, and Caroline. Each character has their own unique story to be told. Singular, yet entwined with all the rest. Weaving them together, in just the right pattern in order to become fully aware of the circumstance is part of the fun of reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.

Edwards’s tone is informed and authentic. She has crafted the secret that is Phoebe so perfectly, mythically even. Personally, having grown up with someone with Down syndrome, born in the same generation as Phoebe, the story was deeply moving. It was a time when these differences weren’t just seen as a hindrance, but a sentence to a short unfulfilled life. Phoebe, and my Aunt, prove that world wrong. Mentally challenged persons can, and should be afforded the chance to, live happy, long, fulfilled lives. Perhaps with difficulty and not 100% on their own, but they can. Phoebe doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes, she breaks them and lets the world at large see the unseen.

To complain about this novel is hard; my “dislike” didn’t even come until the last couple sections. Up until the late 80s section, time flowed quick well as far as I was concerned. One section/chapter seemed to lead seamlessly into the next. Then, somehow, toward the end it felt as if the need to wrap things up took hold and the gaps in time began to widen more and more. Given the events of the story, this wasn’t a huge issue. The distance between characters had also widened, making the time-lapse in sequence feel less alarming, but still a little unsatisfying (simply because I wanted there to be more more more.) I guess I’m a greedy reader!

Norah and David portray what happens to people when love is found, lost, and forever changed by life. David’s secret eats away at him and his family until, sadly, there’s nothing left. Paul, I think, can be understood by any child/parent/adult; he stands witness to his parents’ secrets, love, and hate for one another and as a result takes on bits of all these moments, thus trying to close the gap that is so obviously there. In some ways, each character (except Phoebe) plays the martyr–even if it is in their own mind. Published in 2005 (and yes, I’m way behind in the game), Kim Edwards made a grand novel debut with this tale. As a published and well-loved short story writer, fans and newcomers, alike, couldn’t have possibly been let down.