Random Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

This is one novel that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Flamboyant dresser (and aspiring costume designer) Lola Nolan has two great parents, a super-sleuth best friend, and a sexy-rock-god-olda-boy for a boyfriend. Life is generally peachy, some tension between her parents and her tattooed Romeo notwithstanding, until the Bell twins return from parts unknown to reclaim the house next door. Lola has a tangled past with Calliope and Cricket Bell, and she’s none too pleased to see them back in her ‘hood. Our heroine spends the rest of the book making fabulous fashions and tremendous messes of all her relationships, but we all know she’ll end up with the right guy in the end. She just doesn’t know if that guy is Cricket or Max.

Stephanie Perkins wrote another book that has been crazy popular with the bloggers of late (Anna and the French Kiss) which I have not read for kind of a dumb reason. The book is set in Paris, but Perkins has never been there. I, on the other hand, spent some time studying in France in college. The absurdly romantic, rose-tinted and butter-scented portrait most people who have yet to visit Paris paint of the city really gets on my nerves. There is an entire syndrome, The Paris Syndrome, named for the crushing disappointment  tourists feel on arriving in Paris to discover it is a dirty, crowded city just like L.A. or New York or Tokyo with all the attendant headaches and problems (and few free public bathrooms, even in stores). Interestingly, this syndrome is most often experienced by Japanese tourists. So I have avoided Perkins’ other novel due to this pet peeve, and I didn’t immediately connect her with Lola and the Boy Next Door.

How is this relevant? My brain clicked into action, connecting the two books, as I was reading the rather Disney-fied version of San Francisco (and Berkeley) in this novel. This author has terrible luck with me, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She at least attended college in S.F., and refrained from calling it “Frisco”, so many of the descriptions were accurate if a bit sanitized. So, there’s that.

The thing is, I like Disney. It’s cute. This book is also really cute. Lola didn’t quite click with me at first but “the boy”, Cricket Bell, was designed for me to love. Cricket is a socially awkward inventor who has sacrificed many of the rites of youth in order to support his Olympic-hopeful sister Calliope and her figure-skating career. A mechanical engineering student at UC Berkeley, most of his interaction with Lola is confined to weekends. Lola has great, supportive, protective parents but some unusual origins that lead her into a bit of an  identity crisis. When she finally won me over, about two-thirds of the way through, she reminded me of two literary gals: Dimple Lala with her identity issues, and Carmen with her ardent spirit. Lola feels things deeply, and Lola loves hard. It’s easy to see what draws her to rock-god Max, and it’s equally easy to see why he’s a pretty crappy choice of boyfriend for Lola.

Which leads me to what I really loved about Lola and the Boy Next Door: Cricket Bell is not perfect, but he is perfect for Lola Nolan. Anna and Etienne St. Clair, whom I gather are the couple formed in Anna and the French Kiss, play a role in Lola’s story. They are similarly imperfect people who are perfect for each other. A lot of YA romance sets up a sort of universally perfect boy who just happens to fall for the heroine, and of course she loves him already because he is perfect and everyone else wants him. That is so grating. Lola starts off with this “get the guy everyone wants” mentality, but as she grows as a person (resolving her issues, figuring what matters to her) she begins to recognize the specific things she wants to find in a relationship for her own particular happiness. Part of this is accomplished through her observation of Anna and Etienne’s relationship, a clever way for the author to develop Lola while giving fans of Anna and the French Kiss a mini-sequel.

Bonus: Stephanie Perkins is really, really good at writing the kissing bits. There are Max/Lola kisses and Cricket/Lola kisses in this book, and just like in real life each pairing has a different feel when they are alone together. Perkins does an outstanding job of capturing the high vibration of anticipation that characterizes young love (and lust), when parents so often get in the way.

All in all, this book was adorable. The descriptions of Lola’s costumes were great fun (though sometimes Perkins went overboard describing settings). The romance is perfectly paced, and there are plenty of meaty subplots to keep the novel from becoming a flighty teen bodice-ripper. Cricket is terribly lovable, and we see Lola’s lovableness through his eyes even though she can be absolutely awful at times (like any teenage girl). I’d recommend it to anyone, and I will probably buy a copy for my niece.

If anyone is curious, I do plan on reading Anna and the French Kiss now. Fictionalized Paris or not, I have every confidence that Perkins will win me over once more.

Chair Rating:

Cute and quirky in a non-challenging way. Fun.

Top Ten Tuesdays: Books I’ve Read Since the Birth of the Blog

Today’s topic is slightly arbitrary, and may be difficult because I haven’t even been blogging for a year yet. I will link to reviews where I can, and as always thanks to the ladies of The Broke and the Bookish for starting this meme and keeping it going!

Top Ten Books I’ve Read Since I Started This Blog

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Loved this tear-fest. Oh Augustus and Hazel Grace. My review is here.

2. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Once I have dollars, I fully intend to purchase a copy of this witty and beautiful book. My review is here.

3. Duma Key by Stephen King

I finished this one just before I left for South Dakota (it was on my summer reading list), and the half-finished review has been sitting in my drafts for quite awhile now. I keep tinkering with it but I really enjoyed this one and I want to do it justice.

4. Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Cute and fun, a total blast to read. My review is here.

5. Divergent by Veronica Roth

I actually told friends that it was better than The Hunger Games and I stand by that assessment (though I was not quite so impressed with Insurgent). Review here.

6. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

Last Fall I was studying animation, and working on my own animated short. I requested this book for Christmas and read it from cover-to-cover. It’s a beautiful read in terms of art, nostalgia, and a deep and abiding respect for the singular genius of Walt Disney.

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I re-read it just before the movie came out. That counts, right?

8. On Writing by Stephen King

An illuminating peek into the workings of one writer’s mind. Many passages from this half-memoir/half style-guide have stuck with me. My thoughts here.

9. Who am I Without Him?: A Short Story Collection About Girls and Boys in Their Lives by Sharon G. Flake

I walked to the library one day, plucked this from the shelf, and read it in one sitting. I am considering buying copies for my niece and sister-in-law.

10. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This one just barely made the cut, time-wise, but it was my favorite book of 2011! If this list were in order it would be number one. I never gave it a proper review, but I did write a little here.

Then The Elephant Threw Chekhov’s Gun Out the Window

I’ve loved hearing and telling stories of all varieties since I was but a wee lass. From the fanciful to the mundane, science fiction to what happened to Dad at work today, I always had an ear willing to receive a tale. Now that I am older, I am very interested in the structure of a story. Stories shared in the oral tradition of Africa are related in a very different manner than our European beginning-middle-end-Chekhov’s-Gun literature. Poetry relies on rhythm and meter as much as (or more than) formal linguistics. I love a story that surprises me. Where something unexpected, but not completely out of line with the rest of the tale occurs.

 
Which is why I love Written By a Kid.

Kids know how to tell stories that are more exciting, engaging, and surprising than anything a formally-educated adult can churn out. They aren’t bound by years of conditioning. They know what they like, and into the story it goes. The folks at Written By a Kid agree, and have made a web series in which each week a child relates an original story they have made up. The story is then animated/re-enacted/produced by the WBAK team. These stories are wild and inventive, funny, fascinating, and action-packed. No two are the same! I highly recommend watching them all, but in case you are short on time or kinda lazy here are my favorites from those that have been released so far:

Scary Smash

La Munkya

There are a lot of fantastic artists working on these webisodes: designing costumes, animating, and whatever else comes up. If you are interested in that sort of thing most of the episodes have a “making of” featurette to illuminate how the art was developed.

Which do you like best? Did you notice anything you’d like to use more in your own writing?

Top Ten Tuesdays: Built to Last

The ladies at The Broke and the Bookish have torn us Top Tenning bloggers away from gazing into our own navels, in favor of a more romantic topic. Dealing as this does with novel-ends, it is rather spoilery. Read with caution. This week I shall give you

The Top Ten Literary Romances That Would Survive Beyond the Last Page

1. Amos and Clara, Crooked by Laura and Tom McNeal

I don’t know if this is a Til-Death-Do-Us-Part romance, but I’d say that by the end of Crooked Amos and Clara have high school sweethearts in the bag. They go through an awful lot of character-defining moments in the book: finding their own strength in the face of loss, choosing substance over style in romance, and surviving a homicidal bully. Something tells me that Amos and Clara are just the type of solid kids to make it last, perhaps even to that golden anniversary.

2. Cassie and Jake, Animorphs

Again, a really solid pair. Cassie and Jake already know who they are and are supremely comfortable with it. Their romance is built on a rock-solid friendship. They are the kind of couple who mutually agree to break up senior year or just after because some friend or family member has convinced them that they are missing out on something, only to discover that they aren’t. This all assumes, of course, that they SERIES SPOILERS IN WHITE did not die crashing their spaceship into a Yeerk ship. Perhaps the Ellimist intervened. I guess that’s still surviving beyond the last page, even if it is only for seconds.

3. Sean Kendrick and Puck Connoly, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

These two spend most of the novel facing a life-threatening obstacle, while discovering in their spare time that they kinda-sorta like each other. Both committed islanders and equestrians, by novel’s end there is no question of their commitment to each other. They’re practically meant to be, if anyone can handle Puck it’s a guy who’s madly in love with a flesh-eating horse.

4. Daisy and Edmond, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

As much as it might completely squick people out, Daisy and Edmond have a full-on-Katniss-and-Peeta love situation. We know what happens with Katniss and Peeta, and I’m willing to bet Daisy and Edmond end up somewhere similar.

5. Dimple Lala and Karsh Kapoor, Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Dimple spends most of Born Confused getting in her own way, completely missing the fact that she and Karsh have a ton in common. Even after she comes around, she pridefully sticks to her rejection of him in order to save face. They take such a circuitous route coming together that it seems nothing short of fated when they do. Given their culture, and the deep bond they are able to build by novel’s end, it seems entirely likely that they end up a super-cool college couple headed happily for the altar.

6. Witch Baby and Angel Juan, Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books by Francesca Lia Block

These two fit perfectly into a place in each others’ hearts. They appreciate what they have together, even when they need time apart to learn about themselves, because of what they haven’t had with others. When Cherokee Bat and Raphael seem likely to wander in search of sexier pastures, Witch Baby and Angel Juan keep the home fires burning.

7. Penelope and Odysseus, The Odyssey – Homer

You just don’t spend ten years trying to get back to your wife (and fending off lusty goddesses), only to bail on her. Ditto for Penelope and her endless weaving, buying time for a decade while those piggish suitors ate her out of house and home. That’s commitment, folks.

8.   Val and Ravus, Valiant by Holly Black

These two had been to such dark places independently, that their coming together and trusting each other means quite a bit more than that of the impetuous Kaye and haughty Roiben ( Tithe). This is not a pair who will split up over a petty argument, both have a deep sense of honor. Ravus can be the still point of Val’s spinning universe, and Val will fight to keep Ravus if ever the need arises.

9. Keenan and Donia, the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr

I admit that this pairing interests me far more than Seth/Aislinn. I haven’t finished the series, so it’s quite possible that either Keenan or Donia (or both) is dead by the end. Please don’t tell me if that’s the case, I plan on finishing. If they make it out alive, I’d like to think that they carry on their season-crossed romance. Loving each other from afar and coming together at the solstices. How dreadfully romantic.

10. Jacob and Renesmée, Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

Just kidding! That’s creepy as hell. I’d like to think the family wouldn’t take this pairing for granted, and that the baby girl would grow up being totally grossed out by creeper Uncle Jake always sniffing around. I don’t even think Bella and Edward would last beyond her realizing that even hunting wild game with your bare hands can get boring after a century. Just because you married a rich hottie doesn’t mean that you won’t have to do laundry, and the lustful bloom will be off that rose as soon as Eddie realizes how terribly dull you really are. Wouldn’t she have lost her heroin-esque scent upon becoming a vamp?

I promise I’m not trying to cheat ya, here is a real number 10: Meg Murry and Calvin O’Keefe, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (yes I am aware that in later books they are hitched and have kids).

Top Ten Tuesdays: You Don’t Know My Life

But you could, if you read these ten blog entries:

1. My Favorite Quote from My Favorite Book – This is a short entry, but a meaningful one for me. That quote is one of the guiding principles of my life. Striving to act with integrity and do what is just does not always (or I’d say often) make  one the belle of the ball, but I can’t seem to live any other way.

2. Moon Tiara Magic and the Mockingjay – This is the kind of stuff I spend most of my day thinking about. Pondering the sociological implications of YA lit and anime cartoons is never going to make me a wealthy woman, but sitting at a desk typing things into spreadsheets would make me a crazy one.

3.My First Top Ten Tuesday: Theme Songs for Books – Music is a huge part of my life. It permeates everything I do, to the point that I can’t bowl well if I don’t like the song on the radio (and conversely I once bowled a 185 during a night of particularly good selections). This list contains some of my favorite songs and some of my favorite books.

4. The Wisdom of the Fool Won’t Set You Free: Love Triangles in YA Lit – This entry combines my love of math, word play, and YA lit under one sass-mouthed umbrella.

5. My Review of Twilight– This is important evidence for anyone looking to figure out what I’m about, because it’s what I sound like when something really agitates me and I get on a tear. There are also reviews of New Moon and Eclipse.

6. Ten Tips for New Bloggers -If a person were looking to discover what this blog is all about, this entry is basically my blogging manifesto.

7. Character Study: Ginny Weasley vs. Cho Chang – One of the features on the blog wherein I take a closer look at a character (or two).

8. Random Review: Divergent – It seemed only right to include a glowing review to balance the blast I gave Twilight.

9. Charlie Hustle – I created Ink as a way to document my efforts to advance as a professional artist (whether that art be writing or printmaking). This is one of the entries dealing with the visual arts side of the equation.

10. Tough Days Require Excellent Pies – Sometimes I just have feelings, and writing a long blog entry helps me sort them out and get them into usable focus. This is one of those entries (with bonus collages of prints and one Facebook thread).

I hope this helped you get to know Ink a little better, and I hope even more fervently that you will be back!

Tough Days Require Excellent Pies

The difficult thing about being a very analytical person with strong opinions, with enough conviction to share those opinions publicly, is the thing that “nicer” people often don’t understand. I am just as critical of my own work as I am of anyone else’s, more critical actually because I don’t often have to tell other people what I think of my own work. The opinions I post on others’ work publicly are tempered by the knowledge that I am talking about a person with a soft squishy heart who may have poured that heart into their work, and the knowledge that others will read what I write and form opinions on my character based on that sole piece of writing. I am free to beat myself up as hard as I can inside my own mind. Today is one of those days.

Over the summer I made the decision that I definitely want to pursue grad school, specifically to earn an MFA in Printmaking (or broader Studio Art depending on the program). Looking at my work from undergrad and what little I’ve done since, I don’t have much I’d be willing to commit to a CD and send off to represent me to selection committees. Luckily my husband is still finishing his undergrad, and I am not terribly interested in the program at his school, so I anticipate having at least a year before I apply. This gives me a year to get together a portfolio that doesn’t produce anxiety attacks.

Not so easy. Printmaking in general requires a decent amount of equipment. Given my living and financial situations I am limited to screenprinting on the porch and hand-printing woodcuts with a wooden spoon. However, plenty of amazing art has been produced from limited circumstance. Sometimes a lack of equipment and materials equals a push in a new direction.

It can also be hard to remember that a lot of the printmakers I am measuring myself against, in terms of technique and cohesive vision, already have their Master’s degrees (or are in the process of obtaining them). They have had three years to focus intensely on a body of work. Those at Frogman’s are some of the most ambitious in the nation. That may not be a just yardstick for a gal with a B.A. from a school with one room and five presses for printing (only three of which we actually used).

I am having some drastic ideas for my old work, and since I’ve quite honestly got nothing to lose at this point, I think I will get cracking.

More work from undergrad, clockwise from top: double-drop etching, wood engraving/letterpress from my first Frogman’s, 18″x24″ woodcut, my first wood engraving, collagraph.

Work from undergrad (and a little after) clockwise from center: 6′x4′ woodcut Zoombies from Steamroller Woodcut Event, woodcut for 2012 calendar, bookmaking project for brother’s Christmas present, woodcut for 2011 calendar, collagraph/collage/stencil piece, my first etching, woodcut for 2012 calendar.

Week of the Frogman

From July 1st to 15th this summer, I was halfway across the country in South Dakota. “Why would anyone voluntarily spend that long in South Dakota?”, you might be wondering. If one happens to be a printmaker, it is home to one of the best artist workshops in the country: Frogman’s. Since this blog is allegedly a conduit for my art, and not solely devoted to writing and books, I thought I’d share a little bit of what I worked on while I was there.

WEEK 1

My first week’s workshop was Screenprint with Melissa Harshman. Melissa is a professor at the University of Georgia at Athens, one of the graduate schools I am interested in. I had never screened before, so I threw myself into it with gusto and tried to make as much as possible during the week. I wanted to make as many mistakes as possible while I had someone there to correct me. I’d call the effort a success.

Melissa was a great teacher, very attentive, and I really enjoy her work. She cemented my resolve to check out/apply to UGA when the time comes.

WEEK 2

My second week at Frogman’s was spent learning everything there is to know about collagraph from artist Tracy Otten, an old friend of my undergrad professor. She is a faculty-member at the University of Minnesota Morris and a cool chick in general. The amount of knowledge she had to share regarding different materials and processes for collagraph was nigh-endless. For the unfamiliar, a collagraph is basically a collage made of whatever which is then sealed, has ink rubbed into the surface and then wiped from the high points, and is printed onto wet paper under high pressure (to pull the ink onto the paper via capillary action).

In addition to classes, each day we had artist talks from two of the lecturers. In the evenings we often had activities like a gallery walk or an opening, sometimes less art-related fare like karaoke or bowling (with costumes). All in all a fabulous time at what amounts to art camp for adults. I learned a ton and am already planning what to take next summer! The collagraphs are currently flattening under some heavy books (had to roll them for the plane), and when they are ready I will trim them and the screenprints, along with doing some touch-up and adding hand-color.  I’ll leave you with a piece of work that is already finished.

Landscape in Flesh – K.L. Eden, Collage, 2012