Book of the Month: The Girls

My third Book of the Month selection, for July, is my second favorite of all those I have received so far and the one that made me decide to renew my subscription when the promotion period ended.

The Girls by Emma ClineTHE GIRLS_final jacket (1).jpg

The story of Evie Boyd’s summer with a Manson-Family-style cult, told in retrospect by a middle-aged Evie nigh on invisible, is anything but what you’d expect. Rather than a sordid tale of blood and guts, “gore porn” finding titillation in the macabre, it provides an immediate look at what it means to be female in America. Through the eyes of Evie at two points in her life, the reader experiences the draw of charisma and the weight of expectation on women finding their way in the world.  Evie’s journey is anything but linear, ranging from teenage suburban bedrooms littered with mascara and magazines to remote sheds full of mouse shit and moldy clothes. A folk singer’s palace to the shadows of a beach house borrowed in the off-season. The men are tertiary. This story is, as promised, about the girls.

The Girls is not a morality tale, more of a beautifully rendered impressionist painting posing dozens of unanswered questions. The prose and themes reminded me of one of my favorite novels: White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I passed it on to a female friend as soon as I finished reading.

The Girls is a worthy read for anyone who has ever been mystified by womanhood. Which is to say, everyone.



2013 Literary Year In Review

Just in time for last-minute Christmas book-buying, it’s time again to take a look back at all the books I loved and loathed in 2013 (and I’ve got quite the backlog of reviews.) I did not get to read as much this year as I usually do, with school and my overseas teaching job keeping me on the run. I apologize for the repetitive answers.


1.Best Book You Read In 2013 by genre?

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going to Love More But Didn’t?

  •  Son by Lois Lowry

3. Most Surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?

  • Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth – I bought it based on a Twitter comment, and only had the vaguest idea of what to expect. What I got was nearly perfect.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

5. Best Series You Discovered in 2013?

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

  •  Kate Forsyth. It takes forever to get her books from England, but they are so completely worth the trouble.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

  • The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin – I don’t read a lot of contemporary literature because there’s usually a lot of grimy sex and crime and drugs and cursing and it all makes me very tired of the world. I had read Shopgirl and while it was fine, it didn’t have me seeking out Martin’s new work. Luck put a copy of this book in the dormitory I lived in while working in Germany.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

  •  I stayed up all night reading Bitter Greens. Like, ’til dawn.

9. Book you read in 2013 that you are most likely to re-read next year?

  • I will probably re-read The Dream Thieves just before the next book in the series comes out.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?












11. Most memorable character in 2013?

  • Just about everyone in Peter Pan, Daniel Pecan Cambridge.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

13. Book that  had the greatest impact on you in 2013?

  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I already spent a lot of time thinking about food, but that book actually pushed me to make some philosophical decisions about where my food budget goes. Mr. ArmchairAuthor and I no longer go to McDonald’s even as a guilty pleasure, and though we have limited resources we spend a little extra for meat and dairy from grass-fed cows. Thankfully those things are readily available in our rural town, which lies in the valley where most of the country’s food is grown.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read?

  • Peter Pan. Seriously, I used to rent the stage play of Peter Pan from the library every other week (my mom was super sick of it), and I bought the live action film from 2003 and made all the girls in Germany watch it with me. Why did I wait so long to read that book?

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2013?Peter_Pan__Neverland_by_SetsunaMitzukai

  • “We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.” – J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

16. Shortest & longest book you read in 2013?

17. Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it:

  • Peter Pan made me laugh so hard I was dying to share it with someone, Bitter Greens was beautiful and shocking in many scenes. The “final showdown” scene in The Dream Thieves was epic.

18. Favorite relationship from a book you read in 2013.

  • Aristotle and Dante.

19. Favorite book you read in 2013 from an author you’ve read previously.

20. Best book you read in 2013 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else.

  • Bitter Greens. Maggie Stiefvater asked her Twitter followers to recommend read-alikes for her novels, and someone put this one forward. I read the synopsis, and the rest is history.

21. Genre you read the most from in 2013.

  • This year was a little more diverse than others, given the circumstances, but Fantasy remained a heavy hitter on my reading list.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013.

  • Call me crazy, but I don’t get crushes on fictional characters. Perhaps that makes me no fun, but it’s just the truth.

23. Best 2013 debut you read.

  • I don’t think I read any debuts.

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013.

25. Book that was the most fun to read in 2013.

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2013.

27. Book you read in 2013 that you think got overlooked this year or when it came out.

28. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)

  • Though I did not post very many this year, I enjoyed putting together playlists for Mix-Tape Mondays. I have some ides for this meme in the new year that will take it away from just soundtracks for books (though I will still do that.)

29. Most popular bookish blog post of the year.

30. Book you’re most anticipating for (1)

31. Series ending you are most anticipating in 2014.

Random Review: Anna Karenina

I got more than I expected (and I liked it). anna karenina book cover

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The novel Anna Karenina is composed of parallel narratives: the story of Anna Arkadyevna Karenin’s dive from grace (a fall implies an accident), and Konstantin Dmitrich Levin’s search for meaning and purpose in a country that is swiftly changing around him. Both stories are played out in the highest social circles of 19th century Russia, among people who admire and condemn Anna’s passionate decision-making by turns and continually condemn Levin for failing to observe a host of social “niceties” borrowed from the French. Rounding out the tale are all the characters who travel between the Levin and Anna’s spheres: Anna’s lover Vronsky and the young girl he was toying with before he spotted Anna (Kitty Scherbatsky), Anna’s philandering brother Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky and his long-suffering wife Dolly (sister of Kitty), and Anna’s cuckolded husband Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin.

Add to this milieu a host of other Russians with a pile of names each, which change depending on who is addressing them (Stepan, for example, might be referred to as Stepan, Stiva, Oblonsky, or Stepan Arkadyich), and there is a lot going on.

William Makepeace Thackeray said of his novel Vanity Fair that he had written “a novel without a hero”. If Thackeray reveled in the wickedness and self-centered nature of the characters in his epic, Tolstoy has sympathy for each and every one of his. Anna Karenina is the kind of book that teaches one a lot about oneself, as each character is presented from his (or her) own point of view and the reader is left to choose sides. Oblonsky is as charismatic and socially adept as he is irresponsible, Alexei Karenin’s dutiful and magnanimous nature is undercut by his emotional reticence. Tolstoy did a phenomenal job of presenting an extremely complex situation equally from all sides.

Awesome Stuff:

1. This novel is a master class in pacing. Tolstoy brings the reader to the absolute edge of blibbering despair with the impossibility of Anna’s situation, only to take up Levin’s story in the next section which is on a happier tack. The two narratives balance each other this way through the whole novel: if Anna’s up, Levin’s down and vice versa. Only once do they come together in tone if not time and space, the “long dark night of the soul” that decides the fate of each character.

2. The analogies and metaphors. It’s a classic for a reason. An example, the feelings of Anna’s husband after reaching a decision about her situation (over which he had quite literally worried himself sick):

“He felt like a man who has had a long-aching tooth pulled out. After the terrible pain and the sensation of something huge, bigger than his head, being drawn from his jaw, the patient, still not believing in his good fortune, suddenly feels that what had poisoned his life and absorbed all his attention for so long exists no more, and that he can again live, think and be interested in something other than his tooth.”

3. The complexity. This is not a novel in which the suffering wife leaves the loutish brute of a husband for her sexy new lover, riding off into the sunset on a white horse. That may be how Anna sees it for a time, but she is the only one, and the novel shows the far-reaching effects of each of her choices. Choices that have consequences not only for her, but for her son, her husband, Vronsky, her brother, her in-laws, her friends. No one associated with her escapes her affair unscathed. Equally as complex is Levin’s search for meaning and companionship, though it is a source of one of the novel’s less successful attributes.

Less Awesome Stuff

1. Things lost in translation. This is a book translated not only from a language with an alphabet fundamentally different from my native tongue, but from a culture two hundred years past.  Once I got the hang of Russian naming conventions, there were still many moments in the novel at which I felt I was not quite getting the sense of something due to cultural differences. Something meaningful was happening but I didn’t have the knowledge to comprehend it.

2. Footnotes at the end. It’s a matter of taste, but I like my footnotes on the page with the relevant text, so I can inform my understanding and adjust my impressions as I read. With them at the end I end up just reading all of them once I finish the novel, rather than flipping back and forth. The translation itself was very good, great pains were taken to maintain the sense of things.

3. The axes. Levin’s story is often used to elaborate the author’s feelings on certain issues. There are lengthy passages on farming, feudalism versus socialism versus communism, Russian election practices, faith and spirituality, etc. The ax-grinding sessions came very close to swamping the narrative, like the whaling chapter in Moby Dick or the socialist manifesto that commandeered the last third of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

It’s a very good novel, and well-deserving of it’s recognition as a classic, but it’s probably not for everyone. There is a lot of heavy thinking to do, and I re-read pages many times when I felt I hadn’t absorbed the text. History buffs, introverts, and those with a sociological bent will love it as-is. If you just want the drama, skip Levin’s story and read only the parts concerning Anna and Vronsky.

Chair Rating:

A sturdy classic, finely crafted but a bit slippery in places.

A sturdy classic, finely crafted but a bit slippery in places.

…and in other news

A few things I forgot to mention while I was working myself into a tizzy over Pitch Wars:

Giant Squid Print Makers

1. I currently have some prints showing in Arcata, CA as part of a larger show featuring the work of my artist’s collective, Giant Squid Printmakers. The collective is made up of many people I went to school with and, though I have moved away, they invited me to send some pieces for the show. There are some great prints on display, and everything is for sale so I highly recommend taking a spin through the exhibition website if you can’t physically make it to the gallery. My alma mater used one of my prints for the press release, and it gave me a squee-crossed-with-vapors moment to think of the thousands of students, faculty, and alumni who were seeing it.

2. My Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo has asked me to become her co-ML next year. I could not be more stoked about the idea, our region’s participation was unreasonably low considering our numbers. I am a planner and a party-thrower, and next November is going to be awesome!

3. My ML also offered me a coupon for 8 free books from the used bookstore where she works. Um, yes?! Pleaseandthankyou.

4. Some of you might be wondering where Top Ten Tuesdays have gotten off to, as it’s been two weeks since I posted one. Well, gorgeous reader, I am in the market for a new meme. A list of ten books is difficult to assemble each week, more difficult still to not repeat the same books over and over…and if repeating, to come up with something new to say about the book you’ve already mentioned five times. Some of the categories were getting a bit repetitive, and with participation so high (in the three hundreds, now) it wasn’t really generating page views the way it once did. Books take time to read, and 520 unique books each year? I don’t think I’m up to that. If you’ve seen a meme that you think would be great for this blog, please tell me in the comments. I’m hoping for something that combines music and literature, or maybe even art.

5. I’m making turkey stew? Not that you needed to know that, but I felt like there should be five things on this list.

And now, a Christmas carol. Because Muppets, that’s why.

And CeeLo Green. Love CeeLo.

Top Ten Tuesdays: All I Want for Christmas are MOAR BOOKZ!1!!11!

I bet you thought that you wouldn’t be getting any Top Ten Tuesday action from me this month. Ha! Joke’s on you, writing this lets me procrastinate re: my NaNoWriMo responsibilities while still feeling productive. The babes of The Broke and The Bookish did their list with a birthday theme, but as I am a summer baby and the yuletide fast approaches I’m going with Christmas!

Top Ten Books I Want for Christmas

1. Unwound by Jonathan Baine

I just read about this book and I very much want it. It is relevant to my interests: biology, dystopia, social unrest, children who do not strictly fit the societal standard. I’m so there.

2. A hardcover copy of Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson

Recently read this book and loved it down to the ground. I would like to permanently add it to my library, where it can sit between To Kill a Mockingbird and White Oleander at the end of the Harry Potter shelf. The cover on the hardbound version is so beautiful.

3. Timm Gunn’s Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet by Tim Gunn

One of my loves is for textiles and fashion, another is for history. In junior high the school library had a series of books about fashion through the decades/ages, starting with Elizabethan and going right up to the 80’s (it was the mid-90’s at the time). I checked out each and every book and basically memorized the contents. This seems like a grown-up version of those books, and you can’t go wrong with Tim Gunn.

4. Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel

World myth is another of my passions (I have a big heart, okay?) and having pretty much exhausted Greek and Roman myth short of learning a dead language and reading the classics in their original forms, and never really clicking with Norse myth, I’d like to learn more about Hinduism. This beautiful picture book illustrated by a Pixar animator would be a great introduction to one of the Hindu Epics. I also have books on Celtic, Welsh, Korean, Vietnamese, African, and Native American myth;  I think this would fit right in on my shelf.

5. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell

I am trying to add more poetry to my diet of classics, and I’ve enjoyed several Rilke poems I’ve come across.

6. The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language

I have a French degree. I am learning Spanish. I read books about the origins of the English language and linguistics texts for fun. Sometimes I write books. I think it’s safe to say that I am a language nerd. I very much enjoyed Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, an overview of the development of American English, by the same author. I’d recommend it to folks who like that sort of thing.

7. No Strings Attached: The Inside Story of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop by Matt Bacon

It is still a cherished dream of mine to someday be a Muppeteer. I love these wacky puppet folks and everything they do.

8. Collected Folk Tales by Alan Garner

Because I think it’s clear by now that I like that kind of stuff.

9. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Preferably one of those nice classics versions that has a hard cover and pretty illustrations. I love the story but I’ve never read the original. No time like the present (Hehe. Get it, present? Oh whatever, printmakers and language nerds love puns.)

10. Hello, Jell-O! by Victoria Belanger

I like to cook, and Jell-O was a staple of my childhood. I also like silly, kitschy things so books like this (and the Hello, Cupcake! book I already own) are right up my alley. Plus, the pictures are so pretty that I can leave it out and my friends will flip through it when they come over. Then sometimes they want to make the the things. So we do.

Sometimes I think I’m pretty lame, then I look at a list like this and recognize myself as the awesome weirdo I truly am.

In case Santa, Daddy Warbucks, or a Sugar Daddy (or Momma, hey) who likes completely platonic relationships with happily married women is reading: what I want more than anything for Christmas is a small printing press I can use here in my apartment. Then I can print my own books with lead type I already own! Thus it is wished. I have also backed it up in other wishing formats, for good measure, so let’s see if it works!

Have you read any of these books? Did you like them? Were they terrible? What is your Christmas wish?

Top Ten Tuesdays: All Hallow’s Read

Is there a name for the opposite of a scaredy cat? Whatever it is, that’s me! I love to get scared, watch scary movies, read scary books, and Halloween is easily my favorite holiday (cuz I also like to wear costumes and be weird). So when this week’s assignment came down from the ladies of The Broke and The Bookish, I knew it would be a piece of cake.

Top Ten Book to Rouse Your Halloween Spirit

1. The Scary Stories for Sleepovers series by various authors

As a kid, I loved this series because it was actually scary! The stories were well written, the illustrations were great, and things didn’t turn out all right in the end. Wishy-washy spooky stories with half-hearted scares and everyone waking up safe and sound in their own bed at the end are for wusses! I still remember a few of these stories so well, I’ve used them as ghost stories around the campfire.

2. The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by Steven Schwartz Alvin

These stories weren’t as well-written as the ones in the first series I listed, and they tended to mix a few joke stories and silly spooky songs in, but the illustrations were downright terrifying! Just grotesque. When I would flip through the book looking for the story I would actually just peel back a corner of the page, to avoid accidentally seeing a haunting illustration. Once I paper-clipped two particularly disturbing pages together. Even so, I still read the stories and peeked at the freaky pictures. High grade spookage.

3. The Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine

Of course. This is a classic for anyone who was a kid in the nineties.  The Haunted Mask is a good one that happens to take place on Halloween. I was also a big fan of One Day at Horrorland, since it combined my love of scary stuff with my love of amusement parks. Quick, quality spooky stories that will leave you with a general sense of unease rather than keeping you up all night. Scares that leave you with a smile.

Current teens might prefer his Fear Street novels or the work of Christopher Pike.

4.  IT by Stephen King

As far as I’m concerned, this is King’s scariest novel. Perhaps because it invites the reader to slip back into childhood, and to be scared as deeply and irrationally as we could be scared then. When it seemed that anything was possible, even a murderous morphing sewer clown. One of the best parts for me is that each of Pennywise’s victims is scared by their own personal boogeyman: a werewolf, Swamp Thing, a giant bird. Still, they are tied together by that near-universal fear of what might be down the dark, wet drain.

5. The Harry Potter Series

It’s full of magic and fantastical creatures, and Halloween is the one time of year where it not considered hopelessly nerdy to indulge in a love of the supernatural! Besides, between pumpkin pasties and poltergeists, it’s always Halloween at Hogwarts!

6. Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater

This sequel to Lament has a distinctly autumnal feel. The action builds toward the end of October, and as more and more supernatural forces emerge at music conservatory Thornking Ash the narrative becomes increasingly spooky. Not really scary, but definitely has a Halloween-feeling for me.

7. Skeleton Crew, Night Shift, or pretty much any other collection of short stories by Stephen King

He’s not the master of horror for nothing, and his playfulness really comes out in the short story format. His collections generally offer at least one deeply disturbing, well-observed novella mixed into a selection of tightly-paced spook stories and short tales that manage to be both silly and spooky at once. The beauty of Stephen King is in his range, as he has said himself:

“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. ”
Stephen King

King understands that there are as many kinds of scary as there are people on Earth, and he tries to write them all (which is why this list could easily have been all King).

8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I’m a sucker for any book where you can feel more for the monster than the hero, even as you feel the hero’s fear and anxiety, and this book is an absolute classic. It’s fairly short and masterfully crafted, if you’ve never read it it I would make a point of giving it a shot this Halloween season!

9. The Witches by Roald Dahl

I love Dahl, and like any of his novels The Witches deftly mixes the hilarious with the horrifying. What could be more quintessentially Halloween than a convention of child-hating witches? I also highly recommend the movie version, Anjelica Huston is divine.

10. Barn Dance by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Ted Rand

This book is one of my all-time favorites, and the late-night harvest-moon dance with the farm animals and scarecrow has always held a little bit of that Halloween magic for me. Great to read with the kids, and not scary at all, but equally as enjoyable for adults thanks to lovely ink-and-watercolor illustrations.

BONUS Graphic Novel and Manga Rec:

Pet Shop of Horrors is an entertaining and spooky manga with a great art style, of the “be careful what you wish for” variety.

The Walking Dead is an outstanding series about survivors roaming the American south in the latter days of a zombie apocalypse. There are some truly shocking plot developments, the story is complex, and the art style engaging without being unbearably gory. I must admit the show lost me about halfway through the first season, not least due to character and plot changes that weakened the overall story.

*The title of this entry refers to Neil Gaiman’s proposed All Hallow’s Read, a movement to start a tradition of giving spooky books on Halloween.