Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review and Confession: Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

My name is Chelle, and I’m a gamer. I’ve been known to scream out loud in panic and jam my fingers on all available buttons when caught off guard. Those of you who know what I’m talking about will sympathize (or laugh), those of you who do not… you’re missing out!

If you want to get to the review and skip my nostalgia, scroll down to the asterisks.

There is a secret I’ve kept hidden from you, my book blogging friends. I play video games. It all started at an early age with the Atari – with Frogger, River Raid and the most primitive version of Donkey Kong I’ve ever seen. I progressed to PC games and grew fond of Wolfenstein (it was years before I realized those were swastikas on the walls and that I was killing Nazis!), Duke Nukem, Keen and a little known game called Colonize. Doom I and II scared me to death but I still loved it. Myst was very difficult for me but I enjoyed spending hours each evening with my Dad trying to solve the puzzles in its beautiful yet creepy world. I’ve built skyscrapers and entire cities as well as managed huge farms all brought to me by SIM. I’ve wandered fantastic worlds wielding huge weapons in Fantasy Star on my Dream Cast as well as mastered the bow and arrow and “sneak” in Oblivion for my PS3. I’ve eaten numerous eggs as Yoshi. I’m working on my kill-death ration in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. My Donkey Kong Country skills on the Super Nintendo are off the charts. My favorite game ever is Grandia II. I even own the soundtrack. I’m in love with Sackboy from Little Big Planet, enjoy creating my own levels (5 I’ve published), and will be first among those who buys LBP2.

In Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, Tom Bissell explores how video game narrative structure differs from that of movies and literature. He broaches the subject of video games as art and discusses the obstacles they face in the artistic community (i.e. most game developers are NOT writers so their stories are often on the lame side). All throughout, Bissell discusses what video games mean to him and why he spends hours of his life playing them.

Ultimately, this book left me unsatisfied. It started out well but the bigger concepts were not followed up on. For instance, I wanted to know more about this “shock of the new” and why new things are so attractive in video games (nay, addictive when you first buy a game) (Bissell 26). Also, there were way too many spoilers! He mentions several times how these games takes 40 hours or more to finish the story-line but several times he reveals how certain scenes go down at critical game play moments! A spoiler alert would have been nice.

The beginning was intriguing, the middle boring and the end felt way off course as Bissell describes his addiction to cocaine. I suspect that he fell victim to this addiction after he began writing and needed to simply end the book so he could deal with real life. He has my sympathy and best wishes towards staying clean… but his personal addiction to drugs had little to do with this book’s initial subject: why video games matter.

I’m going to leave you with my favorite quotes from the text. Despite its many detractors, this book makes some interesting arguments that any gamer will appreciate. Non-gamers? I fear you’ll get lost in long game descriptions.

“…video games favor a form of storytelling that is, in many ways, completely unprecedented” (13).

“More than any other form of entertainment, video games tend to divide rooms into Us and Them. We are, in effect, admitting that we like to spend our time shooting monsters, and They are, not unreasonably, failing to find the value in that” (35).

“…no one is sure what purpose 'story' actually servers in video games” (36).

Unlike books or movies which largely control you, in video games… “You get control and are controlled” (39). I think this is a huge part of video games’ appeal.

“…modern game design is too complex and collaborative for any individual to feel propriety about his or her own ideas” (62). How different from writers who are highly territorial about their work!

“…the industry, which began as an engineering culture, transformed into a business, and now, like a bright millionaire turning to poetry, had confident but uncertain aspirations toward art” (87).

“So what have games given me? Experiences. Not surrogate experiences, but actual experiences, many of which are as important to me as any real memories” (182). I don’t doubt that he’s had a certain type of experience. But there is no replacement for real life adventures spent with real life, ever unpredictable, people. How can memories in real life be equal to those made with make-believe characters? This is a question for book fiends as well.

I love video games. I’ve clocked what might seem like an outrageous amount of time playing them – up to 12 hours a day on Christmas break when I got Oblivion. But while the world of Oblivion is incredible with its colors and people (truly it’s remarkable), there’s no replacement for the real Sun and Moon outside my window. We gamers (and book lovers!) must make time for people and the real world lest we lose touch with things that are important. Now, I can’t wait to get home to play some Call of Duty.
Publisher: Pantheon, 2010     Pages: 218 (183 to additional information)
Rating: 2.5 Stars     Source: U of Iowa Libraries

Friday, July 30, 2010

Northanger Abbey Update #2 – Chapters 10-15

This post is part of a readalong and will likely contain many plot references.

This part of the novel was so good! It actually made me feel frustrated and even angry. I don’t know about you guys but this Thorpe character had me fuming! I could not believe how in chapter 11 he deceived Catherine about seeing the Tilneys drive off, making Catherine believe she wouldn’t be going on a walk with them. I was happy Catherine called him out about lying to her. But Thorpe more or less abducts Catherine for the day… the creep.

If you remember, Thorpe makes a wild promise to drive out to the ruins of a castle much to Catherine’s interest. Now, this seemed normal enough especially since Catherine likes reading gothic novels. But remember N.A. is a gothic parody. Thanks to the footnotes in my Broadview edition (I love Broadview texts!) this episode became quite funny: “Thorpe either lies or is ignorant of the fact that Blaize Castle was actually a sham built in 1766…” and not a real castle – ha! (101).

The drama continues as Thorpe yet again thwarts Catherine’s attempt to walk with the Tilneys in chapter 13. He actually goes to Miss Tilney and tells her Catherine won’t be coming! Wow. Austen is great at creating douchey characters! Poor Catherine has to flee Thorpe’s presence and insist Miss Tilney see her so she can explain. I loved how Catherine stuck to her guns about not going with Thorpe and barged into the Tilney’s house to set the record straight. Finally, she’s getting some gumption.

But what about Henry Tilney? Is he a good guy? He strikes me as a fast talker and flatterer so it’s hard to get a read on him. I think he likes Catherine – she obviously likes him. But he does make some disagreeable statements about women at times. Is he being funny? Miss Tilney tries to make Catherine think so. I’m not sure about Henry yet. Catherine has her rosy colored glasses on when she sees H. which could be dangerous for her. I’m waiting to see how their relationship plays out.

I felt bad for Catherine when she found out her brother and Isabella got engaged. How sad that he did not tell Catherine about his intentions and let her share in his happiness. He seems to cut her out at every opportunity. He certainly isn’t looking out for Catherine at all. And neither are the Allen’s, her supposed chaperones. I think Catherine’s beginning to realize that she’s going to have to be the one to look out for herself. There’s no one coming to this damsel-in-distress’ aid.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for chapters 16-23 next week!
If you like N.A. or Austen in general, check out readalong participants’ posts like mine, links to which can be found here. It’s fun reading everyone’s take on this classic!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Let's Talk Authors at The Hop and a Few Links of Interest

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is: "Who is your favorite new-to-you author so far this year?" That's tough. I've read so many new authors this year, particularly a lot of YA authors, and there have been some gems (like Markus Zusak and Carrie Ryan). But my favorite new-to-me author from this year is Kathryn Stockett who wrote The Help. Wow, what amazing voices she gives her characters! It's phenomenal. Check out my review and pictures of me getting my  book signed here.

I'm almost done reading Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter so expect a review sometime this weekend. I'm hoping all you non-gamers out there will still find my review interesting. And I'll be posting an update on Northanger Abbey soon - Friday eveningish. Not sure why I'm telling you my schedule. I think it's me thinking out loud...but in my head and onto the keyboard. OK, stopping now!

One last thing! Here are some interesting links I've found in the past couple weeks:

Man of La Book reads and reviews a variety of texts including non-fiction and historical fiction among others. He and I share a reading goal: to read through American Presidents' biographies in chronological order. On his about page he says, "I consciously decided to renew my reading habits" and out of that grew his blog. Hip-hip, hooray!

"Beyond Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters: Classics Written by Women" - a fun post with a lot of book recommendations of classic women authors.

Jane Austen Fight Club: Austen meets Palahniuk in a very funny video posted on Carin's blog.

"Reading Critically" - a post in which Chelsea discusses whether or not learning to read critically has made reading more fun or drained the magic of the experience for her. It has some great comments.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book Five Revealed!

So what if I'm 25? I love Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series which largely targets "reluctant readers." Book five, The Ugly Truth, comes out November 9th, 2010 by Amulet Books. Read my reviews of books 1-4 here. I can't wait to see what mischief Greg gets into this fall!

Read Kinney's thoughts on book five at USA Today here.

I've still got to watch the first Wimpy Kid movie but I guess they're already working on a second. Any other Wimpy Kid fans out there? Have you seen the first movie?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review and Giveaway: Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

Sapphique is the sequel to Incarceron (my review), an epic fantasy by Catherine Fisher. I read Incarceron a couple months ago and really enjoyed it and couldn’t wait to read more about Finn the cell-born, Claudia the proud aristocrat, Jared the wise, Keiro the “oath brother,” and Attia the “dog-slave” girl not to mention the plotting Warden and the conniving Queen of the Realm.

Things don’t look good for those trapped in the heinous intestines of the world’s largest prison. Will the Queen win and obliterate Incarceron, damning its inhabitant? Or will Incarceron triumph and take total control. Where is the Warden? Where are the Keys? Does Escape exist? Who is this legendary hero, Sapphique? Does Finn even know who he is? Will Keiro’s bravado help or make things worse? If you’ve read Incarceron you’re probably dying to know the answers.

The characters are well developed and I enjoyed getting to know them more. Without his oath-brother’s presence, Finn is given the chance to step-up and prove himself. It was interesting to watch his development from tortured soul to commanding heir.

Claudia matures as she learns to see life through others’ eyes. She understands more fully that ending Protocol, the enforced low-tech aristocratic society, will mean her fall from luxury.

A new figure makes an appearance in the prison, the Enchanter. His role threw me a little and here’s why: I enjoyed the rational, “scientific” explanations for how the prison works and for how the Realm is run. As with most science fiction, there are devices that do amazing things – time travel, space travel, etc. – and the reader just accepts that they work, ya know? And I could accept how gadgets work in Fisher’s books, too. But the Enchanter brings the element of magic. Is it real, are we supposed to believe it’s real?

Mild Spoiler Alert: The asterisks below signal a spoiler-free zone.

Especially at the end, the explanations and loose ends were tied up with magic. I felt this was a cop-out and wanted what I had come to expect, a more “scientific” explanation if you will, for all the answers.


Ultimately, Sapphique was entertaining and a must read if you’ve read the first book. It did take awhile for me to become interested in the story again. But about half way through I began tearing up the pages to find out what the heck was going to happen! There are enough twists to keep things interesting. If you liked Graceling or enjoy fantasy with a sci-fi feel to it you might like these books, too.
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books, 2008 (UK version)     Pages: 470     Source: I won this book!
Rating: 3.5 Stars     Recommended Age: 12 and up
I'm giving Sapphique away to one lucky winner in the U.S. Click HERE to fill out an entry form!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Create-A-Cover: Summer Break Reading Challenge Activity #10

I almost forgot to do this challenge! We were supposed to create a random "name" for the author, a random verb for the title and use the first picture in flickr that was a person when we searched with the verb. After assembling the name, title and photo we are to create a summary to go along. I did the picture a few days ago and got stuck on the story. Well real quick, here goes - my create-a-cover!

Eleanor Dowd has lived in her entire life in New York City, feeling safe and secure in her established routines. When she gets a letter in the mail announcing her estranged father's death she is filled with mixed emotions. A Mr. Lumbardi, identifying himself as her father's personal secretary, writes to ask Eleanor to travel to Morocco and accompany her father's remains back to the United States. Eleanor flies to Rabat expecting to leave the same day with her father's remains. But Mr. Lumbardi makes it clear that Eleanor has much to learn about her father and herself before she can return home.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Two Intriguing Reads and The Book Blogger Hop

For the Book Blogger Hop this week Jen says, "TELL US ABOUT THE BOOK YOU ARE CURRENTLY READING!"

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher is the sequel to Incarceron. I loved Incarceron (my review here) and can't wait to see how things will play out in the sequel. I like how Fisher creates legend within a fantasy by starting chapters with "quotes" from a long lost hero. I'm giving away Sapphique to U.S. residents so check out my giveaway!

I'm also reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen as part of a readalong. I'm through chapter 9 right now. As usual, Austen is witty and perceptive of her culture. There are several passages that address reading - reading people, reading novels and reading situations. I loved in chapter 7 how Catherine learns to read the obnoxious and exaggerating Mr. Thorpe. She gets confused by his contradictions and realizes that maybe this guy is more than annoying, his word is untrustworthy. Austen is rather bold about her thoughts on the merits of novel reading and about women reading and writing in particular. Her sarcasm is kicked in high gear as she discusses women writers and readers. Austen's crticical and  feminist attitudes towards writing may have attributed to the fact that her "publisher" who bought the manuscript and advertised the book never actually printed the book, much to Austen's dismay, and Jane had to buy the manuscript back several years later so she could have the right to publish it somewhere else. What a fool that publisher was (p.s. he published Udolpho, so conflict of interest?)! Austen never did see Northanger Abbey published. Her brother, Henry, had it published after Jane died. How sad! Stay tuned for more thoughts on this gothic paradoy next week!

If you're stopping by from the Hop leave a comment and I'll visit your blog this weekend! Happy Hopping!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by J.K. Jemisin

Looking for a page turner? Look no further. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin is a fantasy novel that pulled me in to its strange world and had me returning as often as I could spare a minute to pick up the book.

Summary from Shelfari:
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate - and gods and mortals - are bound inseparably together.

The title of the book is somewhat misleading, in my opinion. I thought this story would be an epic, a story that traversed a vast kingdom. But the majority of the action takes place in the castle-city of Sky. So, I was disappointed in this respect.

The beginning was set up well. The politics and intrigues of the royal family are quickly reveled as are the gods trapped in mortal bodies who are at odds with the royalty. I thought that this conflict between the royalty and the gods was the main point to the story. While it is important, the plot actually turned into a romance between Yeine and the dark lord, Nahadoth. I don’t mind political intrigues with a little romance but this story was a romance with a little political intrigue. The romance between Yeine and Nahadoth was interesting with his split personality, but the romance was overdone for my taste, particularly because I wanted more of the original plot and kept waiting for the epic to begin.

The story is told in first person by Yeine and it is Yeine’s personality, strong and inquisitive, along with Jemisin’s writing ability, which kept me turning pages. I wanted to see Yeine solve the mystery about her family and was never sure how things were going to play out. I appreciated the humor which offered the right amount of comic relief.

The relationships between the gods were more than a little weird. Jemisin draws from many myths about gods to bring hers into creation. While most of the gods’ back story was interesting there are some parts about their sexuality that the reader is supposed to accept as normal for the immortals that was just disgusting. This is not a focus of the novel but I don’t understand what purpose mentioning these relationships served. I think mentioning the sexual relationships between family members could have been left out. It certainly didn’t make me want to see Yeine hook up with one of them.

While reading I kept making comparison to Stephanie Meyer’s sci-fi novel The Host. Both novels explore the idea of having two personalities within oneself or being inhabited by another entity or personality. They explore the ideas of one’s conscious and subconscious and what makes a person’s identity. They look at how we go about choosing what kind of person we want to be. I wasn’t a big fan of The Host and think Jemisin’s writing is way better but, if you liked The Host, you may appreciate The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

If you’re looking for a fast read, a romance or a new look at mythology this novel might be for you. I enjoyed the pacing that kept things escalating right up to the end. Some of the answers I saw coming, some I didn’t. While this is the first book of a trilogy I felt The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms stands well on its own. Overall, I liked this book but could have done with less romance and more action and adventure.
Publisher: Orbit, 2010     Pages: 228     Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 3 Stars     Recommended Age: adult

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Book in Pictures: Summer Break Reading Activity #9

For this activity we are to select pictures that represent a story we recently read. I chose The Stuff of Legend: Into the Dark which is sort of ironic since it's a graphic novel.

Once upon a time, there was a little boy...

who the Bogeyman snatched from his bed.

His toys were very distraught. But the Colonel marshaled their forces and marched....

into The Dark unknown world of the Bogeyman to rescue the boy.

The toys fought bravely against the The Dark's forces,

playing the Bogeyman's games,

learning to get along and work together.

But where the  boy is... nobody knows.

The Stuff of Legend: Into the Dark is written my Mike Raicht and Brian Smith, Illustrated by Charles and Paul Wilson III. Here's my review.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

I fear I'm about to commit Book Blogging suicide. This book gets a lot of attention and praise so I hope that if you loved this book you'll go easy on me here... But I'm getting ahead of myself. A summary:

In 1895, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle leaves India after her mother’s untimely death to attend Spence, a finishing school in England. While mourning her mother, Gemma must also deal with snotty classmates, unnerving visions that come true and the young man who has followed her to England to “watch” her. Things spiral out of control as Gemma experiments with friendships and her new magical ability.

The story is told in first person from Gemma’s point of view and I felt she had a very authentic 16-year-old voice. She quarrels with her mother, pouts about things that are “not fair” and has a spunky sense of sarcasm that helps her get through difficult times.

The characterizations of the main girls were strong in that I felt they had distinct personalities which added to the story-line. However, I didn’t care for Gemma or her friends. They all seemed spoiled, even Ann the “charity case,” constantly whining about their situations. The uppity girls deride their classmates, including each other, and Gemma caves to their peer pressure. She doesn’t always like what her friends say/do but she doesn’t try hard to stop them either. Considering Gemma’s the one with the powers I thought it was rather weak and selfish of her to stand by friends who were so petty. Now, none of these girls’ lives are as great as they seem on the surface – no one’s is – but that’s not an excuse to treat others like dirt. Not connecting well with the main characters was a real drawback to my total experience with the book.

I wanted to know more about the headmistress, Mrs. Nightwing. Her character could have been bolder for me. I kept waiting for her to jump into the action and she didn’t. Also, the mysterious boy, Kartik – what is he doing in this story? He confuses me. If he’s going to threaten Gemma then get rough with her, don’t just leave notes on her pillow. If they’re going to fall in love then they’ll have to interact more for that to happen. It starts to happen, but more or less we’re left with Gemma’s fantasies about him (which are pretty graphic for the 12-year-old recommendation given by my library – eek!). When the book ended I still didn’t know who Kartik was or how he truly felt about Gemma’s magic abilities or her as a person.

A Great and Terrible Beauty
is the first of a series so maybe the next books will address some of the issues I had with the characters. Unfortunately, I’m just not into Gemma Doyle enough to care about what happens to her to bother reading any more. Too many cliches (boarding school kids sneaking out to get drunk... this is so overworked) and obvious endings (selfish people become easy to predict).

This is a well loved novel by many and I think I must be strange for not liking this book. I think Bray’s writing is fine and dandy. She's obviously got talent. There was enough drama that kept me turning pages. But ultimately, this story was not for me.  On an aside, here's a fun interview with the author.
Delacorte, 2003       Pages: 403    Recommended Age: 15 and up
Rating: 2 Stars        Source: U of Iowa Libraries   

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Posts of Note, Books and the Book Blogger Hop

For this week's Book Blogger Hop the question is: what book are you dying to get your hands on right now!
  • I'm looking forward to Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - who isn't? This trilogy has been awesome and I can't wait to read the last installment!
  • The Scorch Trials by James Dashner is a close runner up. I'll have to read The Maze Runner again to be fresh and ready for the sequel when it comes out this fall.
  • I recently read a review on NPR's website about Frans G. Bengsston's The Long Ships. Vikings, escapes, political intrigue... this sounds like an engrossing read.
What books are you guys eager to get your hands on?

In other news, here's some blogs and online discussions I've found the past couple weeks that have caught my eye:
- A blogger's adventures in the stacks at Yale.
- Shelf Awareness' article "Hashtags Could Save Publishing" offers motivation to be active on Twitter.
- Wastepaper Prose sparked a discussion about avoiding negativism when using said hashtags.
- Bibliophiliac also sparked discussion with her post "On Ratings and Reviews."
- The Broke and the Bookish is written by a group of college students. The varitey of reviewers means a variety of genres and opinions and I'm enjoying their blog!

It seems like there have been a lot of great posts recently. I should have kept better track but these are the ones I remember! How has your week been? Read anything good lately?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Stuff of Legend, Book 1: The Dark - A Graphic Novel Review

In many ways The Stuff of Legend, Book One: Into the Dark, written my Mike Raicht and Brian Smith, Illustrated by Charles and Paul Wilson III,  reminds me of a fairy tale. Its pages are dark, dangerous and strangely pleasant. This is a story about a band of toys on a rescue mission to save “the boy,” their friend and master, from the Boogeyman, Lord of The Dark. Where the boy has been taken we do not know. We only know his toys and puppy, led by the Colonel, are desperate to save him.

The Boogeyman is scary. When I was very little I was sure there was something sinister hiding in the shadows beneath my bed. I would get a running start and leap into my bed so that there was no way I could be snatched by an arm from under my box springs. The opening pages perfectly capture that horrifying feeling I had for a split second whilst sailing through the air before hitting my pillow – that terrifying feeling that something was about to drag me under. One of my favorite frames is drawn from the boy’s perspective. We see the boy’s hands stretched out towards Maxwell, the teddy bear lying helpless in his frozen state, watching as the boy is dragged off by the Boogeyman. Can you imagine watching someone you love being abducted while you are unable to move or speak? The boy’s kidnapping is a heavy blow to Maxwell.

The sepia tone leant a serious feel to the book which worked well considering the book’s themes. Each character was vital to the story, adding something important to each other’s characterization. The “natural” representation of each toy was just what I thought they’d be like. I actually enjoyed the way book one dropped off. I don’t want to give much away but I thought it was clever.

There are many themes in this graphic novel: war, friendship and loyalty stand out the strongest. The toys’ resolve is tested as they face foes from within and without their party. Worst of all, they can’t seem to find out anything about the boy. I found this to be the most frustrating part of the story. As much as I enjoyed the toys’ adventures, I wanted to know more about why the boy was taken in the first place. Perhaps unanswered questions are customary with comic books but I felt this first installment, especially as a graphic novel, would have been stronger with more information here. However, I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark and want to read the next book.

What do you think of the cover? Doesn’t Maxwell’s face epitomize determination? I love it.
Publisher: Villard, 2010     Pages: 128     Source: Purchased on Amazon
Rating: 4 Stars     Recommended Age: 12 and up (There's a few pictures very young children might find too scary.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

I’ve been waiting a few days to write my review for this book. It left me with an odd feeling that I’m still not quite sure how to translate into words. Did I like it, how did it make me feel, what did I learn? I’ve been asking myself these questions but Alexie doesn’t make them easy for me to answer. There’s a lot to digest.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a short story collection by Native American author Sherman Alexie. The text revolves around several characters living around the Spokane Indian Reservation but focuses primarily on Victor, Thomas and Norma. There are several themes explored in the text but the main thrust seems to be a quest to present what it means to be Native American in the 20th century (the text was published in 1993).

My first and lingering impression of this text is that it marks Alexie’s early writing career. There’s a lot of angst coming through the words. It seems as if he had much to express, much that he wanted the world to hear and there’s fingers pointing every which way which left me feeling dizzy. And it comes across rather loud and in your face. I think Alexie’s later works reflect similar messages but with a lot more skill. That isn’t to say this work isn’t skillful. No, Alexie’s got skill by the bucket loads. Rather, his later works show a honed skill.

These stories are powerful in their representation of Indian life. There’s a lot of conflict – between father and son, between urban and reservation Indians, between white culture and reservation culture. Alexie confronts the stereotype of alcoholic Indians. I thought it was interesting how Victor is shown before he begins drinking as full of promise and hope and after he begins drinking his hopefulness and positive outlook disappears. Most of the men on the reservation succumb to alcohol. Victor and his friends seem to lose their cultural identity when they become alcoholic, or in other words, they take on a new cultural identity – one that feeds stereotypes and doesn’t reflect Native American traditions. In one story, Victor is involved in a car accident and the white authorities are shocked he isn’t drunk. It is the small victories like these that offer hope.

I’m still not sure how to answer my initial questions. It was a worthwhile read. I recommend it to people interested in or unfamiliar with Native American life, cultural studies or a general interest in anthropology. 
Publisher: Harper, 1994    Pages: 223   
Rating: 3.5 Stars                 Source: used bookstore.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What Makes a Good Dystopian Society? Read-A-Like List: Activity #8

For this challenge Karin the Librarian asks us to create a list of books we've read with similar themes. From Big Brother (1984) to The Sisterhood (The Forest of Hands and Teeth) I like reading about a protagonist desperately trying to figure out what's wrong the prevailing order. So, some of my favorite dystopias from this year are:

The Maze Runner  - Thomas wakes up in an elevator without any idea where he is or who he is. Turns out he's one of many boys living in a community surrounded by huge walls that open each morning into a labyrinth and close each night to keep out monsters. But when the elevator brings new surprises the boys realize that time is running out to solve the maze and figure out who's behind it all.

The Hunger Games - The Capitol reigns the Districts with an iron grip, each year reminding the citizens of their subjugation by requiring two kids from each district to fight to the death in a televised arena. I love Katniss' story. She faces her fears with stubborn courage becoming the Capitol's worst nightmare.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth - Mary lives in a village surrounded by a fence keeping out the Unconsecrated, also known as the infected or zombies. When the Sisterhood, entrusted with the village’s history and safety, betrays Mary’s trust and a breach occurs she must choose between the home she knows and the unknown world in the forest.

What makes a good dysopian story? For me, the powers that be need to be spooky, deceptive, dangerous, manipulative and wield a lot of unchecked power over the lives of those they govern. And they usually govern through fear. They don't have to be a hated power. Take for instance The Sisterhood who the villagers trust and only through circumstances does Mary find out they withhold information to heighten fear in order to maintain power. In The Maze Runner the boys feel incredibly manipulated which leaves them feeling powerless and resentful of "the man behind the curtain."And Katniss feels manipulated by the Capitol as well as scared of its unbridled use of power to stifle lives in the Districts. A mark of each story's ruling power is deception. The control of information is usually what keeps protagonists jumping through hoops - they never know what's happening, things are not often as they seem and their plans are often laid to waste because they are misinformed.

What makes a good dytpopian society to you? What are some of your favorite messed-up fictional communities?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Big Honkin' Giveaway!

The Bodacious Pen is hosting a great giveaway with lots of books and swag! Check out the giveaway HERE. Did I mention it's open internationally? Giveaway ends 7/26/2010.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Favorite Authors and the Book Blogger Hop

This week Jennifer is asking Blog Hop participants to "share some of your favorite authors and why they are your favorites!" Well I don't mind if I do share!

Sherman Alexie is a recent discovery for me. I read his young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, last fall, loved it and have been reading and acquiring his works ever since. I've since read War Dances (short stories and poems), Flight (novel) and I'm now reading The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist fight in Heaven (short stories).  Alexie's works are funny, dark, honest (sometimes brutally so) and illuminating. At the top of the page he has me laughing out loud and by the bottom line he's got me crying tears. Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian who grew up in Washington state and many of his stories reflect his experiences growing up on a reservation. He's won numerous awards. I'll let you look them up on his website by yourself. 

Cormac McCarthy is also a new to me author. I read The Road last year and was blown away. I've since read All the Pretty Horses and enjoyed it immensely. McCarthy's writing style is unconventional and out of this world. I don't think I've found anything that compares. He makes me read slowly, deliberately, so as to visualize everything he's saying, every stark detail be it beautiful or frightfully ugly. With his characters he captures humanity at its best and worst. I'm looking forward to savoring more of his works in the future. Plus, I hear he doesn't like Henry James much and neither do I. Actually I can't stand reading Henry James. McCarthy is apparently very private, which only adds to his coolness factor. But for more info check out the Cormac McCarthy's Society's website. Oh, and he's won a Pulitzer so you know I'm not making up his coolness.

Amy Tan got me reading before I knew I liked reading...when I thought I wasn't much of reader.That is to say, Amy Tan was a gateway book to heavy reading. Tan is Chinese American and her stories reflect her rich and often frustrating heritage. She captures mother-daughter relationships perfectly. It doesn't matter what nationality you identify with - mothers and daughters always have quarrels and misunderstandings. I love The Joy Luck Club and highly recommend it if you've never read anything by Tan before.

Well, this was fun. I'm looking forward to reading everybody's posts about your favorite authors. If you're stopping by from the Hop, hey, howya doin? Thanks for stopping. Leave a comment and I'll visit you this weekend. Happy Hopping!

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire, book two in The Hunger Games trilogy, captured my attention right away and I was gripped by the story for the entire read. A couple times I had to put the book down for a second, look up at my husband and gasp “No way!” to which he looked at me confused and then I went back to reading. This is a seriously entertaining series. If you haven’t begun The Hunger Games yet, you really need to.

Katniss and Peeta survived the brutal Hunger Games only to become unwitting symbols of resistance to the Capitol. The Districts have become increasingly disgruntled by the Capitol’s abuses. And Katniss’ refusal to be a pawn in the arena has sparked a fire that neither she nor Peeta can control. The Capitol hits hard in retaliation in an attempt to control “the girl on fire.” My reivew of the first book can be found here.

The characters developed nicely in the sequel. I liked getting to know more about Haymitch, District Twelve’s only other survivor/victor of the Games and Katniss and Peeta’s mentor. We really get to see why he has turned to alcohol and also, why he has learned to care so much about Katniss and Peeta and vice versa. We get to see Katniss’ mother more as she springs to action (remember she was mostly depressed and defunct in the first book). I liked seeing the mother daughter relationship being healed. And we see more of Gale’s family so, even while Gale is often absent, we learn more about him through his family.

There’s just as much action and adventure in book two. Things get violent as the Capitol closes in. You can feel the stress riddling the characters. It’s only a matter of time before the spark turns into a fire. As usual, I enjoyed Katniss’ strong personality. She deals with events as best she can. She’s a little head-strong but that’s definitely a quality needed for survival.

The romance between Katniss and Peeta, a forced pretense on her part for survival and genuine on his part, becomes even more complicated. How should she feel about the boy responsible for saving her life? But then there’s her best friend Gale? Oh, dear. I’m not sure yet, but I think I’m voting for Peeta. I reserve the right to change my mind. Lol. The romance is still rather innocent but they do get close and kiss often for the cameras. My slight concern for young readers is Katniss’ melt-down when she gets drunk one night. It’s not something she’s proud of and doesn’t happen again. But adults may want to mention that Katniss’ behavior here is not normal and that alcohol didn’t help her at all to solve her problems. This is a very small incident in the book and I wouldn’t let it stop adults from letting kids read it.

The writing is written with the same POV as the book one – in first person, present tense from Katniss’ perspective. As with the first book, it took be a few pages before I adjusted to the writing style but it was less of a problem for me in book two. Overall, I think Collins is a great young adult writer. I can’t wait for Mockingjay’s release in August!
Publisher: Scholastic, 2009     Pages: 400     Source: U of Iowa Libraries
Rating: 5 Stars     Recommended Age: 13 and up

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Heart Throbs: Summer Break Reading Challenge Activity #6

Karin the Librarian asks, "...if I could live in a book which one would it be? I'm going to make that decision by the men I've fallen in love with between the pages of the books." Ok, well here's my selections!

Who didn't fall for Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables?

And we all know Bella should have ended up with Jacob Black! Sorry, team Edwards!

If I had to endure the Hunger Games, I'd definitely want someone like Peeta Mellark in there with me.  I wonder who they'll get to play Peeta in the movie?

Devoured Bookmark

This is a picture of my bookmark...what's left of it. One minute it was tucked in my book, saving my place, then it was being devoured by my cat. I caught her thrashing around with it, rolling on the floor. She's done this to another bookmark, too - ripped them right out of my books and chowed down. Often I'll tuck a bookmark into the later pages while I read and Max will surprise attack me and leap for the bookmark, running off with it. That little tassel is too much for her. I guess I can't have tassel bookmarks if I want them to last! Anyone else have similar experiences?

Oh, Maxi. What am I going to do with you? 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Review of Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart: A Memoir

There are many reasons why I liked this memoir. First of all, I must confess that I do enjoy perusing Tiffany’s online catalog. I’ve been in a couple Tiffany stores before with my mom in Chicago and Kansas City (My mom and I have taken some fun trips just to go window shopping in the big towns and keep our eyes peeled for a bargain or a little treasure to take home). It’s such fun to look at all the sparklies. And the salespeople always treated us with respect even when we were just looking.

But Marjorie Hart’s memoir, Summer at Tiffany, is about more than just expensive jewelry and timeless heirlooms. It’s about war and loss. It’s about growing up. It’s about friends. About taking risks. And probably my favorite theme, it’s about women forging their way into the work world.

During World War Two, the United States began recruiting women to fill what were traditionally men’s roles as much of the male population had enlisted. One such role was a page at Tiffany, responsible for relaying packages within the Tiffany building to repair shops or the shipping department. Marjorie Hart and her friend Marty were the first women to work as pages at Tiffany let alone work on the show floor. The friends saw actors, actresses and many other famous people which totally tripped their triggers.

Another reason I enjoyed this read was because Marjorie and Marty are from my home state and attended my University. It was fun to see how New Yorkers responded to these small-town Iowan girls. Many still have the same responses today – we must be quaint, na├»ve and very cute in our small-town ways. And maybe we are, but no more than most young women I dare say. Here’s another reaction Marjorie encountered when helping a well-to-do shopper:
‘I’m from Iowa.’ I said, flustered by the attention.
‘Oh, dear!’ She shook her head, her feather bobbing. ‘Here on the East Coast – we pronounce it O-hi-o!”
I bit my lip… (Hart 185)
Ha! That’s actually happened to me and when I try to tell people it’s IOWA they don’t get it! There were lots of moments like this that had me laughing.

The text is written in a present tense style akin to journal writing. I think it helps the book feel immersed in the 1940s as Marjorie worries about sugar rationing, painting pretend stocking lines on the backs of her legs and getting her hair pinned up for the perfect curls. I remember my grandma talking about painting that line on her legs because pantyhose production was cut for the war effort. Until this past year she always put her hair up in pin curls, too! Marjorie shares many humorous stories that had me chuckling. I enjoyed Summer at Tiffany and recommend it for someone looking for a fun read or for those who like memoirs.

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2007    Pages: 266
Rating: 4 Stars        Source: Purchased at a library sale for 10₵! Can you say bargain!?!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Summer Beach Reads Challenge: 7/1-8/31

I'm signed up for my second reading challenge this summer! A Fanatic's Book Blog is acting as general headquarters. There will be mini challenges, giveaways and lots of book review linking going on. The levels of participation are as follows:

* Tadpole - Read 4 books in this challenge.
* Minnow - Read 8 books in this challenge.
* Dolphin - Read 12 books in this challenge.
* Shark - Read 16+ books in this challenge!
I'm shooting for "Minnow." Reading eight books is a bit ambitious for me but I hope being part of the challenge will be motivational! You can check out my full Summer TBR list on my sidebar but a couple are Catching Fire and Northanger Abbey. Join up if the challenge sounds fun!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Things are Hoppin'!

It's time for another Book Blogger Hop! Hosted by Crazy-for-Books the Hop is all about finding new book bloggers, new books to read and getting your own blog some visibility. So what are you waiting for? Get hopping!

If you're stopping by from the Hop, Hi! My name is Chelle and I've been a blogger since late Dec of '09. I heard about using blogs for discussing books last fall. We had a guest speaker in a class who proposed using blogging in the classroom to get highschool students to interact with each other about their reading. I was inspired, and my first blog Time Out was born within a month. I'm now happily blogging here at The Prairie Library and can't imagine ever not blogging! Stick around, check out my giveaway, leave me a comment and I'll visit your blog this weekend! Happy Hopping!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Sizzlin' Summer Book Giveaway!

This Contests is Closed as of August 21st, 2010.
The Prairie Library is on fire with hot books! Ok, not literally. But these books are too hot and, lest they burn down my bookcase, I’m giving them away!

Grab your oven glove, these books are too hot to handle!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart
This is Me From Now On by Barbara Dee

Mockingjay, Summer at Tiffany and This is Me From Now On are available to international participants! (Fill out Form One)

Sapphique is only open to those with a U.S. mailing address. (Fill out Forms One and Two) This book is not available until Dec. in the U.S. and I wanted to give someone here a chance to get it early.

Contest begins July 1st, 2010 and ends August 21st, 2010 at 11:59 pm central time. Winners will be notified via email on the 22nd and must respond by August 24th, 2010 at 6 am central time to verify their address. Failure to respond means I choose another winner. All books will be mailed by September 4th, 2010 (unless Mockingjay is on backorder…fingers crossed that Amazon is prepared).

Book specs: I currently own each book but Mockingjay (hardback) which I have pre-ordered. I will read it, then send it to the winner so, it should be in good condition. I will send a brand new copy to the winner since I'm getting another copy for myself (edited8/5/2010). Summer at Tiffany (paperback) is brand new (I’m reading a different copy). Sapphique (paperback) will be gently used. This is Me from Now On (paperback) is a little scuffed around the edges. I just want you to know what you’re getting!

You must fill out the form(s) below to win.

You must be a public follower to enter. Extra entries are optional. There is a maximum of five points per person per form.
     Follower: +1 point (required)
     Blog Post: +2 points (Post title must be "A Sizzlin' Summer Book Giveaway")
     Sidebar post: +1 point (Save and use the picture in this post, creating a link to the giveaway)
     Twitter Tweet: +1 point

If you have any questions email me at and I will do my best to answer you.

U.S. Residents - remember to fill out both forms if you want to win Sapphique!
Good Luck!!!