Tag: literature

Book Review: Life After Life

life after lifeThis week instead of doing a Teaser Tuesday I thought I would share with you my latest book review from off of Goodreads. I read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It’s a clever premise but ends up feeling more like a gimmick by the end. I didn’t hate it but didn’t love it either. It’s about a woman who repeats life over and over again. Sometimes she dies as an infant, sometimes as a child. Sometimes she is raped as a teen, sometimes she has affairs, sometimes she shoots Hitler in 1939. That’s quite the deviance!

I think it would have been better if Ursula had learned more from each life. In the end it feels more like a soap opera with a vaguely time travel element. But not a total loss.

Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Some people will see 2 stars and think ‘how can you hate this book Rachel!’. According to Goodreads 2 stars means ‘it’s ok’ and that’s exactly how I felt about this book. It’s just ok. I didn’t hate it and I didn’t love it. It’s just ok.
It’s definitely a creative premise. It’s kind of Edge of Tomorrow in WW2 era (wrap your mind aroudn that statement!). But once you get over the unique premise it starts to feel more like a gimmick than a truly good story. After all, how interesting is Ursula really in all of her lives? She’s ok but nothing special.
She does kill Hitler in a life but even that is kind of a footnote. Most of the lessons she learns seem to be how to either not die as a child or not be with a terrible man. That’s not as compelling as killing Hitler. I certainly hope if I relived my life again and again I would make better choices than Ursula does. Perhaps Atkinson is trying to say something about fate and destiny but it ends up being kind of meh.
Still she’s not a terrible writer and there are some engaging sequences. The gimmick has some novelty so I’m glad I read it. It might actually make a better movie than book. I think in a movie you could do things visually that might help it not feel so repetitive and maybe skip a couple of the lives that really didn’t matter much.
Overall, it’s fine but not great. Just ok. Maybe in the sequel she can actually live some interesting lives like bet on the stock market at the right time or something like that? At the very least figure out how to not date losers. Give us that!

View all my reviews

So what do you prefer a review like this after I’ve finished the book or a Teaser Tuesday while I’m in process? Let me know in the comments section. And if you are on goodreads follow me!
Have any of you read Life After Life? What did you think? What are you reading these days?

Teaser Tuesdays: Huckleberry Finn

huckleberry finn2

This week’s Teaser Tuesdays s another classic I’m enjoying reading all over again.  It’s Mark Twain’s seminal work Huckleberry Finn. In some ways on this read-through I am reminded a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Both books are dependent upon their narrator for tone, humor and spiritual insight.  Both have very similar narrators in  a way- Southern kids who are skeptical about the world.

On this read-through I’m reminded how funny Huck can be and what a likable character he is.  I particularly like the way he see’s Jim- as just another person.  He doesn’t seem to grasp the danger of his situation until later in the story and there is something refreshing about that naivety.  What’s great about Mark Twain is he manages to carry important messages while not taking things too seriously.  It’s like he tricks you into thinking profound thoughts! This is particularly true later on in the novel in the scenes between the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons. Its considered by many to be the great American novel and I can see why!

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page (or I like to do the page I’m currently reading)
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers.

huckleberry finn

This week my sentence is on page 25 of Huckleberry Finn: (Jim is reading Huck’s fortune from his hairball)

“You gwyne to have considerable trouble in yo’ life, en considerable joy.  Sometimes you gwyne to git hurt, en sometimes you gwyne to git sick; but every time you’s gwyne to git well ag’in.  Dye’s two gals flyin’ bout you in yo life.  One uv ’em’s light en t’other one is dark.  One is rich en t’other is po’. You gwyne to marry de po’ one fust en de rich one by en by”

Do you like Huckleberry Finn or do you think it is an overrated classic?  Which do you prefer Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer?   It’s surprising there has never been a great movie version of Huckleberry Finn.  Maybe Hollywood is afraid of the racial contexts but that hasn’t stopped them with other material.  I would be curious to see what African American director Steve McQueen would do with it (he directed 12 Years a Slave).

NaNoWriMo Tag and My Writing Process

So NaNoWriMo is coming and I feel a little unprepared but am excited!  I filmed this video about NaNoWriMo video today and it included a tag.  In the video I go into my process for writing and has little segments of all 3 of my books (this will be my 4th year doing NaNoWriMo).

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?  What are you writing about?  What strategies do you use to finish the challenge?  I would love to discuss it in the comments.  It is going to be a challenge for me this year with everything else I have going on but luckily I am a pretty fast writer so it should be ok.  I will certainly do my best.

If you are doing NaNoWriMo please follow me on the NaNoWriMo website and let’s support each other!

http://nanowrimo.org/participants/smilingldsgirl

Happy writing!!

Nanowrimo Surprise Attack

So friends of the blog will probably be aware 2015 will be my 4th year entering the Nanowrimo challenge.  This is a world-wide challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.  I am a very fast writer so typically it hasn’t that big of a challenge; however, I have usually had a clear idea of what I am writing about well in advance of November.  This year it has kind of creeped up on me.   And now I am sitting with under a month to start date with no idea what to write about….Yikes!

I am also a little nervous because with two blogs and a youtube channel it is going to be tough to fit it all in (not too mention a job and other responsibilities!).  I’ve got to finish my animated Oscars series over on my channel before the challenge starts.  I have gotten a little bit behind but should post 2012 this week.  That leaves only 10 films to watch (only…).  Plus, there are new films like Bridge of Spies, Suffragette, Macbeth and Good Dinosaur to see and review in the next 2 months.  How am I going to fit writing a novel into all of this? Much less a novel I have no idea what to write about?

nanowrimoTo my fellow Nanowrimo friends has it caught you by surprise before or do you always have a plan on what you are writing about?   The two best ideas I have come up with so far is to basically take another stab at writing my first book.  It’s been a while and I’m not working in accounting any more so I’m not as personally close to the story as I was when I wrote it in 2012.  It would be entirely new prose but just the same core plot of me quitting my job (it’s kind of a Devil Wears Prada type story).

That sounds kind of boring though writing the same plot and characters over again so I’d like to come up with some fresh take on it.  Unfortunately my mind is just blank on what to do.

The other idea I have is to use all 54 Disney films and have a character go through each of the worlds of the films.  It would be kind of like Once Upon a Time but I would cover movies they don’t like Treasure Planet and Atlantis.  It would basically be fan fiction but who cares if it is fun to write!

nanowrimo1This is kind of new territory for me as I have always been so focused in the past.  Do you have any suggestions for getting the brainstorming creative juices flowing?  I just read The Martian by Andrew Weir and loved it (and the movie) so that’s always inspiring and I am currently reading Dracula by Bram Stoker which is something totally new and different.  I wish I could write a book like Finding Audrey- my other favorite book of the year.

Anyway, I would love any feedback on those ideas or anything I could do to help me think of something else to write about.  Thanks so much!

Are any of you doing the Nanowrimo challenge?  I would love to know and follow you on the Nanowrimo website.  That way we can support one another.  Take care!

Talking Classical Novels with My Mom

It was so much fun today over at my youtube channel.  My Mom was kind of enough to join me on my channel for 2 videos about one of our favorite topics- books!  Particularly classic novels.  I’d love if you checked them out and gave them thumbs up.  Thanks!

I’m always open to anyone who wants come on my channel and help me with a video.  If you are willing let me know.  Even better if you have an idea for a video that would be amazing!

Thanks Mom!

My Favorite Books Video

Just wanted to share this with all of you guys.  I made a video on some of my favorite books.  Of course as soon as I finished I realized I had forgotten Jane Eyre and Howard’s End- 2 of my favorites.  Oh well.  These are very good!

I would love it if you would give it a thumbs up and subscribe to my channel if you are not already.  This video is a little bit longer so maybe more of a podcast length.  Put it on while you are doing busy work and I think you will enjoy it.

Here’s just the top 3 if you don’t feel like watching the long one.

Are any of the books I mention favorites of yours?  Please comment here or on the video.  Thanks!

Readers in Books

anne readingRecently I just finished a book called Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. It’s not terrible but it’s not great either.  One of the things that annoyed me about it was the lazy way it treated potentially interesting characters.

The book is set in a New Orleans brothel in the 1950s and focuses on a little girl named Josie as she grows up in this unusual environment.  Every cliche about a hooker with a heart of gold, idiotic but cruel mafia types, police officers who turn a blind eye are brought out and put on display.  The story has a very predictable love triangle and Madame who is tough talking Southern lady we’ve read in a thousand other books.

But I don’t want to talk about those characters because what got me thinking is how Sepetys makes Josie a reader. She even works and lives at a bookstore. It felt like a really lazy way of ascribing a whole bunch of qualities to the character without really developing it.  Just make her a reader and that will mean she is precocious, smart, thoughtful, introspective, a dreamer etc.

matilda readingThen I realized how often this is done with lots of different books, books I love. Usually combined with writing an author can make a character a reader and it immediately associates them with a whole list of attributes and traits. I find this to be particularly true with female characters. Has there ever been a female reader in a book that was silly and superficial?

jo readingI’m sure this is partly because authors are readers and so they like to ascribe lots of positive qualities to the character they most embody. It also saves the author from having to create complex characters in every story.

Sometimes the plot doesn’t need a complex character, or all she needs to be is the type of bold thinker associated with the trope.  There is nothing wrong with using cliches in your story (within reason) if it moves the story.  Certainly many books have gotten mired in unique characters and the plot has suffered.

reader jane austenJane Austen actually plays with the lazy assumptions of readers in Pride and Prejudice. Miss Bingley see’s Lizzie reading and trying to pin her foe down as the very type of woman I’m talking about: the percocious reader instead of the lady:

“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”

“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am NOT a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”

Why is this so rare? Why not have a person who just enjoys reading on occasion? Or why not have a reader who also likes sports or playing cards?  Why do 99% of readers have to be the same?

10thingsBut it just made me think is the brilliant reader trope a thing because that’s actually the way readers are or is it a lazy way to continue a story and create a likable heroine? I feel like I know lots of different kind of readers but perhaps the one’s that self-identify as a ‘reader’ are more similar.  For example, my father likes to read a particular type of book but I don’t think he would list that as his first character attribute.

sound of musicThink about in Sound of Music. When Brigitta comes into roll call reading a book as a viewer you immediately assume tons about her character.  What do you guys think about that?  Is it lazy storytelling, necessary to quickly identify people or actually true to life?

simpsonsPerhaps it doesn’t really matter but I do wonder if it could ostracize certain people from reading because they don’t fit the stereotype of a ‘reader’. What if you are like Lizzie and take pleasure in many things?  What’s wrong with that? Books are so diverse that creating such a narrow definition of what a reader looks like could be discouraging for people who don’t want to be branded with that label or persona?

book theifI think this is particularly true for boys who may want the persona of being a comic book reader but not the more feminine quality of reading novels (although why that is a gender identifier I will never understand).

Maybe I’m overthinking it but I just know I get bored when I’ve seen a character a million times and know exactly what she is going to say, believe and do. Also some of the enlightened reader types are from my favorite books (Book Thief, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women etc) so it has kind of been done as good as you can do it. And those great books were developing their characters in other ways not using reading as a lazy writing crutch.

hermione

What do you guys think about readers in books and movies? Do you agree with me they can be pretty predictable or am I creating a pattern where none exists? What are some examples of more nuanced readers in books I may be overlooking?  Would love your feedback

Adventures in Reading pt 2: Manga- FAIL

Way back in July I did a post called Adventures in Reading pt 1  all about comic books.  The whole point was to dive into different types of writing I had never read before.   Before the project I hadn’t read a single comic book and yet I would see the movies and wasn’t that big a fan.  I thought maybe if I knew the art behind the movie I might appreciate them more and for the most part it worked.

There were some things I didn’t like such as the treatment of women but I’ve been reading more of them and they have gotten much better in recent years. Either way, it is fun to try new things and step out of your comfort zone.

However, not every step out of the comfort zone is successful.  My next adventure was to read ‘manga’ which are kind of like a Japanese comic book and graphic novel morphed together.

manga

For the project I picked 7 different series- Fruits Basket, Chi’s Sweet Home, Astro Boy, Attack on Titan, Yotsuba, Dragonball, and the Black Butler.

I decided on these 7 by looking online at family friendly manga articles.  Each of these series would be fine content-wise for teens and children with the exception of Attack on Titan that is pretty violent.   Oddly enough it was actually my favorite but more for teens and adults than children.

titan

The reason why it has taken me so long to write this post is I found myself struggling to get through them.  That may be strange thing to say about children’s books but let’s just say manga is not my favorite.

A lot of the pacing felt schizophrenic.  One minute a character would be talking and then the next an explosion.

From Fruits Basket.  Tone changes so fast
From Fruits Basket. Tone changes so fast

And from Dragonball (which was one of the better one’s).  But characters would go from normal talking to screaming at each other with no real reason.

dragonball2

It seems like a lot is lost in translation.  A lot of the writing felt like a drill commander giving orders or robots talking not people.  Like this scene from Yotsuba”

yotsuba2

She’s getting ‘caughted by a bad person’.  and then ‘Leave it to me to take care of the bad person’. In all of them the dialogue felt choppy and disjointed, which made them unpleasant and difficult to read.  I have to believe the Japanese is more nuanced and fluid.

A lot of it felt like the old 60s Batman show with the expressions of “pow”, “bam”, “crash” thrown in instead of interesting setting, characters or plot.  In a way it is surprising to me because in the anime, which are based on many of these books. the backstory and legends are usually quite complicated and intricate.  I didn’t get any of that feel in reading the manga.

It’s funny these are so popular in Japan because almost all featured a blonde haired girl in the lead.  You’d think Japanese kids would want stories of kids they can relate to and look like them.  But regardless of looks I just couldn’t get immersed in the stories.  It felt too spastic and choppy.

There are some cute characters like the Chi books which are basically like board books for the very little child. It kind of reminded me of Hello KittychiI also liked the graphics in Astro Boy, which felt more like a US comic book:

astro boy2

I don’t know if it is just the lack of color but I prefer the artistry of comic books and the story actually.  Of the 7 series I read none of them enticed me to explore the franchises more.

Conclusion/Review

I guess not everything in life is going to be my taste but I’m still glad I gave it a shot and tried something new. .  Now when people mention manga I will have a little more understanding of what they are like and how the stories are structured.

And you never know when you will hit upon something new that you really love unless you give it a shot.

So, manga is not for me but I’m glad I went on the adventure.

What do you think of manga?  Any I didn’t try which you think I should?

Now on to graphic novels.  Any suggestions?

Summer Reading

summer reading

The last few days I’ve had a number of people ask me for reading suggestions while they travel. so I thought I’d put together a list of great summer reads.

What do I consider a good summer read? (just my definition so you may pick totally differently than me but it’s my blog!)

A great summer book is light, witty, easy to relate too and little to no fantasy worlds to digest. No dystopias or vampires or warewolfs.  Those can be enjoyed (or not enjoyed) more in the winter where you can cozy up to a fire and an adventure.

Summer books should make you feel good and be something you could read in spurts and not feel bad.  There are so many distractions in the summer which makes this last aspect key.

So here’s my list: (in no particular order)

1. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

2.  Undomestic Goddess by Sophi Kinsella  (mild language warning)

3. Red China Blues  by Jan Wong

4.  All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott

5. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

6. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

7. Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

8.  Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

9. The Prizewinner of Defiance Ohio by Terry Ryan

10. Gift from the Sea by Anne Marrow Lindbergh

11. From Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes

12. My Life in France by Julia Child

13. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

14. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

15. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

16. A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

17. The Egg and I by Betty McDonald

18. Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

19. Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith (actually any AMS book would be great)

20. Jane Austen books- I know classics to some aren’t light but I literally read them every summer so they have to go on the list!

There are many more I could pick and if you have particular interests or are going some place unique let me know and I will give some recommendations.  Enjoy your travel and your reading!

What do you like to read in the summer? I’d love to hear your lists

summer reading2

 

Nora Ephron: I Feel Bad About My Neck

noraephronus

Any friend of the blog knows I love Nora Ephron.  If I could write like anyone it would be her.  She had a way of finding humor in the everyday female experience. Something as little as getting coffee, watching a movie or baking a cake could be witty and full of heart.

She unfortunately passed away in 2012 but in addition to her many movies (directing and writing) she wrote several delightful books of essays including the 2006 I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.  This is not an important book but I kind of love it and it was our choice for book club this month.

Unfortunately nobody that had read the book was able to attend so I am going to share with all you what I would have shared with all of them.  Let me set the scene to start (I always try to make everything pretty but tried especially to honor the uber-classy Miss Ephron.

I wanted to do something really beautiful and decadent worthy of Nora so I made this russian cream
I wanted to do something really beautiful and decadent worthy of Nora so I made this russian cream

To make the Russian Cream you simply mix 2 cups sugar with 2 packets unflavored gelatin.  4 cups cream.  Heat till hot but not boiling.  Cool down and mix in 4 cups sour cream.  Put in molds.  Let set in fridge overnight.  Unmold and serve with fruit. It’s an easy recipe but it looks beautiful.

We had a pretty pink spread
We had a pretty pink spread
I found these beautiful peonies and I couldn't resist
I found these beautiful peonies and I couldn’t resist

So now you feel like you are at book club. Let me tell you about it.

One of my favorite essays Nora says:

What I Wish I’d Known”

People have only one way to be.

Buy, don’t rent.

Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.

Don’t cover a couch with anything that isn’t more or less beige.

Don’t buy anything that is 100% wool even if it seems to be very soft and not particularly itchy when you try it on in the store.

You can’t be friends with people who call after 11 p.m.

Block everyone on your instant mail.

The world’s greatest babysitter burns out after two and a half years.

You never know.

The last four years of psychoanalysis are a waste of money.

The plane is not going to crash.

Anything you think is wrong with your body at the age of thirty-five you will be nostalgic for at the age of forty- five.

Write everything down.

Keep a journal.

Take more pictures.

The empty nest is underrated….

Here was my version of

What I Wish I Had Known by Rachel Wagner

Travel more when you are young

People will not be real with you a lot of the time

Privacy is overrated

A $100 couch is just as comfortable as a $1000 couch.

Do not select the appliance package when you buy your house

Leaving singles ward sucks. Be ready.

A plate of spaghetti will change your life

The dream job is coming

DVR is a game changer

Date more in college

Panic attacks are the scariest moments of your life

Mr Sunshine is still hiding at 33.

Can never own too many maxi dresses

Aside from the basics most of what you learn in school you will never use

Good choice not going into debt

Look up open water swimming in 2001 not 2011

Paying dues will take you ten years

You are a leader. Stop resenting it and embrace it.

Nora and Cooking

Another essay I love is called Serial Monogamy:  A Memoir.  It is actually all about her relationship with cooking and food.  Throughout her life and marriages Nora had adventures in food.  At 16 her mother gave her The Gourmet Cookbook, then the Flavor of France, Julia Child, Michael Fields, Craig Claiborne, Lee Lun’s Chinese recipes, Marcella Hazan, Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson.  Cooking took her through changes in career, 3 marriages and her children.  She even has internal dialogues with the chefs. It reminds me of the rat in Ratatouiee that has conversations with Chef Gusteau

She ends the section in a very sweet way “I especially like making her roast beef dinner, which is very much like my mother’s except for the yorkshire pudding.  My mother didn’t serve yorkshire pudding, although there is  recipe for it in The Gourmet Cookbook.  My mother served potato pancakes instead.  I serve yorkshire pudding and potato pancakes.  Why not?  You only live once”

I love that.  You only live once so make two starches at dinner.  It’s a lovely little essay.

Nora on Parenting

My favorite essay is on parenting.  Even though I am not a parent I am a child of parents and I find it very moving. She starts out saying “I gave birth to my children, which was not that long ago, when there was almost no such thing as parenting as we know it today”

“Back in the day where there were merely parents, as opposed to people engaged in parenting, being a parent was fairly straight forward.  You didn’t need a book and if you owned one it was by Dr.  Spock, a pediatrician and you rarely looked at i unless your child a had a fever…back in those days no one believed that you could turn your child into a different human being from the one he started out being…”

“All this changed around the time I had children. You can blame the women’s movement for it-one of the bedrock tentes fo the women’s movement was that because so many women were entering the workforce men and women should share in the raising of children; thus the gender neutral word parenting and the necessity of elevating child rearing to something more than the endless hours of quantity time it actually consists of.

Conversely, you can blame the backlash against the women’s movement- lost of women didn’t feel like entering the workforce or even sharing the raising of children with their husbands, but they felt guilty about this, so they were compelled to elevate full time parenthood to a sacrament”

She goes on to talk about the pressure people feel molding their children into these ivy league perfect people and then they grow up.  I LOVE the ending and I hope my parents feel a little bit of this when we are all back with all our idiosyncrasies and choices:

“Meanwhile, every so often, your children come to visit.  They are, amazingly, completely charming people.  You can’t believe you’re lucky enough to know them.  They make you laugh.  They make you proud.  You love them madly.  They survived you.  You survived them.  It crosses your mind that on some level, you spent hours and days and months and years without laying a glove on them, but don’t dwell.   There’s no point. It’s over.

Except for the worrying.

The worrying is forever”

I tear up whenever I read that.  The worrying is forever. I can picture my parents worrying about me and it makes me feel loved and I’m grateful for that love.

In Conclusion

Some of the essays are quite humorous.  There is one about her scandalous non-affair with President Kennedy and another about her life in an epic apartment in New York.  They aren’t all equally great but I love them.

It is the perfect summer book.  Light, heart felt and beautiful.  I don’t want to oversell it but I love it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts if any of you have read it since I didn’t get to talk much about it this morning.

nora-ephron-quote