real-talk YA book reviews

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

eyre affairEnjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2

Pages: 374   Copyright: 2001

The blurb: “Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.”

My own blurb is five words: hardboiled detective for literature geeks. Oh, and also she’s a woman.

                That pretty much sums it up; and yeah, it was about as cool as it sounds. For me, The Eyre Affair wasn’t the kind of book you whip through large sections of at a time, but more one that you read over a long period in short sessions. It wasn’t a page turner, but it was thick with dry humor and subtle intelligent references. (Definitely worth a read for fans of Douglas Adams– it actually had a lot of similarities to Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.) A mature thematic backbone of war, grief, and moral crossroads served as the support for an endlessly towering supply of silliness. Characters had goofy names like Victor Analogy, Continued Overleaf, and Jack Schitt. Occasionally Fforde’s love of comedy strained at the limits of the story and overstepped its place (like a gag, in one of the most intense scenes of the book, which led the sentences and words of the story to be peppered with random apostrophes and hyphens. People were negotiating with a madman! People were shooting at each other! I wanted to get into the scene, and tripping over punctuation stumbling blocks was nothing but frustrating.) More often, though, things stayed on the classier side of comedy, and it was my favorite kind of witty.

                I loved Thursday. She wasn’t perfect, but she almost always thought rationally and made the best decision available, and I liked that about her. I never had to be frustrated by watching the heroes create unnecessary conflict with their refusal to see reason, thank goodness. That’s a kind of artificial plot building that often turns me off to an entire book. I also liked that at first, Thursday seems to be all steely business, but as you follow her, you suddenly start to see lots of emotions, and as you learn to read her (no pun intended) better and better, you realize that those emotions were there from the beginning. It was a very organic process of getting to know a reserved person.

                As for the minor characters, a lot of them started to blend together. For example, Thursday had a lot of bosses at different levels in SpecOps, and I could never really keep them straight. The same goes for the various henchmen of the main villain. The men that Thursday was more fond of were more defined. Maybe we were just seeing Thursday’s perspective; as far as it concerns her, I guess the various bosses and henchmen are fairly interchangeable.

                The more you know about literature, the more enjoyable The Eyre Affair will probably be for you. There were many ongoing references to Dickens and Shakespeare, various poets, and of course, the Bröntes. There were also a number of history references/jokes that sort of went over my head. I liked the intellectual atmosphere, though.

                  The Eyre Affair was very British, very nerdy, and full of heart. It’s worth noting that this was Jasper Fforde’s first published novel; he may not have ironed out all his editing skills yet (not that a writer ever really irons out all their editing skills). But I don’t think there’s any other book out there quite like this one, and I think that alone makes it worth the read.

Fall TBR: Meta, Steampunk, and Creative Nonfiction

Here it is, folks. Another TBR post.

The last time I formalized a list of to-be-reads was back in March, but I’m happy to say that I’ve successfully read– and enjoyed!– all but one of those. So, along with that straggler, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, here are four new additions to the queue this fall.

1.) Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. Westerfeld’s Uglies series was one of the absolute staples of my tween readerhood, and a major gateway to the dystopia scene. I know he’s been writing since then, but somehow he hasn’t been in my life for a long while. Afterworlds is getting a whole lot of hype, though, and it sounds like it might be just the thing to reunite us. It’s a rather sprawling novel that tells a duel story: a young woman debuting as a published novelist, and the girl who stars in her book. Their stories interweave and complement each other and it’s supposed to be really graceful and immersive and I want it.

2.) Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger. Steampunk. Steampunk. STEAMPUNK. STEAMPUNK. STEAMPUNK. STEAMPUNK.

Okay, confession, I haven’t actually read any steampunk. But I have spent a LOT of time looking at steampunk-style fashion. And I basically love it so much that my body could explode into a cloud of rainbow butterflies, and each individual butterfly would be weeping tears of pure light, and each tear would have a single glitter gleaming in the radiant sun of my love for steampunk. So why I have not officially read steampunk fiction, I just don’t know.

Etiquette & Espionage is set at a boarding school, and it’s becoming almost cliché for book bloggers to love boarding school books, but what’s not to love? I’m a tiny bit nervous because this is a “girl’s parents want her to sew and wear dresses but girl isn’t like other girls and rebels” story, and that’s a formula I’m getting a little bored with, to be honest. But there’s enough in this one’s favor that I want to give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, tumblr has supplied me with this list of other steampunk possibilities! (Granted, those were chosen based on cover aesthetics, but I’m sure at least some of them are good.)

3.) Something by David Sedaris. I don’t know what, I just know I’ve been interested in creative nonfiction lately, and I’ve heard that David Sedaris has a dry, witty sense of humor, which is right up my alley. I started flipping through Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls at a bookstore the other day (actually it was the Strand in NYC, which is literally paradise, but that’s another story), but there seemed to be a lot of scary medical stories in there, which I can’t stomach to save my life. So possibly not the best choice for me, although I love owls.

4.) Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. This is the one I’m least positive I’m going to read, but I’ve joined the massive following of the Netflix series, and it would be cool to hear the true story in Kerman’s own words. Plus, like I said, I want to read more creative nonfiction. We’ll see.

I’m currently reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and hopefully I’ll have it finished and ready to discuss next week. It’s a pretty unique book, so stay tuned. What to-reads are banging around your vague consciousness? Take it to the comments.

We have a winner!

Hey there, fellow judges!

You may recall that I’ve been running a flash fiction contest to give away a 50% discount to Scrivener, a very rad writing program. Tonight, I’m more than pleased to announce to you your lovely champion. Drumroll please!

The winner is Em, with a lovely little story titled “The Women’s Studies Major’s Break-Up Story”.

As promised, Em will be receiving a code for 50% off her download of Scrivener, for added ease and organization on her continuing path of literary genius. Also as promised, her story will now be shared with all of you!

P.S.: If you like Em’s story, which I think you will, you can follow Em’s real-life adventures over at her highly entertaining blog, Tales from Hipster College.

Without further ado, I give you: “The Women’s Studies Major’s Break-Up Story”.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     Tuesday night wasn’t a busy night at campus pub, but the Women’s Studies major needed to relieve her heavy heart and her roommate’s friend, the English major’s, poetry course was canceled. You can guess who dragged whom to the student-run restaurant.

     “So,” the Women’s Studies major said to her friend for the evening. “You wanna know about the lovely, radiant, thoughtful, red-head that shall forever be known as ‘that beautiful-piece-of-scum.’”

     “Well, when you put it that way…”

      The Women’s Studies major sighed. “How far back should I go?”

      The English major shrugged. “Well, where did—”

     “Other-Prom.” She continued. “We met at Other-Prom, this dance for LGBTQ teens in Columbus. I was wearing this dressy-vest and black slacks and she was wearing this flow-y, glittery dress that could have slid off her body like cream. And her curly red hair was all over the place. You know what we had in common?”

      “You were both gay and single?”

      “Well, duh,” The Women’s Studies major grinned. “No, we were both wearing red converse sneakers. And we both noticed. And we were both Seniors at our respective high schools. And we both knew how to swing-dance.”

     “I didn’t know you danced!” The English major piped cheerfully.

     “Actually, I didn’t, but I was strong enough to lift her over my head and around my body and what have you. People thought we were the shit: instant favorites. We were joined at the hip all evening.” The Women’s Studies major took a sip of her illegal pint. “At the end of the night, she found a sharp-y and wrote her phone number and Facebook name on the bottom of my shoe. I was so busy flirting that I hardly noticed. And high. I could’ve been high.” The English major giggled. The Women’s Studies major didn’t care. “Three dates later we were ‘official’, or as ‘official’ as the close-minded community we lived in would allow. We graduated from our respective high schools. Attended each other’s grad parties. Went out. Snap chatted. Sexted, but you don’t know that. We were regulars at the sushi place down the street from me. Did you hear that? Regulars at a sushi place. Good God, I really changed for her. I mean, I was nice to people. I was even bubbly. I don’t know what the fuck she did to me, but I was a nice person to be around. I wore those fuck’n converses everywhere; so did she.”

      “So then college?” The English major assumed out aloud.

      “I’m gett’n there!” The Women’s Studies major insisted. “So, then, college. She was going to Cincinnati for statistics and I was going to this lovely hipster college for, what? I didn’t even know. Point is, neither of us wanted to call off the relationship because we thought we were in love. First love, you could say. She was patient with me and our personalities did that whole yin-yang deal; it worked. We said we’d get through college, see each other as often as we could, and then we’d be together again in a quick and easy four years. And so we split off.”

      “Like cells in mitosis,” the English major mused.

     “Quit being poetic.” The women’s-studies major playfully retorted. “At first: constant communication. I mean, all the time. Texting, phone calls, the works. Saw her at Thanksgiving break,” she paused. “For about an hour.” The Women’s Studies major took another sip of her almost drowned pint. “I visited her for spring break Freshman year, and it was like the time and distance wasn’t a problem. We hit it off great. Her friends loved me. She still loved me.”

     “Oh,” the English major sighed.

      “With or without her, I wore those fucking converses around all the fucking time, trying to feel close to her on this campus full of dykes, pardon my French.”

      “Whatever.”

     “Lots of lesbians here, you know, but I didn’t go for any of ’em in the past two years I’ve been here. I’ve been waiting out for my lovely lady, who kept promising me that she’d come. I’m the one who believed her.” She sighed. “For summer break, that prick got an internship in Louisville; I visited her for a weekend. After that, she promised me, promised me, that she’d visit this year.” The Women’s Studies major ordered another pint; fake ID to the rescue. She continued. “You know how many fucking dates I passed up because I thought she’d come see me? I did the solo-lesbian gig at a school where much of the student body is gay. You know how shitty that feels?”

      “I’m sorry,” the English major frowned sympathetically.

     “And, to no one’s surprise but my own, she never came. That lying bitch never called it off either; always kept me hanging. So you know what I did on our ‘two year’ anniversary?” The second pint came.

      “What’d ya do?”

      The Women’s Studies major grinned. “I walked my ass down to the mailroom, barefoot, boxed up those red converse sneakers, and sent them on their way to Cincinnati. I was done. Two years after that fucking prom, I freed myself.” She smiled. “I am a free woman, I’m 20 years old,”

      “Don’t say that too loudly,” the English major advised, eyeing the beer.

     “We gotta live while we’re young! We can’t go wasting our time with people who don’t love us! Two years of my college life are gone, I won’t get ’em back, and now I’m gonna enjoy myself, damnit! Here’s to singlehood!” The Women’s Studies major raised her new pint just as a thin, red-headed woman walked in the door of the pub, carrying a pair of worn, red converse sneakers. The English major first glanced at the red shoes in her grasp. Then the red shoes on the woman’s feet. Then at the Women’s Studies major. The Women’s Studies major dropped her pint.

National Book Festival (also: some thoughts on slam poetry)

        nbf sign

          I was browsing Facebook yesterday morning as I so often do when I saw someone talking in passing about plans to attend the National Book Festival.

          Naturally, my reaction was “National Book Festival?! Why did nobody tell me, and when do I leave?”

          Upon further research, I determined that the National Book Festival was a free event hosted by the Library of Congress and taking place all day in the Washington, DC convention center, extremely convenient to my university. I was disappointed to read the list of attending authors and found I had heard of only one; it would not be a starstriking-encounter, but I was still eager to congregate with a nation’s worth of other book aficionados, so I rounded up some companions and we successfully navigated the Metro downtown.

con center          The experience started out strong: we had been inside the center less than a minute when we were offered free posters, green with a reading crescent-moon on them. I just got some new posters to decorate my side of the dorm room, so I was very much in a poster mindset and thrilled with the boon.

          Unfortunately, however, as we got deeper into the building, we began to sense a lack of pertinent activities. Most of what was going on was signings for the attending authors–understandable, but again, none of the names meant much to me–, and selling of their particular books.

nbf          There were a number of panels on the schedule as well, which probably would have been interesting, but being college students, we had gotten a late enough start to the day that a lot of things had already happened.

          To further the iffiness, when we visited the food court, we found the options were both exorbitantly priced (typical for a convention center) and limited. Also, the vending machine was out of water, and ate two of my dollars.

          There was still the central reason I had come, though, and that was a youth poetry slam at six pm. So at 5:45, we joined a large crowd on the main floor and funneled into a large room with a stage set up at the front. All the chairs were taken, so we nabbed spots on the floor near the front where the view wasn’t blocked and settled in to wait (me flopping around every few minutes, because my leg circulation and the ground have never mixed well).

          The slam was very cool. For the first round, all the performers were prompted to slam about topics related to books and reading; for the second round the topic was open. One girl described a controlling ex-boyfriend in an extended Pinocchio metaphor. A guy in a graphic t-shirt, who ended up the champion of the night, rallied against the prevalence of writers and artists being questioned about their “Plan B”. A girl with a blue cast on her arm provided a manifesto against Twilight, which made me realize how tired I am of discussions of Twilight—a loaded fact which probably deserves a post of its own at some point in the future, if I can reconcile myself to creating, well, another discussion of Twilight.

           I always enjoy listening to slam poetry, holding out anticipation for that one poem, that one line, that will send that chill of truth and electricity through me. I realized during the show that I’ve been noticing a trend over the past year of recorded slam poems on relevant social issues circulating the internet. I think that’s awesome. Poetry, and really any form of commentary that sells as its own product beyond just the message it’s promoting, can be such a powerful way to make people truly think about things in a new way, and remember it.

          I was fairly inspired to try writing my own pieces of spoken word; I do love writing “page” poetry, after all. But so often the mark of a good slam performance is outward intensity, almost anger, and I struggle to imagine myself expressing that kind of intensity about anything. I’m a soft-spoken person, and my life has been fortunate enough not to provide me with many personal experiences I could get riled up about. I don’t know. I know there are different styles of slam poets.. I’ll just have to see.

          There was a panel I was interested in called “Great Books to Great Movies”, but my friend had to get home to meet somebody at nine, so we headed out. We agreed that the event overall had felt less like a book con, or a social gathering of bookish people for assorted activities, and more like a very focused arrangement for services related to the authors that were there—get in, buy books and get them signed, and leave. However, this impression might have been different if we had gotten there earlier and attended more of the panels that were offered.

          Despite not being exactly what we had imagined, it wasn’t a wasted day. I’m glad to say I was there, and I gained some confidence about the Metro, as well as learning how to get to the convention center, which could be useful if my fellow Tumblr-type geeks ever assemble there for an anime con or something. Plus, I astonishingly ran into my high school genetics teacher, who moved to DC the same time I did to take a new job. I couldn’t believe the coincidence. And of course, the poetry slam was enough alone to make the trip worthwhile.

          The whole experience made me even more eager to potentially get to BookCon 2015. Irritatingly, although the trip to NYC by train would be vastly easier from here than my hometown, it will take place when I’m already home for the summer. A lot of cons this year are skipping around my travel schedule in the least accommodating ways. But I may have to find a way to attend even so.

           Any other NBF attendees out there? How was your day?

Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

let it snow

Enjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp half gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 352   Copyright: 2008

The blurb: “Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors—John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle—the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.”

               Hey, everybody! I’m college now! I’m posting this from my dorm as my dream catcher lays on the desk beside me because my command hook wasn’t man enough to stay on my cinderblock wall. If anybody knows of a satanic substance that will stick to the unstickable, please let me know, because this situation is unnacceptable. But anyhoo, on to the book. 

                Let It Snow was not as mushy as the blurb makes it sound. The only author of the three that I had any past experience with was John Green, but Johnson and Myracle passed the test—they fit in easily at the lunch table of the witty and talented YA writers that I already know and love.

                I liked and felt a connection to all three of the protagonists, and all three of the love stories were excellently fresh and strong— there’s a case to be made for formulaic swoony romances, but these connections weren’t those. Myracle’s story was the closest to that swoony zone, and I’ve been given to understand that some readers found it the weakest of the three, but I thought it was sincerely sweet and dodged clichés as well as the other two.

                The interweaving of the three stories was also very well and naturally done. If this book had been sold as the work of a single author, I think I would have believed it. Each story had its own flavor, but they tossed together into a tastefully cohesive salad. With the added bonus of the snowy, hot-chocolatey winter theme, this is the perfect pick for cold blanket-pile days and summery imaginings alike.

Special Awards:

sqee  Squee for romantic prowess.

comedy mask ROFL award because although I didn’t laugh out loud a lot, there was a lot of witty humor, especially in Green’s section.

What’s super fun and closing in three days? The I’ll Be the Judge Flash Fiction Flash Contest! You still have time to send me a super-short story!

Reminder: Flash Fiction Flash Contest

Hey folks– only ten days left to submit your flash fiction for a shot at 50% off your purchase of Scrivener and publication here on I’ll Be the Judge! Get scribbling!

The Queen Geek Social Club by Laura Preble

queen geekEnjoyability:     smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts:brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 319  Copyright: 2006

          The blurb: If you’re somebody like Shelby Chappelle, a smart, witty, pretty geek army of one, you can’t just put a poster up at school and advertise for somebody to be your best friend. But now freakishly tall Becca Gallagher has moved to town, with her dragon tattoo and wild ideas. Suddenly Shelby’s mad scientist father and their robot, Euphoria, seem normal. They become best friends instantly. But Becca wants to shake things up at school and look for “others of our kind”…and decides to form the Queen Geek Social Club. The thing is, this guy Fletcher Berkowitz keeps nosing around, asking lots of questions about the Club. He’s cute, and interesting, and possibly likes Shelby. Therefore, she must torture him. One good thing about being a loner: no one can break your heart.” (NOTE: this book is actually the first in a trilogy, though it pretty much stands on its own.)

          I read the first few pages of The Queen Geek Social Club in a second-hand bookstore and was immediately captivated by Shelby. She was a girl who embodied a certain combination of traits that creators of fiction are too often unwilling to allow coexistence: interested in dating and relatively traditionally feminine, on the outskirts of high school society, and confident and powerful. And that’s pretty much the premise of the book: girls organizing to be powerful feminine geeks.

          In practice, the story had a certain safeness that kept it from reaching the full battle cry of edginess that girl-crusaders can rally behind. The problem is that I couldn’t fully buy in to Shelby (and her friends)’s geekhood. There were references to her liking old sci-fi movies, and each of her friends had their “thing”—colorful hair, intensely Type-A personality, passion for dark poetry—but I felt more like I was being told they were eccentric and expected to believe it than actually being shown the money. I would have liked their characters to have delved deeper beyond simple stock-quirk appearances and to have seemed like more genuine representations of the many kinds of girl that feel high school is not their turf.

          Even so, the heart was definitely in the right place in this book, and the message was, overall, executed in a way that I loved. The Queen Geeks recognized the pitfalls of teen girl life and fought against them without attempting to force themselves unnaturally in the other direction. Preble gives them permission to be everything: susceptible to the allure of cute boys, but determined not to change to impress them or to allow their lives to revolve around them. Put off by the negative messages of fashion magazines, but still inclined to spend a little too long choosing the perfect ensemble for an important social event. Smart, but not always glued to a textbook.

          Both Shelby and Becca’s difficulties with their family situations added depth to them and highlighted their complexities. Despite not really having that much in common with Shelby, I actually related to her a lot. I really enjoyed the friendship between the two, and I enjoyed waiting to see what Becca’s next Geek campaign would be, and how the group’s image in the eyes of the school would evolve.

          There was a slight packaged flavor to this book that kept it from fully blowing up for me, but there was a positivity, sweetness, and sense of fun that made me glad I read it.

          Don’t forget to send me your super-short story for the Flash Fiction Flash Contest!