Celebrity Sighting: For the Hunger Games Fans

Monday, March 19, 2012

Having lived both in New York City and Southern California, I've seen my fair share of celebrities: Chris Rock, Kristin Chenoweth, Jim Parsons, Sean Hayes, Bernadette Peters, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, to name a few. I'm still not used to passing a celebrity on the street, and I always get pretty excited when I do. So when I crossed paths with this guy twice just a block and a half from my office, I wanted to start dancing.


For those of you who don't recognize him, that's Stanley Tucci, one of my favorite actors. I adore him in everything - he's so quirky, fresh, and hilarious, and he always manages to capture my heart. And his chemistry with Meryl Streep is off the charts. Anyone who can steal a scene from the phenomenally talented Ms. Streep is just fine in my book.

This particular celebrity sighting seemed very apropos considering our Hunger Games discussion from last week (which was amazing - I loved all of your insightful comments and finally had time to respond to them all!). I cannot wait to see Mr. Tucci transformed into the delightful Caesar Flickerman this Friday. Do we all have our tickets? 


The actual story of how I saw Mr. Tucci is a little boring. I was doing a late-afternoon FedEx run when I passed by this cute little French bakery right around the corner from my office. I glanced over and saw a man who looked oddly similar to Stanley Tucci. I think my actual thought process went a little something like this: "Wow, that guy looks an awful lot like Stanley Tucci! I mean, he's got the bald head, the peppered beard, the awesome round glasses. They look so similar. Oh wait - that is Stanley Tucci!" When I passed him again on my way back to the office, I snuck another peek just to be sure. And yes, it was definitely Stanley Tucci. Day = made.

Have you ever seen any celebrities? I'm dying to hear your stories!

What I'm Reading: Mockingjay Discussion

Monday, March 12, 2012

First of all, let me apologize for making you all wait for our Mockingjay discussion. I realize that a lot of you are anxious to talk about it, and I've been holding us up. I finished the book about a week and a half ago, but I needed time to process and get some distance before I wrote this post. If I hadn't, you would have gotten something really snarky, like the zero draft I started immediately after finishing Mockingjay. Let's just say that it was not kind.

Having said that, I won't beat around the bush: I did not like Mockingjay. To me, it was the weakest book in the series, and my motivation to actually finish the series kept me reading more than anything else. I'm sad to say that this final installment kind of changed my feelings about the entire trilogy. I was on the fence before, but as much as the previous books frustrated me, I still felt really interested in all of the characters and larger thematic issues and questions that the books bring up. Mockingjay changed that for me, and while reading it, I finally lost my sense of investment in The Hunger Games. In all honesty, I can't say that I enjoyed the series or that I would recommend them.


Let's break it down, shall we? I've divided my discussion into sections to make it easier to navigate my thoughts.

*Spoilers ahead. If haven't read the series and don't want to know about key plot points, you should stop reading now.

What I'm Reading: Room

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I stumbled upon this next book while browsing the shelves at Barnes & Noble with Jordan on date night. I had heard of it before, but it got stowed away in one of those back corners of my mind, and I more or less forget that I even knew about it. But when I finally picked it up and looked at the back cover, I knew I had to take this book home with me and dig into it once I finished Mockingjay (discussion coming later this week!).

So what book am I talking about? Emma Donoghue's international bestseller Room.


I've already started, and this book is hauntingly beautiful. It is totally captivating in a way that is quite sinister. For those of you who aren't familiar with this book, here's the same description that convinced me to pick it up in the first place:

"To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. . . . It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack's curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer. Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating--a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child."

And Room hasn't just done well with readers. In fact, my copy comes with nine (nine!) pages of reviews in the front. The New Yorker raves that Room is, "An astounding, terrifying novel...It's a testament to Donoghue's imagination and empathy that she is able to fashion radiance from such horror" and the New York Times Book Reviews comments, "In a narrative at once delicate and vigorous - rich in psychological, sociological, and political meaning - Donoghue reveals how joy and terror often dwell side by side."

Of course, I'll be anxious to share my own thoughts about Room with you very soon and hear from any of you who decide to read this book with me (or who have already read it). Be sure to check back here in the next week or so for our discussion.

What I'm Reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Discussion

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Let's dive right in to Ransom Riggs's bestselling novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children!


The book focuses on Jacob, a teenage boy who grows up on his grandfather's stories about the strange orphanage in Wales where he spent his childhood with a group of "peculiar" children: a levitating girl, an invisible boy, twins with incredible strength. Even the orphanage itself seems magical, and Jacob's grandfather claims that it protected him and the children from "monsters." When Jacob starts to question his grandfather's stories, he realizes that they may actually be a metaphor for his grandfather's life during World War II - that his grandfather was sent to the orphanage to escape the Nazis (i.e. the monsters), which makes everything at the orphanage seem magical, including the children.

But when Jacob's grandfather mysteriously dies and leaves him with a cryptic message, he once again grows curious about the stories and returns to the mysterious orphanage in search of answers from any of the remaining children. But what Jacob finds is just that: children, and Jacob realizes that his grandfather's stories may not have been so fantastic after all. Soon, Jacob finds himself trapped between his own reality and the strange world of Miss Peregrine's orphanage, trying to protect himself and the peculiar children from the monsters that terrified his grandfather.

What I enjoyed most about this book was its unique blending of history and the supernatural. The orphanage, peculiar children, and monsters are not simply a metaphor for the Holocaust. Both history and this magical world are able to coexist in Riggs's novel, and Jacob and his compatriots have to contend with the reality of both: the war-torn reality of Wales during WW II and the forces that exist in the strange supernatural world that Jacob discovers. For instance, the monsters are not simply Nazi soldiers or evil creatures from the supernatural world - they are both, and Jacob and the peculiar children are not safe from either.

I was equally captivated by Riggs's use of photography. I was pretty impressed that Riggs spent a significant amount of time researching old photographs and assembling a unique collection of strange pictures for his book, and I think that he weaves the photographs into the story seamlessly. The book is predicated on a grandfather telling his grandson stories of a magical world filled with peculiar children, and the grandfather uses the pictures to help Jacob visualize his childhood. In that sense, the pictures play a critical part in the novel's world-building, and I was captivated by how Riggs created such elaborate and interesting characters based on a strange collection of old photographs.

I think my only real complaint with the book is that I just wanted more. Describing the book, it sounds incredibly fascinating and complex, but it's a bit underwhelming when you actually read it. As a narrator, I thought Jacob was underdeveloped (and a tad uninteresting), and I didn't always have a clear sense of who he is and what drives him. Similarly, I wanted to know more about the peculiar children and their lives at the orphanage. There was so much for Riggs to explore - it's a magical world after all, and he could have done pretty much anything - but when the book digs into the peculiar children's supernatural world, things seem a little too quiet and simple, and there's never quite as much there as you would like. With every turn of the page, I found myself wanting just a little bit more.

But leaving your readers wanting more isn't the worst thing an author can do - Riggs obviously had me invested enough to actually want more from the story, which I think is good. Needless to say, I was excited to find out that he's already writing a sequel (not only because I really do want more, but also because the first book ends with a new chapter unfolding, and I have to know what happens next). I'll definitely be picking that up when it comes out next year.

Despite its small disappointments, I'd still recommend checking out Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It was an engaging book that kept me interested and reading, and I think Riggs is one to watch in terms of rising young authors. I'm curious to see what else he has in store for readers over the next few years.

Has anyone else read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts! If not, let me know if I've convinced you to check it out, and as always, feel free to come back here and discuss your thoughts. I'll pour the tea.

What I'm Reading: Mockingjay

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Where has the week gone? I can't believe it's already Wednesday! This holiday weekend really threw me for a loop. My entire family (sans my mom) came down to Southern California to visit Jordan and me, and they kept us very busy with a few jam-packed days at Disneyland. I'm exhausted just thinking about all that we did! How was your President's Day weekend? Did you get up to anything fun for the holiday?

Anyway, I'm back in action and am excited to introduce this week's book. After dragging my heels quite a bit, I'm finally digging into Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.


I know, I know, I'm horribly behind. Especially considering that I started The Hunger Games trilogy way back in October and am just now getting around to finishing the series. I have a love-hate relationship with these books, and I've put off reading each installment for as long as possible. I need time to process each book and to get some emotional distance before diving into the next one. But I'm determined to finish the series before the movie comes out, and I'm excited (and nervous) to see what Collins has in store in this final book.

I'm sure most of you have already read The Hunger Games, and I hope that you'll come back next week to talk about it with me. Although I have mixed feelings about the trilogy, I enjoy discussing them to no end. Even when the books disappoint me, I find their failures and flaws so fascinating, and I love talking about every facet of them!

For those of you who are even more behind than me (no shame!), here's a brief description of Mockingjay:

"Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins's groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year."

Be sure to check in next week - I'm crossing my fingers for a lively discussion! Tomorrow I'll be talking about Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. That book was fascinating! 

What have you been reading lately? Any Hunger Games fans out there? Are we excited for March 23rd?  

From the Page to the Screen: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Movie adaptations of famous books are a fraught subject for us English majors. We're programmed to automatically assume that "the book is always better," and often, we look down on adaptations for no other reason than the presupposition that literature is somehow inherently better than film.

While I definitely have some snobbery when it comes to certain movie adaptations of my favorite books (I refuse to watch the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice), in general, I'm pretty accepting of movie adaptations. I understand that changes have to be made; there's simply no way to cram 300+ pages of information into a 90+ minute movie. I may not like these changes, but I'm usually OK with them as long as, fundamentally, the film is trying to capture the heart and message of the book. What I am not OK with is changing the spirit of the book.

Case in point: Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.



I am completely mesmerized by Foer's novel. I love the three distinct narrative voices - nine-year-old Oskar Schell and his paternal grandparents - and how they each share a unique piece of the story. I love the way in which Foer interweaves the story of the Dresden bombing with his reflections on 9/11, forcing us to contend with difficult questions about national tragedy. I love that, more than any one event, this book is about loss, grief, and trying to navigate impossible situations and emotions. And I love the new and distinctly literary techniques that Foer uses to create the narrative, from pictures and blank pages to lines of type laid over one another.

When I first heard about the film adaptation of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I was apprehensive. It's not a particularly plot-driven book. It's episodic in nature, and it's more about situations and emotions than events and plot, and I didn't think it would translate to film very well. But Jordan really wanted to see it, so I obliged.

I think my biggest issue with the movie is the fact that it almost completely eradicates the story of the Dresden bombing. If I remember correctly, there is exactly one reference to Germany during World War II in the film. The Dresden bombing and fallout after it is the primary focus of the grandparents' sections, which means that the film essentially cuts out two-thirds of the book. The grandmother is reduced to a non-character, and the filmmakers had to combine the grandfather's character with that of another elderly gentleman to give him a meaningful role.

I also disliked the portrayal of Oskar in the film. I adored him in the book and fondly remember him as one of the most successful and compelling child narrators in literary history. You get such a clear sense of who he is and how he operates, and his way of perceiving the world is so fully realized. That just isn't there in the movie. It's harder to tell what drives him, and his character seems almost one-dimensional. He's also more charming in the book, even if he's still very rough around the edges. In the movie, he tends to come off as just plain ornery. 

The movie is also more heavy handed, whereas the book is about subtly and the significance of the little things. For instance, you sense the presence of Oskar's father everywhere in the book, but he isn't a fully realized character. The movie, by comparison, makes him much more real. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that there's no way to convey the book's nuance and subtly in film. You have to be direct, which makes the final product less elegant.

In the end, sometimes movie adaptations fail if for no other reason than the fact that film and literature are two different artistic mediums and they can't always accomplish the same things. Sometimes the written word is just more successful than film is when it comes to telling a particular story and vice versa. That said, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the most meaningful and compelling novels I've read, a truly masterful work of art. While I'd recommend passing on the film, I think it is well worth your time to check out the book.

Have you read or seen Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? What are you thoughts on the book and/or the movie?

Playing Tourist: The La Brea Tar Pits

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

After our visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we headed over to the La Brea Tar Pits. My dad has been talking about how much he wanted to visit these since Jordan and I relocated to Southern California, so he was pretty ecstatic when we carved out space in our day for a little detour.




For those of you who haven't heard of them before, the La Brea Tar Pits are a cluster of tar pits in the heart of Los Angeles. The fact that they're in the middle of a highly urbanized area make them a pretty unique landmark. But what really makes the tar pits so special is the large amount of animal bones that were preserved in them. Scientists have collected over one million bones from the tar pits from animals such as mammoths, dire wolves, ground sloths, and saber-toothed cats.


There are quite a few different tar pits surrounding the Page Museum, and you can even check out the Project 23 excavation site, where scientists are currently going through twenty-three large boxes filled with fossils that were discovered in 2006. It's pretty impressive, and it looks like an Indiana Jones-type expedition, which I think is ridiculously cool. The pits themselves are absolutely stunning. The shifting color of the tar is beautiful, and the pits bubble up sporadically due to the natural gases in the tar.


There is also a really amazing observation pit, where you can see a large collection of the different types of bones that scientists have discovered in the tar pits. If you look at the upper left corner of the main formation in the center, you can see the skull of a saber-toothed cat. It's crazy to think of all the amazing animals that once roamed the Los Angeles area.


The pits are part of a gorgeous park in the heart of the bustling city. Just beyond the gates, there are tall buildings and roaring traffic. But inside the park, kids run around everywhere, and a talented banjo player serenades everyone from just outside the museum entrance. It's an incredibly unique part of Los Angeles.





Photographic proof that I was there:


We didn't go into the Museum because of the cost (in general, my dad doesn't like to pay for things if he can get away with it - this is the man who flew all the way to Sydney, Australia on a business trip and refused to pay to take a tour of the Opera House). I plan on going back to the museum soon, though, because I thought the tar pits were fascinating, and I want to see more of the animal remains that scientists have collected from them. They have reconstructed a lot of the skeletons so that visitors can get a better sense of the animals found in the pits. Doesn't this ground sloth look amazing?


Have you ever been to the La Brea Tar Pits? What sort of natural landmarks are in your area?

What I'm Watching: Raising Hope

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Monday! I was a total slouch this week and did not actually finish Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I blame the new job. My daily routine has been completely overhauled (in a good way), but I haven't gotten my equilibrium back quite yet. I'll get there. It's just going to take some time.

Needless to say, no new book this week. I'm still working on Miss Peregrine's, and I'm hopeful I'll have my act together by next week. So instead of talking about what I'm reading, I thought I'd tell you about what I'm watching.

I would have started with Community, but apparently NBC has it out for the best show on TV right now (yeah, I said it). So instead, I'm going to talk about one of my other favorite shows, Raising Hope.



The show follows the Chances, a lower, lower, lower middle class family (their description). At the center is son Jimmy (Lucas Neff) who, through a ridiculous turn-of-events, had a one-night stand with a serial killer and is now a single dad to daughter Hope. His parents, Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and Virginia (Martha Plimpton), are just as clueless about raising a little girl, but like Jimmy, they are doing their best to build a happy home filled with love. And then there's Maw-Maw (Cloris Leachman), Jimmy's great-great grandmother who suffers from "old-timer's" disease and is constantly confusing reality with her own crazy imagination.

Raising Hope has a lot of heart and is filled with quirky charm. It will make you laugh, but in a very good way. The Chances may not have much ("Health insurance? Let me go get the butler - I think he left it in the hot air balloon!"), but they make the most of every situation and share a lot of laughs along the way. They encounter some bumps - Hope gets trapped in the storage shed where Virginia hoards all of her junk, Burt has to seduce a long-lost relative, and their best family photo was taken when they ran a red light - but through it all, the Chances stick together and still manage to find joy. They may be downright crazy, but they're also loveable and endearing. You can't help but root for them!





 

Oh, and did I mention they have a cousin who joins a reserve-gender polygomy cult? Nothing says funny like "brother husbands." And yes, they totally sing a song about brother husbandly love.


If you haven't yet, I would highly recommend checking out Raising Hope. It's only in its second season, so there's still plenty of time to catch up (and season one is available for instant streaming on Netflix). Tone-wise, I would liken Raising Hope to Parks and Recreation. It focuses on people in less-than-ideal circumstances, but rather than highlighting how bad life is, it manages to be quirky, charming, and a lot of fun. Even in the worst circumstances, Raising Hope reminds us that there is still so much joy to be had. This show will warm your heart and make you laugh.

And if that's not enough to convince you, check out this look at season two:


What TV shows are you watching these days? Any good recommendations? Is anyone else as enamored with the quirky Chance family as I am?

What I'm Reading: Crossed Discussion

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Welcome to part two of "What I'm Reading" this week! For those of you just tuning in, this week's book was Ally Condie's Crossed, the follow-up novel to her New York Times best seller Matched


As you may remember, I was really excited about this book because I adored Matched. I loved the world-building, the characters, and the questions about free will and choice, and I was anxious to continue the journey in Crossed.

I'll kick off our discussion with my own thoughts about the book.

What I liked: 

Refusal to reinstate the status quo: Crossed is unafraid to reckon with the consequences of Cassia and Ky's actions from Matched, and I loved that. I feel like, too often, sequels try to return things to the status quo, and often, that's unrealistic or unsatisfying. Crossed, by comparison, takes Cassia and Ky out of their element and out of the Society, forcing them to contend with the very real fallout of their choices.

Continued world-building: Matched is all about showing readers the intricate and complex way that the Society works. The world-building is vivid, interesting, and compelling, and I loved slowly uncovering this foreign way of life. Crossed continues much of this world building, but instead of focusing solely on the Society, this novel explores those aspects that are outside of it. We learn so much about the people who live beyond the Society's boundaries, and you get the sense that there is the whole other world outside of the Society.

New characters: Crossed introduces quite a few new characters: Vick, Eli, Indie, Hunter, etc., and each has a unique and interesting story to tell. They all share Cassia and Ky's general discontentment with the Society, but for different reasons. More than anything, these characters show that there is no right way to live within or without the Society, and each individual must find their own way to survive in this strange world.

The Rebellion: Crossed offers a glimpse into the official Rebellion against the Society, and I'm definitely intrigued by it. We don't see much inside the actual Rebellion in this book, but rather, learn about it through the many characters who have interacted with it in some way. The different perceptions of the Rebellion are equally fascinating. For some, like Cassia and Indie, the Rebellion offers hope and the promise of a new and better future. Others, like Ky, are much more wary of the Rebellion and see aspects of the Society's structure in the very thing that is trying to fight it. 

What I didn't like: 

The book's lack of plot: At almost 370 pages, Crossed offers very little in the way of interesting and compelling plot. If I were to sum up the book, it would be this: "Ky and Cassia search for each other. They find each other. After hemming and hawing, they join the rebellion." Suffice it to say, there is no reason for this plot to eat up 370 pages. Although there is a lot of world-building, there isn't enough to fill up this entire book, and for every detail that Condie reveals, there are probably ten or so questions that go unanswered. I think Crossed would have been much stronger if its plot were condensed to the opening 50-100 pages of a novel with larger scope.

Ky's narration: The first book is told entirely from Cassia's point of view. Crossed, by comparison, switches between Cassia and Ky as narrators. I was initially intrigued by this change, but I soon realized that Cassia and Ky have very similar narrative voices. It's difficult to tell one section from another, and I think this speaks to a failure on Condie's part to develop distinct voices for each character. I ultimately came to the conclusion that Condie included Ky as a narrator because Cassia is simply too limited. If Cassia were the only narrator, then there's no way for readers to see what happens to Ky before they are reunited. In that sense, then, his narration is little more than a plot device. 

Little follow-up with characters from the first book: There was so much more I wanted to know about characters in Matched - like Xander and Cassia's parents - but because of the nature of Crossed, their storylines are all but dropped. Cassia and Ky are sent off to the middle of nowhere, so of course we're not going to hear much about the characters from whom they've been cut off. We hear a little bit about Xander now and then, but we don't really hear anything about Cassia's parents. I'm still convinced there's more to their story, and I want to know what it is! I hope that the third book brings back these characters and tells us more. 

Unbelievable plot: I don't want to give anything away, so I won't be specific. But there were certain things in the novel that made me go, "What? No way!" I'm going to show my nerdy side here, but I spent a good portion of undergrad and grad school examining the way in which authors make fiction "believable," so it irks me when I see authors throw in unbelievable plot with no explanation. I've suspended my disbelief for them, and I feel betrayed. I think this was most telling with Xander's secret. And that's all I'll say.

Overall, I was disappointed with Crossed. There are aspects that I really like, but more than anything, I just don't think there is enough in this book to justify its 370 pages. Matched is all about Cassia discovering the problems within the Society, and I imagine the third book will be all about her role within the Rebellion. In that sense, then, Crossed basically boils down to a bridge between the first and third book, the physical journey that gets Cassia from discontentment with the Society to the Rebellion. Crossed is all about the fallout from Matched and most likely serves as the setup to the third book. And at the end of the day, that doesn't really make for an interesting standalone book.

That said, I'm still excited about the final installment. Matched was such a captivating book, and I want to see how everything resolves. I have so many unanswered questions, and I am interested to learn more. So Crossed is by no means a failure. I still want to keep reading, and I'd still recommend the series to others. With the caveat that Crossed is kind of slow and boring. 

Discussion questions: 

What did you think of Crossed? What did you like? What didn't you like?

What are your feelings about the Rebellion? Are you hopeful like Cassia or apprehensive like Ky?

Did some of Ky's decisions make you rethink your feelings about him? In what ways is he like the Society?

Any speculations about the Pilot? Do you think one of the characters is going to become the Pilot? If so, who?

Who is your favorite secondary character and why? Which character did you find most intriguing? 

What do you think of Condie's use of famous literature throughout the series? How does literature help (or hinder) the characters? 

If you were Cassia, Ky, or Xander, what would you do? Live quietly in the Society, join the Rebellion, or try to find a way to live without either?

What lingering questions do you have? What issues do you hope Condie explores in the final installment?

I hope you'll join me for a lively discussion in the comments! Don't feel pressured to answer all (or even any) of these discussion questions. I wanted to provide something to get us thinking and talking, but please feel free to ignore them. I just want to hear your thoughts about Condie's series!

What I'm Reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Monday, February 6, 2012

Welcome back to "What I'm Reading!" Before we hit the ground running, I just wanted to let you know about a slight change to this feature. As I was putting together this week's post, I realized that it was kind of unwieldy to lump the discussion of last week's book in with the introduction of this week's book. So I'm making things easier for you. On Monday, I'll introduce the book for the coming week, and on Tuesday, I'll discuss the previous week's book.

See? Much better! And this way, you'll have an extra day to finish the book before you check back in for our discussion on Tuesday.

On the docket this week is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ranson Riggs.


I'll be honest: the first few times I saw this book on the shelf, I was a little freaked out by it. It looks pretty strange and macabre, and it doesn't help that the book is filled with slightly disturbing photographs, like these: 





The book definitely gives me a bit of a horror movie vibe, and though I was intrigued, I kept passing it up.

Then the recommendations started flowing in. People told me that while Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is certainly strange and a tad disturbing, it is also an incredibly fascinating and well-crafted story. They raved about the way in which Riggs seamlessly interweaves fiction, photography, and dark aspects of history. And given that Riggs is also a blogger, people thought (and rightfully so) I'd be interested in his debut novel.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is also faring well with the critics. The book is currently #4 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, and it's gotten a lot of positive reviews. Author John Green calls it "A tense, moving, and wondrously strange first novel. The photographs and text work brilliantly together to create an unforgettable story," and Publisher's Weekly says, "An enjoyable, eccentric read, distinguished by well-developed characters and some very creepy monsters...dark but empowering."

My interest was officially piqued, and once I read a description of the novel, I was sold:

"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows."

Anyone else equally intrigued by this description? I'm totally captivated by the mystery, and I want to learn more about this strange place. I hope to see you next week for our discussion of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

And don't forget - we'll be talking about Ally Condie's Crossed tomorrow!

Playing Tourist: The Hollywood Walk of Fame and Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jordan and I love living in a new city because it gives us the opportunity to explore new restaurants, museums, historic sites, etc. Sadly, we don't always do enough exploring on our own, which is why we love having visitors - it gives us a chance to play tourist and check out some of the things that are on our "must see/do" list.

When my parents and younger brother visited recently, we decided to take them into the heart of Hollywood. We secretly hoped that we would see a celebrity or two, and we were lucky enough to spot a pseudo celebrity while at breakfast. I'll be honest, I still don't really know who he is - a political pundit, I think - but I talked my parents into letting me take a sneaky picture of them with him in the background.


After breakfast, we headed off to Hollywood Boulevard, where we were greeted by a host of street vendors and performers. I'm still shocked that my brother didn't want to take advantage of the 3 for $10 deal on necklaces.


We then started down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which spans 1.3 miles. There are stars everywhere; the most recent count is just shy of 2,500, so it's hard to stop and admire them all, especially since the foot traffic is pretty crazy. Thankfully we were able to spot a few of our favorite stars, like Joan Collins:


and Julie Andrews:


We soon reached Grauman's Chinese Theatre, which is the famous theater where celebrities leave handprints, footprints, and signatures in the cement. None of us had been to the theater before, and as self-proclaimed movie buffs, we were all excited to check out this piece of celebrity history. The building itself is stunning and kind of takes your breath away.


It was incredibly crowded that day, in part because the most recent addition was from the Twilight cast. Everyone flocked to their section of the pavement, which made it easier for us to check out the classic celebrities we were more interested in.

I found my girl Shirley Temple. Was anyone else obsessed with her movies growing up? I probably watched each one ten times, and I'm not just talking about the well-known ones like The Little Princess and Heidi. I mean the obscure ones, like Susannah of the Mounties and The Littlest Rebel. I also went through a phase where I read everything I could about her life, so I know a lot of random Shirley Temple facts. 


Oh Jack Lemon, how I love thee. You had me at Some Like it Hot. And I fell in love with you all over again in The Apartment. Oh, and my husband also really likes you, just not in that way. 


Surprisingly, a lot of celebrities had noticeably small feet and hands. My dad was particularly shocked by John Wayne. His feet are quite a few sizes bigger than those of the Duke. 


For my dear friend, who adores Hugh Jackman. I've always felt self-conscious about liking Hugh Jackman since I discovered how much Dr. Cox hates him.


Who doesn't love a little RDJ? Jordan is incredibly enthusiastic about his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. If you're one to criticize, you should really talk to my husband first. 


Also, RDJ is Jordan's identical hand twin
 

Ah, Sidney Poitier, another one of my great loves. I never met a Sidney Poitier movie that I didn't like. But my favorite will always be Lilies of the Valley. If you haven't seen it, you should watch it. Right now. 


While we may not have met any actual celebrities on our trip down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we were still pretty star struck. There's something kind of spectacular about touching the same cement that Marilyn Monroe pressed her hands into almost sixty years ago. Now if only I could sit in the same seat she sat in at the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes premier. Maybe next time I'll splurge on tickets to the theater tour so I explore the inside.

Have any of you been down the Hollywood Walk of Fame or to Grauman's Chinese Theatre? Are there any celebrity hubs where you live?

What I'm Reading: Crossed

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Welcome to "What I'm Reading," the first weekly feature on The Book Lovers' Nest! As an English major, I love both reading and discussing good books. Many people can simply read for pleasure, and I'm getting better at that. But no matter what I read, I always want to have some sort of discussion, even if it's just informal. And that's where this feature comes in. It combines pleasure reading with fun, thoughtful discussions - the best of both worlds.

Here's how it works: Every Monday, I'll introduce a book that I'll be reading during the upcoming week. You are welcome to read along with me - you can even pick and choose which books you want to read. I would also love suggestions for books that I should be reading; if I'm going to do this every week, I'll need lots of ideas!

The following Monday, I'll discuss my thoughts on the book: what I liked, didn't like, whether or not I'd recommend it, etc. I'll also pose questions, and I hope that you'll jump into the conversation. I hope to hear lots of different thoughts and ideas about the books, and I welcome your questions. You can also wait to hear what I have to say about the books before deciding if you want to read them (though I don't guarantee the merit of my opinions).

OK, ready to get started? I know I am! This week's book is Crossed by Ally Condie.


And yes, this book is the sequel to Matched, which you definitely need to read before starting Crossed


I highly recommend Matched, especially if you enjoy dystopian and young adult fiction like The Hunger Games. The book follows Cassia, a young woman who lives in a society essentially devoid of free will and choice. Almost every facet of life is dictated by the officials, from what you eat to when you die and who you marry. Cassia accepts the society until an error results in her receiving not one but two marriage matches, which prompts Cassia to explore the possibility of choice, and soon, she can no longer quietly accept the life that has been laid out for her. 

Reviews for the book are very positive. Entertainment Weekly calls it "The hottest YA title to hit bookstores since The Hunger Games," and the Lincoln Journal Star says, "Think The Giver, but sexier."

I devoured Matched in just a few days, and I'm excited to continue Cassia's journey in Crossed. There are still a lot of lingering questions, and I have a hunch Cassia will meet more people who are also disenchanted with the society.

Here's a description of Crossed from the book's official website:

"In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his certain death - only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake. Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever."

I hope you'll join me in reading Crossed this week and check back in for a lively discussion next Monday! If you're new to the series and want to start with Matched, I'm happy to talk about that with you. I'm sure I'll end up discussing the two books anyway since they're connected.

An Introduction

Monday, January 30, 2012

I've been thinking a lot about opening lines recently. How to begin a book is pretty crucial, and there is an impressive array of first sentences out there.

Some are simple and straightforward: "Mother died today." - Albert Camus, The Stranger

Some are vague and foreboding: "124 was spiteful." - Toni Morrison, Beloved

Some are humorous and easily recognizable: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

And some set up the central issue of the novel right from the beginning: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I wish that all of my reflections had led me to some grand way of introducing this blog, but I've never been very good with beginnings (or titles - I'm the queen of bad puns). It's something I'm hoping to work on in the future. For now, here is my best attempt at a meaningful opening.

I'm Allison, a former English major who, after six years and two degrees, has rediscovered her love of literature.


It is by no means impossible to fall in love with literature while in school; in fact, I discovered many of my favorite books while I was a student. But my recent experience in graduate school, while productive and formative in many ways, did a number on my ability to simply enjoy good literature as such, and it is only in the newfound freedom of my non-academic life that I have rediscovered the simple pleasure of a good book.

I have the distinct privilege of being married to Jordan, a fellow book lover and literary nerd.


Together we are quite literally building our home one book at a time. We have each moved six times in the last two years (and two of those moves were across the country), and we never left a book behind; in fact, our collections only grew. We dream of one day living in a home with a bona fide library complete with wingback chairs. 

This blog is where I come to talk about what I'm reading (and perhaps watching), as well as the ups and downs of the writing process. You'll also find stories about our life as newlyweds, ranging from my adventures in amateur cooking to the DIY projects I plan to tackle as we settle into our first apartment and try to make it a home.

We are the book lovers. And welcome to our nest.

Xoxo,

Allison
 
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