Friday, December 28, 2012

"I Hate You--Don't Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality"

Today, I have another first for this blog--nonfiction! What is this blog coming to? AJ, you've only ever blog reviewed fiction and fantasy fiction! What's going on? Eh, curiosity: it happens. I'm actually rather impressed with myself--I've read three, almost 300 page books in the past week and a half. Granted, I'm a quick reader, but not nearly as quick as some, and usually I just get through 20-50 pages at a time. This past week or so, I've been sitting down for 100+ page stints. I'm feeling rather accomplished.

Now, if you want to talk fast readers, you should see my mother! Woman can read a few 500+ page books in the matter of a few days. And it has nothing to do with motivation or time, she just reads astonishingly quickly. If she and I were to read the same book, side by side, we'd hit a point where she got 10-15 pages ahead of me in the first hour, and by the end of the second, she'd probably be more like 50-100 pages ahead of me. It's really, astonishingly impressive. And it always gets me a bit miffed, as I learned to read, comparatively, ages before she did! But she'll beat me in a speed contest any day, and what's more, is she holds onto the details of the book much better than I, though she spends less time with it. Infuriating!

Anyways, I'm doing some research for a character I'm writing that I've been thinking of them having Borderline Personality Disorder. Psychology and particularly BPD and other personality disorders really interest me and I love working with psychological themes in my writing. So today's review is of "I Hate You--Don't Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality" by Jerold J. Kreisman, MD., and Hal Straus.

2010 Paperback Edition, updated from the 1989 edition, published by Penguin Group Inc. 

Summary: "For years BPD was difficult to describe, diagnose, and treat. But with this classic guide, Dr. Jerold J. Kreisman and health writer Hal Straus offer much-needed professional advice, helping victims and their families understand and cope with this troubling, shockingly widespread affliction. This completely revised and updated edition includes information on the genetic, and developmental roots of the disorder, as well as the connections between BPD and substance abuse, sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, and eating disorders, making it a vital reference for understanding and living with BPD" (from back cover of 2010 edition). 

This was one of the first books published on Borderline Personality Disorder back in 1989 and in 2010 it was updated to include up-to-date research, studies, and info. It's said to be one of the books to read on the disorder.

Reading reviews of the book on Goodreads, there were a lot of claims that the writers were sexist and the book was completely unhelpful. Most of those reviews were posted on the 1989 edition, which I have not read. In the 2010 edition, however, I did notice something in the case studies presented to the reader: while the authors did attempt to include male case studies, those presented were almost all of middle-aged men with little physical description included--the female case studies presented, however, were almost all of a younger age and were described as "physically attractive" or pretty. This presented only a mild problem to me, as I found the rest of the book to be extremely helpful and informative.

The book is separated into 10 chapters that outline the life of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, the means of diagnoses, the possibilities of the development of the disorder, communication methods, treatment methods, and medication options. Of these, I found Chapter 2, which outlines the specifications of BPD in the DSM; Chapter 4, which outlines societal effects on people with BPD; Chapter 5, which outlines strategies on how best to communicate with someone who has BPD; and Chapter 8, which outlines the specific therapeutic approaches to BPD to be the most helpful to me and to my purposes. There's also a great appendix (esp. Appendix B) that lays out the evolution of the disorder, historically, which I found very, very interesting.

I have done some research on BPD in the past, so much of this information was not necessarily new to me. There was a fantastic section, as I mentioned, on the societal influence on BPD that I bookmarked and wanted to share:

"Some of these [societal changes since WW2] may be related to society's failure to achieve a kind of 'social rapprochement.' As noted in chapter 3, during the separation-individuation phase, the infant ventures cautiously away from mother but returns to her reassuring warmth, familiarity, and acceptance. Disruption of this rapprochement cycle often results in a lack of trust, disturbed relationships, emptiness, anxiety, and an uncertain self-image--characteristics that make up the borderline syndrome. Similarly, it may be seen that contemporary culture interferes with a healthy 'social rapprochement' by obstructing access to comforting anchors. At no time has this disruption been more evident than in the first decade of the twenty-first century, racked as it has been by economic collapse, recession, loss of jobs, foreclosures, and so on. In most areas of the country, the need for two incomes to maintain a decent standard of living forces many parents to relinquish parenting duties to others; paid parental leave or on-site day care for new parents is still relatively rare and almost always limited [and, as my roommate pointed out to me, usually only available to those who could afford an off-site babysitter/daycare]. Jobs, as well as economic and social pressures, encourage frequent moves, and this geographical mobility, in turn, removes us from our stabilizing roots...We are losing (or have already lost) the comforts of neighborly nearby family and consistent social roles" (pg 81, 2010 edition).

Hopefully you're still with me--I know that's a long passage, but it was one of the most intriguing parts of the book. I hadn't considered the role society might have on a personality disorder. There was also a good bit of...I won't call it raging per say, but noting aggressively of the newly changed role of the mother in current society: that so often, women are now expected to juggle marriage, children, and a job and (the writers noted) this frequent diversion of attention can lead to a neglect of the children, as fathers often have their own jobs to worry about and don't spend as much time taking care of the children as much as they "should." I'm certainly not making any sort of judgment here--I personally felt very conflicted during those sections; it's true that a woman's role has altered in a way that doesn't change her "duties" but rather adds to them. I was raised to believe that a woman should go to college and get a job and be able to provide for herself without any support from family or a spouse/partner. Yet there is some evidence that having so much on her plate, a mother (or mother figure, if you prefer) doesn't have as much time as she "should" to pay attention to her children and this has an adverse affect on them. The conclusion I finally came to is that the mother figure needs to build up a support system--father figure, family, friends, etc.--to help her maintain her offspring and give growing kids the support they need. But you can draw your own conclusions. 

Anyway! See, this is what happens when I read non-fiction! I try to have opinions and such and want to start arguments! Oh no!

Overall rating: 4/5 Stars. I had issues with the case studies presented describing females as "attractive" when it wasn't necessary and with the discussion of the effects of the changing of "traditional" family roles. (Good Lord, how many quotations must I have used in this post!) However, outside of those things, I found the book to be appropriately informative and interesting. It makes no specific recommendations, but rather lays out all medication and therapy/treatment options, as well as discussing how someone comes to develop BPD, and the best strategies (they have) to communicate with someone who shows BPD symptoms. I would recommend this book to those diagnosed, and friends and family of those diagnosed--I think the treatment options, the communication chapter, and the resource appendix make this book absolutely worth reading!

News on me, for those interested: I'm still jobless, but I'm preparing as best I can for the upcoming holiday season! I'm still struggling a little with the holiday season as I adapt to new traditions, but I think I'm doing pretty well overall. This year, I will cook my first major holiday meal. I honestly thought I would be much, much older when my time came to do so, but here I am, preparing anxiously! Wish me luck! I'm just glad my years of Scandinavian Christmas lutefisk is over! For the duration of my childhood, you had to eat three bites of lutefisk or Santa wouldn't come! Do you have any crazy Christmas traditions like that? Let me know in the comments below! And let me know what you think of this post or if you have any recommendations for me!

I'm actually ahead in blog posts right now. As I write this, I have a post scheduled for the 21st (which for me, is tomorrow!) and this one should be coming out for the 28th. I'm hoping to continue this thread and keep a book review coming out every Friday if I can. Obviously this will only be possible my schedule permitting, but being ahead by two weeks, currently, should definitely help! So expect to see those!

Happy reading and Merry Christmas to you!

Related Book Reviews:
Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You, by Joyce Carol Oates 

Upcoming reviews:
Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, by Rachel Reiland

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You" by Joyce Carol Oates

Young adult fiction. Ugh. I was never much of a reader of young adult fiction, even when I fit the appropriate age group. Here's something you should understand about me as a reader: I'm a book snob, an absolute and total snob. I'm very into...older fiction, I don't like a lot of newer fiction, so when I find an author I like, I will read every book written by them and really get into the time period, and the author's life, etc. I could never seem to relate to young adult fiction, but here I am.

How did I come to pick this book up? I was looking up some books about Borderline Personality Disorder and self-injury at the library and this book came up. Usually, I only read young adult novels when they cover a subject I'm interested in, such as psychological disorders/symptoms. So that's how I stumbled upon Joyce Carol Oates' "Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You".

Copyright 2012, Hardback, The Ontario Review, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers.

Summary: After the death of a school friend, Tink, two girls Merissa and Nadia struggle with their respective lives, self-esteem, love, and social issues. Merissa struggles with self-injury as her parents go through a divorce and Nadia has to face her fears when she falls in love with a teacher at her prep school.

I won't lie: I wasn't a big fan of this book. I've read Young Adult fiction featuring self-injury and self-esteem issues in the past, and this just didn't measure up to others that I've read, like "Cut" by Patricia McCormick and "The Luckiest Girl in the World" by Steven Levenkron. Though, it should be noted that the difference between those novels and this one is that "Two or Three Things" features self-injury but is not actually about self-injury. But I'll get to my criticism of that.

Upsides: I will give the book this--it depicts social and personal issues that young people go through in high school pretty accurately and in a painfully  honest way. The writing is done in such a way that I think high school and middle school students would be able to relate to it. Had I read this book in 9th or 10th grade, I might have enjoyed it a lot more, but reading it as a 22 year old, it wasn't marketed for someone my age, clearly.

Downsides: I absolutely hated the way the book began. Oates starts us off with Merissa's story line and for several chapters, introduces us to Merissa by showing us how wonderful her academic life is and how everyone is so jealous of her super perfect life. Starting this way didn't give me a good impression of Merissa or of any of her friends. She seemed to me so whiney and I just wanted her perspective to shut up. As we go on, her point of view begins to make more sense, but those first five chapters or so really got me, at least, off on the wrong foot with the main character. I think my biggest problem with this book is that there isn't really any actual plot. It's a supposed to be a story of personal growth, I believe, and Merissa and Nadia are supposed to overcome their respective challenges with the help from their recently deceased friend, Tink. The way the book is publicized, you'd think the book was about Tink, but the character is only a foil for the others. And supposedly, by the end, these characters have overcome their difficulties magically all on their own, and I honestly have to say it just doesn't seem plausible. Like I mentioned, there wasn't a whole lot plot and I really wanted there to be. You can have a book without plot if there's a great personal growth story, but lacking both, the book really disappointed me.

Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars: I thought this book needed a lot more plot, a lot more development, and a lot more conclusion. It did a good job of describing the sensations surrounding self-injury, the anxiety that comes from a lack of self-esteem in high school, and the problems that come with a difficult home life. But outside of these good points, the book was lacking a lot and I would not recommend it to anyone as far as a young adult book depicting social struggles and self-injury. The alternatives I mentioned earlier in this post are books I would recommend for you if you're interested in that kind of genre.

Happy reading everybody!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Clouds of Witness" by Dorothy L. Sayers

Well, I'm tired, I've got a cough, and there's a bunch of snow on the ground! So, it must be time for a book review, right? On these chilly winter days/nights, I spend a lot of time reading. Especially since both of my roommates and many of my friends are all so bus, I have a lot of time to myself to read. I've also been trying to read a lot of books I check out from the library, which is something I'm...not so good at...Usually I check books out from the library and then they sit around my house till they're two weeks overdue and then I really want to read them, but I have to return them to the library and then I regret not reading them and I check them out again. It's a vicious circle. But I've been doing a pretty good job of ACTUALLY reading library books before having to return them, so I'm proud of myself.

Today, I give you another Dorothy L. Sayers book "Clouds of Witness"

Hardback, 1927, The Dial Press Edition

Summary: Lord Peter Wimsey has taken a holiday when he finds his valet, unexpectedly, packing Wimsey's things. Bunter has seen in the paper that Wimsey's brother has been arrested for the murder of his sister's fiance. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Lord Peter tackles the case of this murder with the purpose of absolving his brother, but in the process, he finds he may find a disagreeable truth in his sister or in family friends.

Well, I enjoyed this quite a bit. I actually read a good deal of this novel in one sitting, but then had a busy week and slowly had to finish it. I really love books from this time period--roughly 1900-1950. There's something about that particular period in time for literature that I absolutely go ga-ga over. This is the fifth Peter Wimsey mystery I've read, and I've loved them all. I'm eating them up!

Upsides: I adore Wimsey's character and I have to mention how consistent Sayers is with him throughout the series of books. He has a very flippant nature in the pre-Vane books (he does get a bit more serious in those books, but I think I would be more serious too when trying to convince the woman I love to marry me!), and it makes him so lovable! As I've mentioned in past reviews, I think these books are a great window to the Zeitgeist of the 1920s. In this book, Wimsey has a few run-ins with the communist party. Don't think that the book is all about politics, but it's interesting to see Wimsey attend a dinner party at the communist lodge and try to crash a meeting. I think the pacing in this book is done particularly well and there aren't any real slow points in momentum. Even when Wimsey and his policeman friend Chief Inspector Parker get stumped on the case, there is sill a lot going on that made the book interesting. I think the book has a fantastic, hysterical ending, that I will not spoil for you! And of course, the Sayers' writing style is very defined and captivating.

Downsides: I don't have a lot for this column, I must confess. One thing that always annoys me in older books, such as this one, is the use of foreign languages, such as Latin or French. Of course, the writer has no way of knowing that in our society, we will give up a worldwide teaching of these languages and move to Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic, but it's frustrating to me to find a passage in French that it's assumed I'll understand! Then I have to take a moment to go onto Google Translate to figure out what the passage means (which I then write into the book--library or no--for future reading/readers) which breaks up the flow of the book. At least I feel like I'm learning something! Other than that, I was a bit bummed that Sayers seemed to be setting up Chief Inspector Parker up for a crush on Lord Peter's sister Mary, but nothing fully came to fruition. Perhaps in the next book.

Overall rating 5/5 All the different witnesses, accomplices, suspects, and theories really make this book a joy to read! It's not a hugely long book, like "Gaudy Night" is, so if you're looking for a mystery you can make your way through somewhat quickly, this is a great book! There's just the right amount of action packed into this novel, the right amount of psychological drama, the right amount of suspense, and the right amount of total confusion. I loved the pacing and length of this book, as well as the character development in it! I think if you're a fan of the murder mystery this is a must-read for you! 

Read my other Dorothy L. Sayers book reviews! Links are below:
Gaudy Night
Have His Carcase
Unnatural Death 

Just a quick update, I'm reading some non-fiction, some memoirs, and *GASP* some young adult fiction. And for me to read young-adult fiction is a bit of a shock, if you know me! I've never been much of a fan of the genre, even during my time as a young adult, so in a few days, we should have a special review of that coming up as I'm just soaring through the book.

I also wanted to share this image:
The Reduced Shakespeare Company shared this image on their Facebook page and I had to laugh and share it with my fellow book lovers.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Gaudy Night" by Dorothy L. Sayers

Hello readers!

I think I may have a job by January! There's a place in Seattle that's very interested in hiring me and are just waiting to figure out their budget for 2013 to let me know for sure. So I'm allowing myself to get a little bit excited for that. Other than that, not much personal going on in my life. I've been watching a lot of Food Network and old tv shows, and durdling around, mostly. 

I have no excuse for taking so long with this book. I've been watching more television than I should and reading a lot less than I have been the past couple of months. I think I got through books that were quite a bit longer than this one in much less time, but I was savoring!

Today's review is: "Gaudy Night" by Dorothy L. Sayers.

I checked this copy of "Gaudy Night" out from the library, the 1936 edition from Harper & Brothers. Don't you love my mood lighting? I like to read with ambiance (and tea)!

I've been really taking this time with this book, because I really love Dorothy L. Sayers and I really wanted to relax into this book. It's actually my first read of it, though I've been listening to a dramatization of it for awhile. I was surprised to see how long the book was (at 469 pages, not really that long, but still!) considering that the dramatization lasted less than two hours. Before I read the book, I was really impressed with the dramatization and I loved it and thought it must be very in-depth accurate to the book, and it comes very, very close. But, I have to say, I don't think I'll ever enjoy it in quite the same way 'cause it left so many things out!

Anyways, on to the book itself!!

By the way, in case you aren't a historian or a Jeopardy contestant, a Gaudy Night is a kind of celebration held at colleges, like a class reunion; they usually include a formally attended feast and can also include lectures, concerts, chapel, etc. 

Summary (excerpt from the inside cover): "Harriet Vane had gone back to Oxford University for the Gaudy Dinner, equipped with a suitable evening dress. She was welcomed back by her friends of college days and found that, with a very few exceptions, she was delighted with the reunions. Many of her acquaintances asked her about Lord Peter (Wimsey of Balliol, as he had been known in earlier days). 'Do tell us about him. He must be perfectly charming, if he's at all like his photographs.' 'I worked with him over one case,' Harriet said. She didn't want to keep discussing him. Then, one day at lunch, she found a piece of folded paper in the sleeve of her college gown. There was a message on the paper cut from bits of newsprint: YOU DIRTY MURDERESS, AREN'T YOU ASHAMED TO SHOW YOUR FACE..." This was the first of many poisoned pen letters sent not just to Harriet, but to the entire college. The Dean called her back to campus to ask for her assistance in apprehending the culprit of these notes before something serious takes place.

Upsides: I love Sayers' writing style so much; I don't think I'll ever quite get over her style. I like that the book takes place at a women's college in the early 1900s and that there's a lot of commentary on female academia. This could be simply a personal preference, but I dearly love books that give me a view of how things were during a different time. As a woman, I appreciated the difficulties the college went through in trying to keep a professional face on the university while hiding the fact that they were being tormented by a poison pen writer. So, I found that very interesting. The ending is fantastic, you will not be disappointed! It was nice, for a change (at least compared to the Sayers' novels I have read), to not know at all who the culprit is; in other novels I've read by Sayers', the culprit has been assumed and eventually apprehended, and I had no idea throughout the book, until the very, very end who the guilty party was, which I find to be a definite upside! Having read almost all the books where Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey interact, I really enjoy watching their relationship deepen and develop even more and watching Harriet really consider whether or not she should marry Peter. I also enjoyed how many people were in play (i.e. under suspicion) at any given time--it made the novel very nicely complicated and added a lot of beautiful tension to the whole situation.

Downsides: I will say that the first few chapters are very slow; during this time Harriet returns for the Gaudy and reunites with a lot of her college friends and Sayers' reacquaints the reader with Harriet's past and establishes the roles of the various professors (aka dons) of the university, which is important, but not necessarily interesting. There are times throughout the novel where the pacing could be better, but while it is slow, it isn't at all dense, so you can get through those stagnant moments rather quickly and get back on the train. There are moments where things are written in French and even sometimes in Greek or Latin and they aren't translated at all! In the case of the French and Latin moments, Sayers gives you an idea of the context/meaning, but in the case of the Greek, the reader is given no indication, nor is it written in English letters, so you can't type it into a search engine so it's hard to look up as well, which frustrated me.

Note: I was reading a review of this book on Goodreads--which is my favorite site for keeping track of my books, reading progress, etc, and looking at what other people have to say about a book I've read or am thinking of reading--and he said he was disappointed in how Harriet "moped" after Wimsey the entire book and how annoying it was. I have to completely disagree! I wonder how much said reviewer took into account the context of the book--i.e. the time period. I don't think you'll find that Harriet is this annoying female character who mopes after a man the entire book. I think what you'll find is a woman who's in love with a man, but no so in love with the usual dynamics between man and wife, especially in the early 1900's; she's an independent woman afraid of compromising her values for marriage. You can make your own judgment when you read the book, but that's my take on it; I'll leave the ending a surprise!

Overall rating: 5/5 stars! I think this novel delivers everything a mystery novel should and more: there's a lot of intrigue, a lot of confusion, plenty of humor, a good dose of history, a few thriller moments, and a healthy dash of romance. What more could you want in a novel? I really enjoyed reading it and I think you will too! If you want the full experience, read through "Strong Poison" and "Have His Carcase" prior to devouring this novel; that will give you all the history between Harriet and Peter and really deepen your understanding of the chemistry between them.

So, I'm sorry to say that my next novel will be yet another Dorothy L. Sayers' book. I know I haven't worked on the Wishbone Project in a very long time, but I'm running low on funds and I'm just not feeling any of the books I own that "Wishbone" covered! Plus I've checked a lot of Sayers' books out of the library and I need to get them done before they're due back! I promise I'll get back to the Wishbone Project soon and I hope you enjoy what I give you in between now and then!

What is everybody reading during this holiday season? Do you have a favorite Christmas book? Share in the comments below!

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Have His Carcase" by Dorothy L. Sayers

You may have noticed, but I go on reading trends. I'll read a lot of fantasy for a few months, then a lot of historical fiction the next, and then a mystery novel trend, which is what I'm stuck on currently. For the past several years, I've listened to a wonderful dramatization of DLS's "Gaudy Night" (my personal favorite novel of hers!) in October as Halloween mood preperation. So I've listened to that, I'm in the middle of an audiobook of "Strong Poison" and I've just finished "Have His Carcase." And I may have just checked out three more books by her. That's the kind of reader I am!

Today's review is of "Have His Carcase."

My (somewhat weathered) copy of "Have His Carcase",  from Harper and Row Publishers, Perennial Library

Summary (from the back of the book): "The mystery writer Harriet Vane, recovering from an unhappy love affair and its aftermath, seeks solace on a barren beach--deserted but for the body of a bearded young man with his throat cut. From the moment she photographs the corpse, which soon disappears with the tide, she is puzzled by a mystery  that might have been suicide, murder, or a political plot. With the appearance of her dear friend Lord Peter Wimsey, she finds a reason for detective pursuit--as only the two of them can pursue it."

Upsides: I think my favorite thing about Wimsey novels with Harriet Vane is the word play between them, it's really cute and laugh-out-loud funny and the way they bounce ideas off each other is fantastic. Sayers developed the relationship between them very well. The dialogue and interactions between all the characters are really masterfully done. The writing is very good, and I have to admit that I'm always a little shocked to find that Sayers didn't just write a morbid murder and have a dark detective gloomily trying to solve it; there's a lot of humour in this book, a woman gets to help solve it (which, considering it was written in the 20's...!), and it doesn't fit into a Sherlock Holmes/Watson type relationship. There's a lot of sexual tension between Vane and Wimsey, but more importantly, throughout the books featuring these two characters together, a great deal of importance is placed on them being equals. This book also features talents from the whole cast of characters that are working on solving the case--it's not just up to Wimsey and Vane, Bunter (Wimsey's personal valet) does a good deal of detective work, the actual detectives and policemen all get their moment in the spotlight. One of my favorite things about the Wimsey books is that they aren't about him being amazingly more brilliant than the police and outshining them, but about taking advantage of connections, of intellect, and working with the police to solve crimes.

Downsides: First and foremost--the cipher chapters! The victim in this book is sent a number of letters in code and Wimsey and Vane sit down for what feels like forever to try and figure out these letters. It's very...clever of Sayers to include the deciphering, but I have to admit that I'm either not smart enough to follow or I was too disinterested to follow. I definitely could've lived without those chapters. I do have to say that the pacing throughout the novel was a bit slow for my taste, but she made up for the lack of momentum with the interactions between characters--there was a lot of time spent puzzling out.

Overall Rating: 4/5 There were moments where there was a lack of momentum and the pacing wasn't great, but overall this is another bit of Sayer's genius mystery novels. The crime itself was very cleverly thought out and very smartly solved, with the right amount of hemming and hawing around the issue. I really enjoyed the humour in the book, and the interactions between the characters.

As I write this, I'm actually watching the "Have His Carcase" DVD put out by the BBC that I've checked out from the library. If you don't have time to read the book, but you still want a bit of that Sayers fun, go see if your library has a copy or buy it on Amazon. The BBC has done "Have His Carcase", "Strong Poison", and "Gaudy Night" and they're all really wonderful, accurate depictions of the books and I love them!

A personal update from me, quickly: I may have a job soon! I interviewed at a nice company for an administrative position and recently heard back that they really liked me, wanted to know if I was still available, and that they just need to get approval for hire before they can consider giving me an offer. So that's a bit of excitement in my life, and hopefully that job works out, as I am getting woefully poor!

Anyway, Happy Reading!

PS. I'm still reading Dorothy L. Sayers and since the books I'm reading are library books, I'm trying to focus on them so I can get them in on time, and then I will go back to work on the Wishbone Project and on to books in different fictional genres!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"The Halloween Tree" by Ray Bradbury

Happy Halloween!

I thought, for my 31st blog post, it would be appropriate to post on the 31st of October, and more appropriate to review "the Halloween Tree" by Ray Bradbury (may he rest in peace!). "The Halloween Tree" is a book that my mother read to me as a child and that I took to reading every October a week or two before Halloween.

Fall is my all-time favorite season and I adore Halloween. I'm looking forward to watching Charlie Brown specials, drinking hot chocolate, passing candy out to children, cuddling up in a blanket, feeling warm, and happy, and content with life. I don't really do the scary Halloween thing, sadly (I just don't have the nerves for it!), but I've been filling my October with themed activities: Dorothy L. Sayers mystery books, audio books (for traveling), and dvds; "the Halloween Tree" novel and movie (narrated by Bradbury himself!); watching "Labyrinth" (though any season is a good time for David Bowie in tight pants); and carving pumpkins, eating pumpkin pie, pumpkin biscotti, roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin cream cheese dip.

This is my copy of the novel: the 1974 Bantam Books edition. In the hour since this has been taken, much of the candy corn has miraculously vanished...

Summary: On the evening of Halloween, friends gather to go trick-or-treating together and notice the absence of their leader, Pipkin. At his house, Pipkin has left a note urging his friends to start without him--that he would catch up. They chase his shadow to an old haunted house, with a great tree in the back yard that is laden with jack-o'-lanterns. Before they know it, the children are swept off on a quest to find Pipkin through centuries of Halloween traditions that collected make up modern day Halloween.

Upsides: I think this is an amazing book for children! The first time this was read to me, I was about 8 or 9 years old and it became a favorite of mine. It's written in with traditional Bradbury elegance and has that delicious way of captivation the reader. The book is a great way to learn more about how we've come to celebrate Halloween as we do, without being dry or too non-fiction-ey. I think another plus is the length, especially if you have kids; the chapters are a good length for read-out-loud time/busy schedules, and it's a book that's easy to get through if you don't have a lot of time to spare in your schedule or if you have kids with small attention spans (or God-forbid, both!).

Downsides: It's hard for me to find a downside for this book, but I will say that there are moments where you wish the scenes were a little longer and more fleshed out; this problem (I found after some research) stems from a heavy hand at the editor's desk (see my note below about this). It's hard to fault Bradbury for something he likely had little control over. I'll also nit-pick a bit and say that the secondary characters aren't particularly developed, but this novel is more about the plot and the traditions than the characters.

Overall Rating: 5/5 I always think it's a good thing to learn about cultural traditions (especially ones that we practice today) in a society that's highly consumer driven. I think this is not only a beautiful book, but an important piece of literature that reminds us that Halloween is not just about dressing like a whore or a jackass, drinking yourself into a stupor, or getting a bunch of free candy. It's a great book to read with kids (ages 5 and up, I would suggest) and a fun book to read as an adult.

NOTE: As I mentioned earlier, editor cuts were made to this book that Bradbury greatly disapproved of and in 2007 a new version of this book came out (I do not own it, but you can bet that state won't last long, that is the author's preferred text version--I've heard the editors cut a lot of large chunks out of this novel to make it more targeted toward a young-adult audience), so if you're a buyer, I would consider that heavily as an option. It's definitely on my Christmas list!

But that's not all! No Halloween is complete for me without watching the animated movie "the Halloween Tree" as well, which is narrated by Ray Bradbury and features the talent of Leonard Nimoy as Moundshroud. I think it may have made its way onto DVD at this point. I own it on VHS and go to great pains to hook up my VHS player to watch it every year. And with this posting, I'll be off to get that going...

Happy reading/watching!

PS. Two blog posts, two days in a row? What is this nonsense? Long novels always seem to bog me down for a month, but they are also some of my favorite novels to read. I'll try to have November and December more populated by reviews than this month will be! Coming up is a review of Dorothy L. Sayers' "Have His Carcase" and likely several more Dorothy L. Sayers novels. I'm planning to get back to the Wishbone Project soon in the form of shorter novels and eventually with "the Phantom of the Opera." I'm trying to plan out a book schedule for myself but with all these job interviews and running around, I've had a bit of a scattered schedule.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"A Dance with Dragons" by GRRM

I've been working on this blog post for weeks now! Thankfully, job interviews and travel have been really keeping me busy, so I haven't had a lot of time to be writing a blog post! But,  I'm finally caught up with the "Songs of Ice and Fire" books; it only took me 7 months to get there! Phew! I can finally read online forums and discuss it with friends!

A quick thanks to Shy for lending me "Dance with Dragons" so I didn't have to wait in line at the library to borrow it! Love you so much! Since she'd already read the book, as I was reading, I spent a lot of time also texting her about my impressions of the book as I was reading, so I'm going to try and include some of those thoughts along the way, because she gave some really interesting opinions on the book as well that I think are really valid.

Image courtesy of GRRM's website.Read my other GRRM reviews:
A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows
The HBO Series

I want to start briefly with some things I wrote as I was reading the book:

Early impressions: Thank God my favorite characters are back! I'm so happy to see that Daenarys gets an active role in one of these books; she really only had a few scattered chapters here and there in every single book before this. I'm particularly excited that for half a book, I won't need to read about Cersei's penis envy, Jaime's scorn for said envy, or the Dorne daughters complaining about how peaceful their father is. There's plot in this book, which is a huge upscale from the last book; "Feast for Crows" has a lot of important information and development in it, but that doesn't make it necessarily interesting. I'm really enjoying the pacing in the fifth book so far. There's enough action and development and forward momentum to be interesting, while still taking time to leave mystery and intrigue. Finally! I still don't think much of Jon's chapters at the wall, but they're more interesting than they have been at the past, so I'm not giving up hope just yet. The Reek chapters--ew. Simply put, ew. When I turn a page and get to a Reek chapter, I outwardly and inwardly groan in dismay; not only do they gross me out, but I frankly do not like the character and do not care what happens to him at all. I assume it'll be important at some point, but most of the time, I just read through, get nauseous, and move on. I enjoy that Tyrion's finally breaking solidly away from the Lannisters and seeking out new opportunities. There have been some great twists in the book so far and I'm excited to see where it leads me!

Upsides: There are interesting POV chapters and the first book in which Daenerys gets a lot of page time in a book. Tyrion and Daenerys are my favorite characters (and generally fan favorites), and they are featured greatly in this novel, so I find that a definite upside. The pacing and plot took a turn for the better in this book after the slow, death march of the 4th book. There were places where I was on the edge of my seat, places where I was lulled into a false sense of security, and places where I was genuinely shocked by what I was reading (in both a pleasant and unpleasant way).

Downsides: This first downside comes from Shy and it's also a complaint that I've had with the later books, especially book 3+: You'll be reading the book and then you'll come upon a POV chapter for someone like Melisandre or Reek and you'll just want to put the book down--at least I did. When I commented to Shy about the first Melisandre POV chapter, she said: "If I can't even remember those chapters then they did not add anything of consequence." I couldn't agree more--there are some chapters that I just don't see the point in and I'm willing to sit through a few of those for characters I like, but for characters I don't care about, I feel like it's wasting my time. Another of my problems with all of GRMM's "Song of Ice and Fire" books is that, especially in books 2-5, surprises/mysteries either come from absolutely nowhere with no lead up that you aren't surprised by them in the intended fashion, but in the way that you're turning back pages trying to figure out what's going on--OR there's so much build up to it that you guess what's coming miles before it happens. Toward the end of the book, when characters from the fourth volume are reintroduced, the pacing slows down and so does the action by quite a bit, which I found disappointing. There are also plots that he left more open-ended than I would have like for the end of a novel, even though it will continue in another volume; I especially was interested in Cersei's plot line and she only got one chapter in the book that didn't give her story any forward motion, though there was a bit of deserved justice. I continue to complain that many characters, that should be well-rounded and interesting, remain stale and one-dimentional (*cough* Davos *cough*).

What makes a well-rounded character: Case Study: Tyrion:
Here's why everyone and their mother loves Tyrion--he's a well-rounded character. What does that mean? He has depth, he's not flat or fake. People love Tyrion because, while he is a "good guy"/protagonist, he isn't perfect. He likes to drink and whore. He feels a full range of emotion--hate, love, regret, desire, anger, longing, etc. This makes him relateable. On top of that, he's clever and witty and beautifully blunt! As readers, we love him for his faults and his virtues and because we can relate to him in so many ways. He's funny, he's cool, he emotes, he has desires, he's relateable. He posesses motivation that, while not pure, is interesting and tangible: he wants to own Casterly Rock, he wants revenge against his family for his poor treatment at their hands, he wants to be happy, he wants, in general!

Why Davos doesn't seem (to me) as a well-rounded character:
Let's role play. My name is Davos. They call me the Onion Knight. I used to be a smuggler. Then Stannis cut my fingers off, so I knelt to him and became loyal. ??? Stannis trusts my council, though he never, ever listens to it and does the opposite of what I advise, but I'm still loyal, though I disagree with him. What else can I do? Even though 4 of my sons have been killed in Stannis' war, I'm still loyal. I became his Hand because he's the true king and that's all that matters in life. I haven't seen my wife or my three living sons in a billion years, why? Because I'm busy being loyal to Stannis and giving him council that he doesn't listen to and going on errands that may very well get me killed and going through battles that may very well get another of my sons killed. But I'm still loyal. *End role play*. That's why I find Davos flat. He has no personal motivation at all. He feels nothing but loyalty and a sense of duty--and those are good things to have when paired with other emotions, such as self-motivation or a desire for something. All characters must want something. All Davos seems to want is for Stannis to win the war and become king. He's inexplicably loyal to a fault. But then what? It's for these reasons that I just can't like Davos--he's simply not real enough for me. You're welcome to your own opinion, but that's mine.

Overall Rating: 4 /5 Stars. While the pacing issues from the fourth book (and for that matter, from the second) seem to have been ironed out in this book, I still had issues with a lot of the character development and some of the plot points didn't seem well thought-out. I wonder if the fame of these novels is putting GRRM under some pressure, because many of these books seem rushed and not perfectly planned to me. But it was a certain improvement on the fourth book and good to see Dani getting a more prominent place in this book.

Next up: Another Dorothy L. Sayers book review. I've been on a bit of a mystery kick (I am quite often getting on book kicks) and Sayers' Peter Whimsey books are my favorite for mystery; they seemed appropriate for October reads. I'm planning to read and review "the Halloween Tree" for October 31st--it's a book I read every year in October.

Happy reading,

PS. So, I was going through my old blog posts and found myself disappointed with how short they are, so I tried to add some more content in this post! I hope you enjoyed! Please feel free to leave some feedback in the comments below and let me know what you thought of the book!

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Unnatural Death" by Dorothy L. Sayers

I've been watching a lot of "Castle" lately. And by a lot, I mean that I watched the first three seasons in a two month period, which is by no means a record time, but still--that's a lot of episodes. I'm just eating the show up--it's a great spin on the classic detective show (which I loved to begin with) that includes a lot of humor and meaning and sexiness!

*ahem* Anyway. My point is, that with all this detective show obsessiveness I have, I felt myself craving a murder mystery. And my favorite mystery writer is Dorothy L. Sayers. I read or listen to "Gaudy Night" every October--it's one of my favorite Halloween books!

So, recently, I picked up "Unnatural Death" by Dorothy L. Sayers at a Half Price Books.

Image courtesy of

Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers back cover description: "The wealthy old woman was dead--a trifle sooner than expected. The intricate trail of horror and senseless murder led from a beautiful Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat and a deliberate test of amour--staged by Lord Peter Whimsey, naturally."

Considering this book was published in 1927, the story is believable in today's society--that is to say--this could happen now; it isn't dated at all! I love Peter Whimsey novels because he's this rich, arrogant, basically bored man with one somewhat morbid hobby--solving mysteries. He's ridiculously full of himself and is yet, usually right--though usually doesn't mean always. The story of Unnatural Death isn't about discovering who the murderer is, but trying to ascertain whether or not a murder had taken place and then finding means to catch the murderer making a mistake. So, unlike many crime shows going on today, the object is not to find the killer, but to gather enough evidence on the killer so as to nab him/her! And considering you know/have a pretty good idea of who the murderer is right off the bat, the story still has a lot of surprising twists and turns throughout, making it completely riveting!

I found this to be a really quick and interesting read; I enjoyed that the case was more about sitting back and waiting for the murderer to implicate him/herself versus running around to suspect after suspect. It was very much a case of working the motives and the evidence out mentally, which I enjoyed. I could see that if you are more a fan of action-packed, running-around-after-suspect stories, that you might find this lacking in that department. There isn't a lot of that, but there are some seriously riveting scenes throughout the book between Whimsey and the suspect and accomplices. I was on the edge of my seat for this book and read the majority of it in one sitting.

Overall rating: 5/5. It was a really interesting case, and though not "action-packed" as we might define it based on current crime shows, it made you sit down and think about the motives and the means and it's refreshing to see that kind of plot in a murder mystery. Also, I think the pacing is quite well-done; Sayers doesn't leave you sitting bored in this book--she keeps the discussions lively and relevant, even if nothing is particularly going on! I know if you're a fan of mystery that you'll enjoy Unnatural Death written by the masterful hand of Dorothy L. Sayers.

And really, can I say, how refreshing it is to see "big words" in books. This is a personal preference, but I enjoy it when literature displays a vocabulary. I miss literature having vocabulary. I want to be challenged and learn something, even if it means I have to look something up! It's a pet peeve of mine when someone is talking to me about a book and complains they had to look words up! You learned something? Good God, how terrible! Big words are fun. End of story.

This book, and others by Sayers, would definitely be good additions to an October reading list, if you're a seasonal reader like my best friend Shy! *hint hint!* 

Happy Reading!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"A Feast for Crows" by GRRM

Hello readers!

Let me just take a moment to express how happy I am not to be in college anymore. With a roommate starting her final year and reading Facebook posts about friends moving back on campus, I find myself so relaxed that I'm done and graduated! Sigh, thank God for graduation!

So, on today's agenda:

Cover art courtesy of:
Other GRRM reviews:
A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
The HBO Series

If you're reading a review of this book, you probably don't need a summary of the basic story line, so I'll just jump right in! The fourth book focuses on the cast of characters in King's Landing (i.e. Cersei and Jaime), Brienne of Tarth, Sam Tarly, the characters in Dorne, and the occasional chapter on Alayne.

I was not looking forward to reading this book. My best friend (and most devoted reader of this blog!) told me about the POVs featured in "Feast for Crows" and I found myself really disappointed. None of these people are characters I'm particularly interested in. . .which is why I've put it off reading it for so long.

Upsides: It was nice to get some more back story and development for Brienne and I loved seeing Jaime mature in this novel and make sense as a human being, as I've always found Jaime to be rather...insane, especially after the first book. I also enjoyed Alayne's chapters set at the Eeyrie with Robin Aryn and seeing more of Littlefinger's hand--no pun intended. There was finally some justice for certain members of the Lannister family and tragedy for other characters, but that's all I'm giving out!

Downsides: The beginning was so slow. GRRM starts us out with a chapter featuring characters we don't know--what goes on doesn't make a whole lot of sense and we don't meet any of those characters again until the very end of the book. The second chapter features characters from Dorne, who have Princess Marcella as a ward, and again it's hard to piece out what's going on. And then he tortures us with plot about the Iron Islands. YAWN. I found that particularly frustrating because there was a lot of set up and it seemed like he was going to develop some new and interesting characters (i.e. Asha and her uncle Victarian) and then Asha all but disappears and Victarian just--well, no spoilers. Overall, I found this book frustrating. It takes Sam Tarly the entire book to take a boat ride, Cersei makes some foolish decisions and has a lot of penis envy, Jaime spends time wondering what Cersei did when he was away, and Brienne wanders the country looking for Sansa.

Rating: 3/5 Stars. There was some good character development, but the pacing was slow. And while there was a lot of important information in the book that we'll need to know for the fifth, I just didn't really enjoy this.

Some updates! Soon, I'll have an update on the Wishbone Project for you--I recently read 'the Purloined Letter' by Edgar Allen Poe that "Wishbone" covered. So if you're reading with me, then catch up--it's a short story, less than twenty pages and I'm sure you can find it online! I'll post the episode links in a post later this week! I was going to read "the Hound of the Baskervilles," but I recently had some free time and took a Dorothy L. Sayers mystery with me, so I'm working on that right now. After that, I'll read "Hound of the Baskervilles" and "Dances with Dragons" (thanks to Shy for lending her lovely hardback to me!).

Happy reading!

Friday, August 31, 2012

"Lettin' It All Hang Out" by RuPaul Charles

Oo, girl! You got Shemail!

I love RuPaul. I love Drag Race, I love Drag U, I love his music! He's great; he entertains me! So lately, I've been on a bit of a RuPaul binge--listening to the music, checking out RuPaul's coffee table book (RuPaul's Guide to Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Style!), and his autobiography "Lettin' It All Hang Out."

In this autobiography, RuPaul writes about his childhood, his start in the industry, his struggle with alcohol and drugs, and making a name for himself in the world of showbiz! I appreciated the brutal honesty of this book--I mean, it's one thing to be honest about your parents (we all have...brutally honest things to say about our parents), but it's another to truly let it all hang out about yourself.

Upsides: Obviously the tell-it-all style. It was really interesting to see RuPaul's beginnings and it was just another reminder that all famous people come from quite humble roots, have their own struggles--and while that's something I know in my heart, it's a good reminder that if you want to make something of yourself, you have to try hard, go through your own shit, and really struggle--and that's how you make a name for yourself! In the book, there were little notes off to the side about RuPaul's Tips for Drag Queens or her favorite songs to lipsynch to or her favorite books; I found most of that really interesting, though there were a few, I thought, where it was obvious they were running out of ideas (RuPaul's favorite cars? I mean, I love RuPaul, but not enough to care about what her favorite cars are. Then again, if you're a car fan, maybe that means something to you). There were a lot of lovely pictures of Ru, in and out of drag!

Downsides: This is always a hard section for me, as I so rarely read a book I didn't enjoy. There were a few moments in the book that weren't so much autobiographical, per say. The book, overall, is very down-to-earth, as if RuPaul is just speaking to you about his life--it's very conversational. I, personally, find this to be a good thing, but if you like the more traditional autobiography, a book that is less anecdotal/conversational and more about "the facts," then perhaps you wouldn't enjoy this.

Overall, I think this is a great book! I give it 5/5 stars! 5 Stars because I think RuPaul's autobiography is going to appeal to a very specific crowd and that means some people simply aren't going to like it--but I was not one of those people. If you like RuPaul or drag culture fascinates you or you simply like reading about people's lives this book will not fail to interest you!

And with that, I leave you all with my favorite Lip Synch for Your LIFE from RuPaul, season 3:
Raja and Carmen's Lip Synch from Season 3! What super sexy queens! They worked it out!

And can I just say, I'm SO excited for RuPaul's Drag Race ALL STARS!

Happy reading my friends!

PS. I'm over halfway through "A Feast for Crows," so you should be able to expect that up within the next week or so! Unemployment has its benefits!