Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Bookish Goals For 2013

This is my first time writing a Top Ten Tuesday post! I've wanted to participate for a while, but I'm only getting around to it now. Top Ten Tuesday is a fabulous meme run by The Broke and the Bookish

So the topic this week is regarding bookish goals for 2013. Oh boy. I can think of plenty:






1.  Re-read The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray within the month of January.  Ever since I absolutely fell in love with the series when I was eleven, I've read Gemma's full 1500+ page story at the beginning of every year. Thing is, sometimes I let this rereading project slip into February...and March...

Re-visiting Gemma is a key part of my year, but I have to make sure I actually read it in a decent amount of time. With January being my exam month, this can be pretty difficult. I'm going to make sure to do this time, though. Else I won't have as much time for new books!





2. Read 52 books within the year. I wish I could keep up with a more impressive number, but with all my projects, school, and my love of sleep, a book a week is the best I can do.

3. Get my fiction TBR bookshelf down to three cubby holes. 

My physical TBR bookshelf is organized into six cubby holes. One of these cubby holes is filled with non-fiction books, but the other five are full of fiction that I haven't read yet. My goal, once again, is to focus on reading the books I own.

4. Visit the library once a month, just to read.

While I love shrinking my TBR pile, I miss the amount of time I used to spend at the library. It would be nice to regularly spend a Saturday picking out one book to indulge in for the afternoon. Nothing wrong with spending more time in one of your sanctuaries, right?

5. Read at least six non-fiction books this year.

I love my novels, but I'm also fascinated by the non-fiction world. Good non-fiction has been known to help me out of a reading slump, and it helps make me more creative. If I could raise the bar from two to three non-fiction books a year to around six or seven, I would be happy.

6. Read more Sylvia Plath. 

In 2012, I fell hard for The Bell Jar. All my friends say I'd love Sylvia's journals and poems, but I haven't gotten around to reading more. I vow to do that this year. 











7.  Read at least two books that have been abuzz in the blogosphere. 

The problem with focusing on reading my TBR shelf is that I miss out a lot of blogger favourites. I've been dying to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Girl of Fire and Thorns based on friend recommendations. It would be nice to be more current in my book choices.

8. Participate in two readathons this year. 

I love the idea of readathons, but I never seem to make time for them. I'm changing that this year, and going to invite my IRL friends to join me.

9. Let people borrow my books more. 

I get really obsessive about the pristine nature of my books - I've shrieked at more than one person for just touching my copy of The Sweet Far Thing. However, I do love it when people borrow books lower on my favourites list, and I always love encouraging people to read good stories.

10. Restart book club.

I used to run a teen book club at my local library, but it ended up dying out. I plan to resurrect it and make it a lot more successful.

So that's my list! What are your bookish goals this year? 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2012 Recap Or, Plans To Make 2013 Better

So, last year I started my feature called Educate Emma. This feature's goal was to culturally educate me. Thing is, I failed on every goal I started.

Yep. Every. One. I am a big ol loser.

This is okay though. I'm realizing that I fall into a regular pattern when it comes to my projects: I set the bar too high and then suffer miserably when I don't reach them. The problem with Educate Emma was that I promised to review absolutely all of the media I consumed - plays, movies, TV, albums and books. This made cultural consumption seem like a chore. The whole point of Educate Emma was to NOT make learning a chore. So, I have a revised plan for Educate Emma:

1. I will review all TV seasons and books I consume - TV seasons because I don't watch a lot of them, and books because I am still predominately a book blog. However, for albums, movies and plays, I will choose one of each per month to highlight. This means that I can pick the most pieces I have the most thoughts on and also eliminate a huge workload for myself.

2. My goal is to post twice a week. If I can produce more content, awesome. But two weekly posts is the manageable bare minimum I can maintain. This is way better than leaving you all in the dark for so long.

3. My Educate Emma goals:

A. A book a week. (52 books)

B. Two plays a month. (24 plays)

C. An album every week. (52 albums)

D.  A TV season every other month. (6 seasons)

E. Two movies a month. (24 movies)

I really plan on meeting these goals this year. I want to start producing more regular content. My blog is an extension of my writing style and my history, and I love creating reviews for it. I also want to do more discussion posts and engage more in the community.

What are your blogging goals for 2013?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Educate Emma: Books: Darkness of Morning by Samantha Boyette

Dust Jacket Description:

 "Picking up shortly after the events in Morning Rising, Darkness of Morning finds Kara and Dylan drawn back into the world of Inbetween in hopes of stopping Alster and the new King. Though they believe Alster is planning an assault on the Daylands, bringing Dylan over to his side is his true goal. As the girls and their friends plot to bring down Alster, Dylan's moods shift dangerously testing both her relationship with Kara and her commitment to saving the Daylands."





I received this book for review.


Characters: Boyette does well in creating Kara and Dylan's relationship post-Morning Rising. It feels like a natural progression. That being said, Boyette doesn't just dismiss the harsh realities of their previous dynamic. It's a good mix, and I appreciated that after already reading the first novel. Seeing the old favourites of Baron and Lockler was good too, as well as the new addition of Sera. It was nice to reminded of the world again. I was also glad that Kara and Dylan finally approached the issues of Dylan's addiction and Kara's lack of self esteem. On a whole, a pretty decent cast. 4 flowers. 

Writing: Boyette has definitely improved since Morning Rising. There's no clunky exposition here and the descriptions are lovely. The dialogue also seems to flow better. It's a significant improvement. 4 and a half flowers. 

Plot: Everything just feels too easy. Boyette knows what she needs to do in order to create a developmental arc for the series, but it's like she doesn't make significant effort to get there. Cliches are frequently used, the actions are too easy, and the characters too quickly manipulated. I wanted more tension, more hardship, but it just felt like everyone was stupid. I was disappointed. 2 and a half flowers. 

End: Relevant and important for future installments, but I was still numbed by the plot. 3 flowers. 

Dust Jacket Description: Quick and direct, but it doesn't reel me in. 3 flowers.

Cover: I really like the basic visual, but I want it to have more interest.  3 flowers. 

Overall: While Darkness of Morning has more polished writing, Morning Rising had better plot elements. It still has a realistic relationship and an appealing world, but I was disappointed by the book's crafting. 3 and a half flowers.

Educate Emma: Hit Lit by James W. Hall

Goodreads Description:

"What do Michael Corleone, Jack Ryan, and Scout Finch have in common? Creative writing professor and thriller writer James W. Hall knows. Now, in this entertaining, revelatory book, he reveals how bestsellers work, using twelve twentieth-century blockbusters as case studies—including The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jaws. From tempting glimpses inside secret societies, such as submariners in The Hunt for Red October, and Opus Dei in The Da Vinci Code, to vivid representations of the American Dream and its opposite—the American Nightmare—in novels like The Firm and The Dead Zone, Hall identifies the common features of mega-bestsellers. Including fascinating and little-known facts about some of the most beloved books of the last century, Hit Lit is a must-read for fiction lovers and aspiring writers alike, and makes us think anew about why we love the books we love."

Review:

Hit Lit does two things: offer a formula for a best seller, and give readers insight into the American psyche. Thing is, I'm pretty bored by both formulas and the American psyche.  

For anyone who wants to make a popular novel in North America, this is a really good reference. It makes realistic proofs and has solid evidence. I can't fault Hit Lit for doing what it sets out to do. But its insights have no hold for me. I understand that best sellers have validity, but I've experienced too many poorly written pieces to truly appreciate them. I don't want to sound elitist - I regularly roll my eyes at those who diminish the credibility of YA and romance - but best sellers' profits are not always indicative of their crafting. I don't doubt that Hall's formula would make a successful book, but I'm not interested in writing or reading the formula that he suggests. Since the formula is just that, a formula, it doesn't have anything new to offer for the art form. Writing is usually only valuable to me if it offers new insight. So I just found myself getting bored whilst reading.

Not only that, but I'm freaking exhausted with American culture. I'm sorry, my lovely Americans friends, but it's true. As I read through Hit Lit, it covered some obvious necessities in popular American literature: a love of independence and rustic settings. It also noted the more interesting components: a need for practical information and internal struggles with religion. The social relevance of the best sellers were more interested than the formula, but I still found it dull. The end visual I had of America was the one I already had: a country with fire and drive, but also a public lack of interest in intellectualism. These are things that foreigners know, or at least think we know, about America. It's boring, especially when Hall is discussing a place where publishers are struggling to make reading relevant again. If Hall's hit sellers list had been focused on somewhere like France, - the only place I know where the book industry isn't going through crisis - I wonder what the different requirements for a best seller would have said about the country. I also wonder if it would have been a step to figuring out how countries can incorporate reading as a necessary part of their culture. 

If you want what Hall is offering, this is a great book to pick up. But I was more interested in the questions the book didn't intend to leave me with - why are we so obsessed with America, when its time economically and culturally seems to be passing? What places can we look to in order to foster a love of reading in the North American populace? Can you really create a book formula that will not only produce desired results, but reflect the culture itself? Hit Lit was worth exploring just for how it got my brain rolling. 4 flowers. 

 

Educate Emma: Books: The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

Goodreads Description:

"Think homeschooling is only for a handful of eccentrics on either end of the political spectrum? Think again. Today in America, two million primary- and secondary-school students are homeschooled. Growing at a rate of 10 percent annually, homeschooling represents the most dramatic change in American education since the invention of the mimeograph—and the story has only just begun.

In The Year of Learning Dangerously, popular blogger, author, and former child actor Quinn Cummings recounts her family’s decision to wade into the unfamiliar waters of homeschooling—despite a chronic lack of discipline, some major gaps in academic knowledge, and a serious case of math aversion. (That description refers to Quinn.)

Trying out the latest trends, attending key conferences (incognito, of course), and recounting the highlights and lowlights along the way, Quinn takes her daughter’s education into her own hands, for better and for worse. Part memoir, part social commentary, and part how-not-to guide, The Year of Learning Dangerously will make you laugh and make you think. And it may or may not have a quiz at the end. OK, there isn’t a quiz. Probably."


Review: 

The most immediate and delightful thing about this particular memoir is Cummings' writing style. My mother adores memoirs, and I hear regularly of how great premises are lost on clunky writing. I really wasn't expecting Cummings to have such a witty and tight style, and that surprise set me up to enjoy that book immensely. 

The Year of Living Dangerously won't be anything new for a seasoned homeschooler such as myself, but it's nice to relive the nostalgia. Cummings does an exceptional job of showing all the various homeschooling communities - the New Age, the religious, online, those who homeschool due to the system's failure, etc. It's a really good intro to the complexities of the educational system. Cummings also uses her own experiences trying to teach her daughter for a more personal touch. She proves that just because a parent may be an inadequate teacher in a subject, it doesn't mean there aren't further resources for their child to utilize. I also really loved the ending of the book, and especially the kind of educational utopia that Cummings describes.

 This book is definitely worth reading for those who are interested in the reasons why some people homeschool, and who also want to find new educational resources. It's funny, well structured, and accessible. Try it out. 4 and a half flowers. 


  

Educate Emma: Books: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Dust Jacket Description:

"Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”











 Characters: I love the cast of The Diviners. Evie is spunky enough to remind readers of Bray's other female protagonists, but she also has different faults. She's definitely representative of the flappers of Roaring Twenties, and that makes her somewhat different from the ahead-of-their-time gals in The Gemma Doyle Trilogy and Beauty Queens. Evie took a while to grow on me, but once she showed a sense of responsibility and compassion, she reeled me in. Memphis was another beloved character, who I totally have a book crush on. Through his eyes, readers get to learn more about the Harlem scene in New York City during the twenties. I also really enjoyed the quiet, serious nature of Jericho, and the surprise of his story towards the end of the novel. There are other great dynamics and characters as well, such as Theta and her best friend and Evie's socialist friend known as Mabel Rose. As always, Bray effortlessly weaves characters of intrigue and diversity into a spectacular landscape. 5 flowers. 

Writing: Bray is exceptional at making an era come alive. The descriptions of the twenties have metaphorical importance and also set the stage. The twenties dialogue seems excessive at times, but based on Evie's character, it's pretty realistic. It also becomes more amusing and less jarring as time passes. Only think that kept me out of the book was its early similarities to The Gemma Doyle Trilogy - the beginning scenario, the train scene. A lot seems to have been reused. I may have only noticed this because I am a die hard Gemma Doyle fan, but it was a little strange to me. 4 and a half flowers. 

Plot: I love Bray for really insisting that American culture is immigrant culture - it is not purely owned by white Puritans. It is a collection of all colours, histories and classes. And she doesn't just preach it either. The integral plot of the story has some great, unusual religious components. Bray's willingness to utilize different perspectives makes me very excited for the next three books in the series.

That being said, I felt that The Diviners didn't have as much intellectual weight as any of Bray's other works. The word evil is constantly used, and no one doubts what evil is - this was really strange coming from an author whose debut work asked challenging questions about situations and people we antagonize. There's no doubt that the plot is well crafted - its pacing is great and it has organic twists and turns - but those Libba Bray elements that always make the book unique are lacking. I'll give it time though - Bray has three more books to introduce more philosophical themes. 4 flowers 

End: In love. It felt like the perfect climax for the first book, and the last image reminds me of an old movie. 5 flowers. 

Overall: The characters in The Diviners are memorable, and Bray can certainly write.  I look forward to her infusion of non-European culture in later novels. I just hope she gets back to the focus on important questions that made me fall in love with her early work. Luckily, I have faith in my favourite author of all time. 4 and a half flowers.


Educate Emma: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S7

 *spoilers*

While S7 is not my favourite season, I do believe that it was the perfect send off for my favourite TV series ever.

The easy flow of S7 ties up loose ends and also allows the stories to come full circle - once again, Buffy is concerned with being different and never living a normal life. The first six episodes of the season feel like a time warp back to the campy-but-relevant days of season one. It allows viewers to slip into a false sense of security. Once Conversations with Dead People hits, we're back to the darkness of later seasons. Buffy has the same concerns as she did when she was sixteen, but now she is more aggressive in her pursuit of heroism and survival. I'd argue that there's something more disturbing in Buffy in S7 than there is in S6. That is an impressive feat.

It's not all darkness, though. It's marvelous viewing the original trio of Willow, Buffy and Xander and seeing how they've gone from children to adults. The complicated interactions between Spike and Buffy create an interesting narrative about former abuse and obsession, and if forgiveness should be possible. Most importantly, and the thing that reminded me why I fell in love with the show during S2, was the visit back to Buffy's feminist roots. The last few episodes are exactly why this series is so brilliant and so important to women. I loved every minute of it.

Season seven is an interesting amalgamation of old and new Buffy, and it succeeds at giving the show a dignified and realistic ending. Bravo, Whedon.

Favourite episodes: It's really hard for me to view this season as separate parts, when it feels like one continuous narrative. But if I had to choose, I loved Conservations with Dead People's character development, Buffy's heart breaking decline in Empty Places, and her feminist reclaiming in End of Days. Of course, the finale of Chosen was also a big favourite.

Least favourite episodes: The Killer in Me irritated me. I ADORE Willow, but I despise Kennedy with all my heart. Kennedy reeks of teenager - she's impulsive and youthful and she doesn't match Willow's maturity. This girl is NOT a good development from Tara. Having a whole episode that focused on their relationship made me twitch. Tara is the only one for Willow.