Mini reviews — or, hey, I’ll never finish this book! Vol. 2

Everyone has their certain level of “tolerance” for books that just aren’t grabbing their attention. While I’m not the “I absolutely must finish this novel, no matter what!” type, I’m always hesitant to drop a novel like a bad habit.

But sometimes, it must be done.

I usually give the novel a solid 50 pages or so. If by that point, I’m fighting the urge to slam the stupid thing against a wall or can barely keep my eyelids open while wading through the dense or terrible writing, I just have to call uncle. And while I’ve definitely finished my share of bad books, I have my limits.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Where I stopped: page 70

I know this one is going to land me in some hot water, mostly because just about every review I’ve read of the novel has been positive. Bloggers I greatly respect have called it one of their favorites of the year, and to that end, I ask . . . did we read the same book?

So far, I’ve found the overtones regarding the Mr. Dodgson/Lewis Carroll friendship with the Liddell girls to be totally creepy and alarming, and I think that might have been the point . . . but I just couldn’t get past that unsettled feeling in my stomach. Seriously, ick. Beyond that, I didn’t connect with any of the characters and felt awkward and sad for Pricks, the Liddell sisters’ teacher/caretaker.

Jen told me if I could tough it out past the chapters regarding Alice’s childhood, things would get better, but . . . I just couldn’t do it, friends. I just didn’t care. I borrowed this one from the library; it’s in the backseat of my Corolla, waiting to be returned. And I only feel a slight bit of remorse about that.

But on a positive note! Reviews elsewhere:
S. Krishna’s Books
Devourer Of Books
Good Books & Wine
Bookworm With A View

Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk
Where I stopped: page 30

Sweet Lord. After the opening chapter of this British novel, I felt like I could burrow my head under a sea of blankets and never come out. And not in a good way.

Just . . . depressing. There isn’t much more to say than that. From the opening chapter detailing a pouring rain that soaks the London suburb of Arlington Park to the introduction of our main (bitterly unhappy) couple, I couldn’t find anything redeeming here to make me continue reading. I was bored — BORED — and found my mind wandering to anywhere but the page in front of me, and after I’d re-read the same paragraph three or four times — and failed to grasp any meaning from it? I called it quits.

I’ll also point out that while the book was a hit with critics, it ultimately failed to move readers — especially if the low LibraryThing score and negative commentary there is any indication. Basically, it was pedantic and, as a reader, I felt like Cusk was trying to pull one over on me with the dense prose and condescending tone. Next!

But on a positive note! Reviews elsewhere:
catching days

Loot from #FridayReads = Christmas, my birthday and pink confetti

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more excited book lover than me last Monday! Two fat packages arrived for yours truly at work, carried in by my office buddy Kelly. “You have presents!” she chimed.

She wasn’t kidding.

Contained in my two padded envelopes were 10 books, a massive win from The Book Studio‘s #FridayReads program on Twitter. Each Friday, The Book Studio team asks Twitter folks to simply chat about what they’re reading that day and attach the #FridayReads hashtag to their thoughts. It’s a great way to see what your friends and followers have in hand, and I really enjoy checking out the responses throughout the day.

Before the snowpocalypse in early February, I participated and probably mentioned Austenland by Shannon Hale. Bethanne promised that if more than 500 responses came in for #FridayReads that day, The Book Studio would give away 10 books to one randomly selected winner. The response threshold was reached and, as you’ve probably guessed, I won! Throw the pink confetti!

I’d walked away from Twitter for about a half hour and when I returned, a flood of congratulations tweets filled my timeline. It took me a few minutes (and several Twitter stalkage clicks) to figure out what had happened, but then I was squealing with glee! Especially since I was housebound at that point. Girl needs something to keep her going.

What did I win, you might ask? Here’s what arrived in my mailbox:

The Embers by Hyatt Bass (fiction)
Stand The Storm by Breena Clarke (fiction)
Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen (fiction)
Cheerful Money by Tad Friend (non-fiction/memoir)
Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove (poetry)
Lowboy by John Wray (fiction)
Things I’ve Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi (non-fiction/memoir)
The Brenner Assignment by Patrick O’Donnell (non-fiction/WWII)
Lovesick by Alex Wellen (fiction)
Drive by Daniel H. Pink (non-fiction)

Such an ecclectic group of books! I’ve already shared The Embers with a coworker, as I read it last summer on vacation; definitely a powerful read that I’ve actually thought about often, despite feeling like I really didn’t enjoy it at the time. I guess sometimes the novels that stick with us aren’t the ones we felt were “best,” but rather most poignant?

I’m really excited to make my way through the stack — pulling each one from the envelopes was a complete surprise, and so thrilling. Seriously. It felt like my birthday and Christmas and the dawning of a new millennium and a wedding (my own?) all wrapped up in two brown packages! None of them were necessarilybooks I would have chosen for myself, and I think that’s part of what makes it so fun. I definitely intend to pour over them — and y’all know I’ll be back to share.

Thanks again to The Book Studio for my fabulous prize! Remember to check out #FridayReads on Twitter and join in the fun. (I’m always there, so you know it must be good.)

Cover art: The pinker, the better

Standing in a bookstore with shelves of paperbacks lined up neatly before me, I can tell you something with absolute certainty: my eye is professionally (er, habitually?) trained to seek out pink.

During yesterday’s LitChat, a Twitter-based chat for book lovers happening at 4 p.m. EST on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the subject was chick lit — that occasionally controversial, usually light and fun genre. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of chick lit — or women’s fiction, a term which is sometimes used interchangeably, sometimes not — and spend a good deal of my time reading authors like Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin and Meg Cabot.

Getting into what defines “chick lit” is a topic unto itself, and I’m not here to get up on my literary soapbox and debate the general merits of a subgenre I really enjoy. Some folks dig it; others don’t. That’s perfectly fine. Should those who enjoy chick lit novels be derided? Of course not — just as those who enjoy graphic novels, romance, science fiction or any other type of literature shouldn’t be criticized. We like what we like, and I don’t judge. (Too much.) We’re all reading, and that’s what’s really important here.

No, friends, I’m here today to talk about pink books — and, specifically, how quickly my eye falls to them. During LitChat, some folks mentioned a book having a pink cover is actually a major deterrent — and that they might miss a great book simply because it has a silly or “frothy” cover. I can definitely relate and see where they’re coming from, though I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum: I tend to shy away from books without pink covers. Or ones with “boring” covers, at least.

And I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Some really fun stories I’ve read had very “girly,” chick-lit covers — the ones you can spot a mile away. As readers mentioned on Twitter yesterday, the types of covers you can spot immediately: maybe with a giant, overflowing purse, or a spike-heel shoe, or a gaggle of cartoonish women gathered together. Usually the colors are bright with a healthy dash of pink thrown in there. And who do they attract? Ladies like me, apparently.

Want some pink, girly book eye candy? I have plenty to share. And I know that for every book with a “frothy” cover I love, someone else will dislike the look of a novel for just that reason. Again, no worries — I can see both sides of the issue! And just because a novel features my favorite hue doesn’t mean it’s pure froth — quite the opposite, usually. Many of the books with seemingly innocent covers have some pretty heavy content, which is another criticism of some of the cover art. False advertising, if you will.

But for me? The pinker, the better.

Something Borrowedalong_for_the_rideafter_youperfect_fifthssweet_loveartichokes_heartmilkrun

Since writers write, I’ll be writing

So after a very long dry spell in which I spent the majority of my time editing, reading and reviewing other people’s books, I’ve recently returned to a novel I started over the summer. I wrote about 17,000 words — roughly 50 pages — before hitting a wall with the plot. It didn’t take long for me to back away and find something else to do . . . anything else to do, really. Like reading books. And making stuff. And cleaning. And blogging. And getting all excited over a boy I met this fall — before just trying to forget that boy.

But now? It’s December. I think I’ve had plenty of time to enjoy holiday preparation, read, shop, make things and, oh, live outside the confines of one single Word document. So the moment to return to a vast and terrifying world of my creation had come; it was time to get back to that novel.

The only trouble there? I was terrified.

When I started work on this story several months ago, I felt I’d hit a stride — and was finally writing in my own “voice” and fleshing out a unique story only I could tell. It was fiction, sure, but my own little brand of fiction! I’m sure that’s arrogant and ridiculous. And maybe all writers feel that way. (Do they? I don’t know.) Basically, I didn’t think my story sucked. Was it going to win a Pulitzer? Probably not. And especially not if I only had fifty pages written. But it was a start.

Pulling up that document a few days ago was stomach-pain-inducing. Through my NaNoWriMo troubles this year, I kept reminding myself that I did have something on the backburner — I couldn’t be too mad at myself because I did start a new novel this year and, with any luck, it wouldn’t be terrible. I can still call myself a writer because I do write, and I have written something in 2009!

And I would finish it, bringing the grand total of My Life’s Important Body Of Work to four novels and a fat portfolio of random, mostly lovesick poetry.

If my book on the backburner — this project I thought could be The Project, see — turned out to be drivel, I’d be back to that insecure, terrible beginning: trying to find a healthy, viable plot. And that can be kind of a scary place to be. And by “kind of,” I mean really, really scary.

So imagine the general bolstering of my spirits when I clicked open the book — creatively titled “Movie1.doc,” as part of the plot revolves around the writing of this “very important” screenplay — and read ten pages. And laughed. And then read ten more — and smiled. And then read the remaining thirty pages or so and immediately began writing, shoving right past the creative wall I’d struck headfirst before to push the story forward by miles. I can already spot some plot holes and definitely need to deal with a switching-to-present-tense in the middle of the story issue (you know, um, minor things like that), but overall? I’m liking this — genuinely liking it.

And instead of just worrying about the story “going somewhere,” I’m going to make it go somewhere — without the endless drama and excuses on my part. Writers write, and I am a writer. December is my month; 2010 will be my year. Posting this is a way of forcing my own hand — of publicly stating this serious promise to myself. And it’s one promise I will definitely be keeping.

Pumpkin pie, Vegas, rock stars — yes, it’s almost NaNo time!

NaNoWriMo 09Oh, November — full of delicious turkey, hot apple cider, stuffing, pumpkin pie and . . . wait, why am I only talking about food?

Because what else comes sailing in come November? Why, National Novel Writing Month, of course! Fresh off the heels of last year’s victory, I’m culling together characters, possible plotlines and awesome settings for the book I will complete in 30 days or less. The rules? We have to write at least 50,000 words to “win,” meaning you get an awesome badge to stick on your own blog and, you know, bragging rights. Because you wrote a book, gosh darnit! And then you can proceed onward with your — er — masterpiece as you see fit.

This is my third year participating — and I’m sure 2009 is going to be the most challenging session to date. First and foremost, I’m going to California the first week of November! Three friends and I will be partying in San Diego and Los Angeles because . . . well, just because. Because it’s fall, it’s getting colder and we had a strong urge to get away from it all — for a few days, at least! Sounds nice, right? And I’m sure it will be — in fact, I’m stoked and get nervous jitters every time I think about it! But what does my excursion mean? Five days of no noveling. Chris Baty, NaNo founder, recommends not going more than 24 hours without writing something; it’s so easy to get thrown off course or to lose your momentum. I’m certainly no seasoned author, but I think I’ve written enough — and for long enough — to know I’ll finish the project even with my vacation thrown in there. Still, I’m a bit nervous to leave my book for so long!

And beyond that? I’m not totally sure what I’m going to write about. I have a vague idea, sure — mostly just the setting (Vegas) and the characters (rock star, his first love, aging parents, new wife, little kids, probably a cute dog or something). Yeah, I know — making progress. None of my novels have ever been planned out ahead of time, so I’m hoping that my characters will just walk straight up, flash their devilishly white smiles and give me a series of hearty handshakes.

“Meg!” they’ll shout in unison. “We’re here — the population of your Pulitzer Prize-winning novel! Nice to finally meetcha!”

And I’ll push my hair over my shoulders, draw myself up to my full height and call back, “Yeah — and where the heck have you been?”


If you’re participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo, be sure to add me as a NaNo buddy. We can bolster each other up when even the caffeine and chocolate aren’t enough to keep our little fingers tapping and even work out some plot-related kinks together. If you’re in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia area, I’ll be on the look-out for some write-ins, too — with the shiny pink laptop, no less. Here’s to our next great literary adventure!

Literary Megs, volume two

meg_cabotOh, Meg Cabot — my idol! A woman whose talents I have absolutely no problem talking about endlessly! I’ve been crazy about her Princess Diaries series since I grabbed the first novel in high school, and I actually got teary-eyed when I finished the tenth and final book in the series in January. Meg’s novels are always entertaining and full of fun, interesting characters. Even when they don’t all score an immediate home run for me (see Size 12 Is Not Fat), my overall enthusiasm for such an amazing and prolific author can’t wane.

According to her Web site, Cabot was raised in Indiana, attended college there and eventually moved to New York City, where she originally hoped to be an illustrator. She worked as assistant manager of a 700 bed freshmen dormitory at NYU for ten years while she pursued her favorite “hobby” — writing novels. 

be_popularNow Meg is the author of almost 50 books that have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, earning both she and her characters a place in the hearts of teen and adult readers everywhere. The aforementioned awesome Princess Diaries series has been published in 38 countries and is the basis for two Disney movies (which I also love). Other popular young adult books include 1-800-Where-R-U and Mediator series, the All-American Girl books, Airhead, Jinx, How To Be Popular and Pants On Fire. Novels for kids include the Allie Finkel books, and her contemporary fiction includes Every Boy’s Gone One, the Queen of Babble series and mystery novels Size 12 Is Not Fat, Size 14 Is Not Fat Either and Big Boned.

I’ve made it my mission in life to try and be half as authentically Meg and Meg Cabot — and that’s not just because we share a first name! I love her writing style, enthusiasm and dedication to causes like Greenpeace (proceeds from her novel Ransom My Heart, “co-authored” by Princess Diaries lead Mia Thermopolis, were given to the charity). You can follow along with the fabulous Ms. Cabot’s thought on life and pop culture by peeking into the pages of her own diary. You know I’m there!

Top 100 Books by Newsweek

Ah — a fresh, new list to pour over and enjoy! Newsweek has announced their Top 100 Books: The Meta-List, and I enjoyed looking through Laurel Ann’s list of those she’s read and those she’s yet to check out. Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice is No. 9 on the list, along with many other classics.

I’m bolding everything I’ve read thus far, which comes to a total of . . . um, 17. And pretty much all of them for some sort of high school or college assignment. That’s a bit embarrassing! I do have plans to branch out and read more Great Literature, but sometimes I just get . . . bored with it. And then I’m back to reading the latest release by Meg Cabot or, you know, one of the Jessica Darling books by Megan McCafferty. Not that they’re not great literature — just not the great canonized literature, apparently.

Want to play along? How many of the books have you read?


great_gatsby1. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
2. 1984, by George Orwell
3. Ulysses, by James Joyce
4. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
5. The Sound and The Fury, by William Faulkner
6. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
7. To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
8. The Illiad and the Odyssey, by Homer
9. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
10. Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
11. Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
12. Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
13. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
14. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
15. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
16. Gone with the Wind, Margaret by Mitchell
17. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
18. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
19. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
20. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
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