Thursday, July 31, 2014

Feature and Follow: Biggest City You Live Near

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow

This week's prompt couldn't have come at a better time as I'm literally in a big move from one big city to another big city.  And so, a letter to two of the most important cities in my life:

Goodbye, Chicago.

City of the most beautiful skyline I've ever seen, beaches galore, and water taxis.  City of the most perfect apartment in the coolest section of a city I've ever lived in.  City with trees and free live bands and surprisingly great Mexican food.

 Goodbye Chicago, city of snow (that I have grown to love).  City with a winter that last 8 months and below 0 degree weather (that I will not miss).  Goodbye Chicago, city of my heart. Perhaps we'll meet again :)


Hello Baltimore!

City of dragon boats, a billion Indian restaurants, and cheap sake.  City of cherry blossoms, the Inner Harbor, and my Alma Mater.   Hello Baltimore, city with my best friend, city with my boyfriend! 

Hello Baltimore, I think we're going to get along just fine :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dealing with Harassment, or Why Fire is My Favourite Graceling book (Part 2)

So originally this was only going to be one post, but clearly my love for Fire couldn't be contained to one mere post.  In my last post I talked a lot about why I love Fire, but I never got to why I love Fire the most.  And part of that is because in this case it is supremely subjective (ooh alliteration!), and so personal I wasn't sure I was going to write a post about it.  But I decided it was something I should write about, so it's going to get super personal for a while, just as a warning.

I've mentioned on the blog before that I had a phone harasser.  Long story short, I got terrifying text messages for about four months and finally had to involve the cops.  What I haven't mentioned is that last summer got completely out of control as far as harassment went.  A couple weeks after I had finally ended the problems with my harasser, I got another one.  This time in real life.

I was walking through a park to find a spot to read my book, when a man approached me.  This man was very attractive - fit, tan, well dressed, looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties.  This was enough to keep me from gauging him as an immediate threat.  He told me that I was beautiful, and wanted to know if I was interested in getting his number to meet up sometime.  I was very flattered, after all doesn't everyone want a gorgeous man complimenting them?  I thanked him, but let him know I had a boyfriend.

At this point it all went downhill.  He wanted to know how serious we were, then he wanted to know if I wanted his number just in case, wouldn't stop being extremely pushy, and at this point was standing way too close for my comfort.  I finally escaped and moved to a bench at the other end of the park to finish up my book.  About ten minutes later, the guy rides by on his bike to leave the park.  I thought it was a little weird that he managed to leave by the same entrance I was at - there are a good twenty or thirty other ways to leave, but I just shrugged it off.  Until he rode back by me another ten minutes later, slowing down as he went by my bench.  And then again.  And then again.  Until he rides by, leans the bike against my bench and sits down next to me.  I was absolutely frozen.  I didn't have a clue what to do.  And I was terrified.  I was about a fifteen minute walk from my apartment, my roommate wasn't home, and I was wearing heels which are not especially conducive to escape plans.  After sitting and staring and getting no response from me, he left. I was so terrified that I honestly didn't think I was capable of walking.  And how could I be certain he was gone for good? How would I know if he followed me home?  I ended up staying in that park for hours because it felt safer to stay there than to walk home by myself to an empty apartment.

A week after that took place, a man started taking photos of me without my consent while I waited for the train.  I was in so much shock I wasn't able to process what had just happened before the train came and he got in a different car. (And don't worry, after last summer I have taken definite steps to be able to defend myself, and have probably spent an inordinate amount of time coming up with plans for what-if scenarious)  Needless to say last summer took a huge toll on my psyche, and I'm dealing with the aftermath even today.  I'm fine most days, but sometimes seeing a man on the street is enough to send me home instead of going wherever I had meant to be, and I'm not always as in control of my emotional and physical reactions to strange men as I used to be.  It's a work in progress :)

Well that's great and all you might be saying, but how does that relate to Fire?

Artwork courtesy of the Inclusive Graceling tumblr

Sometimes there is a perfect meeting of what you need as a person, and what you find in a book.  Fire is that character for me.  As you read the book, you see Fire evolve from fear to strength.  You see her deal with significantly worse situations than I have ever been in, and instead of crumpling under the horror of it all, she gets stronger, and stronger, and stronger.

Character development is one of the most important things to me in a book, and Kristin Cashore manages to completely change Fire from the beginning of the book to the end in a way that both almost makes her unrecognizable.  Her strength and assertiveness, as well as her sense of self are so much stronger it's amazing to think back to the beginning of the book and how she acted then.  And yet at the same time she is the same person, just stripped down to the really core of who she is. Not only is that just simply impressive and enough for me to declare my undying love for an author, it just happened to be a character evolution that I need to have in my life when I encountered it.  In some ways I relate to Fire in a way I haven't needed to relate to other characters, and in some ways she's sort of a beacon of hope that I can evolve into a stronger person once I have mentally and emotionally dealt with everything I need to deal with.  Beyond that connection, I just love Fire as a character.  She's complicated and tough and loyal and unafraid of her sexuality.  She also makes a choice in the book that is probably one of the most heartbreaking decisions a person ever has to make, and I think what she did was awful, but ultimately the right decision for her and for the future.  She's also a passionate musician, which is always an added plus in my book, and the time Cashore takes to describe Fire's instruments so lovingly really endeared her to me.  Fire demands respect in her relationships, and is unwilling to compromise who she is as a person (at least as she evolves through the book) in any of those relationships, friendship, family, or otherwise.  That juxtaposed with her vulnerability, tenderness, fear, but mental and physical prowess solidify Fire as one of the best examples I know of a "strong female character" (read: a complex being)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Top Ten Authors I Own the Most Books From

Hosted by The Broke and Bookish

This is actually a pretty fair representation of my favourite authors - there are few I've read more books by (read: Lemony Snickett, Margaret Peterson Haddix), but I haven't ended up keeping their books.  So here goes!

1.  Enid Blyton (23+ books)

The great thing about being raised in a family of Kiwis is that you get raised on Enid Blyton.  I'm pretty sure I own all of her Famous Five books (which I loved so much I refused to answer to anything other than George for the better part of 3rd grade), have read a huge portion of her Noddy books, used to own all her Secret Seven books, and a few miscellaneous other books.  So I don't even have a clue how many I still own (other than the Famous Fives which I definitely still have), so she pretty much takes the cake on authors I own the most of haha!

2.  Brian Jacques (21 books)

I literally own and have read all but the last three books in the Redwall series.  (There's 22 of them, in case you were wondering).  I also own two of his three books in his Flying Dutchman trilogy.  He recently died in 2011, and I was pretty much devastated when I found out.  This man was basically a HUGE portion of my childhood.

3.  Tamora Pierce (14 books)

Ok, it's no surprise that I pretty much hero worship Tamora Pierce.  It's probably more of a surprise that I don't all of her books haha! Sadly, I only own her Tortall books (excluding the Beka Cooper books which are literally the only books of hers I haven't read yet)

Robin McKinley (11 books)

I've officially read all of Robin McKinley's books except for Pegasus, and thanks to Meg, I now own all of her books except for her newest one, Shadows (and her short stories). I would put my level of fangirling for Robin McKinley right up there with Tamora Pierce!

C.S. Lewis (7 books)

This is where it starts getting a bit tricky - a lot of these next authors I've read significantly more than I own anymore.  For example, I've technically read Lewis's Space Trilogy, but now only own his Chronicles of Narnia.

J.K. Rowling (7 books)

Let's be real. Of course I own all the Harry Potter books.  I probably own some of the other ones too, but I'm not sure.  And if I had my way I'd own the whole series in the new covers too.

Lloyd Alexander (6 books)

I've read a good portion of Lloyd Alexander's books, but the only ones I've held onto are his Chronicles of Prydain (which I have reread so many times they're falling apart) and The Iron Ring (which is something I feel like I'm the only person who's read it)

Madeleine L'Engle (6 books)

While I definitely have read more books than I currently own of hers, I'm actually surprised I haven't read all or even close to all of her books.  Madeline L'Engle is actually potentially the most influential author I read growing up.  She really shaped my worldview with her blend of science and religion and just observations on how life is in a way I had never experienced (and honestly haven't since).  I think I'll make it my goal over the next year to get to more of her books.

L.M. Montgomery (6 books)

I own what I consider to really be the Anne books.  (Let's forget that last book ever happened, shall we?)

Anne McCaffrey (6 books)

I'd reread Dragonflight a billion times growing up (it's still my favourite), but I only recently got into the rest of the Pern series and her other series (I'm currently reading The Ship Who Sang) in the past year or so.  I adore all her books, so I definitely see this list growing!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Day in the Life (17)

Not much of note to talk about this week, just moving stresses and trying to eat as many Chicago dogs as I can before I move and they become a distant reality for me.  I did perfect my perfect pizza though - pepperoni, tomato, pineapple, jalapeƱo, and I just decided to add bacon which was the BEST. IDEA. EVER.  I live such an exciting life.  In other news, if you ever go to Chicago and want really good margaritas, go to Big Star. Those things are DELICIOUS. And strong. Very, very strong haha.

And that's it for my week - I leave you with what I've been listening to nonstop:

So bloody catchy.

Ever thought clarinet was the sexiest thing ever? No? Listen to this.  (You gotta wait to like the 40 second mark to get there.)

Bookish News

Chinese Lord of the Rings Covers - Holy cow these are freaking GORGEOUS.
Fictional Roommates - Sara @ The Page Sage talks about who would make the best (and worst) roommates.  (My vote is on Karou for me!)
The S Word - Meg from Cuddlebuggery gets personal and talks about why sex in YA literature is important
Instagram Book Challenge! - Nafiza from Bibliophilic Monologues wants you to join her! I don't have an Instagram, but I might join in once I'm settled after the move :)
Book Shaming - AHAHA these are perfect!
Uncorked Thoughts: Harry Potter - So Uncorked Thoughts does a weekly Harry Potter meme! How awesome is that?!
Harry Potter House Cup - And apparently there's a yearly month long Harry Potter event on this blog. Too bad I'm just finding it :-/ You can still join in though!
On Hogwarts Houses - So sue me, I apparently only looked at HP posts this week haha.  This was an analysis of the pros and cons of each house, super interesting
On Bookish Habits - More Cuddlebuggery getting personal!  (Hilarious as per usual, and Meg is clearly one of my bookish soul mates)
Mythology in Fantasy - As someone who LOVES mythology (especially non Greek/Roman since that's more or less all you encounter. Not that I don't love it too, it's just refreshing to get other stuff), this is an AWESOME list of books from all sorts of mythologies - even self created ones like American Gods.

Nonbookish News

Ask the Sexpert: The 90-year-old sex guru - This was funny and heart warming and thought provoking all in one go.  And apparently the only nonbookish thing I bookmarked this week lol

Until next week! (In which I will have moved into my new apartment but will probably be sobbing surrounded by empty cardboard boxes. That's a lie. They'll be full. Like I'd actually unpack anything that quickly lol)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why Fire is My Favourite Book of the Graceling series (Part 1)

On a scale of 1-10, staying up until 3:30 in the morning last night rereading Fire, that was at least a 9 on the decision scale.  (And before any of my family yells at me, I would like to point out that I wouldn't have been up that late if it weren't for my terrible, evil cat.  If I hadn't had to lock Lily in my room because she's been pooping in front of the refrigerator every night for the last two weeks and my room mates hate me now, then I would have been able to sleep.  It's very difficult to sleep when your cat decides headbutting the door is her best shot at getting out of your room)

I've officially reread all three books at this point, and it's let me reflect a little on the series.  It's clear to me on this reread that Fire is my favourite book in the series, although Graceling is only a hair behind at second, and Bitterblue a hair further behind in third.  What it really comes down to is this: Fire makes me cry the most.

I know, I know it sounds really hypocritical of me since I talk so much about how I procrastinate hardcore on sad books, but there you are.  And I would like to add there's also a big difference between sad books and books where sad things happen.  In fact, it's a similar distinction I make in general between YA and adult literature - YA literature is almost always hopeful, even at it's most tragic.  Most adult literature I come across is sad in that ever pervasive, hopeless, drudgery way.  If you're going to make me sad, you damn well better get a bucket of tears and heart palpitations from me.  Just saying.

THERE ARE SERIOUS SPOILERS AHEAD.  I would recommend scrolling really fast all the way to the bottom of your post and cautiously making your way up until you see the end spoilers words if you want to read the bits of the post without them!  In the interest of not spoiling the really really spoilery bits (and not just my reactions because I don't think you can make images sort of invisible) I will make some of what I write under the reactions only visible if you highlight it.


My progession on reading Fire:

1. First half, oh yeah I remember how much I love this!

2.* About halfway through...oh god. Oh wait.  Doesn't Archer die?! WHY DID I REMEMBER THIS JUST NOW??

3. Cry because of this realization.

4. Cry when it happens.

5. *Cry because of Fire's fingers, and how I can't imagine living if I ever lost even one of my fingers.  I have actually spent probably a longer time than is healthy thinking about what I would do if this happens, because you can't play the oboe if you lose a finger. 

6. Cry because the book ended.  


I would also like to note, that while I am an absolute crybaby in most books, I very rarely cry because a book has ended.  If it's a decent book, I might put it down with a sigh of satisfaction and move on.  If it's quite good, I will probably lie in bed and think about it for a while.  If it's really good (a la Graceling and Bitterblue), I will become despondent for a good hour, think about all the characters and the worldbuilding, and whyyyyy did it have to end?!  But it's rare that ending the book actually makes me cry.  Off the top of my head, I can only think of the last Harry Potter book that put me there.

I'd make the educated guess that Graceling is the general favourite of the series. My guess is that Bitterblue is less popular because it is significantly less action packed when compared to Graceling and Fire, and at 563 pages, it's also a good 100 pages longer than the other books.  I still loved Bitterblue, and I love, love, LOVED, that it dealt with the aftermath of Leck.  My respect for books that deal with things not magically being ok afterwards (Different book spoilers: Mockingjay, Quintana of the Charyns) is insurmountable, and I think more of them need to be out there.

My guesses for why Fire is less popular are very different.  For one, I think people probably expected more Katsa and Po (and who wouldn't want more Katsa and Po?) and it was probably a bit of a shock to find yourself with completely different characters in a completely different land. It's also very outspoken about rape in a way that I think can both empower and infuriate women.  And from here on out it's probably going to be a little spoilery, at least about the world building.  It's always tricky to talk about rape, especially when it is built so deeply into the world building.  It's always a fine line to walk, and inevitably you are going to upset people.  I'd argue that as a whole, (and there are individual times when I might not agree, and I'm still uncertain how I feel about an entire book that deals with violence towards our heroine) that Kristin Cashore does this in a respectful way that doesn't use rape simply as a plot device, and that also opens up a dialogue about what makes people good or evil (or neither).  While at times it may seem like the book is saying it's Fire's fault that the men are acting this way (and that's never an ok thing to believe in my book), I'd also like to point out that usually, any time this was mentioned - the men who look to act this way against Fire generally were this way beforehand, it just happened more suddenly and violently.  At some point in the book she talks to Brigan about how she turns most men away from her tent, but the men that are truly violent, she let's attack her so that Brigan will dismiss them.  This is still a mixed bag, and I totally understand why a lot of people were really upset by the way this was approached.  I tend to take the positive out of what was said, but I'll get to that later.

(Sidenote: One of my only quibbles on this point is that it's mentioned multiple times that it's worse for Fire because she's a woman, with the implication only women are desired.  It's not only men who feel desire - I'm sure there were women who lusted after Cansrel.  Yes, physically speaking, it's generally much, much less threatening, but there are also gay men.  My point is that worldbuilding wise, it doesn't make sense to me that only women are desired.  It does make sense to me that it's much scarier for a woman - specifically a woman like Fire vs. a man like Cansrel.  But it's weird to me that it's pointed out on more than one occasion that Fire is desired because she's a woman, and that these problems don't apply to Cansrel)

I'd also like to say that Fire almost never blames herself for the way men act towards her.  Archer and Nash are perfect examples of this.  Both of them act in a manner that is wholly unwelcome to her, and she let's them know that it's up to them to get themselves under control.  I also think that Archer and Nash are brilliant studies in what makes a person good or evil.  We seem examples, like Leck and Cansrel, of people who are pure evil.  This is juxtaposed against people like Fire who is a "monster", but who isn't inherently evil.  Then you've got Archer and Nash who seem like mostly decent men, but are more or less unbearable around Fire. (I have really complicated feelings on Archer. I kind of hate him as a person, but he's not all bad. Spoilers: And I was still extremely upset when he died. I don't really get it, to be honest. I think he really tried to be good, but....I don't know.  Complicated feelings.)

All of these are reasons why I love Fire (and why if you haven't read this series, GO READ IT NOW. I know plenty of non-fantasy lovers who loved it if you aren't convinced).  I never really got to why this is my favourite book of the series - I talk about why I love it, but none of this is what makes this book so personal for me.  This post has gotten so insanely long that I will have to wait for another post to get to that though :)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island

Hosted by The Broke and Bookish

  Duh, she's the survival pro.

Shenanigans galore!  (If only Fred were around to complete the other perfect duo for this category...DON'T HIT ME.)


What? Everyone needs a rich hunk!

It's absolutely essential you have someone who's good with campfire stories, and Anne would be perfect!

Artwork by Sash-Kash

Genius contraption making guy - if you have to have a whiner on your crew, he better be worth it.  Foaly, as whiny as he is, can pretty much make anything, which is probably one of the most useful skills I can think of.

Artwork by Shadow71689

 I don't care what you guys think, zombies are always a legitimate concern. (Also Claudia as Georgia is pretty much perfect. Don't know who the dude is though)

Winnie the Pooh

Everyone needs a guy to tell you to just chill out and eat some honey.

The Alphabet from Chicka Chicka Boom Boom 

They can go test out all the durability of trees you want to climb. Or pull down the not steady ones for firewood. Also lots of coconuts! (I mean if the alphabet is there, I'm assuming the coconut trees are too)

Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen

Artwork by Angelwhoisinlovewithyou

Devious plotters are sometimes a tricky group, but if there's anyone I want on my side it's a bruiser (who can keep Lamora in check) and a brilliant/crazy strategist.  You never know, the island might be less deserted that you thought it was... (and ok I super love this picture. I may ship Sabetha/Locke with the force of a thousand firey suns, but I'd be possibly even happier if he and Jean end up together. Which will never happen, but still.)

Celaena Sardothien

So we can be besties. And so she can kill things.


Hermione Granger

 Smart? Check. Interesting? Check.  Powerful magic user? Check. I mean come on, every survival team needs a magic user.  Besides, she's probably my favourite character ever, so she HAS to be on the island with me!

On a sidenote, my blog is broken again. If any of you have experience with RSS feed problems, would you mind looking at my post and giving me some suggestions? And if you're regular followers of the blog, you won't have seen my last couple posts, so here's the links if you're interested!

The Book Challenge: Day 04 - Your favorite book or series ever

So...I am going to have a real problem sticking to my guns about no repeats on this list (especially since I keep picking more than one book).

I've already talked about Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, All of Tamora Pierce's books, Abarat, and Unspoken, all of which would be contenders for this category.  I'm going to go ahead and see if I can pick a standalone novel, so let's see where that leaves me...


I've picked both of these books because
A. Then I don't have to choose between them, and because
B. The less you know about them, the better.  It means I can't talk much about them, but I'm hoping you'll take me at my word here that if you love INSANE plot twists, both of these books are definitely for you.  (And on a sidenote, I've discovered almost all of my favourite standalone novels are adult fiction.  There's like two that aren't.  Is this because almost all of YA is series now? Uncertain...)

If you like gothic feeling books, I couldn't recommend The Thirteenth Tale more. I cannot talk enough about how in love I am with this book.  If you read her book Bellman & Black and hadn't read The Thirteenth Tale, please please please don't judge her writing by that book.  (Or rather her ability to write things that are heart racing, absorbing, and have a plot. Her writing is beautiful even in Bellman & Black, it just didn't actually make anything happen).  I don't know a single person who didn't love this book. (And these are all reviewers or authors whose opinions I value greatly.  Also sorry not sorry, I was a total creeper and totally checked out if we loved the same books.  What? It's important to know!)  Basically, the writing in this book is just beautiful (and we know how I am with beautiful prose), it definitely has a complicated premise (so if you like your mysteries clear cut and simple, this isn't for you), has a...narrator that is my favourite type (LOVE - it's even like an unreliable narrator getting the story from an even more unreliable narrator. IT'S THE BEST.) and best of all, it's all about books :)  (Also if you liked The Thirteenth Tale and haven't checked out The Shadow of the Wind - and vice versa - you totally should.)

The Double Bind is no less complicated than The Thirteenth Tale, but it's a very different sort of mystery.  But again, I can't say how.  I will say it is just as...dark, but in a more graphic way?  This was my very first Chris Bohjalian novel, and remains my favourite.  If you've read any of his novels, I will say that they are all very different, and this one is definitely in a category all on its own, so if you've read his more popular books (like Midwives) it is nothing like them, and you shouldn't bring any conceptions of his style of story telling from those.  Even more than The Thirteenth Tale there's just very little I can talk about.  Like...there are things that I want to say...I just can't! Because you need to know NOTHING beforehand.  Just...can someone PLEASE read this so that I have at least one friend who has read it and I can talk to someone about it?  GO READ THIS NOW.