Friday, January 6, 2012

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

My first read of 2012 is Wildwood by Colin Meloy, lead singer and songwriter of quirky band, The Decemeberists. Anyone who has listened to the Decemberists knows their penchant for storytelling. Their albums do not cover the typical contemporary topics of getting drunk, getting laid and breaking up. Instead they draw their inspiration from fables, such as The Crane Wife. If ever a was a singer born to write YA novels, it is Colin Meloy. Thankfully, he doesn't disappoint.

Wildwood begins with 13-year-old Prue taking her infant brother, Mac, to the park in their quiet suburb of Portland, Oregon. All seems normal, until Prue notices a murder of crows gathered in the surrounding trees. Suddenly, the crows swoop down and abduct Mac. Prue jumps on her bike, following them as fast as she can peddle, but she is no match for their speed. As she watches, the crows, with Mac in tow, disappear into what is commonly referred to as "The Impassable Wilderness", a wooded area that all Portland residents know to avoid at all costs. Though she has been taught from birth to keep away, she knows she must enter the Impassable Wilderness if she ever hopes to find her brother.

On her way into the wood, Prue is waylaid by a classmate, a social outcast called Curtis. He insists on accompanying her into the wood. What follows is an adventurous fairytale in the vein of Narnia and Peter Pan. During their search for Mac, the pair of so-called "Outsiders" discover that an entire world beyond anything they could have imagined exists within the wood. It is complete with an evil queen, rowdy bandits, coyote soldiers, wise mystics, a luxurious city, an owl regent, and many more fantastical creatures and settings.

As a fan of YA lit and the Decemberists, I have had my eye on Wildwood for awhile. Overall, I enjoyed the book. Though I will admit it did drag a bit through the middle, I found the characters and situations interesting and the story enchanting. There were two things in particular I loved about the book: the illustrations and the ending.

The illustrations, by Meloy's wife and renowned children's book illustrator, Carson Ellis, are charming. The cartoon-ish, yet simple drawings are very well-suited to a modern day fairy tale set in a magical land on the periphery of Portland.

I enjoyed the end for a couple of reasons. It was well-developed and generally happy, but not perfect. And more importantly (for me anyway) it was not a cliffhanger. As a young adult librarian, it is damn near impossible for me to keep up with every single book in every single YA and children's series out there. It sometimes seems like all books written for the age group are part of a series. I am sick of it. Wildwood, according to the title page, is the first book in The Wildwood Chronicles. Blargh. But, the book ends well enough that I don't feel like I have to continue on with the story. It is a complete and satisfying story in and of itself. It is very likely that I will continue on with this series, but I don't feel like I have to. And I truly appreciate that.

Pajiba's Cannonball Read 4

I have decided to take part in Pajiba's fourth annual Cannonball Read. I will attempt to read and write reviews of 25 books over the next year. The reading part is a easy (I am a librarian after all,) but the writing part proved to be more of a challange last time I attempted this. Here we go...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Simple Summer Salad

I'm going to try this blog thing one more time. To kick it off, here is the recipe for my favorite summer salad. It is quick, easy, chock full of healthy stuff like antioxidants and vitamins, and most importantly, it is delicious. Happy eating!

-Romaine lettuce
-Lightly salted roasted almonds (I like Trader Joe's 50% Less Salt Dry Roasted and Salted Almonds)
-Freshly grated parmesan
-Extra virgin olive oil
-Balsamic vinegar
-Kosher sea salt
-Freshly ground black pepper

There are no measurements to this recipe, just add what you like. Mix handfuls of spinach, romaine, and blueberries. Sprinkle with chopped almonds, grated Parm, salt, and pepper. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and balsamic.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Afternoon Tea Punch

So, it has been approximately 1,500 years since I posted, but now I am all graduated and done with my massive paper and stuff so I have some free time to devote to all things literary and culinary (and a few other things as well.) For my first post back I am putting up a much requested recipe for tea punch. It is similar to the delicious tea punch available at Nashville's classic lunch spot, the Picnic Cafe. Happy sipping!

Afternoon Tea Punch

8 cups water
1 large tea bag
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup frozen orange juice (thawed)
1/2 cup frozen lemonade
1 cinnamon stick
lemon slices or mint sprigs (optional)

1) Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan.
2) Remove from heat once boiling.
3) Add tea bag and cinnamon stick and cover. Let stand 5 minutes.
4) Remove tea bag and cinnamon stick.
5) Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
6) Stir in orange juice and lemonade.
7) Add remaining 4 cups of water.
8) Refrigerate.

Serve cold with slice of lemon or sprig of mint, and lots of gossip.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book 9: The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie novels are the standard against which all other detective novels I read are measured. Within her vast collection, I prefer the stories featuring Hercule Poirot, with his mustaches, love of hot chocolate and omelets, and his "little gray cells", but in a pinch I will pick up a Miss Marple. I always find Miss Marple novels to be a little bit sillier, but they are generally still rather clever and I get a huge kick out of Miss Marple's calling female characters who tend to date/marry often "nymphomaniacs." (Seriously, nymphomaniacs are brought up in almost every Miss Marple novel. It kind of makes me wonder what was going on with Dame Christie.) Sadly, no nymphomaniacs appear in The Body in the Library, but it still managed to be a highly entertaining read.

The Body in the Library
begins with the corpse of a mysterious and unknown woman being discovered one morning in the library of a country manor near the English village of St. Mary Mead. The woman is dressed for an evening out in an evening gown and garish make-up, and has been strangled. The proprietor of the estate, Col. Bantry immediately falls under suspicion for the murder, but his wife, convinced of his innocence enlists the help of local spinster and amateur detective, Miss Marple, to help solve the case and clear his name and reputation.

This book was classic Christie fare. There are numerous suspects, both glamorous and crooked, all with motives and opportunities. The location shifts between an English country estate, a quaint village, and an expensive resort. The police bumble things up, and it comes down to Miss Marple to place all the pieces together and solve the mystery. It is comforting in its familiarity, though not entirely predictable. It is all things one expects from the queen of detective tales. Though I wish there had been a nymphomaniac.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book 8: Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

Grave Sight is the first novel in Charlaine Harris (of Sookie Stackhouse/"True Blood" fame)'s Harper Connelly series.

Harper Connelly is not your average twenty-four-year-old woman. As a teenager, she was struck by lightening and left with a spiderweb like scar on her right leg, a susceptibility to migraines, and the ability to locate and see the last moments of dead bodies. Harper has taken her unique, but genuine ability and made a career out of it. With her step-brother Tolliver by her side as a business manager and , she travels the country and helps people find dead bodies. Though many people they come across think of Harper and Tolliver as charlatans preying on the grieving and broken, and many others find their acceptance of payment for services provided distasteful, Harper prefers to see it just as a job, like any other. Except her job has some unusual benefits and dangers.

Harper is booked for what should be a quick appointment in Sarne, a small town in the Ozark region of Arkansas. A teenage boy from a wealthy local family has committed suicide in the woods outside town, his other-side-of-the-tracks girlfriend is still missing months later, and people are beginning to talk about what the boy may have done to her. The boy's mother is anxious to prove her son's innocence in the girl's disappearance so she calls Harper in to search the are for the girl's body. In just a couple of hours of searching the area, Harper finds the girl and sees that she was running away from someone and was shot. It seems to be a pretty simple case, yet there are some pretty big secrets in Sarne that are trying to find their way into the light. Tolliver and Harper get in over their heads in a mystery that threatens to not only embroil them in crimes that have nothing to do with them, but just might end their lives.

This is the third series by Charlaine Harris that I have picked up. I loved the Sookie Stackhouse series, which is more supernatural romance with elements of mystery. I did not really care for the Aurora Teagarden series, which was more violent/true crime based. I really enjoyed the first in the Harper Connelly series. Harris is an excellent storyteller and she seems to be at her best when weaving in elements of the supernatural. I have read better detective novels, with more surprising surprise endings, but I did not think less of this book or of Harris for not shocking me completely. It was really more about the journey than the destination with this book.

Harper Connelly is an excellent main character. Harris has a way of creating female protagonists who are manage to be strong and resilient, yet vulnerable. It is a characteristic that makes her characters seem realistic. The powerhouse, no-fear, balls-to-the-wall warrior princess character can be fun, but she is not a character I can identify with. And I cannot stand the poor, woe-is-me heroines. They are simply irritating.

Though I will admit, some of the corpse talk in the book (and the second one, which I will review as soon as I can) can be a little on the creepy side, I like how Harper not only does her job to get money, but as a way to help the dead. She says on more than one occasion that the dead want to be found, that they want the mysteries surrounding their deaths to be solved, and in this way, Harper is helping them, all the while treating them with the utmost respect. I look forward to spending more time with Harper and Tolliver in their interesting, if slightly macabre, world.

Book 7: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale has a talent for updating and filling out lesser-known fairy tales. She first did it with 2003's Goose Girl based on the Grimm fairytale, and now has done it again with "Maid Maleen", another Grimm tale in Book of a Thousand Days.

Book of a Thousand Days is written in the form a journal. The "writer" of this journal is Dashti, a ladies' maid in "The Eight Realms", fictional time and place loosely based on Mongolia around the time of Genghis Khan. Dashti is peasant from the mouintainous region of the realm, but after the death of her father and mother, she sets out for the city of Titor's Garden, hoping to find a job. The healing skills she has learned from her mother help Dashti to acquire a spot in a training school for ladies' maids. She learns how to read, write, and serve. She is to be placed in the home of the most powerful family in Titor's Garden as the maid of the ruling lord's daughter, Lady Saren.

Upon arriving at the grand home of Lady Saren, Dashti finds that all is in a state of upheaval and Lady Saren is frantic. Lady Saren immediately makes Dashti promise she will not leave her, no matter what. Dashti, it turns out, has agreed to accompany Lady Saren when she is locked in a tower for seven years. Lady Saren is being locked away because she disobeyed her father's orders by refusing to marry Lord Khasar, the evil ruler of one of the other cities in the Eight Realms. Lady Saren instead wishes to marry the leader of yet another one of the cities.

Dashti is rather comfortable when they are first bricked in. Though there are no windows through which she can see the sky, there is ample food in the cellar, a comfortable bed, a warm fire, a well full of water, and fresh milk is brought by guards everyday. As the days stretch into months, then years, the food supply is depleted by rats, and the ravenous and an increasingly unstable Lady Saren. Events outside of the tower lead to further fear and confusion. It reaches a point where the only option for Dashti's and the mentally and physically depleted Lady Saren's survival is to break out of their prison, and forge their way by creating new lives for themselves.

When thinking of young adult novels, most peoples' minds inevitably turn to pop culture phenomenon's such as Twilight or Gossip Girl. While these books/movies/tv shows are entertaining and addictive, they are also vapid. I think it is a shame though to dismiss this whole huge area of literature based on these texts, because there is a lot of young adult literature that is fantastic. Book of a Thousand Days represents what a female character can and should be. Twilight's Bella is a co-dependent wet rag, and Gossip Girl's Blair Waldorf is a scheming bitch, but Book of a Thousand Days' Dashti was wonderful. She is strong under pressure, resourceful in times of crisis, compassionate, and still realistically imperfect. She does not depend on her looks, her sex appeal, her money, her social rank, or her stone cold boyfriend. Prince Charming will not always be able to break the princess out of the tower. Dashti shows that when it comes down to it, there are times in which you just have to be your own hero.