Thursday, July 19, 2012

So many books!

Even though I chose to read a nominal amount for my degree, I think I'm subconsciously trying to rebel against being force to read boring stuff (ie. 99.97% of my degree readings) by plowing through books this summer.  My nights are the nerdiest right now: after an hour or two outside with the neighbours after dinner and putting the Big Yam to bed, it turns into one hour of playing the New York Times crossword puzzle app on the iPad and then maybe an episode of TV (but rarely) and then staying up far too late reading.  So enjoyable!  But so, so deeply tragic.  I feel like if you took a snapshot of my evenings in 50 years: it would be the exact same scene.

I'm SO HOOKED on the New York Times crossword puzzle app!  I can barely stand it.  The puzzles get harder throughout the week culminating in the epic Saturday crossword puzzle.  I haven't gotten past the Tuesday ones.  I'm also feeling very cheatypants because there's a "check word" function that I'm using far too often and I'm relying on the internet at least once for every puzzle.  Is that cheating?  How am I supposed to know the acronyms of random U.S. lobby groups?!?  I've made a deal with myself that I'm only allowed to use the knowledge of the internet once per game. WORST DEAL EVER!

Bitterblue is the latest book I've read in Kristin Cashore's series of books that take place in the kingdom's of Graceling (see my reviews of Graceling and Fire).  You're either kind of into these books or not.  I am BIGTIME into them.  They take place in a middle-ages world and owe a huge debt to Robin McKinley who is a YA author who wrote vaguely medieval, fantasy type novels that I devoured as a child.  Cashore is a thoughtful, considered writer who writes very strong, independent female characters and is conscious of stuff like disability politics.  It's just a cracking good read.  This book is considerably darker than the others (even though the others had their own dark moments) and deals with Bitterblue, now Queen, trying to come to terms with the aftermath of King Leck's sociopathic reign.  None of those words will mean anything to you if you haven't read the other books and might actually turn you off from reading them.  To that I say, you don't get to be a New York Times best selling author like Cashore if you don't write good, addictive fiction.  This was the least favorite of mine in the series, because I don't find Bitterblue as compelling a character as Katsa and Fire, but it could be because unlike the other two principal characters, Bitterblue has no special powers. She's just an ordinary girl of 18 with a lot of responsibility trying to find the truth and help her kingdom heal.

Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy (only two books have been published as yet - Divergent and Insurgent) is hyped as "the next Hunger Games" and is only semi-deserving of the title.  As an aside though: can I just say how PLEASED I am that YA is getting so many daps lately?  As other genres are shrinking, YA literature is booming and it gladdens my heart that a) kids are reading; and b) this much-maligned genre is getting the high-culture legitimacy it so richly deserves.  Huzzah!  Anyway, Divergent is being made into a movie.  It makes me sad that there's less effort made to turn say, Cashore's work into a movie, but that could be because the fantastical elements might be harder to bring to the screen, and because movie production companies are very limited in their imaginative scope and like to repeat existing formulas (ie. that the story is similar to form to The Hunger Games).  But imagine what say, Guillermo Del Toro or Peter Jackson could do with Daughter of Smoke and Bone?!?  It would be fantastic!!!  I just checked, the rights to Daughter of Smoke and Bone have been optioned - but I'm not optimistic that anything will come of it.

I didn't love these books but I grew to like them.  Again, it might be because the main character, Beatrice (Tris) is kind of ordinary and boring (unlike Katniss, who is THE GIRL ON FIRE FOR F**K'S SAKES!).  The novels take place in a near-future dystopia where people are divided into factions: Candor (honest), Amity (peaceful), Erudite (smart), Dauntless (brave), and Abnegation (self-sacrificing).  When you're 16, you take a test that marks you for a particular faction and then you go through an initiation.  The thing with Tris though, is that her tests mark her as "divergent" (DUN DUN DUUUUUUN), that is, belonging to more than one faction and that is VEDDY DANGEROUS in this world.  The first book is all about Tris learning about her divergence and coming into her own in her faction and the second book is about this civil war that's started and how they deal with it.  Again, I was so-so on this book.  I thought the first one kind of dragged and the second one was okay, but not much all seemed to be filler leading up to the big reveal at the end.  I like this series and I would recommend it, but I don't LOVE them.

More trilogies!!! Delirium is also wildly popular.  It's about another near-future world where love is considered a disease and so the governments have devised a "cure" for love that people undergo when they're 16 and then you're matched and you live out your lives as a compliant zombie.  Lena, is another ordinary girl who starts to push back and gets the disease.  I found this one more compelling than Divergent.  The concept is a little more interesting to me.  Lena is a bit more of a realistic heroine (for example, her transition or awakening to her inner strength isn't so out of the blue as it is for Tris) and Oliver does a good job of fleshing out the other characters better.  I've started reading the second one in the series, Pandemonium.  
In a divergence (haha - see what I did there?) from all my YA reading, I read Carol Anshaw's Carry the One which has been getting RAVE reviews.  It's the story of siblings who come together for a wedding and then end up hitting and killing a girl with their car as they leave (no spoiler happens in the first chapter).  The book then alternates between the three siblings' stories for the next 30 or so years tracking how the event changed them and marks them.  It sounds heavy, but it was a surprisingly breezy read.  For some reason, I found myself reminded of Judy Blume's adult novels - like Summer Sisters - at least in the tone - it's an easy read and even when things get heavy, it still feels light.  I don't know how to explain it better than that. It was one of those "ah life" books that didn't really reverberate with me - it was mildly soapy, but an enjoyable, quick read.

Arcadia is about a boy who grows up in a commune, Arcadia, in upstate New York, raised in the 60s counter-culture idealists.  Changes to society, the popularity of the commune, and growing dissatisfaction with their charismatic leader result in the splintering of the commune and with the main character, known as Bit growing up the in city.  This was a great story.  The characters are human and true, and my survivalist, Little House on the Prairie side loved the descriptions of commune life.  The story is touching and beautiful.  It's a good read.

Dinners lately have been boss.  

I made us galbi banh mi:

Last night was a "it's too hot out" charcuterie meal:

Tonight was grilled chicken thighs tossed with melted butter and Old Bay seasoning (our new favorite chicken preparation - seriously, we could eat 10 million of these and have to stop ourselves from pigging out largecore), sautéed corn, and green beans tossed with scape pesto:


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