Saturday, December 31, 2011

The End of 2011:

As usual, I read my "yearly horoscope" for the coming year. It is sort of a joke for me, because I always like to print one out and see how much goes according to the horoscope and how much doesn't come true. This year, two that I came across said that 2012 will be a year of pain and loss for me. Great. As if I am not already really acquainted with those states.

This year--2011--has been really hard. I have lost. I have felt pain. A lot of it. People and pets have died. Good friends are experiencing illness. My town was half destroyed by a tornado and many lost their lives. My dad's heart condition isn't great. Etc. Etc. Etc. The list could go on and on. So, the odds of me experiencing pain and loss in 2012 are pretty damn good.

This last week and a half has been pretty devastating on its own. A family member died. A friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Another family member may be diagnosed with cancer (added to the two who already have it). My mom is having some issues, too, and while there isn't any reason to think that the issues are serious or life threatening, well, I am tense. I have gone through so much loss and watched so many people get sick that each time I hear even the supposition that something is wrong, I freak out. I am so tired--tired of watching, losing people, feeling like I can't breathe. I am sick of it. But there isn't anything I can do to stop it. Each time I lose it, I keep reminding myself that people have been through much worse than I have. I try to remind myself of holocaust survivors and how many of them lost entire families and suffered untold torturing ordeals. And, yes. I know that nothing I am going through even remotely compares to that. It is just a testament to the amazing strength of the human spirit and it inspires me.

The only bright moment in this whole "vacation" has been a reading experience. During the break, I have been reading the Hunger Games trilogy. I highly recommend it. I love Katniss, and she is a character that is giving me a sense of strength right now.

I know these books are written for teens, but they are so full of ideas and everything wonderful about literature. A friend who works at Books-A-Million recommended them to me, and I am forever grateful...because they really are some of what has made this break bearable.

As for The Hunger Games:

I have to say that most of the way through this book I was only mildly impressed. Yes, I kept reading because the events are like a horrible accident that you can't pull your eyes away from, but with the exception of a few moments...well, I could take it or leave it. I wasn't dying to find out what happened next or anything...UNTIL I READ THE LAST FEW CHAPTERS. Wow. The last bit made me love it and made me want to read the second book.

I won't spoil the plot for you. You can get a great idea of what is taking place by reading the back of the book or inside jacket description. But...WOW.

The second book in the trilogy is Catching Fire:

I am only in the middle of the third book right now, but so far Catching Fire is my favorite. My reasons for liking it boil down to my fascination of character exploration. There is one moment though--passable for many, probably--that made this the best book of the series for me. I fell in love with Katniss's character in this one, and I really identified with her in this book. I will write more about this series once I finish it, but I highly recommend that everyone read them. You won't regret it.

The goal of the Hunger Games is to survive...much like life...and surviving does not mean collapsing into despair, no matter how much I may want to do that sometimes. So, I am leaving the pity party I am enduring at the moment and going to list a few things that were good about 2011:

1. My family and I spent another year together. We have laughed more than we have cried.

2. I got a job. This is no small thing in our world today. I am so grateful to be working for people I respect and like, and I am relieved to be in a job that makes me excited.

3. I survived a tornado. My friends and family survived. So many didn't. I have a roof over my head, clothes, and food.

4. I made significant progress on my dissertation.

5. I wrote another published article.

6. I read lots of really wonderful books.

7. I met wonderful new friends--readers of this blog and friends on Twitter, especially. It has been a lot of fun!

8. I traveled to Myrtle Beach. Though I was sick as a dog for most of it, I still managed to successfully deliver a conference paper.

9. I have been able to spend a lot of time with really wonderful friends.

10. I am still breathing.

But the most joyous event of 2011? The birth of Baby Mylee, of course. Here's to the new trio!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My favorite quote for today:

"Words had magical powers, they could conjure up an entire beautiful lost world--a richly laid Sabbath table, the winsome loveliness of a Jewish girl, the heady aroma of sweet Palestine wine and raisin cake. It could take just one word to make the men turn pale, make them think, cry, laugh; words lashed them, choked them, made them ache and sweat."
--from "The Seventh Well" (a holocaust novel based on true events), by Fred Wander

I love this quote. Sometimes I think that the only real thing we have that lasts is language. Words have power. They make and unmake us. In the end what we say and do--however we express ourselves in verbal language, body language, or any other way--is what we leave behind. We should make everything count.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Prayers Needed

Please pray for/send good thoughts to my dear friend Elizabeth L., who was just diagnosed with terminal cancer. Love, peace, and light, my dear friend.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Carols that Originated During the Victorian Era...

Oh, yes. It is time for me--once again--to tell you how much the Victorian era still lives! Here is a list of popular carols that were written during the nineteenth-century. Some originated in other languages before being translated into English during the mid to late nineteenth century. Source for more information: Christmas Carols.

1. Angels We Have Heard on High

2. O Holy Night

3. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

4. Good King Wenceslas

5. I Saw Three Ships (origins appear to be unknown, but likely a Victorian carol)

6. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

7. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

8. Silent Night (technically, it was written during the Romantic period, but it is nineteenth century)

9. We Three Kings of Orient Are

If you think about it, each of these songs share similarities in their composition. There are repeated elements, and after a while I started being able to guess which ones were written in the nineteenth century. Anyway, I just thought that this was a fun little thing to have on here today, as my Christmas holiday break begins in approximately an hour and a half!! Hooray!

It is the perfect continuation of what I started last night, when I watched A Christmas Carol.

Nothing says Christmas like Scrooge. Long live Dickens!!!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings to Me!

Again, today's prompt is brought to us by The Broke and the Bookish!

Well, no one actually buys me books, because they don't know what I have and haven't read. So, if someone gives me something book related, it is usually a gift card! So, I should probably amend my list title to read:

Top Ten Books I Hope to Buy with a Gift Card from Santa:

1. Charles Dickens: The Dickens Bicentenary, 1812-2012. I just saw this on the shelf two days ago!! I want it!

2. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated. I have wanted to read this one for a while. Actually, people have said some really good things about it, so I think it would be worth the read!

3. All of Ina Garten's cookbooks.  :)

4. Then Again, by Diane Keaton.

5. Mozart's Last Aria, by Matt Rees.

6. Core: A Romance, by Kassten Alonso.

7. The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice, by M. G. Lord.

8. Women and Romance: A Reader, ed. Susan Weisser.

9. Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist, by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.

10. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain.

Of course, there are a million other books I want, too! These are just some of the first that came to my mind today. :)

Yes, I'm still here...

...still slacking on the blogging...I know...but I am really hoping to get a lot of things taken care of before my holiday break begins! I want all of the magazine articles through a first round of edits--and I want to finish a complete revision of my third dissertation chapter. Yes, these are lofty goals, but I am determined to do it! So, until later...have fun for me!

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Tonight reminded me why I have been happily single for so long. I like my life drama free! Though my last relationship (over a year ago) had drama at times, at least it wasn't anything like what I witnessed tonight! So happy to be single right now!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Taking a Break

I am taking a short (10 min) break from work right now...I just needed to do something different in the hopes that my concentration will improve! The weather outside: beautiful...sunny...73 degrees...and, yes, it is December! I just feel really restless after such a long year. I haven't really had a true vacation in a long time, so knowing that I will be off starting next Wednesday is making me a little crazy. I am so ready for some down time.

You  know, I am actually okay with the holidays this year. I am feeling a little sad about some things, but overall I am happy that I will be able to enjoy them with the family. I am also a little anxious and irritable right now...again, I think it has to do with knowing a vacation is coming up! I am just ready to relax and read books that I don't have to think about.

Speaking of books: I just published my new "Beyond Retro" column at I am basically just reviewing a collection of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century vampire stories. If you are interested in horror classics, though, you might enjoy the book I discuss. Also, if you are able, try to donate to the Food Drive!

Well, I guess that is it for now! I need to get back to work--let's just hope that my mind can take it! :)

A new favorite site: Dear Author

I just stumbled across this review site today: Dear Author. It covers many genres, and each review is addressed to the author, something that I think is really helpful and clever. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Want to Give as Gifts's writing prompt is courtesy of The Broke and the Bookish! Check it out!

Top Ten Books I Want To Give As Gifts
(and to who...even if you won't actually give them!)

1. The Secret Garden, by Frances H. Burnett. I would give this to anyone, actually. Still, I guess it is considered a "girl's book," so I would love to give it to Mylee one day. 

2. Augusta Webster's poetry. I gave this to a friend of mine last year, I think. I would probably send it to Jan or Thaao, if I was giving it to someone again.

3. The End of Mr. Y, by Scarlett Thomas. I have no idea who would get this gift...but probably Andy, because he likes the multiverse theory.

4. Nevermore, by Kelly Creagh. I would give this to Savannah, because she would love it!!

5. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. I would give this to my mom. Now that she has read Anne Rice and loves her, I think that she would probably enjoy this one.

6. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. This should just be a required gift to everyone. No one should go through life without having encountered the insanity of Heathcliff and Catherine. "I AM HEATHCLIFF!!"  :)

7. Byron: Life and Legend, by Fiona MacCarthy. Kelly and Vicky Dreiling would definitely get this one. We all need more Byron in our lives.

8. Soulless, by Gail Carriger. I would send this one by priority mail to both Hannah and Claire. Too much Steampunk fun!

9. Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy. I would have to think about this is so dark thath not many would appreciate it...but it is still one of my most favorite books, and someone in my life should read it.

10. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. Again, Kelly will get this one...but, really, everyone should read it.

Yes. My list has basically turned into "Susie Recommends..."    :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Favorite Reads of 2011:

Note: some of these weren't published in 2011...I am just giving my favorites!

Favorite nonfiction:

I actually just finished reading Last Days of the Romanovs. Some parts of it were dry, but overall I thought it was a great read.

Favorite Teen/YA:

I loved Nevermore! I really need a sequel to be

Favorite Mystery:

And Only to Deceive is the first of the Lady Emily mysteries...and I love them. Keep them coming, Tasha Alexander!!

Favorite Romance:

I loved How to Seduce a Scoundrel. This has to be one of the funniest and most engaging romance reads I've had in a long time!

Favorite Historical Fiction:

Again...I can't say enough about Into the Wilderness. It takes place during my favorite era of American history, and it gives me a fun time with a Last of the Mohicans flavor. Excellent book! (note: I wasn't as crazy about the others in the series...)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where have I been????

I don't really know, either! Actually, I decided to devote all of my extra time to finishing up the draft of my dissertation chapter. So, I did finish it and sent it off. I don't plan on working over the holidays, but we will see!

Other than that, I am nursing a nasty case of carpel tunnel in my right wrist. I finally broke down and bought a brace, so hopefully it will help. This isn't fun. I've been dealing with it for about a couple of months, and it is getting progressively worse. So, here I am.

So, anyway, I will try to be better about posting this week! I hope everyone is well!

Monday, December 05, 2011

I love this!

Mr. John Thornton's Blog!! Someone has created a blog for North and South's John Thornton. The author of the blog is in character, and it is so much fun!!

Turns out that I unexpectedly jumped the writer's block!

I didn't need to pretend to write to Kelly at all (see post below). For some reason, I just ended up writing a lot this weekend...not enough, but a lot! If I ever do use the "letter" thing, I will post about it. :)

Friday, December 02, 2011

Dissertation Help

I am always on the lookout for good advice about dissertation writing. Even though I am halfway finished, I still need help getting out of the lethargy every now and then. I rediscovered this article today: UNC Dissertation Help. The last time I looked at it was about a year ago, long before I felt the agonies of lethargy. I don't think that I was interested in the hints near the end of the article at the time, but I found a great one during this read. The page says that if you are having problems motivating yourself to write, you should just start writing out your chapter or ideas in a letter to a friend.

I really like this idea, because my friend Kelly is my sounding board. I always work through my best ideas with her, and I can totally see myself getting out of the dissertation funk if I just pretend that I am talking to her. It isn't formal and could be really creative. I have a feeling that I will be testing out this theory I will let you know how it goes. :)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

PS: My trifle!

I forgot to mention that I made my first trifle this year! I made Paula Deen's "Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle" sounds weird...but it is sooo good. If you make it, get in touch with me first. I read through so many reviews and managed to avoid some common pitfalls. (By the way, the reviewers who advise against making two batches of gingerbread are absolutely correct. It would be too much! Also, make sure you use cook and serve pudding. Use whole milk when you make the pudding!! And most importantly: DON'T BUY 100% PUMPKIN. YOU NEED THE PUMPKIN PIE MIX. THESE ARE TWO VERY DIFFERENT THINGS!! Those who didn't like the recipe used the 100% pumpkin mix...think about has no spices or anything! There are a few other things you should know, too, so if you make it, read reviews or drop me a line!)

NOTE: This is not my trifle. I just put a layer of Cool Whip on top. So good. I also followed the suggestion of a recipe reviewer I saw online. She suggested placing little gingerbread men on top, so I did. It was great!

Anyway, imagine a lighter and milder pumpkin pie taste with the creamy and gooey cake mixture of the trifle. Ahhh. Bliss.

A week ago today, I was preparing for a food coma.

It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving was a week ago! I haven't updated a lot since then, so I thought that this post would serve that purpose.

On Thanksgiving, we did the Of course, there were some great family moments, but I didn't take pictures this year. I probably will take pictures at Christmas, so I will have something to post then, I guess! The cleanup wasn't bad at all, but I crashed after it was all said and done.

As for Black Friday: I don't usually go out that much on Black Friday, but this year I did. You can scroll down and see photos of Melanie and Mylee (and the one of me and Mylee). Mom, dad, and I met Melanie and Mylee for lunch on Friday. It was the first time mom had seen Mylee since she was born, and dad had never seen her! It was a great time. Mylee is such a happy baby, and we loved being with her and Melanie so much.

After lunch, mom and I took dad home, and then we decided to brave the crowds. It was about 1:30 by that time, so it wasn't horrible, but I hate crowds. Over the last few years, mom and I have gone to the mall for a short while on Black Friday just to sit and drink coffee...and people watch. Mom worked in retail for nearly 40 years, so the last thing that she wanted to do after retirement was to go shopping! This year she seemed up for it, though. Our first stop was Target...where it was DEAD by that time of the day. Still, I found the third and last seasons of The Tudors for really cheap, so that made me happy. Then, we went to the mall, where mom finished up her shopping (not much...we went to two stores), and I bought a Christmas/winter dress for Mylee.

Of course, no outing is complete without a trip to the bookstore. So, mom and I made our way over to Barnes and Noble, where she bought a magazine. After dropping off Mylee's dress (I want her to get some use out of it!), we went home. Mom settled in for a nap, but I loaded dad in the car and we headed to Books-a-Million for coffee...where I sent James a lovely photo of Dad. :)

The weekend was to be extra long for me, because I decided to take this past Monday as a vacation day. But Saturday and Sunday were dissertation work days, and Monday was just too busy to do anything (hair appointments, nasty weather, errands to run, etc).

This week has been relatively quiet, but it has been busy. We have been crazy busy at work, and last night I had to drive to Linden, Alabama, to a visitation at their funeral home. So, it is Thursday, and I am exhausted!

Anyway, I hope everyone is well. More later!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why am I not hearing more about this? Where is the outrage??

Read link:
UN Accuses Syria of Crimes Against Humanity.

If this happened, as I suspect it must have, people/governments/etc. should not stand for it. This is inexcusable. Who does this to children?

And, since I am spouting off my opinion anyway, I am getting sick of those who are trying to tear apart the case against Sandusky. I realize that the lawyers must try, but the focus still is being taken off of the victimization of the children involved. I don't care about celebrity or sports when it comes to a child being hurt or victimized.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Go Now and Live": I love this


Interview with Nora Roberts

I have only read a few of her books, but I have to say that she is an acknowledged phenomenon. Julia Quinn posted on Facebook a link to this interview, and I cheered the entire time I read it. I love what Roberts has to say about the Romance genre, because it is so very true. Cheers to Nora Roberts! I bring you the link to another "In Defense of a Genre" on the link won't regret it. :)


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday Top Ten: Top Ten Authors I Want at My Thanksgiving Dinner

Today's Top Ten is the brainchild of The Broke and the Bookish!

1. Anne Rice. Absolutely, positively. She can talk about anything, and I find her absolutely fascinating. I love listening to her speak--about books, current events, history, anything.

2. Charles Dickens. This is a no brainer. Obviously, we have some issues to work out.

3. Elizabeth Gaskell. I love North and South, and I think my friend Kelly and I would have a blast talking to her about it...if she would answer us.

4. Jane Mendle. My friend Jane is a novelist, and I adore her. So, she is definitely on my list!

5. Vicky Dreiling. She is so much fun on Twitter, and I think it would be a great time to have her at my Thanksgiving feast!

6. Lord Byron. Uh, yeah. Because I would at least try to get him into bed after mercilessly hammering him with questions about his poetry.


7. Percy Shelley. Hey. He's Byron's friend and the two of them together could definitely stir some things up. Plus, if my seduction scene falls through, maybe he could slip Byron some opium to help that is a criminal act...but the guy is dead, so you can't drug a ghost. :)

8. Jayne Ann Krentz. I think that she is fascinating, and she is another person who enthusiastically talks about anything!

9. Oscar Wilde. I have such a thing for him. I know he wouldn't be interested in me, and maybe he (and not I) would end up with Byron at the end of the night, but it would be crazy to have him at the table.


10. Augusta Webster. My favorite female poet EVER. I would want a copy of her poems with me on a desert island.

But I would really want to add more! J. K. Rowling, as GF Book Mom reminded me, is a MUST! AGHHH!!! TOO MANY CHOICES!!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Really? This is romantic?


Though he smolders well enough (if no longer sparkles), Mr. Pattinson is scarcely any better than his brother in beefcake. If that doesn’t matter, it’s because Mr. Pattinson’s heaviest lifting is over. His character is already well sketched in, and now all that remains is for the actor to play the part of the passionate, potentially dangerous vampire husband, which he — or, rather, his smart director — conveys with the startling image of Edward’s hands clenching the honeymoon bed until it explodes under his powerful touch. This image of sexual rough play is further capped the next morning by bruises now tattooing Bella’s body, branding that — along with her smiles (a private reverie reminiscent of Diane Lane’s postcoital raptures in “Unfaithful”) — shifts the story into another world.
(Source: New York Times review. See link below blog post title.)

Hey, I had as much fun reading Twilight as the next person, but I have to tell you that I find the entire series so disturbing. I also hated the last book in the series, so maybe I am biased. Still, seeing "bruises now tattooing Bella’s body" and her smiling about it...well, that just creeps me out.

I didn't make my goal.

I wanted to finish A Child's History of England. I really did. But I got caught up around Henry III. Oh, well.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I needed complete separation from reality, so...

...tonight I read Olivia Parker's Guarding a Notorious Lady. The title is hilarious because the lady is not exactly what I would call notorious! In any event, it was the perfect escape from reality that I needed. And check out the cover:

It is so fantastically old school that I couldn't resist. Yes, I have already discussed my love for romance novels, and when I am ready to completely veg out, nothing is better. The fact that the hero is Scottish? PERFECT. So, yes, the novel is complete fantasy, but who cares? It was a fun and quick read--and just what I wanted.

The book blurb from Amazon:

Exquisite trouble . . .

A woman of pristine breeding, Lady Rosalind Devine is also an unrepentant meddler and snoop— which is why her brother refuses to leave her to her own devices while on his wedding trip. But Rosalind will not make things easy for any unseen, unwanted “nursemaid”—and vows to use her considerable wiles to expose her mystery guardian.

Nicholas Kincaid, the Marquess of Winterbourne, agreed to secretly guard his friend’s spoiled, stubborn sister, though her infuriating penchant for mischief is causing him to question his decision. Though bound by the rules of society—and friendship— Rosalind’s spirit and sensuality have sparked a fierce desire in Nicholas to play a very different role in her life, one that entails passion, ecstasy . . . and unavoidable scandal.

I have never read a book by Olivia Parker, but I don't think this will be my last. In spite of the cover (which isn't quite a 1980s-1990s Fabio cover but still leads to the conclusion that this could be a "bodice ripper"), the book is very tame and sweet. There isn't a sex scene at all until almost the end. Of course, the hero and heroine end up together and married, but I really enjoyed their journey. I thought that Rosalind was fun and believable in many ways...and Nicholas...well, let's just say that I wouldn't mind meeting up with one like him the next time I am in Scotland. :)

I don't get a chance to read romance novels very often, especially with dissertation work and my job taking up so much reading time. When I do, however, I always hope that I made the right decision in the bookstore. Romance is such a mixed bag these days, and I am always hopeful that I am not wasting my money. I don't think I did with Parker's book. It was fun and allowed me a couple of hours of necessary escapism.

My next romance to read (whenever I actually get the time to read one again) is by Eloisa James. I have never read one of her books, but a fellow graduate student, who has met her and written scholarly articles about her work (and the romance genre, in general), recommended that I try one of her novels. So, I can't wait to read it!

And, more than anything, I am excited about the release date for Vicky Dreiling's next book, How to Ravish a Rake.

I can't believe that I have to wait until MARCH!!! UGH!!! So not fair. I don't even want pre-order it because Amazon NEVER gets it to me on the release day. So, I will be at the bookstore for my copy when it comes out.

Anyway, happy weekend!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

The last words on the last page of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer say, "End of Volume One."

And thank goodness, too.

Because I really liked this book a lot. And, the entire time I was reading it, I kept thinking, "There is no way that this author can finish this story in the short amount of pages left!"

The rundown of the plot: A sixteen-year-old girl going by the fake name of Mara Dyer starts her story by telling us how she survives a tragic accident that killed three of her friends. Seeking a new life, she and her family move to Miami, and Mara starts to suffer hallucinations. Post-traumatic stress disorder? Ghosts? Who knows? Even Mara tries to ignore the tormenting visions when she becomes the new flame of school bad boy, Noah. But there are things she can't ignore...things like the visions, the fact that other people she comes in contact with start dying, and the strange connection and intensity that keeps building between herself and Noah.

Am I being vague? Yep. And that is because the mystery of what the heck is going on is a huge part of this book...and it isn't even entirely clear at the end.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, I suppose, would be categorized under "paranormal YA romance," but this book is not so cut and dry. There are no sparkling vampires, and besides the creepy visions...well, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of "paranormal" actually happening. There even comes a point in the book where I wondered why I was still reading. I mean, not a whole lot was happening...but there is something about this book! The writing is excellent, and Hodkins keeps your attention easily. All of the characters are so interesting. There is a bit of cliche in the portrayal of Noah, and the way he seemed so typical of this type of book really bummed me out for a while--until the end. The end is amazing. And Noah became so much more interesting to me in the last few chapters because the stakes are so high.

That doesn't sound good, does it? I mean, it doesn't sound good that the male lead in the book doesn't become super interesting until the last forty pages or so? Again, it is another odd quirk to this book. He is a complete cliche until the end (at least in my opinion). Rich, beautiful, devoted to the girl, etc., etc., etc. Sometimes, I thought that I was reading a new version of Edward Cullen. The tension between good and evil is super complicated at the end, and I love it.

Mara is more believable. Her circumstances and vulnerability (not in the way you would imagine) make her incredibly interesting. She is a fighter in so many ways, and the author seems to really understand her. (I don't find that to be true in a lot of novels, you know? Especially in teen novels.) I LOVE her friend Jamie. He is one of the most interesting people in the book...and I hope he will be back. Most of the secondary characters are simplistic, but there are a few who could be really interesting.

My hope for this series? My hope is that the author planned it well. This is Hodkin's first book. It was great. But if she didn't plan the series well, then it could totally bomb. (I am thinking about my reaction to the second book in the Hush, Hush series...ugh...I can't even think about buying the third right now. Yes, I know some people loved it, but I just didn't like it at all. Worst of all, it has kept me from reading the second book in the Fallen series--and I liked Fallen so much better than Hush, Hush. I just can't bear to be disappointed!)

Now, then...a warning: this book might be marketed for teens, but the only thing YA about it is that it involves teenagers who go to high school. The humor is completely adult--over and over again. That being said, I probably wouldn't have gotten much of it at age sixteen. Maybe I was just sheltered, but I was considerably older than sixteen before I even knew what the term "safe word" applied to. (And, no, there is none of that taking place in the book.) It is just the humor. I am not one to censor books, but I know that I have several teenagers who read this blog. So, you have been forewarned! Just be aware that we are dealing with lots of sexual references in this book. Like I said, I loved the story, and I don't care about these references other than feeling like I need to say something here for readers who want to know these kinds of things ahead of time. The only drawback for me had to do with the believability of it all. I have known super smart, savvy, and sophisticated teens...and none of them were this adult or sly in their humor.

All of that being said, I really enjoyed reading this book and I can't wait for the next one to come out!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What am I reading? A "W. W. W. Wednesday" post...

W. W. W. Wednesdays are hosted by Should Be Reading's blog. Here are the questions and my answers...

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

1. What are you currently reading? I am about halfway through The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.

This one is really hard to put down! I am really enjoying it and will write my review of it soon. :)

2. What did you recently finish reading? I just finished reading Changeless, by Gail Carriger.

It is the second book in "The Parasol Protectorate" series that begins with Soulless. These books are so great! The humor is wonderful, and Carriger is such a quirky writer. I just love her!

3. What do you think you will read next? For fun? I am not sure. But I will be finishing up Charles Dickens's A Child's History of England this weekend.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dickens Quote of the Day:

The beginning of The Mystery of Edwin Drood (probably my favorite beginning completely dark and disturbing):

An ancient English Cathedral Tower? How can the ancient English Cathedral tower be here! The well-known massive gray square tower of its old Cathedral? How can that be here! There is no spike of rusty iron in the air, between the eye and it, from any point of the real prospect. What is the spike that intervenes, and who has set it up? Maybe it is set up by the Sultan’s orders for the impaling of a horde of Turkish robbers, one by one. It is so, for cymbals clash, and the Sultan goes by to his palace in long procession. Ten thousand scimitars flash in the sunlight, and thrice ten thousand dancing-girls strew flowers. Then, follow white elephants caparisoned in countless gorgeous colours, and infinite in number and attendants. Still the Cathedral Tower rises in the background, where it cannot be, and still no writhing figure is on the grim spike. Stay! Is the spike so low a thing as the rusty spike on the top of a post of an old bedstead that has tumbled all awry? Some vague period of drowsy laughter must be devoted to the consideration of this possibility.

Shaking from head to foot, the man whose scattered consciousness has thus fantastically pieced itself together, at length rises, supports his trembling frame upon his arms, and looks around. He is in the meanest and closest of small rooms. Through the ragged window-curtain, the light of early day steals in from a miserable court. He lies, dressed, across a large unseemly bed, upon a bedstead that has indeed given way under the weight upon it. Lying, also dressed and also across the bed, not longwise, are a Chinaman, a Lascar, and a haggard woman. The two first are in a sleep or stupor; the last is blowing at a kind of pipe, to kindle it. And as she blows, and shading it with her lean hand, concentrates its red spark of light, it serves in the dim morning as a lamp to show him what he sees of her.

‘Another?’ says this woman, in a querulous, rattling whisper. ‘Have another?’

Top Ten Tuesday

"Top Top Ten Books That Have Been On My Shelf For The Longest But I've Never Read:"

1. The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

2. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

3. Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell

4. The Confidence Man, by Herman Melville

5. Mosses from an Old Manse, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

6. Shirley, by Charlotte Bronte

7. Romola, by George Eliot

8. Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer (I know...everyone tells me it is great!)

9. Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens

10. The Victorians, by A. N. Wilson

I vow to read at least one of these books this year!

...for more about "Top Ten Tuesday," see The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I am still stuffed!

Wow. This weekend was CRAZY--especially in the food department!

On Friday night, the cleaning bug took hold of me, and I cleaned my bedroom from top to bottom--dusting, trashing junk/cleaning out old stuff, etc. It felt so good to get rid of things.

On Saturday, my uncle came over for his birthday lunch (first occasion of the day to eat too much). Then, I went to the Kilgore house (where I work) to open it up for a group of creative writers who were telling made up histories of the house. It was a lot of fun! I raced home and made the cranberry sauce for Lisa's Pre-Thanksgiving feast.

Lisa's dinner was FANTASTIC--as usual! We all ate so much! Gnocchi, brie, champagne, turkey, roast, potatoes, green beans, French onion soup, etc...all topped off with Tuxedo cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. Oh. YES...

It was so good...and we were all stuffed...but WOW. AMAZING. Seriously. If you have a chance, you need to try it.

By the time I was able to force myself out of the seat and into my car, I seriously didn't think that I would ever be able to eat again. (Of course, isn't it amazing how soon you become hungry again? Ugh. Logically, from the amount of calories I consumed that night, I shouldn't have needed food for at least three days. Yet, by the next day, I was hungry again.)

Sunday was a relatively lazy day, but it had to be. I was nearly comatose from the food.

So, here we are, a week and a half outside of Thanksgiving...and I am gearing up to do it all over again!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Priceless! A "Digested Read" of Bleak House:

My favorite passage:

In Chancery, having noted My Lady Dedlock's interest, Mr Tulkinghorn is enquiring about the identity of the scrivener. He is a man called Nemo who has conveniently died in his lodgings. But how? Perhaps young Jo the crossing sweeper can help us. And who is Jo? Why he is the essence of Victorian pathos, the lowest of the low, unnoticed and unloved by society and yet the very symbol of purity and goodness. "He wuz wery good to me," Jo says in a manner some may find endearing. "I don't kno nuffink." And yet if he knows so little why is it that this mysterious woman of very obvious bearing is asking young Jo to show her the unmarked grave where Nemo is buried? Be assured that Mr Tulkinghorn's spies will find out. My, how slow and convoluted the story has become, and still so many minor characters to introduce, for how else can Mr Dickens spin out the serialisation into 20 monthly parts? Yet if you want to hear of Miss Flite, the Snagsbys, Mrs Rouncewell, the Smallweeds, Krook and others, then I shall have to refer you to the original text: for now be content to meet Mr Guppy, the young lawyer, who has noticed an uncommon resemblance between My Lady Dedlock and Miss Esther Summerson.

Full "Digested Read" can be found here.

Thanks, Dickens Blog!

Looking forward to the weekend!

I have so much to do, but I am very happy that it is Friday. It is going to be a very busy weekend--birthdays, pre-Thanksgiving feast, readings at the Kilgore house--but at least it is all fun.

I have to say that I am so glad that I will be getting a pre-Thanksgiving dinner this weekend! It will be great and a lot of fun, so I may be too stuffed to to type by Saturday night. :)

Dickens: Quote of the Day

"Some part of the edifice had been a baronial chapel, and here were effigies of warriors stretched upon their beds of stone with folded hands--cross-legged, those who had fought in the Holy Wars-- girded with their swords, and cased in armour as they had lived. Some of these knights had their own weapons, helmets, coats of mail, hanging upon the walls hard by, and dangling from rusty hooks. Broken and dilapidated as they were, they yet retained their ancient form, and something of their ancient aspect. Thus violent deeds live after men upon the earth, and traces of war and bloodshed will survive in mournful shapes long after those who worked the desolation are but atoms of earth themselves." --Chp. 53, The Old Curiosity Shop

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dickens: Quote of the Day

"Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man's a blacksmith, and one's a whitesmith, and one's a goldsmith, and one's a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. If there's been any fault at all to-day, it's mine. You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends. It ain't that I am proud, but that I want to be right, as you shall never see me no more in these clothes. I'm wrong in these clothes. I'm wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th' meshes. You won't find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in my hand, or even my pipe. You won't find half so much fault in me if, supposing as you should ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burnt apron, sticking to the old work. I'm awful dull, but I hope I've beat out something nigh the rights of this at last. And so GOD bless you, dear old Pip, old chap, GOD bless you!"--Joe Gargery, Great Expectations

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

2012: The Year of Dickens

Charles Dickens was born in 1812, so many scholars and fans of the Victorian author are celebrating his 200th birthday with special conferences, events, publications, and new editions of his works.

(Source: Library of Congress)

It is my personal mission to finish reading all of Dickens's novels in 2012 (there are several that I have never read).

I would like to challenge all readers to finish at least one Dickens novel in 2012. If you have never read a book by Charles Dickens, try Great Expectations, The Old Curiosity Shop, or even A Christmas Carol. If you have read all of his novels, commit to reading his short stories or plays, or even pick up a biography (the standard is Peter Ackroyd's Dickens, but Claire Tomalin just published Dickens: A Life).

There is no excuse for not finding his novels! They are always at libraries (public, school, and university), and there are free e-texts in abundance.

A good bibliography: Wikipedia Charles Dickens Bibliography

Totally Random Fact About Me:

My secret ambition (well, one of them, anyway) is to be a translator for the FBI. :)

I don't know why.


I fell asleep at 7:45 last night! And I slept until 6:30 this morning. I actually have energy...I had forgotten this feeling...

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: First for me...

I wandered over to one of my new favorite book blogs, I Swim for Oceans, and I saw that the author has a "Top Ten Tuesday" feature going on. This is what the author says about it:

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists over at The Broke and the Bookish. They'd love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week they will post a new top ten list that one of our bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It's a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

So...I think it is a great idea. And, this week's Top Ten theme is:

Top Ten Books I Read That Were Out Of My Comfort Zone.

Right now, this is entirely appropriate, because today's post was going to revolve around exactly such a book. So, here goes my list...


1. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. I start with this book because it is the one I was reading last night and considered posting about today. I can't handle this book, and I haven't made it past the first few pages. Though it is obviously one of the best explorations of grief that I have ever come across (clear from the first few pages), I just can't read it. I have had so many people tell me how wonderful this book is (and they are right), but the fact is that the subject matter hits too close to home. The book explores Joan's reaction to her husband's sudden death from cardiac arrest caused by ventricular fibrillation. For those of you who know, this is what my dad survived. Unfortunately, Didion's husband did not survive, and in the first few pages I read very familiar words of scenes that I had already experienced.

The point at which I had to stop: when she described the hospital's plastic bag that contained her husband's clothing. The thing is, I have a memory associated with this same moment. When I finally went home from the hospital so that I could check on Casey, my mom gave me the clear plastic bag from the hospital that contained my dad's clothing. He was still on life support at the time, and we were all exhausted. I don't remember driving home later that evening, but I remember standing in the kitchen, Casey right next to me, as I took his clothing out of the bag. I just remembered being horrified to see his shirt ripped to shreds, the result of paramedics trying to work on him that night. I didn't know what to do with it, because I didn't know if he was going to live or die. Casey sniffed it for a long time, and I just put it back in the bag. I didn't tell my mom about it until days later, when they came home. I told her that I was going to throw it away, because it was too painful to look at and I didn't want dad to see it. So, I did. I threw it away. In fact, I didn't want anything in the house that had to do with that night. I threw away food that we ate, clothes that we wore--anything.

So, when I read Joan Didion's reaction to her husband's clothing...well, it brought back really hard memories. I didn't get much sleep last night, to say the least. That being said, if you can handle such a subject, you should read Didion's book. The writing is beautiful, and it is an important book.

2. Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy. I have already written about this book many times (such as here). This is one of the darkest novels I have ever read, yet it entranced me . Hardy forces you to confront the best and worst of yourself. Even though it was hard to read and stuck with me for a long time, I love this book.

3. Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison. Nothing makes me angrier than child abuse (yes, I want that "judge" in Texas to be taken off the bench ASAP), and this book brutally confronts that topic. I read it in a class a few years ago, and it was one of the most uncomfortable moments in my reading life.

4. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. I don't add this to the list because it made me uncomfortable; instead, I add it because, when I picked it up, I had never read science fiction. I loved this book. The subject matter/morality at play is complex and it did make me uncomfortable at times, but the story is so engaging and fascinating that I had to continue reading!

5. Villette, by Charlotte Bronte. I am actually rereading this one at the moment. All of the Bronte books have the ability to make me feel uncomfortable (even though I love them), but this one REALLY makes me uncomfortable. I know that most people think it is Charlotte Bronte's best novel, but I actually get angry when I read it. Something about Lucy and M. Paul just makes me want to scream.

6. Keesha's House, by Helen Frost. Frost's novel is a "verse" novel. In other words, it is poetry in novel form. It is a book marketed to a young adult audience, and it is one of the most devastatingly heartbreaking and beautiful short works that I have come across. The story follows seven teens as they cope with very difficult circumstances. It is amazing. Why is it out of my comfort zone? One: I had never read a verse novel. Two: It was an assignment to read one in my young adult library services class, and my stuck up opinion at the time was that the only reason kids would check this out was because it looked short. But I totally changed my mind. This book has more depth than most books for young adults--probably because it is written in verse form. You feel the restriction of the protagonists' lives in the restriction of space and words. It is beautiful.

7. By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead, by Julie Ann Peters. Oh. My. God. This book. THIS BOOK. I love it. I was reluctant to read it, because it discusses suicide of a teenager. Having never read a novel by Peters, I didn't know what to expect. It is incredibly dark and disturbing, but it is also beautiful and has a good message. I was so impressed with it that I wrote the author--and she wrote me back! This is another book that sticks with you for ages. I also highly recommend her novel Luna, about a transgender teen.

8. The Chronology of Water, by Lydia Yuknavitch. Another book that makes you hold your breath. I came across this book in a review and immediately downloaded it. Had it not been for the review I read, however, this is not a book I would have picked up on my own. Her treatment of emotional distance, substance abuse, grief, etc. is beautifully rendered. It is not an easy read, and you find yourself needing to come up for air quite often. Her story is amazing, though.

9. House Rules: A Memoir, by Rachel Sontag. I am including so many memoirs because this is a genre that I never read until this last year--and I started with House Rules. I found a copy of this in my local bookstore. It was an old library copy, and BAM was selling it for a dollar. I had to take my dad to his jazz concert and I didn't have anything to read, so I picked this one up. I couldn't put it down. The emotional and psychological abuse portrayed in this memoir is so haunting that I had to find out more. The book has an incredible afterlife. I wrote an review here, if you are interested in more.

10. Kim, by Rudyard Kipling. I had never read this book until a seminar I took a few years ago. I had never read The Jungle Books (mainly because I don't like talking animal movies or books) and I wasn't looking forward to reading this one. I have to say, though it is a difficult read (definitely not children's lit), I fell in love with this one.

Well, there you have it! My Tuesday Top Ten. Go forth and read.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Julie came to town!

Julie is probably the friend I have known the longest in my life. We met as six-year-olds, when I visited Indiana to see my great-great uncle for the first time. She and her family lived across the road from him, and I still remember her coming over to ask me to go swimming. As the years passed, we played in fields and barns, talked about toys and boys, and, basically, just grew up together. I would return each year (and we would write letters in between), and each year we picked up exactly where we left off. We have remained friends for nearly 30 years and it is still amazing to us that when we get together it is as if no time has passed at all!

She and her husband, Jason, came through town tonight. They are off to New Orleans in the morning, but we had a great reunion. I miss her already! It has been at least six years since the last time we saw one another, but I wish we could see each other every year again! Thanks for stopping by, Julie! Love ya!

It is back!!!

The holiday season truly has begun!! I look forward to my first gingerbread latte every year! Last year, mom tried it for the first time. She loved the drink, but the experience was bad for her. She doesn't drink many caffeinated beverages...and we had a tall (small) latte at 7:00 p.m. on the evening before Thanksgiving. Well...she was up all night! She likes the lattes, but we have a rule that we will no longer purchase lattes after 4:00 p.m. (It should be noted that my caffeine addicted body did not react at all.)

Today, I purchased my first gingerbread latte of the season right after lunch. I didn't know that they were available yet, so I had settled on splurging on a Pumpkin Spice latter. I almost cried out with happiness when I saw it listed on the menu. Happy day!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Thank you, Hannah!!!

I love my postcard!! I am a horrible person for not writing you yet...but I promise that it is coming. The new Harry Potter DVD comes out in eleven you will be getting a long letter from me.



I am so excited that today is November 1st!! I love, love, love November. It is the beginning of the holiday season (in my mind, anyway), and it is the month that has my most favorite holiday: Thanksgiving.

I love the symbolism of Thanksgiving, and I think it is the best of the holidays because it is just about getting together with friends and family, sharing a meal. There is something deeply spiritual about preparing and sharing food with a group of people, whether they be strangers or people we know. Of course, I love Christmas, too, but it has become so commercialized that there are only two things I like about it: 1) the midnight church service; 2) the crazy fun of having the "this amount of food and combination of drinks" doesn't make sense buffet at my house. You can see a past scene of that here.

I will miss Casey this year, though. :(

But back to Thanksgiving...

Thanksgiving now makes me think about a friend I had, Robert (Bobby) Hernandez. Everyone I knew called him Bobby, but I always called him Robert. He owned a very popular local Mexican restaurant and was one of the most giving people I have ever met. On a few Thanksgivings, we met in the middle of the night and cooked for those in need. It was great. We always had a wonderful time. Robert died earlier this year, far too soon. So, this Thanksgiving, I will be sending up special thoughts to him.
Here's to you, Robert.

So, enjoy the holidays. I know we always say that we will try to do better and relax a little more...and then we don't and we become crazy! But just realize that all of this is about people--not anything else.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Moving into the future: Girls can now inherit the throne!


One of the most amazing "Dear Sugar" letter responses yet:

From the Oct. 21, 2011, column:

"Countless people have been devastated for reasons that cannot be explained or justified in spiritual terms. To do as you are doing in asking if there were a God why would he let my little girl have to have possibly life threatening surgery?—understandable as that question is—creates a false hierarchy of the blessed and the damned. To use our individual good or bad luck as a litmus test to determine whether or not God exists constructs an illogical dichotomy that reduces our capacity for true compassion. It implies a pious quid pro quo that defies history, reality, ethics, and reason. It fails to acknowledge that the other half of rising—the very half that makes rising necessary—is having first been nailed to the cross.....What if you allowed your God to exist in the simple words of compassion others offer to you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through your window? What if the worst thing happened and you rose anyway? What if you trusted in the human scale? What if you listened harder to the story of the man on the cross who found a way to endure his suffering than to the one about the impossible magic of the Messiah? Would you see the miracle in that?"

The letter is amazing. Read it here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dickens Overload: I am such a nerd. :)

I finally broke down and purchased my subscription to the Dickens Society...which means I get the Dickens Quarterly...and I am so happy. :) The price really isn't bad at all--only $25. I used to subscribe to Victorian Studies and that one cost $75/year. So, I am getting concentrated material on an author I love for a third of the cost of VS! :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Days of Dickens

Yesterday, I returned from the Charles Dickens conference I attended in Myrtle Beach. We left on Thursday of last week ("we" meaning my dissertation director and I). Even though I became very sick on the trip (yes, this is getting old), I still had a good time and learned a lot. I presented my paper on Saturday, and it went really well. If I had just been feeling better (i.e. not curled up under mountains of covers trying to avoid chills/able to eat without being sick/able to sit through presentations without aching all over), it would have been fantastic. I met some great people and enjoyed what I could.

We stayed at Ocean Creek Resort. It was a nice place, in general, but without a car it was a bit inconvenient. Also, the staff recommended that we try Bennett's Calabash restaurant for fresh This is probably the worst restaurant I have ever been to in my life. It was a buffet, and after my recent food poisoning experience, I don't like those very much. Still, I knew I could exercise caution and find something. Well, I was right to avoid the seafood as much as possible. Just at a glance, I could tell that it was all frozen. Out of curiosity, I took a piece of salmon, and it was completely overcooked and hard as a rock. Worse, though,was the fact that even though there appeared to be steam coming up from the buffet, all of the food was room temp or cooler. Not good. Even the desserts were bad. And the price?? Wow. So expensive. So, anyway, that was a total loss. But, I had great company, and that made it okay.

Traveling with my dissertation director was great as well. He and I had great flying experiences on US Air and no problems. So, great conversations and no plane delays? I say that the trip was an A+ in those departments!

So, anyway, I am back. I am not feeling 100% yet...probably more like %60. But, I am playing catch up and doing okay. Best of all? I am more motivated than ever to work on the dissertation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What I am reading now...

I have finished the "pleasure reading" for the month (see earlier post), and I am still reading the stuff for the dissertation. When I was in the bookstore this weekend, however, I found a $3.97 copy of Her Fearful Symmetry. I've been wanting to read this one for a long time. I know a lot of people didn't like it, but that is fine. I didn't read The Time Traveler's Wife, but so far I really like this book. I'll keep you posted!

"Witch's Sister" movie (based on book by P. R. Naylor)

When I was a little kid, this was my most favorite movie EVER. I loved it. I still have the VHS tape of it. (My parents taped it for me off of Showtime, I think.) Anyway, my tape is in horrible shape, and I have searched for it for years. Well, someone finally uploaded it to YouTube!!! It is cheesy and very late 70s/early 80s...but it is just something bizarre from my childhood. Watching it was such an imaginative experience for me, for some reason. The best part of this movie is just that there really is no resolution. And it is just downright creepy. The girl who plays the older sister (Judith) is great at creating mystery. Here is Part 1...


Oh, CRAZY!! Here is a homemade trailer for my other favorite movie as a kid: the movie version of Anna to the Infinite Power!! It was also so creepy and about cloning!! Again: super cheese. But I loved it.

Both of these movies are based on books:

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Witch's Sister and Mildred Ames's Anna to the Infinite Power (which I think is out of print now...but you can find it used, and I found one at my local library book sale years ago).

Thank you, Lisa!

A big thanks to my former student, Lisa, for making me some Halloween cookies! They are so cute and taste wonderful!! Thanks, Lisa!

The rest of the cookies are on a great plate, too...No, my display here isn't so great, but that is only because I am sharing the rest of the plate with my coworkers!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MyVampFiction: Beyond Retro Column

Hi, everyone. My column and review of Le Fanu's Carmilla is up on

Click here, if you want to read it.

For my previous blog post about it, see here.

PS: Yes, my pen name is "Victorian Vamp." I sort of love it.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs


A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

The summary above of Ransom Riggs's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children isn't the best. Basically, it is about a young man, Jacob, who has grown up with an eccentric grandfather. The grandfather often showed Jacob photos of very strange children doing things that seemed impossible--levitating, speaking from mouths in the back of their heads, etc. Eventually, Jacob stopped believing the photos were real and his grandfather never mentioned them again.

As Jacob grows up, the grandfather begins to behave strangely. The family believes that he is just getting old, but one day, when Jacob is fifteen, his grandfather calls in a state of panic, saying the monsters are after him. Thinking his grandfather is having a mental breakdown or experiencing dementia, Jacob rushes home. He finds his grandfather nearly dead in the woods (he does die), and becomes confused by his grandfather's last words. As he watches the old man slip from life, he notices something in the bushes--something that looks like a monster.

From this point onward, Jacob struggles to deal with his grandfather's death and finally decides that he must travel to Wales, where his grandfather lived in a children's home during World War II. Once in Wales, Jacob finds the old children's home--completely destroyed by a bomb attack in WWII. Jacob embarks on a journey of discovery--of himself, family secrets, and a whole way of life that he never imagined existed--only to find himself in danger of being killed.

It sounds like a really good book. And, in some ways, it is. The photographs alone prompt most people to buy it. In fact, that was the reason I wanted it. I remember when I first heard about this novel on Amazon, and I waited anxiously for it to come out. When it finally did, I scooped up a copy, but I had to wait a while before reading it. It has been sitting on my shelf for a long time now, but, when my book club decided to let us read anything that was scary or strange for our October meeting, I knew that this was my chance to dive into Riggs's novel.

First, the positives:
There are some really great moments in this book, and I like the mixing of history (though it is not a historical novel) with the present. There is a strange combination of reality and unreality that makes this book seem like a fairy tale at times, something that is amplified by the inclusion of amazing found photography.

The photography helps the mood of the story, and like I said, it is a huge selling point of the book. The novel appeals to the visual, and the strange photos throughout this book (on the book jacket, too) help tell the story of the children featured throughout the story. On the cover, for example, if you look closely, you will see that the little girl is actually levitating. The photos included are real (called "found photography"), and most of them are bizarre, trick photography shots. Some are just plain creepy.

Now for my personal reaction:
Though I enjoyed parts of the story, I don't feel that I connected with enough of the characters. I wanted more from the story. Maybe this will happen in later novels, because I know that this is part of a series. I just never felt that there was a solid enough emotional investment between myself, the characters, and the plot. I would sometimes say to myself, "So what?" Still, this is a first novel, and the next may be great.

I liked the setting--especially the version of the old children's home in ruins. Still, I think more could have been done with this than the author managed.

I don't really know what I was expecting from the interaction between the photos and the story, but I didn't get what I wanted. Instead of the photos playing an active part in the mystery, they only functioned as an illustration of what the author had just described. For example, the character of the grandfather tells his grandson, Jacob (the protagonist of the story), to look closely at the picture I just mentioned that is on the cover. He explains that she is levitating. Yes...I can see that just a quick glance would not be enough to notice everything in the photos, and it can be difficult to see that she is levitating, because you just don't expect it. Once I find that out, however, what do I do with it? Why is that exciting (other than the obvious)? I was hoping for hidden clues in the photos that the reader would have to discover along the way. I guess what I am trying to say is that, even though some of the photography was amazing, the reader didn't have to do anything with it. Each photograph was explained and only functioned to give me an image of the character just described.

Would I read the next book in the series? Yes. I will give it a shot, because there were just enough moments in this one to make me see that the author can do something with the story. I just want more complexity. Just because you are writing a YA novel does not mean that you have to dumb it down or make it less intriguing. Sometimes, I felt like he stuck things in the book to make it more problems with parents that were never resolved but only glossed over sticking in a mild curse word in the oddest places...etc. None of these moments made me connect with Jacob or the other characters in a better way. They felt forced, as if an editor told him to put them in there. I may be wrong, but that is the impression I got. The best young adult books are the ones that are the most complex. They are the same novels as those written for adults, except the protagonists are teens and there is usually not a lot of sex (though I am starting to see that change slightly...not in this book though).

Anyway, I just wanted more. I wasn't completely disappointed, but I want more in the next one!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

(Source: Wikipedia commons)

Want a great Halloween read? Check out Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla. Written in 1872, this short book is a gem that many people don't read very often. It combines many of the predictable aspects of vampire stories as we know them today, but there are some surprising twists. Though we are never in doubt about what is going on or who the vampire is, Carmilla lets us see origins of the modern vampire story that stretch from Bram Stoker's Dracula to Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and many more. I have a full review of the novella coming up on Tuesday in my new column, "Beyond Retro," at The goal of the column is to look at nineteenth century (sometimes older) stories of vampires, werewolves, and any other paranormal event.

Oh, yes. I am completely plugging my column and the site. :)

But, anyway, you really should give Carmilla a read. I was not expecting to be as drawn into this story as I was. I always knew what was happening, yet Le Fanu's creation of tension in the plot was amazing.

The story is available for free in many locations. Here are some links:

Online: Carmilla

For Kindle (free): Carmilla on Kindle

For Nook: Carmilla for Nook. NOTE: This is not free. For some reason, Barnes & Noble is charging Nook users $.99 for a download of something that is in the public domain for free. Just my opinion, but that is so wrong. If you are a Nook user, you really should complain if B&N charges you for a random copy of a public domain work. It is different if you are paying for an edited version--like a Penguin or Oxford Classics edition. But just a copy of what is free online? I don't think so.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I am so tired!!! And my heart rate is crazy!

This morning, I had to take a long walk across campus. It is the first significant exercise I have had since the food poisoning event. When I checked my heart rate upon returning to my office, it was really high but dropped rapidly (it wasn't in a danger zone or anything, but still). I have been sitting at my desk for over an hour now and my heart rate is still a bit high. I hate this. Ugh. So, I am drinking lots of water, just in case I am a bit dehydrated. I am also going to do some meditation breathing tonight and see if that helps, should my heart rate continue to be high.

This is so frustrating!!!! Thank you, food poisoning, for making my body go nuts.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Books for October

I had a great time catching up on all of the blog time I missed while I was sick, and I especially enjoyed looking around Amy's I Ponder the Page. Her blog is much more focused than mine, and I love seeing all of the things she is reading. So, Amy mentioned all of the books she read for the "Southern Belle Challenge" and then mentioned that she was embarking on another reading challenge-- "Fall into Reading 2011." I hope to participate in these one day, but until the dissertation is complete...well, pleasure reading comes and goes.

Inspired by her blog and lists, however, I have decided that I am going to try to list the books I hope to read each month. So, for this month, I am reading (or rereading) the following for the dissertation:

For, I am reviewing:

And, for the book club:

Yes. I spend a huge amount of time reading. But it is fun!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Back to myself...nearly

Hi, everyone! Finally, I am feeling a bit like my old self again. The big change happened on Friday afternoon, around 1:00 (yes, I remember don't forget the ending of days-on-end nausea!). The dizziness remained fairly strong until yesterday. Though it isn't completely gone, it is livable! Thank you for all of your well wishes and support. I really appreciate it. I especially appreciate and love my parents, who were so wonderful through it all, and my cousin Jessica and Uncle Ron, who came to the hospital and stayed with me on Monday evening to give my mom a break. And thank you to everyone else who called or visited. I love you!

So, now that I am feeling better, I am reminded of how much work I have missed and how far behind I am on my dissertation! I missed my book club meeting, and with everything that has happened over the last few weeks, I also didn't finish the book for the book club (the book was The Palace of Illusions). It is a great book, but I am going to have to wait before I finish it.

The good news, after all is said and done, is that I now feel rested (heck of a way to get there, though) and want to resume my workout/running schedule. I am getting the urge to do another race. I don't know if I want to train for a half-marathon or not. The only thing that concerns me is that I would have to train on my own...and running 14 mile courses in preparation is boring if one simply runs a loop and dangerous if one runs solitary. So, I may just try for a solid 5 or 10K this time around. Still...I do love the half-marathon experience! I just don't know what to do!! I don't want to contact my old Team-in-Training coach and beg to join their running schedule if I am not raising money for the cause (something I just don't have time to do this year). So...I guess that I will have to suck it up and figure this out on my own!

Anyway, enough babbling! I am glad to be back, one week later, feeling so much better!