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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review: The House on Coliseum Street by Shirley Ann Grau

In conjunction with the Louisiana Book Festival the state library has created a “One Festival, One Read” program. I was very pleased to see that they had chosen Shirley Ann Grau’s 1961 novel The House on Coliseum Street. I had previously read and loved Grau’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Keepers of the House. I have long described it as the most visceral reading experience of my life; this selection pointed me back in Grau’s direction and I was happy to oblige.

The House on Coliseum Street is a deeply internal novel. Grau tells the story of Joan Mitchell, a young girl tied to the house and the life she has inherited as well as her overbearing mother. Joan wonders through her world waiting for life to happen to her. Her boredom and overwhelming sense of ennui provide a sullen base to this slim novel. The novel begins with Joan’s mother and steady boyfriend retrieving her from an aunt’s house, bringing her back to the house of Coliseum Street.

The house itself is a character within the novel; serving its purpose as the setting but also standing to explain the emotional lives of the characters to the reader. The house is well maintained, fashionably decorated but cold. The house is never a warm home in the way that Joan’s family are never a warm support network. Both function on their most basic levels, as a dwelling and a collection of relatives.

The crux of the novel occurs when Joan begins seeing a professor from the local university (an old boyfriend of her younger sister’s). Michael uses his classroom as a dating service; Joan can see him for what he is, but being so starved for attention and excitement she accepts his invitations. The aftermath of this affair is devastating. Joan slips into a deep depression; forgoing all aspects of life and disappearing into her house, her library, and the nighttime streets of New Orleans.

Grau’s writing here is amazing. It is so spare yet deeply felt and beautiful. As a reader, to connect with someone so disconnected is rare and I cannot think of another novel that expresses this sense of turning away from the world so strongly and with such feeling (besides Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak). When factoring in the time that this novel was written Joan’s anger at her status and place in the world becomes even more meaningful – a young women in the 1950s had few options, especially coming from a family like Joan’s. The struggle for identity and the basic repression from all sides leave Joan hollow, and Grau does a wonderful job of showing her readers the repercussions of that emptiness. This is a great novel, not a happy story by any means, but one to think on and discuss.

Shirley Ann Grau will be speaking at the Louisiana Book Festival on Saturday. We’ll definitely be there and we hope to see you as well!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

World Book Night 2014 Titles Announced

The titles for World Book Night on April 23, 2014 have been announced!  Sign up here to be a WBN Giver on April 23, 2014, and check out the full list below:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
This celebrated bestseller, now in paperback, is a book that is changing the way Americans think about selling products and disseminating ideas. The new Afterword by the author describes how readers can constructively apply the tipping point principle in their own lives and work.
 After the Funeral by Agatha Christie
After the reading of a will at a Victorian mansion, the sister of the deceased patriarch suspects he met with foul play. But before long, Cora is banished from the family tree--with eight blows of a hatchet. And detective Hercule Poirot suspects she won't be the last to go.
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
Prosecutor Rusty Sabich is transformed from accuser to accused when he is handed an explosive case--that of the brutal murder of a woman who happens to be his former lover.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
A riveting, powerful novel about a pilot living in a world filled with loss--and what he is willing to risk to rediscover love. Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life--something like his old life--exists.
Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim
A series of short stories in graphic novel format follows a group of friends in their twenties as they navigate young adulthood and relationships.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
New York chef Tony Bourdain gives away secrets of the trade in his wickedly funny, inspiring memoir and expose. From his first oyster in the Gironde to his lowly position as a dishwasher in a honky-tonk, Bourdain's tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable. "Kitchen Confidential" reveals what Bourdain calls "25 years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine".
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
A two-time Newbery Honor-winning author looks at a contemporary war with the same power and searing insight he had brought to the Vietnam War of his classic, Fallen Angels.
100 Best-Loved Poems by Philip Smith (Ed.)
"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" "Death, be not proud," "The Raven," "The Road Not Taken," plus works by Blake, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, many others.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Fifty years after its original publication, Catch-22 remains a cornerstone of American literature and one of the funniest—and most celebrated—books of all time. In recent years it has been named to “best novels” lists by Time, Newsweek, the Modern Library, and the London Observer.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
New to Florida, Roy spots the running boy--running away from the school bus, carrying no books and wearing no shoes. Sensing a mystery, Roy sets himself on the boy's trail, which leads him to potty-trained alligators, a fake-fart champion, and a renegade eco-avenger.
Pontoon by Garrison Keillor
A fresh and funny Lake Wobegon novel about a woman with a secret life. After Evelyn dies in her sleep, it is revealed she has been in love for years with a Las Vegas man. Pontoon is a heartfelt and comic work by one of America's greatest storytellers.
Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Set in the suburbs of New York in the 1950s, this memoir recreates the postwar era, when owning a single-family home meant the realization of a dream, everyone knew everyone else on the block, and children gathered in the streets to play. Here, Doris Goodwin recalls growing up loving her father and the glorious game of baseball.
Miss Darcy Falls in Love by Sharon Lathan
Noble young ladies were expected to play an instrument, but societal restrictions would have chafed for Georgiana Darcy, an accomplished musician. Her tour of Europe draws the reader into the musical life of the day and a riveting love story of a young woman learning to direct her destiny--and understand her own heart.
Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean
In 1949, a crew of U.S. Forest Service Smokejumpers parachuted into a Montana forest fire. In less than an hour, all but three were dead or mortally burned. Haunted by these deaths for 40 years, Maclean reconstructs the pieces print.
The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
Full of adventure, storytelling, magic, and deep characterization, this debut fantasy introduces the magic-practicing Rangers, protectors of the kingdom, and Will, a 15-year-old villager who has been chosen as a Ranger's apprentice.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. It doesn't matter to Jess that Leslie dresses funny, or that her family has a lot of money -- but no TV. Leslie has imagination. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits. Then one morning a terrible tragedy occurs. Only when Jess is able to come to grips with this tragedy does he finally understand the strength and courage Leslie has given him.
Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
Using a range of landscapes and countries in each short story, Lee creates characters so wonderfully flawed that it's impossible not to feel for them when their fragile beliefs of romantic love, domestic bliss, or academic seclusion fail to provide them with the sort of force field they'd hoped for.
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: the bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers' genes. In The Botany of Desire,  Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.
The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
Against the wilds of sea and wood, a young immigrant woman settles into life outside Duluth in the 1890s, still shocked at finding herself alone in a new country, abandoned and adrift; in the early 1920s, her orphan son, now grown, falls in love with the one woman he shouldn't and uses his best skills to build them their own small ark to escape. But their pasts travel with them, threatening to capsize even their fragile hope. In this triumphant new novel, Peter Geye has crafted another deeply moving tale of a misbegotten family shaped by the rough landscape in which they live--often at the mercy of wildlife and weather--and by the rough edges of their own breaking hearts.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun. When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare.
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
A charming tumble of fairy tales blended into one delicious novel, spiced with humor and sprinkled with true love.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State--and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
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.
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
Magic, sexual tension, high comedy, and intense drama move through an enchanted yet harsh autobiography, in the story of a young girl who leaves rural Puerto Rico for New York's tenements and a chance for success. *Available in both English and Spanish for World Book Night givers
Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
A hilarious and heartbreaking look at four vibrant black women in their thirties, who aren't holding their breath waiting for Mr. Right--but they haven't stopped hoping.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a friend and mom. Then Bernadette disappears. Bee compiles e-mail messages, official documents, and secret correspondence--creating a compulsively readable and touching novel. *Also available in Large Print for World Book Night Givers
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Japanese internment of WWII comes alive in this timeless story, set in 1940s Seattle, of the power of the human heart to rise above hatred and bigotry. This is a book to share with others. -- Marilyn Scheer, East West Bookshop, Seattle, WA *Also available in Large Print for World Book Night Givers
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
A major new talent tackles the complicated terrain of sisters, the power of books, and the places we decide to call home.
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
A true story--as powerful as "Schindler's List"--in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.
This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
This unforgettable, bestselling memoir by a gifted writer introduces the young Toby Wolff, by turns tough and vulnerable, crafty and bumbling, and ultimately winning.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
For more than three decades Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed its own trail through popular culture—from a groundbreaking newspaper serial to a classic novel, to a television event that entranced millions around the world. The first of six novels about the denizens of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, Tales is both a sparkling comedy of manners and an indelible portrait of an era that changed forever the way we live.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Seventeen-year-old Greg has managed to become part of every social group at his Pittsburgh high school without having any friends, but his life changes when his mother forces him to befriend Rachel, a girl he once knew in Hebrew school who has leukemia.
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
A fictionalized account of Zora Neale Hurston's childhood with her best friend Carrie, in Eatonville, Florida, as they learn about life, death, and the differences between truth, lies, and pretending. Includes an annotated bibliography of the works of Zora Neale Hurston, a short biography of the author, and information about Eatonville, Florida.
 The Raven's Warrior by Vincent Pratchett
Wounded in battle (900 A. D.), a near dead Celtic warrior is taken by Viken raiders and sold into a Baghdad slave market. He is dragged further East, through the desert, into the Middle Kingdom where he is bought by a Taoist Priest and his beautiful daughter. Hazy images of silk, herbs, needles, potions and steel, can only lead to one thing, he has been purchased by a wizard and his witch. Arkthar fears for his soul.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

It's that time again!  (Almost) time to get started on NaNoWriMo 2013!!!  I'm trying something a bit different this year.  All four of the stories I've previously tried to write (two of them for NaNo) were all fantasy-esque, a little sci-fi, but definitely not life-like.  This year's story actually takes place at LSU, where I go to school, and it's entirely realistic.  It's not going to be autobiographical, though it will be shaped by my own experiences.  I wanted something that was simple and easy to write, but that I would really enjoy writing and talking to people about as I write it, and this is the idea I came up with.  I'm actually really excited about it, even though it's not what I normally write about.  I've been reading a lot of realistic YA fiction lately, and I wanted to try my hand at it.

I've written the synopsis of the novel, though I'm not sure if I like it yet.  We'll see once I start writing how well it hold up.  I'm definitely pants-ing this one, though not near as much as I did for last year's NaNo.  I have a very basic idea in mind, along with a few events and characters that I want to include.  We'll see how this goes.

I think I actually have an ending in mind this time, so hopefully I'll be able to finally finish something.

Anyway, here's the synopsis:

Winifred Michaels is worried about college.  An overachiever who always follows the rules, she doesn't feel ready to take on the world of drinking and partying that she imagines college to be.  The idea of "adulthood" terrifies her, because it will mean that she's finally on her own.
When her parents ship her down south to Baton Rouge to attend LSU, Winnie is left more scared and alone than she's ever been in her life.  Stress and anxiety are her constant companions, and she doesn't understand how anyone can think that college is fun.  For the first time in her life, she's struggling with school, and her fear of failure rises up to greet her.  Add in a partying roommate, a weird guy who sits next to her in class, and an excitable girl she meets at work, and Winnie feels like she's in over her head.
When her first semester ends in disaster, Winnie is devastated at her failure to live up to her own ideals.  She doesn't think she can handle college and all its struggles and responsibilities.
But failure has its benefits.  Starting from rock bottom, Winnie comes to realize that college is a place to create and discover yourself.  Turning from false friendships and a major she hates, she learns to embrace a different side of college life that she didn't know existed, one that might just change her for the better.
I don't know how I feel about it, but it's going to stay for now.  I needed to write one so I could "create" my novel on the NaNo site, and this is what I came up with.  The current working title is The Way We Were, which I got from Carrie Hope Fletcher's new song.  The video fits perfectly with the sort of feel I want for my novel, and I thought the title was fitting.

Good luck to all the other Wrimos out there!  See you all at the starting line on Friday :).

(originally posted on Victoria's writing blog Curious Nonsense)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Victoria: Spotlight on Pop-Up Books

This week we'll be turning the spotlight over to Pop-Up Books!  Every kid loves a good pop-up book, right?  Well, it might surprise you to know that the first pop-up books were actually made for adults.  The earliest known pop-up book was created in the 13th century by Ramon Llull of Majorca, a Catalan mystic and poet, to illustrate his philosophical theories.  By the 18th century, pop-up books were primarily used for scholarly material.  Medical pop-up books were particularly popular because the author could show several different parts and layers of the body at once and in relation to everything else.  They were also commonly used for astronomy as well as other scientific areas.
Perhaps it should be noted that the term "pop-up book" may refer to any number of different types of books with moveable parts, such as books with pull tabs, flip tabs, and sliding tabs in addition to the traditional books with popping-out scenes.

It wasn't until the late 18th century that pop-up books were created for entertainment purposes, specifically for children.  The first person to use the term "pop-up book" was publisher Harold Lentz in the United States in the 1930's.

Most pop-up books today are primarily aimed at entertaining children, and though they can sometimes be relatively complicated, the pop-ups are often as simple as a pop-out scene or picture from the book or a pull tab that moves a piece back and forth. 

One of the most notable and recent pop-up books is Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy by Matthew Reinhart.  The book was revered for its complex pop-up illustrations and artistry in a way that most of today's pop-up books are never recognized.  The New York Times even said of the book: "calling this sophisticated piece of engineering a 'pop-up book' is like calling the Great Wall of China a partition."

Now that you know some of the history of the pop-up book, why not pop on down to the shop to see our selection?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Victoria's Rainbow Rowell Love Rave

Have you ever found a book (or series) - or maybe had one recommended to you - that you initially weren't sure about, but then it stole your heart and turned you into a raving, die-hard fan? We'll call it a Book, just to differentiate here from books that you love or that have meaning for you, but didn't affect you in that certain special way. Everyone has a Book. Some people have more than one. Some have more than a few. But even if you've read several Books in your life, there's always room for one more. In fact, I spend most of my book-browsing time looking for a new Book, one that will take it's place next to the others on the bookshelf of my heart (sorry, I know it's cheesy, but you get what I mean). I've been lucky to find many such Books throughout my life: Harry Potter was the biggest one, of course, but sitting next to it are The Night Circus, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the works of John Green, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (though I'll admit to being late to that particular party), Stephen King's On Writing, and maybe a couple more (Shakespeare just has a whole shelf to himself). These are the Books that I recommend most often. They are the ones I can always go back to when I'm feeling sad, lonely, or maybe just a little nostalgic.

Not too long ago, Michelle gave me an arc that she thought I might like. It was Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park. I thought it looked interesting, but it certainly didn't look like a Book, so I didn't expect much more than an enjoyable read. I liked the cartoon-ish cover. I liked that it took place in the 80's. I even liked the title. So I took it home and decided I'd read it if I found the time.

I don't remember when I started the book, but I vividly remember finishing it. It was the middle of the night, and I was sitting on the balcony outside my apartment, facing the large pond in the center of the complex. It was dark, it was quiet, but even if I would have been in the middle of a hurricane, I wouldn't have noticed. I was completely absorbed in that unassuming little book. I finished it sitting on that balcony, and I remember feeling both amazing and empty at the same time. My thought we're going a mile a minute, and I could hardly focus on anything. I felt like I was waking up from a vivid dream, not sure what was dream and what was reality.

It's a quiet book, and because it's so quiet, you hear what it's saying all the more powerfully. It's a story about rising above hard circumstances, bullying, living life, dealing with the bad times and appreciating the good, and of course, at the root of it all, friendship and love and how the two intertwine in strange and wonderful ways. Eleanor isn't a perfect girl. She's not the typical teenager. She defies stereotype in so many ways. So does Park. They are not "two teenagers in love," they are just wholly themselves. Best of all, they feel real. They feel believable. I feel like I know them, like there's more of them to know than what's written on the page. It was a beautiful thing to read and experience.

As soon as I finished Eleanor and Park, I knew it was a Book. I knew I was going to recommend it to as many people as I possibly could convince to read it. Eleanor and Park convinced me of the genius of Rainbow Rowell, but I couldn't help believing that Eleanor and Park was an anomaly. It was different. Even if I read Rowell's other works, they couldn't ever compare to Eleanor and Park. It's just not possible that an author can write two books (not in a series) that could be that wonderful.

Then I read Fangirl.

Reading Fangirl was an entirely unique experience, even different from Eleanor and Park. I could relate to Eleanor and Park. Just about anyone could, I'm sure, because they're the kind of characters that go deep, no matter what your high school experience was like (In fact, mine was nothing like theirs). But I connected with Fangirl on an entirely different level. This was the first time in my life that I've ever felt so completely like I was reading pieces of my own life and mind on the pages of a book. I couldn't put the book down. And even when I had to, I couldn't stop raving about it. It just felt so strongly that Rainbow Rowell, a person I've never met, GOT me. She understood the things that people never understand. She knows what it's like to love something so much that it becomes as much a tangible part of your life as the people you talk to every day. She understands how it feels to be misunderstood, ridiculed, looked at strangely, or just plain reviled for the fact that you love something that much. She also gets the immediate connection you feel when you find another person who feels the same way, who loves the same things. I couldn't believe how much absolute truth I found in her fiction. And I know it's not just me. Tons of others feel the same way about Fangirl. I have a tumblr. I've seen it. I've watched people fall in love with Fangirl through their posts on Tumblr and twitter and blogs. It's an amazing experience to be part of a fandom for something that exemplifies fandom in such a unique way.

Fangirl, for those who don't know, is about Cath, a fanfiction-writing fangirl for the Simon Snow series (a fictional series, unfortunately). Cath's novel-length fanfiction, Carry On Simon, is famous, read by tons and tons of Simon Snow fans all around the world. The story focuses on Cath through her first year of college as she navigates new friends, dorm life, classes, family trouble, and love, all while trying to finish Carry On Simon before the last Simon Snow book is released and the story ends forever. Cath struggles with how to find a place for Simon Snow in her life as she enters adulthood, something I know many fans of many things (ahem...Harry Potter, anyone?) have struggled with over the years. Can it still hold the same special place in your heart now as it did when you were a child? Are you ever too old for something? Can you be a fangirl/boy AND a respectable adult simultaneously? Fangirl explores all these questions as it follows shy, introverted Cath through her hectic, hilarious, relatable, and often poignant first year of college. This book is required reading for anyone who has ever been proud to call themselves a geek or a nerd. This book is fandom in words. It's a beautiful thing.

So, to sum up this rather lengthy post: Read Rainbow Rowell. You won't regret it. There's even a good chance she could change your life, that these books could become Books for you too. And that's a chance you should always take.


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