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Revisiting the Monster

23/09/2012

It’s taken me more than a year to readdress the subject of monsters in literature as I promised, but not because material is lacking or because I lost interest. In fact, I’m more interested than ever. My original goal was to present an analysis of characters widely recognized as literary “monsters”; since my first post, though, my focus has shifted. I’ve been working on my first novel and so I am more interested, and attuned to, the nuances of light and dark – the shades of gray – and cannot maintain a detached academic position. The darkness is seductive, and the truth is that we all have darkness as well as light inside of us. Read the rest of this entry »

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C’est que c’est.

22/08/2012

Admittedly, it’s difficult to try and run multiple blogs at the same time. I’ve been working on building my own trademarked site, and in the meantime I’ve been posting on my other WP blog (C’est que c’est). I can’t promise that it’s “worth” reading, but chances are if you follow me here then you’ll find something to suit your tastes over there. And if not…well, I take requests.

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Should authors read reviews of their work?

02/02/2012

Today’s reflection came in a roundabout manner: Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, is getting ready for the release of her memoir Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Personally, I can’t wait to read it, but that isn’t the point.

Jenny’s friend Alice posted this piece about whether to read reviews, specifically directed toward Jenny but applicable, really, to everyone who writes — that means humble reviewers like myself as well. As she points out, “[s]ometimes people are just unhappy, or having a bad day, or nuts. You can’t control who reads your work, or how they’ll react.” This is so true, as anybody who has submitted their work for public consumption can attest. Even comments on reviews can be snarky because someone’s taste is different or they don’t understand how a quantitative rating may not necessarily jive with a qualitative one. I’ve been told I need new glasses (ahem, how did you know I wear them?) because the person commenting loved a book that I reviewed as mediocre, so I can only imagine some of the terrible comments that others have had to endure.

As a reviewer, it’s my humble assertion that a book review serves to inform other readers about a new or overlooked book, in the hopes that someone else will pick it up to enjoy it equally, or save their money, or read it to come to their own conclusion. Writers are not the intended audience and do not need to succumb to the temptation to read every word written about their work. At the same time, though, I have written more than a couple of reviews in which I pointed out technical errors in writing or editing that should be shared with the writer — if not to counsel her/him, then for consideration when choosing a publisher or editor in the future. I would encourage writers to pay attention to particular details that are supported by quotation or other in-text evidence.

The best advice, then, would be to each her own. If you must read, seek out reviews on established sites where posts are informative, emotionally neutral, and full of support for the reviewer’s rating. There may be exponentially more reviews that are as full of deep and strongly held emotional reactions as they are of typographical errors, but a writer cannot accurately judge the quality of her work without seeking reviewers who are as careful with their reviews as the writer is about her work.

So, should you read the reviews? Well, yes and no. Maybe.

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Review: The Hijab Boutique, by Michelle Khan

20/09/2011

Originally posted on Luxury Reading September 16, 2011.

“Some people feel that it is the duty of foreigners to fit in, or they may even feel a bit threatened by hijab…when people ask questions I use the opportunity to spread the word and message of Islam.”

Farah Khan is an only child who lives with her widowed mother, a hijabi, and attends an all-girls private school with her best friend Ashanti. When her teacher gives a class assignment to bring in something representing the girls’ mothers, Farah panics because her mother isn’t a singer or an actress or a dancer; in fact, the only unique thing she sees about her mother is the scarf she wears around her head.

Michelle Khan’s first children’s book, The Hijab Boutique, is a quick read with a deep and resounding message. In it she explores the origins of hijab as well as what it means for the modern Muslim woman to veil herself; how the veil is portrayed in Western culture; and even the sartorial qualities available to hijabi. What’s more, she shows great empathy for families rebuilding after the loss of a loved one so that children can truly understand the message.

I’m excited to have such a simple yet profound story to share with my nieces, and any other girl who cares to read and learn a meaningful lesson about inner strength, faith, and womanhood through another’s eyes.

Rating: 5/5

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by The Islamic Foundation. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud

15/09/2011

Original review posted September 9 at Luxury Reading. Also, check out the interview with author Heather Lynn Rigaud (questions are mine also!), and the extra information available at Rigaud’s blog, Austen Nights. Enjoy!

I am a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice. It was one of my favorite “you must read this” books assigned in my English classes, and I like to think that I have a bit of Elizabeth Bennett’s wit and verve. While watching different interpretations of the book on screen is endlessly entertaining, however, I’m generally reluctant to pick up a re-imagined version of the actual story. (Zombies? No thank you.)

Fortunately, Heather Lynn Rigaud’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star stays true to Austen’s original characters and follows the general plot nearly to perfection. Set in the modern music industry, our favorites from Pride and Prejudice come together in a professional relationship that quickly develops into a mass of romantic tension familiar to any reader – only this time, laced with sexual tones that illustrate the difference in attitudes between 1813 and 2011. (More below…) Darcy, Charles Bingley and Richard Fitzwilliam are Slurry, an immensely popular band (Rigaud likens to Puddle of Mudd) in need of an opening act for their upcoming tour. Enter the ladies of Long Borne Suffering: Elizabeth and Jane Bennett, and Elizabeth’s best friend Charlotte Lucas. Sparks fly from their first meeting, and as the tour heats up so do the offstage encounters…

The biggest issue with a reload of a well-known novel, of course, is that the reader most likely knows how the story will end. Riguad recognizes that and, rather than forcing the ending, uses the narrative arc to explore new depths in her characters’ personalities and reworking minor plot threads to give the story new life. Anne de Bourgh, for example, is given a serious attitude and far more exposure in her recast as the A&R Executive at de Bourgh Records (a personal triumph for me – I had one six-word line as Lady Anne in the stage production); also, readers who were dissatisfied with Charlotte’s choices in the original story can take a closer look at how she moves on from those choices.

As mentioned above, with the 21st-century rewrite Rigaud has added a decidedly sexual twist to the story – acknowledging the evolution of romantic relationships – that unfortunately takes away from the narrative rather than adding to it. Pages at a time are devoted to explicit descriptions of the various characters’ sexual encounters, which are written in a way edging dangerously close to soft-core porn. I’m no puritan, but even I had to skip some of the more salacious scenes.

All in all, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star is poised to introduce the timeless themes of Pride and Prejudice to an all-new audience that can perhaps relate more closely to the modern setting. As long as the reader is okay with the sex scenes (or okay with skipping pages), this is a more than ideal read for a warm night.

Rating: 4/5

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Review: To Die For, by Sandra Byrd

09/09/2011

This review was originally posted on Luxury Reading September 7, 2011. Check it out for a great discussion in the comments, and add your own below!

In the 475 years since the beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn, her story has been told and retold by countless historians and storytellers in attempts to exonerate and vindicate, or to further vilify. Contemporary writers have increasingly posited that the Queen was falsely accused and convicted through political maneuvering by her rivals at court; no matter what one believes, however, her story continues to rivet those who hear it.

But what of those who lived in the Queen’s shadow? While writers have shed light on some of the Queen’s most notorious family and friends, little attention has been devoted to others who lived in her orbit, whose lives were impacted by her triumphs as well as her downfall simply by knowing her. Sandra Byrd’s To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn tells the story of Anne’s rise and fall through the eyes of Meg Wyatt*, her childhood friend and lady-in-waiting whose own life also hangs on Anne’s favor with the king.

Meg Wyatt is in love with Will Ogilvy, the heir of a neighboring family and friend to the Wyatt and Boleyn families. When Will leaves for school with Meg’s brother Thomas and Anne leaves for the French court, Meg is left to care for her ailing mother, at the mercy of a controlling father and her sneering brother Edmund. Meg faces one disappointment after another from that point, including Will’s decision to take holy vows and her own marriage by proxy to the aging Baron Blackston. However, as Anne catches the eye of Henry VIII, she calls Meg to the English court and opens up a world of possibility to her.

All is not well for long, though, and as the reader travels through the familiar tale of Anne’s ill-fated royal romance the connection between her fate and Meg’s is sadly all too easy to see. While Meg visits clandestine reform meetings and struggles to retain her independence, Anne becomes ever more desperate to bear a son and keep the King’s love so that she can avoid the danger looming about them all.

While Anne’s fate is all too familiar, the success of Byrd’s story lies in Meg’s unexpected path to everything she thought she never wanted. Meg is such a vibrant character that she emerges from Anne’s shadow and takes her rightful place as the heroine of the novel; as such, the title could more accurately be “A Novel including Anne Boleyn, but really about Meg Wyatt” – and so much the better.

To Die For is an exciting and heartbreaking journey through one of the most tumultuous periods in the Tudor dynasty. Byrd’s clear and expressive writing style and her steady pace throughout give this book a priority place on the historical fiction shelf.

Rating: 4.5/5

*Meg Wyatt’s real name was Anne, but was changed by the author for the sake of narrative clarity.

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Friday Freewrite: Childhood Favorites

09/09/2011

Last month, just for fun, I found myself wandering the stacks in Barnes & Noble’s children’s section. I was rather confused; as a childless twenty-something I don’t usually look through that section so it took me a few minutes to figure out the filing system. There are tons of books for children at every reading level (even pre-readers) — books that teach, books that play, and the ubiquitous books you read just to read a book. A lot of the titles were unfamiliar, but I was pleased to see some of my own childhood favorites on the shelves.

Around the same time, I had a conversation with my friend Julia about Lois Lowry’s book The Giver.  What I didn’t realize when I first fell in love with The Giver is that Lowry actually wrote two more books to make it a trilogy. I read the second book, Gathering Blue, but it was long enough ago that I can’t remember if I read it because of its connection to the original story, or just because I enjoyed Lowry’s writing. Either way, I want to pick up Messenger (published in 2004) to complete the journey and tie the first two books together.

All of this musing on books I once read led to this week’s Friday Freewrite – a very short list of my favorite books while growing up, stories that still resonate with me (or live on in my memory as a great read). Add your favorites in the comments!

The Velveteen Rabbit – I loved the story of the well-loved stuffed animal who finally finds real life through real love from his boy. It still makes me sniffle a little…

The Giving Tree – Along the lines of loving and sacrificing, I never fully appreciated what the tree gave to the boy until I reread this book as an adult. To be fair, I don’t know that the boy ever appreciated what he was given either.

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle is a literary genius, and I challenge anybody to say otherwise. I still have dreams of tesseracts and worlds in other dimensions. I read a few of the sequels as well, and I have no complaints about any of them.

Holes – This story of a young boy in a detention camp was made famous by the film version starring not-yet-famous Shia LeBoeuf. I enjoyed the combination of the detention camp drama woven in with stories from the past, and how Louis Sachar brilliantly connected the pieces to lead to a thoroughly satisfying resolution. Also, I sort of want some venomous nail polish.

There are many, many more books that I can think of, but if I listed them all this would begin to resemble a novel itself!

What are your favorite books from childhood?