I am a fully-motivated and crazy reader of avid proportions. A book is always at the ready no matter where I am, usually a fantasy of some kind or contemporary. (Nie zu viele Bücher!)
Audio excerpt from Elizabeth Fama's Monstrous Beauty, read by Kathryn Kellgren
An excerpt from chapter 7 of Something Strange & Deadly, read by author Susan Dennard
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
Alex Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here
Alex Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here
Over at Epic Reads, a new book club read is chosen each month. For August, Epic Read’s pick is one of my favorite comfort books: Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly.Well, Susan decided to spice up this month’s SS&D fun by hosting her own book club, and by adding A Darkness Strange & Lovely and prizes into the mix as well. Each week is an opportunity to win other great books–including signed hardcovers!–as well as a participatory prize of A Dawn Most Wicked or a deleted scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely. Read more about it here and sign up if you like!
I had lots of fun answering both discussion questions this week (they were both too interesting, and I had things to say!), which you can read below the cut:
By Victor Hugo - Les Misérables
My daily quote...
A small sampling of some of the world's literary hotels. Now this has got me thinking about planning my next vacation...
I should know better than to read a Donna Jo Napoli ARC. I really should, and now I am kicking myself in the shin with my other foot for requesting it. What possessed me? Because now I am left to write a negative review for a book that sounded interesting but disappointed me as a reader—and I knew it would. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew. It goes back to Napoli’s 2006 novel, Bound. I must have read this book when I was nine or ten years old, and Xing Xing’s story only had me half-absorbed. I wasn’t engrossed, but it is a light book that I did enjoy. Fast-forward to a couple of years later, however, and I found myself disappointed upon revisiting the same book. Bound, I discovered, is a book that tells a simple yet unoriginal story that lacks in profoundness. It was no longer this fanciful Cinderella re-telling I had cooked up in my head, and I wished to never pick up another book by Donna Jo Napoli.
But is it fair to base the entirety of an author’s work on one book? A book from seven years ago, no less? It’s safe to assume that Napoli’s craft in storytelling has matured since—that is what I told myself. I’d seen a few bloggers talking excitedly about Napoli’s books, and their excitement did a bad thing: it infected me. I was eager to read Napoli’s books. Me. Little old me—with a sad habit of scrutinizing literature—felt excited, and I ignored that twinkling sensation that said, “Warning: Approach with caution.”
This was bad. But not as bad as the situation Sep finds herself in.
I’ve been telling myself vitiligo is just a lack of coloring, so no matter how far it goes, it can’t look that bad. But it does. I can’t understand how—but it does. It’s revolting. A little shiver hums inside me, elusive and eerie.
Normally, I would be ashamed of myself for thinking this way, for being such a shallow jerk. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t think this at all. Normally, I would have empathy. If it weren’t me, I could look and be kind, charitable. But it is me.
On the first day back to school, high schooler Giuseppina, or simply “Sep,” awakens to white lips. No amount of scrubbing, waiting, and hoping will make the whiteness go away, as Sep soon discovers that vitiligo is taking over. What she does learn, however, is the lengths she will go to hide it. Her condition is nothing a little lipstick and clothing can’t cover, until it begins mapping her skin is places she can’t conceal: the palm of her hand, her neck, her face… Shaken with fear and embarrassment, Sep feels desperate to make her skin’s white patches revert to normal—and angry that they won’t. In Sep’s eyes, vitiligo has won, for once it becomes too wide-spread to mask, it will have doomed to her a loveless, lonely life.
As the saying goes, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. It’s skin-deep. But isn’t it easier to believe this when addressing other people’s flaws and not your own? I’m like Sep: a person who can sympathize and empathize. I’m not a shallow jerk who stares at and makes fun of someone for the way she or he looks, and I certainly don’t think any less of that person. Yet, if I were in Sep’s shoes, I’d feel horrified, angry, terribly unlucky, and self-conscious, because my appearance matters to me. I relate to Sep in this way, yet worrying about her looks and trying to keep vitilgo hidden is the novel, and this is not the story I had hoped to read.
Skin is difficult for me to review, as I am torn between the story I had imagined versus the story Donna Jo Napoli has written. Not only does Sep waste too much time trying to cover up her condition, she spends it rushing to experience love and romance before it’s too late—before vitiligo conquers her body, because no one will want love her then. If she can’t love herself, who else will? The novel, overall, carries a noble message within its pages—that beauty and love go deeper than surface appearances—yet it’s a cliché sitting on top of a weak story. While Napoli’s message is an important one to learn, I don’t buy it. Not here, not for Sep.
I can't just look to others to be kind to me. I can't control that. I have to learn how to be kind to myself. To the animal that is me. To this body. This skin. This me.
The rational part of me knows that this is the job ahead.
It sounds so simple.
The world is a giant deception. Hardly anything is simple.
But for Sep, it does seem simple.
Through most of the novel, Sep focuses on covering up vitiligo with lipstick, cream, clothing, and lies, and within four chapters I am to believe that she reaches an overnight understanding of what it means to love oneself? Sep stops battling her skin and finds inner-peace in return. No doubt some people in this world, like Sep, quickly discover equanimity—however temporary—or a deeper-than-skin acceptance of who they are. I am not one of those people, and I know that feeling comfortable in my own body is easier said than felt. What I think of Skin doesn’t amount to very much, as the shallow storyline limits its own power and ability to move readers, but I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that it took over 300 pages for Sep to accept herself. I’m disappointed by how suddenly, and so simply, she overcomes this nightmare she fights against for months. I wish Sep came to this realization sooner in the story, as quarreling against the public perception of beauty—and still learning to accept oneself—beats a story about trying (and failing) to blend with the herd.
Thank you to NetGalley and Amazon Children’s Publishing for providing a free copy of Skin in exchange for my honest review. This review and more can be read at midnight coffee monster.
ILLUSTRATION O'clock: Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900–1931) "Old French Fairy Tales". She managed to illustrate 3 books before dying of tuberculosis.
Download the free book, here: http://archive.org/details/oldfrenchfairyta00sg
And see a gallery, here:
From 50watts: "Missouri-born illustrator Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900–1931) managed to complete just three books in her short life, all of them commissioned by the Penn Publishing Company: Old French Fairy Tales (1920), Tanglewood Tales (1921), and Arabian Nights (1928). She was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 19, around the time she received that first commission. David Apatoff wrote a lovely appreciation of her work and life at his Illustration Art."
Tamora Pierce, In the Hand of the Goddess
from Amy Neftzger's The Orphanage of Miracles
I’m a person who avoids horror. Not because horror scares me, but because it bores me, and if it doesn’t bore me, it frustrates me to the point where I scream at the television or the book in my hands. As a child, however, many things frightened me—scary things. Back in the glorious 1990s, Nickelodeon aired Are You Afraid of the Dark? (which I most certainly was). Kids gathered around campfire, spooking each other with ghost tales, and I will never forget the story of the haunted pool. The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float episode didn’t frighten me of ghosts or even pools; it made me fear water. Shower time? Not before it the water-monster strangles me. Take a swim? I’ll pass. Glass of water? He’s going to suffocate me from the inside!
So what does a ridiculous ‘90s show have to do with Extremities? Just like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, who will get the most enjoyment or thrills from Extremities depends on the reader. Looking back, Are You Afraid of the Dark? is as cheesy as cheesy gets. But the fact is that it still scared me and gave me an irrational fear of water. Now that I’m much older, what scares me has changed. People-eating giants makes me shiver, zombies are creepily fascinating, eerie dystopian settings horrify, and the psychological aspects to all these both terrify and excite me. Reality itself, even, can zap me dead in a second. These concepts put me in a panic—zero of which I find in Extremities—but none of this stopped me from reading Lubar's book.
If there is one thing Lubar wants to note, it’s that “this is not a book for children.” Indeed it’s not, but I think who Extremities is most appropriate for varies. “At rare and random times, without any plan on my part,” says Lubar, “a story will emerge that is too dark, too heartless, or, dare I say it, too evil, for my young readers.” But that’s exactly it, that’s my problem. I didn’t find any of the stories within Extremities too dark, heartless, or evil. What I did find was a lack of suspense, predictable twists, and writing that wants to be smart but falls short.
When I first spied David Lubar’s Extremities, I felt a pull that I couldn’t resist. My lack of acquaintanceship with horror drew me to Lubar’s collection, as if we were a cute match but doomed to a petty break-up. While I thought I would like Extremities, the book serves as a reminder why I scarcely wander into this genre. David Lubar’s collection dances familiar paths of similar stories that have come before it. Although this doesn’t deem the book ‘poor quality,’ why didn’t the author take new turns? Hold my hand and lead me to a place I haven’t been before. Be daring and dangerous. Take risks. Whatever you do, dream beyond what’s already been done.
For each story, events flip-flop for the hero or heroine—either the character comes out the victor or victim, depending on how the story opens. Lubar’s tales take expected turns and end in likely fashion, which strips away the element of shock. Once the story reveals itself, usually paired with the title, the end becomes clear before the reader gets there. Prior to starting Extremities, I expected stories that weren’t horrifying or dark, but original ideas that held interest and surprise. These stories should have captivated me by their warped characters and by the irony of events, or at least that is what I wished for.
Well, Raya, maybe the fright doesn’t come from the conclusions. Maybe David Lubar’s point has nothing to do with unprecedented twists. I get that. Extremities is not intended to make the reader scream or spend a restless night waking from nightmares. It is intended to make the reader shudder, perhaps, at the thought of what these character do, witness, and experience. At the same time, I can’t deny that ingenuity would’ve helped improve the collection as whole. As one reader out of many, I didn’t shudder. I snickered at the irony and turn of events, and only because I saw them coming. If I wasn’t eyeballing the text with an ‘I told you so,’ I felt nearly bored. And yet… Extremities mildly entertained me.
For all that I’ve said, not everyone is doomed to have the same reaction. What Extremities needs most is the right audience—and that does not include me. There is something to be said for entertainment value, and for these reasons alone, David Lubar’s collection is one I still recommend. If haunting stories of any kind suit your fancy, then by all means, let this book find a home at your bedside and prepare to unleash some horrors from its pages.
Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing a free copy of Extremities in exchange for my honest review. This review and more can be found at midnight coffee monster.