Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Genrethon 2016 Wrap-Up

I am happy to report that I managed to complete Genrethon this past weekend by completing three different books from three different genres, ones that I don't normally dip into.  In typical fashion, however, I did stray from my TBR quite a lot and only managed to complete one of the books I thought I might during the read-a-thon.  In any event, here is what I read last week:

Saga, Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples [3/5]: While I enjoyed this installment of the Saga series, it didn't resonate with me as much as volumes 2 or 3 did.  This one focused a lot on Alana and her work on the Circuit and, I have to say, I didn't enjoy it nearly as much.  Maybe because this volume wasn't as action packed or because I couldn't decipher where the story was headed I wasn't as engaged as I was with previous volumes. [Genre: Graphic Novel, Science Fiction]

Sit, Stay, Love by J.J. Howard [3/5]: This was a middle grade novel I picked up during my school's book fair a couple of weeks ago.  The book is about a girl name Cecelia who volunteers at a dog rescue and falls in love with a pug they a nursing back to health.  Her beloved pug is adopted by a snobby boy at her school who wants to turn the pup into a fancy show dog.  Cecelia then enters into a campaign to thwart the pooch's show dog chances, but . . . she begins to see her schoolmate in a different light.  For what it is, a predictable middle grade read, this was a cute book that was a mindless, escapist read.  Though J.J. Howard is no Tolstoy, it was an enjoyable book and one I look forward to putting in my classroom library. [Genre: Middle Grade, Romance]

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg [2/5]: I had started reading this collection about a month ago and put it down in the middle of the titular poem.  However, for the sake of meeting my last reading challenge I returned to the collection and completed it.  Within the past two months I have read two of the central works of Beat Generation literature-- On the Road and now Howl-- and I can honestly say  that the movement doesn't appeal to me at all.  I don't find the plays with language appealing or the imagery transcendent at all.  In terms of this collection, I think the often anthologized "Howl" and "A Supermaket in California" have their aesthetic merits and are worth a read (and a study), but they aren't representative of 1950s American poetry as a whole.  Frankly, you're better off reading Robert Lowell IMHO. [Genre: Poetry, Beat Literature]

Did you participate in Genrethon?  Did you meet your goal or stick to your TBR?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Taste Test #2: M&M's Vote For Your Favorite Peanut

To know me is to be well aware of my love of candy.  If it is sugary, loaded with carbs, and fit for human consumption-- who am I kidding?-- even if it's not!-- I will be willing to try it at least once.  So, when my mother recently spotted three new flavors of peanut M&Ms (one of my favorite sweet treats) on a sojourn to Rite-Aid, she picked them up so I could taste test them.

Through June 17, M&Ms is running a competition in which consumers can vote on their favorite peanut M&M flavor: ol' skool peanut, Honey Nut, Coffee Nut, or Chili Nut.  Consumers who vote on the brand's website can enter into a competition to win $100,000.   While I would never attempt to influence your vote, I have tried all three of the new flavors and I thought I would share some of my impressions with you.

Honey Nut: These are the most benign of the three new flavors.  When I was describing the flavor to someone while I was munching, I described the flavor as being like the taste of Honey Nut Cheerios after you have had the bag open for a week: the flavor isn't stale, but it certainly isn't as strong as it was on the day you unsealed the bag.  The honey flavor wasn't overpowering, but I could taste it.

Coffee Nut: Spoiler Alert-- these ones were my favorite.  The best way to describe these ones would be if you were to eat a peanut M&M and a Nips coffee-flavored candy at the same time-- that would be your flavor.  The coffee flavor is slightly sweet and compliments the savory flavor of the nut very well.  However, if coffee flavored deserts turn your stomach, don't expect this one to change your worldview.

Chili Nut: At first these candies do not have a discernible chili flavor . . . which is a let down.  However, it is the aftertaste that kills.  The aftertaste is like the flames of hell, like a hybrid of Taco Bell's Fire sauce and Satan's toe nail shavings.  I only managed to get through half a bag of these candies FOR SCIENCE before I started to get queasy.  A couple of my more adventurous students asked if they could taste theme.  Save for one intrepid gal the critical response was nearly universal: these were mega gross.

So, which-- if any-- of the new flavors are you interested to try?  Which candy has your vote?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev.

*I have not been sponsored for this post.  All of the candies were purchased for me by a family member (Hi, mom!) and the opinions expressed in this post are my own. 

Eyrepril #2: Jane Redux: Re-imaging Jane Eyre for the 21st Century

One of the greatest testaments to Jane Eyre's enduring power is how inspiring authors still find the text almost two hundred years on.  Since Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea was published in the 1960s,  re-imagings of the novel have periodically hit the shelves.  Within the past decade, in the lead up to Bronte's bicentennial, a fair few Jane-inspired works have garnered some public and critical attention.  Here are some of the highlights:

|1| The Illustrated Jane Eyre (2006) by Charlotte Bronte & Dame Darcy (Illustrator): If, like me, you grew up devouring graphic classics, you will love Dame Darcy's The Illustrated Jane Eyre which adds goth kid-inspired illustrations to the original text.  This edition of the novel would be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of new and veteran Bronte readers alike . . . and may be a good jumping off point for reluctant students of Jane.

|2| Jane Slayer  (2010) by Charlotte Bronte & Sherri Browning Erwin: In this monster mash-up, Jane is a demon slayer who spurns the vampire kin who raised her in order to perfect her hellspawn-killing skills.  When Jane takes a governess position at a country estate, she is aghast to learn that her intriguing employer is harboring a dangerous werewolf upstairs.  Will a cadre of creatures that go bump in the night keep Jane from finding true love? 

|3| The Madwoman Upstairs (2016) by Catherine Lowell: This novel isn't directly related to Jane Eyre, per se, but it is Bronte-inspired.  The story's central character, Samantha, is the last remaining Bronte relative, the heiress to a literary fortune.  However, it isn't until she enrolls at Oxford University and gets the help of a (duh) handsome professor that Samantha begins to unravel the mystery of her family's long lost literary treasure trove.  

|4| Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (2016): In this novel Jane is re-imaged as a serial killer who, while trying to establish a claim on the estate of her deceased relatives falls in love with the property's new master, Mr. Thornfield.  Thornfield himself has some violent secrets of his own.  Can these two crazy kids overcome their own violent histories and find love?-- I don't know because my library hold on this one hasn't come in yet (the struggle is real). 

|5| Reader, I Married Him (2016) by Tacy Chevalier: Finally, Reader I Married Him is a collection of short stories by contemporary female writers inspired by Jane Eyre edited by The Girl With the Pearl Earring author Tracy Chevalier.  Among the authors featured in this collection are Emma Donoghue (Room), Lionel Schriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin), and Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife).

Have you come across any other Bronte-inspired books lately?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Teacher Appreciate Week & Book Fair Haul

This week is both Teacher Appreciation Days at Barnes and Noble and the annual book fair at my school.  In honor of these two annual events, I bought a fair few books.  I thought I would share some of my purchase with you in case you were looking for ideas for what to pick up at an event near you.

|1| Libra by Don DeLillo: I have read DeLillo's White Noise a couple of times and fell in love with the author's dark humor.  Based on my enjoyment of his earlier novel, I picked up Libra, a work I have mulled over for months.  Libra is a work of speculative fiction about alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.  I'm interested to see if Libra will have the same type of humor that White Noise did.

|2| Me Before You by JoJo Moyes: I have been on the wait list at my county library for this book for ages . . . and I am still near the bottom of the queue.  Impatience lead me to this one.  

|3| A Night Divided by Jennider A. Nielsen: I am really interested in German history and I was excited to see this young adult novel about the Berlin Wall.  When I am done reading this one I am going to put it into my classroom library.

|4|Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer: I own and have already started reading Cinder, so I thought I would buy the second book in the series because the price was right ($4!) and I could pass it on to the kiddos once I have finished it.

|5| Sit, Stay, Love by J.J. Howard: I'm not going to lie, I bought this because there was a pug on the cover.  It.Was.Fated.

|6| Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard: I have seen this one go around BookTube and BookStagram and I have also seen a fair few of my students reading this one.  Since the book is now out in paperback I thought it would be worth reading myself and adding to my classroom library.  

What books are on your to-be-purchased list for April?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Genrethon 2016 TBR

Between Sunday April 10 and Sunday April 17, the first ever "Genrethon" read-a-thon will be going on.  The Genrethon is the brainchild of four Booktube ladies (Joce, Brittany, Kristyn, and Lauren) and it is meant to help encourage participants to read outside of their comfort zone and try genres of books that they might normally not pick up.  Throughout the week, participants are supposed to try to read at least three books from three different genres.

Because I am a mood reader, I wanted to give myself some options to chose from throughout the week; so, I have six books on the TBR this week even though I don't expect to finish all of these titles.  Here's what I will be choosing from:

Science Fiction Graphic Novel

Saga, Vol. 4

Saga Vol. 5

Short Stories

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

Young Adult Science Fiction

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Edwardian Colonial Fiction

A Passage to India by E.M. Forester 

Victorian Fiction 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Are you participating in the Genrethon?  What books are on your TBR?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev . 
Friday, April 8, 2016

Review: It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell

In her memoir It Was Me All Along*, blogger Andie Mitchell chronicles her life-long struggle with weight, body image, and her problematic relationship with food.  Unlike most "blogger books," It Was Me All Along doesn't offer readers an airbrushed look into Mitchell's otherwise perfect life.  On the contrary, Mitchell is candid about her struggles and the ongoing challenges she still faces.

Like many of us, Mitchell had always had a troubled relationship with food.  Even in childhood, Mitchell would binge to help assuage her feelings of sadness and loneliness.  As she got only, Mitchell's weight ballooned until the summer after her second year of college when, through diet and exercise, she began to loose weight.   Yet, even after she reached, and surpassed, her goal weight Mitchell's struggles with food and body image did not end.  Rather, the pressure of keeping the weight off and maintaining a balance between eating right and exercising became an all-encompassing obsession for Mitchell.  In this memoir she details how she was able to get past these darkest periods during her weight loss journey-- both medical and non--and what steps help her get her life back on track.

At the end of the book, you're left with the sense that though she has successfully dropped the weight and has built a successful career as a food writer, Mitchell still must mediate her relationship with food.  I cannot stress how refreshing this point of view is.  So many times, memoirs seem to espouse the idea that everything is  "okay now," but Mitchell avoids this pitfall.  Rather, she offers her readers are more hopeful, attainable end point: it can get better.

It Was Me All Along was an enjoyable read, though one I cannot see myself reading again in the future.  If you enjoy reading memoirs or are struggling with weight or food issues of your own, I highly recommend this book.

GoodReads Rating: 3/5

*This book was sent to me by the publisher through Blogging for Books for review consideration.  The thoughts and opinion expressed in this review are my own and I have not been financially compensated for this review.
Thursday, April 7, 2016

Eyrepril #1: Jane and Me: A History

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte's most widely read book and the epitome of Victorian Literature, is a novel that I have quite a lot of history with.  We had many false starts throughout my girlhood and a brief flirtation during my senior year of high school-- when I read the first few chapters and then promptly surrendered myself to Cliff's Notes and cheesy BBC adaptations-- before I was finally able to tuck into the novel with earnest during my sophomore year of college.

My first "real" reading of Jane Eyre was an unpleasant one.  At the time I was taking an independent study class from an instructor I despised during what I now realize was a particularly virulent major depressive episode (MDE).  In my troubled state, the novel was too much for me: Jane was too uptight, her story too full of coincidence, and her choice of mate questionable to say the least.  For my fevered brain and pained heart Jane was too much and not enough.  Somehow I managed to slog through the rest of my degree, in English no less, without touching another Bronte.

In my mid-twenties I dabbled in reading Anne (the unsung sister; she's brilliant, by the way), but didn't even flirt with the idea of revisiting Jane Eyre.  As a matter of fact, I didn't revisit the novel until I was going to teach Jane Eyre to my Advanced Placement English Literature student and had to.  I was fully expecting Jane Eyre to be a chore given how challenging I had found my first "real" read had been.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Perhaps because I was older this time around (thirty instead of twenty); or because I wasn't reading under a tight deadline; or because I wasn't a complete mess personally; or because I had the luxury of time to sit, enjoy, and savor the novel; but my second read was a wonderful experience.  I had a greater empathy for Jane: someone who, with faltering courage, stands up for what she believes in even when it places her in dire straights.  On my second read my interest was still piqued by troubling elements-- she can only be accepted by her love one's he's disabled? can we talk about Bertha and "the other"?  what is wrong with St. John?-- but I found myself able to bracket my feelings about the novel's troubling elements to a degree that I was unable to while in my twenties.

This got me to thinking: do we become more forgiving of our fictional characters when we learn to be more forgiving of ourselves?  So many of us have found solace in the printed word, have been made to feel better by reading of someone else's experience second hand; could it also be true that our reading can also be a reflection of our mental health?

To my own reading, at least, I didn't learn to love and accept Jane fully until I had learned to love and accept myself.
Friday, April 1, 2016

The First of Eyrepril

April 2016 marks Charlotte Bronte's bicentenary.  In honor of her like and work, I will be posting a series of Bronte-centric reviews, reflections, and recommendations every Thursday in April.  I will also be reading some of Bronte's novels, juvenilia, biographical works about her and her family, and works inspired by Bronte all month.

Watch this space throughout the month for lots of Charlotte-focused content!