A year full of Dickens, month one- Thoughts on Bleak House

This month I picked Bleak House for the Dickensian work I would read to celebrate his bicentenary. I had already read Bleak House during a graduate seminar on Dickens that I took several years ago and Bleak House is my favorite of the seven works of his that I have read. My friend Ellen, my awesome friend who has her own blog A Curious Magic has boldly decided to read along with me this year. I am sure she isn’t happy that her copy of BH was 1,000 pages to the 787 in my Norton but that’s okay!

I love, love, love the complexity and tightly woven plot that is Bleak House. I love all the characters and how they are interwoven with each other. Esther has and probably always will annoy me, though I pity her for most of the novel. My favorite character in the novel has to be Lady Honoria Dedlock. She is actually why I refer to myself as Lady Bellicose. I love her back story, her rich but empty life, her secret, everything about her intrigues me. My seminar paper was a treatise of Lady Dedlock as a tragic hero. Sadly, there is not a lot of research out there about Lady Dedlock, but I hope to add some of my own soon. Part of my reason in re-reading Bleak House was to prepare myself for an article of literary criticism that I have been meaning to write for nearly two years. Perhaps 2012 is the year I write it!

If you want a complex, engrossing, and shocking read, Bleak House is the novel for you. Dickens is a master of portraying a wide slice of the socioeconomic picture of Victorian England and with the massive plotlines and characters in this novel, you get a wide berth of what all sectors of society were like at this time.

I recently stumbled up a set of Dickens works with covers designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, you know how I am obsessed with her cloth-bound editions of classic books! This set of the “Major Works of Charles Dickens” is breathtaking and a must have for your library!

Check out the set here: The Major Works of Charles Dickens

I would like to announce that I have already chosen the selection for the month of February. I let Ellen decide since I picked the novel for January. She has chosen Oliver Twist. I also read that during my Dickens graduate seminar and am very excited to read it again. Though nothing can take the special place in my heart that Bleak House occupies.

Will you be reading Oliver Twist with me in February? Happy Reading!

Save the Date! L.A. Times Festival of Books 2012!

It’s that time of year again, bibliophiles! The dates were announced last week for the 2012 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. This year’s festival returns to the USC campus. My friends and I are already making plans to spend the weekend at the panels, stages, and vendor booths. I was so happy to see this announcement in my L.A. Times Sunday edition last week!
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I thought this advertisement, featured in the Business section of the L.A. times this week was also worth taking a look at!

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So will you be planning a trip to the Festival? Look for my helpful hints when we get closer to April 21!

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

If you read my review on ANNA and the French Kiss, you would know I basically ate crow and fell head over heels in love with YA Contemporary. I gobbled up Anna and within hours of finishing it, I started LOLA. Before this book the only LOLA I knew was the showgirl referenced in that classic Barry Manilow song. But unlike Anna, I had been to the city of San Francisco, in which the story of LOLA takes place.

Lola is anything but your average teenager. Her wig collection along is impressive. She lives with her two gay dads and her dog in a Victorian house in the Castro District, even better! My cousin took me on an architecture tour of San Francisco when I visited her there and I loved all the varied styles of housing.

Early on in the novel, I really liked Max, Lola’s bad boy rocker boyfriend. I thought he had a vibe that made him stand out from the usual bad boy and made him more mature and endearing, considering the fact that he endured Sunday Brunch so he could be with Lola. Later on in the novel…let’s just say Max and I had a falling out.

Then….CRICKET BELL enters. I didn’t think much of Cricket at first, but I became quickly enamored with him. His lankiness, his geekiness. His rubber bracelets and his tinkering hands, always building and inventing.The heartbreak Lola suffered by Cricket intrigued me and I really wanted to understand the devastation she felt and why. And then they start to talk again….wow. Cricket was such a fresh contrast to the harsh Max. He is like that old reliable sweater you thought you outgrew but it looks even better on the second go-around. My heart melted as Cricket spoke to Lola at Amoeba Records. Can someone please ask me out in the same manner? Seriously, get a copy of Lola, memorize the passage, dazzle me! I digress.

I loved the fact that we saw Etienne and Anna again as they both go to school in San Francisco now after they graduated from SOAP. Etienne was even funnier in this book, especially with his interactions at the movie theater where Anna and Lola work together. I like Anna as a mentor figure to Lola, despite the two-year(?) age difference between them. I adore Lindsey, Lola’s best friend, she was just as spunky and interesting in her own way as Lola.

Once again Stephanie Perkins provides swoon-worthy romance and an irresistible setting. I also laughed even more during Lola than I did while reading Anna. The part where Cricket Bell accidentally shoots his rubber bracelet at the windshield of Lola’s Dads’ car while going to the forest was the single most hysterical part I have EVER read in a novel. I practically rolled off of my couch I was simultaneously laughing and crying so hard! But then again, I have  twisted sense of humor.

This book met and exceeded my expectations for a companion novel. The only complaint I have is that it was too short. While I think that it had a great stopping point, it left me wanting more. This doesn’t mean I felt dissatisfied, I just wanted even more time with Cricket and Lola.

If you want a book that promises you “the moon and the stars”, and delivers them, please give Lola a chance. You will laugh, cry, and fall in love with Cricket Bell, and it’s worth it! I promise!

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I’ve never been to Paris, and I don’t have a passport. But thanks to Stephanie Perkins, I don’t need one just yet! Anna and the French Kiss was loaned to me by a friend who purchased a copy of it at Comic Con and had it signed by Ms. Perkins.  I’ll admit I was not too interested in the book, even after hearing Stephanie speak (she is, by the way, a lovely speaker). I just wasn’t sure what Contemporary YA meant and was a little scared by the talk of “romance” (I imagined Harlequin novels for Teens in my head).

Fast forward to December… my friend INSISTS, MANDATES, DEMANDS! I MUST READ ANNA! She’s read it no less than THREE times straight in a row and it’s so happy, feel-good, and wonderful. At that point, I was still skeptical but a bit more open-minded than I was before. But, since she is my literary soul mate of course I do trust her judgement unconditionally.

I fell into the amazing world of Anna, Etienne, Mer, Bridge, SOAP, Point Zero, many quaint movie theaters. This book literally made me hungry with all of the food references. It makes me want to go to Paris! It makes me wish I could be a teenager or college student again and study in Paris! Paris, Paris, Paris! What a lovely setting to this novel. Francophiles, this book is for you!

Anna was spunky, awkward, endearing, and like an old friend. I absolutely loved her character right down to her “skunk stripe”. I have two more words for you: Etienne St. Clair. Okay maybe that is actually three but wow what a guy! I loved his british accent, his turmoil between his feelings for Anna and his feelings for his girlfriend Ellie. I just loved him flaws and all, just like Anna does!

If you want a feel-good (yes I’ve been converted) book that makes you fall in love with giddy, ridiculous, teenage first love all over again, then you need to pick up Anna NOW! Stephanie Perkins is a master of portraying teenagers and the teenage brain. She is a gifted comedic writer and I was laughing so much during my reading that I had to think back if a book has ever made me laugh so much. Maybe throughout the series of Harry Potter books perhaps, but I am unsure.

I have a lot of favorite parts in this book, for those of you who have had the pleasure of reading ANNA: The scene where two characters make out in a part in front of everyone and children sailing their sailboats hilarious! Girl Scout Cookies scene, adorable. Thanksgiving Break-swoonworthy and steamy. The Detention showdown-fantastic. Fight that leads to detention showdown-even better! Oh and anytime Seany says BOOOYYYFRIEND, I laughed. The back and forth Christmas break emails- too funny!

I smile everytime I think of the banana glass bead and Etienne saying “Ahna Bahnahna” 🙂

Thank you Stephanie Perkins for your superb writing and the ability to break down my negative and unfounded bias against Contemporary YA Romance. 🙂

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium was the first e-book I have read. I am borrowing a nook color from my friend to test-drive an e-reader and see how I like it. I was a little wary of reading another dystopian, especially since I just finished the earth-shatteringly good Divergent. However, Delirium was on the nook and I was curious about it.

I really liked the tone and syntax of Oliver’s writing. It was easy to get into. I especially liked the quotes and passages against love and describing it as a disease before the narrative of each chapter began.

I did find it hard to relate to Lena in the beginning of the novel. For me, when I see Lena, I think of Lean Duchannes from Caster Chronicles. I liked Lena, but I didn’t fall in love with her. In some ways I liked her carefree best friend Hana better.

Who I did fall in love with was Alex. Wow, after that first meeting when Hana and Lena were riding their bikes, I was sold! I wanted desperately to dive deep into his back story and I am so glad we get more of it. The scene in the wilds with the open sky above them sealed it for me. It was such a powerful scene and electric connection between the two characters. How could you not fall in love with Alex at that moment?

The more I read of Delirium, the more I liked it. I love the juxtaposition of Lena counting down the days until her procedure, and then, after meeting Alex, her increasing terror on the days she and Alex and she and Hana have left together. There were some major plot points that I did not see coming and kudos to Oliver for putting them in.

What I was torn about was the ending. At first I was shocked and belligerent, that did NOT just happen! How could she (Lauren Oliver)! On the other hand, I was amazed at the seemingly bold ground-breaking ending she delivered. I think this is the first of its kind in the dystopian genre. Due to the major twists and ending, I am clamoring for Pandemonium and Hana. I need to find out what happens next after Lena escapes!

Pandemonium and Hana both launch on February 28!

Book Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Let this review serve as proof that I don’t read solely YA! Though it is okay if that is all YOU read! 😉 I bought this book a year ago when it was published but for one reason or another, had pushed back against reading it. I finally started in October, though it took me two months to read.

In the second novel in her “The Cousin’s War” Series, Philippa Gregory highlights the life of child-bride Margaret Beaufort, a pious girl who aspires to be mother to the future king of England. She is of course, a true historical figure, one I knew nothing about. I did not really understand her obsession with Joan of Arc but I found her religiosity refreshing and inspiring.

Once I got into this novel, boy did it engulf me. The treachery, the using women as pawns, marriage as a business agreement wow! I was really enthralled with the covert romance between Margaret and  her brother-in-law Jasper Tutor. Oh how I wished these two could finally get together! Sadly, they did not, but wow if what they had wasn’t a perfect example of courtly love! Swoon!

I enjoyed the novel to the end, and had hoped it was much longer and we saw Lady Margaret age more with her son finally on the throne, but it was not to be. I did pick up The Lady of the Rivers, which is staring at me and waiting to be read. I love Philippa Gregory and this is yet another shining example of her excellent research and storytelling abilities.

Book Review: Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

Oh, The Infernal Devices, how I love you so! I ate up Clockwork Angel this summer, and eagerly anticipated the second book in the trilogy. Thanks to a nice new friend I made while at Comic Con, I did get a sampler of CP before they ran out.  December 6 was highlighted in every calendar I could highlight. I needed to know more about Tessa, Will, Jem and the Institute.

Cassandra Clare knows how to build a world that sucks you in. The laser precision imagery makes you feel like you are right there in Victorian London with the characters. It makes me ache to live in that world and time period. This is the book where choices are made that you did not see coming. Secrets unravel and the past explodes in your face. There are heartbreaking, earth and soul shattering moments throughout, each one hurts more than the last. And when you think you can’t hurt anymore, it’s over. The cliffhanger is subtle, in my opinion, but opens up a huge chasm of possibility for Clockwork Princess.

I bonded more with Tessa in this book. I’m a little perturbed that we STILL don’t know exactly what Tessa is but a secret about her family life is revealed that I did not see coming. Tessa still aches for her brother Nate who is in thick with Mortmain and Company. I’m glad she lets him go, both literally and figuratively. I really really wanted her to tell Will she still had feelings for him. Her relationship with Jem was a little forced for me and not as organic and real as her feelings are for Will.

Will, oh my dear Will. How you suffer throughout this novel several times over! How cruel the past has been! How cruel might the future be! We see more of Will, who he is, and why he is so horrible to everyone around him at the institute. Instead of making me hate him for this, it only makes the reader love him. His confession to Tessa was the most bittersweet thing I had ever heard in my life. It brought me back to Wentworth’s letter in Jane Austen’s Persuasion and I cried just as much. I don’t know if I can bear to read Clockwork Princess with the suffering Will endures now. It’s too much for my Will-loving heart to bear!

Jem. Good and sweet Jem. Reliable and steadfast Jem. I really liked the initial stolen dalliance with you and Tessa, but that’s all I really thought it was, a dalliance. I love you, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t love you and Tessa together. I do feel sorry for you and that I think something terrible may happen to you in Clockwork Princess. I just don’t really get how you could possibly not know that your own Parabatai had feelings for Tessa! I think you are a good friendly balance for her, but I don’t really think you will get married. sorry.

I really liked the new characters introduced into CP and the masquerade ball scene was to DIE for. Absolutely brilliant and mesmerizing in a million ways and for a million reasons. Sigh.

This book had me so torn and emotionally invested I had to stop reading it at night before bed. I would be up into all hours of the night pondering the twists and turns and soul wrenching heartache. I have some terrible hunches about CP2, terrible, awful, can’t-believe-I-am-thinking-this hunches. I hope that none of them actually happen!

Once again, thank you Cassandra Clare for writing this book. My only complaint to you is that you please don’t end it with Clockwork Princess, consider making it  a six book series! I won’t be satisfied unless CP2 is 1200 pages! 🙂