The Great American Read

How would you choose America’s best-loved novel?  PBS has teamed up with the American Library Association, First Book, and the American Booksellers Association on a project that aims to do just that: The Great American Read.  They recently surveyed Americans to select the top 100 books on our shelves and in our hearts and will be spending the summer celebrating these books before narrowing the list to just one.

PBS kicked off the Great American Read on Tuesday night with a two-hour special featuring these top 100 books.  You can watch the episode, hosted by Meredith Vieira, here; you can also catch it repeated on PBS over the next few days.  It was a very entertaining look at many of my favorite books and the ways in which they’ve impacted Americans.  I have personally read 32 of the 100 books; you can check out the full list here and take a quiz to see how many you’ve read here.

The episode featured many authors, actors, other celebrities, and even just regular Americans talking about their favorite book on the list and why you should vote for it as America’s best-loved novel.  The books on the list span many time periods, countries, and genres; to be included they must be fiction and published in English, plus each author is limited to one book on the list (so series count as one).  All of the books on the list got a shout-out in the episode, but a few got a slightly more in-depth look.

Some felt comfortably familiar: George R.R. Martin (whose Game of Thrones is on the list) talked about the Lord of the Rings trilogy and how it impacted him; when Gandalf died partway through the book, it was a lightning bolt moment where he felt like “anyone could die.”  John Green (whose Looking for Alaska is on the list) discussed Catcher in the Rye, and now the world makes sense to me because even as a teenager I never “got” that book, and despite how much I love John Green’s writing, I don’t really get his books either. I’ve even mentioned that previously on my blog!

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Some were more surprising but no less enthusiastic: Allison Williams discussing why Frankenstein was such a big deal, and Sarah Jessica Parker gushing about Things Fall Apart (she even dog-ears her pages!).

One of my favorites was a woman named Eliyannah from Chicago talking about Harry Potter.  She related to Hermione and the themes of bigotry in the books so much that she’s gone on to help create a web series called Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis.

Of course, I could never pick just one of these books.  Pride and Prejudice is the one I’ve read the most, but I can’t discount The Giver, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, etc. etc.  But luckily, I don’t have to!  For the Great American Read you really can “Vote Early, Vote Often.”  You can vote for as many books as you like once every day.

VOTE HERE

PBS with be continuing its series with themed episodes leading up to the finale in October, when all the votes will be tallied and the winner revealed.

The GAR is more than just a TV show, though.  It is meant to be an interactive experience for readers.  You can discuss the show and the books on social media like FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.  You can even participate in a virtual book club dedicated to some of these 100 books; the first “meeting” is today and will discuss Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

You can also check out your local library or bookstore for GAR events.  Here is a list of the libraries that got grants from the ALA to do official events, but many others have displays, events, or book clubs.

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GAR display in my local bookstore

Are you planning to participate in the Great American Read?  What book(s) are you voting for?

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Review: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card

34713646Most fans of anime will tell you that there was a “gateway drug,” so to speak: one show that hooked them and got them into the medium of anime in general.  Ask people of my generation, and they will name shows like Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon as shows still hold a special place in their hearts.

For me, it was Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP.

From my first viewing of the terrible English dub Cardcaptors, I was hooked.  The manga, with two story arcs of six volumes each, was even better, and remains to this day my favorite manga.  I own two versions of it, a boxed set of the volumes and an omnibus edition.  If you like magical girl anime, it doesn’t get any better than CCS.

When I heard a few months ago that CLAMP was putting out new volumes of Cardcaptor Sakura, I screamed so loud my husband came to ask me what was wrong.  Wrong?  Nothing’s wrong!  This is only the best day of my life!

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The first volume of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is now available in English, with more to follow in the next months, and the anime is currently running in simulcast on Crunchyroll and in “simuldub” on Funimation.  I have not seen the anime yet, but I devoured the first manga volume when I got it for my birthday recently.

The Clear Card story arc picks up exactly where the Sakura Card story arc left off.  The first chapter expands on the last scene of the last manga, where Syaoran surprises Sakura on her way to middle school, saying he’s returned to Tomoeda to stay for good.

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S+S shippers rejoice!

The story continues in a very familiar fashion, hiting all the typical Cardcaptor Sakura beats: a mysterious figure appearing in Sakura’s dreams, strange forces working in Tomoeda, new cards (this time they are transparent), a new, upgraded staff, and of course new costumes made by Tomoyo-chan!  All of Sakura’s friends and family are back as well.  I like that it has such a familiar feel, and I can’ wait to see what twists and turns are coming as the story develops more.  What secrets are Syaoran and Eriol keeping?

The artwork remains absolutely gorgeous.  There are so many beautiful large panels and two page spreads that really let you appreciate the art.

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Release!

I really enjoyed the experience of reading this volume, because for me it was the first time reading a CCS manga without having seen the anime first.  I’m sure I will watch the anime soon, maybe even before reading more volumes, but it was kinda fun to have an “all new” manga to read.

The only thing I found slightly jarring was the incorporation of modern technology in the story, like smart phones, email, and texting.  While it was worked seamlessly into the story, it was just surprising to me because the story takes place immediately after the original volumes which were produced in the 90s and therefore barely had the concept of primitive mobile phones. So it was a big jump forward in technology with no jump forward in time.  However, I don’t think they could have handled it any better and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

Basically, it’s just wonderful to be back in the CCS world after fifteen years away.  And this volume has only just whet my appetite for more.  This is just the beginning!

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2017 Reading Review

I was fortunate that I got to read approximately 100 books this year (not counting re-reads).  Unfortunately, I did not find much time to review many of them.  I enjoyed another year of the bimonthly GeekyNerdy Book Club which expanded my reading selections (look for one last post for the year presently).

Here are a few books I’d like to highlight from this year’s reading.

Most-read author

8367225This title is awarded to Georgette Heyer.  This year I went on a huge Regency Romance kick (a plurality of the books I read fall into this category), and part of that was discovering this wonderful author whose wit and historical detail is unrivaled in the genre.  I read 21 of her historical romances, and I look forward to reading more in the future.  The Grand Sophy was the one that really got me hooked, and it’s a great place to start for anyone intersted.  I recommend her work to anyone who loves Jane Austen as I do.

YA trilogies:

I read a lot of YA fantasy, and I find the vast majority of it enjoyable.  However, it’s rare to find a series as well-written as Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy.  It wasn’t entirely my style, being a bit too dark and Gothic, but I really felt there was a depth to the story not often seen in YA fantasy.  In particular, I liked the author developed themes of free will, including the use of classic literature.  And the characters are surprisingly diverse considering it is set in a girls’ school in Victorian England.

This series was translated from the original German a few years ago, and it is one I definitely stayed up late reading.  Though nominally set in contemporary times, the main character is a time traveler trying to uncover a conspiracy, so we get to travel to several different time periods in the course of the books.  I was so impressed with how well all the time traveling fits together over the series; the author clearly plotted the whole thing out very well beforehand.  It’s also really fun for all the mysteries to be revealed over the course of the books.  The characters can be a bit emo at times, but hey, they’re teenagers.

Classic YA Fantasy:

8464112I can’t believe I had never heard of these two short novels (published in ebook format together), let alone read them.  The first book introduces the rebel Mel on her quest to overthrow a corrupt king with the help of her brother and their people…and some unexpected help along the way.  The second book sees brash Mel getting an education in the subtle politics and court life of the capital city.  There’s also a wonderful slow-burn romance.  Each book has a slightly different tone, but they work beautifully either together or separately.  The characters and wordbuilding in particular are memorable.  It really gave me vibes of The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, which is high praise indeed.

15722552I came across this series after it was recommended to me by Purple Pumpernickel on my Regency Romance post earlier this year.  I love Patricia Wrede, author of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, so I was excited to pick this up, and I was not disappointed.  There’s plenty of magic, mystery, adventure, and a bit of romance and whimsy.  It is told in epistolary form, as a series of letters between cousins Kate and Cecelia, with each author writing one character.  An unusual form, but it really works here, especially feeding into the Regency setting.

Non-fiction:

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For the GNBC I enjoyed reading As You Wish (Cary Elwes’s memoir of making The Princess Bride) and Carrie Fisher’s Shockaholic

The most affecting nonfiction I read this year was the best-selling Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  It tells of the author’s upbringing in rural West Virginia and Ohio, surrounded by poverty, family dysfunction, drugs, and declining jobs.  Vance eventually made it “out,” but in some ways these parts of his youth will stick with him his whole life.  I thought this might be a dry read, but it was anything but.  I read it as fast as a novel.

Much has been made of the divide in the US between urban and rural, blue state and red state, haves and have-nots.  This book does not do much to put forward ideas to solve any of the problems of drugs or lack of jobs affecting communities like Vance’s, but that’s not really its point.  Its point is to help us better understand why these communities live the way they do, and to have some empathy for them without judging them.  I can’t say it changed my political views or anything, and I already understood some of these concepts from living in Ohio, but it really did make me think and expand my worldview while being an engaging read.

You can check out the other books I reviewed this year with the Book Review category (click here) or the GNBC tag (click here).  There was a distinct lack of sci-fi on my reading list this year, so hopefully that will change in 2018.  I also read some contemporary YA and some comics, and hopefully I’ll be writing more about those in the future.

 

Here’s to more great books in the new year.  What books did you enjoy most in 2017?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Glow

From Trinity College, Dublin.

Libraries always seem like magical places to me.  The library at Trinity College (which also houses the Book of Kells) certainly has a magical gallery.  The sun shining through the window of this alcove gives the stacks of books a warmth that echoes my own feelings of contentment at being in such a place.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Glow

My Top 5 Versions of Cinderella

I had so much fun looking at my favorite versions of Beauty and the Beast a few months ago, I thought I would do the same with another favorite fairy tale, Cinderella.  This one was way harder, because I have read and seen so many more versions of this tale, and some of them rank among my favorite fairy tale retellings of all time.  I managed to narrow it down to five…plus a few honorable mentions.

Cinderella (2015)

Related imageThis Disney live-action version by Kenneth Branagh, building off the classic animated version, was a pleasant surprise for me when I saw it at the drive-in theater.  First of all, it is visually gorgeous in its costumes, sets, and cinematography.  The actors are uniformly engaging; Cate Blanchett in particular is a treat as the Evil Stepmother.

It also has the most wonderful soundtrack, centered around a charming version of the folk song “Lavender’s Blue.”  I even used the soundtrack as writing music during NaNoWriMo.

But the best thing about it is the way it improves on the original Disney movie.  The original Cinderella is one of those pretty princesses without much agency, and the plot relies heavily on insta-love.  This version condenses the themes of Cinderella stories nicely with its mantra of “Have courage and be kind.”  It’s the kind of moral I would be happy to see a daughter of mine glean from a fairy tale.  We also see a much more developed relationship between Cinderella and the Prince.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Related imageI read this story for the first time about a year ago and fell in love with the creativity of this retelling.  First, it’s a sci-fi take on the story (Cinder is a cyborg), and it actually has some pretty cool biological concepts in it.  It also has a lot in common with Sailor Moon.

The romance is slow and sweet; how can you not love Prince Kai?  I also liked that there is not really one specific Fairy Godmother in this story; Cinder makes it to the ball with her own willpower (and a little help from darling Iko the android).

Cinder is only the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series, and as such it does not have a happy ending.  Instead, it spins nicely into the other stories without being saccharine.  I also really liked how the series goes on to feature other great female characters from fairy tales, ending in an awesome team-up.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997)

My family had recorded this on VHS when it was on TV in 1997, and I can’t remember how many times we watched it as kids.  Brandy plus Whitney Houston is just a magical 90s combination.

This version, like the previous two mentioned above, also uses the idea of the Prince and Cinderella meeting once prior to the ball, which I always thought made more sense.

The songs may not be on par with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best, but they do the job, and the cast really breathes life into them.  My personal favorite is “Ten Minutes Ago,” sung by Cinderella and the Prince at the ball.  The dancing scenes are also fun, and the actors play up the comedy throughout nicely.

Speaking of the cast, I love the racial diversity here.  We have black, white, and Asian characters, sometimes all in the same family.  Of course, the story does not address this fact in any way, but visually it’s nice to see that representation.

Ever After

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Before Disney’s big screen, live action version a few years ago, the Cinderella movie crown was unquestionably held by Ever After, which is apparently appropriately subtitled “A Cinderella Story.”  This version grounds itself in real life by taking place in Renaissance France, with a framing story about the Grimm Brothers collecting European fairy tales.

Our main character Danielle has dreams, but she also has nerve and ambition.  She is one of the boldest Cinderellas I can think of, pretending to be a courtier as well as standing up to gypsies.  She is also very well-read thanks to her father, being able to quote Utopia.  I think my favorite part of this version is that Leonardo da Vinci serves the role of fairy godmother in helping Danielle get to the ball.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Image result for ella enchantedFor me, this is the book that started my entire love of fairy tale retellings.  I still re-read it, even now, most often going back to my favorite part: the letters that Char and Ella write to each other while he is away in Ayortha.

In this version, Ella is not obedient of her own accord; no, she has been cursed to be obedient (the fairy who bestowed this trait called it a gift!).  Ella must do anything that anyone commands her to do.  This, of course, nearly ruins her life, and the lives of her friends, so she sets out to break her curse and is able to overcome it in the end.  The story actually has a lot to say about autonomy and free will, which is pretty deep stuff for a children’s book; I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so beloved.

Even as it adds to the original tale, it stays close to its origins, using devices like Ella’s fairy godmother, the glass slippers, pumpkin carriage, and three nights of balls.  Plus, this book has everything you could want from a children’s fairy tale: magic curses, fantasy creatures like fairies, elves, ogres, and centaurs, made-up languages, and an adorable main couple.

There is also a movie version of Ella Enchanted, starring Anne Hathaway, that is delightful, but aside from the basic premise does not have that much in common with the novel.

I couldn’t let it go with just five this time, so here are some Honorable Mentions:

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Image result for princess of glassThis story is the sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball, itself a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”  The main character is Princess Poppy of Westfalin, who is just awesome, with so much humor and spunk.  But she is not really the Cinderella character; though Poppy does stand in for her once, the real Cinderella, Eleanora, is a side character and the Cinderella story is really more of a side plot.  I liked that it is a bit darker; for example, the fairy godmother is not good, and the molten glass is poured on the girls’ feet to make the slippers.

Another Cinderella Story

I will be honest: this is objectively not a great movie.  But I just love it anyways!  I guess I am just a sucker for dance movies.  Selena Gomez stars as an aspiring dancer who falls for a famous teen pop star after they dance together incognito.  The dance numbers are awesome, and the songs are stupidly catchy.  And how can you not love Jane Lynch?  She is hilarious as a has-been pop star in the evil stepmother role.  I like it way better than the first movie in the series with Hilary Duff, and the two movies after it get progressively worse.

Cinderella (Prokofiev)

Did you know there is a ballet version of Cinderella?  I danced in it when I was younger, as a “court lady,” aka part of the corps de ballet.  (My costume was a long maroon dress…maroon is a terrible color for redheads.)  The score by Prokofiev is very nice, though not as memorable as, say, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.  There are several versions of choreography (I don’t know which my company did), but the story is very classic.

What is your favorite version of Cinderella?  One of these, or a similar story from another culture?