Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Books to check out

It's been a while since I posted any book reviews, but trust me, I have been reading constantly.  A lot of what I've been reading either isn't out yet, or isn't available in paperback, but that shouldn't stop you from taking note of it, or finding it in hardcover or ebook (no seriously, please keep buying physical books!). 
Those Across the River (on sale 9/6/11) is a mystery with a fantastical bent.  You don't have to be into werewolf books to read it, because the setting, characters, and mystery are compelling enough on their own, but that element is also present for those who like a dose of un-reality.  It is a fast read, set in Georgia in a slow-moving town in the period between world wars.  Everyone is dirt poor, very Christian, and afraid to remain in the woods across the river after dark.  It doesn't take long to figure out what they are afraid of, even if they aren't sure what it is.  Quick and entertaining, this is a fun book.

The Magician King (on sale 8/9/11) is the sequel to last year's triumphant original, The Magicians.  You absolutely do need to read the first book first, as the second picks up right where we left off, assuming you already know these characters and their history.  For those not familiar, these are magical books for a non-Harry Potter audience, which isn't to say that you can't enjoy both, as an adult (not suitable for children).  Here, the magicians curse and drink and fornicate while mastering complicated spells and using them to gain fortune and other earthly rewards.  This second book is divided between the stories of two characters: Quentin, the title character we followed through magic school in the first book, and Julia, his high school friend who I had all but forgotten by the end of the first book, and had to refresh my memory about. The story in the "present" is Quentin's, in which Julia plays a role, as the magicians travel all across Fillory, their magical kingdom ala Narnia, and beyond on a quest. The other story is that of Julia's past, what happened to her while Quentin was off at Brakebills earning a first class magical education. I found the story of her struggle to learn magic at any cost more intriguing, but that may be my taste for the sadistic side of life in literature.  Once again, the end is left open for a sequel.

On a completely different note, You Deserve Nothing (on sale 8/30/11) is a poignant and thoughtful book, told from three intertwining points of view. Set in Paris and revolving around a teacher and two students at the ISF, a school for Americans whose parents are stationed in France, you are wrapped in a feeling of being out of place. Most of the students don't speak French, and there is a Lost in Translation kind of aura to it.

Will, a divorced teacher in his early 30s, wants badly to inspire his students, though he himself is uninspired. Marie, a girl of about 17, is used to living in the shadow of her best friend and worst enemy, Ariel, and wants to be seen and loved by someone on her own merits. And Gilad wants to fit in somewhere, wants to be Parisian and to please his favorite teacher and to have the courage to stand up to his father.
As Will's class studies existentialism, all of these characters find that they have to compromise in a world unsuited to idealists and dreamers.

If you haven't already heard about A Discovery of Witches (currently available, or on sale in paperback 12/27/11), get on it!  Yes, their are witches, vampires, and daemons, but their are also wonderfully detailed descriptions, eccentric and endearing characters, and an underlying commentary on prejudice and bigotry.  I don't know one person who hasn't enjoyed this book, including those who don't tend toward fantasy.  It's a story of clashing fantastical factions, of history, and of the forbidden romance between a witch and a vampire.  I dare you not to like it.  We are all salivating for the sequel. 

The Death Instinct (available now, or in paperback 1/3/12) does not have a single magical or fantastical creature.  It is a compelling historical novel, propelled by strong characters and a central mystery. The book opens with the first terrorist attack on American soil: a bombing on Wall Street in 1920. The country is in a post-war dysphoria, heightened by prohibition, and eager to elect a new president in the first election after granting women’s suffrage. Against this backdrop, New York Police Captain Littlemore and his friend Dr. Younger attempt to piece together how this bombing was planned. But Dr. Younger has another mystery to solve: who is out to get his friend (and love interest) Collette Rousseau, a Frenchwoman he met during the war and brought back to the States, along with her mute little brother, Luc. Rubenfeld also treats us to period cameos by Freud and Marie Curie.  This book held my interest and had me trying to keep up with Littlemore’s instincts, while hoping for Younger and Collette to finally get together.  I highly recommend this one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sense that should be more common

There are a lot of things that we assume everyone knows. 2+2=4, the capital of the US is Washington DC, 1 cup of liquid is 8ozs, etc. If I've already lost you, time to do a little studying. But there are plenty of other little lessons you learn not from school but from life itself. Recently, I've noticed that some people seem to have missed out on these things.

For instance, walking in to work the other day, I saw a girl who had not cut the stitch that held the kick pleat of her skirt together. For those who are unaware, stores stitch up kick pleats so that they will fold more neatly and they won't be ripped when people try the skirts on. They also stitch up the pockets on jackets often, to keep people from putting anything gross (like a tissue or gum) inside of them. These are threads that are meant to be cut when you buy the garment and take it home. Don't worry: the rest of the piece of clothing will not unravel when you cut these threads.
Every year there are 4 months with 30 days and 7 months with 31 days. The only month that changes is February, which is usually 28 days, but every four years, is 29.
George Washington's white horse was in fact white.

There are 50 states in the USA, and 48 are contiguous. This does not mean that if you were born in one of the other 2, you are not a US citizen (ahem, tea-baggers).

On an airplane, you are supposed to turn off your cell phone, or at least put it in "airplane mode." This is not so much to prevent equipment malfunctions and keep the plane from crashing as it is to prevent your fellow passengers from using the phone to beat you to death for talking loudly about personal matters in a confined space. The same can be applied to elevators, buses, and trains. You don't have to turn your phone off, just let it go to voicemail, or quickly explain that you will call the person back when you are alone. The moral of this one is simple: Don't be a dick.

Not all firemen are attractive. Not all military men are gentlemen. Equally, not all flight attendants are attractive and not all librarians are lady-like.

If someone comes up to you on the street or in a lobby and asks if you want to take a Stress Test, the answer is no. This is code for being inducted into Scientology. (click link for South Park hilarity)

When buying a gift, you are meant to think of what the recipient wants, not what you would want if you were them, because you are not them. Don't think, if I were an 8 year old, I'd really want a pogo stick. It's 2011, 8 year olds don't even know what those are. There is no shame in A- asking someone what they want (or a close friend, significant other, etc), or B- using a gift guide. There are a lot out there: Amazon, gifts.com, plus lots of special interest ones and even more Holiday special ones. And if the gift is for a wedding, that is what the registry is for! Trust me (as someone who likes gifts but has never organized a wedding), people do spend time picking out what they want just so you won't have to. If you are a close friend and have something sentimental you know they will love, by all means go with your instincts. Most of the time, it's safest to stick to wish lists.

A Shirley Temple is alcohol-free. A Shirley Temple Black is not.

A greenhouse is made of glass, therefore is clear, not green.

Chuck Norris is a real person.

Contrary to popular belief, the sidewalk is not yours alone. You do have to leave space for other people to pass by you and your friends or significant other or dog. On a similar note, when your dog leaves something behind on the sidewalk, it is your responsibility to pick it up. No one wants to step in it because you think it's gross or you already used your baggy. This is what you signed up for when you got a dog in an urban area. (Also your responsibility: making sure the toilet flushes all the way after you use it).

The plural of cul de sac is culs de sac. Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. And for the love of books, please learn the difference between there, their, and they're.