31 March 2012


Locus Focus: Take Sixty-Seven


When I did the "last desert of the month" last Saturday, it completely slipped my mind that I had an extra Saturday for March.That's just as well, though, because something else I forgot to do was to tell everyone what the next theme is.

I was going to hold out until May because taking Holy Week off will mean getting only three Saturdays in April--and I want at least four for each Locus Focus challenge. Giving it some more thought, though, I realised I could give this Saturday to it, too, and get my desired total anyway. So here I present a setting that blends both this month's desert theme and next month's Settings in Song challenge.

29 March 2012


Reading Diary: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.

Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch--this is the Capitol's way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear: "Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do . . ."

If there was any doubt in my mind that I had become the newest Censor Librorum on the block blog(osphere), it completely vanished the other night, when a second friend asked me whether it was all right to let her eleven year old daughter read Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games.

Given the kind of questions I'm asked and the kind of answers I give, however, I think that the name of my new office should be spelled S-E-N-S-O-R. What can make or break a book for me is almost never something explicitly stated: it's either between the lines of the text or part of the bigger picture in which the book is a small detail. In this instance, it was the bigger picture that kept me from reading The Hunger Games for almost two years.

27 March 2012


Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 8

Remember those 2011 reading challenges I signed up for and then seemed to forget before we were halfway done with the year? Yeah, well, it didn't actually happen that way . . .

The year got off to a great start: I had a great time reading a Victorian classic and serendipitiously stumbled upon an 80s YA novel that seemed to match up to it perfectly. I had every confidence that I could replicate the experience with the next book on the Victorian list and the 80s/90s partner I would inevitably find for it . . . but it was not to be.

26 March 2012


McFly Monday: Introducing Carrie

This post was supposed to be a review of a McFly album . . . but then Tom Fletcher's younger sister Carrie shared her new song Running through Rivers with the world, and I happily let myself get distracted.

If you can recommend a contemporary YA Romance
with a plot at all like this song and its video,
then I might actually read it!

The books are Starter for Ten and The Understudy, both by David Nicholls, Carrie's favourite author. I'd really like to try them now (if only for the McFly connection--LOL!), but my existing reading commitments don't really give me room for a new project.

Not that something like that ever stopped me before . . .

25 March 2012


Reading Diary: Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry

"Why did you have to give me the name Anastasia? None of the other kids can spell it, so when they have to vote for somebody by secret ballot, nobody ever votes for me. Like when I was nominated for Class Secretary, only four people voted for me and the other twenty-two people voted for Mary Ellen Bailey."

"The reason they didn't vote for you is because the Class Secretary has to have good handwriting. And your handwriting looks like hieroglyphics," said her father, looking up from the newspaper. "That time you tried to forge an absence excuse, you got caught right away, remember, because no parent--no adult, in fact--would get caught dead with handwriting like that."

"No adult would get caught dead with a name like Anastasia," Anastasia muttered . . .

A friend recently e-mailed me to ask whether some Young Adult titles his eleven year old daughter had expressed interest in reading were appropriate for her. I took one look at the list and quietly freaked out.

All of them were hugely popular YA novels from the last ten years--and all of them were the equivalent of that "hyperpalatable" junk food we can't stop eating once we start, that is making us obese and that is available everywhere. (So you still don't believe we live in a dystopia?) I dashed off a reply in which I explained, in detail, why I wouldn't give those books to a baboon, and promised to come up with better recommendations for his daughter.

But while it's easy to say why a book is "bad" (i.e., how it has crossed the line every parent is entitled to draw for his child), it's trickier to explain that a book is "good" (i.e., worth reading anyway, no matter how many "problematic" elements it also has). And it is "good" books I want to recommend--not merely "clean" books. The absence of questionable content is not the same as literary merit.

So what do I do when a book has both quesitonable content and literary merit, like Anastasia Krupnik does?

24 March 2012


Locus Focus: Take Sixty-Six

This month's exploration of deserts didn't seem very promising at the beginning. I was fairly sure this was one theme I wouldn't be able to stretch over four Saturdays. What was there to be said, I wondered, about settings where nothing ever seems to happen (and hardly anything ever gets to live)? How naive I was!

Since then, I've read Louis Sachar's Holes and seen that deserts are the perfect stage for Westerns, some of the most action-packed stories ever told . . . revisited H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and admitted that deserts are an essential arena in any archeological adventure . . . and peeked into Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and realised that deserts are to Science-Fiction what fantastic islands are to seafaring stories. (Hmmm. Locus Focus hasn't been on board a ship yet, has it?) I'm a little sad to be on my last desert of the month.

23 March 2012


Friday Night Movie: Eddie and the Cruisers

0:09 The anticipation during the last few moments before a concert begins can be so magical.
0:45 Ah, miming . . . This would actually fit right in on Top of the Pops circa 1983. LOL!
2:00 In the summer of '63, On the Dark Side was the Number 1 song in the country. I don't know much about 60s music outside of The Beatles, but I did enough research to understand why the idea that this song would have charted at that point in pop history is either the most unbelievable joke ever . . . or the split-off point into a credible parallel universe.
2:53 Good music can live forever but the people behind it never do. =(
2:58 They'd better cut the exposition soon or this will get boring.
3:14 What about the idea that Eddie's still alive? Probably inspired by Elvis Lives", it rivals even "Paul Is Dead".
4:00 Now I'm embarrassed to admit I know nothing about Arthur Rimbaud.
4:39 But was there a "Rimbaud Lives" conspiracy theory during the twenty years he was off the grid?
4:55 Oooooooooh!!! That's good enough for this Lit major.
5:09 Satin Records? I'm reminded of that time I watched (failed morality play) Moulin Rouge and thought Satine was an allegory for Satan. (And I'm not alone, right? . . . Right???)
5:47 Only a handful of people ever know the happiness of hearing something they've put their heart and soul into being played on the radio. Lucky jerks.
6:35 From Wild Summer Nights (which actually does sound 60s) to the grind of another school year (now in the 80s). Very deft use of the soundtrack.
6:48 I may not know my Rimbaud, but I'd recognise William Wordsworth anywhere! =D
7:04 So . . . what's Wordsworth getting at? Your life, Mr. Ridgeway? =P
7:57 Del Shannon? Really? I guess actual 60s hits are necessary for the audience's sake.
8:20 For the record (Pun not intended), Shannon's Runaway went to Number 1 in 1961.
8:51 Why, Mr. Ridgeway! I hardly recognised you!
9:48 Tell Tony "Eddie and the Cruisers" are here. This is actually a really classic moment. If the band had really existed, this is how the same point in their history would have been filmed.

21 March 2012


Wednesday Night Trailer: "Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!"

I always said (to myself) that I'd bring Friday Night Movie back if I ever ran into something cheesy enough to be worth the effort of live blogging.

My first choice was The Boondock Saints (because I find it hysterical that ethnically Irish characters would be described as "boondock"--and because it's nice to feature Catholic stuff during Lent); but I knew I'd set it aside if I found something from the 80s or the Horror genre to do instead. And well, The Boondock Saints didn't stand a chance next to Eddie and the Cruisers.

19 March 2012


Reading Diary: BSC #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey by Ann M. Martin

. . . Mary Anne is Kristy's best friend and Claudia is mine, but it's funny the way things work out. Mary Anne and I were going to be spending the next two weeks together. I was a little nervous about it. We are so different. Mary Anne is really shy; I'm pretty straightforward. Mary Anne is kind of young; I'm sophisticated. Mary Anne has no interest in boys; I had a couple of boyfriends in seventh grade.

As if reading my mind, Claudia said to me, "Are you ready for the Pikes, Stace?"

"I hope so," I replied. "I've never spent two weeks with eight kids before. At least I'll have Mary Anne to help me."

There's a great deal of telling and very little showing in the above passage, but that's typical of the first chapters of juvenile series books. Virtually all exposition so that the reader can get caught up, they don't give way to "Show, don't tell" writing until the second chapter. But it's not until the fifth chapter of this eighth Baby-sitters Club novel that we see how mismatched new Stacey McGill and Mary Anne Spier are.

I refer to the scene in which they compare swimsuits. Stacey's new bikini is bright yellow and "very skimpy," with little bows and the top part "filled out pretty nicely" (LOL!); Mary Anne's older bathing suit is white and pale blue, with a top that is "not filled out at all." Guess which one took one look at the other and declared she would wear jeans and a t-shirt to the beach. These two are probably the most unlikely pair out of everyone else in the BSC . . . which is probably why Ann M. Martin decided to throw them together as mother's helpers, in isolation from everyone else, for two whole weeks.

17 March 2012


Locus Focus: Take Sixty-Five

Who knew that the desert could be such an amazing setting? This really should have been a proper themed challenge, promoted way in advance. I'm no longer putting up linkies, but if anyone has published a Locus Focus post about a desert setting, please let me know so that I can link to it! =)

So far, we've seen what deserts might mean in a coming-of-age novel and in an adventure story. There is at least one other genre in which big barren settings are just as a big deal, though in a very different way.

15 March 2012


Theme Thursday 5

Something I missed a couple of weeks ago was that March is also "Pick What You See First" month for Theme Thursdays. It's a way to keep things simple for everyone--which I do appreciate, even as I insist on making my own life a little more complex.

What follows isn't the first snippet in the book to satisfy the theme, but it is the first of the sort I had in mind. I think that should count for something. (Right?)

This Week's Theme:

14 March 2012


Poems for Play and . . . Penance?

Christmas Sparkle letter W ampersand & Q
telephone button number 1 IMG_0066

Last week I made a little joke about writing penitential poems. And apparently, I was the only one who knew it was a joke. But even then, I hadn't guessed it would be a joke on me! (Typical.)

Two sets of prompts that came in seemed tailored to the theme, and the player who sent in the most "generic" pair still had to ask more questions to be clear on what we were doing. I wish I had said, "In this game, we do whatever works . . ."

Here's what worked for me this month . . .

13 March 2012


Tutor Tales, Volume 35

This week, I've been helping Star Shaker write her last book report of the year. She usually doesn't mind writing the first drafts on her own and having me look them over and give suggestions later, but there was one question she needed extra help brainstorming a paragraph for.

"Why did you choose to write your report on this book?"

You see, the truthful answer is: "A friend had a copy of the Korean translation that she lent me so that I didn't have to read it in English." LOL!!!

But of course she doesn't want her teacher to know that--not after she spent the first few months of the school year arguing that she could survive outside the ESL classes and take regular English along with most of her classmates. =P

Her brother, on the other hand, is not having such an easy time thinking up ways to cope with classes in English.

12 March 2012


Twelve Things about Moneyball

12. Do you know what the Bechtel Test is? It's a gauge used to determine the relevance of women characters in a movie. There are three simple criteria: a) at least two women characters who have names; b) who talk to each other; c) and who discuss something other than men. It's kind of ridiculous, and I'm glad the husband of one of my friends explained why so that I don't have to. (See My Beef with the Bechtel Test.)

Anyway, Moneyball fails the Bechtel Test big time. (But whatever, right?)

11. I really, really like (male) character Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A's. I like him so much that I almost wish he were completely fictional--so that nothing the real Beane ever does in real life (or never did in the movie) would have a chance to get in the way of this portrayal.

10. But my favourite (male) character is probably Peter Brand. He's just adorable. I'd like to watch his first scene again, paying closer attention to the dynamics in the crowded room. Maybe I just don't understand how men size each other up (You think??? LOL!), but my guess, when Beane went looking for him after the meeting, was that Beane was upset that Brand had blocked a deal Beane had been trying to make and was going to growl at him or something. What happened next took me by surprise, although I really liked it.

10 March 2012


Locus Focus: Take Sixty-Four

Last week, inspired by the Lenten season to look at desert settings in literature, I asked the question of why anyone would want to go into the desert . . . and found a couple of answers in the parched and purgatorial Camp Green Lake.

There's another great one in one of the best novels I read last year . . .

09 March 2012


Twelve Things about Final Destination 5

12. "What's the only thing we can't recycle, Pete?" asks his impatient boss.

"Wasted time, sir," Pete replies, unaware that they are in a Horror franchise that is all about the recycling of time. (Nice touch, writers!)

11. Not all thoughts about Death are automatically morbid. Inasmuch as it is one of the Four Last Things, as long as we have the other three in the mix as well, we ought to be fine.

While it seems that the main problem with the Final Destination franchise is that it puts all the emphasis on Death and doesn't even hint that there are three other "destinations" even more final . . . that is also exactly what drives the Horror.

10. The first FD movie nearly gave Death some anthropomorphic form and personality--which would have been a huge mistake. Death as an impersonal, inexorable, yet paradoxically vengeful force? There's your ultimate killer!

But you'd have to get the atmosphere just right . . . which the first film did . . . and which this does not.

07 March 2012


Poems for the Penitent

I can't be the only one who has missed our monthly game of procrastination poetry!

Don't worry that our March theme is "penitence." I'm just very aware that we're in the middle of Lent and I liked the alliteration in the title. (But you may, of course, be as penitent as you like in your own poem, if that is what you want.)

Get your entries in by 10 March. (My e-mail address is on my Blogger profile.) I'll shuffle them and send back your new prompts on 11 March.

My poem will go up on 14 March and everyone else will have until 28 March to post their own.

All clear? =)

06 March 2012


These Dreams: Dreaming of Him

If this were another sort of blog, I'd have weekly posts on The Voice of Ireland, a new "reality" singing competition I've been hooked on these days. (I can only get selected clips off the official YouTube channel, but I don't mind . . . too much.)

As expected, I started watching for Kian Egan, and thought that if I were auditioning and proved good enough to get all four judges pitching to me, I'd choose him for his solid Pop background alone. (I mean, what other genre in the world would I be all right to sing?) But then I started listening to Bressie's Pop-informed Alternative music and reliving the time I loved Sharon Corr as the violinist of the folksy Rock band The Corrs, and realised it wouldn't be that simple.

Not that I'll ever be in a position to have any of them for a vocal coach, but based on Sharon's motherly demeanor with contestants and her unpretentious (if also unimpressive) solo effort Dream of You, I'd want to be on her team.

03 March 2012


Locus Focus: Take Sixty-Three

Believe me when I say that I am as shocked as you are that Locus Focus is back.

Thanks to the alignment of the stars the right book and the right time, I found myself with a great setting for the season. It also has the potential to be a proper theme, but I'm not sure at this point if I'll be able to find three other books, over three weeks, with a new twist on the same setting.

01 March 2012


Theme Thursday 4

It's been so long since I did a meme that I can't think of a proper introduction! So let me just say that this book is what I started and finished this week and that I'm really pleased that it turned out to be such a great fit for the current theme.

Oh, I should also mention that there will be a new Locus Focus post this Saturday! =P

This Week's Theme: