Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

What: The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire
Where: Manheim, PA
When: I go every autumn -- it's open every weekend in August, September and October




HUZZAH!

I absolutely love Ren Faire. I make it a point, yearly, to visit one of the various fairs we have in the Virginia area and surrounding states. The first date I ever went on with my boyfriend was, in fact, to a ren faire. It's a magical place and appeals to the little kid that is still a part of me. Gosh, if only I could have gone as a child, it would have been a fantasy land. So while I can have my pick of faires to go to, my absolute favorite is the Pennsylvania Ren Faire. 

Located in Manheim, Pennsylvania, just outside of Hershey (yes, like the candy) in the middle of Amish country is the Shire. The Shire is a permanent town on the land of the Mount Hope Winery where Ren Faire is celebrated each year (as well as an assortment of other events through out the spring and summer--more events are done at the winery itself through out the colder parts of the year). The Shire holds a stable town with little houses that provide food, clothing, items for purchase and entertainment. Staffed by a slew of people who are all dressed in period garb, you quickly are sent back in time once you enter the gates to the Shire.




Each weekend has a different theme, so while I've been to a number I haven't been to them all. If you're thinking about going, check out what the weekend themes are for the year, but really--every weekend is fun so please don't let the theme make you give up on a weekend that you can visit. Also, buy your tickets online for a discount. There's also, typically, coupons at various chain joints (I've seen them at Burger King in the past and this year we snagged some coupons at a Turkey Hill gas station) or discounts if you show up in costume. Basically, the price is nearly $30 per person for the day but there are many, many avenues you can take for a cheaper ticket and if I had to pay a full $30 I would still go because it's well worth your money.

I am one of those faire goers who enjoys dressing up. Whether it's in an outfit I've put together or one I've rented, I love getting in costume. This is pretty typical for all faires but for many, you don't quite fall down the rabbit hole as you do for the PA faire. At the Pennsylvanian faire, actors roam the streets and often interact with customers. I seriously can't go down a path without seeing an actor interacting with a group of people. They're always pleasant, fun, a little bit raunchy for the adults and sweet, SO SWEET, to children. If you dress up, you're even more likely to have interaction with the actors, even if it's as small as a curtsey.


The various themes I've been to have been the wine harvest festival, Oktoberfest, children's fantasy weekend, and myths and legends. My experience at Oktoberfrest was probably the most unique. We were surrounded by drunk German men singing songs while swinging beer steins back and forth all as it torrentially rained. The Shire had rivers of water running along the (paved) sidewalks and many people were hiding from the storm. It didn't give up so people ate and drank some more until, eventually, the faire closed early.

So that was a shame, we only got to experience the smallest amount of the faire before we were booted due to the weather, but the faire gave us tickets to return to the festival during the season without having to pay the ticket price again. Awesome!


Generally speaking, I really enjoy going to the faire in October. It's a bit chillier and wearing a full outfit isn't quite so hard. The leaves are full of color and there's that autumn scent to the air. Bread bowls full of soup and hot cider is at hand and it just seems more perfect.

The best thing about the faire is that you can easily spend the entire day there (11 am - 8 pm) and not get bored. There are multiple scheduled events going on at different locations, as well as a game area where you can try to throw an ax or shoot arrows, and even a few "historic" rides. The entertainment is the real fun, though. Beside entertainment performed by the actors of the faire (all are pretty hilarious), there are also the seasonal guests who will do performances here and there.


A few favorite forms of entertainment? The peasant dance, which I'm not sure if they still have but it's a blast. You get to partake in a dance class with some of the actors! The human chess match is essential and always fun. Drama, fighting, chess! There's so much going on and it always is the prelude to the day's final joust, which leads me to my favorite moment of entertainment: the final joust.


The PA Ren Faire goes all the way with the final joust. You have, obviously, quite a bit of jousting but then there's dramatics! Fighting, blood, explosions, it's lively and exciting! Maybe don't take your babies or small children who are afraid of loud noises, but it's a blast for kids and adults alike.


When we take a look at the food options, they're pretty hilarious and generally not "historic." Mac and cheese, for instance is sold here. There used to be Chinese food and pizza and it very well may still be there but I've never gone looking for it. I always go for the sandwiches, soup bowls, and turkey legs which are all fabulous and so, so good.

The mead and wine the festival offers is also top notch. I mean, it comes directly from the winery the Shire is located at!

Protips:


  • If you're trying to get the best experience for the final joust (the seating area fills up QUICK so if you are trying to get a close and personal experience, it's worth getting there early), leave someone in your party to save your seat at the jousting field and bit by bit, go get your dinner. Eat it at the joust field and by the time you're finished eating the joust will be kicking into gear. 




  • Another pro-tip, bring little hand wipes if you plan to eat turkey legs. There are working bathrooms at the faire (well, for women. Men's bathrooms are a little less refined) but the turkey legs are MESSY and if you plan to make your way to the bathroom to wash up, you may find it a lot less frustrating or sticky to just wipe off with some hand wipes first. 
  • There's also a severe problem with yellow jackets. These buggers are everywhere and can be very aggressive. Don't eat close to the trash cans, they like hanging out there. It seems the more remote of a place I go to eat, the less I'm bothered by the bugs. I have a particular dislike for them as I may or may not be allergic to them (my mother swells up and I have yet to be stung, so we'll see) but the fact that they're so insistent to get to your food is a bit unnerving. This year, they began selling sippy cups with lids for mead which has been a marvelous help. The yellow jackets love meade but with the covers, they aren't as attracted as they used to be and left me alone!
  • Wear comfy shoes! There's a lot of walking up and down minor hills. Everything is paved, so it's very wheelchair friendly, but it can be hard on feet during a full day. 




  • Dress up! There's a costume rental if you're so inclined but also plenty of shops where people sell costume pieces if you want an established costume you can come back to each year. There are plenty of places to get your hair braided or little flower crowns, even tiny dragons to wear on your shoulder or pointed ears. Bring some money (or a credit card) and have a blast! It's like adult Halloween every weekend from August through October so enjoy it! Also, don't be surprised if you see half-undressed people in the parking lot. A lot of people get into their costumes there because who wants to drive three hours while wearing a corset?



On that note, I'll see you soon, Ren Faire! I'll be there in October for one of the Halloween Daze and Spooky Knights weekends.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Blankets

I first was introduced to Blankets through Tumblr. A beautiful cover, a beautiful spine, it was often in photos of blue-gray mornings, comfortable quilts, a sleepy cat and snowy skies. A candle would flicker by it and the imagery just welcomed me in. Come, read this, the photos said. Relax, find comfort, you're in for pleasure and peace. I assumed it was a book due to its thick size but upon searching for it on Goodreads, I realized it was a graphic novel. I haven't much experience with graphic novels: I've read a few here and there but I certainly wouldn't say it's a large percent of my reading. To be fair, I've begun reading more graphic novels recently, but that's only a very recent change in my reading temperament. It made me pause, uncertain if I'd like to read it, but just as soon as I posed that question to myself, I shot it down. Of course I want to read it.

And then I didn't. I didn't read it for years. The book sat on my TBR list and I would swoon over every cozy photo where the book was displayed. "Right, Blankets. I really need to read that." I would see it at comic shops while out and about and think it again. "I should buy this, but it's over $30. I could buy two books for this price." So continued this cycle for years.

Over the summer, I visited my local Barnes and Noble and discovered they had performed an overhaul of the store, rearranging where everything was and making me utterly confused. B (the beau) and I have "date nights" and the book store that are pretty straight forward: we go to the store and immediately separate. He goes to sci-fi and I meander from section to section. Eventually, we find each other (usually I track him down in sci-fi) and review the books we have before checking out and heading home. These are some of the best dates. I love it. We're together but in our own worlds and it's awesome. But I digress, on this particular bookstore date I was left meandering not due to browsing over various titles I wanted, but because I had no idea where anything was. Up and down aisles I was making mental notes of where various subjects had been placed, and eventually I found myself in a graphic novel row. 

I honestly couldn't tell you with 100% accuracy where the graphic novels were before this. I sent in requests for the Graveyard books so that all I had to do was pick them up at the front of the store. But now, graphic novels were right next to fiction. There had been a lot of talk recently about graphic novels that found its way into my life and grabbed my interest, I mean, Thor being a woman? Yes, please.

But on this particular trip, rather than speeding through the graphic novels section, I lingered. I looked over the different graphic novels and eventually remembered Blankets. It was always relatively large in the comic book stores so surely I'd find it in these shelves of thin books. I didn't search long before finding a beautiful hardcover copy of Blankets--the only copy the store had. I grabbed it, looked at the price, and groaned. It was so pricey, was it worth it?

So I found B over in the sci-fi section (one of the few areas that hadn't been rearranged) and showed him the book. "I've wanted to read this for years but it's sort of expensive. I don't know if I should get it." He looked at the book, looked at me, and replied, "Get it." It was decided.

We went home and I settled onto the couch with a cozy blanket and opened the book up. Immediately, I dove in and four hours later, I closed the book after reading the final page.

This isn't unheard of and I assume it's quite common for people when they read graphic novels, but I always fly through them. I think it helps that there's a lot of picture viewing and not as much text to read. It's visual and, for me, that doesn't take as long as reading worded descriptions of visuals. Often enough, I'll go back and reread graphic novels, or just flip from page to page and gaze at each photo.

Most of the scenes in Blankets happen during the winter and I want, badly, to read this again during a snowstorm (come on El Nino, bring us some snow this winter! Give me a white Christmas!). Our writer, Craig, begins the story by introducing himself and his younger brother, as well as their various antics while they were little and shared a bedroom. They grow and become teenagers, sent to Bible camps and dealing with the typical teenage woes.

Craig is awkward and somewhat of a loner. He's an artist, always drawing away, but he's also quite religious. These two things could go hand in hand but Craig begins to feel guilty about his artwork, that it's taking away from serving God, and he pushes it to the side to focus on religion even more.

Every Christmas vacation, he goes to one of the church camps and meets a girl. Quickly, they develop feelings for one another. They grow close and a long-distance relationship blooms. Where the book takes place, Wisconsin, winter lasts a bit longer than it does here in Virginia so it could seem like a blip of a thing when in actuality the story spans out over time. But Craig goes to Michigan to visit his "sort of" girlfriend and they become closer than ever before.

I really love that much of this book has the most pivotal moments happening in bed. Secrets are shared, memories made, and all while nestled around blankets. The title is very appropriate but it gives you a cozy feeling of looking at your past and the events that unfolded which made you the person you are today.

Craig's life isn't necessarily easy. As I mentioned, he's a teenager. What teenager's life is easy? But he's a teenager who begins to question his faith and that's something I certainly identify with and witnessed. I was raised Catholic and as a teen, I witnessed all of my friends who were also Catholic begin to question their faith. Some continued with the religion, others faded away, some stopped believing completely. I think it's totally understandable for teens to question their beliefs and it's an honest depiction in this book. Really, Craig's thoughts hit me right in the feels. It's all so similar it's almost painful.

Watching his relationship with his girlfriend grow then fade while his relationship with his brother is reflected by how close they were as kids to practically strangers as teens was an interesting comparison. The presentation of both reflected the stages of relationships and how one went out of fashion while another became prominent.

It's all just so... lovely. I may not have been going to Bible camps as a child or taking trips to see a girlfriend. I wasn't a teenage boy. Yet... I identified with this and it settled in my heart. I got it, I got the emotions and all that was going on, and teenage years are so horrible yet so memorable--the author got that.

Last Week's Review:
 Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry
Next Week's Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Month in Reviews -- August

August has been a blast but I'm quickly reminded, each day, that summer is coming to its end. I love autumn, it's by far my favorite season, but summer is my second favorite season. I haven't enjoyed it as much in Virginia--the heat is too much, the humidity strangling, and the bugs are a constant problem--but this summer has been cooler than most. Maybe it's due to the cooler temperatures and heavy rains we had earlier this summer that we're already seeing trees transitioning into their autumn wardrobes. It's odd--I've seen four autumns in Virginia and never have I witnessed colored leaves in August. This is something you see in New York, not here! At first I was excited but then I became a little apprehensive. I don't want autumn to rush on by and I hope that won't be the case.

But August also offered the best of summer adventures. Multiple baby showers, so many birthday parties I felt like I was drowning in cake, and a short staycation with a friend who visited. It was pretty awesome and I'm sad to see the days shortening. But, after the blast of autumn (my autumns are always insanely busy) winter will be here and I'm going to find a lot of weekends with nothing to do. I have to admit I'm a little excited at the prospect of getting bored. 

Let's jump back to the earlier mentioned staycation, though. For everyone who lives in the DC area they have, laughably, a set tour schedule for non-locals who visit. Mine just happens to involve a 11.5 mile walk to monuments and places of interest (sorry, visitors). Luckily, my friend who visited this summer (who actually submitted her reading nook a few months ago) was willing to walk all over the city and we saw countless things.


Of course, I took her to my favorite building in DC: the Library of Congress. I'm forever in love with this place. It's just absolutely beautiful and I can't get enough of it. I'm so happy to have gotten the chance to return to it -- the last time I visited was a day after I moved to Virginia!


We also visited all the famous monuments, ate some great local burgers, and had a bonus round of seeing President Obama get into his helicopter and peace out in the best way to skip over rush hour traffic. It really is a beautiful city and very impressive. I rarely go into the city now, other than for meetings, so it's always nice to have a moment to reflect on the views that so many people love.


The staycation didn't end there, we also went to the Pennsylvanian Renn Faire, drank mead, watched some jousting, and had a general jolly good time. It's one of my favorite faires and I try to make it there every year.


We also attended the Gettysburg Reenactment. It normally takes place during the Fourth of July holiday but the heavy rains we had earlier this summer postponed it to August. It was fun and informative, as always, and with little sunburn since we had a lot of cloud cover. 


I haven't been quite as active with the blog with school well under way. This month saw to my midterm and preparation for my next class. My workload is picking up at my job so I suspect I'll be even more sporadic when it comes to posts in the future. I do have a ton of book material to write about, so there's that. The struggle is finding the time to write out the reviews but I'm hopeful to get a bunch up and ready in the near future. Still, there were a number of blog posts ready to go on the blog and I was happy to provide. 

Book Reviews:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Other Posts:


Must Reads from the Web:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Summer 2015 Book Haul

Earlier this year, I had every intention of focusing solely on the books I've purchased in the past and have been planning to read. At first, I began to do just that and read a few books I had around, but then the bookstore called to me like a siren, and there my bank account drowned.

Okay, not really, but it was pretty close. 

I think it's safe to say that I have not, in any way, stuck to my goal of not buying books and reading the ones I already own. The spring was somewhat bad as I kept buying different books here and there but mainly downloading them to my Kindle. After all, where would I put the books? We have three tall book cases in our house (about 75% filled), plus two shorter cases (completely filled). With school coming into the picture, I suspected I would be buying more books and need space for them. So there wasn't any intention of buying more books as I haven't the room. I also always have in the back of my mind how utterly awful it is to move books and while we may not be moving any time soon, that memory of lugging books about is still there.


Then summer arrived in full force and I found myself drifting to the bookstore more frequently. For every stressful day, for every deadline I met, I would reward myself with a book. Not only that, but I often frequent my local Barnes and Noble cafe to do school work. Being a former bookseller, I know it can be irritating when someone basically takes over a portion of the cafe, bunkers down, and sits there for hours using the free WiFi but doesn't buy anything. You end up feeling a little used when they leave without a word or purchase. With that in mind, I always buy a drink and one cookie from the cafe, but most times I end up browsing for books afterward as well. It's the least I can do, I appreciate the atmosphere and I get large chunks of schoolwork done at the cafe.

But here we are, the end of summer already, and I realize just how many books I've gotten over the past few months. I know summer still technically has a few more weeks but I generally consider summer to be Memorial Day weekend-the end of August. Basically, the time period I used to be off for summer vacation.

I've been a part of Book Riot's adult and YA book boxes that come in quarterly which has significantly added to my book haul, but there's also the multiple bookstore trips and Amazon buying sprees. Ah, bookshelves, I'm sorry to fill you up so quickly when I said I wouldn't. 


So here's what I've bought. Title links are to reviews that have already been done for some of the books listed. Links to the right of the titles and authors bring you to sites to purchase the books yourself if you're interested!

Book Riot Quarterly

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour [Link]
A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith [Link]
Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi [Link]

Barnes and Noble Buys

Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George [Link]
Edward Scissorhands (Parts Unknown) by Kate Leth [Link]
Blankets by Craig Thompson [Link]
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson [Link]
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen [Link]
The Secret History by Donna Tartt [Link]
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry [Link]
Walden by Henry David Thoreau [Link]
Compulsion by Martina Boone [Link]
On Writing by Stephen King [Link]
Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory [Link]
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling (softcover) [Link]
The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1 by Jaimie Mckelvie and Kieron Gillen [Link]
The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 2 by Jaimie Mckelvie and Kieron Gillen [Link]

Amazon Buys

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee [Link]
Quiet by Susan Cain [Link]
Paper Towns by John Green [Link]
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater [Link]
Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge [Link]
A Little Maid of Old Connecticut by Alice Turner Curtis [Link]
A Little Maid of Old Virginia by Alice Turner Curtis [Link]
A Little Maid of Old New York by Alice Turner Curtis [Link]
A Little Maid of Old Massachusetts Colony by Alice Turner Curtis [Link]
Heidi by Johanna Spyri [Link]
A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett [Link]
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery [Link]
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott [Link]
Pilgrim on Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard [Link]


Thirty-one books purchased, four were gifts, four were repeated copies (I already own Harry Potter in hardcover and wanted a copy that could be banged up; I had The Raven Boys on my Kindle but wanted the hardcover copy; my mother has copies of A Little Princess and Little Women that are absolutely gorgeous and I don't want to injure them more than my tiny hands did when I was little and reading the books, so I bought my own copies), and I've already read eighteen of the books on the list... leaving thirteen still unread. Actually, not all bad. I was sure I wouldn't have read half of what I bought but that's a surprise. 

Am I going to sit down and read all of these books and NOT buy more? Uh... I'm not making any promises.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Peter and the Starcatchers

For any book lover, asking them to name their favorite book will typically lead to gasps and sighs as the reader tries their hardest to pick just one. It's nearly impossible and I find that often when faced with that type of question, I usually end up listing a bunch of books, "Well, this is my favorite children's book, but this was my favorite book as a child. Then again, I loved this book when I was a preteen so that's nearly my teen  years yet I was still a child so maybe this counts? But I love them both..." For all my struggle, there has always been a pretty consistent list of books that I have always loved. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie is one of those books. I have loved that book since I first read it and have always appreciated the story. Even now, I can't seem to shake it.

Peter and the Starcatchers, a book written during my life time but taking the tale of Peter Pan and giving us the "how he became the boy who never grew up," has always been on my radar. I mean, of course it is! I love all things Peter Pan (don't even get me started on the movie Finding Neverland, I still ugly cry when I watch it).

The book is an easy read and definitely appropriate for children. It's safe and doesn't dive too heavily into areas that could cause conflict for parents not wanting their children exposed to certain things. There's sword fighting and nasty pirates, people who hunt down the stuff that stars are made of and magic all around. It can be scary but generally speaking always results in something that is generally good. I could have easily read through this book in record time but I was still nursing a cold when I began it, so my lack of energy made for only short instances of reading. But, after I felt better, I sat down one evening and read the second half of the book after dinner and was finished by bedtime. 

Peter is a normal boy for the majority of this book. He's spunky, brave, and protective of his band of "mates" who are orphans just as he. We begin the book as Peter and his friends are about to board a ship to a distant land they know nothing about, a place where they will (it turns out) become servants for a villainous ruler. On the ship is a girl of a higher class, Molly, who seems to be hiding a secret that only piques Peter's interest.

Living in awful conditions and not being given any food, Peter sets out to find food but discovers Molly's secret and the magic that has been brought upon the ship. He isn't the only person looking to discover this magic though. A pirate ship is close behind, following their boat (the Neverland) with hope of getting the precious cargo.

So much happens from the middle of this book straight to the end. It's nothing but adventure, pirate fights, marooning on islands, being captured, being let go, trickery, mermaids and more magic. I loved it and it was such a quick read! Now I find I want more and can't wait for my chance to pick up the next book in the series.

By the end of the book, we're given an explanation of why Peter is the way he is. Through the entire tale I was wondering how it would come about and most of it seemed to make so much sense, but the pieces were yet to be connected. Then, it was all set into place. Peter became the boy who can fly, the boy that never grows up, and his friend Tinkerbelle entered the picture. I loved it. Without giving away the exact details of how this all came to be, I was so pleased by it. I was really curious and somewhat worried that it would be ridiculous and just tossed into the storyline, but all along they were leading up to it. Ah, it's so good!

I want to go on for ages talking about this book but I feel like too much discussion would just give away the secrets. From how mermaids are formed to the creation of fairies, it's all in the book and so pleasurable to read. Also, there's a lot of artwork that's so perfectly childish yet beautifully done. All my praise for this book!


Last Week's Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Next Week's Review: Blankets by Craig Thompson

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Secret History

A friend of mine suggested The Secret History some time ago and many other friends have simply raved about the book. Tumblr? Don't even get me started. The graphics that are created for this book are absolutely beautiful and there have been many times where beautiful graphics on Tumblr have been enough reason for me to pick up a book and give it a try. 

When I grabbed the book, I was surprised by two things: while it doesn't look very thick, it's thin pages so that makes up for a high page count and the font is tiny. There's a lot packed into this paperback and I was a little overwhelmed when I began to read it. 

Not only that, but the book is dense. I fell ill when I began this book and as usual, when I have a cold, I find it hard to concentrate on a lot of things. My head is stuffed and I'm struggling with breathing so how can I expel a lot of energy to much else? That didn't help me at all as I began this book because I found I couldn't read it very easily. There's a lot of beautiful, well-written language but so many intricate details that you're spending the majority of the start of the book wondering if you're missing something all due to the first pages. 

Right away, you know the main character killed a friend named Bunny. Well, he didn't do the physical part of the murder but he was heavily involved. So for the reader, you're immediately thrown into the end of the story and left to pick up the pieces, the tale, of how it got to that point. I wanted to pay attention, I wanted to take note of everything because I felt if I didn't, I'd miss on all the details necessary to understand why Bunny was killed. 

And so the story unfolds. You're taken into this odd world of a small liberal arts college in New England, something that I could relate to (although my small liberal arts college was in Pennsylvania, I feel they are often very similar [they being liberal arts colleges in general]). I feel that there is a distinct difference between the students we become familiar with, the characters who make our story, and the rest of the school. For the few instances that our main character (Richard) is interacting with the other students on campus you have a vivid example of typical college life. It's the style of college activities and behaviors that I am most familiar with and seem most real. But Richard doesn't often hang out with these students; in fact, he befriends a group of misfits who all seem to come from odd backgrounds of high class and behavior of people who seem to not quite fit into the time period. They study dead languages solely with one professor and their obsession for the past leads them to perform a ritual right that accidentally ends up with someone dead. Whoops.

That's where I felt it was a bit hard to believe. The snooty attitudes? The rich person air? That seemed easy to swallow but their ancient ritual participation seems... so strange. But that's what snowballs into the death of their friend and then, the destruction of the group caused by that death.

The book seemed to take ages to get to the major plot points: the ritual, the breaking of the group, the murder of Bunny, and the destruction that followed post his murder. The end of the book I found to be my favorite, even if it was the most depressing part of it (possibly? There's a lot of odd things that occur that are not necessarily joyful). Overall, the characters of this book are all pretty miserable human beings whom I found hard to appreciate in any way possible. They were awful.

But I give Tartt this, if she wanted us to have mixed feelings for these characters, she achieved that. She knows her stuff and she can write so, so very well. I was blown away by her writing, honestly, and hope to one day have that type of skill. The way she described the scenery and autumn days were my favorite. A few scenes they are on a lake and I felt I was right there with the characters. I loved, LOVED, her art of description.

My mind was not blown by this book, though. It's wonderful writing but the story took ages to get through and, as said previously, it's very, very dense. But I want to read more of her literary work, specifically The Goldfinch.

If you have the time and are interested in beautiful writing and a lot of material, give this book a try. If you have a short attention span, maybe give it a pass.

Last Week's Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Next Week's Review: Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barrey

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Saint Anything

I have only experienced Sarah Dessen's writing in one other instance. In 2010 I read Someone Like You and was relatively indifferent to her writing. I knew a lot of people loved Dessen but it seemed to me that many of her books were all with the same theme of teenage love without much else in terms of struggle or storyline. But when Saint Anything came out earlier this year, I noticed a lot of excitement over the book. Not so much because of who wrote it, but for the tale itself. It piqued my interest and I decided, on one of my many book buying binges, that I'd pick it up and give it a go.

I'm pretty happy I did, because I generally enjoyed this book and it's changed my opinion of Sarah Dessen. There were a lot of errors in this book, in more ways than one, but the storyline still stuck with me, even weeks after I had finished reading it. 

The one negative attribute I want to point out right away is this: so many errors. I know I am not spot on with my typing skills on this blog and I don't, honestly, work hard to correct those errors. I haven't the time. This is a horrible reason/excuse as I am an editor in real life. I do editing for a living! But with editing for a living, I spend 40 hours a week reading over the writings of other people and correcting their mistakes. When it comes to my own work, I'm just too tired to try very hard. Worst. Excuse. Ever. But when it comes to professional work, professional editing, I certainly take note if there are obvious errors and there were quite a few in this book. I have never edited materials for a mainstream publisher so I can only assume how it goes, but I picture there are multiple reviews of material before they hit print so to have errors more than once in the finished product is certainly disappointing.

But moving past that, I was so pleased with this book. Bravo to Dessen for managing a book to have a hint of romance but not to be completely driven by it. So many YA books seem to focus on the poor decisions of teens and how that affects them personally. This book does the same but with a bit of a twist. Our main character, Sydney, is suffering due to her older brother's decisions. A guy who she looked up to turned somewhat sour as he grew older, sour and distant as he began to dive into reckless behavior. This continues on and off, he gets better then worse again, until he ultimately hits a teen in the area--making the teen lose the ability to walk. Cut to his sentencing at a jail and the broken pieces left behind.

While Sydney's mother focuses completely on her brother and her father just follows orders, Sydney is left nursing the wounds caused by her brother's behavior but also being ignored by her own parents. I appreciate that this book focuses on what happens after. I'm sure most families have a relative who pulls some stupid things and there's always focus on that relative and what they did; people forget that what that person did will also affect the rest of the relatives and little focus is placed on that.

Like many teenagers, Sydney feels unseen and under-appreciated. She's a good kid, does well in school, and obeys the rules set by her parents, but she's suffering from it all as well. So when she befriends a group of people at her new school, she's happy to finally feel like she's noticed and belongs somewhere. She begins to feel that appreciation that she's lacking from her parents. 

This is when the drama gets filtered into the book: Sydney's mother makes strict rules for Sydney with the idea that she's protecting her daughter from taking the same path as her brother. That's.... understandable but not necessarily right. More times than not, I wanted to yell at Sydney's mother for how unfair she was being. The mother's character creates some strong feelings, let me tell you. And amongst all this is the brother's creepy friend who hangs around the house and sweet talks Sydney's parents. He's a creep. That's the general idea of it. And he makes it a point to make you (and Sydney) uncomfortable. It escalates and the entire time you're reading the book you cringe every time this character appears because you feel it, you know something bad is going to happen.

And the other drama: Sydney begins to fall for her new best friend's brother. Something of an offense in this group of friends but their relationship is so sweet and pure. I love the two of them together and it was definitely giving me a tooth ache. It's typical in that regard: nice girl meets nice guy who is super hot but he doesn't realize he's hot. But it's always a bit enjoyable to read about those type of relationships: two nice people getting what they deserve (to be happy and in love).

And yet, I appreciate that while there is romance, it is not the sole reason for the book. Coming to terms with what her brother did and the reconstruction of the family dynamic is front and center. Sydney's friends' family dynamic is also an important key. Sydney can view her family and how it is, but also view another family and what her family could become.

So good, so satisfying. It was an easy, good read that didn't take a lot of energy to focus on but I enjoyed it so very much. But one note: am I old? When did high school lunches devolve into food truck options outside of the building? And this at the "poor" school for the area. What happened to rubbery cafeteria pizzas for lunch?

And a final warning: You will have so many food cravings from this book. You'll want nothing but fries and pizza so be prepared.

Last Week's Review: Quiet by Susan Cain
Next Week's Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt