Monday, July 29, 2013

At Least You're in Tuscany...

I don't know why but running away from relationship or job issues to live in Italy seems to be a Thing as of late. Not that I particularly care; who doesn't dream of packing up everything and running away to a new land? And just like every other woman who wants to run off to Europe to escape their worries and fears, I quickly became interested in At Least You're in Tuscany since the author did just what I sometimes fantasize about doing.

It's interesting how your opinion of a book can change over the course of time. When I first finished this book I was really excited and found no faults in it. I was ready to write a exciting review full of exclamation points but then real life stepped in and I didn't write a single review for weeks. So, time passed, and with it some of my excitement began to fade and I realized... there is a lot of whining in this book.

The complaints are what make up the book and in some ways, that's annoying, because in the end this author did this to herself. It was her decision to move there on what seemed to be a whim so it's no fault but her own that she is broke/has no friends/can't get a job. 

But... that does make up the story. The author goes to Tuscany with this fabulous vision in mind and finds out she didn't fully consider the less than favorable outcomes. In this way, she writes a fabulous book that gives a more vivid idea of what it can be like to pick up your stuff and move to another country. Often enough with these books I'm left wondering how the author could afford to just up and leave, get a cute little apartment and partake in all of these events in another country but for Jennifer Criswell it isn't that easy. So for that, thank you for the honesty.

Being able to simply land a job in Italy proves to be a lot harder than most books make it seem. Criswell struggles to make ends meet and often times finds it understandably frustrating. She mentions a lot of the oddities (to Americans) that she experiences. Italians are full of expression but seem to shy away from the display of pure emotion. The small towns are similar to the small towns of America in that everyone knows each other. Criswell describes the area with enough detail that I could envision the town and hills with perfect clarity.

I still enjoyed this book, after having had a few days to process it and realize that it is, generally, filled with complaints but in the best way possible. This feels more real and more honest than other books. If I want romantic imagery with a day dreamy twist, I can read the other travel books that are out there. But if I want a bit of the hard truth, I'll turn to this book. Picking up all of your things and moving to another country is a marvel and dream for many but I'm sure it isn't all that easy. This book seems to add proof to that.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Dracula. The most well known vampire in literature and the influence for so many more stories like it. When I was in Middle School I attempted to read this book multiple times and every time I failed. I found the writing style dry and struggled to maintain interest in it. It reminded me too much of the books I was being forced to read in school which I generally found similar to having my nails pulled off. 

Hop and skip to college and it was much of the same thing: I knew that Dracula classified as not only a classic but as a substantial point in vampire literature which I adored. But I couldn't bring myself to read it. Finally, finally I read the book and it wasn't all that bad. 

The sum up: a relestate sale goes horribly wrong when Jonathan does a deal with the Devil... well, not quite. When Dracula decides he wants to move to England he leaves a trail of certain destruction in his way. Jonathan feels he has gone mad and leaves his bride-to-be, Mina, in a worried state. 

Dracula comes to England and quickly begins to gain control over more people. Mina's good friend, Lucy, is the first female victim (one can assume Jonathan and Renfield - an insane fellow - are the first substantial living victims) and then he begins to go after Mina herself.

My favorite portion of the book was of the transformation of Lucy. She is stalked, grows ill, and is taken by Dracula. The fight to save her by many men who love her is at times frustrating and in the end pointless. Unlike the other classic vampire literature that exists, Dracula gets quite involved in showing how a vampire is created and how their personality changes within Stoker's mythology. Also, it is pretty on top of showing how to kill one of our fangy friends.

A lot of the letter exchanges bored me within the book and I seemed to find myself only truly entertained when there was a lot of action. Waiting out Dracula then being foiled by his trickery was entertaining to me. The love letters and talk of normal life? Not so much. When I came to the close of the book I was happy I had finally read it and surprised it wasn't as bad as I had thought I remembered. But... I still found a good deal of it boring and I was indeed happy to be at its end. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Currently - July 17th

Often times book bloggers either over share (and stray from reviewing books) or share too little about their lives. I want to share a little bit about myself so that you, the reader, will know who I, the writer, am. I have no intention of turning this into a personal blog but after seeing Currently posts from Sometimes Sweet I felt that it would be a nice break every once in awhile. 
Watching: I'm finally up to season 8 of Supernatural. It's taken me awhile and for quite some time I wasn't watching any of it because I've been so busy. But finally, I'm almost caught up. I also have begun to watch The White Queen which I really love so far. That may be because I miss The Tudors though.

Listening to: Cooking: I always listen to one of two things: Christmas music (holidays) or 8tracks (the rest of the year) so there's no point in keeping up with what I'm listening to. Cooking, however, I experiment with. I love to cook although it seems in the fall I am more comfortable with the recipes I work with but in the summer I'm often at a loss. I don't want hot food but I still want to cook fresh meals. In comes salads, fruits and veggies. I've been feasting on Mediterranean quinoa salad but now am switching it up and giving skillet pork chops saute with peaches a try.

Thinking about: Traveling and budgets. I think it would be extremely helpful if High Schools had budgeting classes for their students. If teens learned how to budget and the benefits of savings, what's bad about different kinds of loans, and how to handle credit cards would be fabulous and helpful. I didn't have much help in that department and I'm figuring it out as I go along. I'm a single woman in her 20's and I haven't anyone to depend on to help me financially. Not to mention that I live in a very expensive area (hey, Washington, DC). But again, I'm in my 20's and I want to adventure. I have wanderlust continuously and I want to explore. With that, I'm budgeting my little heart out with intentions of finishing off 2013 with three more vacations: Tampa, Boston, and to visit my parents. Here's hoping I can swing it!

Loving: My new apartment! It's so spacious and lovely and in a really great area. I'm close to stores, close to the metro, and close to beautiful running paths that go along the river and through the trees. I've slept better than I have in months and I have 10 hours a week given back to my life because I've saved that much time from commuting.

Reading: Ender's Game which I don't particularly enjoy. I've never been very interested in Scifi (I'm quite shocked I enjoy Doctor Who) and space-stuff just bores me. I've been dragging through the book and I'm so close to finishing it right now that I just want it done. There are so many other books I could be reading and I have so little time!

Making Me Happy: Running! I've struggled long and hard with running because I've had varying injuries due to dance. My knees, toes, and hips kind of hate me for it. I often would go running on a treadmill before I moved and it was always a painful struggle. Then I partook in my first 5k and ran much faster than I ever did before. I assumed it was due to the environment but since I've moved I've picked up running with my roommate three times a week and it's been a lot of fun. I've been getting better and my body hasn't rejected it all. I'm thrilled and I hope to keep it up! I'm also happy that I was able to see one of my closest friends for the Fourth of July and my birthday--which was on the 6th--for the first time in five years. We visited the zoo, celebrated the fourth on the Capitol steps, and played dress up. I'm so lucky to have such wonderful friends. Bring on my new year of life, I hope it's a blast!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pretty Dark Nothing

The description of this book goes as follows:
It’s been twenty three days since Quinn has slept for more than minutes at a time. Demons have invaded her dreams, stalking her, and whispering of her death. The lack of sleep and crippling fear are ruining her life. Energy drinks and caffeine pills don’t make a dent. When Quinn dozes off in the school hallway, Aaron, an amnesiac with a psychic ability, accidentally enters her nightmare. The demons are determined to keep them apart, and Aaron from discovering the secret locked away in his memory. Together, they could banish the darkness back to the underworld for good. That is, unless the demons kill them first.
Reading this description left me rather hopeful about what the book would entail. I figured it would be a supernatural YA love story of sorts and was prepared for that. I don't always tut-tut the YA love stories, sometimes I even feel the need to read one, and this was one of those moments. I eagerly began to read the book and expected so much. Unfortunately, I was completely let down. 

The author has writing talent, I'll give her that, and the demons that are mentioned in the description are given a lot of character and detail. This author can write. But her creation of plot and the way she sets it off and running is lacking. 

So let's get to the basics:
  • We have Quinn, she is a High School smart girl/cheerleader who is slacking off because 1) she had a bad break up 2) her father left 3) she hasn't slept for days because she keeps seeing demons.
  • These demons are in her dreams and now they're in her reality and she basically thinks she's going crazy.
  • There is no explanation to the demons. None. Not until the end of the book. 
  • She feels drawn to this guy Aaron but she's still stuck on her ex. 
  • There is a lot of High School drama and cattiness; girl fights, teen pregnancy, losing virginity, dates, etc. 
  • There is also a lot of cheating. 
  • There is a lot of teenage emotional grief (that overpowering grief that teenagers are really good at having, I mean)
But take note, the demons are only a small part of this. The majority of this book is so centered by High School drama with a splash of seeing demons that I'm not very comfortable calling this a supernatural tale. Aaron is a mystery to himself and everyone else after having been in a car accident and waking not to remember anything of his past. He's attracted to Quinn and she is to him and while she is so back and forth about who she actually has feelings for it seems very sudden that she is with Aaron. That part bothered me -- they are magically attracted to each other which I get but going from just meeting to dating happened too quickly. They were demanding of each other and felt they belonged to each other after a few chats and I could only sit back, sigh, and think that the author could have handled that better.

Quinn is, to me, very selfish. I understand that she is going through a tough time but there aren't many redeeming qualities for her. Aaron I enjoyed but towards the end of the book when it's revealed why he can't remember his past (and what happens shortly after) I was left feeling like the big reveal had come from left field. 

All in all, I felt that this book went off track. The author wanted to write about Quinn being haunted by demons and then she got too distracted by petty High School drama until, towards the end, she realized she had forgotten to make her point so she rushed back to the original purpose of the story and rushed through it to finish it off. Poor planning led to poor plotting and that's that. I wish I hadn't spent so much time on this book, I have others I would have rather been reading.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Kissing Hand

I can't even begin to guess why it is that I had never read this book before. As a bookseller I spent much of my time in the children and young adult section of my bookstore. I found this book, shelved this book, sold this book and recognized this book and yet never thought to open it and read it. I knew one thing though: people loved this book. There were always those children's books that you saw pass by at the registers at least once a month, if not once a week or even more than that and this book was in that group. 

It may have taken me longer than necessary, but I finally got around to reading this book. I have a soft spot for colorful children books with cuddly looking animals. Maybe I read many of these books when I was a child and it reminds me of that but there is just something comforting about the artwork in this story. 

The idea behind it, to me, is rather fabulous. I was very shy as a child and often (more or less) terrified to leave my mother's side. I could sympathize with our little raccoon friend because he was nervous about attending school for the first time and being away from his own mother.

This book has been on bookshelves for a long time and often by looking at it, I didn't get the appeal, but after reading the story I found it endearing and sweet and I completely understand why it has stood the test of time. This is the perfect book for a child who is about to embark on their school time adventures or spend time away from their parent. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Follow Soon Remembered Tales on Bloglovin!

With Google Reader sadly shutting down today (I don't understand why!!!!!) I feel it's best to put my bloglovin' to use. I've had a bloglovin' account for awhile and at first I was sort of weary of it. I loved Google Reader and was bitter that Google decided to get rid of the site. After a few weeks of using Bloglovin, however, I fell in love.

The site is clean and easy to use and, better yet, you can see what updates are coming from my blog all right there. So please check out my Bloglovin page and follow me!

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane; Also Known As: How Neil Gaiman Nearly Made Me Cry

Last fall I was able to see Neil Gaiman at George Mason University in Virginia. He was there to accept a reward and brought along something special: he had just finished writing a book and sent it to his editor that morning and he wanted to share a chapter with us. The chapter was from what would be his first adult novel in a number of years, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and when he read that chapter I fell in love. I wanted to read the book for myself and couldn't wait for it to come out.

So, I stalked twitter, as any sane person would do, and read anything pertaining to the publication of this book. When there was a chance to buy a signed copy, to be delivered the day of the book's release, I jumped on it. Then, when there was the chance to get to meet Neil Gaiman and have him sign my book himself I was all over that as well. Ordering the same book twice to have his signature, twice, isn't crazy. Right?

Jump to June 18th -- the day the book came out -- and I had it in my hands crisp, new, and with his swirling signature on the title page. I hated that I had work. I wanted nothing to do with work. But unfortunately there  was nothing I could do about my lack of interest in being at work. I held onto the book and I waited until my day was done. Then I read.

As a bit of back story, the week the book was released was one of the most upsetting and stressful weeks at work I had yet to experience. I won't get into any more details than that but keep it in mind. When I was able to read this book I felt the stress of the week begin to slip away. I was sucked into the pages of the book rather than stressing and worrying about real life.

I finished the book in five hours.

Further on in the week (June 21st) I arrived at GWU's campus in DC, three hours before Neil Gaiman was to take stage, and sat on a lengthy line in the sun waiting for the main doors to open. I made friends with a few girls in line and we were able to sit next to one another in the auditorium. We were at the start of the line (my ticket number was 79) and were able to sit a few rows into the auditorium but the signing was sold out and the ticket numbers reached well over 1,000. 

Neil Gaiman came out, he spoke, he was witty and charming and everyone loved it, and then there was the signing. By groups of 50 ticket numbers were called up and I, luckily, was in the second group. I held onto my copy of Ocean at the End of the Lane and American Gods/Anasi Boys and slowly made my way to the stage where the signing was set up. Once I stepped foot on the stage there were about ten more people in front of me and it started - I felt weak in the knees. I got closer and felt butterflies in my stomach. I was nervous. I was nervous of looking a fool. I was nervous of forgetting all I wanted to say. I was nervous I wouldn't get my point across: that his books are lovely, inspiring, and helpful. That he as a writer has helped me so much. And how could it be memorable? How would it matter? There were over 1,000 people in this signing alone who likely felt the same way. How could I let him know just how powerful his literature is to me?

I stepped up in front of him and he opened my book, viewing the post it with my name within, and in his deep accented voice said, "Erica Rose, how are you this evening?"

My jaw dropped, I blinked, and no words came out. I was starstruck. He looked up at me and I blinked again, realizing that if there is a time to talk that time was now. Stuttering at first, I began to speak. I explained to Neil that I had a horrible week, that friends of mine had been laid off from my job and that I was frightened for my own job security. I explained that I was stressed beyond a doubt and when his book came out I devoured it. It was a chance to escape and focus on something else. It was an evening of freedom from stress. Then, for the remainder of the week, the signing was the silver lining. It was what I was looking forward to, if nothing else, and I had held onto that the entire way.

The entire time I spoke he glanced up at me, making eye contact while he signed my books, and then he paused prior to reaching for the next books to signed. "I'm so sorry you have had such a rough week," he said and reached out. I took his hand and he gave me a reassuring squeeze. I felt the barely patched together walls preventing me from losing all control of my emotions start to break down. He was sympathetic of my hellish week and sorry for it. He was trying to comfort me. Maybe he was just being polite but still, it meant something. I felt like I was going to cry, no, I knew I was going to cry.

I gathered my books and thanked him repeatedly for writing the book, being wonderful, for what he said and that he had come that night. I gathered the books close to my chest, hugging them there, and he nodded and smiled as I stepped away, turned, and hurried off the stage before I did cry. 

I walked to the metro to go home that night dazed but with a smile, even if I was teary eyed, and my signed copy of Ocean at the End of the Lane is now sitting on my bookshelf. 

* * *

There's a reason why I had this particular book personalized rather than the other Neil Gaiman books which I own. Reading Ocean at the End of the Lane was, as I mentioned, was an escape for me during that week. But it was much more than that. 

A middle-aged divorcee returns to his childhood home and finds himself driving down a lane and stopping at a farmhouse which, he suddenly recalls, he used to play at. Bit by bit memories drift back to him and he recalls with developing clarity the events of his life around the time when he was 7. There was a girl, Lettie Hempstock, who believed that the duck pond was an ocean. There was a man who committed suicide in the back of his father's car. There were dark creatures and coins and burnt toast. 

The story can be creepy and dark but not specifically because it involves creepy and dark monsters out of fairy tales (don't worry, it has those) but because Gaiman describes, very vividly, the creepy and dark monsters of the real world as well. Without revealing spoilers there is a scene in a bathroom between father and son which was quite uncomfortable to read. There are other scenes that are upsetting on varying degrees but they are all possible in the real world. Sometimes, I feel, when I am reading a book that is fantasy or supernatural in nature, the most frightening portions of the book are the portions which could happen in real life. This novel has plenty of that. 

The plot has you brought along, led by the tight grip of Lettie Hempstock, while our narrator is instructed by her of what to do and what not to do and sees many things he wishes he would have never caught sight of. It's a whirlwind and you find that you can't put the book down, no, because you only want more. By length, the book appears surprisingly short, but the story is just the right size. Had it been any shorter you would have felt left out of important details and had it been longer, well, it might have lacked the urgency of the situation the characters face.

But for me, personally, and it seems that this is a very personal book for many, I found myself emotionally attached to the narrator because the narrator in many ways was me. There I was, reading this book as a form of escape from my crummy weak and finding comfort in its pages while the narrator did the same thing. He liked books, he trusted them, and he knew books wouldn't disappoint or hurt him. I kept thinking, yes, yes I agree completely! It was much my way of coping as a child and still, obviously, my way of functioning.

The narrator also did not have many friends and there is a particular birthday mentioned where no one showed up for his party. This struck a cord in me that was very deep. My birthday is July 6th and often tied in with the 4th of July. I adore the 4th with all its festivities but while I was little, often enough, my birthday parties were quite small. Many friends I would invite wouldn't show up, hell, a lot of times my own family didn't come. I recall the main reason being because people were taking vacations at that time because of the long holiday weekend but I also recall feeling hurt as a child and not quite understanding why. By the time I was a preteen we stopped having parties all together because it wasn't worth the time planning for something that few showed up to and my parents and I, maybe a few close friends, would travel to an amusement park and celebrate my birthday there. I loved it and I feel it was special. But the fact remains that the narrator's loneliness woke memories of my own childhood and how lonely I often felt. 

It's funny how childhood memories can come and go but it takes a location, or some gentle reminder in a book, to bring them back and that is another plot point that Neil Gaiman displays so well in this book. You can get caught up in the story itself but the story wouldn't have been remembered had the narrator not gone to that funny farm where he had such memories. It's magical and he forgets the memories soon after leaving but don't our random memories from childhood do the same?

This book is honest and full of fantasy at the same time. It's personal, maybe for all, and of the perfect length. I'm glad to have read it and hope to read it again. And I'm so happy to have met Neil Gaiman and so grateful for his work, his kindness, and his creativity.