Friday, January 27, 2012

The Hunger Games trilogy ~ Suzanne Collins

I have something fantastic to tell you about today.  You probably already know about it.  In fact, you probably knew that it was fantastic before I did.  That doesn't really matter.  What matters right now is The Hunger Games.Holy crap, why did nobody hit me over the head and force me to read this before??  I mean, come on.  It's me we're talking about.  I love dystopia and strong female characters.  Okay, maybe I don't say that enough here.  So consider this a warning.  Now you know.  Don't let it happen again.

I was disinterested at first.  When I first heard of The Hunger Games, I was intrigued by the fact that it was a dystopia but put off by the fact that it was classified as YA.  I feared that it would be underdeveloped and poorly written and all-around disappointing.  Which was rather elitist and silly (considering that I enjoyed the Uglies trilogy) and ultimately lost me out on years of enjoyment, because the only thing that makes The Hunger Games YA is the age of the protagonist and perhaps a slightly simpler writing style.

Just to note, this isn't going to be my full-fledged review - I listened to the series on audiobook and want to read it in print before I really get into things.  So let's talk about that.  I was actually put off at the beginning of the first book because of the reader - she sounded like a woman trying to sound younger who is trying to give a speech BuT Doesn'T nORmalLY Give SPeecheS and Over-eNUNciaTeS every word.  Also, the series is in the first person, and the narrator didn't do a good enough job differentiating between her narrative voice and her speaking voice, which sometimes made it tough to figure out when Katniss switched from dialogue to internal monologue.  But once I got past that, the story was insanely intense.

This is dark stuff.  There is real evil going on but not in the traditional "other" way, like with vampires - rather, in a "wow that's awful but I bet humans could actually be like that" kind of way.  The action is intense and incredibly emotional and made believable - there is not happily ever after here.  Katniss, the main character and first-person narrator, is great - complicated and passionate and strong but confused, and very naive.  Since I don't like to listen to audiobooks without something else to do (walking, washing dishes, driving, cleaning) because I get too restless, I had an incredibly clean apartment for the two-and-a-half weeks it took me to get through the entire trilogy because I just couldn't take the earbuds out and had a hard time thinking about other things when I wasn't reading.  Again, I'll review it in greater depth when I've actually read it, but suffice it to say that I really love this series and was continue to be emotionally invested in it (I bawled during the epilogue).

On a different note, I'm interested to compare the reading and listening experiences, as I've never read a book after only ever having heard it before.  I hope the reader's voice don't translate to the page, because I know that this series will be even better without her.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Robber Bride ~ Margaret Atwood

It's been a while since I've read anything by Margaret Atwood, but since my first novel of 2011 was by her (The Edible Woman), I figured I should start 2012 in the same way.  The Robber Bride was never a novel that really stood out to me based on the blurb on the back, but I got it at a library sale for practically nothing and it's still by Atwood, meaning it was bound to be good.  I was not disappointed.

The Robber Bride presents itself initially as being about a woman, Zenia, though it's really about three women whose lives Zenia damages.  The novel is constructed through these three women's experiences with Zenia and each other and themselves - space is allotted equally to each into equivalent sections that tell of their childhoods, time with Zenia, and time with each other.  Though this may seem too structured for some, I liked the predictability - it gave me something to look forward to.  The women are Tony, a tiny and quirky professor of military history; Charis, spiritualistic and sweet, though sometimes simple; and Roz, a business tycoon who puts on a facade every day.

What really struck me about this novel was how aggressively feminist it felt without making a feminist agenda the obvious point.  We are faced with three women who are incredibly strong and independent while being weakened and diminished by the men in their lives and another woman, who appears extremely powerful, yet uses that power to hurt others and never truly relate.  Though the book pretends to be about her, we know nothing of substance about Zenia, but about Tony, Charis, and Roz we know so much.  They are stuck in an in-between generation, during which women are expected to be independent but still haven't been released from the past way of doing things.  They go out in the world and do things and provide, but when they get home, they still have to cook the dinner and clean the house (much as my own mother did).  Even Charis, who is easily mocked even by her own friends, is more self-sufficient than most people, working multiple jobs and growing her own food and taking care of more people than just herself.  They are truly superwomen but should they be?  They are overworked and overtired, and get very little thanks for it.  However, Roz and Charis both have daughters, of the next generation in which women don't have to be everything.  They are strong but comfortable with it, okay without men, able to choose their path rather than having everything dumped on them.

This wasn't the most amazing, life-changing novel I've ever read, but it was good and it sucked me in and it made me think.  Beware though - the men are awful (the worst of them shares my husband's name, which was unfortunate and elicited some comments from me about what would happen if my husband ever behaved like him).  That may be the point though, because it's them that make Zenia the horrible women that she is.  I definitely recommend this, though maybe not for somebody new to Atwood.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Meatless Monday ~ Eat, Drink, & Be Vegan

I haven't been posting for Meatless Monday much since I started the "weekly" installment, initially because school was going on, and more recently because I'm not that inspired to do so, which is odd because I love talking about food and vegetarianism.  I guess I'm just not very good at writing about it.  However, the inspiration has struck, and so I welcome you back to my semi-monthly chat about meat-free food.

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies through the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.  I would also love to host guest posters on the topic, so if you're interested in being featured, send me an e-mail at jlmarck at gmail dot com.

Eat, Drink, & Be Vegan is one of my favorite cookbooks.  It's vegan chef Dreena Burton's third cookbook and it's just fantastic.  Contrary to what many people believe, Burton makes it clear that healthy and vegan don't have to mean boring and tasteless.  In this book, Burton gives us recipes for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, sides, sauces, hummuses galore, and a bunch of desserts, and everything I've tried has been delicious.  It's not heavy on meat and dairy substitutes, which I love, but is heavy on creativity.  For those folks with kids, Burton includes lots of kid-friendly recipes and ways of getting picky eaters to eat better, like her "Hide the Lentils" Tomato Sauce in which red lentils are cooked into pasta sauce and then pureed as though they were never there, creating yummy pasta sauce with a boost of protein and fiber.

Some of my favorite go-to recipes include:

  • Banana Pecan Rice Pudding Pie (for breakfast!)
  • Orange Sesame Tofu
  • Balsamic Maple Sauce
  • Bask-to-Basics Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Savory French Lentils (delicious warm, over salad)
  • Bean and Corn Tortilla Lasagna with Avocado
  • Sesame Lime Soba Noodles, served with Tamari-Roasted Chickpeas
  • Simple Swiss Chard
  • Supercharge-Me! Cookies (click the link for the recipe!)
In my opinion, the recipes aren't too fussy, but if you find chopping and measuring too much work for a weeknight meal, you might want to save this cookbook for the weekend.  It has some photos of the recipes but certainly not of all; however, you could probably google nearly any recipe in it and find some blogger's rendition.

Eat, Drink, & Be Vegan is a great choice for anybody new to vegetarianism or veganism, as well as anybody who simply wants to eat a little less meat - you won't even notice that it's missing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

River of Snore

I was really excited for this book.  Super-excited.  Pre-order it in hard-cover and pay whatever Barnes & Noble was asking, no questions asked-excited.  For a lot of people, that means nothing, but I like used books and, at the very least, would wait for the paperback version, but that's how excited I was.  Okay, technically I paid for it with a gift card that B&N gave me for participating in a survey while on the clock, but still, that gift card is valuable to a thrifty bibliophile like myself.

Okay, less about my frugality and more about the book.  I haven't finished it.  In fact, I'm not even halfway through.  I'm not officially giving up on it, per say, but I am starting another book and there are so many characters in River of Smoke that I know I will probably forget half of them if it's not the main thing I'm reading, but I'm not sure that I care.

So why was I so excited, you ask.  Why was this such a let-down?  Well, it all started with Sea of Poppies, the first book in a proposed trilogy by Amitav Ghosh and the first book I ever reviewed on this blog (fun fact!).  Sea of Poppies was fantastic.  It was a story, the beginning of an epic really, set in India and aboard a ship, the Ibis, just prior to the Opium Wars.  Prior to reading Sea of Poppies, to which I was attracted mostly because of its cover and the fact that it was set in India, I had had little knowledge of the opium trade, but the book just drew me in.  It was a great story, yes, but also good for political thought and considerations of capitalism and how its discussion hasn't really changed.  And there were characters and they came together and it was wonderful.

And then there's River of Smoke.  In which Mr. Ghosh has a lot of knowledge and tells it to you.  I have read two hundred pages and I have yet to find a real character or the inkling of a story.  Any story.  Mostly, it's just exposition and a lot of fun historical tidbits that Ghosh feeds to you through contrived dialogue and the narrator's tangents (no, I didn't even care about the history of chai - I know).  It feels a lot like he is saying "look at all the things I know!" and completely forgetting that he's supposed to be writing a novel.  Sea of Poppies got off to a slow start but two hundred pages?!  Out of five hundred?  And no story in sight?  Nope.  No thank you.  I'll try to keep up with it, read a few pages a day, but I don't know what will happen.  My hopes are not high.

Also, stay tuned for a comparative close-readings of River of Smoke and Harry Potter.  Because I used to be an English major and why not?!