The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Some families are big. Some families are small. Some families are normal and some families are dysfunctional. My own very small family puts the fun in dysfunctional. Would you have expected anything less? Growing up, I always wanted sisters. Naturally, when I was ten, I got a brother. We tortured each other. He stabbed me*. I tied him to a chair. He made me watch Rugrats (pure torture). I goaded him into cliff jumping. Now that we’re older, we get along quite well now (read: we’re pretty much the same). He forced me to read World War Z. I forced him to read Zone One. He strongly suggested reading Game of Thrones, for which I haven’t thanked him yet, but should. I insisted he read American Gods, for which I got a vague “yeah, I just read the part where the guy gets…swallowed”. In short, despite the fact he’s still in college, he’s one of my favorite people and I’d do anything many things for him.

The Winter People

Familial devotion is one of the primary themes in Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People. The eerie novel tells the story of the nineteenth century Shea family, who lived in rural West Hall, Vermont in an isolated farmhouse. In present day, Ruthie, her sister, and her mother live in the same farmhouse. The two families are connected, but is the extent of that connection Sara’s lost diary or does it run deeper than that? One day, Sara’s daughter mysteriously disappears into the surrounding woods. Her body is eventually found at the bottom of the well. In the present day, Ruthie’s mother Alice disappears. Ruthie and her sister Fawn begin a panicked search for their missing mother. What they uncover along the way is disturbing, thrilling, and haunting.

The Winter People** is a novel about love, loss, and obligation. If you lost your daughter, your husband, or your sibling, what would you do for one more week with them? Nothing is quite as it seems in the idyllic winter wonderland of Vermont. The dead walk the earth, little girls and their dolls have their own secret language, and the town’s residents disappear with alarming frequency. McMahon’s atmospheric tale, reminiscent of Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, is part-zombie tale, part-family saga, and completely enthralling (though not wholly compelling). Every once in a while I need a book that is less of an experience and more entertaining – this was that book for me. It really is a great book for a cold and dreary day. 4/5.

Are you close with your siblings (or family in general)? Or, better yet, did you terrorize each other when you were younger?

Heart Shaped Cinnamon Buns

Ruthie woke up to the familiar and comforting sounds of her mother making breakfast downstairs. There was the smell of coffee, bacon, and cinnamon rolls.

You may need something comforting after this one. Serve with cinnamon rolls (I’m not fond of cinnamon rolls, so I haven’t tried this recipe). Heart-shaped, of course…

*I will never, ever let him live that down. I still tell that story simply to embarrass him.
**I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

So this week’s bookish thoughts (brought to you by Christine at Bookishly Boisterous) are slightly skewed towards the romantic side of things. Somehow it seems appropriate that my first point is titled insta-bullshit. I’m only kidding. I’m totally romantic. The first person to show up at my door on Friday with coal-fired pizza and Pretty in Pink wins my utter devotion for a year (two years if you bring the new Much Ado About Nothing). Do remember that we’ll have to shut it off ten minutes before it ends – because #TeamDuckie. Although Clueless or 10 Things I Hate About You could be substituted if you’re anti-’80s (as I don’t really remember the ’80s, I have no idea why I am so devoted to that decade’s romantic comedies).

In honor of Valentine’s Day:

10. Insta-bullshit. Yeah, this is pretty true. 

09. Not only is Denver among the most well-read cities, but the city’s residents have more sex than anyone else in the US – both statistics are surprising.

08. For my giveaway, the question I wanted people to answer was “What was your least favorite book?”. I thought I would get a lot of cop out answers like Twilight or 50 Shades or Grey, but people took it seriously. Oddly enough, some people really hate books I quite enjoyed. The Marriage Plot made the list of most hated, as did Of Human Bondage, The Art of Fielding, and Naked Lunch.

07. It seems like there are a million of these quizzes going around, but I had to share this one because it’s wholly unsurprising. I am Sherlock on the “What Sherlock Holmes Character Are You?” quiz.

06. I guest posted over on Annabel Smith’s Friday Fave. Also, my monthly contribution to Pop Culture Nerd went up last week.

05. This list wouldn’t be complete without something weather related. The last few weeks have been miserable, it was -15 (-26C) and snowy last week. This weekend it is going to be sunny and 65 (19C). I am so excited. I’ll be working all day (both days), but still…

04. Rodarte + Star Wars = Couture Gowns. I don’t know what to say. Well, I would really like to see one of those gowns at this year’s Oscars.

03. Did anyone else love Punky Brewster as a kid? Soleil Moon Frye just had a baby boy. His name is Lyric Sonny Roads (Goldman).

As I’ve said before, I am fascinated by baby names. I don’t care to see pictures of the baby, I don’t care about its nursery, and I really don’t care about toddler fashion, but please tell me the name. I would say it’s a girl thing, but I now know otherwise. I once wrote an entire post about naming children after literary characters, it remains one of my most popular lists.

02. The prettiest wedding I’ve ever seen. This is what I would do.

01. 50 Books About Love For People Who Hate Romantic Comedies. I don’t hate romantic comedies, but if you’ve seen 5 or so, you’ve seen them all. However, Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is on there. Win. As they both got a mention in my last post, I’ll point out that Bukowksi (Love is a Dog From Hell, which I’ve not read) and Roth (Goodbye, Columbus) are on there as well.

(Side note: One of the books on there suggests drawing a constellation from someone’s freckles as a way to fall more in love with them. What am I supposed to do!? I haven’t got any freckles anywhere!)

In case I’m in danger of becoming too sentimental, researchers found that the high number of early deaths in Russia is mainly due to people drinking too much alcohol, particularly vodka.

Happy Valentine’s Day (on Friday). What are you doing for the holiday? Anything fun? Anyone shocked that some of the Russians who are dying young drink too much vodka?

And I’m Expected To Swoon? A Top Ten List

Swoon: To be overwhelmed by ecstatic joy, a state of ecstasy or rapture. Used online as an action, to show that someone is attracted or interested in someone or something. (Urban Dictionary)

I’ve already listed my favorite romances, couples I think would make it in the real world, and fictional men I’d find attractive (if they were real) – creating another list of books that would make me swoon seemed redundant (as hosted by The Broke and The Bookish). Instead, I created a list of (mostly) classic romances that I didn’t find swoon-worthy. I did this via video. However you can skip right over it – lucky you – if you’re so inclined. I’m listing the books below, the only thing you’ll miss is my commentary (I did manage to keep it under 6 minutes, still, it’s 6 minutes you’ll never get back).

08. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Beautiful girl + Catholic priest = Disaster.

07. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. True, I do love it, but some of the romance is lost in the attempted polygamy.

06. Gone with The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Let’s blame it all on Scarlett.

05. Twilight by Stephenie Meyers. Yeah, I know, it’s an easy target.

04. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Just…not romantic.

03. Private Lives by Noel Coward. Love and hate in a vicious cycle.

02. Emma by Jane Austen. 

01. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Apparently Austen isn’t my favorite romance author.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you’re more romantic than I am, it undoubtedly makes the holiday more fun.

A Literary Giveaway

It’s time for the (tenth!) Literary Giveaway Blog Hop. This is an event taking place from Saturday February 8th until (and including) Wednesday February 12th. It’s hosted by Leeswammes,

literarybloghop_february

So what do you need to do enter the giveaway? All that you need to do it leave a comment. I would very much appreciate it if you would follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or via whichever blog reader is your preference, but it’s not necessary. A winner will be randomly selected on Thursday, February 13th. The giveaway is open to anyone.

The winner will be able to choose from ONE of the following:

-A book that has been reviewed on this blog
-A $20 gift card to Amazon
-One Penguin Hardcover Classic (see full list here, they’re very pretty)

As I said, all that you need to do to enter is to leave a comment on the blog. To avoid overly generic comments (and to make my comment moderation more fun), you could tell me what is the worst book you’ve ever read.

Thanks for participating!

Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Seaside Book Nook
  3. Booklover Book Reviews
  4. Biblionomad
  5. Laurie Here
  6. The Well-Read Redhead (US/CA)
  7. River City Reading
  8. GirlVsBookshelf
  9. Ciska’s Book Chest
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Ragdoll Books Blog
  12. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  13. Lucybird’s Book Blog
  14. Reading World (N-America)
  15. Journey Through Books
  16. Readerbuzz
  17. Always With a Book (US)
  18. 52 Books or Bust (N.Am./UK)
  19. Guiltless Reading (US/CA)
  20. Book-alicious Mama (US)
  21. Wensend
  22. Books Speak Volumes
  23. Words for Worms
  24. The Relentless Reader
  25. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall (US)
  1. Fourth Street Review
  2. Vailia’s Page Turner
  3. The Little Reader Library
  4. Lost Generation Reader
  5. Heavenali
  6. Roof Beam Reader
  7. Mythical Books
  8. Word by Word
  9. The Misfortune of Knowing
  10. Aymaran Shadow > Behind The Scenes
  11. The Things You Can Read (US)
  12. Bay State Reader’s Advisory
  13. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  14. Lizzy’s Literary Life
  15. Books Can Save a Life (N. America)
  16. Words And Peace (US)
  17. The Book Club Blog

Why I Love Daredevil

I’ll warn you in advance, today’s post has little point, It’s strictly for my own enjoyment and your edification. You can thank me later. As it happens, I’m neither a comic book fanatic, nor particularly knowledgeable about them. I rarely enter a debate about which superhero would win in any given situation – mostly because I don’t like to lose – and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find me engaged in cosplay. When I do read graphic novels/comics, my preference tends to be for dark and gritty worlds filled with ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. This means – more or less – that Locke & Key is the perfection to which everything else is compared and superheroes need not apply. My stance on avoiding superheroes stems from several issues in the superhero universe. Primarily, if a series is long running, there are so many twists and changes – especially to a character’s backstory – that it’s impossible to keep up.  Before you know it Wonder Woman is the daughter of Zeus and Mary Jane Watson died from repeated exposure to radioactive sperm. So I don’t even try. Except – and there’s always an exception, isn’t there? – when it comes to Daredevil. My devotion to the man without fear began a long time ago – probably around the time I realized Batman is an asshole, Green Arrow is womanizing cad, Superman is absolutely implausible, Captain America was manufactured, and Spider-Man…well, seriously?

DD

In casual conversation, Daredevil’s often listed as one of the worst superheroes out there. I blame this on the film version released in 2003, which I can honestly tell you is not that bad. And why people choose to single out Daredevil over The Green Lantern, Cat Woman, or The Fantastic Four (and its sequel) is beyond me. My point being that while Daredevil is not for everyone, don’t judge it on one bad film adaptation. Everyone still loves Batman, after all. And that’s okay. If you choose to believe in the superiority of Batman, I won’t judge.

(Out loud.)

I will, however, take this opportunity to give you ten reasons why Daredevil is the greatest superhero (and comic book series) of all time. In no particular order:

10. Matt Murdock is more important than Daredevil. Justice is blind. What he does to protect the community he lives in and for those seeking justice in the courtroom outweigh his vigilante antics as Daredevil. This is one of the more compelling parts of the character. After all, who matters more: Tony Stark or Iron Man? Peter Parker or Spider-Man? Steve Rogers or Captain America?

09. Comic Book Illustrator/Artist Alex Maleev. Given the work Maleev’s done with Marvel for Stephen King’s N. adaptation, it’s probably not surprising that I’m huge fan. He’s also contributed to the Dark Tower series. Although I liked Miller’s work (particularly Born Again), the Bendis/Maleev run is what solidified my devotion.

maleev_daredevil

08. Ninjas. Everyone loves ninjas.

07. He’s not wealthy and he has a day job. Although I covered the nature of his work in #10, the fact that he has to have a full time job is rather unusual. Batman, Iron Man, Green Arrow, Iron Fist, and Angel are billionaires. Spider-Man masquerades as a part-time newspaper photographer. Bruce Banner and Reed Richards are genius scientists. Magneto stole his money. Murdock worked hard to get through school, just as he works hard to be good at his job. Side note: it drives me crazy to hear him referred to as Batman without money.

06. His strength is also his weakness. The heightened senses that make him unique also make him vulnerable. He has spent years training in various martial arts and it’s easy to marvel at his success coping with his added abilities,

05. He can be defeated. Continuing from the previous point, Daredevil is – relatively speaking – easily defeatable. One well-timed loud noise and Daredevil goes down. But he always gets back up – even from a mental breakdown. Defeating evil supervillians isn’t what’s important to him, defending the residents of Hell’s Kitchen is.

04. Foggy Nelson. The comic book series, more often than not, is dark, gritty, and noirish. Foggy keeps it from getting too dark.

03. Excellent taste in women. Murdock/Daredevil prefers independent, intelligent, and strong women regardless of whether or not they are superheroes. In fact, the love of his life is absolutely ordinary. However, you’d never want to actually be one of them, it never turns out well (drug addict, insanity, death, etc.).

matts-hair-maleev

02. Writing. Daredevil has a rich history of talented comic book writers and illustrators, including Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, Gerry Conway, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker. Even Bob Gale (the screenwriter behind Back to the Future) had a short run. So it’s not surprising that the series has some of the most consistent writing out there.

01. His humanity. Matt Murdock/Daredevil is one of the most psychologically interesting superheroes ever created. He struggles with the dichotomy of his life. During the day, he is a lawyer fighting for those who need it, not necessarily those who can pay for it. He also represents people who are innocent of the crime, but are nowhere near innocent in any other aspect of life (I suggest checking out Redemption, specifically). While at night, he is a vigilante with a blatant disregard for the justice system. He struggles to reconcile the two. The series does an excellent job of balancing the banality of his day to day work and the extreme antics of his night life.

Bonus: I really like his costume.

I rarely venture into the world of comic books and superheroes, but today is an exception. My top ten reasons to love Daredevil were written in honor of graphic novels/comics month (#comicsfebruary if you’re on Twitter/Instagram – hosted by Trish and company). The month is looking up already.

So did anyone stick it out to the end of the list? If you did, I applaud you. Will you be joining Graphic Novels Month? If you could only recommend one graphic novel, what would it be?

Image; Alex Maleev found herehere, and here.

YOU WOULD CRY TOO: A TOP TEN LIST

I’m not a professional home renovator. I’m not even a particularly good DIY-er. So please don’t get the wrong idea by any of the following. It’s all in good fun, to slog along with my slow house progress, see here, here, and here.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about home renovation it’s that you don’t own the house, the house owns you. And that one little project you think will be done in a weekend…? Well, that will take a year. And a half. During such projects, you often waver between absurd optimism at the beginning of said project and overwhelming despair once the full scope of the project has become patently clear. This awareness usually occurs when the room is fully gutted, fun surprises are revealed (oops, rotten subfloor!), and you realize that you’re supposed to wake up in three hours and go to work, but you need to shower and you just ripped out the tile to the only working shower in the house. Because how tacky (and/or unprofessional) is it to tape plastic sheets around the whole shower so that you can turn on the water without ruining the tile board…?*

The next thing you know you’re sobbing your little heart out, sitting in moldy filth, sounding like Darth Vader because you have a face mask on so that you don’t breathe in the moldy filth while you’re nearly hyperventilating with despair. Because renovation is never easy, surprises are never fun, and in all likelihood you’re not as good as math as you might think. So go get a frigging calculator, it’s 3am in the morning and your brain stopped working two hours ago, you will not be able to calculate the square footage of tile correctly.

The previous story notwithstanding, I am not one to cry. Well, not really… Okay, so I now realize I’ve cried twice in the past two months*, so maybe I’m just fooling myself. But aside from home renovation, there is not much that brings me to tears. Never fear, I’m sure I’ll be able to bring together some sort of list to favorably waste your time with. This week’s prompt (as hosted by The Broke and The Bookish): books that made me cry. I’m altering the topic a bit to issues/events that make me cry.

Sad and Late

Truly, in no particular order:

10. Broken Appliances. I cried when my dishwasher caught on fire and I couldn’t figure out how to use a fire extinguisher to extinguish a fire inside the frame of a stainless steel dishwasher. Whether the tears are from the noxious smoke or one’s inherent failure to best an appliance is uncertain…

09. Stripping Wallpaper. There might be no home task more tedious… It’ll bore a person to tears.

08. Failure to Properly Strip Wallpaper. When you try to remove 3 layers of hideous wallpaper and all that you accomplish is butchering the drywall. You then realize you hate skim coating.

07. Money Pits. It’s all fun and games until you own it (and fail to look as cute as Shelley Long while enduring it).

06. The Lies of HGTV. If you can overlook the fact that people on House Hunters still use phrases like “man cave”, you might realize how glossy and oversimplified they make home renovation look. Regardless, Sarah Richardson is my hero.

To be serious, here are a few topics and titles that have caused more than a few tears:

05. Child Abandonment. I actively avoid any books that cover this topic, although oddly enough one of my favorite books covers this topic in detail. Example book: White Oleander.

04. Airplane Crashes/Anything Encompassing 9/11. I’ve never read a book on this topic and I doubt I ever will, but I sobbed when I heard the news that Air France Flight 447 had crashed and I get choked up at the mere hint of a 9/11 documentary.

03. Unexpected Loss (of a spouse). Not all books that cover this topic make me cry. It very much depends on the book’s character development. What I find most affecting is when an author covers the nuances of a relationship – not just lust or physical beauty, but the quiet moments in between. Stephen King is the master of this. Example book: Bag of Bones by Stephen King.

02. Suicide. Example book: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma.

01. Unresolved Loneliness. I think everyone fears ending up alone, so when books end this way I’ve been known to get a little weepy.

So what makes you cry? Is it The Book Thief? I haven’t read it yet, but 2014 is the year. Maybe.

*Full disclosure: that’s a true story. And it’s a really tacky thing to do. But innovative too, right?
**So as not to vaguebook(blog): The first incident was out of frustration (overwhelmed with the state of my home renovation) and the second was for the loss of potential and was only a tear or two (turned down an intriguing professional opportunity).

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LITERARY MIXTAPE | TESS OF THE D’UBERVILLES

Do you ever want a modern soundtrack to literary fiction? Yes? Me too. That’s the point of this feature. Whereas some people imagine cinematic montages in their head, I create a soundtrack.

Okay, so I actually do both, but I prefer to share my soundtrack.

Tess

Today’s mixtape features one of my favorite controversial English literature staples: Tess of the D’Ubervilles. Although it is not my favorite novel by Thomas Hardy (that would be Return of the Native), I do enjoy all of the tragedy featured in this particular story. Consider this my contribution to the lost art of the mixed tape, with a classic literature twist*.

01. Sea of Sorrow / Alice in Chains

You, and those like you, take your fill of pleasure on earth by making the life of such as me bitter and black with sorrow; and then it is a fine thing, when you have had enough of that, to think of securing your pleasure in heaven by becoming converted!

02. Where To Begin / My Morning Jacket

In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving. Nature does not often say “See!” to her poor creature at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing; or reply “Here!” to a body’s cry of “Where?” till the hide-and-seek has become an irksome, outworn game. We may wonder whether at the acme and summit of the human progress these anachronisms will be corrected by a finer intuition, a close interaction of the social machinery than that which now jolts us round and along; but such completeness is not to be prophesied, or even conceived as possible.

03. Bridges / Broods

I agree to the conditions, Angel; because you know best what my punishment ought to be; only – only – don’t make it more than I can bear!

04. Wrong Way / Sublime

Thus, the thing began. Had she perceived this meeting’s import she might have asked why she was doomed to be seen and coveted that day by the wrong man, and not by some other man, the right and desired one in all respects…

05. Emotionally Yours / Bob Dylan (so ’80s)

It was then that the ecstasy and the dream began, in which emotion was the matter of the universe, and matter but an adventitious intrusion likely to hinder you from spinning where you wanted to spin.

06. At Least It Was / Emiliana Torrini

She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.

07. Change / Deftones

His original Tess had spiritually ceased to recognize the body before him as hers – allowing it to drift, like a corpse upon the current, in a direction disassociated from its living will.

08. Just What I Needed / The Cars

Their position was perhaps the happiest of all positions in the social scale, being above the line at which neediness ends, and below the line at which the convenances begin to cramp natural feeling, and the stress of threadbare modishness makes too little of enough.

09. Sympathy for the Devil / Rolling Stones

It was terribly beautiful to Tess today, for since her eyes last fell upon it she had learnt that the serpent hisses where the sweet birds sing.

10. Same In Any Language / I Nine

So do flux and reflux–the rhythm of change–alternate and persist in everything under the sky.

11. Either Way / Beta Radio

Nobody had beheld the gravitation of the two into one.

12. One / Metallica

The clock struck the solemn hour of one, that hour when fancy stalks outside reason, and malignant possibilities stand rock-firm as facts.

13. Love / Daughter

O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel! I do not deserve it. I have thought it all over carefully, and I can never, never forgive you! You know that I did not intend to wrong you – why have you so wronged me? You are cruel, cruel indeed! I will try to forget you. It is all injustice I have received at your hands!

So there you have it. One modern soundtrack for the tale of a fallen woman in Victorian society. As usual, feel free to contribute – if you’re so inclined. Also, please feel free to share your favorite Thomas Hardy novel. If you haven’t read one, what are you doing here? I’m only kidding, though I do want to know how you plan to rectify that.

*If you’re reading this in real time (meaning Monday, February 3rd), do know that I am actually contributing to society today. I have jury duty. This is my third summons in five years. Ridiculous. Wish me luck and impartiality.