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Maritime birdwatching: Stornoway [Sep. 5th, 2010|12:27 am]

Wow, it's been a long time since I've done a music recommendation post -- partly because I've been busy with other things (reading! writing! syllabus compiling!) and partly because I've been listening to a lot of perennial favorites (LM) and more of recent finds (Alessi).

Well, today's band, Stornoway, hails from Oxford, UK, and crafts melodic Celtic-influenced pop, with hooks and horns to rival Belle and Sebastian's "I'm a Cuckoo." Lead singer Brian Briggs has a PhD in ornithology and sings about man's relationship with nature and technology, love, and of course, birds. Their debut LP, Beachcomber's Windowsill (out last May on 4AD), landed the band on the BBC's Sound of 2010 longlist.

Here's the lovely "We Are the Battery Human" live on WFUV's The Alternate Side.

Another catchy tune, "Zorbing." Don't know what zorbing is? I didn't either. Now I do.

And the rocking "Watching Birds":

Stornoway are currently on a European tour, but will be coming back Stateside in late fall. Tour dates here.

There's a lovely article about the band at The Times, in which the newspaper calls Stornoway "Britain's most exciting nu-folk band," and The Guardian cites them as "the brainiest band in Britain." Whatever you think about the term "nu-folk," these observations seem pretty spot-on.
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Never Let Me Go [Sep. 4th, 2010|03:58 pm]
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The film version of Kazuo Ishiguro's breathtaking novel, Never Let Me Go, comes out this month, and stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield. Also, Sally Hawkins (whose Anne Elliot I love) and Charlotte Rampling.

I'm tentatively feeling enthusiastic about the movie, but seriously all, do yourselves a favor and read the book first. Gorgeous writing, a terrifying and affecting dystopia. If you don't plan on reading the book before, don't read any plot summaries -- they will spoil you, and you definitely don't want to be spoiled! The trailer has mild spoilers:

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Possible wisdom on graduate school... [Sep. 4th, 2010|12:36 am]
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...from 30 Rock.

A few weeks ago, I realized that what was really missing in my life was 30 Rock. I'd seen seasons one and two a while back, loved them, and decided (possibly with bad judgment) that Liz Lemon is My Personal Hero.

So, I hurried over to Netflix and began watching the third season. In the very first episode, Liz wants to adopt a baby and a woman from the adoption agency (Megan Mullally) comes to check out Liz's work environment. Obviously, it's a big disaster...  until Megan Mullally gets hit in the head with numb-chucks and forgets all of the terrible things that have happened so far.


JACK: We might not be the best people...
LIZ: ...but we're not the worst.
BOTH: Graduate students are the worst.

Or, in video format:

I am still contemplating what this means. Discuss.
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Team Zombie! [Sep. 3rd, 2010|12:47 am]
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You can vote for Team Zombie or Team Unicorn here.
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Recently Read: Clockwork Angel [Sep. 1st, 2010|10:28 pm]

Cassandra Clare
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010

Clockwork Angel is the first book in Cassandra Clare's new Infernal Devices trilogy, a Victorian era prequel to the Mortal Instruments series.

When her aunt dies, sixteen year-old orphan Tessa Gray moves from New York to London, where she hopes to start a new life with her brother, Nate. But moments off the boat, Tessa is kidnapped, by a pair of cruel women who call themselves The Dark Sisters, and who won't stop until Tessa perfects her extraordinary and rare ability, one which Tessa has believed impossible up until now: shifting her shape at will. Rescued by Shadowhunter Will Herondale, who has been investigating a series of gruesome murders of young women, Tessa finds herself drawn into the Shadowhunter world, helping Will and his demon hunting colleagues, including his parabatai, Jem, as well as Institute heads Charlotte and Henry Branwell and reluctant Shadowhunter Jessamine, try to stop the threat of the mysterious Magister, who wants Tessa -- and her power -- for himself.

Clockwork Angel is a quick, enjoyable read, packed with action, romance, and emotional punch. I have said before that Cassandra Clare's novels "hit all the right cliches"--a strange statement, meant entirely as a compliment--and this one does just that. Really. Ms. Clare has a knack for divining just how to glue her reader to the page, and she does it with aplomb. Her books are immensely entertaining, full of snappy dialogue and lovely description, hilarity and heartbreak, spunky heroines and swoonworthy heroes. She builds a mean love triangle. She crafts a page turner masterfully; I've raced through each one at a breakneck pace, and each book has me mourning the long wait I have to endure until the release of the next one.

Though readers may miss their favorite MI characters, Ms. Clare has a whole cast of new Shadowhunters and supernatural folk to keep even the staunchest Jace (or Simon!) fans entertained while they wait for The City of Fallen Angels (March 2011). Fans of that series will even recognize a few of Isabelle and Alec's ancestors -- I look forward to seeing more of Gabe and Benedict Lightwood in the next installments --, as well as the always fabulous Magnus Bane.

The key word when it comes to Cassandra Clare's novels, in my opinion, is relationships-- the ties that bind... and tear apart (usually with much heartbreak). Families with complicated pasts and even more complicated presents, surrogate families of brothers and sisters who defend each others' lives with their own, and of course, romance. Oh, the romance! It almost feels unnecessary to mention that CA features another tremendous (and sexy) love triangle, Tessa's choice falling between beautiful, hard-edged Will and kind, intuitive Jem. Can I say swoon? Double swoon? Impassioned fan debates: Go!

And I love the steampunk elements of CA (there is not enough YA steampunk around!), even if many of the situations don't feel particularly period appropriate (most specifically regarding proper behavior for young ladies) and the language feels pretty modern. But since I don't read Cassandra Clare novels for a history lesson, this wasn't much of an issue for me, though it might bother other readers.

And for me, everything else about the book-- which I enjoyed so thoroughly I've decided to reread only one month after speeding through it the first time-- more than delighted me. Romance, mystery, perfect pacing, and one hell of a cliffhanger... take all that, and you have Clockwork Angel, a completely enthralling read that has me despairing that the next installment is still a year away.

Um, and also, Jennifer Ehle apparently reads the audio book. Hell, yeah.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I read a free ARC of Clockwork Angel belonging to the lovely Suzie Townsend. So, thank you to Suzie for being a BEA superstar and to Simon & Schuster for giving out copies of the novel. I have since bought my very own copy, which I am excited to reread.
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More on the zombie apocalypse [Aug. 30th, 2010|05:44 pm]
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The internet takes us in strange places and alerts us to strange and awesome things.

Like for example, just a short while ago I was reading this interesting and clever post on Sarah Rees Brennan's blog (which, if you don't subscribe to it, you should, because she usually says interesting and clever things) about writers reading and writing book reviews, and she mentioned a review website called Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, whose (awesome) tagline is, "All of the romance, none of the bullshit."

Naturally, my interest was piqued.

So, click I did, and when the page loaded (does anyone realize, every now and then, how long we used to have to wait for websites to load, and think, thank god for high speed?), was rewarded with the following image, after only a brief scroll down:

You can imagine what part of this attracted my attention.

The zombie ad, obvs.

Thus ensued another bout of clicking, after which I discovered that there is a novel coming out on September 1 called Married with Zombies (fabulous title!), the first book in the Living with Zombies trilogy, the second and third books being, respectively, Flip this Zombie and The Zombie Whisperer (also awesome!). Married with Zombies is the first book from author Jesse Petersen. Here's the jacket copy:

Meet Sarah and David.

Once upon a time they met and fell in love. But now they're on the verge of divorce and going to couples' counseling. On a routine trip to their counselor, they notice a few odd things - the lack of cars on the highway, the missing security guard, and the fact that their counselor, Dr. Kelly, is ripping out her previous client's throat.

Meet the Zombies.

Now, Sarah and David are fighting for survival in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. But, just because there are zombies, doesn't mean your other problems go away. If the zombies don't eat their brains, they might just kill each other.
And the first chapter is pretty hilarious. You should take the quiz too, and let me know what you score. Since I am relationship-less at present, I took the quiz with my BFFs in mind and determined that we are ZOMBIE PROOF. Take that, post-apocalyptic zombie world!

So, I think I'll put this one on my To-Read list, which is reaching somewhat epic proportions. And in the meantime, I'll return to the books I'm reading at the moment... that penultimate (*sob*) manuscript for work, an ARC of Beautiful Darkness, a totally addictive biography of Edie Sedgwick (look at me, reading nonfiction!), The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, and La asesina de Lady Di. Yes, I am totally screwed. But enjoying every minute of it.
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In reference to yesterday's post... [Aug. 18th, 2010|09:19 pm]

Forever Young Adult posted a Hunger Games drinking game today, which pretty much spells death to anyone who actually plays by the rules. I do hope they're not expecting anyone to actually play by the rules.

And in other YA news, I finally finished Life As We Knew It, and am seriously freaked out. Please do not let an asteroid hit the moon and knock it closer to earth, thereby causing catastrophic climate change. Because, eek, I totally do not have enough food in my house to keep me alive for months. Okay world, thanks.
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Mockingjay, and Zombie Lessons [Aug. 17th, 2010|09:36 pm]
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MOCKINGJAY minus one week!

My big plans next weekend are to reread The Hunger Games and Catching Fire at the beach and possibly convince sninkle to partake in a Hunger Games themed drinking game. Drink every time Katniss is badass? Drink every time Peeta has you craving baked goods? Drink every time you want Rue on your team? Drink every time you have nightmares about people trying to kill you? Drink every time you think, "Screw Gale vs. Peeta, why not Gale AND Peeta?"

On second thought, this is probably a dangerous idea.


I've been on a bit of a zombie kick lately -- Zombieland, 28 Weeks Later, The Forest of Hands and Teeth-- , which seems to have started affecting my health. Lessons learned:

Do not watch zombie movies while eating dinner. Otherwise, you will find your mac 'n cheese getting cold as you attempt to sneak in bites between beheadings and gut-spewing. This is more difficult than one might think.

Do go running immediately after watching a zombie movie. You will think things like, "If zombies were running after me right now, would I be able to outrun them?" You will run faster; I guarantee it.

Do keep a box of tissues on hand, for when innocents are sacrificed to keep the zombie risk at bay. This is important even if you think you are cold-hearted and emotionally stunted. Because just as there will be blood, there will also be tears.
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(no subject) [Aug. 5th, 2010|10:31 pm]

My life has shifted this week from reading about teenagers to working with them. Other than calling me old several times, they are generally delightful and amusing. For example:

EXT. Some bleachers, at the edge of a field. CAMPERS and COUNSELORS are watching Robots & Rockets campers launch rockets with the help of their counselors.

COUNSELOR ONE: Sarah. Your assistance is required.
SARAH: Is it?
COUNSELOR ONE: It's about your hot CIT.
SARAH: ...
COUNSELOR TWO: Mike wants to get her number.
SARAH: How does this involve me?
COUNSELOR ONE: You have to convince her to give Mike her number.
SARAH: Mike?
SARAH: ...
COUNSELOR TWO: The CITs have been scheming how to ask her out all week.
COUNSELOR ONE: We are depending on you. The reputation of Robots & Rockets is in your hands.
SARAH: But. Why doesn't he just ask her?
COUNSELOR ONE: He has no balls.
SARAH: Oh, of course.
COUNSELOR TWO: So, will you do it?
SARAH: This definitely did not come in my job description...


COUNSELOR ONE (having reappeared with a deck of cards): Who wants to see a magic trick?
SARAH: ...
COUNSELOR ONE (doing a card trick, for the benefit of HOT GIRL CIT): ... Well, since it didn't work the first time around, let me try again. Was this your card.
HOT GIRL CIT: OMG! How did you do that! Show me how you did that!
COUNSELOR ONE: Okay... (Skulks off with HOT GIRL CIT and returns moments later, shaking his head.)
SARAH: So...?
COUNSELOR ONE: I told her I'd show her the card trick if she gave Mike her number.
SARAH (shakes head)
COUNSELOR ONE: It didn't work.


HOT GIRL CIT: Who is Mike?
SARAH (points): That guy.
HOT GIRL CIT: Oh, him? Yeah, not gonna happen.
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On YA bad boys, transformative romance, and redemption [Jul. 28th, 2010|06:14 pm]

...subtitled: 'of the long and rambly thought variety'...

Cut, for massive book-ruining spoilers of both The Demon's Lexicon and The Demon's CovenantCollapse )
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(no subject) [Jul. 27th, 2010|07:44 pm]

Also, remember the Skins movie? Well, MTV is making an American version of the TV show. I am very skeptical.

Additionally, MTV steers a fearless path with the greenlight of the North American adaptation of the U.K. drama series "Skins". .... "Skins" will also begin production this summer with 10 one-hour episodes.

More info in the press release (appropriately, May 20).
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(no subject) [Jul. 27th, 2010|07:26 pm]

This makes me inclined to check out Fringe.
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(no subject) [Jul. 27th, 2010|11:51 am]
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Woo, YA movies in Spain! I get excited about movies that aren't dubbed. Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging meets Bridget Jones, I think. I'm totally getting this book from the library.

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Boys in YA [Jul. 21st, 2010|10:05 am]

Everyone who reads or writes YA should read this blog post by Hannah Moskowitz about "the boy problem" in YA literature: why do teen boys not read YA?

Here's a little teaser:

--boys aren't skipping their way through high school, either.

So why do MG books remember this and not YA? Why are MG books looking at showing boys every aspect of themselves, like Greg's issues with his drippy friends and his little brother, and simultaneously giving them an escape with superheros and gross-out humor, when this seems to be something that YA can't grasp?

Well, I'll tell you why.
Hannah is a YA author whose first book, Break, about a boy on a mission to break all of his bones, came out from Simon Pulse in 2009. Her novels Invincible Summer and The Animals Were Gone come out from Simon Pulse in April 2011 and Spring 2012, respectively, and her MG novel, Zombie Tag, will be out this fall from Roaring Brook Press. Oh, and they all have male protagonists.
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The Demon's Lexicon trilogy, the bookcover edition [Jul. 20th, 2010|02:18 pm]

Yesterday I blogged a review of The Demon's Covenant, the second installment in Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon trilogy. You should not read the review if you haven't read the first book in the series, but you should read the books. They are fabulous.

Last week I asked an acquaintance of mine, who happens to be a connoisseur of YA, if she'd read these books yet. She said, "No, they're on my list ... but have you seen those covers?"

So, let's talk covers. No plot spoilers will be revealed, so feel free to read and jump into the fray...

Here's the background: The Demon's Lexicon trilogy is a YA urban fantasy series that takes place in the UK, mostly in Exeter and London. The main characters are brothers Nick and Alan Ryves and siblings Jamie and Mae Crawford. In the world of TDL, magicians are scary people who summon up demons to gain power. Nick and Alan try to keep those magicians from overstepping their bounds. At the beginning of the first book, Jamie and Mae -- classmates of Nick's at school -- show up at the Ryves house because they've accidentally gotten mixed up in magic and have heard that Nick and Alan help solve weird problems. And so it begins.

So, if we recall, Nick features on both the US and UK covers of The Demon's Lexicon. This makes sense, because Nick is the narrator of that book and it is, most definitely, his story. From left to right, we have the UK cover, the US hardback, and the US paperback.

Let's compare: 

The UK cover features an illustrated Nick looking sexy and a little bit dangerous. I like how his face is half sheathed in shadow: it suggests mystery. There is a city in the background in silhouette and there are ravens, which feature in the opening scene of the novel. I also love how the typeface suggests the carved lines of the demon circles or, alternately, something brittle and fractured. The red implies danger. Though it is a face cover, I don't think a straight guy would be super embarrassed to pick it up for his sister (I don't think said straight guy will actually want to read it in public, but baby steps.)
The message: This is a gritty urban fantasy with a possibly dangerous male protagonist.

The US hardback focuses on Nick's prettiness -- he is pouty-lipped, and has awesome bone structure and shaggy hair. He is wearing a glowing talisman and in the background, we see a sky crackling with lightning and filled with ravens. I love the font. But there is no action, no city, and Nick looks pensive and sensitive, neither of which are adjectives I would use to describe him.
The message: This novel is about pretty boys and sparkly things.

The US paperback switches gears. It shows Nick in action, in front of mysterious buildings (ruins? city?) with a stormy sky behind him. He has his sword, which gets bonus points, because it features in the very second sentence of the book. It's a bit weird that he's wearing a cloak (when does Nick ever wear a cloak?), but he looks serious and action-y and a little bit dangerous. I like how the red title pops against the background.
The message: Action! Storms! Sword fighting! This novel is dark and dangerous.

Now, for The Demon's Covenant, the differences are even greater.

On the US cover, we see Sin dancing in a ring of blue fire, on a shoreline. Presumably, the fire is meant to be a demon circle, but designed for maximum sparkle rather than following their descriptions in the book:

"The lines between the demon world and the human spun so fast that they seemed to disappear, turned into a shimmering haze like a veil between the worlds. A veil that could be torn. The circle seemed almost to trip into the cold abyss below, like a trapdoor turning beneath Mae's feet." (145)
The designer clearly made an effort to put Sin in an outfit described in the book -- "She was wearing whit that reflected the moonlight, material that the night wind sent clinging and fluttering down her body, so thin you could almost see her skin dark and soft beneath it." -- but doesn't quite take it all the way: "Her hair was threaded with silver ribbons, and her skirt was slashed into silver ribbons as well, trailing over and wrapping around her legs as she danced." (138). To me, the image doesn't convey the sense of energy or danger of the demon circle.

My main problem with the cover, though, is that this is not Sin's book, but Mae's. Mae is kick-ass, she has awesome pink hair, and she is the narrator. Did the US publisher think that a pink-haired chick on the cover wouldn't sell books?

The message: This is a story about pretty ballerinas who like to dance in rings of blue fire when they're not going to high school dances.

On the UK cover, we see an illustrated version of Mae looking ready for business in all black, and even though she's not in action, we have an awesome fight scene on a London bridge in the background -- this is urban fantasy--, which takes place in the book. We can't see who the fighting figures are, which keeps the cover mostly spoiler-free, but we get action, London, and Mae.

The message: This book is badass.

The blurb quotes also emphasize different aspects of the book: the US cover emphasizes romance, which the UK cover highlights wit.


The Most Embarrassing to Read on Public Transit Award clearly goes to the US hardcover of The Demon's Lexicon, but the clear winner in this game is the UK publisher, hands down. Not only do the UK covers better convey the setting and atmosphere of the books, they appeal to a wider audience. And, you know, they're prettier.
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Recently Read: The Demon's Covenant, otherwise known as, My Hot Date with Two Brothers [Jul. 19th, 2010|10:14 pm]

The Demon's Covenant
Sarah Rees Brennan
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010

Magicians and demons and love triangles, oh my! ... cut for huge book-ruining spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, The Demon's Lexicon Collapse )

Let the bells of praise ring! One of the my favorite YA novels of the year.
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You recognize me [Jul. 17th, 2010|10:06 pm]
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What, now? I could have sworn I already posted this song, and it's absolutely criminal that I have not.

"I Will Remain" is off London folk band Matthew and the Atlas's most recent EP, To the North, released in March by Communion Records. The first time I heard this song I actually stopped what I was doing to give it my full attention. Still gives me shivers. The album version (stream) is well worth your dollar investment, but here's a live version:

Here's the track "Deadwood," which featured on the Communion compilation.

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Music Thursday [Jul. 15th, 2010|07:52 pm]

Some songs I've been loving lately:

Elysium by Andrew Davie.

Andrew Davie was the front-man of now-defunct nu-folk rock band Cherbourg --out of the same London scene as Mumford & Sons--, whose song Never Love Again sounds like a cross between that band and The Pogues. HGD, the fiddle part! No, really. HGD.

Ever Since the Chocolate by Scottish songstress Rachel Sermanni-- who, by the way, is only eighteen. Gorgeous harmonies, and has the word "chocolate" in the title. What's not to like? I also love the short and sweet Little Prayer. Just lovely. I swear, when she finally puts recordings out, I will be there.

"Jackrabbits" by Joanna Newsom, off her most recent album, Have One On Me. Here's her performing on Later with Jools Holland:

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(no subject) [Jul. 13th, 2010|03:54 pm]

I have a hot date tonight. With two sexy guys. Nick and Alan Ryves.

Never mind that they're fictional, I am BEYOND THRILLED.

I am convinced that Rachel Sermanni's "Circus Song" would be the perfect soundtrack to the Demon's Lexicon trilogy.

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Summer in the City [Jul. 13th, 2010|02:47 pm]

Means cleavage, but also other things like free movies and music.

Emily and I went to see The Hangover at Pier 54 last week, where they also have a free concert series. Last week Phosphorescent played; next week they're having the Antlers, and in August Deerhunter will be playing.

I saw the Antlers at a CMJ showcase back in the fall, and they're not really my thing (I prefer the more subdued sound of their album to their super emo live sound), but I really like what I've heard of the opening band, the Brooklyn-based Dinosaur Feathers. They were featured in Paste Magazine back in February, which recommended them to fans of the Beach Boys, Fleet Foxes, and Vampire Weekend. While I don't really get the Fleet Foxes comparison (except if it means that they sing in harmony, but whatever), the other two are quite apt -- Dinosaur Feathers do a mix of African and Latin beats with upbeat pop hooks. I would totally dance to this.

I mention this is because there is free music for the taking! On the left we have Early Morning Risers, a free EP you can download on the band's website. On the right we have the RiverRocks mix tape, a free compilation of tracks from the bands participating in the Pier 54 concert series. Click through each picture to go to the download page.


Dinosaur Feathers are on tour now. Check out the dates on their MySpace.
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