Scary stories are meant to scare you, right?

Today my brother posted the most saddening link on his Facebook page:

For those of you not familiar with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark you are missing out on one of the most visually terrifying  and bone chilling short story books of the 1980s.

Written in 1985 by Alvin Schwartz, this collection of ghost stories and horrific mystery, is for many children the introduction into the world of horror writing. Scary Stories is that first taste of blood in your mouth as you realize you bit your nails too low; it’s that first adrenaline rush that leaves you aching for more and yet afraid to turn the page;  it’s the place where you find stories that you share with your friends and insist are true because you read so in a book (ahem, cousin Julie, remember the overgrown sewer rat story that you insisted was true?) And while the stories are scary enough to stand on their own, Stephen Gammell’s artwork is what really makes this book make you want to leave the lights on at night.

Gammell’s interpretation of Schwartz stories are grotesque and disconcerting and really do provide the kind of visual imagery that that we see in our heads as children. When presented with only our imaginations to create a vision of what is going bump in the night, we are always imagining the worst. We are not seeing Disney interpretations and and Victorian England.

But thanks to over protective parents and overly sensitive children, that is exactly what we are gonna get from now on. Enter Brett Helquist, the illustrator of such wonderful series as A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Chronicles of Green Knowe. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Helquist’s images are beautiful, whimsical and Gothic. But I feel like they be would more appropriate in a children’s version of Sweeney Todd than a masterpiece of horror.  Why mess with a classic? No one is going to tell Maurice Sendak that Where the Wild Things Are needs to be reillustrated because it is too scary. I mean, isn’t that the whole point?

Why buy your child a book of scary stories if you don’t want to scare the pants off of them? The world is an ugly, scary, boogeyman infested place. There is no denying it, and there is no changing it, and no amount of political correctness will magically erase that reality. Yes the artwork is scary, it is supposed to be. You’ve erased the horror of my youth HarperCollins. Congratulations. Lucky for my children, I was prepared and already have a copy of the original to scare their pants off with, otherwise we would have a problem. (Don’t worry Mr. Helquist, I don’t blame you. You were paid to do what you do best, draw beautiful pictures.)

To see some examples of the re-invention of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark click here.

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February is the month to honor Asian literature…at least for me.

Well, February is around the corner and those who know me, know that February is a bit special to me. To make a long story short, I was in an accident back in college and as a result of it I spent about 4 weeks mostly couch bound reading and watching reruns of M*A*S*H. One of the books I received in the hospital was The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. This book consumed me. I fell in love, and for the next few years I made a ritual of reading it every year as a reminder of how lucky I have been.

Well, as much as I love this story, after a few years I knew it quite well and decided to find something new. But Tan had made her mark.  I found that the only thing that I wanted to read was that book, or something like it. Now it has become this subconscious need. Every year as the weather really starts to get cold and the days of the new year trickle by into February, I find myself craving Asian Literature. The Joy Luck Club, The Good Earth, Snowflower and the Secret Fan, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother; the list goes on.

As a result for the entire month of February I plan to feature Asian writers and literature about Asian history, and in the case of The Backyard Bumpkin, Asian recipes in honor of my little bit of craziness. There will be one exception, but I will leave that as a surprise. 🙂

 

Thank you all for indulging my obsession. I hope you enjoy the reviews, commentary and recipes this month, and in case no one has wished it to you yet, Happy Year of the Dragon! (Chinese New Year was January 23rd.)

image courtesy of http://www.chinapage.com

The trek through the Mortal Instruments, part II

Well, last night I finally did it. I finally finished City of Ashes. Whew!

As I said at the end of my last post, I was fighting to make it past page 200. I am here to tell you now, that if you can get to somewhere around page 375 (out of 464) then you may end up wanting to read then next one. Now I am not going to lie. It took A LOT of effort to get to the point in this book where things start to get interesting and make you want more. A few little things to bullet point:

  • Most of the book seems to be made up of pointless run around that could have been left out in order to make the reader feel more satisfied.
  • The sexy aspect is still gross. Period. If you haven’t read the first one yet then I will leave it at that. If you have read the first one, then don’t get your hopes up. The tables don’t turn again. The situation hasn’t changed.
  • Jace, one of the main characters, gets a bit redundant and annoying by the time the book gets good and by then you have a hard time liking him at the end when you should.  How many times does the author need to stress that he is arrogant, cocky, self absorbed, and very good looking? Seriously, we get it.
  • If you are looking for a climax that puts you on the edge of your seat, then push through to page 375ish. You won’t be disappointed.

Overall, I have to admit that if the 3rd book picks-up and continues the way the end of book 2 did, then I may have a different opinion of the series. By the end of this book it seems that the author has FINALLY found her voice in the writing and has really begun to grasp the story she had originally set out to write. Oddly enough she has created a phenomenon rarely seen in books and film; the second piece in the series is better than the first.

Readers who are writers

For those of  you who are not only readers but also writers, this is the 11th hour. Tomorrow begins the caffeine fueled, gut wrenching, brain frying, exhaustion inducing month of November also known as:

National Novel Writing Month!

a.k.a NaNoWriMo

If you are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, here is the description from their Facebook Page:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

This will be my 3rd year participating in NaNoWriMo and I must be honest, I feel more prepared than ever! My first year I almost made it. (I missed it by like 1778 words.) Last year (first year with an infant) I only put out 2,250 words (boo.) But this year I am picking back up the story I failed on last year armed with a new plan, much better character development, and a “must make it this year” attitude.

I have all of my character names set up, I have an outline of events planned, I have giant post-it after giant posit up on my office walls detailing ever minutia of detail about every character’s personality. I really feel like tomorrow I will be ready to go.

My title: The Black Velvet Band

Synopsis:

On the road to Galway she waits for you,
You’d think her the queen of the land.
Her hair slung over her shoulder,
Tied up in a black velvet band.

Her beauty is unmissable,
Her charm melts every man’s heart.
She is sly, and devious, and without remorse,
And she tears weaker men apart.

She moves as if she were a whisper,
And is gone as quick as a breeze.
She takes what she wants,
She never looks back,
But her presence does nothing but please.

Beware of the girl with the fiery hair,
Whom is wandering across the land,
Her beauty surpasses,
She’s a liar, this lass is,
She the head of the Black Velvet Band.

I will of course keep you posed on the progress.

 

Is any one else out there doing NaNoWriMo this year? What is your story called? What is it about? How have you been preparing? Hit me up with the details, I would love to hear about it.

 

Enjoy your last night writers! Tomorrow is Doomsday.

 

Weekend Read! The Giver by Lois Lowry

While many younger readers are saying “The Giver didn’t we have to read that in school? Why would I want to read it again?” believe it or not, not everyone has read The Giver. The Giver was written in 1993, and only somewhere between 1994 when it won the Newberry Award and 1996 then it won the William Allan White Award, did it land itself on the school required reading lists. For us old farts who were too old for this book to be required, and in our tween and teen years could have cared less about a kiddie book like The Giver, and in our college years passed it over for those books that would enrich our minds like Slaughterhouse Five and War and Peace (because we all read that by choice…) we may have missed this little gem and may have no idea what enrichment it offers to an educated, inquiring, adult mind.

In a dystopian future, the protagonist, Jonas, is awaiting the time of ceremony where each child, depending on their age, is given something that defines that year of their life and will help them in the future. When the book opens, Jonas and his family are going though a period of adaptation. Jonas is awaiting the ceremony of 12 to be assigned his job that he will train for over the next year, his sister is awaiting the ceremony of  8 where she will receive her more adult jacket with smaller buttons and pockets and she will get to start her volunteer hours, his mother is a judge who is helping with the ceremony preparations, and his father is a Nurture who is showing special attention to an infant who is developing slower and gets permission to bring him home for one year to give him special nurturing.

There is so much to this tiny book that it would be impossible to summarize it with out giving away so many of the mysteries that make The Giver unique. It is truly a  strange and enthralling novel. It sucks you into a world that is exactly like our own except it is stripped of reality. There are “nuclear families” and school, and jobs, and homes, and stuffed animals, and food and every other thing one might need. The people in Jonas’ world are happy, life is perfect, but only because they don’t know any better. Everything is the same for everyone. It always has been and always will be.

Without giving away details or the ending, this title is something that you just need to read to get and even then it is hard to grasp. It is indescribable without giving it away, and yet even when everything is said and done one is left with this feeling of emptiness that creates an almost need for more, of which there is none.

 

At only 179 pages, The Giver is easily a weekend read. Pick it up and take a step back to childhood this weekend and see what an adult world it can be.

Happy Birthday Sylvia Plath!

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Sylvia Plath

Fighting your way through bad writing or The trek through the Mortal Instruments, part I

I have this problem with books I don’t like or find boring. I have this unexplainable need to finish them even if they are just awful or I can’t get into them. In fact I have a stack of books that about once a year  I pick up each one of them and for a month or so try to force myself to plow through, eventually to put it back at the bottom of the pile for another day. And while a few are books that I grabbed off the shelf because their covers called to me, most of them are books that were suggested to me by trusted friends  or colleagues or are prize winners and bestsellers that I felt were books I had to read to see what the hype was about. Sometimes this pile works out for the better. If it hadn’t been for my pile of unfinished reading I never would have given The Road a second chance, and now that I did, it is one of my favorite books.  Unfortunately most of these books end up returning to the pile over and over again only to pushed off again for another day. Poor Jurassic Park has been returning to that pile every year since I bought it in 1993. I want to read it, I really do, but I just can’t get past page 75!

And this brings me to my current problem. The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. I have two friends/colleagues who are just head over heels for this series. So when my Borders was going out of business I decided to purchase the first three in the series to see what all of the fuss was about. As I said these are people who’s literary judgement I hold in high regard, who have suggested other titles to me that I found to be exceptional and brilliant. So when they both insisted that I read this series I had no reason to doubt their suggestion.

Image courtesy of http://blackplume.files.wordpress.com If you are not familiar with this series here is a synopsis from the official website for the first book in the series:

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.

Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-four hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.

But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know….

Sounds intriguing enough right? And don’t get me wrong the premise set up on the back of the book is enticing. But it stops there.

This book was terrible! The writing was mediocre at best, the social interaction between the characters is uncomfortable and unimaginative, and the “sexy” aspect that is toted on the cover by tween author Holly Black, is entertaining at best and down right nauseating by the end. (I will go into no more on that as not to spoil it for those of you who still wish to read it.)

Now this is just the first book. I bought the first three. My hope is that by the end of it all I will see what all the hype was about, but I am currently on page 200 of Book 2, The City of Ashes, and I have been on page 200 for about 3 weeks now. I really am trying, but this book has been sitting by my bedside for weeks and I keep opting to listen to old time radio shows instead of reading it. Hopefully this book is not going the  way of Jurassic Park, and hopefully it gets better…I’ll keep you posted.

 

The Road-You’re walking it now, you could be walking it again

The Road-You’re walking it now, you could be walking it again.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice–Sherlock Holmes for a new audience…women

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice–Sherlock Holmes for a new audience…women.

‘A Christmas Carol’ it’s not just for Christmas anymore

‘A Christmas Carol’ it’s not just for Christmas anymore.

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