Monday, January 30, 2012

Celebrating 11K views (and the trolls)

So nearly 2 years ago I posted a very negative, rant heavy James Patterson review on youtube.  As anyone who reads this blog should know that's not my normal reviewing style.  But I'd just spent over $30 on an audiobook for a best stelling YA book and it was horrific.  Honestly it's one of the worst books I've read to date.

I was spit-firing mad about it too.  Not just because I'd wasted my money or my time.  But because this book made the bestsellers listed based on name recognition rather than quality.  So I filmed this vlog.


For a long time this vlog was ignored.  I used to spend a lot of time on YouTube during the heyday of Lonelygirl15 until the end of that show.  But I never was much of a vlogger.  Occasionally I'd film something.  I'd enjoy the process of filming and editing it but I didn't have a schedule or a purpose.

I'm not sure when it happened, but somehow this vlog caught fire.  No it didn't go viral.  No it's not wildly popular.  But I started getting comment notifications daily.  I have no idea who's passing it around or what James Patterson fansite got ahold of it.  

The comments are all almost negative (towards me) and some are downright mean.  But they are also hilarious.  The atrocious grammar, the illogical arguments, the contradictory insults.  This is internet trolling at it's funniest.  At first I avoided the comments.  Now whenever I need a laugh I go read them.  Occasionally I even respond.  Over time I became pretty impervious to all the insults.

Less than a month ago I checked and I was at 8,500 views.  Today when I went to check I'm at 11,000+ views.  WOOHOOO!!!!! I've had over 500 hundred views since Saturday.  I'm kinda ridiculously excited.  And kicking myself for not setting up adsense on my YouTube account sooner.  

So thanks for the hate!  And thanks for my friends who've helped me learn to laugh at the comments!  You've helped me accept the video's popularity and are my bullet-proof coat against the insults.  I'm not sure how this video became so popular but I'm still loving it!

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Butterfly Clues (review)

4/5 stars

I have a soft spot for characters who are just a little bit mentally ill.  Maybe it's because I've watched Benny and Joon too many times (favorite movie, must watch).  It could also be that slightly mentally ill narrators have a distinctive voice that I find compelling.  Whatever the reason, The Butterfly Clues pulled me in.
"Every school a fresh reminder: no one wants to get to know the new kid, especially if the new kid is a weirdo who spends every second of every day trying not to seem like a total spaz in front of her teachers and classmates."
Lo is the constant new girl, a loner riddled with rituals and OCD that she tries to hide.  When books have a pretty girl who's completely ignored I normally find it unbelievable.  But add a little OCD, have the character tap tap tap banana- ing through the whole novel (taping & saying banana) then it feels much more realistic.

For some reason I thought this might have some paranormal tidbits. I have no idea where I got that idea because it's not paranormal in the least. It's a book about a girl with OCD solving a mystery.  Sometimes the whole "teen solving crime" storyline bothers me because I find myself shouting "WHY DON'T YOU CALL THE POLICE?"  Except in this story, Lo actually has a reason for not calling the police.  Then eventually when it gets out of hand she does contact the authorities (gasp! I know!).  Unfortunately due to her OCD they think she's a druggie and ignore what she says. Poor Lo.

Another reason this story struck a chord with me is that even though the main plotline is a mystery, this book is really about Lo trying to cope with the death of her brother.  I'm always drawn to books that deal with grief, especially when it's done in a more subtle way.  Some books want to say "Look I'm an Issue Book.  Let's talk about grief."  Then some books, such as The Butterfly Clues, show you someone trying to put the pieces of their life back together in the midsts of grief.  I much prefer the latter.  

The urban setting is vibrant with artsy.  At times it toes the line with trying too hard to be artsy.  There are street artists, homemade wigs and scary interpretive dancers/homeless people.  But I forgive all that.  Because Neverland, the run down section Cleveland where the book takes place, seems almost mythical at times.  But whenever you start to idealize the life of a street kid, the book drags you back to reality with strip clubs, drugs and murders.

The romance should have bothered me more than it did.  I only bought it because I felt Lo's loneliness so strongly.  She needed someone to tell her she was okay, to accept and ignore her rituals.  Was it a little rushed? Yes.  Too much too soon? Yep.  But I found myself wanting it for Lo.  In a world that had taken so much and treated her so unfairly I wanted her to have some happiness.

This book did have some flaws but they were all forgivable.  Yes it has some cliches, some story lines that we've seen before.  But the typical cliches actually made sense in this book.  But in the end it didn't matter.  I wasn't bothered by the flaws because I was too busy cheering for Lo.

Thanks to Netgalley for the e-galley!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Future of Us (review)

3/5 stars

For me this book is just okay.  It had a really interesting concept.  A high school girl in 1996 sets up her computer then sets up AOL.  For reasons (unexplained still at the end of the novel) she finds Facebook already in her favorites.  When she logs on she finds the her own profile 15 years in the future.

She looks at her future on Facebook and bemoans that she's not happy.  So she tries to change her future.  And it works!  Her new future seems better than her first future, but she's still not satisfied and tries to change it again.  For me this was frustrating to read.  Emma did not seem to understand that maybe the problem wasn't the men that she eventually married, but the problem was her.

I could already tell what kind of facebooker Future Emma was.  I'm sure you've all met this type before.  The "My Life is So Bad Please Pity Me," facebooker.  Unfortunately, I know a lot of these people.  Sometimes I've even asked Facebook to only show me their "important updates" because the whining gets out of control.  They're almost as bad as the overly religious Facebook posts that are my personal pet peeve (this week I'm downright angry over one that said "Share if you love God. If you Love the Devil Keep Scrolling).

My main issue with this novel is Emma.  I just didn't like her.  She is a believable 16-year-old, but that's not always a good thing.  She is so selfish throughout this book.  She doesn't care who her decisions effect.  With Emma it's all about her happiness.  For me she crossed the line when she tried to change Kellen's future without her consent (even though Kellen looked happy in the future).

1996 Emma is discontent and whiney.  Her life isn't perfect but nobody's is.  By the end of the book I'm not even sure that she understands that the problem isn't the men in her life, the problem is her perspective on life.  There's a glimmer of hope, but she still seems to base her future potential happiness on the boys in her life.

The book ends with future Emma deleting her facebook account.  Emma philosophizes that maybe future Emma is somehow tuned into what past Emma is feeling.  Say what?  Shouldn't Future Emma remember Present Emma?  That seemed to be a huge logic fail.  If the ripples of Present Emma's choices effect her future, then how could her future self not remember discovering Facebook in 1996?  And if Future Emma didn't remember then how did Present Emma have such an impact on her life?

Time travel is always tricky.  This book doesn't attempt to go into the science behind it (thank goodness) and completely ignores most of the conundrums it presents.  If you're going to write a book about seeing the future these details need to be included.  Ignoring them feels lazy.

The book is a thoughtful look at how even the smallest choices impact the future.  It just needed a more likable main character and more thought put into the implications of time travel.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Evening Hour (review)

2/5 stars (review contains some spoilers)

Maybe I shouldn't have tried to read this book. I might be too close to the subject matter. But that's exactly what drew me to The Evening Hour.  I keep waiting for that book that gets Appalachia, that understands the complicated relationship we have with coal.  My mother works in mine permitting, consulting coal companies, climbing mountains and mapping streams.  She's worked directly for coal companies in the past.  So I've been raised around the industry and I know more than your average reader.

This book is trying to be gritty and realistic. Only it tries too hard. Appalachia has a whole score of issues. One book cannot possibly tackle it all.  But this book tries to bring in homosexuality, coal, the drug epidemic and even snake handling churches (which is one stereotype too many in my opinion).

If the book had been realistic it would've worked much better.  But the book seems to be stuck in the past without a real understanding of the modern coal industry.  Regardless of how you feel about coal it's highly regulated.  Permits are a huge expensive hassle.  Coal companies are no longer allowed to do whatever they want.

From everything I know (and consulting with a professional aka my mom) the diaster that is the climax of the book isn't even possible on such a large scale.  It's based on what happened in 1972, nearly 40 years ago.  To write a book set in modern times but to not acknowledge the way the industry has changed just doesn't make sense to me.  According to my expert, sludge ponds are built to maintain a 100 year rain event.  Terraces lead up to them and they are surveyed every month.  Any movement would be detected.  None of this science seemed to be taken into account for this novel.

This book also refuses to acknowledge that most of Appalachians are pro-coal.  Here in Kentucky we see tons of "Friends of Coal" and "Coal Keeps the Lights On" signs everywhere.  This book completely ignored that.  To me that is the most glaring omission. Any character who spoke about coal opposed it, which simply is not true in Appalachia.  If you're going to write a realistic contemporary fiction you can't change the whole region to fit your worldview.

Sadly this book just fell short in too many ways for me.  It panders to what outsiders thinks of coal and Appalachia.  Its preachy and tries to tell people what to think.  Rather than delve into the the truly complicated relationship, it just tells people who oppose coal exactly what they want to hear. Never mind that it's inaccurate because nobody except us Appalachians will know the difference and nobody ever pays attention to us anyways.

I'm not stating an opinion on the coal industry with this review. I'm just stating what I see, travelling 22 counties in Eastern Kentucky and living with the industry in my home.  This book is too full of stereotypes and too unrealistic for my tastes.

Spoilerish links
Apparently the author researched this diaster 12 years ago, which was on a much smaller scale than the one in the novel with no fatalities. Martin County Sludge Spill
This is the one in 1972 that most closely sounds like the events of the novel. Buffalo Creek Flood

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Fault In Our Stars

4.5/5 Stars

Warning for the ladies: Do not wear mascara when reading this book.

I was sitting at my sister's soccer banquet reading The Fault in Our Stars (nerd alert). I kept anticipating someone coming up and asking me what I was reading.  Which left me dumbfounded.  The only thing that popped into my head was, "It's not a Cancer Book!"

You know the books I'm talking about. If you are my age you probably read Lurlene McDaniel's One Last Wish series when you were younger.  Or maybe you've given Nicholas Sparks Cancer Books a try.  At first glance, that assessment seems unfair.  Both of the main characters are cancer patients.  So how can I possibly say that it's not a Cancer Book?  Because this book is about much more than death, much more than the Noble Cancer Patient Battling Triumphantly.  This is a book about life, because even in the face of dying, what Esther and Augustus are struggling with is life.

It's a book that asks the Big Questions.  Questions about what it means to be human, what it means to be alive and what happens after death. It's a thought provoking novel, where cancer is the driving force but not the whole story.
"Who am I to say that these things might not be forever? Who is Peter Van Houten to assert as fact the conjectures that our labor is temporary? All I know of heaven and all I know of death is in this park: an elegant universe in ceaseless motion, teeming with ruined ruins and screaming children."
Even in the midst of being brilliantly deep, it's  also delightfully snarky.  To me, that is realism.  Very few people sit around thinking deep thoughts all the time.  People are deep, people are angry and people are silly, none of these excludes the others.  Hazel is both introspective and human, contemplating oblivion, then complaining about Cancer Perks or how her lungs suck at being lungs.
"I didn't tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You're a woman. Now Die."
The characters talk about cancer differently than in any Cancer Book I've ever read.  They sound like real teenagers, albeit extremely intelligent ones, who have already discovered the sad truth that the world is not fair.  Or as they say "The world is not a wish-granting factory."

The book goes between being funny and heart-wrenching in a way that I don't think has ever been done. Normally you have "books that make me laugh"  then on another shelf "books that make me cry."  Very rarely do you have books that make you do both.  It's hard for a book to balance both humor and poignancy, but John Green manages to do that perfectly with The Fault in Our Stars.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Grave Mercy (review)

3.5/5 stars

This book was pure guilty pleasure read for me.  It's got a abbey full of assassins, many who happen to be daughters of death himself, a prickly heroine who thinks she hates men *cough doesn't last cough* court politics, treason and arranged marriages.  Seriously, how can I not read a book where a woman carries a crossbow under her dress?

 If I complained about this book being a guilty pleasure read it would be like buying blue shoes and disliking them for not being green.  I could say all the things this book isn't.  It isn't high fantasy, in fact the magic elements are fairly minor.  It isn't Melina Marchetta that makes me think and feel about the world.  But it's a guilty pleasure, the type of book you're not sure you want to tell people you're reading but that you want to read anyways.  It's the type of book that makes you both groan and giggle at the romance, but you're okay with that because that's what the book is going for.

Ismae took awhile to grow on me. She's a bit cold and bloodthirsty.  She's also got a naiveté that frustrated me at first.  She buys into the covent way too quickly without any skepticism.  But she's also a young uneducated farm girl and the covent is her last hope.  So it is understandable.  Fortunately she grows out of the blind devotion, because let's be honest, blind devotion isn't very fun to read.

I actually liked Duval pretty quickly.  He was analytical, intelligent and the most devoted brother a sister could ask for.  Maybe it's my natural big sister tendency gravitating towards his big brotherness, but his family devotion warmed my heart.

This book is mainly a romance.  But it happens slowly enough over the course of a book, with a plot going on around it, that I actually enjoyed it.  It's not one of those immediately "Then she saw a boy and forgot that she hated men," things.  Or "OOOO Pretty Girl with Pointy Knives," things.  It was built over the course of the book as they worked together towards a common goal.

Maybe it just found me at the right mood.  I enjoyed the historical setting, the drama and intrigue of court.  It was pretty predictable, but the predictions were giggly-worthy.  This book may be flawed, but it was also fun.

Many thanks to Mindy over at Magical Urban Fantasy Reads for hosting the best ARC tours around.  If you haven't checked out her blog you should, also follow her on twitter.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Alas no Hanklerfish (but why they are good for bookstores)

So today my copy of The Fault In Our Stars came today.  WOOT.  EXCITEMENT.

Goat soap, made by John Green's mother in North Carolina also came in the mail today.  I feel like I have done my part to support the Green family this month.

Earlier this week (Wednesday, so not early enough) I went to Barnes and Noble THEN Books-A-Million to search for Hanklerfishes and Yetis.  No luck people!  The lady in the Lexington Barnes and Noble said they'd been picked over already.  That's why I had hope for my small town bookstore, but no such luck.  The Barnes and Noble in Lexington had black sharpie J scribbles, which in the grand scope of sharpies it's like the ugly middle child.  Books-A-Million had blue scribbles which I almost bought in fear that I had gotten a black scribble (I know I am a crazy person).

But you know what I realized as I was checking out in Barnes and Noble?  This, which wasn't meant to be a gimmick but just something cool that started because of the Nerdfighter Community, made me go out of my way to shop in book stores.  Why? It was like a scavenger hunt and who doesn't like looking for hidden treasure?  I did not buy The Fault and Our Stars because I had one that I pre-ordered one from Amazon.  But I bought another book, one I'd been intending to buy for months but hadn't gotten around to (and that I was debating between paper and e-book format)

So I concluded that Hanklerfishes and Yetis are good for bookstores.  I like e-books.  I'm don't think they are the end of the world, Mayan 2012 calendar doomsday type problem that most people think they are.  But I can't have a real signed e-book and I most certainly can't go scavenging around for Hanklerfishes in the Kindle store.  The search was fun, but fruitless and I hope bookstores saw a boom in business from Nerdfighters like me.

By the way, I got a GREEN J-scribble which was what I wanted (well if I couldn't have a hanklerfish or yeti I most definitely wanted a green signature).  So glad I waited and didn't settle for the blue sharpie book!

DFTBA friends!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

RTW: Pseudonym? (With poll!)

Every week YA highway has a Road Trip Wednesday where you visit different blogs. This week their question was:

What would your pseudonym be?

Honestly I can't imagine being anyone other than Cassi.  I've thought about this question before and always am like "but I like my name."

Part of why I like my name (Cassi Haggard) is because Haggard is the type of last name that you have to learn to love.  The word has all kinds of negative connotations.   Mainly that people immediately jump to the word "hag" or those with a wider vocabulary realize the current definition of haggard is tired, gaunt and worn down.  That's not me!  I'm pretty hyper and high energy actually.

Because I am a nerd, in college we had to write a paper researching the etymology of a word. I chose haggard because it was both a word and my last name.  Do you know what the earliest definition was?  "Of a hawk: caught aft having assumed the adult plumage; hence wild;untamed: said also of an own."  Oh Oxford English Dictionary I could kiss you!  Because being a little untamed is a far cry from being worn down.

But I am completely ignoring the question aren't I?  Because that's my name and I just wrote about how I stubbornly don't want to give up my name.

Well if I must then I would still choose a family name.  Cassi Carnes sounds rather nice doesn't it?  And Carnes reminds me of my roots, good ole Stinkin' Creek, Kentucky, where my family originates from.  I'm proud to be a Kentuckian and wouldn't want to pretend to be from anywhere else in the world.  If I couldn't have Cassi I would probably pick an old family name.  They had tons of kids so I could choose from lots.

Here are some of the more interesting choices: Millie, Dicey, Cordie, (There are some names that I'm unsure of the gender like Vantlee and Nebraska), Corddia, Axie, Jula, Effie, Loetra, Mahala, Novella, Silvania, Thursey, etc

Seriously I wonder if they ran out of names because they had some many children.  But some of these like Axie and Thursey repeat!

Since I can't pick will you?

  • Thursey
  • Axie
  • Vantlee
  • Silvania
  • Cordie
  • Dicey
  • Loetra
  • Novella
  • Mahal

Because everyone always wonders about the name Stinking Creek I'll show you that it's really a beautiful place.  Every time I look at pictures it reminds me of a perfect summer day.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Breakdown of a Heroine: Rose from East

4 out of 5 stars

Who is Rose?
Rose in the youngest of nine children, born as the replacement for her sister who died.  Her superstitious mother believes that birth direction determines people's personality.  So when Rose is born, she lies about Rose's birth direction, claiming that Rose is a practical and tidy East born.  Only Rose isn't East born, she is North Born - wild and wandering, curious about the world.  By basing Rose's personality on birth direction this book took a risk.   Rose could have easily been a flat simplified character.  But I liked Rose, she was a nice combination of traits--kind, determined, intelligent and adventurous.

Strength of Character
Rose is both brave and stubborn, a combination that's very believable.  She loves her family, but she also longs for adventure.  She's very loyal and very honest, which explains why she's so upset about her mother's lie.  She isn't the type of heroine who has a sword or weapon.  In fact, her favorite hobby is weaving and she's exceptionally gifted at it.  But she's brave, caring and always true to herself.  She uses her wits, not a weapon to try to solve her problems.

Rose's Storyline
Rose's family is poor, with not enough food for their 8 children or enough money to treat their ailing daughter Sarah.  Then one day a talking white bear shows up at their doorstep with a proposition.  If Rose willingly comes with him, her family's fortunes will change and her ailing sister will recover.  If not they will lose their farm and Sarah will die.

After much arguing among family members (this doesn't happen in the original fairytale but is a nice change), Rose decides to go against her father's will.  Part of it's anger, because her mother has lied to her about being a North born her entire life.  But also because she loves her family and her sister.

The white bear takes Rose to an enchanted castle.  Here we really see Rose's personality, her endless curiosity but also her surprising amounts of patience.  At the castle she becomes determined to find out why she's there and who the enchanted white bear really is.

Romantic Entanglements
There is little romance except towards the end.  It's always unobtrusively in the background.  It's a fairytale, and like most fairytales it has an enchantment and a prince.  But unlike most fairytales, the girl never needs rescuing.  Instead she becomes the rescuer, risking her own life and travelling East of the Sun and West of the Moon to break the enchantment and correct her mistakes.

This book is lovely.  As soon as I finished I downloaded the original fairytale to compare notes.  East tells the same story as "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" but adds the necessary depth to make the story work for a modern audience.  My initial reaction was "How come this never got Disney-fied?" because Rose is a Disney Princess I would support. *holds up "Rose for Princess" sign*  But upon reading the original fairytale, I realize how much work Pattou put into expanding and improving this story.  The basic tale is the same, but the characters are so much realer in the retelling than they ever were in the  original.  Even the villain, who is terrifying, has motives that you can understand.  It's not just "I am doing this because I am the bad guy."  You can almost sympathize with her while cheering for Rose.

If you like fairytales and want something that's different then this is highly recommended.  It's not like most modern books.  It's not meant to be funny or snarky or mopey in any way.  It's reads like a fairytale, probably because it's so true to the original, which is delightfully different from a lot of the books out there.  If I had to compare it to another book, I would say the vibe reminds me of Shannon Hale.  The audiobook is good with full cast narration that gives the varied perspectives (there are a lot of POVs) distinctly different voices.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Dream Writer's Retreat

"Describe your dream writing retreat. Where would you go? Who and what would you bring?"

YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday asked what my dream writer's retreat would be and and who I would want to go with.  So I wrote a LONG post with pictures.  Then the blogger monster ate it. So let's try this again!

Where would I go?
My dream writer's treat would take place in Adelboden, Switzerland.  You've probably never heard of that town, it's a small village in the Swiss Alps.  I'd never heard of it until college when I decided to volunteer at a Girl Scout World Center.  The moment I heard about Our Chalet I had to go!  Switzerland, with it's rugged mountains and beautiful scenery captured my imagination.

I had high expectations.  Adelboden exceeded all of them. It was like living in a postcard.  Outside of every window you saw beautiful views.  The people were some of the kindest I've ever met (someday I will tell you the story of the Swiss family that saved our cat from a tree).  There is no wireless internet at the chalet, the village is a 30 minute walk (down the mountain, then up the hill on the other side), and the scenery is simply inspiring.  It's entirely different from American living, but in the most wonderful way.

What more do you need?
Oh right, then there's the chocolate.  The small grocery store in the village has a whole aisle devoted to chocolate.  What more do writers need?

Who would I take?
My twitter friends! I may have never met most of you but you are the most encouraging writing companions a girl could have.  Plus you deserve to see the amazingness that is Adelboden. It would inspire you!

What would I bring?
Hiking boots, a camera and a laptop

Need proof that this is a dream location? PICTURES!

This is Our Chalet. This is a real picture taken by me. 
It REALLY looks like that.

We could stay here at Baby Chalet.  It's SOOO cute.
It's a tiny little house, sleeps about four, with a kitchen and everything.

We could eat lovely meals family style with all the other guests. 
Hear stories from volunteers from around the world. 

This is the view of Adelboden across the valley from Our Chalet. 

We could take a break from writing to go iceskating surrounded by mountains.

Don' like snow?  This is a beautiful September day in Adelboden.