Wednesday Videos: Harry Potter and Friends

WednesdayVideoThis video has been posted EVERYWHERE – but it’s so sweet you’ll probably want to see it twice.  So here you go – Harry Potter and Co. set to the opening credits from the TV show “Friends”.  I have something in my eyes…oh right, those are SENTIMENTAL TEARS.  *sniff*

And here’s the Avengers version because OMG AGE OF ULTON I CANNOT CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT!!

Kickass Women: Mary Bowser

Over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I run a monthly column about Kickass Women.  This month was about Mary Bowser, Civil War spy.  Bowser was born a slave and freed by the Van Lew family.  She worked for Elizabeth Van Lew as a servant.  Van Lew was a spymaster for the Union and she got Bowser as job as a domestic at the Confederate White House.  Everyone assumed that Bowser was illiterate, and she also pretend to be not very bright.  As a result, she had access to maps, letters, documents, and conversations.  Not only could she read and write, but she had an eidetic memory.  Van Lew considered Bowser to be the most valuable spy in her network.

You can read more about Mary Bowser here!

Between the Lines Book Club: All the Gossip about Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Ibetween the lines book club logot’s that time in the Between the Lines Book Club session when I post links, and oh what yummy links I have for you!  This month we’ve been reading Love in the Time of Cholera.  If you are in or near Sacramento, CA, be sure to visit our in-person  book club at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM Saturday April 25.

The life and work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez lends itself to much deep, thoughtful, intellectual conversation.  It also lends itself to some VERY juicy gossip.  For example:

Garcia Marquez’ parents had a tortured courtship similar to the early courtship between Florentino and Fermina in Love in the Time of Cholera.  Dad did not approve of these two crazy kids getting together, but Garcia Marquez father won him down through dogged persistence, and won Garcia Marquez’ mother through love letters and serenades.  You can read all about it in this article: “Serendade: How my Father Won my Mother”, by Garcia Marquez himself.

Oh writers, they are such a dry lot, always arguing about grammar – except for when they are punching each other in the face. In this New York Times article, you can read about the literary and personal feud between Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, and see a photo of Marquez sporting a spectacular black eye after Mario Vargas Llosa pouched him.  The cause seems to have been jealousy regarding Vargas Llosa’s wife.  At one point Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez were best friends, but they had literary and political disagreements.  Then Vargas Llosa cheated on his wife, Garcia Marquez befriended her, Vargas Llosa and the wife reconciled, cue punching.  Interestingly, both writers ended up winning the Nobel Prize in literature – Garcia Marquez in 1982 and Vargas Llosa in 2010.  You can read more here.

Of course the man was not all about scandal – he was a writer who wrote gorgeous, often very moving prose.  When he died, Arts.Mic posted Thirteen Quotes to remember him by.  Here’s my favorite:

“There is always something left to love.” —One Hundred Years of Solitude

Between the Lines Book Club Meets Tomorrow!

between the lines book club logoTomorrow (May 30, 2015) Between the Lines Book Club meets at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30 AM (891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95864). If you are following along online, drop us a comment and let us know what you thought of this month’s pick, The People’s Platform, by Astra Taylor!

The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in a Digital Age is a book that challenges commonly held ideas about how “democratized” and “open” the Internet actually is.  Here’s a couple of quotes from the book:

“wealth and power are shifting to those who control the platforms on which all of us create, consume, and connect. The companies that provide these and related services are quickly becoming the Disneys of the digital world—monoliths hungry for quarterly profits, answerable to their shareholders not us, their users, and more influential, more ubiquitous, and more insinuated into the fabric of our everyday lives than Mickey Mouse ever was. As such they pose a whole new set of challenges to the health of our culture.”

“Those who applaud social production and networked amateurism, the colorful cacophony that is the Internet, and the creative capacities of everyday people to produce entertaining and enlightening things online, are right to marvel. There is amazing inventiveness, boundless talent and ability, and overwhelming generosity on display. Where they go wrong is thinking that the Internet is an egalitarian, let alone revolutionary, platform for our self-expression and development, that being able to shout into the digital torrent is adequate for democracy.”

“New media companies look remarkably like the old ones they aspire to replace: male, pale, and privileged.”

What do you think?  How does the Internet benefit you?  How does it hold you back?  Leave your comments below and join us tomorrow for coffee and conversation.

Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, by Lisa Pliscou

YoungJaneAustenCOVER-214x300Young Jane Austen is a sweet, but odd, children’s book about the childhood of Jane Austen.  It’s actually three books.  The first is a children’s book which is a “speculative biography”.  The author is clear in the introduction that she is using the few facts about Jane’s early life as a springboard to try to imagine this life in more detail.  It’s graced with charming illustrations by Massimo Mongiaro.  They are lovely line drawings that convey a delicate sense of emotion and detail.  The writing is more awkward – in trying to keep the language simple, the author frequently comes across as talking down to her audience.

Art by Massimo Mongiaro

Art by Massimo Mongiaro

The second book within a book is the annotated version – here we get the whole book again with each section followed by more factual notes and background.  It’s an odd structure.  I preferred the annotations to the actual book, to be honest, because they involved less conjecture and were more matter-of-fact in tone – the main text is quite cutesy.

The annotations are followed by a short biography of Jane Austen and a timeline, as well as a bibliography.

So did I like the book?  Well, I found the information in the timeline and annotations to be helpful, and I loved the illustrations.  To be fair, I should find some children and get their opinion of the main section of text.  I’m pretty sure that my eleven year old daughter would view it with withering scorn because the tone is so cutesy.  Perhaps it might work better for a child of around eight?  Of course it’s hampered by the fact that not much happens. But I can imagine a very specific type of child being interested in the portrait of an avid reader from long ago.

The construction of the book was needlessly repetitive – honestly I’ve never seen a book constructed this way before.  The book did do a good job of showing Jane as a person instead of a mysterious genius icon.  And the illustrations are lovely.  Die-hard adult Austen fans will enjoy the details about Jane’s early life and younger children might be attracted to the portrait of a little girl who loves to play and read.



Between the Lines Book Club: Magical Realism

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club!  This month, we are discussing Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel, Love in the Time of Cholera.  You can leave a comment below, or come join us for our in person book club on April 25, at 10:30AM.  We meet at Arden Dimick Library at 891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95864.  Coffee and light snack provided.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is famous for his use of magical realism.  He described the style in these words: “It was based on the way my grandmother used to tell her stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness.”

The term “magical realism” is a nebulous one.  At it’s core, it describes a style in which magical things occur without comment or explanation.  Often these things serve as metaphor.  A matter-of-fact tone is key, as stated by

One important aspect of any magical realist text is that the author recounts seemingly incredible events without sounding the least bit surprised, impressed, or spooked. It’s essential that the author present these supernatural aspects of the story in a matter-of-fact way, like Gabo does here – otherwise it wouldn’t be magical realism. It would be a ghost story.

The online magazine Margin, which is devoted to modern magical realism, asks contributors to consider these questions when deciding whether or not a story is one that uses magical realism:

“Is there an event in my story that cannot be explained by universal laws or logic?”

“Will my reader witness a collision of disparate realms in my story?”

“Does my fictional world clearly resemble my own real world? Does it share the same historical and/or cultural realities?”

“Have I allowed certain contradictions and ambiguities to exist in my story?”

“Is there a metamorphosis in my story? Is it treated as something mundane?”

“Do I use imagery, symbols, and/or metaphor to drive the narrative?”

“If the story is in first person, is my narrator a charmed or extra-ordinary storyteller?”

“Does the structure of my story reflect its deeper meaning?”

“Do I employ folklore, mythology and/or ancient systems of belief in my story?”

“Is the realism in my story heightened, even exaggerated or supercharged?”

“Might my story have a subversive message?”

“Do I have elements of both the unreal and reality interwoven into my story? Is the weave seamless?”

“Does my story involve otherwise voiceless characters, abandoned places or rejected ideas? Is my story told from the point of view of The Other?”

“Do I achieve a sense of enchantment without using fantastical devices and creatures — i.e. crystal balls, dragons, magic spells, elves — in favor of realistic objects and characters?” (TIP: YOUR STORY WILL GET PAST THE FIRST READING IF YOU MEET THIS GOAL.)

“Does my story illustrate an alternative truth?”

Although magical realism is associated with Latin American authors, it’s by no means limited to that part of the world.  Some notable examples of works that can be considered magical realism (other than the work of Garcia Marquez) are Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Equivel, White Teeth, by Zadie Smith, Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie, and A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond.

Margins magazine has an amazing links page with recommendation of articles and books on magical realism as well as interviews with authors.  You can find it at

Happy Early Birthday, Charlotte

Charlotte Bronte’s birthday isn’t until April 21, but we’re celebrating early this year BECAUSE WE CAN.  Happy birthday, Charlotte!

To celebrate, here’s my favorite moment from Jane Eyre:

“I tell you I must go!” I retorted, roused to something like passion. “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?–a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!–I have as much soul as you,–and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;–it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,–as we are!…I am no bird, and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”

Well, that was bracing.  Go do something awesome today, in memory of Charlotte!

Between the Lines Book Club: A Short Biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

WednesdayVideoThis month in Between the Lines Book Club we are discussing Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Marquez’s writing had a huge influence on fiction not only in Latin America but across the world.

Gabriel Jose de la Concordia Garcia Marquez was born in 1927 in Columbia.  He was raised by his grandparents for his first ten years of life, and then by his parents.  Gabriel’s parents, Gabriel (Sr) and Luisa, had a turbulent romance.  Luisa’s father disapproved of Gabriel Sr., but he won Luisa with countless letters and with violin serenades – a courtship that became part of Love in the Time of Cholera.

Garcia Marquez worked at several different newspapers as a journalist, columnist, and film critic.  He was active in politics, exposing corruption in his series “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor” and assisting i the overthrow of Venezuelan president Marcos Perez Jiminez.  In 1958 he married Mercedes Baracha.  They had two sons together.

Garcia Marquez’s first novel was One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel which was inspired by his Grandparent’s household.  It was an instant hit and gave him international fame.  His books include fiction, non-fiction (News of a Kidnapping), and memoir (Living to Tell the Tale).  He also wrote film and television screenplays.  In 1982 he received the Nobel Prize for literature, because of “his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts”.

The author passed away in 2014, from pneumonia, at the age of 87.

Book Review: The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon

The_Bone_Season_coverThis review brought to you by guest reviewer Heather Thayer

Every now and then one reads a book and the primary thought is “editors – the publishing industry needs editors.” The Bone Season is one of those books. It is close to being good – even close to being great – but it fails to get there.

There are lots of books I want to read, and my habit is that when a book catches my eye I add it to my wishlist at and the next time I am in Portland I buy twenty or thirty books at a time (thank you family member discount!). I then have boxes of books sitting deliciously in my spare room, waiting for me to rummage through and pick one that strikes my fancy at the moment. All of which is a long way of saying that I don’t remember if I had read the reviews that touted Samantha Shannon as the next JK Rowling or The Bone Season as the next Hunger Games, but if I had, by the time I read the book I had long forgotten all of it. That’s a good thing, because if I had remembered I would have hated this book. As it was, I read it with interest but mounting disappointment as the book got close to being wonderful but then veered aside.

The Bone Season is set in a dystopian future in which clairvoyants are common but a despised minority. England, where the novel is set, is under the control of Scion, a totalitarian state where clairvoyants often join criminal gangs to stay safe from a government that hates them and hunts them down. Our young heroine, Paige Mahoney, is a member of one such criminal gang. Early in the novel, an event occurs that draws the attention of the authorities to Paige and she is captured, but to her surprise, instead of being executed, she is shipped off to Oxford, a city that has disappeared from all maps. Oxford has been taken over by the Rephaim, a cruel, imperious race from the Netherworld. For two hundred years, they have had a deal with Scion – Scion will round up clairvoyants and every ten years hand them over to the Rephaim as slaves, and the Rephaim (and the captured clairvoyants) will protect the normal humans from the Emim – mysterious vicious monsters also from the Netherworld.

If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. The world-building is pretty good, but it falls half an explanation short of complete clarity. The tendency of the author to use elaborate made-up vocabulary without explanation or sufficient context to have it make sense doesn’t help. Paige is brought to the Rephaim and told that she will undergo training and trials to see if she will be accepted as one of the fighting force (regarded as collaborators) or will be relegated to the ranks of the “yellow” – clairvoyants who eke out a bare existence in Oxford. We meet Warden Arcturus, a Rephaim who takes on the role as Paige’s Keeper, and from the first moment, the author broadcasts what is going to happen as Paige’s first impression is, “He was the single most beautiful and terrible thing I’d ever laid eyes on.” Obvious much? As might be predicted, Paige has an unusual gift that the Rephaim want (surprise, surprise) and after some token hardships (because that’s how dystopian novels work), she undergoes training, eventually gets her merit badge and then other stuff happens.

The novel lurches on, data dumps (all of the confusing classifications of clairvoyants), interspersed with confusing plot points and unexplained made-up vocabulary. This novel is the apex of “tell, don’t show” as Paige assures us repeatedly that she “loathes,” “despises,” “hates” the Rephaim and Warden in particular, but he seems okay – certainly no worse than Scion. Characters drop in and are instant friends for no reason in a setting rife with betrayals and collaborators, and then they drop out again. Continuity errors abound – characters pop in and out of scenes at a moment’s notice – there when it is convenient, suddenly not there when it isn’t. At one point I think the author kept calling an important place by two different names – as if she had decided to change the name but didn’t catch all of the places it needed to be fixed. All of which begs the question – where was the editor?

And that is the crux of it – this novel is close to being quite good. The world building is fine, it just needed a little polishing. There needed to be a lot more showing, a lot less telling, and better explanation and gradual incorporation of confusing terms. The continuity errors are so obvious – it was some piss-poor editing that they weren’t fixed. There is a germ of an interesting story trying to get out – I feel like we have the author’s first draft of world-building ideas, character sketches and plot outline and someone said, “Hey, I hear YA dystopian novels are all the rage, let’s print this sucker and make it a seven-book deal!” Unfortunately, no one bothered to make it a coherent, interesting whole. There are no character arcs — characters that start one-dimensional (most of them) stay one dimensional. We find out a little bit about one or two characters, but not enough to make them real or make us care what happens to them. Even the main characters do not change over the course of the book – we just learn a few extra facts about them.

Even with all of its flaws, the novel starts to explore some interesting ideas – what are we willing to put up with if the people around us substitute as family? To whom do we owe our loyalties? What are we willing to compromise – what rights are we willing to give up for safety? Unfortunately, although as a reader we can see these questions they are never explored. Paige ends the novel in the same place as she started it – while the events that happened should have caused her to question her assumptions and change, she doesn’t. It is evident that this book was the first in a series and a lot is being left for subsequent books; however, for the reader to be willing to embark on such a long journey the first steps have to show the promise of greater things to come. The Bone Season has not convinced me that the destination will be worth the trouble of the trip.

Between the Lines Book Club: Love in the Time of Cholera

between the lines book club logoTime for Between the Line’s Book Club April pick!  This April, we are reading Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Comment below every Friday, and/or meet us in person at the Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, on April 25, 2015 at 10:30AM.

Love in the Time of Cholera was written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel-prize winning Columbian author.  The book explores the meaning of love and romance, as well as the non-linear nature of time.  It also makes use of magical realism, a style pioneered by Marquez, although he disliked the label, saying “I simply write the way my grandmother told stories.”  In magical realism, fantastical elements are presented side by side with mundane events, usually without explanation and with highly symbolic meaning.

In an article for SFReporter, Lee Miller said the following about Marquez’s writing in general, and Love in the Time of Cholera in particular:

Select readers don’t enjoy Garcia-Marquez’s tickling… his shifting center, the big hooks, the Faulkneresque complexity of form (minus Faulkner’s incoherence), the solitude, the fateful mistakes, the love and destruction, the loyalty and betrayal, such life and death—all grand and exaggerated. Yet for most, the author brings an elite pleasure, a grand understanding of self and the world, along with laughter, lightheartedness, and a special wavelength of joy. Through “magical realism,” Garcia-Marquez expands the visible spectrum of humanity.