Archive | July 2012

Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard

312 pages

Published 2006

USA Publisher: Warner Books (Right)

UK Publisher: John Murray (Left)

Twelve-year-old Veronica Swan comes from a loving Mormon family. Living in Utah she adores taking care of her two little sisters. Witnessing their murder is an event that forever changes Veronica, her family and the entire community.

As ‘Ronnie’ grows up and processes the grief whilst welcoming the birth of a new sibling, she looks to her faith for guidance. As her life begins to regain normality, she plans her future with best friend Clare and falls in love with the tough neighbour boy Miko. Everything she knows and trusts is tested when her parents choose to publicly forgive their daughter’s murderer, Scott Early. Unable to accept what her parents have done, Ronnie carves a path that will shape her life than more she ever expected.

Mitchard is able to capture the true voice of a teen in tragedy whilst able to blend the complex Mormon faith for readers to understand. Although not directly considered a YA novel, I believe due to the age of Ronnie throughout most of the book that it can be placed in this category. Blending adult issues and themes with teenage angst of true love that’s dampened by different faiths, Cage of Stars is a complex story of forgiveness.

Capturing grace and honestly, Mitchard is able to portray intense tragedy and how people move on. At the same time she’s able to keep Ronnie’s voice true. The tone and language used never falters from the teenage context, even as she becomes a young adult. Slow paced but powerful, Cage of Stars is a great novel to nurse the heart through a difficult time. Ronnie’s strength will inspire, whereas her daring will provide an open channel to process those ‘what if’s?’ we all feel when tragedy hits home. Lastly, her resolve creates peace and sets an example that no mater bad things are, it’s important to hang on for just a little longer.

Sorority Life

There is a fantastically outrageous article written by Abigail Sullivan Moore of The New York Times about consultants paid to ‘pledge prep’* young women for sorority formal recruitment.

The article is rich with quotes from these ‘consultants’ and just what they teach impressionable young women:

Ms. von Sperling offers a Friday-to-Sunday intensive, for $8,000. One day is devoted to carrying yourself properly and the art of conversation. Treat rush, she says, as you would a job interview. Avoid politics and religion. “I teach them how to make interesting small talk: what you saw at the cinema, a trip to Europe. I don’t know too many 20-year-olds who are having a debate about economics.”

Aren’t we past this?

There’s also Rushbiddies, a mother team that not only focuses on the mother herself working to make impressions for her daughter, but also instilling the trait that bribery is acceptable:

“With the help of Ms. Foster and Ms. Grant, who wears a pink feather boa during workshops, Mrs. King asked alumnae of about 10 chapters, several from U.Va., to write her daughter’s recommendations. To guide their plaudits, she sent them packets with a professional photograph, transcript and résumé. To thank them, she dropped off a bottle of rosé in their mailboxes.

The rush proved successful, but, she says, “I’m just glad I didn’t have four daughters.”

Gawker also has an excellent article digesting the NYT piece. Give it a read.

(the good kind)

Even when Moore tried to present a consultant that doesn’t entirely teach her customers to be superficial, the fact of the matter is that these girls are being trained to focus on stereotypes themselves.

“Many students who don’t get asked back by their dream sorority during the early rounds walk away from recruitment altogether. Last year at the University of Virginia, 27 percent left during January rush. Students often have their hearts set on a particular house, says Michael J. Citro, the assistant dean of students.

Or a rushee might limit herself to the house her mother belonged to (legacy status is a plus but no guarantee of a bid). Ms. Burciaga encourages her clients to keep an open mind about chapters they visit. “I talk to them about what seems like a good fit for them,” she says.”

I was in a sorority for four years. I remember that pressure. I wasn’t chosen by my first choice, but I joined the right choice for me.

Phired Up Productions, an ‘educational firm’ also released an article with their reaction to ‘Pledge Prep’. It’s just as bad because it provides unrealistic expectations. ‘Oh hey, this is negative but that’s not what were about!’

The reality is that on certain college campuses fall recruitment can be one’s worst nightmare, whilst on others there’s a space for everyone. With the state of the current economy it’s almost an allegory for life.

The last thing I have to say is that Moore implies that these girls have to pretend to be someone else in order to get accepted. For the ‘real’ sorority experience, you should never be ashamed of who you are. That’s not the way to find ‘the right fit’. Who cares if one sorority doesn’t have the best reputation? If you fit in and like them, and they like you – join and change their stereotype! Sororities go through life cycles. Your mother’s chapter isn’t going to be the same as it is for you. Unless it’s in the South – just kidding! No, I’m actually not.

*Please note that true sorority women use the correct terminology. You cannot ‘prep’ a pledge. A young woman that is a sorority ‘pledge’ means she has already received an official bid invitation to join a sorority. The correct term should be ‘potential new member prep’ or ‘recruitment prep’. Please see the Huffington Post College article that made errors and yours truly got them to issue a correction.

Midwinterblood

(Click photo to enlarge)

Midwinterblood

By Marcus Sedgwick

263 Pages

Published 2011

USA Publisher: Roaring Book Press (Macmillan)

UK Publisher: Indigo (Hachette)

Torn apart,

By blood,

For the future.

 

Love so true,

To be united,

Seven times.

 

A sacrifice,

Both sides,

On Blessed.

 

A unique island,

Holding secrets,

Discovered page by page.

 

No children,

A dragon flower,

And a wandering hare.

 

Born before,

Born again,

Born another time.

 

A story of reincarnation,

True love,

A sacrifice for prosperity.

The poem is my form of a summary for the book. It’s difficult to write an informative review of such a book that needs no explanation. Just read it. Honestly, I didn’t want to like to Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood. Sedgwick’s been publishing books since 2000, but this is my first.  The beginning section was a bit rough; I found some of the sentence structure distracting. However, once that section was finished, boy does the narrative change and pick up! I found myself being sucked in, and finishing the last 150 pages in one sitting.

Moving back in time with each section the reader is given further clues as to what exactly is occurring during the first. The ability to switch point of views and effective tones is miraculous. With each passing section secrets are discovered, causing the need to finish to see how it ends. The subject of reincarnation is subtle, presenting the reader with an unconventional love story told throughout time.

Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood is an unusually engaging time travelling love story. It presents the idea that true love will always find each other, although not in the traditional sense. Delightfully weird, I’d give Midwinterblood a chance if you have a long train journey, because you’re sure to finish it before you reach your destination.

Soup Love

July in London is unpredictable. Coming from Seattle, July is known for the 4th, BBQ’s and an intense heat with sunshine everyday.

This July, London has been nothing but rainy, grey and drab with mixed humidity. It’s as if this country is doing everything it can to make me homesick. Paired with a bleak future and heartbreak, keeping myself feed is the least of my concern. I’ve thrown myself into reading, but finishing The Hunger Games wasn’t easy. If you have any suggestions for what to read after such a trilogy, I’m dying to occupy my mind.

Working part-time does wonders for my creativity on meal planning. With the rain and lack of warmth, I scoured the Internet for a soup recipe for the things I had on hand: bacon, onions and carrots.

The end result was far from what the original recipe directed me to do, but it turned out so lovely I’m thinking of making it again with some more veg.  It’s perfect with the bread I haven’t been able to consume, freezes, and was just the thing for a hearty meal for my sick flatmate.

Adapted from Potato and Onion Soup from Allrecipes.com

4 rashers (aka bacon)

1-2 potatoes (any kind)

2 carrots

¼ cup butter

2 onions (I originally used only 1 onion and found it wasn’t enough!)

2 quarts water (or 8 cups because math is my frienemy)

½ tablespoon of salt

lots of pepper

1 cube of vegetable stock

1-2 cups mix of noodles, any kind (I used a mix of macaroni and fusilli)

¼ butter

½ cup sour cream

1/8 teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)

Soup isn’t difficult to mess up, and I am certainly not a foodie. I don’t usually cook either, so I thought it would be fun to share the highlight of my week.

Directions:

  1. Cut the potatoes into small quarters, half the size of one’s thumb. Chop the carrots and onions in quarters as well, leave the onions a bit big or they’ll disappear!
  2. Slice the bacon into thick strips; in a large pot add the butter and fry bacon until slightly browned. Add the onions and cook until wilted. Add the water, salt, chilli flakes (if using), potatoes, carrots and pepper. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
  3. Add the vegetable stock and noodles. Simmer for another 25-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  4. The extra butter and sour cream can be optional as well, but I enjoyed the consistency and flavour it provided. Remove from heat. Add remaining butter and sour cream, mixing thoroughly until blended. Season to taste.

The soup heats up well, but it’s best eaten the day of or day after due to the noodles soaking up the water. Freeze on day of rather than freezing what’s left over.

Mmmmm, sometimes in life there’s nothing better than a good book, a cup of tea and a hot bowl of freshly made soup.