Monthly Archives: October 2015

In which Kari gives up the Book Challenge, and instead reads a book she was actually excited about.

I spent the last two weeks trying to read The Receptionist.  I’ve had it for over a year and it fit into one of the categories on my list, but I could barely get through a chapter of it.  (There’s a reason the reviews on Goodreads are so bad.)  Finally, today, I decided to screw it.  I find myself feeling unhappy or stressed often enough, and I don’t need to make an activity I enjoy, like reading, feel like that.  So instead, I picked a book I had been looking forward to reading.

I picked Carmilla, which was a gift from a very good friend of mine and the basis for a webseries that is ALL OVER my Tumblr dashboard (and I get to start now, yay).  It’s one of the first vampire stories, and it was the main inspiration for Dracula.  Plus, it has short chapters, which I love because it makes something much easier to read.  All in all, it seemed like a better thing to read than The Receptionist, with it’s 50 page chapters and a writer who was trying way too hard to prove herself.

And it was!  I actually enjoyed what I was reading and it was actually relaxing and enjoyable.

The story is told by Laura, looking back on a time when she was innocent and blinded by love, and what it almost cost her.  It is clouded by a sense of confusion and loss that has stuck with her for years since the incident.  Though most of us will never know how it feels to be in love with a vampire, it does capture the familiar feeling of loving someone before finding out who they really are and that they’ve betrayed you.

The voice itself is amazingly compelling.  The story was written in the 1800s, so the language is old-fashioned, but Laura is so earnest and sweet that it still feels like someone is sitting across from you, telling you a story.  And even if you go into the book knowing who Carmilla is, her description is so compelling that you understand exactly why Laura still feels enamored of her.

My most favorite thing about this book: Laura’s voice.

My least favorite thing about this book: I did want to hear more from Carmilla herself, but I guess that wasn’t the story.

Who I would most like to recommend this book to: Anyone, really.  It’s tragic, but not tear-jerking, and romantic but not a romance.  It’s a short read and not difficult, but very satisfying as a story.

Where this book sits on my bookshelf: Before Cinderella (As If You Didn’t Know the Story) and after The Sound and the Fury.

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10 Random Songs

It’s about ten o’clock on Tuesday, which means it’s time to write a blog post.  Let’s make this quick, because I have an interview in the morning.

Okay, there’s this challenge on Tumblr where you put your music player on shuffle and then say the first ten songs that come up.  This may be amusing.

  1. “I Wanna Know You” by Hannah Montana featuring David Archuleta.
    I am not ashamed.  I love this song, and it’s the first time I listened to Archuleta.
  2. “Cups (When I’m Gone)” by the Barden Bellas.
    This is from the Pitch Perfect 2 soundtrack.  It was the moment the girls got their groove back again, so it’s really emotional for me.
  3. “Settlin'” by Sugarland.
    This song used to really hit me.  Now…not so much.
  4. “Guns and Ships” by the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast.
    EVERYONE GIVE IT UP FOR AMERICA’S FAVORITE FIGHTING FRENCHMAN!  But seriously, this song is so great.  It’s so energetic and even very informative.
  5. “Cheater, Cheater” by Joey + Rory.
    Usually, this song makes me smile, because…yeah, I’d totally say that if my husband stepped out on me.  But now it’s kind of sad because Joey is so sick.  I mean, I’m not a huge fan of the duo, but cancer is always sad.
  6. “The Hard Way” by Eric Church.
    I love this song because there are a lot of things I feel this way about.  There are a lot of lessons I think I learned the hard way.  But it’s also a reminder that some things can be learned another way.
  7. “She Can’t Get That” by Blake Shelton.
    Ugh.  I can’t listen to a Blake Shelton song the same way lately.
  8. “Isaiah 45:23” by The Mountain Goats.
    The thing about Mountain Goats songs is that I generally need to listen to them several times before I “get it,” and this is one I haven’t listened to enough.  But I love the Mountain Goats, so much so that I read Wolf in White Van by their lead singer and lyricist.
  9. “Draw Me a Map” by Dierks Bentley.
    Actually, this is a song I keep meaning to take off my phone because I never actually listen to it.
  10. “Already Gone” by Sugarland.
    Whenever I think of running away and living like a nomad, this is the song I think of.  Well, this one and their other one “Fly Away.”  But this is the first, because it’s just about being that kind of person and having already made up your mind to go.
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An Open Letter to Lin-Manuel Miranda

Dear Sir:

I have been listening to your work, the Hamilton soundtrack, for 4 days straight.  Few albums do this to me.  What’s more, I have been listening to it straight through instead of skipping to my favorite songs.  Of course, that’s probably because every song has been my favorite at some point during this long weekend.

Hamilton’s life may end in tragedy, but the music you have written makes every step worth the journey.  Even once the listener knows the ending, they cannot keep from celebrating every moment of his rise to the top or his evolving love story with Eliza.  I imagine this is how you felt reading his biography, and this is part of what compelled you to turn it into a musical to begin with.

There are also the issues it reveals that still haunt America to this day, but I do not feel versed enough to address this as it deserves to be.  What I will say about it is this: it makes me want to dig deeper.

Alexander’s story reminds us that any person can make a difference.  As a writer, I take special encouragement from the idea that it is his words that were so powerful that George Washington asked for him by name.  His writing held so much power that he was considered dangerous as long as he had a quill.

Yours is a piece of art that compels me to write, and though I have been feeling lost lately, it reminds me of why this is the passion I have calling me.  It also reminds me why that endows me with a certain responsibility: a responsibility that you rose to when you wrote Hamilton, which is the responsibility to speak to the real problems in society.  And yet, you do it with humor as well as heart.

In conclusion: please accept my congratulations on successfully creating a beautiful piece of art that is also powerful writing.  Thank you for creating something that touched me on such a personal level.  As a writer who feels both young and hungry, Hamilton is exactly what I needed to get my head back into the game.

And though I do not intend to duel you, I would like to conclude:

I have the honor to be Your Obedient Servant,
K. Johnson.

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Wolf In White Van

My criteria for music is based almost solely on the lyrics.  Even if the tune is catchy, I won’t listen if I can’t stand the lyrics.  And I have listened to songs where the music was subpar because the lyrics spoke to me.  Someone who’s lyrics I appreciate consistently is John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, so my friend suggested I read his novel, Wolf in White Van.

Since this friend is one who has an exquisite taste in books (and she actually gave me a copy), I had no reason not to read it.

Darnielle brings the same level of poetry to his novel-writing as he does to his lyric-writing, and the character he develops here is rich and unique.  Sean is a game designer, having created a company that actually mails people their options and waits for their letters to advance their play.  When disaster strikes for two players, Sean has to account for it.  But embedded within this conflict is his personal history and why he began designing the games at all.  By the time he tells you about the life-changing event in its entirety, the astute reader has already worked the details out for themselves. And yet, reading the description is just as powerful as everything else in the book.

I really liked this one.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot).  It’s a moving story with a real and developed main character/narrator, and even though it’s told backwards (maybe because it is) the stakes and consequences are striking.

My most favorite thing about this book:  I’m not sure I can narrow it down to one thing.  I just thought it was incredibly well-done overall.

My least favorite thing about this book:

Who I would most like to recommend this book to:

Which item in the challenge it fulfilled: Book a friend recommended.

Where this book sits on my bookshelf: After The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and before The Frog King.

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Update (Including Kitten Pics)

I’ve been sitting in front of the computer for a half-hour, trying to come up with a topic to discuss in today’s blog post.  But I crashed hours ago and have little energy to do anything, and I still have novel-writing to do.  So I thought I’d give a quick update on my life and move on.

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As for the kittens: my boyfriend took one home with him, and I took the other two to the vet.  So it looks like they’re mine.  This complicates some things, but they also make me pretty happy, and it appears to be worth it.

The striped one is Minnie, the black one is Boo.

The striped one is Minnie, the black one is Boo.

Working in a new location has been interesting, and I’m working on a Story Time for November and this Thursday, we’re going to have a Teen Book Talk that I’ve been promoting like crazy.  It’s basically the only reason I ever considered being a teacher, so it might be nice.

My sister takes really good pics of them.

My sister takes really good pics of them.

The job search is still happening, but it’s come to a bit of a standstill.  I’m doing some thinking about what I really want.  Mostly though, I’m trying to work in more writing.  That’s the kind of job I really want, so if anyone has any openings for a writer (any kind of writer), let me know.

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That’s it for now.  Tune in next week.

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On the Road

You know when you’re super excited to read a book so you wait until the perfect moment, and it’s perfect and everything you had hoped and imagined?

This was not one of those times.

This really sucks, because I was expecting to love this book.  I was expecting to add it to my collection of books I would take if I leave my house for more than a week.  (The books that currently make up that list, in case you were curious, are The Truth About Forever, The Things They Carried, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)  As a wannabe free-spirit, it’s the sort of story I usually love because it makes me feel like I could actually leave and take the great American road trip.

Unfortunately, On the Road is aimless, meandering, and grossly sexist.  The women in this book aren’t characters, they’re accessories.  Every once in a while, they’ll be used to further the plot.  But not once does a female character actually get developed.  So few of them even have names, and they get younger and younger as the book goes on, with the last ones being 15 and 16 in a Mexican brothel.

Of course, the two main characters (Sal and Dean) aren’t ‘developed” much either.  They are definitely more three- dimensional than the women, but nothing changes in them from the beginning of the book to the end.  And while Kerouac occasionally creates a memorable turn of phrase, his plot is so rambling that the core of the story — what Sal wants — is lost within it.

My most favorite thing about this book:  IF I liked anything about this book, I liked how it called back to itself.  On the millionth road trip, he remembered where he had done things from the first and so forth.

My least favorite thing about this book: Obviously all the blatant sexism.  Book was a total bust.

Who I would most like to recommend this book to: Absolutely no one, don’t waste your time.

Which item in the challenge it fulfilled: Author with my initials.  Technically his are JK and mine are KJ, but close enough, right?

Where this book sits on my bookshelf:  After 12 Ways to Trick Your Biggest Enemy and before The Secret Life of Bees.

Book Challenge

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Beauty and the Beast

My friend Em and I bought tickets to Beauty and the Beast months ago.  I’d been looking forward to it, but in a vague, “that’s happening eventually I guess” kind of way but, all of a sudden on Saturday…the day was here.

With a glass of champagne, we settled into our seats: dead center, second row…on the balcony.  Perfect view of the stage (except for the few scenes on raised sets).  The curtain featured a glowing rose in the top right corner.  As the lights dimmed, a voice filled the room: “Once upon a time…”

The scene was done with a puppet enchantress, which was fairly obvious, but it didn’t matter once the final line was spoken (“Who could ever love a beast?”) and the curtain came up to show us the answer: Belle.

It was beautifully done, and all the usual songs made me emotional: “Belle,” “Belle (Reprise),” and “If I Can’t Love Her” and its reprise for starters.  “Me” made me laugh and “Human Again” made my heart swell with joy.  I hated that they cut “Maison Des Lune,” but was okay with them cutting “No Matter What.”  Actually, I didn’t even notice “No Matter What” was missing until I got home and pulled out my mom’s copy of the soundtrack, but I had been looking forward to the other.

Lumiere was a delight, as per usual.  Everything he did was both hilarious and dirty.  Belle was the perfect mix of kind and spirited.  Chip was adorable, although his role seemed to be smaller in this than in other productions I’ve seen.  And of course the Beast was an amazing character.  His performance emphasized the idea that the curse was getting stronger everyday and he was losing more of his humanity steadily.

That’s my favorite difference between the movie and the musical: in the movie, it’s basically understood that the curse was a one time enchantment, an instant change, although a deeper reading seems to imply that some of the people had morphed more than others.  However, in the musical, it is explicitly shown that the individuals became more like objects as time passed and the curse sat in more and more.

All in all, it was a magical night.  I love the story of Beauty and the Beast.  It reminds me that anything is possible and adventure can appear in many different forms.

I’m trying to find an unadapted copy of the original story (by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, I think).  Well, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont wrote it, but I can’t determine who wrote the short story and who wrote the novel.  Obviously, I want the novel.

And my wonderful best friend Emmy bought me this lovely, musical snow globe as a late birthday gift.

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Honestly, I’ll probably wind it up and play it to put my kids to sleep one day.  And my, is it gorgeous.

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So It Goes (Or: My Contribution to Banned Books Week)

Yes, it’s a little bit late, but I only just finished Slaughterhouse-Five.  I’ve finished two books this week, so I thought I’d tell you about both of them.

Who Could That Be at This Hour by Lemony Snicket was very easy to read.  I read this as the “book by an author I love but haven’t read yet,” and it was everything I loved in the Series of Unfortunate Events.  I really enjoyed the writing style and the “Lemony narrator” aspect.  And, just as in the Series of Unfortunate Events, he answers enough questions to make the ending satisfactory while leaving enough mysteries open to compel one to continue reading the series.

My most favorite thing about this book:  Definitely the narrator’s commentary, and the way it seems to connect to the other series.

My least favorite thing about this book: Honestly, the only thing I’m unhappy about is that I don’t have more answers.  Which isn’t a real complaint because I know I’d get them if I read the next book.

Who I would most like to recommend this book to: Anyone who liked the Series of Unfortunate Events, or younger kids who have an affinity for “spy novels.”

Where this book sits on my bookshelf:  Obviously after the Series of Unfortunate Events and right before The Egypt Game.

Then, I read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.  It was the entry for a banned book, because it’s BANNED BOOKS WEEK.  I really enjoyed it.  The style was different than anything I’m used to, but it was perfect for the type of story it was.

My most favorite thing about this book:  Every time death is even mentioned, the author repeats “so it goes.”  Occasionally this is a brutal death, sometimes its just a bunch of animals or plants dying.  But every one is treated equally by the echo of “so it goes,” which shows how death is something routine in war and affects everyone the same while really having no effect on the overall tragedy.  It’s just like…when there are SO many deaths, your mind glosses over the individual ones so that it doesn’t weigh as much on your mind.

My least favorite thing about this book: I was slightly confused about how the narrator and Billy were connected.  I liked that he showed up every now and then, but I didn’t see that Billy even recognized him.  I was confused about that.

Who I would most like to recommend this book to: People who say classics are boring.  You’re wrong.

Where this book sits on my bookshelf:  After A Journey to the Center of the Earth and before This is Water.

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