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was sold to gypsies as a small child for half a tank of gas and a kitten. She was quickly, if not easily, retrieved by her mother after the kitten was revealed to be an Eldrich horror looking for a ride into the nearest metropolitan area to begin wreaking havoc. It's been a bone of contention between Maria and her family ever since, whether the Horror-kitten would've been more or less trouble than she grew up to be.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Romance: I Read It

A year or two ago, I was one of those women who looked askance at romance novels. That wasn't real literature. But then, brain fried from studying for finals, I found myself wandering the aisles of my college library and stumbled upon a rack of donated novels. Among them were some Nora Roberts books. They were cute and funny and I didn't have to think too hard. It was what I needed when I needed it; literary fluff.

Since then, I've explored other romance novels by other authors. Some of them are absolutely terrible: perfect examples of why people say they rot your brain. But others have become some of my favorite books, not just because the romance aspect makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Many of them have well thought out plots, interesting characters, and often include insightful commentary on society and people's places within it.

And let's not forget that some of what we consider great literature are romances. Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Ivan Turgenev and countless others wrote fantastic, life changing books which are, to a great degree, romances.

The danger of romance novels, i.e., stupidity and narrow-mindedness, is a danger inherent to all genres provided one genre is the only thing someone reads. People who only read war novels or science fiction exclusively are mocked for that self-same narrow-mindedness. The 'danger' attributed to romance novels is because it revolves around gender. Even the best romance novels I've read seem to fall prey to gender stereotypes, or fall into ruts of one partner saving the other from themselves, their past, or a contrived outside situation. Book by book, this can be okay. But when almost every book a person reads follows those patterns and reinforces those ideas in readers without a break or contrasting point of view, then the dreaded brain rot rears its' ugly head.

But a little romance is a good thing. It can be a nice break from other thought provoking reads. Of course, we love those best, but even the most intellectual persons head gets heavy after a while. Romance can be the equivalent to television in its ability to help us decompress from life, only we still get to read and there are no commercials.

So if you're like I was, someone who looks down on romance novels, get over yourself and give them a chance. You might surprise yourself and find some really enjoyable and well written books. And if you're one of those people who never reads anything BUT romance and harlequin, put down the friggin' Gail Dalton and read some Gaiman or Wilde or Dumas. And drop the Nicholas Sparks; he doesn't count either way.

Variety is the Spice of Life,
Maria D

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Pet Sematary

A few weeks ago, I stumbled into a Starbucks with free books. After a moment of stunned ogling - and eyeing the suspicious old man 'sleeping' by the shelves - I squealed like some sort of silly young person and rushed over to see what they had. My attention was immediately caught by a collection of Stephen King paperbacks. 'Hey, I don't own Pet Sematary yet! I want to read that and the public library is still out for my blood.' Don't ask about the library. Just. Don't.

I'd been warned about Pet Sematary. When I began my Stephen King obsession, back when I was a comparatively younger and far more mature Maria, mom let me know that it was an amazing book which was too tragic for her to finish. I decided then and there that someday, somehow, I would read this book. Flash forward 13 years, and viola! it is within my grasp (and I have a few weeks before school starts up again in which time I can read it).

By the time I got to Pet Sematary, I'd read a LOT of King. I had what I considered to be a fair idea of what I was getting into.

I should never have doubted my mothers warning.

Pet Sematary tells the story of the Creed family. Doctor Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and their children, daughter Ellie and son Gage. When the family buys a new house as part of their relocating for Louis' new job, the never suspect that they are purchasing a path to immortality...and Hell.

What was so tragic to me about this story is that, unlike in The Shining, or really any other King novel, this is a fairly normal family. There is no marital strain. Louis is a good father and husband. Rachel has her weird thing about death, but it's nothing that puts considerable strain on the marriage. Ellie is a happy and well adjusted little girl and Gage is a happy, sweet and silly toddler. They have a pretty house. Louis has a good job. They have a sweet elderly couple as neighbors. There are no irredeemable stains on this group of people. They are good. And by the first chapter, you know that they will be destroyed.

Inevitable. It's a word I couldn't help but think of constantly as I read. Everything that happened to Louis and his family seemed so inevitable. While reading, I had the constant sensation of being in a movie theater, watching the protagonist open the door which led to a murderer or monster. There were so many other, better choices available for the characters to make. And yet, reading, you knew that in the end there were really no other choices to make but the awful ones they did.

Stephen is at his best with Pet Sematary. The writing captures everything - every emotion and every moment - with crystal clarity. And even when you want to stop, when you think you can't take anymore, he keeps you reading. With the same surety that Louis and his family sink into chaos, you'll keep reading. It spirals in towards its' inevitable conclusion, just like the graves. And as you get closer to the end, that spinning, that inevitability, will make you feel as though you're losing your mind with Louis.

The history of the sematary itself was fascinating as well. A flaw of Kings' is that he rarely gives an explanation in his novels for why something supernatural is the way it is. Don't get me wrong; conjecturing your own explanation can be great fun, and I usually enjoy it. But King can at times become a little too J.J. Abrahms. Here, however, he strikes a perfect balance. He draws on the history of his setting and the supernatural traditions of the Native Americans to create an evil that rivals any Judeo-Christian demon. The Wendigo is something which is used not nearly enough in horror. Native American stories and spiritual traditions are still sorely overlooked sources of inspiration for novels or any genre.

Final thoughts: I loved this book. It was not an easy read. It was hard and uncomfortable and so very sad. But it was wonderfully done. I'm probably going to be like my mom, who read it, loved it, and has no desire to ever read it again. I'm okay with that. But I hope to get other people to read it. It's too good a story and such excellent writing; it would be a waste to exclude it from your to-read pile.

My Rating: An easy 5 out of 5 Mushrooms

Inevitably yours,
Maria D.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: Spirit

Returning to the feelings of 'meh' induced by Wicked: Witch and Curse, I begin my review of Spirit by J. P. Hightman.*

Spirit tells the story of teenage ghost hunters and husband and wife duo, Tobias and Tess, on their way to investigate claims of the paranormal in Salem Massachusetts in the Victorian Era.

Things which endeared me to this book:
  • Ghost Hunters- this is an immediate selling point for me on almost any book. It's incredibly difficult to go wrong with ghost hunters in your narrative. Possible, but difficult.
  • Romance- fine, I'll admit it. I like a little romance. My cold, robot heart is not immune to the warm fuzzies and Tess and Tobias had some morbidly sweet moments.
  • Same First Initial- Okay, this is just a weird thing about Maria brought on by my peculiar upbringing. I like it when pairs have the same first name. Matching initials are cute to me. My brother and I are both M's, my parents were R's, my cousins are R's and C's respectively, some of my favorite couples in anime (both cannon and non cannon) share first initials. It's just a thing about me. Ahem. Moving on.
  • Salem Witch Trials- While writing about the Salem Witch Trials is NOT an automatic 'Pass Go' story wise, it is a rich source of literary potential. I can think of a lot of dumb books that used the trials as a stepping stool, but I can think of a lot of good books that used them too. In short, it caught my interest.
  • Paranormal- Yeah, I'm a sucker, but I've found many an awesome book based solely on my interest in its being paranormal.
  • Cover- the cover looks cool, doesn't it?

This book is one of the reasons I do NOT adhere to the "If it's good three chapters in, it's going to be a good book" rule or any stupid rule like it. Up until the fourth chapter, I was really involved in this story. Then, something fizzled out of it. The spark seemed to go out of the writing and the characters. The plot seemed to be drawing towards a cliche and I just couldn't take it when it had started out so good.

Even so, it wasn't a bad book. I flipped to the end since the middle was starting to bore me (bad reader, I know. Sue me) and was surprised by where it landed. I have Spirit on my list of books to reread. I'm not sure if it's the book that was really bad, or if I was just reading it at a bad time, or what. Overall, the book left me a little cold and mostly unimpressed. But there were enough elements that to interest me that I really want to give this one another shot. I'm kind of hoping that I was chemically nuts at the time of reading and that I'll appreciate it better if I'm in a saner state of mind. Now we just have to wait for the stars to align for me to get to that saner state. Stay tuned for further developments. Breath holding is optional.

My Rating: a tentative 3 out of 5 mushrooms

Undecidedly yours,
-Maria D.

*This was a library book. I didn't buy it. I didn't receive an ARC. I'm poor and no one likes me enough to send me free stuff. Except for Emma. HAI EMU!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

(Belated) February Horrorscopes

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

You mistakenly thought that it would be fun to get snowed in with friends during the blizzard. None of those people will ever speak to you again.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Because you work at Best Buy, you’ll still have to go into work, even though there’s two feet of snow on the ground. No the economy is still not good enough for you to quit this joke of a job and get a new one. Sorry.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

The zombie squirrels have built a mighty snow fortress outside the cafeteria. From the ramparts, they will pelt you with slush balls and icicles. There is no escape.

Taurus (April 20 – May20)

Kiss your vacation plans good-bye. The stars foresee that spring semester classes will run to July to make up for the blizzards. Hope you got some good snowball fights in.

Gemini (May 21 – June 21)

You ate the yellow snow, didn’t you? Go away. The stars have no fortune for you.

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)

All your fish in Fishville are going to die over the weekend while you write a paper for class. Boohoo.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

The stars foresee that your decision to give up social networking for Lent, while admirable, is doomed to failure. Try something easier, like quitting smoking.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Your astronomy class is trying to turn you against us. Come to the dark side. We can tell you which classes you’re going to fail this semester.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Feel bad about being dumped on Valentines’ Day? Don’t worry. In a few months, your former date is going to end up on the wrong side of an episode of Cheaters, face-plant into a parking lot while trying to escape, and desperately need some rhinoplasty when it’s all over.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

We know that sledding down the driveway hill on Catonsville’s campus seems like a good idea, but it really, really isn’t. For starters, the campus won’t cover your resulting hospital bills.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

The stars foresee a whole generation of tweens who believe “Wolfman” ripped off “New Moon.” Start building that underground bunker and storing provisions now.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Your Canadian girlfriend will break up with you next month after bitter arguments over some unflattering comments you’ll make over the Olympics on your Facebook page.

College Events: The Harrowing

This morning, I took Aurora Delacroix to In the Heights at the Hippodrome in Baltimore. My school was offering steeply discounted tickets for students to the show. As you know, I happen to be a student and Aurora happened to really want to see this show.

Problem 1: Events involved with CCBC invariably skirt disaster and catastrophe. If they say a bus to an event will leave at 8, it will really leave at 9 (as was the case for the leadership retreat I went to in January and which I said I'd blog about but didn't oh well, kthxbai.). Knowing this, Aurora and I said no when Lisa at the Office of Student Life asked if we'd be taking the bus.

Lisa handed us our tickets and we turned to go - until she said: "These are just 'reservation tickets.' The teacher will have the real tickets and you'll get them from her at the theater."

O-kay. THIS would end well.

I wake up this morning at six, after a harrowing night of Stolen Cat trying to burrow a hole in my chest - so that she can be closer to my warm, loving, tasty heart, you see - and nightmares of not getting into the show because I didn't fill out the schools health form (oh, but when I dream about necromancy and cannibalism, I sleep deep and easy. My head is a fucked up place to be sometimes. And I DID print out and fill out the health forms...which they never bothered to collect. Right. Whatever.).

Aurora and I get to the Hippodrome around 9. We are entirely too excited since neither of us have ever been to the Hippodrome before (though supposedly my Pop-pop danced there in the vaudeville shows a million years ago) and we were there to see a Broadway show about Latinos. Who doesn't like to see their ethnicity win Tony Awards?

But when we get there, we're met by another CCBC student who chose to drive themselves and arrived early. She's in an argument with some of the Hippodrome staff. She's trying to get in with the reservation ticket, and they don't know anything about the college coming in a group, and they're beginning to think CCBC is selling scalp tickets to students or something.

Let me just say that I love CCBC. It has some great teachers and upper admin really cares about the students. But the line of communication is of such a great degree of fail that offices, departments, and students alike pretty regularly take advantage of the school and everyone involved. In short, I could totally believe that Student Life would sell forged tickets to students and pocket the proceeds. Harsh, but true.

I manage to diffuse the situation with Aurora's help. These are reservation tickets, the teacher will exchange them for real tickets whenever he/she gets here, didn't take bus, no clue when they're getting here, look I don't make the rules, that's just what they told me, is that a Starbucks over there, okay we'll just wait. The nice staff at the theater then validated my own thoughts that this was a really stupid and needlessly complicated plan. Why couldn't someone from the school just call and tell them to expect the reservation tickets and set aside real ones at Will Call for when people showed up? That way, no one has to sit outside in the seat-free box office and wait for the teacher and the bus. I don't know. I just go to school there.

Aurora and I plopped at the Starbucks on the corner for more coffee and second breakfast (1st cherry danish, 2nd cheese and fruit) and I watched for the appearance of a CCBC bus. No such bus appeared, but we eventually gave up and walked back across the street to see if SOMETHING could be arranged so I hadn't wasted $75.

Amid a throng of private high school students in plaid short skirts and knee socks, we forced our way to a door and asked if any CCBC students were there. The staff was great and understanding and worked very hard to make some sense of the mess. At that moment, however, I finally saw one of the teachers from the leadership retreat in January. SHE HAD TICKETS. Doors opened, choirs of angels sang, the head seraph played a bitchin' guitar solo.

Not really. But I DID get orchestra seats to my new favorite musical. More on that later...maybe...if I feel like it.

Maria from the Barrio