How many times will I use the word “love” in this review?
I was introduced to Joyce Carol Oates in high school by a favorite teacher. We read some of hHow many times will I use the word “love” in this review?
I was introduced to Joyce Carol Oates in high school by a favorite teacher. We read some of her short stories and I was in love with how dark and fucked up they were. Some of my friends have told me that Oates was ruined for them in high school, and this is sad because her writing is amazing.
I’ve read several of her short story collections and novels and love how her mind works and the beauty of her writing. Even her “lighter” fiction is still dark. (I just looked up her bibliography . I think I’ve read 1% of her work. I knew she had written a lot, but I didn’t know how much!) I love how her main characters are often older girls and young women who experience and do horrible things. She is incredibly gifted at capturing how girls this age can completely shut down and let things happen to them. Or, when they fight back, they fight hard and things are taken care of.
When I heard that she was writing children’s fiction, I imagined that it was going to be about a sweet little kitten who burns down a forest. When she got into YA, I was extremely happy because I knew it she would be a favorite, especially for students who liked Laurie Halse Anderson. These weren’t going to be fluffy books – they were going to be realistic moments of pure fucked-upped-ness. Big Mouth & Ugly Girl did not disappoint. Freaky Green Eyes? Holy shit. Small Avalanches and Other Stories had some previously published works and I hope a new generation of high school readers loved them as much as I did when I first read them.
And now to step back from this love fest to talk about Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart.
The book starts in the late 50s in a broken industrial city in upstate New York. Blacks and whites are clearly separated, even though the children go to school together and in some places the men work together. There is clearly a black side of town and the kids know that they should not intermingle. This is especially true for the black boys and white girls.
The book opens with the death of Little Red — a sixteen year old white trash white teen. His body is found in the river with his skull crushed. Iris Courtney hesitantly approaches one of the police officers to whisper that she heard he had caused trouble with some bikers in the area.
And then we skip back in time to learn more about Iris.
Iris’ parents are violently in love. Persia, her mother, is beautiful to the point of pain and loves the attention she gets from men. At times this attention is what she seems to allow her to even exist. Iris is used as an accessory is picked up and put aside as needed. As her parents become more and more abusive to each other and ignore her more and more, she retreats into her own world. She begins to lose her emotions and finds herself distantly watching things that happen and wonders how she should feel. She studies everything, trying to learn how people act, respond, cope, and live.
Meanwhile, on the black side of town, Jinx Fairchild is playing basketball beautifully and is beginning to be scouted by colleges, even though he’s only sixteen. When he’s on the court, everyone adores him. Off the court, he’s just another black boy. Like Iris, he tries to disappear in good behavior. He doesn’t want to be noticed or to be an excuse or target for any of the whites in town. He’ll be out of here in a few years and he needs to dominate on the basketball court while hiding everywhere else.
And then Little Red brings Iris and Jinx together.
For the rest of the book, Iris and Jinx live mirrored lives, only it’s a bent and twisted mirror and the reflections don’t quite match. Iris begins to actually feel emotions, but only when she thinks of Jinx. She tries to bring their lives together somehow. She sees that they are forever linked and wants to keep this bond and let it grow and strengthen. Jinx, on the other hand, is horrified by what happened and hates that the only other person who was there was this younger white girl. He needs to stay away from her so he can stay away from his own mind.
As they get older, their lives continue to reflect each other. Iris becomes what she thinks a young white woman should be. Jinx becomes what he thinks whites want a black man to be, and painfully, what his black community wants him to be. As Iris takes on the role of successful adult, Jinx finds himself more and more trapped by a world he willingly stepped into. When Iris escapes she continues to study emotions and practice how she should act and respond. Persia was all fire and drink and the only way Iris can think to escape this is to have no feelings at all. Jinx feels too much. He knows everything has changed and he hates how his life was decided when he was still in high school.
By the end of the book they have both made decisions that will define who they are until they die. They each do what they think they are supposed to do, not necessarily what they want. One has to wonder if they even know what they want. They seem to stop making decisions and simply let things happen.
Their mothers also reflect each other. Both start out as strong women and as they grow older and doors begin to close, they find themselves trapped by their own expectations of what they should or should not be. Respect is lost and it breaks them both.
It’s a brilliant book. Oates’ writing is simply stunning. Sometimes her words twirl and spin slowly like honey being drizzled into hot tea. Descriptions and moments spill silkily across the pages. It is especially breathtaking when she does this during the darkest moments of the book. Her descriptions of ugliness, pain and fear follow staccato beats, pulsing into your mind. It’s poetry in prose form and as I read I had to pause from time to time to simply enjoy the rhythm of the book and reread the art of her writing. I have a feeling I’m going to gloriously devour more of her books over the next few months....more
Can I just be honest with you for one second? This is the lit
A NOTE FROM GREG GAINES, AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK
I have no idea how to write this stupid book.
Can I just be honest with you for one second? This is the literal truth. When I first started writing this book, I tried to start it with the sentence “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I genuinely thought that I could start this book that way. I just figured, it’s a classic book-starting sentence. But then I couldn’t even figure out how you were supposed to follow that up. I started at the computer for an hour and it was all I could do not to have a colossal freak-out. In desperation I tried messing with the punctuation and italicization like:
It was the best of times? And it was the worst of times?!!
What the hell does that even mean? Why would you even think to do that? You wouldn’t, unless you had a fungus eating your brain, which I guess I probably have.
This is how long it took me to realize I was going to have to force myself not to stay up all night and read this book in one go. I mean, come on. This voice? I didn’t even know who Greg was, but I was in. Honestly, I was probably in at “I have no idea how to write this stupid book.” So many questions! Why is he writing it then? Is he being forced to? What happened that was so important or awesome or scary or whatever that he decided to sit down in front of a computer and force himself to think of words while at the same time acknowledging that he might have a brain fungus?
And then I got to page 2.
I do actually want to say one other thing before we get started with this horrifyingly inane book. You may have already figured out that it’s about girl who had cancer. So there’s a chance you’re thinking “Awesome! This is going to be a wise and insightful story about love and death and growing up. It’s probably going to make me cry literally the entire time. I am so fired up right now.” If that is an accurate representation of your thoughts, you should probably try to smush this book into a garbage disposal and then run away. Because here’s the thing: I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel’s leukemia. In fact, I probably became stupider about life because of the whole thing.
Again, I don’t know who Greg is, but I’m in.
Turns out Greg is a high school senior who has perfected the art of invisibility. He realized early on in his educational journey that he had nothing to offer the social structure of school and rather than get the snot knocked out of him on a daily basis, he became a master of blending in and disappearing. It’s quite brilliant. He maintains a friendly and neutral relationship with all groups at school. No one is really sure where he belongs, figures he’s accepted by all, so they pretty much ignore him. He’ll pop in to laugh at a joke and then fade away. If no group can fully claim you, then no group can ostracize and destroy you.
He’s got one friend, but they don’t interact with each other at school. Greg thinks of him more as a co-worker. They met in kindergarten and bonded over video games. This then led to an understanding of movies that no one their age understood or even wanted to understand. When you’re in elementary school, subtitles aren’t interesting. Greg and Earl realize they can make movies, and they go crazy. They then quickly realize that when they do make a movie, they must never, ever show it to anyone. Greg’s parents will ooh and ahh and tell them how proud they are even though it’s clear to everyone that what they just watched was a waste of time for everyone on the planet. No, the movies are just for Greg and Earl and the making is more important than the watching.
Greg’s life is going just the way he wants, until Rachel gets cancer. But don’t worry, he doesn’t learn anything from it.
One of the things I really liked about this book was the way Greg tells it. We know right away that he’s writing this after everything has happened. We know Rachel dies. We know that something happens during this that has made him sit down to write the book. He tells the story in a way that makes sense for him – sometimes it’s linear, sometimes not so much. He’s a filmmaker, so sometimes we get scripts.
For the entire book we get the confusion that is the high school boy brain. Even worse, he knows how stupid he is, but he can’t stop himself. His inner monologue is brilliant. As he finds himself going off on a tangent of being sexually attracted to pillows he sort of sits back, horrified at what is happening while at the same time being fascinated at the effect of it on Rachel. Might as well get even more and more disgusting about masterbation if it’s making a dying girl laugh, right?
Clearly what I loved the most about this book is Greg’s voice. Andrews created a character who is fully developed from the first page. Yeah, we don’t know who he is or what he’s about, but we know this is a character that could exist off the page.
He continues to tell his story and watching everything unfold, you start to get more and more uncomfortable. You know Rachel dies. Greg tells us on page two! And yet you want it to be different. You also get to see Greg making amazingly bad decisions and you want to grab him and, if not shake him, at least turn him around and shove him down the hallway so he can think about what he’s going to do before doing it. There are a lot of cringe inducing moments in these pages.
I also wanted everything to work out for Earl, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Earl got dealt a bad hand. His homelife sucks and statistically you know he’s not going to have a super great ending. Still, you want him to have that moment of discovery, but don’t forget… Greg told you that this isn’t a story of love and redemption and learning and growing.
This book made me laugh out loud more than once, which is always awesome. There were parts that reminded me of my own stupid high school moments, which aren’t awesome, but it is awesome when an author can capture reality. I liked Greg and I wanted him to come out on top. Getting to the end of the book, I felt so bad for him and wondered what this one year of school had done to him and if he would be able to recover. The start of the book isn’t coming from a place of “I am awesome and let me tell you how I got to this amazing life.” I wasn’t sure where he even was when writing. Is he in jail? A psych ward? In some random hotel room in the middle of no where? What happened?
I really needed him to be OK.
This is one of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year. I could have easily read the whole thing in one sitting because of how Andrews wrote it. I loved the structure and Greg’s voice. The setup of the chapters is fantastic with lists and reviews, as well as screenplays coming in. It’s original and it works....more
This is another book I absolutely raced through and felt breathless when I was done because it is that good. I have no clue why it’s taken me so longThis is another book I absolutely raced through and felt breathless when I was done because it is that good. I have no clue why it’s taken me so long to write this review.
It’s post 9/11 and Homeland Security is the norm. 17 year old Marcus lives in San Francisco and spends his time in the world of computers and figuring out how to outsmart the near constant surveillance of his school and city. His real life friends and online crew bristle against the pressure being put on them on both sides of the computer, but Marcus has no clue what reality is until he’s temporarily removed from it.
While skipping school to search for the next clue for an intense online game, the Bay Bridge is blown up and Marcus and his friends are taken in for questioning. It doesn’t matter that he knows his rights; he hasn’t been arrested, and he’s not talking to the police. Homeland Security has him and all they want him to do is prove that he’s not guilty. After being tortured and humiliated he finds himself willing to say or do anything they want if it means they will let him go. At the mercy of their sadistic methods, he signs for his life and is dumped on the sidewalk, “free”. Too bad one friend is still missing.
Terrified and angry, he can’t tell his parents what happened. Even if he did, he’s not sure if they’d believe him. His dad is in full Rah-Rah-America mode, celebrating the surveillance and security measures that are now in place. Getting pulled over for questioning makes him proud to be an American and do his civic duty, and he’s angry at the thought that Marcus would dare speak out against what’s best for the country, their city, and their home.
As anger grows bigger than fear, Marcus decides to fight back. No one can speak the truth and no one really knows what the truth is. Using his knowledge of computers and pulling from his friends, he creates an online network that appears to be safe. They begin frantically sharing data and stories and trying to jam Homeland’s systems. Some of it is laughingly easy to disable and Marcus is saddened by the impotence of what was created to make people feel safe. Was it even put in place to work or do people just want to see cameras on the streets?
Marcus knows he doesn’t have much time. As he’s pushed closer to having to go public and needing more support, he knows he’s being watched and can be grabbed at any moment. How much information can he get out before he disappears into a trailer again?
This book was exciting, depressing, hopeful, and wonderful. On a happy coincidence, I’d recently read Finding George Orwell in Burma and then 1984 and this made an incredible third partner. Doctorow read 1984 for the first time when he was twelve and in the bibliography he explains how it affected him. A lot of what is happening with Homeland Security is foreshadowed by Orwell and it’s terrifying to know that this is reality. It’s easy to ignore it. It’s easy to agree with Marcus’ dad and feel that if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about. Only “those people” get caught, so why is this my problem?
The parts that take place in Marcus’ school are especially suffocating and frustrating. High school can suck without any help, but what happens when your classmates are rewarded for reporting terrorist-like conversations and your favorite teacher suddenly can’t be found after facilitating a powerful and educational debate on the Bill of Rights? What do you do when motion detecting sensors are placed in the hallways and classes are recorded to keep kids safe? How do you fight back when every word you chose can be used against you? It’s a double lock of having no power as a minor and having no power as a public high school student. It’s enough to kick the reader into an anxiety attack because all of this can happen and it is happening. Oh, and on top of all of this? He’s got his first girlfriend and is dizzy with hormones and bliss.
Although the paranoia can feel overwhelming, this book is hopeful and there are fantastic references at the end. I hope it encourages readers of all ages (this is tagged as YA) to learn more about how computers are being used, and how they can use computers.
The second book, Homeland, will be published in 2013. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next....more
Oh how I loved this book. A friend often refers to her checklist of things she likes in books and when she reviews them she talks about what boxes werOh how I loved this book. A friend often refers to her checklist of things she likes in books and when she reviews them she talks about what boxes were checked off.
This books checks off so many boxes for me.
-- Reminders of my schoolgirl horse phase -- Strong female teen character that doesn’t go to pieces because she starts to like a boy AND doesn’t give up when thing get hard OR wait for someone to solve her problems -- Strong male teen character that quietly and thoughtfully takes in the world around him without giving in to what he “should be doing” -- Kids forced to take care of each other after parents die (Is that a weird thing to “like”?) -- Folklore magic -- Cape Cod-like island life with crazy stormy weather -- Realistic jerks for bad guys.
In a world of sweeping generalizations, boys go through their firefighter stage and girls go through their horse stage. Somewhere around the third or fourth grade, I destroyed everything written by Marguerite Henry. When I found out Chincoteague and Assateague Island were real places and there were actual ponies that you could go and see, my elementary school mind bent. Pair this with my love of Cape Cod and the ocean and thunderstorms and it was nearly too much for my body to handle. Ponies? Sand dunes? The ocean? Are you kidding me? Was this world built for me and me alone?
Flash forward to me at 36 years old picking up The Scorpio Races. Not only do we have a wild horse race, we have freaking folklore horses. The men of the island will venture into the sea to capture a deadly capaill uisce and see if they are strong enough to control it. You can’t tame a capaill uisce but you can hope your horse sense, knowledge of faerie magic and strength is enough to build trust and prevent you from being torn apart and left to bleed to death in the sand.
Every November the capaill uisce are raced. Sean Kendrick races for the love of his capaill uisce mount, the horse he hopes to some day own. The same horse that killed Sean’s father in the race when Sean was a boy. Puck Connolly is racing to try to keep her family together. Her parents were killed by a capaill uisce years ago, and since then she and her brothers have barely held on to what little they own. She doesn’t care about magic or tradition, but doesn’t mean to insult the history of the race. She doesn’t have much time, and winning the race is her only option. Sean, on the other hand, is expected to win. Even though he’s an outsider on his own island, everyone knows he’s a master when it comes to the capaill uisce. His only dream is to own Corr, the beautiful mount who trusts him. When a stranger comes to the island to watch the races and learn more about the horses, both non-magic mounts and capaill uisce, Sean begins to wonder if he should be asking for more from the island. Puck, simply by being who she is, continues to challenge him as a rider and a young man. Everything is changing for both of them and the race is going to decide the next phase of their lives.
My two favorite parts of this book are the folklore of the capaill uisce and Puck. Folklore is almost always going to be a win for me in any book. And Puck? She is a perfect mix of confidence and terror as she deals with things she shouldn’t even have to think about. She both relies on and is infuriated by her brothers. She misses her parents, especially her mom, while at the same time using what she learned from them to keep it together. She doesn’t change when she meets Sean and refuses to be the kind of girl who would back down to impress someone. She quickly realizes she’s going to have to fight to race since she’s the first female to attempt it, and although she is sometimes reduced to angry tears, she’s not the kind to give up because someone tells her she has to.
The supporting cast was just as wonderful as the two main characters. The balance between Puck and her brothers was great to read because you can see how the death of their parents affected them individually and how they all compliment each other, even when they’re fighting. The two villains are disgusting and easy to hate, even if you understand why they want Puck and Sean to fail. Actually… other than money, I’m not sure what Malvern the elder’s motivation is. Still, it’s good to hate him, especially when he shows moments of almost being human.
The suspense of the ending was perfect. Both of them had to win in order to get what they want and need. I kept wondering how Stiefvater was going to pull it off without making me hate her. Would Puck win? Would Sean? Would they both cross the finish line at the same time? (I would have hated her for that one.) Would one throw the race for the other? Would they both lose? HOW WERE THINGS GOING TO BE RESOLVED???
I’m happy to report that the ending was wonderfully done. It was heartbreaking and beautiful and I sniffled through the last few pages. I was honestly happy for these characters. It’s definitely a group that’s going to continue to live in my head and I wish they were real so I could check in with them every few years to see how they’re doing.
This book was a wonderful surprise. I have no idea how it got on my To Be Read list, but I am so glad it did and that I randomly picked it in my lastThis book was a wonderful surprise. I have no idea how it got on my To Be Read list, but I am so glad it did and that I randomly picked it in my last library run.
The writing in this book is beautiful. More than beautiful. It’s the kind of book where you need to pause and reread so you can hear the words a second time. There were parts I needed to say out loud because the phrasing was so good. It became a tactile experience for me – the cadence paired with alliteration and consonance and assonance created a flow and I needed to feel the words in my mouth. It was gorgeous poetry in prose form and even as I was pulled into the story I still needed to slow down to enjoy and marvel at the writing.
The plot itself is fantastic. It follows a classic folklore motif and was comfortable without being clichéd. Pico is a lonely library and poet, sick with love for the girl he cannot have. He was born without wings, and Sisi is blessed with them. The two have some time together, but Sisi realizes Pico will never be able to give her what the air and the ocean and the sky does, and she leaves him to his books and poems.
Lovesick, Pico packs a few books and journeys into the land beyond. He follows the promise of The Book of Flying. If he reads it, he’ll grow wings. With his wings, he’ll be able to win Sisi back and have his love and the air and the sky. He’ll be worthy of her and of all the winged ones.
The folklore journey is wonderfully followed. As he travels further and further away from the sea, he meets people who are on journeys of their own. His quest is told through their stories and each section is based on the strangers’ tales without becoming its own separate book. The overlap is incredibly skillful and Miller takes these stories and weaves them into Pico’s journey.
These new characters and friends have amazing tales of their own. There is a lot of heartbreak and longing. Each character is severely broken and they all want Pico to be successful so that their own misery and mistakes will be somehow forgiven. There is a lot of pain in every page, and yet Pico brings so much hope. When he falters it’s even more upsetting because he is representing all the others’ failures. Again, Miller takes these characters and makes their faults build up Pico’s strengths. They need him to succeed. They need to know he’s out there on his path and completing his quest. They need something good and perfect and his love and dedication to Sisi is a gift. It’s amazing, but it is not neat and tidy. This is not a sweet bedtime tale for little ones.
As he gets closer and closer to Morning Town and the book that might not even be real, I wondered if Sisi was worthy of this quest. I wondered if he would decide he was better without her. I wondered if it would end the way he hoped and they’d live happily ever after. I wondered if he’d get his wings or not. I wondered if he’d even return home or if he’d find a new home and a new life. I absolutely loved every step of his journey, even when he stopped for too long and lost his way.
And a wonderful bonus! Keith Miller’s new book is out and I cannot wait to get it in my hands.
This book has a very specific audience in mind, and happily, I’m it! Reading this was a treat.
The book takes place in 2044 and virtual reality has becThis book has a very specific audience in mind, and happily, I’m it! Reading this was a treat.
The book takes place in 2044 and virtual reality has become the only reality. You need to pop off from time to time to eat, but everything else in done online in OASIS. School, work, gaming, love… it’s all on the other side of your headset. Sure, the world outside could crumble at any minute, but as long as you manage not to get stabbed, you’re doing OK.
Wade wants more than access to OASIS. He wants out of the shithole he lives in. He wants money and power and fame and awesome in-game equipment. And out-of-game equipment. And maybe a girlfriend.
And like everyone else, he wants to solve the great OASIS puzzle and win the internet.
James Halliday co-created OASIS and when he died he posthumously announced to the world that he had hidden the ultimate Easter Egg inside the virtual world. The first person to find it wins the controlling rights to OASIS, Halliday’s entire fortune and all the power that comes with it. You will become the most powerful person alive.
The world frantically studies every moment of Halliday’s life to search for clues. Huge databases are compiled to keep track of his favorites movies and bands in order to try and guess where the first clue is hidden.
A huge, evil cooperation is formed to find the Egg so that they can begin charging for OASIS and become the richest and most powerful group on the planet. The regular guys are up against this giant, but no one trusts anyone enough to share all their information. Only one person can win.
Years go by. Nothing happens.
And then Wade solves the first puzzle. And then the evil corporate Sixers try to kill him.
In addition to the awesome gamer plot line, the entire book is a worship of 80′s culture. While OASIS can be modded by anyone, Halliday created his own world to mirror his 80′s upbringing. His video will takes place in a John Hughes movie. Everyone hunting for the Egg is obsessed with the 80′s and Cline covers the book with references to games, music, movies, videos, styles and more.
People have complained that this book doesn’t work because it’s too much of a gamer book or there’s too much 80′s culture and nothing more, but they don’t get it. Of course the book is too much of a gamer book! It’s a GAMER BOOK! That would be like saying A Tale of Two Cities has too much to do with the French Revolution. THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT! And yes, the 80′s love is thick, but again, Cline created a character that created a world based on his love of the 80′s, so of course everyone is going to hunt there for clues. Halliday created what he knew, and the world studies it to try to solve the great puzzle.
I loved everything about this book. I thought the characters were great, the plot was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed the references. I was happy to see a They Might Be Giants lyric used as a password, and I was even happier to know that there were other references I wasn’t catching, but another reader was. If you’re in the target audience for this book, you’re going to find shout outs throughout.
Would a non-gamer like this book? I doubt it. Cline isn’t going to over-explain many things, so I can see a reader getting confused and frustrated and not getting it. I did wonder what young whippersnappers who know little about the 80′s would think about the references, but I think they’d get pulled in. Wade is a teenager and he identifies with Halliday. It works.
The first half of the book is a bit slow, which makes sense. Years have gone by with nothing happening, so it makes sense that things seem almost dull. But once Wade solves that first puzzle, it is madness and the pacing takes off. There are a few moments where you get to stop and catch your breath, but when the characters are frantic, you are frantic. I was happy with the ending. I knew it could only end with one person standing, but I couldn’t figure out how that one person was going to get there. But then things happen and maybe it’s not going to be only one person. But then other things happen and people are dead. What in the hell is happening?
This book gets solid love from me. If I was forced to put together an All Time Favorite Books EVER list, this would be on it. Now I need to get the audio version so Wil Wheaton can read it to me.
Kick ass girls and women in fantasy make me so happy. These young women deal with all of the frustrations of growing up and becoming independent, fallKick ass girls and women in fantasy make me so happy. These young women deal with all of the frustrations of growing up and becoming independent, falling in love, following their heart, and not letting anyone tell them who they can and cannot be.
Some of favorite badass young women are found in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Series. Sabriel and Lirael are amazing. They are forced into situations that they are in no way prepared to deal with, but trusting themselves, they fight and claw and tear through. (Side note: there is a fourth full Old Kingdom book coming out in 2013. Excuse me while I do some excited celebratory movements. … Aaaaaaaand I’m back.) I’d like everyone to read anything by Tamora Pierce and hang out with her amazing young women. These girls are not going to sit by and let things happen to them while they watch. They have stuff to do and it’s going to get done.
Kristin Cashor has given us three new young women who stand up and work.
Bitterblue is the third book in the Graceling Realm series, following Graceling and Fire. I strongly recommend that you read them in order, even though Fire is considered a companion book.
In this world, some are Graced. Anyone born with two different colored eyes has a great talent to be discovered. It might be rather useless like being able to whistle without growing tired or helpful like being able to bake the most delicious bread or sing the sweetest songs. But it can also be dangerous. Some are Graced with killing or mind reading, or being able to craft untraceable poisons or having unstoppable strength. The kings of the realms use their power to take any child born Graced and hold them until their Grace is discovered. If they are useful, they will be kept. Because of this, kings have grown more and more powerful and more and more dangerous and corrupt. Gracelings are used as sport to entertain their kings, their Graces used against each other. Many Gracelings are openly distrusted because they could be hiding something and using it against everyone, Graced or not. This is a land where conspiracy and secrets and fear is thick.
There are spoilers ahead for those who have not read the first two. You’ve been warned.
Eight years have passed since the end of Graceling. Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea, and at 18 she is surrounded by older men who advised her father and who seem to want to help her. They also hide her from her own people. The realm is slowly healing from her evil father’s reign, and there are still secrets and whispers and Bitterblue realizes she’s helplessly, and possibly dangerously, uninformed.
Restless and suspicious, she begins sneaking out of the castle in disguise to spend time with her subjects in the hopes of discovering what is being kept from her. This leads to more confusion as she finds that people are remembering things differently. Some are content to forget everything the evil king did and refuse to talk of the past. Others want reparations for what was taken from them, but even here they seem hesitant to speak. It quickly becomes obvious that what Bitterblue is being told by her advisors is not what is happening on the streets. The rich continue to profit from the evil king’s reign and those who would speak truth go missing.
Bitterblue makes new friends and is exhausted by having to lie about who she is, and then having to hide what she is learning from her advisors. She is not sure who she can trust and what the truth is, but it is clear that something is very, very wrong. I was confused throughout because a character would seem to lie one minute, speak the truth the next, and then tell a half truth after. It felt impossible to know what the truth was, and which truth was the one to believe. Many good people are making decisions that were right for them, but are they right for Bitterblue and are they right for the kingdom? At what point does healing and rebuilding become harmful if the past is not addressed? And Bitterblue is caught because she doesn’t know everything that her father did.
I really enjoyed this book because you get to live in Bitterblue’s confused head. It’s clear that things are being kept from her, but because you only have her perspective, you’re as frustrated as she is. What are the right questions to ask? What can she reveal, and who can be trusted? There were several moments where I was almost in a panic because she was confiding in someone who might turn against her. I wanted her to have a trusted friend, but it was clear that people who wished her a long healthy life were also lying to her. And why were they doing it???
And on top of the weight of the crown, she’s eighteen and falling in love for the first time. But does a queen have a choice? Her advisors need her to marry royalty and produce heirs, but this is the last thing on her mind. She wants to heal her lands and make sure her people are safe. But can a queen even know what’s best for her subjects what she cannot even understand what their lives are like?
This series lives on my Absolute Favorites shelf. There are comforting faerie tale themes, but it’s not a cookie cutter plot and I was never sure who to trust or what mistakes Bitterblue was making. Cashore has created an amazing land and filled it with characters who are delightfully real. There is much heartbreak in these pages, but there is also hope and friendship and loyalty and love. At times Bitterblue is completely alone, and yet you know there is a chance that, even just for one moment, she will be understood and loved and protected and will know the truth.
Also? She knows the exact place to slip a knife into anyone who dares to attack her. How can you not like a young woman who can wear silks while killing?
This is a solid fantasy series and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for fantastic characters, both male and female. Read the other two first, then settle in to try to figure out what happened during the years when the evil king reigned.
I enjoy retold tales. I think we all do. Think back to when you were a kid and you wanted the same story night after night after night. Those of you wI enjoy retold tales. I think we all do. Think back to when you were a kid and you wanted the same story night after night after night. Those of you with kids know what happens when you try to rush a story by skipping a page. We crave the familiar. Folklore is full of motifs and we pick out those patterns that repeat in all the tales. Three brothers and the youngest wins, wicked stepmothers, witches in disguise, princes and princesses needing to get married, magic shoes and more.
Retelling other people’s tales it a bit more tricky. Get it right and you have Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. It doesn’t try to replace L. Frank Baum but it creates an entirely new tale. The second author has to be careful or they run the risk of seeming like a shameless hanger-on instead of a gifted author creating an homage to the original book. The truly gifted author will not only pen that homage, they will create something new and wonderful and fantastic that it doesn’t need to stand with the original book to work.
Brom does this with The Child Thief.
Growing up, my Peter Pan was the green clad flying elf boy presented to me by Disney. Wish hard enough and you can fly. Girls are jealous of other girls, even if one of them is a tiny fairy. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I read J.M. Barrie’s book and saw a very different story.
Brom is fascinated with Peter and began asking himself what kind of a boy, or elf, or sprite, or wood-creature, would slip into our world and spirit children away? And what happened to the extras? One sentence in particular sent his mind spinning and he created a very different Peter.
This Peter hunts. He finds children who desperately need a friend. He sniffs out terror and anger and pain and shows up when the need is great. And then he plays. A few twists of a blade and his game ends with blood and a child who follows him because they have nothing else in their life to hold on to. Peter brings them into his world, or at least tries to, and they become Devils.
The battle is coming. War must be fought. The Captain is waiting and Peter doesn’t have much time.
Nick gets caught up in Peter’s world. He’s backed himself into a corner trying to break free from the drug dealers that have moved into his home and he finds himself running through Central Park, praying to get out before he’s killed. Peter finds him and saves him and whisks him away. It seems like Nick’s prayers are answered, but the more he learns of Peter’s world and Peter himself, the more he questions what’s happening. The other children love and worship Peter, but Nick starts to wonder if anyone gets to leave.
He finds himself forced into the world of the Devils, but there’s something evil running through his blood. No one is telling the full truth, he doesn’t know what’s going on, Peter is the only one who can get him home, but Peter is gone.
This book is violent and angry and heartbreaking. Brom wonders where Peter came from and then creates a back story that is beautiful and painful and altogether new. Why does Peter really refuse to grow up? What are the lessons he learned as a baby and then later in the woods?
And the ending? Perfect. Brom stays true to his tale from the first word to the last period. There’s nothing more frustrating than an author who tries to force characters into doing something so the ending will be a certain way. Brom lets his characters do what they should do, not what someone might want them to do. Satisfying doesn’t begin to describe it.
On top of his fantastic writing, Brom is an amazing artist and the book has absolutely gorgeous drawings at the beginning of each chapter with bonus full color plates in the middle. The story on its own is a gift, but the added artwork makes it extraordinary. It’s almost unfair that Brom gets to be so talented at art and writing. But I forgive him because he shares his creations with us.
If you like dark writing, realistic YA and urban magic, get this. And pick up a copy of The Plucker while you’re at the store or the library for more of Brom’s work....more
I've recommended this book to almost everyone I know. It's not so much a zombie book as it is a layered look at the world.
This is probably the most nuI've recommended this book to almost everyone I know. It's not so much a zombie book as it is a layered look at the world.
This is probably the most nuanced book I've read. The amount of research that went into it is astounding, especially because it's not a history book. It's intensely layered and crafted to show the myriad effects of a world war.
Brooks examines all the pieces that are affected - government, religion, culture, infrastructure, military, socioeconomic status, civilians, enemy countries, medical industry, research and development, military history, war history, psychology, ecology, economy, world leaders - and creates a book that is brilliant.
It's amazing how he used a zombie outbreak to examine all of this. And, of course, there's cool zombie stuff to move everything along.
Massive re-review after reading this book in 2012:
I read this a few years back and recently picked it as the first read for my book group. Why? Because it is awesome.
I am not a fan of the zombie genre. I do not like horror. This book was sort of on my radar because it was on every OMG!!! READ THIS BOOK!!! list when it came out, but it was about zombies, so I didn’t pay attention. But after seeing it again and again as a suggested book on various Fark threads I decided to give it a try.
And I tore that thing apart.
Here’s what you need to know: this isn’t a zombie book. I mean, yeah, the entire thing is about zombies, but it’s not a zombie book. It’s so much more and when I read it the first time and now rereading it, I continued to be amazed and impressed about how smart it is. Brooks researched the hell out of each topic. Even if every chapter isn’t a smash, it’s obvious that he put in some serious work.
The Zombie War lasted for roughly ten years. Another ten years or so have passed, and our interviewer has finished his report for the United Nations, but is frustrated that the human aspect was left out. He returns to his interviews to put faces to the facts and to reconstruct what happened to us all when the zombies came.
Following a fairly chronological arc, he meets with a range of individuals and each chapter is one interview. Medical professionals, government officials, members from differently levels of the military, researchers, scientists, capitalists, religious leaders, environmentalists, average folks, clean up and reconstruction volunteers, historians, and many more make up his book. This is one of the things that made me love it so quickly. You get to see every level of the Invasion from people at the top to J. Random Guy sitting on his couch when his front window gets smashed in. It could have just been a military book or a government book or a civilian book, but he makes it a world book, and it is awesome.
The oral history also did it for me. This isn’t a text book. These are people telling their story in their own voices. Each profession (for lack of a better term) has their own vocabulary and view of what happened and how they reacted, and I really liked comparing priorities and responses. For a mom, her only goal was to get her kids to safety. For researchers and government officials, they had to figure out how to save the most amount of people and decide on an acceptable death rate. The military has to learn an entirely new battle system and completely change the psychology of war.
The oral history aspect of the book doesn’t work for all readers. People in my book group as well as other reviewers felt like all the voices sounded the same and that Brooks didn’t have the talent or vocabulary to write for all these characters. I disagree, but then again, if I was an expert in any one field, I’m sure I would cringe at that section. The first time I read the book, I really liked the entry told from the point of view of a woman named Sharon who was very young when the Invasion happened. She escaped and became a somewhat feral child until she was discovered and brought to a group home. Her feral life has resulted in cognitive impairment and she tells her story in basic language. I really liked it because she was mimicking the sounds and voices and shouts and I liked teasing out what really happened based on her childhood version. However, after my book group, I realized that this chapter doesn’t hold up so well. One of my friends has a three year old and hated how Sharon spoke. She said she sees this a lot – adults writing the way they think kids talk. Sharon speaks like a toddler, yet is able to tell a complicated, sequential story. She doesn’t recognize blood or know the word for cell phone. We tried to figure out how old she was when her story happened based on what she says, but the language and sequential arc do not fit together. This is something I never would have noticed on my own, which is why book groups are awesome.
Another major selling point for me was that each interview was fairly short and because Brooks chooses so many subjects, if you weren’t that interested in a topic, you only had to skim for a bit more to get to the next one. There were characters who I were fascinated with and took my time with, and then there were others that I glossed over because I wasn’t interested in that aspect of the War. It was great to discuss it with my book group because there was a mix of favorites.
In no particular order, my favorites:
--- Breckinridge Scott because I hated this guy. Hated him so much because his character would happen in real life and who knows if he’d ever be punished. HATED HIM. The kind of hate where I get mad all over again when I think of his interview. Yeah, it didn’t happen, but things like this happen all the time, and fuck those guys. SO MUCH HATE!!! --- Todd Wainio because it was frustrating and heartbreaking to see how unprepared the US military was and how useless our modern weapons were. --- Colonel Christina Eliopolis because… what really happened? --- T. Sean Collins because the pop culture aspect was so satisfying. I had forgotten what happened to the Hollywood elite and was as surprised the second time as I was the first. --- Sensei Tomonaga Ijiro and Kondo Tatsumi because they were representatives of people who were deemed useless to society before the Invasion yet became crucial during the fight and now in the rebuilding. Anytime anyone asks for a book recommendation, this is always my go to. I feel just about anyone will like it because it doesn’t really fit into any genre. There’s going to be at least one story in here that you relate to or are interested in. I challenge anyone to read this and not try to figure out how they’d react if something like this happened.
Me in 2008: One of the most amazing books I've ever read. I'd recommend this to anyone.
Me in 2013: I’ve sat down and edited this review several times anMe in 2008: One of the most amazing books I've ever read. I'd recommend this to anyone.
Me in 2013: I’ve sat down and edited this review several times and almost threw the entire thing out to rewrite it to try and keep it short. I have accepted that I have a lot of things to say. Get comfortable.
I first read Self-Made Man in 2008 and loved it. I’ve thought about it a lot since then and have become more and more uncomfortable with it. After several easy book club discussions where we all liked the book, I chose this one for our August meeting (yes, this is how far behind I am in writing reviews) because I knew it would be a lively conversation and would possibly involve angry punches. Not at each other of course… Just, you know, in general angry punches at the world.
It could not have gone any better. Is it weird that I’m really happy I pissed off my entire group?
Norah Vincent decided to spend over a year and a half as a man named Ned, although not 24/7. She wanted to see firsthand what the male experience was like and chose several male specific situations to infiltrate for her research. She spent eight months on an all male bowling team. She went to strip clubs. She went on dates. She worked in the testosterone fueled cold-call sales world. She spent a few weeks in a monastery living with monks. She joined a men’s movement group and traveled with them on their weekend retreat. As a lesbian woman, she wanted to experience the male life.
The idea came from an evening out when she was younger. She dressed as a man, although she never would have passed if anyone had looked closely, and was shocked at how different it was. Living in NYC, she never felt invisible. Men constantly look at you, either to leer or harass or just acknowledge that you are female. As a man, however, no one paid any attention to her. ”It was astounding, the difference, the respect [the men in her neighborhood] showed me by not looking at me, by purposely not staring.” That sentence is what hooked me in when I flipped through the book the first time. I was fascinated by this idea of experiencing the familiar as a man to see how things change. I wanted to know if this would be a study in sexism and bias or if it would show acceptance and understanding. I thought Vincent would interact with people first as Ned and then as Nora, or the other way around, to see how she was treated differently.
But that’s not how this book works.
Vincent came to this project with very clear intentions and overwhelming assumptions and bias. She decided before changing her body and clothes that all the men she interacts with are going to be disgusting caveman pigs. She is astounded when men show feelings. My book club wondered if she had any male friends or if she had interacted with any males for any long periods of time. Two members of my club in particular hated her so much that they had physical reactions. Since I had loved the book when I first read it (I gave it five stars and labeled it “favorite” on GoodReads), I found myself wanting to defend Vincent, but the more I reread and the more passages I highlighted, the angrier and sadder I got.
I still recommend that people read this because it is fascinating to see her journey, but do know that this isn’t a controlled psychological or scientific study. This is one woman’s experience and she went into it without examining her own feelings ahead of time or coming up with any sort of thesis. Really bad things happen, morally and ethically.
At the end she checks herself into a mental institution.
It’s interesting to note how women come across in this book. When she joins the men’s bowling league, she is astounded that men from her team and competing teams want her to get better. Ned is the worst bowler in the league. When she isn’t bowling, several men will offer to work with her in an empty lane. Her teammates will yell tips and encouragement when it’s her turn to bowl. When one of the men is getting closer to bowling a perfect game, everyone sits down and silently watches. She feels like there was some unspoken primal rule that tells men to wait and watch when another man is about to succeed. She is surprised by this because in her experience, women love to see other women fail. As a teenager at tennis camp, she was lethal on the court, but wasn’t pretty. When the coach uses her example for how to properly serve, another girl remarks that she’d rather be pretty and bad at tennis than ugly with a good serve. Girls don’t care about girls. You are competition and if you’re better than they are, they will attack your body, personality, morals, whatever and if you are weaker than they are, then they will enjoy your failure.
It gets worse when Ned starts to date.
This is the part of the book that has made me more and more uncomfortable as I’ve thought about it. Even when reading it the first time, I found myself cringing at both the ethics and her tone. She comes across as really hating women, which was curious to me because she’s a lesbian. I wanted to know what Nora’s dating life was like that made her react and compare it to Ned’s. One of the things I found interesting was that she’s been passing as Ned for at least six months before she starts to date and I wonder if she would have felt differently if she had dated earlier or later as Ned. [I'm guessing this based on Vincent's comments at the beginning of the book. She said she wrote it fairly in time order and the chapter about dating comes two after bowling. Since bowling lasted eight months and there was overlap with the next chapter, I'm guessing six months. Total guess. No proof.] This was one of those moments where I wished it was a psychological experiment to see how Ned would have felt if this was the first thing he did as a man or the last thing. Coming off his stint with the bowling league and spending lots of time in strip clubs (more on that later), I have to wonder where his head was.
Ned tries picking girls up in bars. Nora is shocked at how hard it is and how bad it feels to be rejected again and again and again. This part was really interesting to me because I don’t know what she was comparing it to. Vincent is a lesbian, but dated boys in high school. I don’t know what her own experience is with being hit on by straight men, so it wasn’t clear how she was relating to Ned’s experiences.
Ned is able to go on dates and Nora realizes that she is in a bad place. She decides that if she has two dates with a woman, she will out herself. With the rest, she will lie, but will keep their interactions brief so she doesn’t get their hopes up.
Before going into details, she explains that it is “hardly surprising…that in this atmosphere…as a single man dating women, I often felt attacked, judged, on the defensive. Whereas with the men I met and befriended as Ned there was a presumption of innocence – that is, you’re a good guy until you prove otherwise – with women there was quite often a presumption of guilt: you’re a cad like every other guy until you prove otherwise.” I don’t think I can’t argue much with this. She and her dates are in their mid-thirties and a lot of these women have had bad experiences. In my own life, I’ve seen friends go on and on about how all men are assholes and will often leave for a date with the thought of “Let’s see how fucked up this one is.” Still… she really found a few women that are horrible representatives of their gender. I don’t know if it happened by accident or what, but hell… these women are very unpleasant. She meets a few women, talks about how horrible they are and has sex with one of them.
Throughout the book there were moments where I responded “Yes! This is what I want to know! Talk more about this. Explore this more.” An example of this is the physical attractiveness and male dominance requirements in dating. Ned emails a lot of his dates and the women all respond to his writing. They appreciate his tone and the lengths of his emails. He is attentive and interested and they are attracted to this person. And then they meet him. Ned is not a big guy. Norah sometimes feels small when she’s dating as Ned. She thinks these women want a big strong guy who can take charge and throw a punch if needed, but at the same time be that sweet and caring guy from the email. I totally agree with this. Men are supposed to be strong, but not violent. They’re supposed to be in touch with their emotions, but not weak. They’re only allowed to cry under very specific circumstances. They are supposed to ask for help, but not appear feeble. It’s total bullshit, and I’m not a guy. I don’t know how guys deal with this.
The strip clubs she went to were really depressing. Again, she doesn’t talk about what her intentions were. Maybe she wanted to see if she could continue to pass as a man, maybe she liked the idea of being able to see naked women, maybe she wanted to study the men there. While I personally don’t think strip clubs are super amazing, I felt like she picked the worst one she could find. She even refers to it as a “hellhole”. She seems happy that the women are angry and intrigued by one woman who isn’t the prettiest or youngest, but makes a lot of money because she makes you feel like she likes you. This woman pays attention to Ned and is always putting on a show. The entire experience fills her with shame and embarrassment as well as guilt that her life didn’t lead her to the pole. It’s an uncomfortable chapter where neither the men or the women are redeemable. The men wallow in a helpless cry of having to give into their base desires and explain that it’s not their fault that they need to see tits. The women aren’t people and interact with the men as little as possible, barely hiding their hostility. It seems like no one is having fun.
I’m not going to write much about her time with the monks, but interestingly enough, this is where she learned a lot about the rules of what makes a man a man. Any time she showed the slightest hint of femininity, it was immediately noticed and judged. These men were adamant about crushing all sense of sexuality, especially homosexuality, while maintaining a sense of pure masculinity. There was friendship, but there was a lot of distance and distrust. One thing that was interesting to me personally was how older monks and priests struggled with their relationships because they were taught to put God before anyone else. Having a friend meant distancing yourself from God. This completely isolates them and they find it difficult and probably at times intolerable living with others. This has nothing to do with the book’s experiment, but I found it fascinating.
The final infiltration was the most unethical to me, barely edging out Ned’s dating life. Ned joins a men’s group. She is surrounded by different types of men in different stages of fragility and mental anguish. There are men who appear to be on the edge of a violent rage with each breath. Other men are desperate for friends, father figures or brother substitutes.
Nora is astonished at how difficult it is for these men to talk about their feelings. Some of them struggle with the idea that they even have feelings, and watching them try to articulate this is pure amazement to her.
She is also terrified. This is a group of MEN and she feels that if she will be discovered and outed, this is the group that will do it. She’s entered into a sanctified world where men are able to first realize they have feelings, acknowledge and articulate the feelings they have about women, and painfully work though the confusion, fear and anger that the women in their lives have caused. For a woman to lie to them and join their group? This could cause mental harm beyond repair and I hated Nora for being part of this. For her, it was an experiment. Observe the men in a habitat. Try and stay uninvolved, but also pick them apart to see how they work. For some of these men, this group was forcing them to do things that defied every instruction they had received in their lives about what it means to be a man. While some of the men were eager to make changes because they wanted something different and better, others seemed in a panic that they might uncover something too painful to manage. And here is a woman in disguise watching and making notes. I hated it. My book group was furious.
At a weekend retreat, Nora ends up completely caught up in the symbolism and emotions of the group and finds herself having her own psychological crisis. While she continues to observe these men trying to define themselves, she realizes that she needs to define who she is and how Ned fits in.
The weekend ends, she lets Ned go and soon checks herself into a mental institution. This leads to her second book Voluntary Madness, a book that filled me with such rage that I almost didn’t finish it. If you thought she made poor choices in this book, wait until she talks about how people should go off their meds.
I’m glad I read and then reread this book. There is a lot that happens and she does make many valid points and observations. The problem is that she assumes Nora’s version of reality is correct and when things don’t mesh, she doesn’t always continue to find out why. Men are kind to Ned but Nora doesn’t stop to wonder why she thinks men are cruel. Women are indifferent to Ned, but Nora doesn’t ask herself what kind of women she’s finding for him. I think this could have been a very different book if she had laid out her intentions and predictions before each experiment. I understand that she wanted to be Ned and watch what happens, but without untangling her expectations, she doesn’t always come across well. Again, I wanted to defend her to my book club, but there were too many times when I hated what she had done and they way she wrote about it.
I have to keep remembering that this is a real person who interacted with other real people. This is her own personal account of what happened. She experienced and wrote the book she wanted, not what a psychological experiment would have called for. There are many enlightening and fascinating moments that did make me pause and think about how I define myself as a woman and how I see men. It’s a thought provoking read and it forces the reader to examine their own thoughts.
If you have a book group, I 100% recommend this as a pick!
I have no clue how many stars to give this. It’s both fascinating and infuriating. On one page it’s a five star. The next chapter is a zero star.
I've almost worn this one out from re-reading. The characters are well written and the protagonist is a super smart English major book nerd chick. HowI've almost worn this one out from re-reading. The characters are well written and the protagonist is a super smart English major book nerd chick. How can I not love this story? Retold tales are one of my favorite genres and this one is a beautiful work....more