Beatrice "Bertie" Shakespeare Smith has lived in the Théâtre for as long as she can remember. She loves the crazy cast of characters who populate herBeatrice "Bertie" Shakespeare Smith has lived in the Théâtre for as long as she can remember. She loves the crazy cast of characters who populate her life and she loves getting up to crazy antics with them. She loves the stories and the Stage and everything about it. (Well, maybe she doesn't love the Stage Manager...) But when Bertie's antics go too far, the Theater Manager asks her to prove herself to be a valuable member of the Théâtre -- or leave. Desperate not to be exiled from her favorite place in the world, the only home she's ever known, Bertie sets out to find her place in this zany world -- and she may find more than that.
I had been foaming at the mouth wanting to get my hands on this book ever since the cover was released. When my bookclub decided it was going to be one of the books we read this year, I agreed to be a good girl and wait to read it. And hey! I actually kept my word and was a good girl! Go figure. So after all that anticipation -- which is sure to kill anything -- that month's bookclub meeting was one of the most disappointing for me, ever. [frowny face:]
But here's the thing -- I loved the book. It's just that I was the only one, and after the cursory "ehhs" from all around, everyone moved on to what else they've been reading. This disappointed me, because though I love that portion of our meetings, I actually did want to talk about this book, but I wasn't going to keep dragging the conversation back to a book no one liked and listen to them bash it.
So my warning is, if you're a smart woman well into adulthood, you may hate this book. That seemed to be the consensus. But I loved it, and I'm about to tell you why...
I dig literary allusions. I accept that I am a nerd and embrace it. I was a bit worried about the allusions in this going in, though, not because I didn't think I'd like them, but because it is a YA book, and I wondered if it would even be accessible to the YA audience. Since I'm not a teen, I can't speak to this other than to say that a)I was the kind of annoying, precocious/pretentious teen that thought herself very literary, and I would have eaten them up, and probably looked into the ones I didn't get and expanded my drama base; and b) I've read a few reviews of the book that were written by teens, and they all seemed to love it, literary allusions included. Oddly enough, it was among adults that there seemed to be a problem. Except those of my friends actively involved in theater, the adults did not like the allusions; they appreciated them, but they admitted that 1/2 the time, they didn't get them. So I'm thinking that maybe I underestimated teens (and overestimated adults), and that really, Mantchev didn't take as big a risk here as I thought, because teens are still in school, after all, and the references are more current for them than they would be for an adult who doesn't read or watch dramas. Personally, I loved the allusions. There are a few in the quotes section below that tickled me to no end; they become these little inside jokes for those who do know about -- or enough about -- theater to get them, but I think you can still enjoy this without knowing all of them.
Another big draw for me was the world and the style in which Mantchev presented it. I loved the Théâtre and the Players and the world Mantchev created. It was really fun to become immersed in, and it was very visual and interesting. She took something well-known (the world's most famous stories and characters) and made them her own while still staying true to the original, and it came off very nicely. I could picture everyone, I could see them in my head -- her dramatic almost-play style was very effective and made me feel like I was, indeed, a part of the audience. The whole thing came off as very fresh and creative and unique, and I love that. There's just not enough of that.
But perhaps the biggest draw for me was Bertie. I never thought I'd like a character named "Bertie," I'm not going to lie, but like her I did. Berite is funny and feisty and creative and I adored her. There's a quote below that demonstrates her feistiness quite nicely, so I won't waste your time going into all that other than to say that she will win you over. She just will.
So that's why I liked it. But to be balanced, I am going to give you a few of the drawbacks that my bookclub found, and that you may not like, either:
The tone does come off a bit young. Not unbearably so, and I think it's really just a part of the lightness, the breeziness of it, but it does read younger than I expected, and than my bookclub was willing to stomach.
The allusions, again, may not be everyone's bag.
The love triangle(ish). This is actually a drawback of mine. It's not that I didn't like the 3 characters involved, or the tensions between them, because I did. [side note: Ariel is one of my fave lit characters, so I loved his role in this. And nothing to do with the triangle, but Ophelia is another fave, and I loved her role, too.] But I am so sick of the Team _________ shit, really I am, that I just kind of cringe when I see someone using that formula. You will never hear me say that I am Team anybody. It irks me. Someday there will be a rant on this, but I'm not going to take up this review to do it. But seriously. Enough with the Teams and the triangles.
There is a certain predictability that may bother people, but I don't think it's overwhelming or detracts all that much from the story. Just a fair warning.
Some of my favorite scenes and quotes: "What are you doing here?" "I heard the water running." Ophelia lifted her arms up and smiled into the ghostly, aquamarine lighting. "I thought I'd come and drown myself. I won't be in the way, will I?"
~ ~ ~
A sudden, trumpeted fanfare sent them leaping apart, the blast of noise precefing the messenfer from Act Four of Richard the Third. He entered Stage Right, unrolled a parchment scroll, and cleared his throat. In a strong, sonorous voice, honed to cut through the bedlam at court or merely backstage, he proclaimed, "And now, the bane of your existence, the killer of all joys, the Stage Manager --" He was interrupted when the murderers from the same production leapt from the flies and stabbed him repeatedly with big rubber knives. The messenged pulled crimson scraves from holes in his tunic and did a lot of unnecessary groaning before his assassins dragged him offstage by the ankles. "What was that all about?" Nate demanded. "Early detection system," Bertie said. "I get advance warning that the Stage Manager is coming, and the messenger gets extra stage time."
~ ~ ~
Something darkly tempting and longing-filled bloomed under the sun-warmed grass and damp earth. She opened her eyes, wanting to ask a question she didn't yet know, but before she could find the words, Ariel turned away.
~ ~ ~
"I think they'll make excellent mummies, as they've already had their brains removed."
~ ~ ~
Mrs. Edith had told her once that the costume made the character, but only now did Bertie understand what she'd meant. The corset was dainty, demure, pin-striped, and it wanted her to slap Ariel across the face. But Bertie was more than the sum of her clothing, so she cocked her arm and punched him as hard as she could in the stomach.
~ ~ ~
Gertrude pointed at Macbeth, who was holding up a cruller and muttering, "Is this a doughnut I see before me?" Then he noticed the raspberry jam on everything and started to shriek.
~ ~ ~
The Brigands charged in with weapons drawn. "Who are you?" Young Bertie asked. "We're the bad guys!" their leader announced. "What are you going to do?" "Plunder and pillage!" one of them yelled. The others immediately shoved him "Not in front of the kid. Ralph! Fer cryin' out loud..." "Oh, yeah. Sorry! We're here to take your candy!"
Flavia de Luce is not your average eleven year old. She lives in a decaying mansion. She has a passion for chemistry, especially poisons. And when sheFlavia de Luce is not your average eleven year old. She lives in a decaying mansion. She has a passion for chemistry, especially poisons. And when she finds a man dying in her cucumber patch, it doesn't occur to her to be worried or scared. Instead, Flavia senses something delicious may come of it: adventure. Thus Flavia sets out to find out just who the man is, and how he came to be dying in her cucumber patch. But what starts off as a fun, mysterious way to spend the summer of 1950 turns into something much more when Flavia's father is arrested for the crime -- and she must prove his innocence before it's too late.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is slightly out of the norm for me in that I tend to avoid mysteries. I figure them out too soon, so they bore me and come off as cheesy. But I'd heard good things about this one, I was completely caught by the title and, yes, the cover (you know me), and precocious Flavia sounded interesting. So not only did I decide to give it a try, but I even went ahead and bought it. I do not regret this impetuous decision.
Flavia is delightful in her little-genius antics, and though her precociousness is occasionally somewhat irritating (as with all precociousness), she remains consistently entertaining. She's bold and bright and adventurous, and like many a genius, slightly off. She occasionally reminded me of Merricat Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle, whom, if you remember, I found captivating, even if she was a loon. Flavia isn't a loon, but her obsession with poisons does make her narration slightly suspect on occasion, which adds an interesting element.
The tone throughout the book is fun and intriguing. It's like some weird love-child of We Have Always Lived in the Castle + nostalgic/atmospheric/eccentric/British coming of age lit (think I Capture the Castle) + a cozy mystery. That's some parentage, and it makes for interesting offspring. The characters are fun and quirky, and this extends beyond Flavia, though she certainly takes the cake in this regard.
And even for me, who always figures things out and then gets disgusted -- even for me the mystery was fun. It's the sort that, even if you figure it out, there's still enough suspense, still enough tension, still enough interest to keep me going. You want to know how it's going to work out; more specifically, you want to know how Flavia's going to wriggle out of this one and come out on top, because she's that type of character; you just know she will.
I think, whether you like mysteries or you typically avoid them like me, you'll like Sweetness, and you'll intend to continue on with the series, The Buckshaw Chronicles -- you just have to know what Flavia's going to get herself into next!
When I agreed to be part of the Android Karenina blogsplosion, I knew it was going to be an interesting experience. I've read the P&P inspired booWhen I agreed to be part of the Android Karenina blogsplosion, I knew it was going to be an interesting experience. I've read the P&P inspired books -- and obviously am familiar with P&P -- so I got the in-jokes and the references, and could compare it to the original. With this, I haven't read Anna Karenina (and am generally not big on the Russians, save Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago), so I knew that I would have to approach this mash-up differently.
On the one hand, I wouldn't be biased comparing it to the original because I wouldn't know what was the original, and what was not (save the robots -- pretty sure that's all Tolstoy... ;p). At the same time, though, there was a potential to be greatly confusing, and for me to wonder if there was some significance to the addition of robots.
Basically, the latter is what happened. Even though the writing flowed smoothly for me and I couldn't really tell where Tolstoy left off and Winters began, I still found myself wondering what it was all about. Was the insertion of robots really necessary? Was this needed in literature, did it add something to the story? Basically, what's the point? I found I kept asking myself this. The thing is, I think there may have been a subtle reason. I remember reading once about Anna's dream of beaten iron (a famous scene from the original) and assume that this was Winters "in" for the story he created -- there's a groundwork for the horror in Anna's metaphor. And I think there were times when the cruelty exhibited toward the robots (as at Princess Tverskaya's house, when the Iron Laws are tested) did add a layer of humanity (albeit at its worst) that made the robot aspect a bit more believable and linked the desperation of their case with Anna's. They also seemed to act as mirrors of their masters, externalizing the internal, which was interesting. (<-- though I found myself wondering if this took away from the beauty and subtlety of the original; of course, not having read it, I have no idea. It was just one of the many "wonderings".)
The somewhat steampunkish element was interesting, too. I wouldn't call it straight steampunk (note to purists) but that mash-up aspect was there, and I liked it. Ball gowns and polished copper faceplates just work for me, I guess. (Also, the idea of a "float" was fabtastic. What is a float, you ask? A float is what happens when technology enables you to ramp up the excitement of a formal ball -- you simply puff jets of air on the "ballroom floor" to lift dancers off of the ground, creating new -- and even more difficult to master -- dance steps. Genius.)
But I still found myself questioning. I kept wondering what the point was, and how it fit into the big picture, and I kept feeling like I was missing something. I think, had I read the original, I may actually have enjoyed this more. I did enjoy it on a somewhat forgettable level, but I may have found it more compelling if I were familiar with the story, which is not the fault of Ben Winters. I think he did a good job from what I can tell, but I feel like I'm in a place where I just don't know what to do with it. I'm missing the in-jokes, so the humor seems like it's just detracting from the famously sad and serious story, which leaves me with a feeling of a weird tone and confusion. I think if you're reading it because you've read Anna K and are curious, it may work for you; if you're reading it in place of Anna K, it may not.
One last note: the illustrations did nothing for me. Sorry, illustrator... ...more
When I first started Random Magic, I was pretty enthused. I'd been chatting with the author, and her emails were hilarious and scattered in a fun, quiWhen I first started Random Magic, I was pretty enthused. I'd been chatting with the author, and her emails were hilarious and scattered in a fun, quirky way, and the book seemed much like those emails. It was quirky and scattered and absurd and random for sure, and I look a good bit of quirky/absurd/random in my life. (quirksurdom?) The book was more sort of a series of weird little vignettes that were connected by this search for Alice (of Wonderland fame), and for about 1/3 of the book, I was willing to go along with it. Things were funny, I was enjoying myself, and though there was always a part of me that said this is certainly not a book for everyone, I did think it was the right book for me.
But apparently it's about 1/3 the book for me, because as much as I enjoy random quirky weirdness, at some point, I just wanted to get to it already. The vignettes started to feel too drawn out and, well, random, and though they were always funny on their own, with so manypiled together, one on the next on the next on the next, it just got to be too much. The frenetic zaniness was really fun in the beginning, but by the middle I was just wishing for some restraint. It was like everything that was in Soren's head -- every. little. thing. -- made it to the page, and though each of those things was a fun little gem, it was a few gems too many. Save some for the next necklace, this one's weighing me down.
So it's kind of a weird one for me to review. I liked what I read, but I wanted to stop reading... I just wanted to have some sense of where it was going; I wanted an end in sight, some idea that there was plotting involved, planning and forethought and not just "sit down and write, and whatever happens, happens." I think I could have found this truly enjoyable if there had been some restraint, if Soren had saved some of the antics and vignettes for another book, and instead focused on making the ones in this one fewer but stronger. But it is a fun read, if at times overwhelming, and there are certainly those who like it quite fine as is. [check out vvb32 reads or the "Winterlong" Random Magic Tour for more]...more
I was hooked by the tagline "Boy Meets Girl. Boy Stalks Girl. Girl already has a stalker. Boy becomes her stalker-stalker." It's kinda perfect, and twI was hooked by the tagline "Boy Meets Girl. Boy Stalks Girl. Girl already has a stalker. Boy becomes her stalker-stalker." It's kinda perfect, and twisted enough to be right up my alley. (I assumed.) And though I did like this aspect of the story, I felt a little let down.
It's weird; I like the elements of the story, and they all seem to fit together to make something I should really like, but I felt disconnected from the story. I think this is in large part due to the "medical blog" style. I mean, yes, it was quirky and sometimes very amusing, more so when you would take into account the things Gomez was saying + the reasons he was saying them + the fact that a medical research team was to have full access to the blog and his (very personal) shared thoughts. This should have = a win, and occasionally it did. But most of the time, Gomez's clinical style and my questions on the timing and delivery of it all kept me from buying in and going with it.
But despite this, I wouldn't call it a bad read. Parke is funny and quirky ala Christopher Moore, and some of the stuff that happens is fun and random in that good, wtf? way. Gomez's interactions with his clueless neighbor were so hilariously uncomfortable (in fact, Gomez's interactions with a lot of people were hilariously uncomfortable -- he knows some odd people, and is a bit odd himself...), and the situations he finds himself are fun/zany. I think there will be people who will really love this book and recommend it to people, and think about it and its characters fondly. I'm just somewhere in the middle, wanting to like it more than I did, wanting to connect to it more than I could. I think with a few different choices, the book would have had me, but as it is, it fell just shy. ...more