I'll give a more in-depth review when I have a chance, but quickly, I just want to say:
When I initially flipped through this on arrival, I thought I w...moreI'll give a more in-depth review when I have a chance, but quickly, I just want to say:
When I initially flipped through this on arrival, I thought I was going to be disappointed. It wasn't nearly as snarky and/or vulgar as I was expecting it to be... (though, maybe since Zest Books is geared at a YA audience, the fault was in myself for expecting or wanting heaps of vulgar snark. *Shrug*) But once I actually read through and sort of adjusted my expectations, I started noticing a different, most subtle approach to the humor, and I have to say, it really worked. I think those buying this for a smart-ass coffee table book might be a bit let down, but really, only a bit. It's very fun and cheeky, but the surprising thing is that it actually seems like a silly-but-well-intentioned primer meant to honestly teach people how not to be dicks. Real world good advice here, folks.
But regardless, still makes a nice discussion-worthy coffee table book. ;)(less)
Something Realis a pitch-perfect coming of age story about finding yourself and your voice, and how much that struggle is compounded when all eyes...more4.5
Something Real is a pitch-perfect coming of age story about finding yourself and your voice, and how much that struggle is compounded when all eyes are on you. I had a feeling I would like this one, as reality TV and the obsession with celebrity is something that freaks me out, frankly, and I think is ripe for the exploring through books like this. Fortunately, I wasn't wrong - Demetrios' story and characters easily won me over, and her humor and engaging style, and sharp understanding of human nature, made this one enjoyable and surprisingly affecting.
Now, I'm going to try to not go totally off on a tangent when I say this, and I mean it as a good thing, so bear with me, but: this book kinda had me a little depressed. It's not that it's a saccharine, traumatizing, emo-fest; the book retains its sense of humor and sort of 'Ugh, my life' tone, keeping it relatable and believable, and just generally readable. But because it was so believable, it brought to life one of my least favorite things about the modern age, and that is the stifling, piranha-crazed mess that is our obsession with celebrity culture and its (apparent) lack of privacy.
The anonymity of the internet and the constant feed of images from other people's lives has given us license to take the playground bully phase into our adult lives with impunity; one look at the comments section on youtube, gawker, reddit, etc. will tell you that people don't blink an eye when it comes to laying bare their most vile, callous, unasked-for and uncalled-for opinions for the world to see. They do so gleefully. People will post anything, from one extreme to another, about every last aspect of a person's life - a complete strangers life - including the most vile things you could ever say about a person; they will put this all into writing and make it a concrete, shareable released unto the world, with a total lack of any feeling of guilt or empathy. When people speak out against these things, there is always, always, an avalanche of comments to the effect of They signed up for this, she knew what she was getting herself into, he's more than compensated for this, etc etc, as if any of that is an excuse to treat human beings the way we do. We shrug and say, Comes with the territory, as if this is an unavoidable evil. As if we don't decide what "the territory" is, as if we don't decide what type of people, what type of culture we want to be. As if going about your LIFE on the day to day gives people the right to harass you, your children, your friends, family and barest acquaintances just because your WORK happens to be in the public sphere. And it's so pervasive - it's thoroughly inescapable and it warps us all. I don't watch celebrity news shows, read the gossip mags or blogs, and yet I can still tell you who's dating who and I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY. THIS is the dystopia of our time. We live in 1984, and it is of our own choosing.
My god, I sound maudlin. But to have a soul-stealing spotlight like this thrust on you from an early age - from any age, frankly - and to know you can never escape it - never, truly never - has got to make you feel defeated. To be your own brand, to have to make every move of your life calculated to suit that brand...it's disheartening and dehumanizing, and it pervades everything. It's CREEPY. And then heaped on that, the guilting and shaming if you dare to disrupt the flow... It just makes me sad. And tired. I felt real empathy for Bonnie™. She's not even real, yet I was kinda stressed for her. I was sad for her. I was sad for the real people like her that bite off more than they can chew when it comes to life in the spotlight, or find themselves unwittingly (or unwillingly) thrust into it. I suppose there are worse things, bigger problems to worry about in this world, but we can't choose what freaks us out, and paparazzi feeding frenzies freak me out. It makes me feel claustrophobic. And then, expanding beyond the paparazzi into everyone having to have - and express. Vocally - an opinion, and it just makes me feel disheartened.
And yet, this is something we seem to welcome, to strive for. Hell, I'm just a blogger and I'm told to think about "my brand." I'm just a random girl on the internet talking about books and people don't hesitate to comment on my looks/weight/voice/clothes, ask to see my tits (and an inordinate amount of requests to see my feet, WTF?), and any other thing they feel comfortable with saying behind the anonymity of a computer screen. And that, I think, is what's at the heart of why this bothers me so much - if all it takes is a little anonymity for people to behave the way they do, then that's what we really are at our most base, and it doesn't even take much digging to get there. This behavior exposes us. And Heather Demetrios holds up a mirror to that and, through Bonnie™, shows us what we value versus what we should; how we should treat people versus how we do.
And so, yeah, I wasn't supposed to go off on a tangent, but all of that. That's what made me feel a little depressed, just really, really sad reading this book. It put a face to all of those things that have always sort of eaten at me, and the inescapability and manipulation in the story (and its sheer plausibility) all worked together to make this more powerful and affecting than I thought it'd be.
...all of this makes it sound like I sit around all day, stressing out over the fishbowl lives of celebrities. Guys, I'm really not. I'm not that neurotic, I promise. So, MOVING ON, basically what I'm trying to say is it was good and it felt real, and it made me feel, which always makes me rate a book higher in my estimation, and makes it more memorable to boot. I fully believed Bonnie™ as a character, as well as pretty much all of the people she was surrounded by. Some made my skin crawl, some made me have hope - she really nailed the characters. Bonnie™ has a strong voice and sense of humor, and Demetrios deals with difficult subject matter in a non-cloying way. She explores relationships, decisions and choices really well, keeping it all relatable, and very realistic. Bonnie™'s doubts of whether she's doing the right thing, whether she should just go with the flow, whether she's causing more harm than good by trying to stand up for herself, etc., ring very true, and the myriad ways people react to what she's doing, how people (complete strangers, those closest to her, everyone) treat her and have opinions on her was sadly realistic and perfectly captured.
The pressure and the fishbowl and the emotional blackmail - all of it felt true and heartbreaking, and made the book memorable. But lest you think its a depressing sobfest, it's not; it manages to always be engaging and often surprisingly light-hearted, with the emotional peaks and valleys that signal a well-plotted book and a good understanding of human nature. And though it made me sad, it's also an empowering book. It's about finding your voice, finding yourself, and not being afraid to embrace that. It made me sad because clearly I'm more neurotic than I'm willing to admit, but it's also funny and smart and sexy and triumphant. There was never a time where I felt it fell flat or had a weak spot. The revelations, manipulations, and peeks into the family dynamics are well-placed to keep the tension, and looooong story short, I think Heather Demetrios is one to watch.
Jesus, why did it take me so long to get to that? I might have some deep-seated privacy issues...
If I don't shout maybe I can save myself, save the rest of us. But I don't know how I can just look on and watch a murder. Can you do that? Can you look on and do nothing? It feels like I ought to do something. It feels like all of this was because we all just stood by and did nothing, in the before time, in the time when we had every flipping day to sort out all the Connors and all the Jases and all the Lucases ever born.
I went into this with some trepidation, because I think we'd all agree, this is a tricky subject to take on. To make this powerful and meaningful, to show the horror of the situation, but also any hope - slim hope, slim humanity - to avoid sensationalism and finger-pointing...it all just seemed like too much to ask. And briefly in the beginning, I was worried that it was going to be too much to ask. But Mussi somehow pulls it off, despite all of the times it could have gone wrong. Siegeis powerful and effecting and so very, very horrific, but I never felt like Mussi was just going for shock-value or trying to fulfill a quota on bleak atrocities.
But my god, her success with Siege makes this a hard review to write. When I finished the book - in the middle of the night, mind you - I wanted nothing more than to just get up and record a vlog for you guys, a sort of impressions video, 1/2 review, 1/2 discussion. Because frankly, I needed to talk it out. But as it was the middle of the night, and as I was essentially a shattered mess, that didn't seem like the best idea. But now I'm stuck wondering how do I write about this? How do I discuss this without being raw, and without giving too much away?
What makes this book work so well is Leah Jackson, the smarter-and-braver-than-she-could-have-ever-realized main character. The way the story is filtered through her experiences - who she is, her need to help and fix and save and live - and her fear that her brother may somehow be involved, is what makes the story so powerful. Mussi evolves Leah's character very well throughout the story, from the beginning panic and confusion, through her disgust and her questioning and examining, and all of her realizations and revelations; Leah grows tremendously in a very condensed time frame, and the reader is led along at break-neck speed, thinking the same thoughts Leah does at the same time she thinks them. Leah's adrenaline practically drips off the page. This is a visceral read; it gets you in the guts. My heart pounded - literally pounded - reading this. That just doesn't happen to me. I get butterflies when something is really good, yes, but heart-pounding, physical, nervous anxiety is a rare one for me. And of course the way I felt completely gutted in the end... there was that. All of this happens through Leah and her somewhat stream of consciousness narration, and it makes for a really compelling read.
But this is part of what will make it a very difficult book for some people to read. There is no break from Leah's voice, and she is in the thick of things right from the start. There are no little side jaunts with other characters, no forays into the outside world for reactions - nothing to give the reader a break from the relentless anxiety and stress that Leah is under, both physically and mentally. Leah witnesses a lot of things no one should have to witness, and is forced to contemplate things or act on things that no one should have to face. I wouldn't call Siege gratuitous, necessarily, and I don't think Mussi descended into sensationalism and useless violence, but she doesn't flinch away from the true horrors of a situation like this. But I think everything is done with an eye to being honest to the story and the situation, and (more importantly) to the whole of the situation, all of the little things that lead to something like this. Most readers will know within pages - if not even before they start the book - whether Siege is the right type of read for them, but for those that can handle it, I think they'll find it a really compelling read with a lot of fascinating gray area to explore. And I think they'll find it surprisingly - perhaps uncomfortably - relatable.
I will say, I was really, really leery of the use of government presence in this. There came a point early on where I started to have suspicions, and as I was slowly proven right, I kept asking myself whether this weakened the story or strengthened it. I don't want to give anything away, but there's an element of the Grand Government Conspiracy here, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it (sadly, scarily) is believable for the world that has been set up. Even more sad and scary, is that there are definitely people who believe these Grand Government Conspiracies are happening here and now in relation to shootings. Seriously. Google "Sandy Hook conspiracy theories" and you'll see what I mean. So even though this particular instance is believable and works for the story, and even though it sort of parallels the way people search to impose meaning on senseless acts, I could never really decide if I felt it was a necessary element, and whether it added or detracted from the central issues of the story. It worked in the end, and maybe even won me over; I think Mussi certainly handled it better than many would. But I think there are readers who are going to find it one thing too much in a book that already begins as a struggle for some to read.
The only other thing I want to touch on - and that, only briefly - is the ending. I really can't say much because I don't want to give a single itty, bitty thing away, but I think some readers will be very bothered by at least one aspect of the ending - and really, there are a few to choose from. Personally, I was not bothered, and it's one of the things that had me sitting up late into the night, talking myself down from the book, and thinking that it would make for a really intriguing group or book club read. In some respects, I think things happened in the only way they really could, but at the same time, the end leaves so much to talk about and think over, and - if you're brave enough - feel, and after all the stress and tension of the book, these last few twists of the knife might be a bit too much for some readers. Personally, I think feeling it is good; being bothered by it is good. This is a book to be discussed, not reviewed.
[And I'm going to be completely honest with you and tell you that, not only did I have a really good cry when I finished (an interesting book-cry, not just sad, but sort of drained and hollowed out), but I also teared up a few times writing this review, as it all came back to me. It's not just the things that happen in the book, but the way Mussi makes you feel, and the way a story like this - at least for me, an American woman who hears about these things far too often, and who for a long time intended to be a teacher - really hits home.] (less)
2.5 I did another video review for this one (and if you want to watch it, you can here.) But if you're not into video reviews, here's a brief written r...more2.5 I did another video review for this one (and if you want to watch it, you can here.) But if you're not into video reviews, here's a brief written review, in the language of Bumped:
It was like, rilly rilly all about young girls pregging for money. Like, for seriously young. But it was okay, 'cause they were being, like, patriotic, and all the hot girls go Pro anyway, and it's just a delivery, so who cares? And if creepy old guy agents are making you major bank on that pregg, and your creepy parents are encouraging it, and you get to bump with like, the hawtest hunkaspunk in, I dunno, the whole Uni, then why the eff not, right? And, so, yeah, sometimes people die or have, like postpartum pyschosis, but it just means that they are rilly, like, not ProAm material, they are totally neggy.
But there are these Churchies, too, and they are total creepers who believe in keeping their preggs and having like, lots of them. And they want you to have god, and be obedient and whatevs, but maybe they wouldn't mind a little erection perfection themselves... But, yeah, they're still creepy.
So when these 2 sisters, one who's totally going to bump with, like, the cockjockey, and one who's like a total Churchie, get together, it's like for seriously predictable, and is rilly gonna get banned for like sex + religion stuff. Like total Sexigion. And yeah, some neggy people are going to be all like "Oh, where's the science? Why don't they just do like, artificial bumpage, blahblahblah" But that's just cause neggy people don't get it, right? Cause it's satire, bitches.
Oh, and it for seriously ends in the middle of a scene in a rilly irritating way.(less)
Billie Girl was an interesting ride. I have to start by saying that I don't think this book is for everyone, by any means. But I also hav...moreMore like 4.5
Billie Girl was an interesting ride. I have to start by saying that I don't think this book is for everyone, by any means. But I also have to say, if you should really be able to tell from the synopsis above whether it's the right book for you, so it shouldn't be too much of an issue. Me, I read that little bit of oddness up there and thought, yes, please. And I loved it.
The story Vicki Weaver has crafted is in some ways reminiscent of Flannery O'Conner and William Faulkner. Now, I'm not saying that she's at their level -- yet -- but there is a similar feel of the rich, dark Southern Gothic about it, and she has the ability to get to the core of things in a way that's shocking and bizarre and horribly and perfectly human. The characters that populate Billie Girl's life are oddities that will stay with you. As far-fetched and strange as they can be, they are always relatable and real at their core. They all have things they are trying to hide or overcome or pretend away, and they Weaver makes you connect to them through these things.
There are some really deep, complicated issues at the heart of Billie Girl (like gender, sexuality, and euthanasia), and I have to commend Weaver for her handling of them. This isn't a didactic piece aimed at converting people to a particular way of seeing things. It's more an exploration of these deep issues, and of love and humanity, and it's done with love and humanity. It's by turns funny, tragic, heartwarming and painful. It's unflinching, and Weaver is really good at knowing when not to hold back. Even as you're wishing things could be different and happy, you know they can't and won't be, and I respect Vicki Weaver and authors like her who don't go for the saccharine and the easy way out. I'm eager to see what she does next.
February 12th is Cupid Day, Samantha Kingston's favorite day, when friends and secret admirers send each other roses at school, and everyone gets to s...moreFebruary 12th is Cupid Day, Samantha Kingston's favorite day, when friends and secret admirers send each other roses at school, and everyone gets to see just how popular - or unpopular - they really are. But this year, Cupid Day is also the day Sam dies. And dies, and dies. You see, Sam can't stop reliving her last horrible, confusing, frustrating, glorious day, no matter what she changes and what she discovers about herself and the life she's lived -- though dying may be exactly what Sam needs to really live.
Before I Fall is one of those books that seems to just take over the blogoshpere on occasion. It has a prettypretty cover, an interesting title and premise, and people just seem to go gaga over it. This made me leery.
I mean, don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't trust your judgment, blogger friends, and it's not that I don't want to buy books with prettypretty covers. Ok, I may be lying in both instances...but it's because I have been burned by a rave review and a pretty package before. So even though I caved and bought this one, I couldn't make myself pick it up for the longest time because I wasn't ready to be disappointed. Plus, the whole "Groundhogs Day" connection had me more than a little hesitant.
"I'm dead, but I can't stop living..."
But the fact of the matter is that this book is a gem. It's not perfect, no, and it will frustrate some people, but it will make you think, and it will make you uncomfortable in the best way, and it will leave it's mark for awhile to come, and that is the sign of a talent and a classic. No, I'm not being hasty, but I do think this will stand up to time and reflection. Sam will haunt me, and the choices she makes, and her friends make, and her enemies make, and that I've made and will make -- they will haunt me.
"I did my part, too. I did it on a hundred different days in a thousand different ways..."
This book is going to make people uncomfortable because it's going to force them to consider the things that they've done and the influences they've had. As a YA book, I think it's going to be incredibly relatable and enjoyable, while at the same time being effective in something that is pretty hard to do -- making teens think about someone other than themselves.* Hell, adults too, for that matter.
"...it makes me feel, weirdly, like all of these different possibilities exist at the same time, like each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different."
We all do things that are thoughtless or careless or downright cruel, and Lauren Oliver deals with that in a realistic way. There isn't a lot of pandering to her audience or saccharine, condescending, sentimental bullshit. There's good and bad and freak coincidence all mingled together in a believable way. It's compulsively readable contemporary fiction with an interesting sci-fi slant that will draw in readers who don't generally read contemporary fiction. All you have to do is get past the Groundhog Day basis, which isn't irritating or overpowering the way I thought it'd be. Some readers may struggle with Sam and want to shake her, but I find her slow transformation, with occasional backsliding, more realistic and I respect Oliver for not taking easy paths in this book.
The only real drawback for me was some of the asides to the reader. Sometimes they felt a little heavy handed or obvious, like Oliver let doubt creep in about what her reader (as a teen) would be able to conclude, so she pointed them in the right direction. Many people may not be bothered by these, but I don't like these sorts of things at all.** Fortunately, most of these were brief and well-spaced, so I could pretend they weren't there.
Pick this up; I think you'll like it.
*I say this with love. **There was once a very long rant about the reader asides in The Tale of Despereaux. I think my Children's Lit class thought I was crazy.
I first heard about this book on Presenting Lenore where it caught my attention for two reasons: 1) it's a ya dystopia about consumerism (win!) and 2)...moreI first heard about this book on Presenting Lenore where it caught my attention for two reasons: 1) it's a ya dystopia about consumerism (win!) and 2) the cover (for the ARC, at least) reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which meant they needed to be in a Face Off. (The cover has since changed to the one you see up there ^, but the ARC cover -- which is what I have -- can be found below.) I had a feeling this was something I needed to read, so I requested a copy from Balzer and Bray (an imprint of Harper Collins). I never heard anything back (which is not unusual, whether a review copy is coming or not), and so I figured I'd just have to wait the long, tortuous months until it came out -- except that when I got back from ALA, there it was, waiting impatiently for me to read it. And man, am I glad I did.
As I said, The Unidentified is about consumerism gone mad, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bigger picture here is really personal freedoms. Kid lives in a very programmed world that is maybe a hairsbreadth away from our own. This is no far-distant dystopia that gives you shivers but makes you secretly glad our world isn't like this. Kid's world is very current, very of the moment, and incredibly relevant to the lives we live now. It reminded me of a mix of MT Anderson's Feed and Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, though it's not as hard-hitting as either of those. And I don't mean that in a bad way. The Unidentified is, I think, more easily accessible to general audiences, and girls in particular, as the book centers around a very relatable girl. I loved reading through Kid's journey as she became stronger and more analytical.
There's a good balance of typical YA fare (friend drama, boy drama, who-am-I drama) blended seamlessly with the tech and dystopian elements, and it all works together to make this a light-but-compelling read for die-hard dystopianites, as well as a good introduction to the genre for those who don't normally read such things. Mariz is great at that gray area that exists in dystopias -- those questions and impressions you get that make 1/2 of you say "Well, this totally makes sense. Kinda cool, actually" and the other 1/2 say "This is wrong; this is bad." I think it's great for discussion, about and beyond the book, but even if you're not going to run out and discuss this with someone, it's still completely unputdownable. So pick it up. ;p <--- ARC cover
[Please note: I received an ARC of this book from Harper Collins (thanks!), so changes were likely made in the final edition that may or may not have an effect on this review, were I to have read the final version. Just sayin'. ;p] (less)
I think there may have been a good story in here somewhere, but it was buried under bad writing and heavy-handed politics. Full review to come... Now!
Al...moreI think there may have been a good story in here somewhere, but it was buried under bad writing and heavy-handed politics. Full review to come... Now!
Alright. Lately I've had a string of badish books and reviews, and I really don't like being mean (most of the time. Maybe.) The truth is, I want to share good books with you guys. I want you to be able to find something your going to curl up in a big chair with a mug of cocoa and fall in love with. But I'm not going to lie or sugar-coat how I feel about books on the off chance you may like them when I did not. So this review is going to be interesting.
I think there ARE people who will love these; the Da Vinci Code sold millions, right? (I hate to do an extended comparison between books, but there is certainly going to be that element in this one.) When I agreed to review these, I was sort of on the fence, so maybe this is my own fault. I don't generally like thrillers and FBI-ish books, but at the same time, EVL took over the Bourne series and has sold millions, so I thought if I have to read one, maybe he does it right and would be the one to read. And I do think he crafts a story fairly well. I really liked Jack McClure as a protagonist, and I liked some of the elements of the story and the other characters, and the political intrigue aspect. Because of these things, I think there are going to be people who will absolutely love these books.
BUT. But, just as with Dan Brown, I just could not make myself like EVL's writing. It was so heavy-handed and self-righteous and obvious, and it didn't give the reader enough credit. EVL uses a lot of metaphor (a lot of metaphor), and though some of them hit the mark and are excellent, a hell of a lot of them were reminded me of high school/college kid metaphors: strange and grandiose, sounding cool but meaning nothing. I maybe could have gotten past this flaw if that were the end of the metaphor debacle, but the fact is, EVL didn't trust the reader to be able to get his meaning -- or didn't trust himself to convey it, perhaps -- so he piled on more and more of them for each descriptive bit, until it got to the point that I wondered just how long the stories would have been without them. There is a great bit of under-used writing advice from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: "Murder your darlings." No matter how great you think it sounds, or how cool it seems, or whether it fit before you changed things and was just so stunning an image to you, you've got to be willing to leave things on the cutting floor when you are editing writing.*
(from here on out, I am speaking directly about First Daughter only, as I was still making note of things at that point, so they are handy to use to point things out)
In First Daughter, there is a lot about religion. Now, normally, religion (in general) and zealotry and hypocrisy (in particular) are very interesting subjects to me. I am not a religious person myself, but I find religions fascinating, and I like to read about them, good or bad, on occasion. First Daughter was first published right at the cusp of the 2008 campaigning, and it shows. There is a lot of self-righteous, hypocritical, bumbling far right (them) versus normal, moderate lefties (us) in the book, but it is so beaten and beaten, and such a thinly-veiled parody/attack on the Bush regime that it's almost insulting. To me. The liberal as shit, anti-Bush, rat-owning, pierced loudmouth. It's another example of not trusting the reader, so you make things obvious and lead them to the conclusions you want them to draw. It meant that the characters turned into caricatures, and when that happens, I tune out.
The other big thing that really bothered me was the constant shifting between the present and flashbacks. (Last Dan Brown reference, I swear: This reminded me of Brown's stupid tiny little chapters that switch and switch and switch so that it "keeps you on your toes" and keeps the mystery mysterious; translation, pisses Misty off. Have the balls to tell a straight-forward story that doesn't pander or rely on gimmicks. <-- tirade directed at Dan Brown, not EVL). Setting aside that all of the many unlikely connections in McClure's current case to his somewhat cliched and bizarre past, the shifts were just sort of strange and, though they sometimes kept the story interesting, they also sometimes made it hard to follow, or disrupted the flow and made me lose interest. I found myself liking the past sections more than the present, but it was the shift between them that really irritated me, and for the longest time, I couldn't figure out why. Genius that I am, it came to me: the sections in the present are told in past tense (Jack did this), and the sections in the past are told in the present tense (Jack does this). How loopy is that? It just made the whole tone read kinda funny, and once I noticed it, I couldn't get past it.
Now.*** There were a few things I liked. Jack has a lot of interesting things going on in his life, and a really interesting past, so he makes a good lead. Also, he has dyslexia, which he has worked hard to manage, but which also gives him an advantage in his work.** I thought it was an interesting character-builder, and gave McClure a relatability and memorability that I did like. I also like the sort of Stockholm Syndrome aspect to the story. Well, let me clarify; I liked that the element was there, but I thought it could have been handled better, and that some of the elements in the build-up of SS seemed forced and even farfetched. But I did think it was a nice layer, once it was obvious that was where it was going (though before that, it had me rolling my eyes).
Alright. After all of that, I may have scared a lot of you off of these books, but really, I think there are going to be people who are into this genre who will really like these. They're not great literature (and for me, they're not even good fluff), but if you go into it knowing this is what you're in for and wanting something over the top and a bit mindless in an adult, political kind of way, then this will probably fit the bill.
*I would have went in with a machete in this case **I don't know how accurate the portrayal of dyslexia was, and I certainly could have done without being told a million times that he had it, that it made him think a certain way, etc. Once or twice is enough, please, Mr. Van Lustbader; give your readers some credit for not being total morons incapable of remembering a piece of information. ***Okay, but really, I have one more negative side-note. There were a lot of pop-culture references that felt to me like they were tossed in but not really understood. LOTS of references to current indie music, but they felt forced, like EVL googled and inserted thusly. Though I like seeing bands I listen to name-dropped, and I like pulling up lyrics and considering how a song may fit into a story, I don't like feeling like they are used as a disingenuous ploy. Maybe I am being silly here, but that was how I felt. (less)
First off, I've got to give a big THANK YOU to the Polish Outlander, who sent this to me for Christmas, just because she's fabulous like that. This bo...moreFirst off, I've got to give a big THANK YOU to the Polish Outlander, who sent this to me for Christmas, just because she's fabulous like that. This book boasts a Newbery Honor medal, and having read it I can say it's really no surprise. It has a lot of things going for it. It's a great middle grade read, very fresh and fun (an accomplishment, I think, for a book set over 100 years ago), and I think Calpurnia's voice will appeal to a lot of kids, girls especially.
There's also a great wholesomeness to it, and I have to say, I'm always hesitant to use that word -- it always makes things sound a little too religious-channel-Little-House-on-the-Prairie, as saccharine as you can get. But I don't think that's the case here. It is wholesome, it is something you can share with just about anyone, and even though the topic is evolution, I think even the most conservative of folks would still enjoy this book. It uses the backdrop of scientific discovery and a changing world to impart a sense of youthful wonder.
Calpurnia is smart and precocious, and not a very girly girl, so she's kind of at odds with her era. But the relationship she has with her reclusive scientific grandfather is absolutely perfect, and gives her an outlet for her scientific side. I loved watching their relationship bloom, and watching each grow to be more complete and in touch and alive, through each other. It was lovely.
But there's a balance to this, too, that keeps the book from melting into a puddle of sugar. Calpurnia does live at the turn of the century, which was not the best time to be a free-thinking girl. She's at that time of her life where she's still able to get away with childish things, and scamper off and do as she pleases, but that time is almost over, and people are beginning to take note of her, which in turn makes her realize that her blissful free time is nearly over. People are beginning to want to mold her into a lady, to get her to take interest in the "women's work" of cooking and cleaning and darning and hostessing, and being always, always the proper perfect thing, but never anything true:
I had never classified myself with other girls. I was not of their species; I was different. I had never thought my future would be like theirs. But now I knew this was untrue, that I was exactly like other girls. I was expected to hand over my life to a house, a husband, children. It was intended that I give up my nature studies, my Notebook, my beloved river. There was a wicked point to all the sewing and cooking that they were trying to impress upon me, the tedious lessons I had been spurning and ducking. I went hot and cold all over....My life was forfeit. Why hadn't I seen it? I was trapped. A coyote with her paw in the trap.
She has to confront this in bits and pieces throughout the book, and try to find herself and determine if she can break the mold and be the full, thinking person she wants to be, rather than the role she's supposed to be.
Beyond this, though, the wholesomeness and the realistic struggle, the book is just plain fun. Calpurnia is feisty and precocious in the way that some of my favorite characters are. And though she may not be as completely memorable as an Anne, she's certainly in good company with Flavia and Merricat and Cassandra. Her narration is charming and funny, with some very relatable spunk to it. Take this scene, for example, just after Calpurnia has gone to a large library out of town to try to get a copy of Origin of Species:
I bolted for the river. I ripped off my bonnet and pinafore and dress and threw myself into the water, casting terror in the hearts of the local tadpoles and turtles. Good. That lady librarian had ruined my day, and I was determined to ruin someone -- or something -- else's day. I ducked my head under water and let out a long, loud scream, the sound burbling in my ears. I came up for air and did it again. And one more time, just to be thorough. The cooling water gradually soothed me. After all, what was one book to me? Really, it didn't matter. One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white chargers and plead with me to let down my hair, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home.
Long story short, pick it up. And when you're done with it, share it with a young girl in your life. They need more books like this.(less)
Initial reaction: 4.5. Damn close to a 5, actually. I may bump it up.
Here is a teaser from my review: Witch Child takes the form of a diary written by...moreInitial reaction: 4.5. Damn close to a 5, actually. I may bump it up.
Here is a teaser from my review: Witch Child takes the form of a diary written by Mary Nuttal (claiming to be Mary Newbury). After her grandmother is killed for supposedly being a witch, Mary is sent to America to assume a new identity and sever all ties with her past, ties which may get her killed. She takes up with a colony of Puritans traveling to the New World, and soon finds a place among them. But she also finds herself the center of jealousies and scandals that will raise the question of witchcraft again, making her safety in the new world as questionable as it was in the old. I was caught up in this story from the very beginning. Setting aside the "convenient" aspects of the story (the fact that the dialogue is fairly modern, which is explained away, and the fact that she always just happens to have access to her diary and recalls events w/ complete clarity, etc), Mary's voice was always engaging, and she was completely relatable and her story is captivating. She is an admirable girl, raised to be strong and self-reliant, which is a dangerous thing to be as an English woman in the mid 1600s. She is smart and self-assured, a great role model for modern girls, but because independent women were seen as a threat, she lives in fear of the day that her world will crumble and the people around her turn on her. This really brought home to me what freaks me out about humans...
The rest (if you are dying to know what freaks me out about humans) can be found here on the blogness...(less)
I'm a big fan of Margaret Atwood and the dystopias she creates. When I picked up The Year of the Flood, I didn't realize at first that it was a sequel...moreI'm a big fan of Margaret Atwood and the dystopias she creates. When I picked up The Year of the Flood, I didn't realize at first that it was a sequel to one of my favorite books (not only by Atwood, but in general), Oryx and Crake. Now, you can read TYOTF on it's own, it does stand alone, though it may be bizarre at times, and you will most certainly miss out on some inside stuff. You can read it on its own, but I would highly recommend picking up both. Here's why:
Atwood is a master of tone and voice. Nowhere is it more evident than here, in The Year of the Flood. She is able to weave together two stories from two very different people, in two different tenses (Ren in first person, Toby in third) and she blends them together effortlessly. She makes it feel so natural to switch back and forth between the two, and works in their experiences and connections and lives seamlessly, juggling it all expertly.
Everything in TYOTF is so visual and present and real. The world she has created in Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood is some of the most memorable and full dystopia I have ever read. All of her bases are covered: the human element, the natural/animal element and the environmental/ecological, the political, the financial, the religious -- everything has been thought of and everything has a part to play to build a world that will creep under your skin and take hold.
There's a great amount of tension and "what next"ness. It's one of those books that you sometimes want to put down and think about what you just read, while at the same time, you don't want to let it out of your hands. She has an uncanny ability to write about the worst in humanity in the most grimly believable way, and yet show you glimpses of what's best about humanity; you know there's a bright lining, if only somebody could get at it. You end up caring so much about these people and what happens to them; you want so much for the bad guys to get theirs and the good guys to come through safe and whole. But at the same time, Atwood lets you have precious few illusions; it is dystopia, after all.
And I really don't know how to say more than this without giving something away. There are so many layers to unpeel to get at the heart of this book, and it is well worth multiple readings. I only hope there's more. And that I don't have to wait too long for it.(less)
I was hoping for some funny slapstick when I picked this up (which I got), but it's so much more than that. Breathers is a satire lampooning prejudice...moreI was hoping for some funny slapstick when I picked this up (which I got), but it's so much more than that. Breathers is a satire lampooning prejudice and civil rights, starring everyman Andy, who wakes up to realize he's dead and unwanted by the world. Browne creates a zombie that makes sense to me: it's not needlessly shuffling and moaning for brains, it's just a normal guy (or gal) who just didn't die after they, well, died, and now are dealing with the social ramifications of not doing what you're ultimately supposed to do -- and slowly rotting while you're at it. His zombies are sad little things, unable to feel physical pain, but feeling emotional pain acutely, as they slowly decompose into oblivion, or have their demise sped up by being donated to science. They are the constant targets of humans (which is funny and creepy at the same time. It's ridiculous and funny when frat boys attack a zombie by ripping off his arm and beating him with it. But at the same time, it's a horror show, and though I'm sure people would protest, I don't think it's that far-fetched of one. Humans are not the most tolerant of beings for sure, and we all seem to forget that the Civil Rights Movement was a) not that long ago, and b) a counter to some pretty horrific -- and sadly common -- things. Like beatings and lynchings. That were public events. That went unpunished. I'm just saying.)
It makes sense that humans, who don't have a great track record to start, would react with so much animosity to zombies: they're unnatural, and religious extremists would have a field day, but more than that, they would cause us to confront what most people spend their lives avoiding: death. To mourn your loved one, only to have them come back and sit, rotting in your basement, is unsettling to say the least. But you'd probably tolerate them, since they are your loved one. But what if it's some nameless not-person that you don't know, making you feel uncomfortable and think about things you avoid at all costs? There's bound to be tension there, and as that builds and becomes more and more uncomfortable, it makes sense that people would lash out. Creepy, but sadly believable. Of course, the open animosity may be exaggerated and a bit unrealistic in its scope, but with satire, that's sort of the point.
Meanwhile, zombies are just not-dead dead guys. They haven't changed all that much, only to discover that their world has. They're not welcome, they're not considered human; they can't vote, or raise the children they've left behind. If they cause a disturbance in public (basically just be being in public), they are sent to the pound, where they are held until someone claims them or three days is up, at which mark they are donated to science. Andy and his zombie friends cope with this stress by attending Undead Anonymous meetings and consuming products with preservatives (like formaldehyde) in them, to slow the rotting, all the while trying to feel some kind of normalcy. What's a zombie to do? Fight the power, of course.
Oh, that and maybe find out if there's anything to that whole eating braaaaaaaaaaains thing...
I really didn't mean for this review to turn into what it did...Simply put, I got what I wanted out of Breathers, only more so. I cared about Andy and was willing to go along with his fight, seeing the zombies as the good guys, and us humans as bad. On top of that, Breathers is genuinely funny; even when I was cringing, I was laughing. The story, and Browne's writing, work on so many levels. It's a touch of Chuck Palahnuik and a touch of Christopher Moore, but in the end, it really is Browne's own. If you're looking for a non-traditional zombie story to kick back and enjoy, this is the one.(less)
I was very excited to read this book when I read about it, and though it wasn't necessarily as exciting to read, it did live up to my expectations in...moreI was very excited to read this book when I read about it, and though it wasn't necessarily as exciting to read, it did live up to my expectations in some ways.
The story follows a group of people living on Nollop Island (named after Nevin Nollop, the "quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" guy,)somewhere off the coast of South Carolina. Nollopians are devoted to language, and though they live in contemporary times, they have little technology, and they speak like inhabitants of some antiquated English village. When the letters of Nollop's famous pangram begin dropping off of his statue in the town square, the town council begins banning the use of those letters. The first offense for using a banned letter (in writing or in speaking) is public chastisment; the second is flogging or being placed in a head-stock (you're choice!); the third is banishment on pain of death. The inhabitants must learn to function and communicate in a community that is rapidly dwindling in language and size; some learn they must fight back against oppression.
I was put off at first by the language (which was extrememly grandiose in the beginning), but I knew that it was going to provide contrast for the end, so I stuck with it. I'm glad I did. The story is told through a series of letters, so the reader gets to experience with the Nollopians the loss of each letter (they begin to jump out when someone uses one that is banned). It's fun to watch as language is chipped away and the characters become increasingly desperate finding ways to communicate. From this aspect, it is a fun and somewhat silly read.
But it's good on another level, too, in that there really is something serious going on here. In such a slim book on such a silly topic, Mark Dunn is able to get to the heart of governmental oppression and abuses of power. There are some strong statements here, and as it's sort of like seeing oppression in fast-forward (everything happens so quickly), it becomes apparent how it's the little things to pay attention to. It may seem silly to ban the letter 'z', and of little importance, but this silly little thing is a rather large sign. From that aspect, I thought the book was very successful.
It's also fun just as a lover of language. Some of the made-up words in the beginning are irritating, but in the context of the story, it works and you get used to it.
My one warning is that if you don't have a large vocabulary (not necessarily even one you use, just your understanding of language), and you are not a "word person", there's really no point in reading this, and you likely won't enjoy yourself.
Pop over to my blog for some truly perfect bonus material that I couldn't put here.(less)