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 boFirst 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....more
"I hate skin; I hate bones and bodies. I want to curl up inside of him and be carried there forever."
Earlier this year, I fell in love with Lau2.5 - 3
"I hate skin; I hate bones and bodies. I want to curl up inside of him and be carried there forever."
Earlier this year, I fell in love with Lauren Oliver's debut, Before I Fall. So understandably, I was very excited to hear about her next book, Delirium. A dystopian world where love is a disease, written by the clearly very talented Oliver? Yeah, I can get behind that. Only turns out? Not so much. Reasons why = HERE...more
Even though I'm normally a little hesitant about books that have really pretty covers and lots of excited squeeing attached, when this came out last yEven though I'm normally a little hesitant about books that have really pretty covers and lots of excited squeeing attached, when this came out last year, it went straight on my wishlist. To balance the squeeing, I did see some pretty thorough reviews from trusted people, so I figured there was a good chance I would like this one, despite the pretty cover curse. So imagine my delight when the Polish Outlander sent it to me for Christmas!
Just after Christmas, I was in a little bit of a reading funk. Even though I have a lot of great stuff that I'm excited to read, and even though I know there are a lot of books on my TBR that I'm fairly sure I will like (some even love), I just couldn't seem to find something to suit my mood. In fact, I couldn't even figure out what I was in the mood for; it was just one of those listless funks you go through every now and then. On New Years Eve, I was sick in bed but wide awake, and I really wanted to read something, so I grabbed a big stack of books and decided I would read a page of each, and whatever captured my attention would be the one I'd go with -- first book of the new year. Flash-forward about 5 hours, when I'm still wide awake with no idea of the time (really, really late), laughing aloud as I tear through Paranormalcy.
I'm always hesitant to write a purely glowing review. Even amidst all the good of a book, there's generally something that I caution people about. But when I think about Paranormalcy, I'm hard-pressed to come up with negatives. It was the prefect funk-breaker. The world Kiersten White creates is a lot of fun, and there is great room to grow over the course of the series, which I love. Evie is an absolutely delightful character. She's fun and fresh and youthful in such a great way, but she's rounded enough -- she begins to question and doubt enough -- to make her more dynamic and fully fleshed out. And she's a great narrator to have leading you through the book because she's got a really enjoyable voice and great sense of humor (which means White has a great sense of humor. It shows through out the book). It's a really refreshing read, and I think Evie is really relatable in such a great way, even when the circumstances she is in are not. On a purely for-fun level, I think you can do a lot worse than Paranormalcy.
But what's great is that there is more to it than that. I sense more to the story for each character that's introduced. I know there's something lurking in all of their pasts, and I love that we don't get to see all the cards. It adds depth to balance the lightness of the story. Also, White doesn't shy away from showing some heartbreak. In spite of all her kick-ass attitude and abilities, Evie has had a very lonely, sad type of life. She never really gets to be a girl, or to be care-free, and occasionally you can see the strain it causes. And there's more, and I have to be careful here, because I don't want to give anything away, but I do want to mention that I absolutely Loved (with a capital L) Evie's interactions with Vivian. A lot of YA authors -- debut ones, especially -- would have gone the easy route and made everything black and white/good and bad/right and wrong. But life is never that easy or clearly defined, and White knows this. I get Evie, and her actions and motivations, and I get Vivian's as well. The scenes with Evie and Vivian, especially towards the end, and the sadness that pervades them was really authentic and beautiful to me. Even more so because of the fact that I wasn't expecting it in such a funny-sometimes-silly book. I think Carrie Ryan captured it completely when she said "Kiersten White creates the perfect blend of light and dark." She really does.
Very nicely done; I will certainly be keeping an eye on Kiersten White....more
There has been a huge upswing in the amount of dystopian and dystopian-like books written in the past few years. Some are excellent. Some have excelleThere has been a huge upswing in the amount of dystopian and dystopian-like books written in the past few years. Some are excellent. Some have excellent premises that are just not quite carried off. And some have premises that leave you kinda scratching your head. Despite all of the good things I've heard about Gabrielle Zevin, I was afraid this was going to fall in the latter category. I mean, a world where chocolate and caffeine are banned, but alcohol is not? And since that was all that was really being said about the book, it seemed like a pretty thin basis for a dystopia - hell, for a book in general. I was...hesitant. I've been burned by a thin premise before.
But here's the thing (well, the things): 1. The dystopian-like elements of this are almost incidental. They play a part (a big part), but it's not a dystopian story. 2. No matter how questionable elements in your world are, if you do them well, they will work. If you build it they will come. If you back your shit up, I'll buy in.
And I did. So, to break it down: This is being tossed around as a dystopia, and like I said, the elements are there. But I am a firm believer that dystopia means something. Dystopia - like satire - is used to highlight some aspect of society, to show us what could be from what is. It's a magnifying glass held to our flaws, our society taken to its logical extremes, and all with the mantra that it's for our own good. All These Things I've Done does have a smidge of that, but it's lacking the verve, the fervor, the ardency that comes with A Message. And the reason is that it's not really about that. Zevin's dystopian society just is. It's not being used as a spotlight, and not even completely as a catalyst, but more just as a backdrop to the real story. It's no different than an alien world or a fictionalized contemporary world. It's simply a matter of 'this is what it is, and this is what we know.' No one's fighting (yet), no one's being made martyrs - it's not about that. It's more that this is just the world that is, and this is one girl's story in it.
This is a simple story of a girl who gets caught up in a whole lot of mess when the world starts noticing her and she starts noticing it back. So let's move on from the dystopia into what it really is. I've read reviews from a few friends who felt like they weren't able to connect to the characters or that Anya and the narration was really detached. This was one of my favorite things. The main character, Anya, is a bit of a cold fish. She has led a really hard life and has an insane amount of pressure on her shoulders, all the while trying to get out from under the shadow of her family and what they represent (which, as the daughter of a slain mob boss, is no easy feat). Anya's reservedness and tendency to go cold in her narration, to recap things and make less of them - I found this perfectly in keeping with her character and the world/character-building. I understood her thoughts and reactions, and her standoffishness and fierce need to protect. I liked her reluctance and pragmatism, especially where Win is concerned. It made her seem more real to me, and in some ways, more relatable. Everything she is and does has a basis in her past, and that comes through palpably.
Generally, I felt this was true across the board. I found all of the characters pretty relatable and I thought they added to my understanding of Anya and her world pretty nicely. Yes, some are cardboard and I could have wished for something more dynamic, but in the telling, somehow it still works. Anya's constant "Daddyisms" - wise words from her mobster father - made sense and helped build the picture. The whole family unit, who they are and how they react and are portrayed, that all worked for me. Win was a little too good and Gable a little too bad...But I do think Win is a good love interest, even if the whole thing creeps dangerously close to something that would normally irritate me (Romeo & Juliet bullshiz. Which this is, as it is essentially a retelling, star-crossed lovers and all that jazz). But Anya's behavior saves it for me, cold-fish that she is. I could have done more shades of gray, but that is all really in hindsight because, as I said, as I was reading, it all just worked for me.
All that said, there were 2 things that bothered me. I mentioned the choc/caff banning as being a BIT ridiculous, but I can see a banning happening. I can even see coffee speakeasies and black market extra dark chocolate bars. What I CANNOT see is people getting high off of a candy bar. I mean, we all joke about being chocoholics, but come on now. I don't buy an honest-to-AA caffeine addict, I just don't. But this was minimal-ish and I got over it. The second thing that bothered me hit me like a ton of bricks and is spoilery, so if you don't want to know...
PRE-SPOILER (you can read this, it's safe) I reallyreallyreallyreallyreallyreally liked the relationship between Anya and Scarlet, her best friend, through most of the book. I was so damn happy to be reading a book with a female main character who gets along with other female characters. We all had a best friend in high school and for the most part, they weren't back-stabbing c*nts. I am so beyond sick of this Mean Girl trend I CAN'T EVEN TELL YOU. So I was reading, and there was no Mean Girl-ness - even from the school gossip, who I was just waiting to turn bitchy - and I was giddy with the idea that there was going to be a healthy female relationship in a YA book. And it wasn't even saccharine and fake - these two do have problems, they do have arguments and disagreements. But then they do this miraculous thing where they talk about them and remain friends. It was heaven. And then.
SPOILER(view spoiler)[ And then Scarlet did something that I can't forgive, even if Anya could. Scarlet began dating Gable, Anya's ex-boyfriend, who'd tried to date-rape her and then told the school she was a slut when she wouldn't sleep with him. And then Aw-hellll-no Misty came out, and I was ....argh. My Book Chat on pet peeves came out shortly there after, in which I mentioned that I am working my way up to the "douchebags and Mean Girls" rant because I can't make it past unintelligible cursing quite yet. So no points for Scarlet. Pissed me RIGHT the fuck off. And they get it back on track. There are reasons Scarlet dates him, and she's a big softy, and Anya forgives her so I guess I'm supposed to, too. BUT I WON'T. (hide spoiler)]
That flaw knocked it back some, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book by any means. I'm confident Anya can take care of herself, and Gable certainly gets what's coming, and probably will forever and ever amen, so I'm good with that. Scarlet's bad choice wasn't enough to spoil my the book for me, and Anya's voice and the overall dark tone of the story worked for me enough that, coupled with the hints of where this series is going, I'm certainly eager to see more.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I've read other things by Dunkle before (The Hollow Kingdom, The House of Dead Maids), and one of the things I really like about her is that she seemsI've read other things by Dunkle before (The Hollow Kingdom, The House of Dead Maids), and one of the things I really like about her is that she seems willing to confront the darker aspects, the things that make you uncomfortable. This is something I've come to associate with her, and I really do like it. But another thing I've come to associate with Dunkle is stories that come so close to making me feel the need to push them into everybody's hands, but not quite making it. This was true of By These Ten Bones. I think I wanted to love it more than I did, and I wanted to want to push it on everybody - but I didn't. This makes it sound like I didn't like it, or even that I was disappointed with it, neither of which is very accurate. I do want to push it on recommend it to some people, but not everybody. I just...it always felt like there was just some barrier we couldn't push through. The story and I were held back by something, something was missing and I don't know what it was. But I could feel it.
Alright, this is the weirdest analogy ever (maybe only topped by my soup vs. Soup analogy), but say you were eating your favorite ice cream sundae, and it's delicious; it has scoops of rich chocolate and fragrant vanilla ice cream topped off with nuts and cherries and sprinkles and whatever the hell else you put on it. And you like it, it's good - but something's missing, and you can't figure out what until you get to the last bite and you realize you forgot the damn caramel sauce. It's still a really good sundae, but you know how much better it can be with the little addition of that salty-sweet caramel, and now you're disappointed.
That's sort of how this is. Or maybe it's not like that at all. (I mean, it's a book, not a sundae. And why do all of my analogies have food?) But something about this book left me feeling incomplete, and it wasn't big enough to really stand out, but rather left me with that subtle nagging feeling that something that would put it over the top, something that would make me love it instead of like it, was missing. And I really don't know how else to explain it.
Part of me feels like maybe it was just a by-product of the style. It's very folkloric, very sparse in style and even in plot, pared back and bare bones. It's told very simply and somewhat slowly, too, and maybe that's what left me with that nagging feeling - maybe I wanted something more lyrical, or something I could connect to more, emotionally? Either way, the style does work for the story and does help build something really atmospheric and foreboding. There's a good sense of place and tension, and I worried for the characters and how everything would turn out. I also feel like it's something I would read again, maybe even multiple times. But I don't think everyone will connect to it - I think it will be too spare, too simple, or too weird for some people to get past.
But for those who do, they'll find a really interesting tale of Otherness unlike most of the YA fare out there, and one that is worth their time. Even if there is an indefinable something missing... ...more
Initial excitement: Ok, I DEFINITELYneed to getHAVE this!!! Thanks, Ksenia!
First I want to start with a HUGE THANK YOU to Ksenia of Polish OutlanderInitial excitement: Ok, I DEFINITELYneed to getHAVE this!!! Thanks, Ksenia!
First I want to start with a HUGE THANK YOU to Ksenia of Polish Outlander for being awesomesauce and surprising me with a copy of this.
I kind of don't know where to begin other than to say I fell in love with this. The illustrations are just perfectly stylized and atmospheric, and incredibly expressive. This probably has less text than any graphic novel I've ever read (entire pages go by with no words), and yet it doesn't lack for story. It's always so clear and complete - I never felt it was lacking simply from not having a lot of text. The story is fully there in the pictures, which not a lot of graphic novels pull off or even attempt. Furthermore, her style was distinctive and memorable. It reminded me somewhat of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis in the simplicity and almost cuteness of the black and white illustrations, but Brosgol has definitely put her stamp on it.
Beyond the fact that the illustrations are just perfect, the book works on so many levels. Brosgol has a great sense of humor - in Anya and in the illustrations - that acts as a good counterpoint to the growing tension and unease regarding her ghost, Emily, who she meets when she falls down a well.
And speaking of Emily - oh, I loved her. I mean, you don't ever not see what's coming with her (did that make sense?), but it's so delightful watching her morph from this little lonely ghost to this maniacal sort of poltergeist with a vengeance. She's a sweet little nutjob, and I loved it. And Brosgol's depiction of her and the way her character evolves as her story is slowly revealed is fantastic.
She goes from this:
and I loved every minute of it. On that level, it was a great classic ghost story, a creepy story of control and obsession and longing.
But it's not just a ghost story. Anya's Ghost is also a bit of a coming of age story, and an immigrant/Outsider story that makes Anya relatable and lovable (even when you want to smack her). Brosgol created Anya's voice really well, and captured both her desire to be normal and mainstream as well as her awkwardness and insecurity and bitterness about what it means to actually be mainstream.
Do you ever have those books where, when you try to recommend them to someone, all you can come up with is "Just read it"? I know I've kind of rambled, and just shoved pictures in your face, but - just read it....more