Highly readable, though predictable and conventional. Classic crime novel set in 1890s NYC. The main character hopes to be a crusading journalist likeHighly readable, though predictable and conventional. Classic crime novel set in 1890s NYC. The main character hopes to be a crusading journalist like Nellie Bly, but she struggles against family expectations. Interesting supporting cast, though I guessed the villain immediately. Too easy. The plotting also included too many stupid coincidences, and there were pointless superficial obstacles put between Jo and her boyfriend that slowed down the narrative. I also felt there was too much explanation of how the plot worked at the end. First two thirds were thrilling and fun. The story could have benefitted from editing.
In a way this could do with a sequel. I would read a book about Eddie's past, which has its fair share of baggage. Don't expect that book to turn up though....more
Didn't really know what this was about prior to starting. Don't like prison stories, sci-fi or exploitation, even in parody. Not half as funny as it'sDidn't really know what this was about prior to starting. Don't like prison stories, sci-fi or exploitation, even in parody. Not half as funny as it's intended to be. I also don't think it really exposes much that isn't already out there. Not for me....more
There was a lot to enjoy in this book, the kind one rarely sees these days: a story that's aimed at the middle grade years, that focuses on the gap beThere was a lot to enjoy in this book, the kind one rarely sees these days: a story that's aimed at the middle grade years, that focuses on the gap between childhood and young adulthood, what used to be called adolescence. Most middle-grade books as such are either too childish or jump right up to high school years. Middle-graders rarely star in stories that actually reflect their real lives. No longer children, but not really teenagers, kids in 7th- and 8th-grade and sometimes below and above those years go through a subtle but important transition. Friendships abruptly become complicated and sexuality suddenly turns up in confusing ways. This book did a great job tackling those issues.
However, it was often contrived, choppy and awkward. Too much of the story was merely given rather than established through textual evidence. Too much telling and not enough showing. I liked the characters, though there were too many, and there were far too many issues being dealt with to fully examine all of them effectively. I also hated the second-person point of view (used during only one character's narration). It never works, and using it in spite of what writing instructors say doesn't make the book edgy and daring. It's awkward and unbelievable.
I got the sense that some of Rebecca Stead's sci-fi background influenced this book, which tried too hard to connect too many people in a strange way. I also found her resolution of the cell phone photos storyline perhaps irresponsible, though I understand it. Lastly, the book was also kind of trite in that movie sense. She's a better writer than that Frank Capra kind of stuff. Not my favorite by this author but a valuable addition to a collection....more
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though aCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though about half the length of the first installment, Boxers, I would say Saints is the more compelling of the two. Boxers and Saints tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion, a violent uprising against white imperialists that took place in China in the late 19th Century and part of the early 20th Century. Part of what some Chinese considered to be part of this imperialism was the introduction of Christianity into the country. In the first volume, main character Little Bao believes the missionaries are an invasive and oppressive imperialist presence harming China. However, in Saints, main character Vibiana sees Christianity as a refuge from her crushing family life.
Vibiana is the fourth and only surviving daughter of a widow whose father-in-law resents girls and merely calls Vibiana by the number of her birth order "Four-Girl," the word four in Chinese also being a homonym for "death." She is ill-treated and disrespected by her family and so believes she is evil and worthless. Vibiana has heard the Christian missionaries are devils and misguidedly believes that because she is a devil herself she should fall in with this group. In the beginning she is uninterested in the religion and merely desires to fulfill the nature of the identity she has been given by her family. Her self-loathing is the most poignant aspect of the story.
Vibiana later begins to be visited by the image of Joan of Arc and hopes to emulate this warrior maiden who fought for God and the liberation of her country from invaders. Four Girl takes the name Vibiana, because of its Christian origin and eventually begins to believe that she is also a warrior maiden like Joan of Arc. Vibiana feels the Boxer rebels are butchers and opposes their cause.
While Boxers tells the story of this rebellion from the point of view of the rebels, Saints shows how a beaten-down person might find refuge in the values of the opposing side because the world she in which she has been brought up has betrayed her. One doesn't need to read both volumes to enjoy and understand the story, but the reading experience is richer if both books are read together. I was really impressed by these stories, and I look forward to reading more by this author....more
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
One of the more interesting examinations of gender I've read in young adult literature. Highly rCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
One of the more interesting examinations of gender I've read in young adult literature. Highly referential and often quite funny, this book forces readers to think about perception by making use of pop culture and fairytales in an unusual way. Bennett Madison creates a heightened reality in this story about 17-year-old Sam's summer vacation with his father and brother; their trip is more like a summer escape, as it transpires suddenly at the whim of their father, who has abruptly quit his job following the departure of Sam's mother for the "Land of Women."
At first what seems misogynistic gives way to a smart and layered examination of how men and other women often perceive what Simone De Beauvoir referred to quite adroitly as the second sex. Those familiar with that philosophy will love this book, which dissects the male gaze and other patriarchal constructs in a way that readers may not even realize at first.
The story is told from the point of view of Sam and also a collective narrative from the Girls, who inhabit the vacation town where Sam is staying. Sam is bewildered, bitchy and depressed following his mother's departure. And, his father and brother aren't dealing well with it either. When they arrive on an island off the cost of North Carolina, Sam immediately picks up on the fact that these Girls, who all seem to look eerily alike, are also all eerily interested in him.
Perception is the point form which this story pivots. That in itself is the force behind the male gaze, so readers should not be surprised that Sam (and his brother and father) still grapples with what he doesn't understand until the last pages, even if his feelings and views originate from a place of benevolence. I like that the author did this. It's worthwhile to leave things open ended in most cases.
Last thing: I loved the setting in this book. By "love" I mean I loved how it was described but didn't actually want to visit this fake beach town. Bennett Madison likely hung around the same shore towns I did growing up, because the way he constructed this place reminded me far too much of the way I felt while visiting the beach as a kid: listless, bored, repelled, disgusted, depressed, filthy, but also sort of at peace in quiet moments. The sense of dread and impermanence and also deflation was all there on these pages. A really interesting read that should justifiably generate a lot of discussion....more
Entertaining and fun, but this felt like an unnecessary afterthought to what I would have considered an appropriate ending in the third book. The mystEntertaining and fun, but this felt like an unnecessary afterthought to what I would have considered an appropriate ending in the third book. The mystery plot felt a little far-fetched and had some holes. There were also gaps that could easily have been filled in without dragging out the story. Meanwhile, some of the other elements of the story were too wordy. Some of the snark from the previous volumes was also lacking, primarily because of the present state of the relationship between James and Mary. Too often, a pleasant set of circumstances between a couple makes for dull writing. Worthwhile for completists, but not my favorite in the series....more
The best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the conThe best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the continuing evolution of the relationship between Mary and James. ...more
Another interesting read in the Agency series. These are a lot of fun, though the second volume was just a little bit of a drag compared to the introdAnother interesting read in the Agency series. These are a lot of fun, though the second volume was just a little bit of a drag compared to the introductory story in the set. This time Mary Quinn is posing as a boy on a construction site, in an effort to find out the truth behind the mysterious death of one of the workers. Mary is also reunited with her sometime love interest James Easton. Their bickering still packs humor, but their interactions in this story are just a little more angst-ridden than in the last book. In all, this story had an altogether heavier aspect to it than A Spy in the House. The prose also dragged a little from time to time. All the same, lots of intrigue and back alley skulking to keep readers entertain. These books are super short and super engaging, even when they lag a little at times....more
An excellent examination of what it means for a woman to live freely and independently in modern society. While the style was at times a little dramatAn excellent examination of what it means for a woman to live freely and independently in modern society. While the style was at times a little dramatic and even awkward, Colette lyrically expressed the tension between the need for companionship and the desire for a life unencumbered by obligation, possession and compromise.
The vagabond of this book is essentially a projection of Colette at a time in her own life, in which she was embittered by a bad divorce but enjoying her freedom as a musical hall dancer, living narrowly yet comfortably on her own terms. Renee's life at the music hall is depicted with humor and vivid detail. You can easily hear the music, smell the sawdust on the floor and picture the men who gape at her. For several years she has rebuffed the advances of numerous admirers without regret. However, the persistance of a rich fan named Max wears her down to the point that she gives in to having an affair with him; though she firmly resolves not to let her relationship with this man go beyond that. Renee does not want a second husband, children, a comfortable home or a life in which she relinquishes her career.
A summer tour separates Renee from her lover for just enough time to give her pause about the inevitable progression of their arrangement. While she loves this man who blatantly adores her, Renee can't help but think of what she would be giving up if she married him. A frank work about the intricacies of feminism and gender relations. This book goes to show you that the questions remain the same throughout history. It's just the aesthetics that change....more
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This book wasn't what I was expecting. That's about the best way to sum up this allegory about lCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This book wasn't what I was expecting. That's about the best way to sum up this allegory about lost innocence and growing up. Jack has spent his whole life in Hokey Pokey, a vaguely Western universe populated solely by children; bicycles are of the utmost importance, superficial gender wars are all the rage, and there is a social hierarchy based mostly on age. Jack is the leader of Hokey Pokey and has always enjoyed living in this clearly fictional world meant to symbolize the way children view their lives. Things change for Jack on the day Jubilee steals his bike. He suddenly doesn't feel like he belongs in Hokey Pokey, and he starts viewing Jubilee, his nemesis, differently.
This was basically a steam of consciousness book for kids, complete with a post-modern existential crisis that was extrapolated with a very heavy hand. I'm not sure why a child would read this book. It's told in a strange manner, and the story has little behind it to frame a rising action of any significance. Allegories are often over the top, and this story is no exception. I've never read any other Jerry Spinelli books, but I'm not about to start after this one. The language was awkward, and the story didn't succeed in showcasing the rupture that can often occur for children when what they perceive as a dramatic event rattles their worlds. This story had a bit of a Wizard of Oz thing going for it, but minus the significance and magic.
I would recommend Junonia by Kevin Henkes if you want to give a child a book about growing up and dealing with change and disappointment. I would even say the Ramona books, which are much simpler in scope, still examine these issues far more effectively and with less "experimental" writing. I'm not one to knock unusual writing. I love it in adult literature, but in this case, I think the style would alienate children rather than engage them. This book assumes children need a story like this, and frankly I think kids are smarter than this book....more
Lots of fun! This book is the first in a series about a girl who was nearly hanged at the age of 12 for pickpocketing. Instead, Mary is saved from herLots of fun! This book is the first in a series about a girl who was nearly hanged at the age of 12 for pickpocketing. Instead, Mary is saved from her fate by a mysterious woman who offers her a chance at a different but albeit unusual life for a girl living in Victorian London. A Spy in the House utilizes all of the best aspects of a Dickens mystery while eschewing the tedium and convolution. Just enough characters to add intrigue but not too many that you can't keep track of them.
A good book for girls who like historical fiction but feel alienated from the narrow lives the female characters often had to endure. This story shows all of the gritty underside of Victorian life while still remaining fun....more
This book wasn't too sure what it wanted to be. What I think it turned out to be is an attempt at reconstructing Beverly Cleary's Ramona series but wiThis book wasn't too sure what it wanted to be. What I think it turned out to be is an attempt at reconstructing Beverly Cleary's Ramona series but with a side of alcoholism and random and unnecessary historical references. This book wasn't what I thought it was going to be upon picking it up. A lot of times that's a good thing - in this case I was frustrated. There wasn't that much about marbles, which could have really been used to nice and eccentric effect. I was also hoping this story would be set in the current day (there's something unusual about playing marbles now), and when I found out that it was set in the '50s (with a lot of historical cliches), I was pretty disappointed. The character is fairly likable, though the rest of the cast was no thrill. There's the elderly next-door neighbor who seems grouchy at first but turns out to be a nice woman; a neer-do-well father; a stressed mother and boys who pick on the protagonist.
I didn't really think all of the '50s references meant anything to the story. I saw no purpose to it, and I found much of the references overdone. I wouldn't recommend this. There are plenty of other stories about plucky kids dealing with issues at home. The alcoholism plot line was also rather heavy for the intended audience, but in the end it didn't amount to as much as it could have. Marbles made little impact in this story, and the conflicting tones throughout made for a jarring read. ...more
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a highly entertaining selection of Grimm fairy tales, retold by popular author Philip PCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a highly entertaining selection of Grimm fairy tales, retold by popular author Philip Pullman, who adds his own touches to these traditional stories. Each tale includes short but informative end notes, which touch upon how they were disseminated to the Grimms, similar stories from various folk traditions and commentary from Pullman as to what he changed, kept the same, etc. The stories were short and concise, but they got the job done. I flew through this book without much effort.
Teens who love folklore and fairy tales would definitely enjoy this book, and with so much contemporary YA borrowing from these traditions these days, high school kids in particular would enjoy seeing where some of the popular plots they're currently devouring originated. This selection does not include the entirety of the Grimms' fairy tales, but those are easy enough to find. Instead, Pullman pulls the ones he believes are the most interesting and entertaining. He readily admits that a few of these stories have little to recommend them in their raw form, so he attempted to flesh them out a bit more. Some are better than others, but on the whole I enjoyed revisiting tales we were all told as children in some for or another.
One of my first experiences with Grimm fairy tales involved watching an animated series from the '80s that adapted many of these stories as short cartoons suitable for young children. The series appeared during a Nickelodeon segment that aired only on Sundays called 'Special Delivery.' Reading this book took me happily back to occasions when I holed up in my room on quiet afternoons and watched this program and many others.
I filed this book under various headings, including 'gender issues,' because while reading these stories I noticed a rather unpleasant undercurrent of female powerlessness throughout. This was not the fault of Pullman, who simply retold the tales. However, this book would make for a great segue into a discussion on how gender roles are defined and disseminated, among other issues related to women's studies. With the exemption of only a handful of stories, the rest of them separated women into the following categories: women who were pretty, virtuous and obedient, but naive and mostly waiting to be chosen as wives; or ugly, nasty witches with little to redeem them. For the most part, women were either cruel, fickle and prone to betrayal or merely set pieces in stories about heroic men.
All the same, I really liked these stories for their simplicity and pure entertainment value. Something about folklore really showcases the meat of a good story, likely because it's short and to the point. It's easy to see how and why so many of these stories have been adapted over the years in so many different ways. This is a good vacation read....more
This book, while somewhat simplistic and dated in some senses, is highly complex its illustration of the multifaceted nature of reality. The concept oThis book, while somewhat simplistic and dated in some senses, is highly complex its illustration of the multifaceted nature of reality. The concept of the tesseract in this book is the best way to show that thinking and perceiving and even emotion are more than just linear, concrete things. The use of math, science, history and writing all mingle to send the reader on a real head trip. This book succeeds in its attempt to ask readers to think not just differently but as if you could bend your mind like a pretzel. This story almost comes off like it was written by somebody on acid because it's so odd and heady. At the same time, its depiction of conformity (which is very much reminiscent of a critique of communism) is a bit one-dimensional. This book also gets a little over the top in the life lesson vein. All the same, really unique and definitely a benchmark for children's literature....more
This book would have been vastly better with some heavy editing. The first two-thirds were flat-out boring, bogged down by a drawn-out quest for an unThis book would have been vastly better with some heavy editing. The first two-thirds were flat-out boring, bogged down by a drawn-out quest for an unnecessarily long list of background characters. The book finally picked up at the tail-end, and at times it was easy to forget that the beginning was so boring. But, long-overdue revelations and other developments had no time to come to a satisfying conclusion, so readers are left with a rather bittersweet ending.
I would say determined fans of Seraphina are the likely market for this sequel, which had some unexpected surprises in spite of itself. Still, this bottom-heavy conclusion merely broke even for me due to all the ground that needed to be recovered due to the dragging beginning....more
Reading this made me feel sort of gross. I don't want to give anything away, though it's likely you'll see through what's going on here for the most pReading this made me feel sort of gross. I don't want to give anything away, though it's likely you'll see through what's going on here for the most part. The pacing was great, though occasionally marred by ultimately pointless meditations on the current events of the day. All this talk of miners' strikes and IRA bombings didn't really impact the personal war going on between MI5 agent Serena Frome and writer Tom Haley. This book was so meta in its framework that the constant onion-like nature of the narrative unnecessarily made your head spin over nothing. Occasionally funny and also fascinating, but Sweet Tooth ultimately had too many flaws to succeed.
I can't say much about this without blowing the plot, but the outlook of this story was so self-indulgent and yet also so self-loathing and malicious that I kind of wanted to vomit a little. Didn't care for the Scooby-Doo turn of events - readers will see. As it turns out, the world Serena operates in as an MI5 employee is rather boring. It's dingy at the Leconfeld House headquarters, and it really sucks being a spy. You might think Serena is simultaneously worthless and yet also too good to be true. There's a reason why, though the exact intent behind this leaves me skeptical.
What I found to be the most interesting part of the book was the fact that the spying that actually went on amounted to the characters' desire to be watched in a sense. Rather than being voyeurs, in a strange way, they wanted others to turn their gazes on them. They wanted validation and purpose for their actions and lives, never mind the fact that they mostly let life happen to them except in certain cases. Boredom, a desire for distraction, general malaise, loneliness - England was failing pretty hard in the early '70s, and this book tries very hard to illustrate a national individual moral bankruptcy. There's some sense of good intentions, but not really in the end. In fact, the true nature of the story is so winking that it's hard to fully believe that what you thought was happening is in fact the opposite. I'm not convinced.
Did any of this make any sense? I hesitate to elaborate on the off-chance that someone doesn't see the end coming. Ian McEwan was far too impressed with himself with this one....more
This was a strange book - incredibly light and fast reading, but perplexing in its intent. Keeping the Castle seesaws between a peon to the Regency peThis was a strange book - incredibly light and fast reading, but perplexing in its intent. Keeping the Castle seesaws between a peon to the Regency period in English history and a tongue-in-cheek farce. This book has a funny cast of characters who all resemble various characters you have met before in Jane Austen novels. The pastiche is done very well, with the dialogue and narrative perfectly capturing everything Regency fans love about Austen novels. However, Keeping the Castle is more obvious and blatant in style and tone and therefore lacking in the sharp subtlety that makes Jane Austen really stand out through history as a unique author.
Althea, much like your typical Austen heroine, must marry for money in order to secure her own livelihood and the livelihoods of her relatives. While witty, keenly observing and generally more rational than those around her, Althea, much like Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennett, can be blind to her own faults at times. The references to Jane Austen come off a bit like a greatest hits, and if you think each character reminds you a lot of Emma, Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy or even some lesser lights in the Austen cannon, then you've got it right on. It's unclear how much Patrice Kindl wants readers to knowingly laugh at all of the obvious references to the source material or if she just really wants to recreate an Austen novel.
Either way, it generally comes off well, and this book like brain candy - easily digestible though not necessarily harboring any lasting nutritional value. While Austen novels astutely skewer society and human relationships with the intent to point out hypocrisy and human failings, this book seems to enjoy being funny for its own sake. The strange thing about this book is that it would seem to be intended as a gateway for students, so they can later find their way into a Regency novel. However, the tone and style of the book make it seem as if much of the reader's enjoyment rests on having already read Austen and the like. The number of winking in-jokes riddled throughout the book would seem that this book is in reality meant for adults or older teens, though the level of complexity is more appropriate for a younger audience.
This brings me to an observation long-discussed about YA novels - that many of them are in reality (though perhaps unconsciously) written for adults. I don't see why a teen would pick this up. It's far too much like the source material, which would likely come off as boring to many teens. Don't get me wrong - I liked reading this through my adult lens and enjoyed all of the references to Austen as a devotee of her work. I just think it fails a little as a young adult novel....more
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
First off, I wanted to like this book. I really did. However... this story could have been a lotCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
First off, I wanted to like this book. I really did. However... this story could have been a lot more than it was. Never mind the fact that it pretty much stole and then diluted the concept of Orlando by Virginia Woolf. This wasn't so much a study in gender as it was a maudlin romance with out of this world obstacles. A is neither male nor female (in authorial intent though not perhaps in reality), and each day he inhabits the body of another person without regard to sex. At the start of the story he wakes up as Justin, an insensitive, one-dimensional dick who is treats his girlfriend Rhiannon poorly. We don't exactly see evidence of this; we're merely told by A and by Rhiannon's approach to dealing with Justin. On impulse, A sees something in Rhiannon that deserves better and so he gives it to her despite the consequences of messing with the life of a person who won't remember the day in which A spent inside of them.
Rhiannon's default personality trait is pretty much victim, and while nice and likable, she was fairly flat as a character. The same goes for A, who instantly and irrevocably falls in love with her; to the point that he becomes unhealthily fixated on her for no apparent reason. A convinces Rhiannon upon subsequent meetings that he is the same "person" who lives in a different body every day. While she has trouble processing this, she seems drawn to his kindness and continues seeing him and corresponding with him despite her very natural reservations.
Levithan is somewhat preachy throughout, reminding readers every so often that A loves "people" and not genders or races or physical types... until he starts to loathe the bodies he inhabits based on what Rhiannon responds to favorably. While Levithan wants readers to see that love is more than gender, he doesn't succeed or even fully address the issue in the end. Rhiannon rather suddenly warms up to A one day, but she never becomes physically intimate with him when he is female or unattractive to her.
And then the story just kind of ends. Nothing was really resolved to me. It was highly readable, which kept me going. I wanted to see what this story would become. But it didn't go anywhere. You didn't even get any really good commentary on what gender really means. To me, A always felt like a boy from start to finish. I never got a sense that his personality inhabited both genders, and little was ultimately analyzed about what it means to be male or female or simply human.
I also found the construct behind A's body changes to be contrived. Rather than put forth as something more philosophical and surreal, his body switching felt far too concrete and simple. Also, A somehow always managed to change bodies that were within driving distance of Rhiannon. And he always conveniently happened to be a boy on the days she was interested in a physical relationship.
The tone was quite maudlin, and I felt that this story wanted to be much more groundbreaking and unusual than it was. The writing was crisp and engaging. I just felt like I was being promised something more on every page, and it never delivered....more