Holy shit. I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but when I finished it, I had to stare at it. Because this is really good. And I will alsHoly shit. I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but when I finished it, I had to stare at it. Because this is really good. And I will also warn that this is an incredibly triggering book—I didn’t have an issue getting through it, but the way Brandy Colbert writes is so raw and unflinching that I do think some people won’t be able to read it.
Theo is such a complicated character, but I liked that Colbert doesn’t make any excuses for her. When we get the realization of what really happened with Theo’s ex, I liked that Theo grapples with the full truth of it. And I liked that it does feel incredibly realistic that Theo doesn’t want to admit that she was raped, that she was lied to, and that she doesn’t want to tell anyone the truth because she’s still in love with Chris. And I really loved that.
I also really love that this grapples with traumatic experiences in a realistic light. I liked that Theo’s eating disorder stems from dealing with Donovan’s disappearance and not with her ballet career, and that it’s still a hard struggle for her. I loved that how this ends, there’s still a lot more of growing and acceptance that Theo has to do, and her journey is far from over, but I loved where this ended. I liked that we see her general backsliding into her anorexia over the course of the book, and that she realizes that she needs to go back to therapy.
There’s also the fact that this really portrays a child disappearance really well. I liked that there’s a media sensation around Donovan’s miraculous reappearance, and although he never fully appears on screen, his presence within the book is so large that it’s hard to ignore. I even liked how the flashbacks were handled as well, especially from Theo’s perspective. Yes, Chris is an awful human being for what he does to Donovan and Theo, but I understand why Theo is charmed by him. (God, the scenes between the younger Theo and Chris were just NOPE.)
I also loved that Theo is technically the other girl in a relationship, but the book never casts her in a bad light, and that it’s truly Hosea’s fault for cheating in the first place. I really liked their relationship, even though it was wrong, but the longer Hosea went without breaking things off with his girlfriend, the more I disliked him. I really loved that their relationship is messy and confusing and Theo turns her back on Hosea.
I really can’t say more about this book, rather than just read it. (With appropriate trigger warnings, because there’s no dancing around it.) It’s utterly fantastic, and I do agree with several lists that this is one of the best debuts of this year. ...more
There are some books that I finish that I really like and then eventually pass along to my various friends. Then there are others that I have to stopThere are some books that I finish that I really like and then eventually pass along to my various friends. Then there are others that I have to stop halfway through, call one of my friends and go, “Okay, if this doesn’t suddenly start sucking, OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO READ THIS.” So when I get the book about the atheist closeted lesbian in love with her incredibly religious best friend, who both living in a fairly Christian town, my first thought was, “Oh, I’m so giving this to my best friend.”
Sparks is a quick little read that manages to be funny and sweet while being incredibly messy and complicated. When I got to the end of this, I was a little disappointed that it just ends with little resolution between Debbie and Lisa, but I think that it does feel more realistic. One of the issues that I have to mentally argue with YA (and fiction in general) is that there’s this expectation that everything needs to be wrapped up in a little bow by the end of the book (or there had better be a sequel), and yet that’s not how things actually work. I liked that even though Debbie confesses that she’s gay to Lisa, she still hasn’t gotten enough courage to confess the full truth to her yet.
That said, this book is like Ferris Bueller’s… in Iowa and on LSD. Because I don’t think John Hughes could have ever dreamed of high school cultists who drag people on a holy quest to recover a missing backpack for $5, encountering time-travelers (no really, just run with me here) and snuggle-bunnies at the local bowling alley. While making sitcom references the entire time. It’s a zany wacky fun book that has a heart to it, and I did really enjoy it. Even though it’s a coming-out book and there’s coming-out drama, but it’s not like any other coming-out book that I’ve read before. As I said, I liked that Lisa not only accepts Debbie being gay, but she’s known longer than Debbie and that’s why they’ve danced around the sex talk.
I really liked Debbie. I liked that she’s had all of these feelings bottled up for years and she just snaps one day. I kinda loved Debbie’s ineptness at trying to get herself into detention, and that she finally gives up and crashes it. And I also liked that this about Debbie finally seeing her town in bigger terms than just through Lisa’s eyes. I loved that her journey is this big madcap dashing around as soon as things look like they’re going south.
There’s also the fact that although the teenagers do feel like teenagers. Tim and Emma’s entire relationship and the fact that they can’t spit out their true feelings to each, and Emma’s solution is to sabotage the poor girl who’s been chasing Tim for years. (Okay, I did not like that part, but it feels truthful.) I really liked the supporting cast of this, and if there were to be a sequel, I’d love to see more with them. Like Angela, because she was awesome, or even if Debbie and Meredith got together.
(On a side note, the entire Full House angle of the book was a little gimmicky, but it does ring true that it would be appealing to a religious family. That said, I had to laugh when Emma is going through the Playlist of Blue, and they hit “God Only Knows” and Debbie’s reaction is “Wait, this is the Beach Boys?” I did watch Full House when I was little—I wasn’t a huge fan, but we watched it—and I had a similar reaction when I finally heard that song.)
This is a fun little book, and I did really enjoy it. The only problem that I could see with it is that the plot is a little too rushed at times and the ending kind of just happens, but I did really enjoy this one. And it’s also nice because it does feel different in terms of the plot—it’s nice to read a coming-out book that’s not fraught with drama and everything ends up terrible but the protagonist is stronger for it. It’s worth checking out if you can get your hands on a copy of it. ...more
It has been a good long while since I’ve read a really good psychological thriller. The kind where I’m muttering halfway through “What the fuck is goiIt has been a good long while since I’ve read a really good psychological thriller. The kind where I’m muttering halfway through “What the fuck is going on?” and I’m constantly guessing what’s going to happen next. The downside to most psychological thrillers is that there are ones that fall completely apart once you get to the explanation behind everything that’s happened so far. Night Film isn’t a mind-blowing psychological thriller, but I still thought it was really good. It’s a twisted little peephole into obsession that I think succeeds in what Pessl set out to do.
One of the big draws for me was the multimedia aspect, and I do really like that not only does Pessl embrace the Internet, but it’s incorporated into the book so well. The use of web pages and new media are intricately tied into the plot, but it never felt like the narrative stopped whenever we needed to read an article or a post. I really liked that the various articles or site posts are reprinted with the side bars and other information because it lends an air of truth to the book. (I should note that I haven’t gotten to the other bonus features of the book, because I haven’t had time, and I’m also guessing that the bonus content actually contains clips from Cordova’s movies which NO.)
The new media/technology angle also really works well with the undercurrent of the Cult of Cordova that runs throughout the book. More than Scott or his two protégés or even Ashley Cordova herself, the idea of Cordova is the single strongest presence in his book. I actually got really disappointed whenever the narration shifted to Scott’s personal life or even when they were investigating Ashley’s life away from her family and the reasons behind her death. I really wanted to know more about the Stanislas Cordova oeuvre and why he has such an effect on people. Because honestly, whenever they would reference specific scenes or shots in his films throughout the book, just reading about them doesn’t give a sense of the horror and realization that Cordova allegedly invokes, at least not to me. But the Cordovites and their websites (btw, I thought that the redband screenings were a great addition to the reality of the book as well) were just so fascinating that I wanted to know more. (For the record, I don’t think I could take a Cordova film. I love horror, but I can’t sit through torture porn and I think his films, if they existed, would freak the shit out of me.) And then there’s the fact that the whole plot is technically kicked off by media panic of pop culture and how media and fans can twist the life of a cultural figure. I also loved the satire of Hollywood and film that Pessl utilizes throughout the book as well—from the mystery of Cordova’s right-hand woman, Inez Gallo and if she’s the true mastermind director, to the thinly-veiled rivalry of Marlowe Hughes and Olivia Endicott, to the meticulous obsessions of fan culture.
But it’s really Pessl’s writing that drew me in. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Scott’s character—I do like that this all stems back from when he first targeted Cordova and threatened to expose him, but I wasn’t wild about him overall. But how Pessl wrote Scott and the other characters, especially Ashley and her family is what kept me reading and kept me guessing the whole time. Because I honestly didn’t know if this is supposed to have an undercurrent of the paranormal to it, but even if there was a supernatural twist at the heart of it, I wouldn’t have minded. Plus, the whole sequence of Scott having to actually go through the Peak and literally finding himself in the middle of Cordova’s movies was completely harrowing (and really fucked up when you find out who was at the Peak).
(On that note, however, I was side-eyeing the witchy shops scenes and the talk of “Oh, this is the blackest magic someone could do!” I would have texted my best friend passages to see if it was bull, but I couldn’t under the circumstances. Not to knock Pessl, but that was the only part of the plot that felt like fluffy Wiccan bunnies going “OOOOO BLACK MAGIC!!! EEEVIIIIIL!” Sorry, things that rub off on me that I’ve learned to pick up on.)
(view spoiler)[But the thing with such a heavy supernatural implication throughout the entirety book does make the eventual reveal feel like a little bit of cop-out. Honestly, if Pessl had ended it with the reveal that’s in the book—that Ashley had cancer and she had just been fucking with everyone and that’s it—I would have hated it. The fact that there is another thirty or so pages following the reveal redeems the reveal, because holy fuck that ending. I don’t know what happens at the very end, but that’s the part that blew me away. I liked that things aren’t finished, that Pessl doesn’t wrap this all up in a neat little bow—I can feel like some people would call this a cop-out, but I do like it. (hide spoiler)]
I wouldn’t say that Night Film is a life-changing novel, but it’s still a really great read, and not a bad way to kill a few hours. And while I do think that the twist is going to be divided for a lot of people, I bought it, plus I don’t think it works without the full ending. I really enjoyed this, and I’m looking forward to checking out whatever Marisha Pessl does next. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I hesitate to call the previous two books of Shelley Adina’s Her Own Devices series as disappointments, because although they don’t quite reach the leI hesitate to call the previous two books of Shelley Adina’s Her Own Devices series as disappointments, because although they don’t quite reach the levels of awesome from the first three books and I disliked the plot elements, they’re still good books. But I was a little wary going into A Lady of Spirit, and finally getting Maggie’s perspective of things. And although this feels like a retread of the previous book on the surface—Lizzie and Maggie continuing to find out their family history—this worked a lot better for me than A Lady of Resources did.
For starters, this is the first time that we’ve really gone back to Victorian society in these books since Lady of Devices. It’s been in the background throughout the whole series, but it’s never really observed or criticized beyond “Oh, Lady Claire (and later Lizzie and Maggie) isn’t like those other girls” (which very quickly got shunted away, thank God). So to have Maggie meet the Seacombes and see the way that they treat her makes complete and total sense to me. It makes sense that they would be quick to defend Charles de Maupassant despite being a traitor, because he did right by their daughter, and go out of their way to blackball the Polgrath family. (If there’s any quibble I have about the reveal of Maggie’s parentage, the VERY CONVENIENT reveal that she is the granddaughter of Claire’s poultryman. I don’t hate it, but I really want the theme of “Family is who you choose to be it” to really come across and not end up as OMG WE’RE ACTUALLY RELATED. It’s a minor plot revelation but still.) I think Adina actually portrays the Seacombes’ out of touch nature admirably well, rather than just saying that they don’t like modern technology and leaving it at that.
(view spoiler)[(I loved the moment when Lady Claire finds out that the Seacombes are involved in smuggling and aiding the French forces, and Lady Demelza is insisting that it’s none of their business if Claude and Maggie got captured, anyway the smugglers will let them go soon enough, and Claire just says, “No, of course it’s not your fault when there’s someone else to blame.” That’s the Lady Claire Trevalyn I know and love.) (hide spoiler)]
A Lady of Spirit also puts A Lady of Resources in a really interesting perspective. The one thing that I’ve really enjoyed throughout the entire series is Lizzie and Maggie’s characterizations and growth as they’ve grown up, and that they’re both plagued by the same fears and doubts. I loved that Maggie is so afraid of losing the only family she’s known not because of any major antagonistic forces, but because Lizzie’s ‘meant’ to be in society and has expectations. And going back, and seeing that Lizzie has similar fears about Maggie moving away from her is really undercut as well—it’s such a subtle direction in character development that I really enjoyed. I also really liked that both girls have their own reasons for feeling out of place in society—Lizzie feeling like she doesn’t live up to everyone’s expectations of her, and Maggie preferring simple country life. I also loved how this really highlights Maggie’s talents of mimicry and how she uses it to infiltrate the Kingmaker. (Plus the fact that the plot revolves around Lord Meriweather-Astor’s second attempt at trying to overthrow Queen Victoria. I have to give Adina points for not wasting villains or foiled plots for future books. (Unless this means James Selwyn hasn’t been dead all these years. That, I might not like as much.))
I also really enjoyed the supporting cast here more. Claude’s really grown on me since the last book; yes, he’s an irresponsible cad, but he’s a lovable irresponsible cad. I wanted a little more to do with Michael Polgrath and the rest of Maggie’s family, but that might be saved for a future book in the series. I also really liked the romantic developments, specifically Lizzie/Tigg. (Oh please let us have a book about Tigg. I really want to see his perspective on things.) And Andrew’s entire attempt to get somebody’s permission to finally marry Claire. I do like that Claire’s love quadrangles have finally been solved at this point.
While the plot’s pretty straightforward and not as exciting as some of the earlier books, I do like this as a character study for Maggie, and I was just happy with this one overall. It would be easy to say that there’s really no need to continue the series beyond this point, but I am interested in seeing what happens next. (And according to the epilogue letter, it is the return of Alice Chalmers! Hopefully her awesomeness has returned as well!) ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I’ve kinda wanted to read some of Meg Wolitzer’s work for a while, especially after seeing rave reviews for The Interestings and seeing some early buzI’ve kinda wanted to read some of Meg Wolitzer’s work for a while, especially after seeing rave reviews for The Interestings and seeing some early buzz for Belzhar. And although I don’t think Belzhar is probably the strongest example of her writing (I do eventually want to get to The Interestings, if the backlog ever dies down), there were parts that I still enjoyed. The problem with this book is that once we get to the big twist, it’s never fully paid off or explored.
Wolitzer’s prose is lyrical and engaging, and she keeps the plot flowing as we find out the truth behind Jam’s depression and relationship with her boyfriend Reeve. And I think that it’s really difficult to pull this air of magical realism in the face of discussing depression. Yes, there’s a strong air of escapism to it, but I think Wolitzer’s use of the fantastical helps push the message of confronting one’s mistakes and faults than most writers would. And it helps that we do get to see all of the characters at their lowest—I really liked that no one is given a magical cure to their problems, and although confronting the moments that changed them is life-altering, there’s still a hint that they have a long way to healing themselves, than just one journal entry fixing it for them.
That is until we find out the truth behind Jam’s depression. I will say this—on the surface, I actually don’t think the twist is bad. My problem with it is that the timing of the reveal, and especially in the face of the other characters’ stories, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
(view spoiler)[We spend roughly two hundred pages to find out that Jam’s boyfriend Reeve, wasn’t really dead (which I had started to suspect halfway through), but they weren’t even in a relationship at all. I think this would have been a fascinating concept to explore and discuss frankly (especially if Jam’s not treated as unhinged. To be fair, she does verge on very stalker-ish when we learn the truth), but the placement of the reveal feels more like a gimmick rather than giving Jam more character development. We never really see Jam confronting the truth outside of the world of Belzhar and never discussing it with her new friends.
And then it doesn’t help that compared to her classmates, Jam’s reason for depression feels…honestly a little shallow. (I am one of the last people to diminish depression btw.) We hear of everyone else’s past—ranging from arson to family drinking resulting in paraplegic to an abducted sibling. Once we got to the reveal, I sat there wishing that we had gotten the book from Sierra’s perspective, because she was one of the most engaging characters that we got throughout the story. (And also, considering what she does toward the end, I think that would have been an amazing sequence to read.) Or even Griffin’s story—I got the feeling that he was similar to Jam in his refusal to confront the reality of his situation and I thought that it would be fascinating to explore that angle. Again, it’s not that I think the twist with Reeve isn’t bad, but it comes so close to the end that I feel like it doesn’t get properly explored or examined in the light of all of the other characters. (hide spoiler)]
I wish I could say that the exploration of teenage depression and anxiety is neatly paired with the writings of Sylvia Plath, except that I haven’t actually read Plath’s work. (I know! Worst English major ever, I want to, I really want to.) It’s not to say that you need to absolutely know the minutiae of Plath’s writing, as Wolitzer does a good job of discussing it within the novel’s context. But I do think that more familiarity and understanding of Plath would help, or at least in my case. (view spoiler)[My only issue with the Plath connection that Mrs. Quesnell was friends with her during their time in a mental institution. I am very glad that the magical journals were not bequeathed by Plath as I had been dreading (because that would have been one thing too far), but still the direct connection doesn’t really sit well with me. (hide spoiler)]
I don’t think that this is a terrible book, nor do I think that Jam’s depression and reasons for it are invalidated once we get to the reveal. But I do think that this book suffers greatly from not exploring the fallout of that reveal, especially when we see how much it pales alongside the other characters’ stories. I don’t think I can especially recommend it, but I will say that I am interested in picking up more of Wolitzer’s work (hopefully in the near future). ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more