OMG, you guys, pardon me while I flail freaking everywhere over how incredibly hilarious and wonderful and perfect for me this book is! Ahhhhh! There...moreOMG, you guys, pardon me while I flail freaking everywhere over how incredibly hilarious and wonderful and perfect for me this book is! Ahhhhh! There are certain authors who are just like made of magic for me, you know? Their every written word speaks to me. They're funny and clever, and say express the things that I think and feel all of the time, and, were I the kind of person to mark up my books, their books would be a mess of notes. Well, Lauren Morrill has just joined that esteemed crew with her debut novel Meant to Be.
I could tell straight off that this novel would be a fantabulous read for me. The book opens with, "There are certain things in life that just suck. Pouring a big bowl of Lucky Charms before realizing the milk is expired, the word 'moist,' falling face-first into the salad bar in front of the entire lacrosse team . . ." It you can make me laugh with the first two sentences, things are looking up. I proceeded to highlight a bunch of quotes that spoke to me and made me laugh. If you go on GR, right now and look up quotes by Lauren Morrill, I added all of them, because I'm a nutter and obsessed.
My very favorite aspect of Meant to Be is how well-drawn Julia is. She totally rocks, but which I mean she's kind of awkward and judgmental and anal-retentive. Julia might have more in common with me than any heroine I've ever encountered, with our main differences being her skill as a swimmer and her dedication to homework. Julia, like me, is not a rule-breaker, pretty much as a rule, and, when she does break them, it's this sort of painful mix of fun and fear. She loves reading more than just about anything else and has only one close friend, Phoebe. On top of that, she's introverted and has curly, frizzy hair she cannot figure out what to do with. My advice to her on that last one is confidence; if you pretend it looks awesome, a lot of people will be fooled.
What was most familiar to me about Julia was her perspective. Julia's mental dialog is pretty much exactly what it's like to live in my head, especially my less self-aware high school brain. Despite being incredibly intelligent and witty, Julia, when in a social situation, generally fails to prove herself verbose and lacks witty retorts. Yet, in her head, she has this constant judgmental, snarky commentary running at all times, which, of course, deserts her at times of need. She also has a temper and doesn't realize how harsh or superior she comes off to other people. To me, Julia is one hundred percent realistic, believable and hilarious.
I will say that the only other strongly-developed character is Jason, and even he takes a definite back seat. This is no surprise given how caught up Julia is in her own world and impressions of things and people. Since it's just like my mind, I can tell you right now that she's not the most reliable narrator. Meant to Be is definitely driven by Julia, so I suspect that if you don't like her the book won't be much fun for you.
The romance does not go anywhere surprising, but it's totally one of my favorite formulas. I've always been so weak to the boy and girl who don't like each other at first plotline, because of my love of Pride and Prejudice, which Morrill is obviously a total fangirl about too, based on the numerous references. Shakespeare comes up a lot too, of course, but, if this is actually a retelling of anything (I thought it was a Shakespeare retelling, though I suspect I made that up), it's of P&P.
In Meant to Be, Julia has to deal with a lot of personal issues surrounding her own expectations. She has love built up into this epic construct in her mind, and it's totally messing her up. Again, I relate to this to an insane degree. Her realizations are important ones and I think this sends a great message to teens compared to all of the obnoxious teen love lasts forever stuff. While Jason and Julia do, I think, have amazing chemistry, I also don't know what I see them making a great couple for all time, and I like that.
The last thing I must mention is the setting. Meant to Be takes place during a class trip to London. Julia has signed up with out her best friend and is stuck with a whole bunch of other teens she mostly doesn't like while trying to enjoy herself in a foreign country. Girl, I have been there and it is unfortunate, especially since I didn't have a Jason. Meant to Be is one of those books that makes you feel like you're traveling. I already wanted to go to London so, so much, and now I want to just pack up and go right now, though I'm far too plan-oriented for that, as Julia would understand.
Though I had a couple of small issues with Meant to Be (mostly to do with the cell phones the school provided for them during the trip, which I so do not see happening), I completely adored the whole book and will be devouring everything else Morrill writes as soon as I possibly can.
I wrote my Independent Study senior year of college about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's writings. One of the things I read was his Gulag Archipelago. For s...moreI wrote my Independent Study senior year of college about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's writings. One of the things I read was his Gulag Archipelago. For some reason, which I really don't want to consider too much (this may have something to do with my love for dystopias too), I have always been fascinated with books about the concentration camps and the gulag system. When I read in the blurbs sent to me by Penguin that the North Korean camps make those pale in comparison, I knew that I had to read this book.
The scale of the camps is simply staggering. Shin attended a rudimentary school with approximately 1,000 other children. This is mindboggling, considering that only the children of camp marriages were allowed any form of education within the camp. Marriages were used as a reward for the hardest workers, so just imagine how many people might be in this one camp, of which there were many more. And of all of those people, Shin is still the only person known to have escaped and survived.
Perhaps even more startling are all of the other facts about North Korea. It seems as though, horrendous as life can be in the camps, it's not actually that much better on the outside. In some instances, there may be more reliable food in the camps.
Harden did a great job with this. He includes a lot of details about North Korea in general, whatever he's managed to learn, that add context to Shin's story. Personally, I knew practically nothing about North Korea beforehand; apparently, there's only so much to know, because the North Koreans really don't want anyone else to know anything. Plus, he emphasizes the limits of our knowledge of North Korea and of Shin. There is often no way to corroborate Shin's tale, because he is the only one known to have escaped from a no-release camp.
[Random comment, but I really will never understand why photo inserts in history books/biographys are always put in the middle of a chapter. Hundreds of pages, between any of which the photos could go, but they always put them in the middle of a chapter (actually, usually a sentence), necessitating a back and forth shuffle through the pages. Why not just put them after a chapter and let me flip through the book the way I usually do?]
Although Escape from Camp 14 is a brief book, it packs a punch. For those with an interest in history or contemporary politics, this is a must-read.(less)
Damico has a really interesting writing style; she definitely has a cadence of her own. She also puts a unique spin on things. For example, due to Lex...moreDamico has a really interesting writing style; she definitely has a cadence of her own. She also puts a unique spin on things. For example, due to Lex's extreme violence, her mom ties her up in jump ropes to have a serious talk. Lex's mom also is obsessed with American history, particularly military history, so much so, in fact, that she named her children for Revolutionary War battles; Lex is short for Lexington.
For example, here's a pretty typical quote from Croak: "She wished, as almost all kids wish at one point or another, that she could turn into a pterodactyl and fly away and never come back." Obviously, Damico's really funny, but it's definitely a quirky, dark humor. Her whole style definitely took some adjusting to, but I really appreciate the snarkiness of her writing.
My initial thought, and why I was attracted to this one (aside from the fact that Gina is an Apocalypsie) is because the premise sounded very Dead Like Me. If you haven't seen the show, I highly recommend you go watch at least the first episode, which is one of the best things I have ever seen ever. Anyway, they do have some things in common, like the grim reapers and the sarcastic heroine and the dark sense of humor. However, I also got a bit of a Eureka vibe from Croak, since the town is full of such strange, intelligent people. How can those things not add up to be some brand of awesome?
So yeah, it's pretty freaking awesome. Lex is a cool character, strong, sarcastic and sassy. Plus, she's so not the typical heroine. For one thing she's as violent as Ashline from Wildefire. Also unlike most YA heroines, she really doesn't want anything to do with all of that stupid teenage hormone-driven love stuff. For that reason, she is not pleased at having to share a domicile with the unfortunately super hot (and often annoying) Briggs. All of the characters are vibrant and quirky.
If you like dark humor and stories out of the norm, do not miss Croak. Another stellar debut from the Apocalypsies! I am so excited that there's going to be more of this series!(less)
In a strange way, I always sort of dread reading anything by John Green. Weird, right? See, I live in perp...moreOriginally reviewed on A Reader of Fictions.
In a strange way, I always sort of dread reading anything by John Green. Weird, right? See, I live in perpetual fear that one day he will let me down and his book will be less brilliant than I'm expecting. My expectations when it comes to John Green are ridiculously high, because, basically, he's like the god of the nerds and, even in the books I like less, his writing makes me laugh and makes me feel. Despite this constant fear, his books have, so far, improved every time, with The Fault in Our Stars being his best yet, dark and funny and honest and touching and hopeful and depressing and painful and perfect.
*wipes away tears*
When people talk about this book, the first thing they mention is the sadness of it, of how many tissues are requisite to getting through this novel without emerging a snot monster at the end. What struck me much more strongly, though, was the sense of humor and optimism running through the book, even the darkest moments. The humor doesn't subtract from the pain or the suffering; it humanizes it, and enhances the strength of the characters.
In the past, my main complaint about John Green's books (no, I did not think they were all completely perfect) were the characters. They were real, but they were annoying and repetitive (especially with Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska. None of them did I fall completely in love with, although Tiny Cooper was close. In Hazel and Augusta, John Green's characterization has seriously hit its stride in my opinion.
Hazel's voice is just...incredible. Her sarcasm, her brutal honesty, her anger, her intelligence and her wit all made her one of the most wonderful narrators I've ever encountered. I love the way she phrases things. I love that she uses some words that I don't know the meaning of, which really doesn't happen often in my reading. Hazel feels wholly like a kindred spirit, like we would be friends if we ever met, which would totally never happen since we're both so anti-social. Also, she feels one hundred percent like a female to me, always a remarkable thing for a male author to accomplish.
Hazel and Augustus meet and there's an immediate attraction. Though they immediately feel for one another on some level, John Green deftly doesn't go anywhere near instalove territory. For one thing, there's Hazel's cancer, which holds the two apart. Even if there weren't and they immediately leaped into a relationship, I would have been okay with it, because the two legitimately develop a bond. They wisecrack and have this insane rapport; they share a love of word play and navel gazing. They trade their favorite novels and both go into the experience with an open mind, even though the novels were not what they were expecting. They are, without a doubt, one of the best, most convincing, most well-matched couples I have encountered in fiction.
Throughout The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has woven a lot of thoughts about the value of fiction and about what a novel really is, both to the reader and to the author. Hazel's favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten, is a work of literary fiction about a young girl with cancer; Augustus' is a series of novelizations based on a video game about the adventures of Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem. While there's clearly a difference of literary merit between the two, I loved how John Green stressed the importance of both.
I feel like there isn't much more that I can say about this without cutting into your enjoyment of the book. I realize I didn't talk about the cancer at all, but I suppose that was intentional, because the book isn't so much about the cancer as about the people who are partially made of cancer. The cancer is them after all, not a foreign element. The book is wholly about cancer and wholly not, though I know that probably doesn't make any sense. What I mean is that this is in no way simply some weepy tearjerker stereotype of a cancer book.
My words are failing me, so I leave you now with this: The Fault in Our Stars is everything I dreamed it would be and more. John Green constantly increases his awesomeness. With this novel, he will break your heart, repair said heart a few sizes larger, make you laugh, give you hope, rip your heart to pieces again, and basically tell you the utter truth about a lot of awful things also known as life.(less)
Last year, I read Notes from the Blender by Brendan Halpin and Trish Cook. It was completely adorable, with excellent teen characters and touching on...moreLast year, I read Notes from the Blender by Brendan Halpin and Trish Cook. It was completely adorable, with excellent teen characters and touching on real issues. Halpin has done it again, this time partnering with Emily Franklin.
Multiple points of view can either be amazing in a book or completely awful; there doesn't seem to be too much of an in between. Both of Halpin's books that I have read are great examples of good ways to do it. Of course, it's a bit easier with two authors, each writing their own character. Still, I love it entirely, because it gives both of the characters their own unique voices.
The opening scenes, where Luke becomes convinced that Tessa is crushing on him, are absurd but in a totally true-to-life way. His analysis is way off, obviously, but who's isn't? He starts evaluating everything, reading only the things that add up to the answer he expects to find. Of course, none of this would have happened without the prodding of other people. This is clearly an argument against matchmaking.
The controversy about whether Tessa and Josie should be allowed to go to the Prom just makes me fighting mad. I mean, how could that possibly hurt anyone else? Of course, even worse is that I know there's a book about this because things like this really happen, because so many people in this country are still so parochial that they think it matters who people fall in love with. Come on, America, get over it! Oh, and at this point, I need to include a fantastic quote from Luke's part of the narration; keep in mind that it could be different in the final copy of the book:
"There are people who think I'm a hero because I'm standing up for biblical values. Like I've ever read the Bible in my life. Maybe if I did, I could find the part about how making a girl's life into a living hell is something that God thinks you should do."
Really, this was just the sweetest book. I completely love the message, one of acceptance and open-mindedness. There's no hating on Christianity or religion in general. Halpin and Franklin aren't trying to demonize anyone. I want to add a copy of this to my personal library and shelve it metaphorically next to Will Grayson, Will Grayson, though not literally, because I shelve alphabetically by author. This book made me cry and laugh out loud. Not many do that.
Now, go listen to some Lady GaGa (aka Miss Kaboom) and let your freak flag fly, be it what it may. We're all better when we're ourselves!(less)
After a string of books, some of them even very good, that I have just failed to emotionally connect to, I finally read another one that gave me feels...moreAfter a string of books, some of them even very good, that I have just failed to emotionally connect to, I finally read another one that gave me feels! So far, with two notable exceptions, I have been very impressed with the 2013 debuts I've read, and Pivot Point is perhaps my favorite book so far this year, though, admittedly, it's only my eighth book for the year.
From the cover and the synopsis, I expected things to start off with a bang and be dark and creepy pretty much all the way through. Well, not so much. Actually, the book starts off with a huge focus on humor, even once the split happens. Much of it feels very contemporary, science fiction elements aside. Though a bit thrown by the lightness of the beginning, West really makes this work, slowly and steadily amping up the action and the eerieness as the novel progresses.
Addison Coleman loves books and loathes football. Is it any wonder I think of her as a kindred spirit? She also spends time musing over such things as how confusing the phrase 'heads up' is, since it usually means to do just the opposite. Addie is witty, more on the introverted side, a good friend, and able to make tough choices. Of course, she also acts like a teenager, acting out in response to her parents' divorce. Let it be noted, too, that, though divorced, both parents take an active role in her life (or try to).
Addie lives in the Compound, a secret city of people with advanced brains, so advanced that they have powers. Awesome, right? These powers include telekinesis (Duke), matter manipulation (Bobby), persuasion (Mom), detecting lies (Dad), memory erasure (Laila), and divergence, which is not at all like in the Roth novel (Addie). West makes excellent plot use of each power, rather than giving people abilities solely for the cool factor. She also does a great job considering some of the ramifications of these powers on family and friendship dynamics.
What Addie can do is, with every choice, examine her future options, or at least the most obvious two. When her parents announce their impending divorce, they tell her she should analyze the future and choose whether she wants to live with her father outside the compound or her mother inside. After chapter three, the narrative alternates between her future should she choose to stay in the compound and if she should leave. This has been done before, but I think West uses this technique to great affect.
West sets up Addie and Laila's relationship so well. Unlike so many novels where the heroine moves and a best friendship melts away almost instantly, Addie and Laila continue to call one another regularly. They remain each one another's best source for a discussion of boy drama or discomfort at home. Just because friends are far apart does not mean that they cannot remain close. In fact, Addie and Laila are somewhat closer when more physically distant, which is fascinating. Comparing the dynamics between Addie and the various other characters in the two futures is endlessly fascinating. In some cases, there seems also to be an element of serendipity, where in others certain people will or will not bond depending on how they meet.
All of you authors going overboard on instalove, I want you to read Pivot Point, because this is a perfect example of how an author can set up a convincing relationship in 300 pages. In fact, West sets up two of them, all without bandying about the word love. Instead, she makes use of delightful banter and actual time spent together to establish relationships. West had me feeling butterflies vicariously several times. I really like the way she set up the romance, which I suppose could be called a love triangle, but not in any ordinary sense.
The would building could use a bit of work, since only the most minimal of effort is given to explaining how this magic invisible to norms (think Hogwarts unseeable by muggles) compound came to exist in Texas. Plus, the scope of Addie's abilities is never entirely clear to me. Can she only see yes/no choices or can she see any possible choice she could make? Wouldn't she be confronted with other choices within the future, thus possibly negating the future she's just seen? I hope there will be clarification on these things in the next installment, and I suspect there certainly will be on Addie's powers.
The formatting of the chapters is quite cute, but I suspect not clear enough to keep some readers from being confused about what is happening in the story. Basically, all of the chapters where she's in the compound start with the definition of a word that has PARA in it, and the ones outside have NORM in them. While I do think this is quite clever, I'm not sure if people will notice that and put the two together, and, more worryingly from my point of view, I don't think the definitions themselves add to the story.
Pivot Point has mind powers, family drama, kissing, humor, and action. What more could you want? I will be anxiously anticipating the sequel to Pivot Point and her contemporary novel The Distance Between Us, due out in July 2013. I expect to see great things from Kasie West, since she starts off with such a marvelous debut.(less)
The writing, which has a very particular style, definitely took some getting used to. Even now, I'm not completely sure how I feel about the book or t...moreThe writing, which has a very particular style, definitely took some getting used to. Even now, I'm not completely sure how I feel about the book or the writing. I think it's probably because it's so beautiful, so nuanced and so gut-wrenching. Her writing also has a strangely lyrical quality, enhanced by the strange placement of punctuation.
The world-building in This Is Not a Test is minimal. All we really know is that there was a zombie outbreak, and that's about it. That's because the dystopian aspects aren't what make the book unique, they're not what the book is really about. Whereas most dystopias focus on a person, or group of people, desperate to survive, This Is Not a Test focuses on a girl who wants to die. This viewpoint really changed everything. What scares Sloane is not the zombies, not the dying. She fears having to live.
I've seen this book called "The Breakfast Club meets The Walking Dead." I see where they're going with that, and it's valid. I want to add a comparison to Laurie Halse Anderson and Ilsa J. Bick. If you enjoy those authors, you will love this, and by love I mean be seriously depressed by. I think this one is going to stick with me.(less)
Middle school sucked for me. You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm really not. During the entirety of middle school, I never had any real friends. I...moreMiddle school sucked for me. You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm really not. During the entirety of middle school, I never had any real friends. I may have looked normal, but I was still definitely an outcast. I cannot imagine going through what Auggie went through. His strength of character to be able to face that situation is incredible.
Part of why he could survive the experience was just Auggie. He's a smart kid and really loved the learning part of school. When people stop to notice, he's funny. Having gotten to fifth grade and maintained a fairly positive attitude despite the staring and the people screaming at his visage is just courageous. In addition to his own strengths, he was lucky enough to have supportive people in his life. His parents and sister would do absolutely anything for him; their family is so loving and happy. Plus, he made a couple of friends to stand by him on the first day of school, Jack and Summer.
This book nearly made me cry. Multiple times. For those who don't know, this is pretty rare. Unlike one of my friends who I will refrain from naming, tv shows and books are not constantly making me cry. The tears that threatened were caused both by sadness and happiness, which is pretty awesome.
Kids are cruel. Never once have I doubted this, having been the victim of some verbal bullying myself as a child. Being surprised or scared at an unfamiliar face is unfortunate, but really cannot be helped; that response is instinctual. What is absolutely awful is the way that people continue to judge him, refusing to get to know Auggie's amazing qualities. Just because he's ugly, they do things like pretend that if they touch him they'll get The Plague. Like ugliness is catching. It's not like Auggie has a transmitable disease.
Even worse than kids, who know what they're doing but at least have ignorance as some amount of an excuse, are the parents. One parent in particular tries to get Auggie kicked out of the school, because she feels like he's brought the level of the school down, even though he's a trillion times smarter than her son. This same mother photoshopped Auggie out of the class photo.
Anyway, I'll stop with that now, because, really, you should read the book for yourself. I also want to mention that the method Palacio used to tell the story was highly effective. The narrative begins and ends with Auggie's perspective. In the middle, you hear from classmates, his sister, and some of his sister's friends. By bookending the story with Auggie, you're really able to see how much he has grown, and the other people's perspectives reveal how much he touched their lives too.(less)
The third massive collection of Sandman graphic novels is a very even volume, with almost every chapter telling an interesting story, many of them wea...moreThe third massive collection of Sandman graphic novels is a very even volume, with almost every chapter telling an interesting story, many of them weaving together fabulously. The two main plot threads in this one are the tale of Orpheus, who was fathered by Dream, and of a number of travelers, stranded at the World's End Inn, telling stories to pass the time away. Dark and compelling.(less)
GUYS, Small Medium at Large is every bit as frickin' adorable as the puntastic title implies, and I am so happy to be able to say that. I had extremel...moreGUYS, Small Medium at Large is every bit as frickin' adorable as the puntastic title implies, and I am so happy to be able to say that. I had extremely high hopes for Joanne Levy's debut, since we've bonded over Twitter, but experience has shown that just because I love an author, I won't necessarily be impressed by their novels. Thankfully, Joanne's was a little ray of middle grade sunshine that made me say "AWWWW" out loud multiple times.
From the very beginning, I knew I would love this, because Lilah has such a great, optimistic voice, perfect for a middle grade narrator. As the book begins, Lilah's the bridesmaid as her mother marries her new step-father, Stan. In most books, this would be where we hear about the evil step-parent or sadness over the divorce, but Lilah is nothing but supportive of her parents finding happiness. Even better, both of her parents are involved and loving.
While standing outside the reception hall, Lilah leans against a metal pole while trying to scrape some crud off her shoe and gets struck by lightning. She wakes up in the hospital with all three concerned parental units (mom and step-father having delayed their honeymoon), apparently no worse for the wear. Well, except that now she can hear her Bubby (her dead grandmother) talking to her.
Turns out, the lightning strike scrambled her brain and now she can hear dead people, but not see them, which is probably for the best. It's like The Sixth Sense, only hilarious and adorable instead of creepy. These sassy ghosts do what sassy ghosts do best: impart lots of advice of varying quantities of usefulness, and also ask for help of their own. Lilah, being the sweet, caring girl she is, takes this all relatively in stride and does her best to help everyone that comes her way, with the occasionally bumbling assistance of her best friend, and future band-mate, Alex.
What made this feel so essentially middle grade was Lilah's reaction to all of this. She has so much less skepticism in the face of the phenomenon and much less fear of other people's reactions. Where a teen or adult would keep this information on the down low, Lilah tells person after person, because she's honest and wants to help. An older person might devise a clever way around telling how they know what they do, but that's just not Lilah's style. It was adorable, especially one particular scene where Lilah tries to convince her crush, Andrew Finkle, that his dead father was speaking to her. Oh, also amusing was Lilah's inability to avoid responding to the ghosts, such that she ends up getting caught talking to herself a lot.
Lilah's interactions with others, both ghost and human alike, are where the book really shines. She takes such good care of her father, urging him (at Bubby's request) to start dating again. Her interactions with Andrew are totally accurate to middle school flirting in their sweet awkwardness. Bubby and Ms. Lafontaine stole the show with their sassy advice to Lilah, as well as their occasional shock at twelve-year-olds these days, who want to get kissed at the seventh grade dance (shocking!).
If you love adorable middle grade stories or know some middle graders who do, Small Medium at Large is an excellent choice, sure to delight a younger reader even more than it did me.(less)
Whoa. What an incredibly dark and well-done novel. I have absolutely no doubt that Ilsa J. Bick will come to be recognized alongside authors like Laur...moreWhoa. What an incredibly dark and well-done novel. I have absolutely no doubt that Ilsa J. Bick will come to be recognized alongside authors like Laurie Halse Anderson. She clearly has no problem plumbing the darkest and most terrifying of human emotions. Like Anderson, she also focuses on teens, on the bad stuff - not the shiny vampires and the sweet first loves.
Reading this book...it's going to hurt. Jenna is incredibly messed up. You learn this up front. She's spent a year in an institution, put there after it was discovered that she'd been cutting. So yeah, going into it you know her family's a mess and that she is too, but you don't know the full extent of it. The awfulness just keeps on rolling; I only wish that there were not people out there who have likely actually lived lives like Jenna's.
The main plot is about Jenna's relationship with an older man, her science teacher Mr. Anderson. Obviously, this too is a completely dark and forbidden thing. At the outset, you don't know what's going on exactly, but you definitely have your suspicions and you're pretty sure it's bad. Bick does an amazing job of highlighting the difficulties of understanding such a case.
Nothing in this book is black and white. For one thing, Jenna is not an especially reliable narrator. It's hard to know how much of what she believes to be true is actually true. Such realizations can be just as mind-blowing as reading through the book itself is. I got completely sucked into her story and to seeing from her point of view. Then, when I would step back and think about it, I had to face the fact that things may not be what they seem at all.
Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson or Patricia McCormick will love undoubtedly love this book. Do not read it without due preparation: i.e. tissues and/or something super sappy and happy to help you recover afterwards.(less)
How better to make the perils of communism accessible to younger or less politically savvy readers than through anthropomorphism. The animals on Mr. J...moreHow better to make the perils of communism accessible to younger or less politically savvy readers than through anthropomorphism. The animals on Mr. Jones’ farm decide that they are sick of ill treatment by humans, who get do none of the work and reap all of the rewards. They institute a rebellion and, what’s more, they win. The pigs, being the smartest of the animals take over leadership at the farm. Progressively though, the pigs take liberties with their power, because although all animals may be equal, some are more equal than others.(less)
Like me, many of you likely had to read Homer in high school or in college. If you read Homer, you ma...moreReview originally posted on A Reader of Fictions.
Like me, many of you likely had to read Homer in high school or in college. If you read Homer, you may have felt as I did: that his books were written to torture students. Seriously, I tried to reread (via audiobook) The Iliad recently, and I just could not do it, even though the narrator was awesome. I mean, Homer LOVES detail to a degree that would make even Tolkien weep with frustration and boredom. For example, in The Iliad, he spends a chapter listing EVERY SINGLE DAMN ONE of those 1000+ ships sent for Helen and which ruler goes with it. I DON'T CARE ABOUT THIS, HOMER!
Ranting complete. Whether you did or not, you probably know the story (they did make that awful movie Troy), and that the story itself is marvelous. Gods, betrayal, war, cleverness, heroes, sacrifice, and hubris make for a story completely epic in scope and so entirely Greek. The Song of Achilles tells Homer's story, but does so much better in my opinion. This is what I wanted The Iliad to be.
There have been so many different Homer adaptations, my favorites of which thus far have been Adele Geras' Troy, which focuses on Helen and Paris, and Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, which follows Penelope as she waits for Odysseus to return home. Like most adaptations now, Miller does not seek just to tell the story as it was in friendlier language with the boring bits cut out. She adds her own spin to the tale, taking the good bones of the story and fleshing out something deeper and more touching.
The Song of Achilles first came to my attention on a list of last year's best LGBT fiction. Miller has chosen to tell the story of The Iliad through the lens of Patroclus, who you may remember as Bradchilles' "cousin" in the film Troy. As we all knew, they are totally NOT cousins. Miller added onto The Iliad, crafting a back story for Patroclus and Achilles, setting them up as lovers doomed to have too little time together.
Patroclus, a prince in his own right, has no skill at fighting, but accidentally manages to kill a boy and is exiled for his crime. His father sends him to live with a number of other exiled princes in Phthia, King Peleus being sympathetic to the plight of these boys. At first, Patroclus loathes Peleus' son Achilles, who is a foil to Patroclus. Where Achilles is bright, beautiful, powerful, respected, Patroclus is dark, ugly, weak and spurned.
Of course, as one expects, his hatred eventually changes into friendship and then into...other feelings. While Achilles and Patroclus do have a sexual relationship, the descriptions are not especially graphic. Their relationship is just SO sweet, and, obviously, sad, as this whole book is an exercise in dramatic irony. What got me right in the feels was how committed the two were to one another. Achilles could have had anyone he wanted, but he never had any desire for anyone but Patroclus, who, according to all reports, has little to recommend him. Patroclus, for his part, stands by Achilles unwaveringly and does his best to try to keep the boy he loves from turning into someone else in the pursuit of glory.
Another wonderful aspect of this novel for me was that I finally understood Odysseus. I know from hours of exhaustive English class analysis how I'm supposed to perceive Achilles (clever, funny, wise, most likable of all of the Greeks), but I never really did see him as anything especially special. I loved Odysseus in here. He's so funny (especially when chatting with Diomedes), and he's such a shit-stirrer. He totally knows everyone's business and likes to mess with them, both for business and for fun.
The ending, which I won't discuss in detail, as some of you might have been living under a rock and not know how it goes, is a bit odd. Miller does something interesting there at the end that I was not expecting at all. My first reaction was an eye roll and disappointment, but she did sell me on it by the last page. It's a bit on the over-sweet side, but I loved the thought behind it.
Miller's writing has a simple sort of beauty to it, a lovely cadence. Reading her words was a sheer pleasure. I declare this a must read for everyone who loved the story of The Iliad but was bored to tears, or just anyone who wants a beautifully-written, moving tale.(less)
Though, for some reason, Belong to Me is treated as a standalone, it's really not. I'm not sure why the publ...moreOriginally posted on A Reader of Fictions.
Though, for some reason, Belong to Me is treated as a standalone, it's really not. I'm not sure why the publisher decided not to market them as a series, since they are directly linked. Oh well. I read the first book, Love Walked In, a few years ago, and I was really impressed. Ever since, I've recommended it to people, but, with my memory and the way my taste in books can change and grow over time, I wondered if it was really as good as I remember it being. Well, if Belong to Me is any sort of reliable indicator, then yes. I highly recommend reading Love Walked In first, then moving to Belong to Me.
All the same characters from Love Walked In are back. On the surface, de los Santos' books look like chick lit, like girly, light, fluff books, at least that's what I get from the covers and the titles. While her books do, admittedly, have way more female appeal, I would in no way mark them as 'chick lit,' though the boundaries between 'chick lit' and 'women's fiction' and 'literary fiction' are hazy to me at best. De los Santos' novels are packed full of emotion and wit and hope, and are incredibly beautifully written. There are authors whose prose I just glory in, immersing myself in their words as though they were the perfect temperature pool, and de los Santos belongs on that list.
Belong to Me may be a bit of a cheesy title, but it speaks directly to the main thrust of the novel: belonging. Each of the main characters struggle with finding a place to belong, and, perhaps even more, with finding a place where they belong that doesn't fit their initial expectations. These themes move me so much, because, really, aren't we all looking for that place where we belong, that person that makes us feel at home wherever we are? This is one of those books that makes me want to believe so hard that happy endings are possible, not so much because 'true love' is real, but because a more basic, more enduring, more real love is out there and that people will work to preserve it.
De los Santos writes from multiple perspectives, a common, though still daring, writerly move. Not only that, but she writes with one first person perspective and the others in third person limited. In both books, the reader lives in Cornelia's head, follows her around in first person, feels directly with her. In Love Walked In, the other perspective is that of Clare, a girl whose connection to Cornelia is not immediately apparent. In Belong to Me, we have Cornelia's and two more: Piper, the queen bee of Cornelia and Teo's new suburban neighborhood, and Dev, a brilliant young teen.
Cornelia and Teo have just moved into a house in the suburbs for his new job. She's a city girl, and doesn't like the sniping of the local women; she feels lost without friends, without the buzzing of the city. I may be biased by the storytelling methods, but Cornelia is my favorite character. In fact, for the first hundred pages or so, my mind wandered a bit when the story went to the other perspectives, because I just didn't care as much about the others. A wholly forthright person, she protects people, loves poetry and sometimes lets her temper get the better of her. Cornelia has a unique way of phrasing thing and a brutal honesty about the selfishness of her emotions that makes me relate to her so much.
I hated Piper so much at first. You're supposed to, of course, but that doesn't make her any less awful. She's one of those people: perky, bitchy, obsessed with being the best, etc. As I read her perspective, I just kept fantasizing about stabbing her with a nail file. Then, though, she changed, rather suddenly, but not unbelievably. Her very best friend, possibly her only true friend, is dying of cancer. She throws herself into caring for Elizabeth, and, for the first time in her life almost, gives no thought to her image. Her struggle is to discover that she doesn't belong where she thought she did, as the queen of society, but as a person with wants and desires, even if they don't make her popular. It's amazing to me that de los Santos made me care for her character.
One of my very favorite over-used characters is the genius child. Yeah, I know there are far more genius children in fiction than in real life, but I just don't care. If I have to read about children, they damn well ought to be clever. Dev fits that perfectly. He has such a thirst for knowledge, about poetry, string theory, friendship, and his father, who he doesn't know. His mother left his father because she knew he couldn't take care of the baby, but Dev resents the man for not coming to find him, while also hating himself for still clinging to that fantasy.
So, yes, the characters are marvelous. You know what's even better? Their relationships with one another. It's one thing to have great characters, and another thing entirely to make their friendships and romances ring authentic and awkward and painful and true, but de los Santos hits those notes just right. I'm not a big crier, but my eyes did get a bit teary, both from sadness and happiness, more than once. Friendship isn't often enough of a focus, but each of these characters have friends who feel real, and who will have their backs.
The one last thing I feel that I must say about this novel before I wrap the review: de los Santos surprised me. Finding a book that can really sweep a rug out from under your feet is a rare thing, at least for me. She has this way of weaving story lines together in such a way that I think I know where things are going, but then BAM! they go somewhere else. I may have yelled at the book a bit in frustration when I got to the twist, because I didn't want the characters to be unhappy at all.
Obviously, I just love this book. I'm honestly not entirely certain who to recommend this book to, because I'm having trouble sticking it in a box. Basically, if you enjoy beautiful writing, pop culture references, and women's issues, then you should really read Marisa de los Santos.(less)
Eleanor & Park sets itself apart from they typical young adult read on just about every level: the setting, the main characters, the touching plot...moreEleanor & Park sets itself apart from they typical young adult read on just about every level: the setting, the main characters, the touching plot. These elements combine to make a read that moves the reader and warms the heart. Whatever expectations I had going into Eleanor & Park were simply blown away, and it will no doubt be on the list of my favorite reads of 2013.
Set in the 1980s, Eleanor & Park is the story of two misfit teens in Omaha. Many YA novels purport to be about teenagers who simply do not fit in, and, truly, almost every teen feels that way inside. However, Eleanor, and to a lesser degree Park, really do stand out from the rest of the teens at their high school. Park is Asian, the only Asian kid in school, except for his brother who takes after their white father in appearance. Eleanor, well, she doesn't dress normal or look normal or act normal.
Eleanor & Park opens on Eleanor's first day at school, having been away from her family for a year. She gets on the bus that first morning and everyone eyes her thrift store men's clothing over her chubby frame. They immediately recognize her as a target of mockery, dubbing her "raghead" and "Big Red." As she searches for a seat, every available space is suddenly filled with a backpack or saved for someone. Finally, Park, just to make it stop, allows her to sit with him, regretting his kindness even as he does so, fearing that he'll earn the attention of the popular, bullying kids. I love that their first encounter is so awful, and how unflattering Park's first thoughts are. So much of high school is about avoiding embarrassment, and the awkward new girl is just that. This portrayal is so honest.
Of course, as time goes by, Eleanor and Park slowly bond, not even speaking at first. He reads comics everyday on the bus, and he begins to notice her reading along. He starts flipping pages more slowly, giving her time to read the whole thing. Then he starts loaning them to her over night. From there, they enter into conversations, whispered quietly on the bus. Their thoughts on the X-Men (feminist or not?), Batman (boring or cool?), the pirate storyline in Watchmen (to be skipped or crucial to the comic?) shift gradually into conversations on music. Park brings new life into Eleanor's drab existence with the best of 1980s pop culture.
Eleanor and her four siblings live with her mother and their drunken, abusive step-father, Richie. Her home life has no charms. The kids wear odd clothing grabbed by theit mother with any extra money. They fight over toys, like boxes that fruit come in, because that's the best they ever really hope to get. All five sleep in a single room, often hiding in there from the shouts of Richie. Eleanor, especially, knows how terrible Richie can be, and she never ever feels safe.
Park becomes Eleanor's safe haven. Their relationship unfolds slowly, growing at a steady pace into a strong burn. I loved watching them learn to know one another's insecurities, and to accept them. This acceptance doesn't make the insecurities disappear entirely, but it does help. Neither Eleanor nor Park ever felt right in their own skins, and their burgeoning love comes as close to making them feel whole as anything could. I don't usually believe to much in young love, but I really hope these two crazy kids can make it, despite or because of all of the real world difficulties they have to face. Rowell doesn't overly romanticize their relationship, but she also doesn't attempt to diminish their feelings.
Eleanor & Park is, without a doubt, one of the best books of 2013, though much of it remains. Rowell has written an incredibly moving story about first love, and about the importance of having a support network, even if it's not your family. This book is brilliant, and I will most certainly be reading any more Rowell novels I can get my hands on.(less)
Wow. After my last Apocalypsies read was such a disappointment, I was a little worried that my streak of awesome reads from those guys might be over....moreWow. After my last Apocalypsies read was such a disappointment, I was a little worried that my streak of awesome reads from those guys might be over. Well, most assuredly not. Breaking Beautiful captured my interest right from the beginning, and the continued to suck me more and more. Although the cover didn't capture my interest, I am impressed, now having read the book, with how much more accurate it is than most. Good job, Bloomsbury!
Breaking Beautiful is another one of those books that falls into the 'wonderful but so depressing it will feel like you're being eviscerated emotionally' category. I've been reading a lot of these lately, and apparently I love them, even though as a younger reader I mostly only liked happy books. I do not want to think too much about what this change in my tastes says about me.
Allie definitely doesn't handle things the way she should have. Sometimes I wanted to cry and ask her what she was thinking. BUT there is no way I could not feel completely sympathetic towards her. She behaved the way she did because she went through so much emotional and physical abuse. In no way will I judge her for not reacting a certain way. ALL of my rage goes to Trip and to all of the people who suspected what was going on and didn't say anything. Not to get all preachy, but seriously, ladies, do not let anyone do this to you. Or gents, too. No one deserves to be abused, and, if you suspect it, do something...carefully.
What made this book work, I think, was definitely Allie's character. In her every word and thought, you can feel the specter of Trip hanging over her head. Memories of him flit constantly through her head, judging her and terrifying her, continuing to hurt her in the only way he now can. His influence on her is so obvious; this is why we can relate to her so well, and feel with her.
Jennifer Shaw Wolf definitely made me tear up. This is a beautifully written book on an incredibly dark topic. If reading about abuse doesn't interest you, there's also a murder mystery. This book is beautiful, as suggested by the title, and excruciating. I highly recommend it to those who like dark YA stories with depth.(less)
Velveteen is another novel with a whole lot of hype surrounding its release. The premise sounds so insane...moreOriginally reviewed on A Reader of Fictions.
Velveteen is another novel with a whole lot of hype surrounding its release. The premise sounds so insane and creepy that this should come as no surprise. A dystopia about the dead? Serial killers? Purgatory? Strong heroine? That's all kinds of awesome, right? Well, I definitely think so.
My first recommendation is not to come into Velveteen looking for a dystopia. There really isn't anything particularly dystopian here, although I do see some definite possibility for there to be a big reveal of evil government at work later in the series. This could have been a huge disappointment, because obviously I love dystopias, but the whole of the story was so delightfully fresh and funny that I wasn't particularly bothered.
On Twitter, I've seen people tweeting Daniel Marks as they read through this book. They commented how grossed out they were and how horrified. Well, I really didn't have any moments where I was overwhelmed by the ick or horror factors. Maybe I just have a strong stomach, but I doubt it, since I can't watch a horror movie without hiding through pretty much all of it. There are gross things that happen, but they're no worse than what I've encountered in all the zombie novels I've read. So, basically, if you don't often read macabre things, Velveteen might freak you out, but, otherwise, I wouldn't worry unduly.
Actually, more than anything else, I thought Velveteen was hilarious. Humor of course is very subjective. I suspect most readers will either love or hate Velveteen, depending on whether you think Daniel Marks' humor is funny or obnoxious. For me, it totally worked. If you're concerned, you might want to watch some of Marks' vlogs and see if you like his style.
The description of the novel makes a big deal about Velvet's desire for revenge against her murderer, Bonesaw. While this certainly is a plot point, it's actually a fairly minor plot arc, important to the story, but definitely not the focus of Marks' grisly tale. Still, he definitely wove this arc perfectly into the larger tale.
The focus of the novel is, instead, on the tensions within Purgatory. There is a revolution happening in Purgatory. The Departurists believe that the powers that be within Purgatory are preventing them from moving on and unfairly keeping them from the daylight (aka the world of the living). The revolutionaries are somehow causing bigger and bigger cracks to form in Purgatory, by trapping souls in daylight and causing shadowquakes. The world building on this Purgatory was crazy cool for sure.
Within Purgatory, there are jobs, ranging just as widely, although differently, from those in our world. Our heroine, Velvet, has one of the best jobs, as a salvager team leader. Scavengers enter daylight to save trapped souls, putting an end to shadowquakes and protecting Purgatory. This gives them a rare chance to travel to daylight and is also just really cool, since you need special abilities to do it. Teams consist of four: one body thief, who takes over the body of a living human temporarily, one undertaker, who takes over a dead body and becomes a zombie, and two poltergeists, who stay ghosty but have a natural power to move things in that form. Velvet and her team are the best and they love what they do. On one of their missions, they rescue Nick, aka love interest.
Now, we must talk about Velveteen. She is an amazing heroine, assuming you like them sarcastic, closed-off, and a bit violent. Thankfully, I do. If you're sick of all of the wimpy, clutsy, obedient heroines that can't do anything but moan about boys, you will love Velvet, as she is the antithesis of all things Bella. Similar heroines are Lex from Croak or Ashline from Wildefire. Velvet has a smart mouth and is quick to resort to physical violence. Just to give you an idea of the kind of girl we'll dealing with: she dressed up as Alex from A Clockwork Orange at one point. She felt real to me, and she read like a female.
Her romance with Nick also totally worked. There was definitely instalust, but Velvet is not the kind of girl to mistake that for love. She initially thinks he looks like and probably is an asshole. There's lots of kissing, because she's not the kind of girl who is against having a little fun. Though Nick and Velvet's relationship does progress fairly quickly emotionally, there's a natural flow to it. The two really do have a rapport. They have real conversations, develop little inside jokes, and have awesome witty banter. Their chemistry is fantastic.
So yeah, I thought this was a fantastic ride, entertaining and funny from beginning to end. I definitely anticipate Marks' next macabre tale and hope for more dystopian-ness!(less)
Originally reviewed on A Reader of Fictions. There's also a giveaway running until September. Hurry!
Holy epicness Batman. Stormdancer is, perhaps, the...moreOriginally reviewed on A Reader of Fictions. There's also a giveaway running until September. Hurry!
Holy epicness Batman. Stormdancer is, perhaps, the most talked about book of this summer, and, having now finished, I can tell you that all of that anticipation and expectation is well-deserved. However, Stormdancer is also not what I was expecting. Not at ALL. Partly, this was my fault, but partly this was because of the way books are marketed.
What I didn't find in Stormdancer was the sort of Joss Whedon-esque humor that I was anticipating from communicating with Jay on Twitter and Goodreads. There is humor of a sort, but that's not a driving force by any means. That was my incorrect expectation. I was also expecting, from the way this book was marketed, a young adult dystopia about Yukiko. Well, sorry, guys, but that's not what this book is.
Jay Kristoff actually wrote an incredibly insightful post that got me thinking about the distinctions between young adult fiction and adult fiction, and how, much of the time, the lines are entirely arbitrary. In fact, there have been several books recently that I never would have guessed were 'young adult, and this most definitely falls into that category. I wonder whether some readers will be disappointed and dislike this book because it's so unlike most of the other novels published under that unclear heading.
Although Yukiko is undoubtedly the heroine of our piece, Stormdancer is definitively not just about her. Told in third person, the narrative does not even follow her alone. Many important characters left their teens behind years before. This book does not tackle issues that face a teenage girl. The scope of Stormdancer is broad, and I think that, were this not a dystopia and were YA not so popular, this book would be marketed as epic fantasy, where I personally feel it belongs (if we feel the need to push labels onto our books).
Moving on from that rant, let's actually talk about Stormdancer. You may have noticed that this book (or at least the ARC version) is but 313 pages. Don't let this fool you. Stormdancer is not a short book. The ARC is larger than a traditional trade paperback, the font is not large, and the margins are small. Published in an ordinary fashion, Stormdancer would probably be somewhere from 500-700 pages. If published the same way Divergent was, it would be IMMENSE.
All of those words to read are not a struggle, though, or were not for me. Jay Kristoff can write. His language is ornate and complex, with some of the best diction I've seen from a modern writer, yet all quite natural. Seriously, this man is a genius.
The best part of the book, most definitely, is the world building. Jay Kristoff has built a truly epic world, a steampunk Japan full of demons and fantastic creatures. A young, merciless shogun, Yoritomo, rules as tyrant over Shima, allowing the country to fall to ruin. In this steampunk world, machines run on lotus (think opium...only with the ability to power machinery and to pollute the environment). The mass of the populace is dying from the lotus, breathing the smoke of the polluted air into their lungs. Shima's soldiers (Iron Samurai) and priests (The Guild) are encased in metalwork, safe from the environment.
Set within this dying world, addicted, one way or another, to lotus, Masaru, Yoritomo's master hunter, receives orders to capture and deliver to the shogun an arashitora, a thunder tiger (half eagle, half tiger, as seen on the cover). Though they are believed to be extinct, Masaru and his crew, including Yukiko, set out on the fruitless search. What could, in a lesser book, be the whole of the first volume, this quest takes only the first third or so of the novel. Once they find the arashitora, Buruu, that is when the book really (pardon the pun...or, actually, don't) took off.
At first, I was appreciating the language and the mastery of the world building, but I wasn't particularly involved yet. This is a big part of why I would call this epic fantasy: good epic fantasy takes some time, because there's so much that has to be set up since the world is so different. Once Yukiko and Buruu began to bond, I really became attached to their characters and caught up in their fates. Yukiko is, as the cover promises, a BADASS, with the all-caps completely necessary to convey the degree of her ability to be awesome. However, Buruu totally stole the show from her, I thought. He is definitely my favorite character, because he's funny and loyal and A FRACKING THUNDER TIGER! It does not get more hardcore than that.
The other characters are also fascinating, interesting in how unclear they are. I really don't know how to feel about most of them, unable to figure out whether they're trustworthy or not. Pretty much by the time you figure that out, it's too late. This is not a world where good and evil are always bathed in black and white, and both are generally bathed in red, either from blood or from lotus.
So yeah, Stormdancer is just as crazy cool and full of action and steampunkery (like chainkatanas...think chainsaw + katana and accept the fact that Kay Kristoff is better than you) as you could possibly want. I advise you not to get to hung up on what Stormdancer is, and just to sit back and enjoy the ride through the storms.(less)