**spoiler alert** I had been enjoying reading this book until somewhere after the 150-170 mark. Then I started to get bored, and found it too hard to...more**spoiler alert** I had been enjoying reading this book until somewhere after the 150-170 mark. Then I started to get bored, and found it too hard to overlook the ridiculous "teenage girl" language, as well as the numerous usage of ellipses. How many times can you really read "blah blah blah . . . well . . . blah blah"? I don't know really what I was expecting, but I do know that my expectations got lower and lower the further in the book I read. The plot was kind of cutesy, but seemed to have potential: narrator of the story, Cammie Morgan, has attended an all girls' "genius spy school" since seventh grade. She knows everything about self-defense, hacking government computers, ten different ways to kill a man with uncooked spaghetti, but she has no idea how to be a "normal teenage girl". So when she, by chance, meets a "normal teenage boy", Josh, she and her 2 best spy friends do recon to find out who Josh is (like stealing his garbage and and then build a "legend" (a fake identity) for Cammie, who then proceeds to sneak out of spy school to meet up with Josh, and somewhere during this point in the book I stopped caring about the plot, the characters and the consequences for when everyone found out about Cammie's double life.
I gave this three stars because I did enjoy reading the beginning and half of the middle, and thought those parts were light and fun. (less)
**spoiler alert** Fun, fast read with fairly short chapters, like little snapshots of life as a teenage ballet dancer: the pressure and devotion to da...more**spoiler alert** Fun, fast read with fairly short chapters, like little snapshots of life as a teenage ballet dancer: the pressure and devotion to dance along with close girl friendships and a dash of romance. Enjoyable, light reading.
Two things I must nitpick: (maybe this is just because I didn't drink alcohol until I was over 21) Teen drinking was basically a staple every night for these girls (and their dates). No one cards in Manhattan, according to this book, and the girls have wine or vodka with all dinners, at restaurants or while at home. Since these girls are obsessed (and forced to be obsessed) with their weight, their muscles and their bodies in general, it seems odd to see them be so free with alcohol, junk food and soda, but maybe it's not that odd. (I can relate to this book in a way: I was a synchronized swimmer all through high school and college, dedicated to training and shaping my body for all the demands, but I did eat cookies and pizza and whatever other fun college foods, like ice cream and popcorn, along with salads and rice cakes, etc.)
The second thing (this may also be because I'm no longer in that 19-20 age group and am reading this YA book about this age group) was Jacob's bad/immature attitude towards Hannah's dedication to dancing, to improving and eventually striving towards being promoted. I couldn't help draw this comparison to a scene from this awful movie I saw, "The Devil Wears Prada". In the movie, Anne Hathaway's character becomes an assistant to this horrible boss who's editor of a huge magazine or such, and this boss is always demanding the craziest, bitchiest and most farfetched requests of Anne Hathaway's character while also demeaning her but at the same time. The assistant character is very determined to fulfill all the requests, no matter how crazy or no matter what time of day or night they come. One night, the assistant is out with her friends and boyfriend (who played the lead on that awful show "Entourage"), and she a call from her boss to do something. So she goes to leave and gets chewed out by her boyfriend for skipping out, but her boyfriend never recognizes that she's GOOD at her job in spite of having to put up with all the crap, she never backs down.
So this is what I thought of whenever Jacob made a big deal over Hannah declining a late night out, or a walk in the park or a movie, that he was just a selfish jerk, trying to make her feel bad for being as dedicated as she is to succeeding. This seemed to be extra hard for me to wrap my head around, because Jacob is in college and is a musician, so I couldn't help but wonder if he wouldn't feel or do the same should his music career take off.
Hannah, the protagonist, dreams of becoming a soloist so she can get out of dancing in the corps de ballet, something she has done since moving to NYC at age 14 and becoming an apprentice in the Manhattan Ballet Academy. Unlike one of the older dancers, Leni, who is 34 and has danced the same parts in ballets for years and years and years and who knows she will never be promoted, Hannah wants to be recognized as a standout. She takes extra workout classes, Pilates and Bikram Yoga back to back to back with her rehearsals and performances, having a single night off a week. She has no life outside the ballet (and for a while, she's fine with that, though after she meets Jacob she starts thinking she might want something else besides ballet in her life).
Granted, Hannah is 19 and Jacob is 19 or 20, so their reactions and behaviors (as well as their levels or maturity or immaturity) might perfectly reflect their ages and their experiences, with or without being in a relationship. I still can't help but think that Jacob was pressuring Hannah too much to be "a normal girl" when she obviously wasn't, and got angry and pissy with her when she refused to be this "normal teenage girl". It seemed like Jacob was jealous of Hannah's dancing career, jealous to be "less important" to her than dancing, even making several comments about his friends teasing him for "still being hung up on her" during times when she was overly focused on her work, too focused to return a text or make it to one of his music engagements.
They do end up together, which I guess worked for Hannah (though I think she could have done better! And not with Matt, who was a jerk of another kind) who choose to ultimately withdraw from the dancing world and try on a different kind of life. (less)
Stopped reading this at 100 pages. I was just bored, bored with the plot and characters and even the imagery and writing themselves, which I usually l...moreStopped reading this at 100 pages. I was just bored, bored with the plot and characters and even the imagery and writing themselves, which I usually love when it comes to Francesca Lia Block. Quite a few of her books are my favorites, but I have tried several of her later ones (the ones after The Rose And The Beast) and have found myself disappointed. I'm not sure if it's because I'm getting older and my expectations for books get higher, or if because the books are just overall geared towards teens (a state everyone grows out of). I don't really believe that last one, because I still love the books of hers that I had originally (even though I'm no longer a teen), but maybe because I am no longer a teen, I can't look at her newer books with the same eyes.
This feels disappointing because I really wanted to like this book, as well as some others, like Blood Roses and Echo, more.
**spoiler alert** Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this one as much as I did the first. The writing and plotting were sloppy and the whole thing sort of...more**spoiler alert** Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this one as much as I did the first. The writing and plotting were sloppy and the whole thing sort of felt dumbed down and just a huge rehashing of what had happened in the first book. Even the ending was practically the same: Lena Claims herself to be both Light and Dark at the end of this one, and in the first book, she sort of ends up both Light and Dark but *without* actually Claiming herself. Also, Abraham, Sarafine and Hunting all get away again. I was pretty sure that Lena had killed them all at the end of the first book (not Abraham, who wasn't in it, but Larkin), but in this book it turns out they are very much alive. I think this one had way too many characters all crammed into one space.
Honestly, much of the plot felt farfetched and required the extremes of suspending your disbelief, an overall effect which came off as forced. In the first book, you the reader gets information about the goings-on pretty much as they are happening in the present and at the same moment Ethan, the narrator, so you're basically choosing to accept the information as he is, whether or not he fully understands it all. But in this one, the information kept getting more ridiculous and out there. I absolutely despised Liv, as well as when the book goes out of Ethan's POV to show the return of Abraham and apparently the now Mortal Ridley releasing John Breed out of the retrieved Arclight. I also didn't like Lena in this book; in the first one, she had a better reason to be kind of whiny and bratty, but in this book, that got old really fast. I guess I could excuse that as Ethan did—when he *finally* found out the reason Lena had become so distant: because she was certain she'd killed Macon in exchange for Ethan's life.
I don't know, it just seems like Lena has no spine and is just this constant damsel in distress waiting for Ethan to swoop in and save her. And on that note, Ethan is always running headlong into trouble and waiting on Amma to come and save him. It's getting old.
I already purchased book three, "Beautiful Chaos" but I'm sort of on the fence about continuing the series/saga. Book two was so disappointing and kind of lame. Already crossing my fingers they don't make book two into a movie. (less)
**spoiler alert** I read this once but I need to read it again. At least.
I'm tempted to lower the rating; I would do it if I could do half stars. It'...more**spoiler alert** I read this once but I need to read it again. At least.
I'm tempted to lower the rating; I would do it if I could do half stars. It's more a 3.7 than a 4. The artwork and method of storytelling are beautiful and original and the whole thing was pretty fascinating overall.
However, I found myself feeling hollow and disappointed as I neared the end of the novel. I felt cheated out of this beautiful teenage love experience that I thought was happening throughout. I realize that the content may be open for interpretation, especially since mostly what you get is pictures, photographs or drawings, or fuzzy TV screens, and "documents" or "IM chats" from supposed events.
After reading the novel twice, I still came to the same conclusion. Maybe I'm missing something, and reading it twice is not enough. (For example, there were things that I needed to look up, like who Brecht and lots of the Spanish included in the text.)
(My version of events)
The year after Gloria "Glory" Fleming's mother died (2001, when Glory was 9), she had a nervous breakdown and was sent to Golden Hands Rest Facility, where she stayed until 2009, when she made her escape.
Lonely and in despair, Glory created a vivid fantasy where she still lived at home and her father, Victor, pushed her to become a world-renowned concert pianist. For a while, she was wildly successful and was known in all of the local NYC newspapers as "the Brecht of the piano." Glory's mother, Maria Torres Fleming, was a wine expert who worked for wine distributor W.J. Import-Export, so it's easy enough to see where Glory got her love of wine and Spanish language "tutorials" from. The fantasy continues to become more elaborate, eventually starting to include a boy moving in next door to Glory. His name is Francisco—Frank—Mendoza, a recent transplant from Argentina. He shares his last name with the Mendoza region of wine in Argentina.
Frank starts attending Willard Dunn School For Boys—which, as the reader finds out later, shares the same address and two gold hands holding or shaking each other, as The Golden Hands Rest Facility that Glory apparently didn't started attending until 2009. Frank hates his new school, is bullied and starts fights and challenges authority. He is reluctant to learn English, but excels in art, paintings and drawings which he signs "F. Mendoza". (Because later in the story, there's the parallel of what was happening to Frank at school and what Glory seems to be going through at Golden Hands. Perhaps Glory was really "the Brecht of the Piano" and because of this, she was bullied by her fellow "classmates" or the other patients, so when she "created" Frank, she had him going through the same thing she was going through, so she didn't feel so alone. And from there, Frank grew from just a "friend" to a constant, something real she could believe in and trust in.)
One day, Glory puts a note in his mailbox and invites him to come over, and we get a taste of her large loopy handwriting (while Frank's writing is kind of small and stunted and hard to read). They start a friendship, which develops into a relationship, and they refer to each other only as "F" or "G", and Glory takes to referring to her father (during IM chats with or letters to Frank) as "V" (Victor). They share music; Frank introduces Glory to many Spanish language artists, like Julio Iglesias, one of his mother's favorites. They also seemed to share an interest in Sergio "The Marvel" Martinez, a famous boxer.
Victor eventually whisks Glory away to Europe to start an international tour, which goes swimmingly well (in spite of being so far away from Frank; by then, it's obvious Glory and Frank are in love) until Glory begins a descent: an inability to stop playing Chopsticks—a tune she played at her very first recital when she was 7, the year before her mother died. While Glory is away, the two communicate as through drawings, paintings, IM chats and letters. Finally, Victor brings Glory home and attempts to shop her around NYC again as "The Brecht of the Piano" as she has been. Glory and Frank grow closer and closer to each other, possibly consummating their relationship/love upon Glory's arrival home. There are plenty of snapshots of them together, including the one from the cover of the book. They look like two people very much in love.
While Glory was away in Europe, Frank's problems continued at school. His grades went further down in all of his subjects, except for art, and he had letters sent home from Willard Dunn School. Eventually, Frank is suspended for fighting, causing the contents of his locker to be emptied and sent home—possessing things like Glory's pink shirt with an octopus on it, a pack of gum, condoms, broken art pencils, a picture of Frank and Glory together, and a bloody sweatshirt. Not long after that, Frank is expelled in a letter. The next page shows blood-red writing on what looks like a school hallway that says "This place is a Hell Hole".
Victor decides to have Glory give a private concert to friends and family, and supposedly forbids Frank from coming. Frank shows up and sits on Glory's piano bench as she plays, apparently again playing nothing but Chopsticks. It is supposed that, following this incident, arrangements are made for Glory to enter Golden Hands Rest Facility. But around this point of the novel, everything we the readers thought we knew about what we were reading comes completely unraveled. The Golden Hands Rest Facility papers appear on the same letterhead as did the Willard Dunn School For Boys; one paper suggests that Glory has been at the facility since 2001, or at the very least, in and out of the facility since then. We see Glory at an art class, painting the same yellow flower Frank had supposedly painted and sent to her. On the same letterhead, in what appears to be Glory's handwriting, "this place is a Hell Hole" is scribbled all over the page. A short time later (perhaps) Jo Ann Castle makes a visit to Golden Hands—Jo Ann Castle is seen throughout the novel via fuzzy TV screens, always playing the piano and signs an autograph for Glory, "To the Brecht of the Piano, no guts, no glory." Following this, Golden Hands shows a boxing match between Sergio "The Marvel" Martinez and Paul "The Punisher" Williams. It appears Glory spends the match sewing felt letters onto a blue silk robe which reads: 'Sergio "The Marvel" Martinez'. Then she vanishes.
We the readers get a closer glimpse at the contents of her room, at all the drawings and paintings Frank supposedly did and gave her—now with a closeup of her signature. Her large loopy handwriting, "G. Fleming".
Was any of it real? Did Frank even exist? It was a sudden shock to realize that it could have all been something going on in her head, or maybe that she was a multiple personality, or that she just created an "imaginary friend" to "help" her in the years following her mother's death.
In the last few pages, we again see Glory's large loopy handwriting, but it's made to look as if it's not Glory speaking at all, but Frank. He's telling her that he's gone back to Argentina and that if she can get away from Golden Hands, she should follow him. That their love can survive anything and they can start over in a new place. Gloria has apparently run off to Argentina ("as well") to join a cruise ship as a piano lounge performer. There is a close up of wine bottles on a window sill, one in particular: "Francisco de Mendoza Argentina" and has a picture of a boy's face on the label.
The last few pictures show, what seems to be the two of them, sitting together (in shadows), drinking out of cups.
It's just so hard to believe that it could all be "real". Glory's initials are "G.F". Chopsticks begins with the chords F and G. But it's also so terribly sad to think that Glory is nothing but a crazy, lonely, and possibly overworked girl who made up a "friend" and then "fell in love" with this figment. Maybe even worse to think that she "ran away" because she wanted to be with him—or that she just needed to escape and reinvent herself. Maybe, if anything, she wasn't running away to be with "Frank" but to somehow be closer to her mother's memory.
I still feel that I'm processing it and may read it again before it has to go back to the library. I still think it's worth a read, even if it's not what you might have been expecting. (less)