I wish someone could bottle you up, so that each person in the world could have a little bit of you. (Okay, mOh, Augustus Waters.
I wish you were real.
I wish someone could bottle you up, so that each person in the world could have a little bit of you. (Okay, maybe not bottling you up, per se, but your essence, maybe...but only because bottling you up would not only be cruel but gross. And you're not real, so it would be impossible.)
But if you were real, then you would be pretty close to perfect.
You are absolutely yummy (your words), infinitely interesting, grotesquely irreverent (which makes you even yummier despite your 1.4 legs), and just so darned multidimensional that if it were possible, I'd want to travel the multiverses just to get a chance to meet you. And maybe hang out for a day...or an afternoon. Heck, even an hour, even if it were in the Literal Heart of Jesus.
Is it wrong that I like you so much?
Is it? Because it doesn't feel wrong.
I have no idea how Hazel held out for as long as she did, but thank goodness that girl came to her senses. Because you are, quite intolerably, just plain wonderful.
Because you did more in your short (fictional) life than most (real) people ever do...or try.
Because you look at life, at the universe, and you thumb your nose at it, with a smirk. I wish I could do that, instead of getting bogged down by...everything.
Because you put into words your fear of oblivion, so succinctly, so simply, that I teared up when you first uttered those words. That most everyone has that fear is a given. But very few could even string together the right words to voice that fear, much less share it with the world at large and make it mean something. So bravo to you, Augustus Waters (and by default, you, John Green, as well). Bravo.
Oh, how I wish you were real, because...
Well, because we'd all be just a smidgeon better for having known you. For having had the chance to catch a twinkle or two of your starlight.
Oh, this was so beautiful. Beautiful and painful. Painful and real. Real, so real, it left my insides raw.
I had a difficult time with the beginning. NOh, this was so beautiful. Beautiful and painful. Painful and real. Real, so real, it left my insides raw.
I had a difficult time with the beginning. Not because it was unreadable, not well-written or hard to muddle through. On the contrary, it was a well-written book, evenly paced. The child-speak didn't bother me (I know it bothered some readers). I really couldn't find anything wrong with the book, technically.
No, I found it difficult because I was feeling too much and I didn't want to get too entangled in the story, in the characters.
After all, this was a story that was meant to be disturbing. It is not a subject matter many people are comfortable with. And yet...
And yet I felt so attuned to Jack, from the very beginning, that it hurt to go on. I didn't want him to hurt or be scared. I didn't want him to worry, didn't want him cold or hungry. I didn't want him sleeping in a wardrobe. Didn't want him obsessively counting each time Old Nick came by.
The problem was that Jack had become real, for me. And his fears, his life, his needs made me uncomfortable. That's why it was difficult.
For certain books, as a reader, it is inevitable that at some point, you will insinuate yourself into the story. You recognize part of yourself in a character (or three). You identify with one or two or a few, see things from their perspective, feel things even though it's not your story, not your journey.
And when you can lose yourself in a story like that, lose yourself in a character, that's when a book and its narrative truly succeeds. But it's not always easy.
I don't want to give too much away because I don't want to take away from other readers' experience. I will say this, however: as I kept reading, I realized I had created two distinct time frames for the events in the story. Before The Plan (BP) and After The Plan (AP).
I found things more heartbreaking BP. And while the heartbreak is still there AP, it was more heartwarming also.
Five things that hit me, BP: - the wonder in seeing and hearing everything from a five year old's perspective - the joys of empty cans, tissue paper rolls, five crayons and a child's limitless imagination - the strength a mother achieves to keep her child whole and alive - the strength of a child who only wants to please his mother - this is a twisted, cruel, ugly, beautiful, complex world we live in
Five things that hit me, AP: - how terrifying real reality can be - yes, it is possible to go through childhood without Legos! - Steppa and crocs - how resilient children are, when adults around them are falling, failing, flailing - how twisted, cruel, ugly, beautiful and complex people are
I wasn't a huge fan of Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin, but after Room, I'm certainly a fan now....more
I'm a sucker for the kinds of stories that are, on the surface, idyllic, but with a little bit more digging, are really disturbing and/or heartbreakinI'm a sucker for the kinds of stories that are, on the surface, idyllic, but with a little bit more digging, are really disturbing and/or heartbreaking. Especially when kids and/or animals are involved. Stories like those in Radio Flyer, Shiloh or Bastard Out of Carolina, among many others.
I don't read/watch these kinds of books/movies often, usually because it makes me uncomfortable, and mostly because I just don't like going there. I'm not a fan of seeing kids and animals hurt. In spite of this discomfort however, I'm drawn to them. In the cases of the movies I mentioned above, I was always aware of them. I would see the ads, read the reviews, watch the previews or listen to other people talking about them. I knew I desperately wanted to see them but I almost always waited months (or even years) after they came out. But once I rented the video, that was it. I was committed to it wholeheartedly, allowing myself to be drawn into the early "happy", Arcadian phase, knowing full well that at any moment, something violent, something earth-shattering was going to happen that would turn that bucolic world into a nightmare. That at some point, that kid or puppy who'd tugged at my heartstrings would undergo some horrible experience that would set my mind and pulse racing, and I would sit there, aghast, just waiting for it to end, waiting for the inevitable escape or the death to happen, all the while wondering how adults could be so blind and so...powerless.
Sure, I've read (and enjoyed) stories that are all about brutality to and by kids. I've read and enjoyed The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies and Ender's Game, but these books didn't hide the abuse, didn't hide the cruelty. If anything, the darkness---the abuse of and by children---is integral and central to the narrative. In these cases, the novels' notoriety was specifically borne out of that darkness.
I guess this was what I was expecting with Jeanette Walls' The Silver Star. I'm not sure why I thought it would be closer to Bastard Out of Carolina, but it wasn't. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed this book -- the narrator, Bean, is funny, smart, engaging, ballsy and adorable. And she's strong as anything. Her idolization of Liz, her older sister, is palpable and apparent from the very first line: "My sister saved my life when I was a baby." Liz was her sister, but because they had an unstable, irresponsible, flighty mother, Liz filled that maternal role as well, and one of her main responsibilities was taking care of Bean.
So from the outset, Walls establishes that whatever misery, whatever heartbreak was going to happen would be happening to Liz. Liz was Bean's hero, her guardian, her champion. Bean was a spectator, the younger sister, unable to do much. And that would have been an awesome tale to tell: how, in the face of adversity, two sisters would go through all these trials together, and the younger, weaker one would turn out to be the stronger, would turn the tables and protect the older.
Well, that happened. Sorta.
I guess this is what frustrated me with the book. Walls built such an idyllic world in the beginning---I loved Bean's and Liz's world, the language they shared, their distinct worldview, their survival skills. I loved that they took care of each other, that they knew how to take care of each other after their mother left them. And I loved their Uncle Tinsley---but when she tried to break that world down and introduce the Big Bad, she washed out.
Largely because the Big Bad...well, the Big Bad just wasn't bad enough.
I can't believe I'm complaining about this, but I suppose I expected something worse to happen. I wanted something consequential, something more substantial to happen to Liz. In my mind, Liz's breakdown was understandable, but it felt forced, it felt contrived. It just didn't fit what happened to her especially after she got out of what could've been a horrible situation relatively unscathed. For a character who, earlier in the story, dealt with an unstable absentee mother, who took on more mature problems while caring for her baby sister, what happened to Liz later in Byler seemed fairly inconsequential to make her spiral downwards so quickly and so completely. It made her seem weak, so much weaker than how she'd initially been drawn. It was so incongruous, so out of whack, with how Walls had initially developed her that honestly, Liz's breakdown was such a let-down.
Still, I enjoyed the novel. I breezed through the book, largely because I loved Bean and her newly discovered family: Tinsley and all the Wyatts. I enjoyed watching Bean come into her own. I laughed and cheered her on as she found a place where, while not quite belonging, she was able to carve out a niche for herself. And I was right up there with her when she told her mom to vamoose. These were the parts of the story I enjoyed. Had the Liz part been meatier, been more realistic, I would have easily given this 4-stars. ...more
I've waffled between a 1-star and a 2 for the last two days, and I still haven't made up my mind, really.
This was just so absolutely trashtastic, evenI've waffled between a 1-star and a 2 for the last two days, and I still haven't made up my mind, really.
This was just so absolutely trashtastic, even more so than Fifty Shades of Grey, and I really didn't think anything could be trashier than that series. Well, color me wrong, because this series is just about perfect, as far as trashy novels go.
It's got everything: incest. Rape. Torture. Evil grandmothers. Evil mothers. Twins who don't grow. An attic jail. A freaking swan bed, with its own swan bed. Illicit love. Blue Lagoon-type sexual awakenings. Poison. A cute little mouse.
I felt like I was held down in a chair, bound hand and foot, gagged, with those nasty eye things from Clockwork Orange in place, forcing me to watch a train wreck. I just couldn't stay away---I just couldn't!---even though I had to put it down every so often, just to give myself some room. I know: it reminded me of the train wreck that is Miley Cyrus.
But each day, FITA just kept calling out to me: "Don't you want to know what comes next?"
"Don't you want to know how often Cathy'll parade her nubile body in front of her brother?"
"Don't you want to know how her grandmother will torture her and her siblings next?"
"Surely you can't stop there! The mom just showed up!"
"Chris and Cathy just kissed! OMG!"
"If Chris and Cathy are outside on the roof, why don't they just escape?"
And so on and so forth. I think FITA is the equivalent of Lay's potato chips, without the calories. It should come with a warning though: there is a high potential for developing a series of very unpleasant tics while reading!
Oh, it was so cringe-inducing.
And there were belly laughs galore (and not in a good way).
I am so ashamed to admit this, but I'm reading the second one. And then I need to stop. Because I'm killing brain cells here!...more
I saw the movie. I read the book. For the first time ever, I really loved both! They're not even the same story, not really (just the same characters)I saw the movie. I read the book. For the first time ever, I really loved both! They're not even the same story, not really (just the same characters), but I didn't care. The book was very well-written and the movie lived up to all the hype. They're both great -- definitely a favorite in 2012....more
Narrative: 3 stars. Ancient Blood is many things: vampire novel, satire, cautionary tale, and at its heOverall rating: 3 stars.
Breakdown of my rating:
Narrative: 3 stars. Ancient Blood is many things: vampire novel, satire, cautionary tale, and at its heart, a romance. At times witty, sometimes biting, it succeeds on many levels: it is a fresh, richly crafted vampire world; it’s a caustic send-up of today’s political landscape; a mecca of sci-fi and pop culture references; and finally, an homage not only to vampire lore, new and old, but also to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth or hero’s journey. Brian McKinley---and his main protagonist, Avery Doyle---love their vampires, and it shows.
However, where it doesn’t quite succeed is in its political machinations and the motivations of its hegemons. While McKinley gamely pokes fun at The Order---its traditions, laws, culture and place in society---he also takes it very seriously as it is the ruling organization at the heart of this Vampyr world he’s created. I will admit, there were times while I was reading and it got to the “Caroline explaining things to Avery” or “Avery listening as Caroline and X (enter character name here) discussing their plans” portions of the novel, where she’s going over the various political maneuverings of each of the hegemons that I felt a) the discussions became too pedantic and bogged the story down, and b) I was tempted numerous times to pull out a piece of paper and create a flow chart showing who was doing what to whom and when and who was allied (in reality and as deception) with one another. Yes, it got that convoluted on occasion.
Still, on the whole, political intrigues and ”Huh?!” moments aside (feral vampires, nukes, mind wipes [not the glamouring from traditional vampire lore], etc.), I enjoyed the novel. This is not a vampire novel for the younger crowd or the squeamish. Oh no. (view spoiler)[The novel doesn’t have a happy ending. (hide spoiler)] Ancient Blood’s got very flawed characters. This is an adult novel, with very graphic sex (that would make even Christian Grey blanch and Anastasia Steele wish to be locked in the Red Room of Pain instead of spending ten minutes with Valmont, Julia, Draco or Jade Tiger), a lot of violence to women and children, and an uncompromising, unflinching view of what people would do for what they believed in and who they loved. And in the end, that’s what made me give it 3 stars.
Writing: 4 stars. Brian McKinley is a very good, very strong, smart writer. Whatever minor typos there were in the text, I attribute to poor editing (Ancient Blood was published via a small publishing house that is no longer in business). It’s obvious that he’s crafted and lovingly created a wholly-realized vampire world that is different from other vampiric worlds out there (e.g., Anne Rice’s world, Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, the Buffyverse, the world of the Vampire Diaries, the Twiverse, etc.).
And while the "vampirism as a virus" concept is not new and has certainly been addressed in many other novels, movies and TV shows, his take on it is. McKinley actually did a good job with his research on genetics and molecular biology (and as a scientist by profession, I was not disappointed). Still, his is not the standard, popular young adult’s romantic view of vampirism, and for that, I’m grateful. While Ancient Blood is a romance at its core, it is not in the least bit romantic or sentimental, no matter how maudlin Avery can be when he goes all goo-goo-eyed at Caroline.
I’ve had many discussions with the author (he and I are in the same writer’s group and we’re currently reviewing his second novel, also set in this world but in a different era) about the vampires/Vampyrs in his world and their genesis, how they work, how they think, and I’m happy to share that he knows his stuff. There are still areas and plot points he’s working out in his vampire universe, but it is easily apparent that the world building he’s done is extensive, complex and multi-layered.
Characters: 3 stars. Here’s what I’ll have to say about McKinley’s characters: he doesn’t believe in creating all good or all bad characters. In fact, he likes anti-heroes. Avery, in this sense, is a little different from all the other characters he’s created in that Avery is a “baby vamp” and is still learning the ropes, in spite of everything Avery thought he knew about vamps. This makes Avery endearing, and his journey the reader’s journey, too. Caroline, in my opinion, was nuanced but a little too idealized, and I didn’t care for her as much. But seen from Avery’s lens, I can see why she was written as such: he was in love with her and held her up on a pedestal. Even the Dhampir Ash was a fairly well-developed character and had different gradations. The one thing about Ash that set me off a little was that I understood what motivated him, but I didn’t really see what his thoughts were. Then again, I can set this aside since this is Avery’s and Caroline’s story, not Ash’s.
All the other characters, though, mostly the Hegemons, from Sebastian to Draco to Valmont and Julia seemed fairly one dimensional to me. No, they weren’t all evil, as evidenced by Sebastian’s prior desire to do right by his Domain. But Draco lived up to his name: he was a draconian ruler, excessively harsh and severe, yet also governed by a set code of laws. Julia Agrippina was as lascivious and scheming as she was back in Roman times. Valmont was characterized as a fop, but a dangerous fop, one who was libertine and licentious, with nary an iota of good between his ears. Geoffrey Plantagenet, too, was close to what he was in the twelfth century: charming, yet cold, calculating and scheming underneath.
Similarly, these personages all held on to their cultures, their speech, their traditions, their way of dress, etc. (Side note to Brian and a pet peeve of mine: how Sebastian speaks is not Middle English – check out Chaucer or Havelok the Dane or the original Robin Hood tales or even Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur – those texts are in Middle English. The Middle English period lasted from the late 11th century to the mid-1400s, roughly around the time of the second vowel shift brought on by the appearance of the Normans in England. Sebastian’s way of speaking was more like rustic Scottish, but it was definitely Modern English. Even Shakespeare spoke in Early Modern English…*end of rant*.)
Of the other hegemons, only Iago and Jade Tiger seemed to be somewhat more nuanced to me, but maybe because unlike the others, these were newly created characters---based not on personages who actually existed or were contemporaneous to the era---but that they were more a pastiche of the people from the different eras/cultures they supposedly came from.
Brian and I had discussed his characterization in passing shortly before Ancient Blood was published. I think he held on to the quintessential personalities of his hegemons because he wanted to show that these people wouldn’t have changed their core beliefs or what was ingrained in them culturally. Julia Agrippina, for example, was 2000 years old. In that time, he felt it would have been out of character for her to have changed how she was or how she thought and acted. To him, it just wasn’t a long enough period of time to exact a change in her belief structure.
And that’s where I disagree with him. Change is almost guaranteed; in our own lives, while we try to stay true to who we are, we do undergo changes, minute as they are, and we certainly aren’t immortals. It’s almost inevitable for change not to happen. So if you’re a vampire/Vampyr and are around for centuries, change almost becomes a survival instinct: you need to change, not only with the times and with the integration of technology, but also in how you think. Otherwise, you’d never be able to blend in and assimilate successfully with an ever-changing world.
And in the end, I guess that was Brian’s point: that these hegemons---except for Geoffrey, who eagerly embraced 21st century technology and ideals---were trying to rule like they did in the past and was maybe why The Order needed to be shaken up, changed.
Execution: 2 stars. I wasn’t so much a fan of the political intrigues. In and of itself, the politics each individual hegemon espoused was fascinating, but when the machinations and scheming were brought together as a whole, it became too intricate, too convoluted. It was confusing. And for me, when I’m detracted enough by what I’m reading that I feel the need to draw a flow chart, that only ruins the experience for me.
What was good about it: As his debut novel, McKinley has crafted a rich, dense, well-thought out vampire world with a fairly likable hero. He’s left enough leeway in the story that should he decide to continue on with it, he could.
In the end, I’ll gladly read other works that McKinley produces – I think he’s got a lot of talent and with the right editor providing guidance and a close read of his work, he could improve significantly.
What could have been handled better: the political aspects of the novel (really, vampires threatening to nuke each other? Wouldn’t that have blown up their food supply?) could use some work. Providing explanations for certain terms used would be helpful (after reading Ancient Blood one and a half times, I’m still not quite sure what an adjutor is). ...more
David Levithan's use of an alphabetical narration was, in my mind, seminal and a very novel approach to telling a verySo beautiful, so real, so raw.
David Levithan's use of an alphabetical narration was, in my mind, seminal and a very novel approach to telling a very old, very common story. I'll be honest: I was a tad bit concerned that I wasn't going to like how this narrative---this relationship---played out non-chronologically, but surprisingly, it worked. It worked so well, in fact, because throughout, I had this sense of dread, this sense of not knowing what was going to happen. The suspense was killing me and I had to turn the page, to find the next word, to find out what was happening.
And I think, part of me still doesn't know for sure what happened. I think I know, and I know what I'd like to believe, but I guess that's the truth for most relationships anyway: you never know. You just are. You're in one and each day can bring up a new question, a new word, a new potential future and you may or may not end up alone.
I have been extremely -- and pleasantly -- surprised by this series. I really didn't want to like it when I read the first book, I Am Number Four, butI have been extremely -- and pleasantly -- surprised by this series. I really didn't want to like it when I read the first book, I Am Number Four, but honestly, that book was a breeze and very likable (unlike the movie, which was atrocious on so many levels). I think the narratives have gotten better, with each subsequent book in the series. I now can't wait for the next trilogy and will have to subsist on the novellas (there are currently three) until the next installment comes out next year....more