With their father recently dead and their mother in a permanent vegetative state for the third year with no hope of waking up, just paying rent is a c...moreWith their father recently dead and their mother in a permanent vegetative state for the third year with no hope of waking up, just paying rent is a challenge for sisters Kate and Mary. Kate is graduating this year, and has dreams that extent out of El Paso--she's applied for Stanford, though everyone expects her to stay home and attend UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso for all you non-Texan folks) and marry her long-term boyfriend Simon and look after her sister and mother. Mary just wants to be able to paint, wherever she is. Their father's retirement money is running out fast. Their lease from the church is running out, too, with a new minister ready to move in. Something has to be done, and soon.
The blurb on the inside flap touts an intense romantic subplot, one for each of the sisters: Kate torn between the new minister Reverend Andy Soto and good old Simon, who has proposed and will offer much-needed stability for the family with the restaurant he owns; Mary drawn to Marcos, but conflicted as, well, he's in a gang and sort of sketchy (see, that was another pun, because they're artists--I'll stop now). Most of this whole subplot felt as canned as the inner flap would suggest, unnatural--like the author decided each sister needed to have a man in their life now that their (vastly overprotective) father had died. Kate's dilemma I'll buy. Andy might be older, but he has an understandable appeal--whereas everyone else tries to put her down and say it's selfish for Kate to even think about going to college anywhere but UTEP, Andy feeds her ambition and opens her eyes to possibilities her family, best friend and Simon would never suggest. Andy becomes her confidant, and his non-traditional approach of leaving God out of the equation ends up bringing her closer to the faith she's left behind. Mary's situation, not so much. She's warm to most everyone we see, but abruptly cold and hard when she meets Marcos, something he hints is normal. Either the author was remarkably subtle about it, or half of Mary's deal with not dating anyone or whatever was made up to give her something to grapple with. Neither of these issues are really resolved, either, contributing to their tacked-on, half-hearted feel.
A definite high point for Irises is the dialogue. Each character speaks in a distinct style, but it doesn't feel put-on or fake. Bonnie, Kate's best friend, speaks in a vastly different tone from Mary, but each sounds genuine--or at least not so fake I noticed. Subtly is also a strong point, writing-wise, and though there is a line to be drawn between 'subtle' and 'leaving it out but mentioning it later so it looks like you just forgot about it' (see: Mary's deal with boys), Stork usually leans towards the former. We find out the details of the girls' mother's accident slowly, as well as their father's life. It cuts out the long, boring explication passages I abhor, which makes reading much more pleasant and keeps my walls from receiving unnecessary dents. Overall, reading the book was pretty pleasant, really.
Except that while I wasn't throwing the book across the room, I did have to let out some verbal frustration as the "problems" piled on. This book, like so many others, suffers from what I have decided just now to call Excessive Setback Syndrome (if you have a better name, please tweet me--@maybealivecat). ESS is characterised by the plot involving minor issue after minor issue piled on, which causes the characters to all freak out and the reader to sigh in defeat because while these "problems" keep coming up, nothing bad ever happens. Often symptoms include characters who are completely overwhelmed and minor issues blown up to an enormous scale by the characters who aren't. For example, Kate going to college. I can understand her family not being terribly supportive of the idea. But it wasn't consistently spread--some people, like Simon and her Aunt Julia, decided that it was the most horribly selfish thing she could ever come up with, akin to, I don't know, selling Mary to a circus. Perhaps I lack perspective, not being a first-generation college hopeful, but it wasn't so much the negative reactions as the inconsistency of the reactions. Some people were excited for her. Kate's mother was the one who suggested she go to Stanford rather than UTEP. And then a few characters decided wanting to go to Stanford on full scholarship was like wanting to sell her sister to the circus. The characters who reacted negatively often lacked groups to their claims of selfishness, nor did those who reacted positively.
Though labelled for grades nine and up, I'd widen that up to middle school. It's a decent read, tame (the romance frustratingly so) and family-friendly. The most controversial thing, I think, would be the heavy Christian focus, which seems at times out-of-place and deliberate. Overall, three stars, and a recommendation to pick it up if you're bored, but not go search on Amazon to get it here by Christmas.(less)
They carried heavy ponchos and lighter weapons; they carried rations and they carried M&Ms for particularly bad injuries. The things they carried...moreThey carried heavy ponchos and lighter weapons; they carried rations and they carried M&Ms for particularly bad injuries. The things they carried were brought because of necessity. They carried dope and illustrated Bibles, they carried photographs and letters, they carried fears, they carried ammunition, they carried hand grenades and they carried their hopes. They carried a weight issued in pounds and ounces and they carried the incalculable and inexorably palpable weight of the war. They carried each other.
When introduced, my English teacher noted the distinct similarities between the author and the main character of the novel (novel for brevity, as while the book is a collection of short stories, they are interconnected much in the same way as chapters in a novel, only they are also able to stand more or less alone). Both are named Tim O'Brien, both are writers of the same age, with the same hometown and the same books published; the book is dedicated to the men of the Alpha Company, men whose names are the same as those in the book. Undeniably there are parts of stories that are factually correct; equally there are portions that are fiction. The line is thin and blurred. "How to Tell a True War Story", perhaps a third of the way through, addresses why I avoid the word 'true'--all the stories are true, whether they happened or not. A true war story is not defined by whether or not it happened. The Things They Carried forces one to believe this, if nothing else. I read somewhere that it does no good to wonder which parts of fiction are 'true' and which are fabricated, not for the reader or for the writer--perhaps it was even speaking on this book--but I hadn't yet come to peace with the statement before reading the epitomic example of the fact. All stories within The Things They Carried are true, true enough to be believed in beyond any other war stories I have read, beyond certainly the old classic The Red Badge of Courage or the oft-cited greatest war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front.
John Green wrote once that we don't remember what happened, "what we remember becomes what happened." Some of these stories have roots in real happenings, some more than others. Yet if I were offered a list of which stories, which facets were 'true' and which were false, I at least hope I would refuse, as without concrete data, all stories are equally 'true', all the stories have the potential to be fiction or fact, and this potential energy lends more to the blanket truthness of every story, even knowing some are less factual than others.
To backtrack slightly, The Things They Carried is something more than a collection of war stories; while centring on the war, before and during and after, there are love stories and there are stories about stories; one should never be dissuaded from reading The Things They Carried for reasons of pacifism, for a weak stomach, or for a childish hate of stories about wars. Perhaps it is not for everyone. Perhaps not everyone ought to read it.
Still, if you have ever told a story, read this book. If you have ever written a story, read this book; if you have ever wanted to write, read this book. If you have ever loved a friend, if you have ever loved and not been loved in return, if you have ever loved and found yourself loved back, read this book. If you have ever felt hopeless, read this book; read this book if you have ever tried to appear strong. If you have ever hated, read this book, and if you have not, read this book. If you have ever thought life a paradox, read this book. If you have come to realise that the truth resists simplicity, I implore you, read this book.(less)
Let me start by directing you towards the author's name. Wendy Wunder. Book about miracles.
Now, I may not be one to believe in mirac...more3 1/2, rounded up
Let me start by directing you towards the author's name. Wendy Wunder. Book about miracles.
Now, I may not be one to believe in miracles, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a good coincidence. (And then make a name pun. With the initials 'A.K.A.', I think it's a requirement.)
The Probability of Miracles (thankfully containing no actual math) leaves it up to the interpretation of the reader whether the strange things that happen are truly miracles or just odd coincidences. Campbell Cooper, our sixteen-year-old dry wit protag, is prone to erring on the side of caution. There are no miracles. Cam's had a pretty bad run of life--divorce, followed by her father dying from cancer, followed by her getting cancer... And all while living at the Happiest Place on Earth, Walt Disney World, where Cam's mom, Alicia, works.
Alicia believes in miracles, though, and when Cam's prognosis requires one, she packs up Cam and her younger sister, Perry, to spend (what will likely be Cam's last) summer in Promise, Maine, where there are flamingos and purple dandelions and sunsets that last for hours. Maybe here, they will find Cam a miracle. Even if it isn't one anyone is expecting.
If you've read the blurb from the back of the book (that'll be the description starting with "dry, sarcastic, sixteen-year-old Cam Cooper"), throw it out now. The blurb has almost nothing to do with the actual plot. No, the book is far better than the back blurb would have one believe. I read the book in one night, looking up when I had finished to see that it was suddenly now eleven at night and I still hadn't written anything for NaNoWriMo that day. It's just the tiniest bit super enthralling that way.
Cam may be an undeniable pessimist, but she's the nice sort of pessimist, the sort that's pessimistic because, well, she's dying (just a bit of a bummer, that), but at the same time recognizes her pessimism and occasionally tries to lighten it up a bit for her mom and Perry. I adore Cam. She's witty without seeming overdone, witty to a spoken degree, rather than a writer-sitting-at-a-desk-has-all-day-to-think-of-a-clever-line degree. She tends to go off the deep end rather often. She makes crappy choices. She's dying after all, and finds herself trying to fit an entire bucket list into a few short months. While I may have occasionally thought she was moving too fast and too unsupervised (dare I say, where are the parents in YA?), I never found myself disliking Cam, nor thinking ill of her because of her choices--the author has done a remarkable job of keeping the character believable and identifiable, even as she dies, even as she makes some almost remarkably bad decisions.
This is in part because of the quick pacing of the novel. One event quickly moves on to take the place of the next. There are days-long gaps in between chapters every now and then. Time passes quickly. There aren't many real obstacles. Characters decide to do something. Characters do it. It seems rushed, then you remember that it's been four days since the last chapter ended--there has been time for x, y and z to be planned, the author has just skipped over that phase, because frankly, it'd be boring to read and the book is 350 pages long as is. I didn't notice until I was halfway through the book that Cam, Alicia and Perry still hadn't made it to Maine. The 350 pages go quick, and because Cam is so likable, anything unrealistic or overly quick melts into the background. A lot happens in those 350 pages, but I never questioned any of it, nor how easily each new event came--characters decide to do something, characters do it. Not much time for reflection, and backstory is melted into the plot in short bursts. Pure plot, baby. Just like NaNo. Except not at all, because there is foreshadowing and things are revealed over time and everything makes sense and the book is actually good.
A bit grim and a bit serious at times (have I mentioned how the main character spends the entire book dying?), The Probability of Miracles comes highly recommended, even if it is a bit of a downer. Keep some chocolate on hand, and a good chunk of time set aside to finish it in one go, if necessary. And now I leave with one last horrible name pun: it'll be a miracle if stores can keep this book on their shelves! Ha. Ha. Ha. (less)
Dylan Mahoney is an outcast. She used to have friends, good grades, the trust of her parents, etc., etc., before a certain short-lived boyfriend,...more3 1/2
Dylan Mahoney is an outcast. She used to have friends, good grades, the trust of her parents, etc., etc., before a certain short-lived boyfriend, a viral video of her totalling his car with his own golf club, and a few naked photos sent via text message. Abandoned and alone, Dylan turns to the Internet, and finds a new obsession--the blogs of fundamentalist Christian girls, the ones who live on farms in the middle of nowhere and have six siblings. Dylan, fascinated, creates her own blog with her own persona, pennamed Faith. But when she finds herself living among one of the bloggers, has the deception gone too far?
I read the book in a single sitting. Like, without getting up. Sat down. Read book. It didn't take long. It's a relatively quick read, and there aren't real stopping points until the very end. It's not so much that there are massive cliffhangers at every chapter, but it's like reading TVTropes, or Dylan's blogs--once you start, you're pulled in by some weird fascination that doesn't allow you to put the book down. The plot is just so different from the usual. The feasibility of Dylan's trip to the home of one of her favourite bloggers might be questionable, but reading about the family is too interesting to think about it all that much.
Still, just because I was sucked in the whole time doesn't mean I was impressed the whole time. The beginning of the book is an information dump--the first four chapters are primarily dedicated to a summary of Dylan's life from November to the present day, around the end of the school year. While it didn't entirely put me off reading, it did bother me. By the end I was bored of all the infodump and couldn't wait to get into the part of the novel that sounds like a novel, instead of just an extended plot summary. The family Dylan stays with at times seemed too canned--there was nothing surprising about them, nothing that seemed unlike the assumptions that are usually held about religious fundamentalists. I don't think the book was a regurgitation of stereotypes or that the author didn't research, but I still wasn't entirely satisfied.
Dylan didn't appeal to me at all, hardly. Probably in real life, she would be an acquaintance--not someone I would be friends with, but not someone I disliked. In a novel, though, she annoyed me. She's surprised too often by the family's more stereotypical behaviours, like she's never heard of teenage girls forced into arranged marriages by their parents to older men, or sons being punished by their parents for falling in love with someone outside their religion. And this is after already reading these blogs for months and months--how could she not have been aware for so long? It just didn't seem to fit to me.
Overall, it's an interesting enough book. I enjoyed reading it, and stayed intrigued the whole time. There's a bit of romance, a bit of deception, some moral questioning. It's not all that hard-hitting or controversial, but for a quick read, it's at the least a solid, interesting one.(less)
There are a lot of good things about the book. There are a couple less brilliant things: primarily, it's not terribly "original"...moreFour and a half stars.
There are a lot of good things about the book. There are a couple less brilliant things: primarily, it's not terribly "original"; at least, it isn't original in the way I would generally praise books for being. It's a usual archetypal journey. Truly, while it is relatively enjoyable to read (for someone like me, who is growing more and more to appreciate war novels with this dear old English teacher of mine assigning all war novels all semester), its largest benefit is the amount of thought that one can pour into it. The book lends itself to analysis, which is I'm sure at least part of why it's in so many English curriculums. I probably wouldn't have picked it up to read in my spare time--I don't generally give books weeks to marinate in analytical juices--but as an English class read, I was very happy with it.(less)
It was a pretty normal day until Prue's toddler brother, Mac, was stolen out of their local Portland park by a murder of crows.
The edge of Portland...more It was a pretty normal day until Prue's toddler brother, Mac, was stolen out of their local Portland park by a murder of crows.
The edge of Portland is surrounded by a forest, called “The Impassible Wilderness” for a reason. No one goes in. And the people who are stupid enough to go in don't come back. But the Impassible Wilderness is where Prue's brother is taken, and it’s where Prue goes to fetch him back, accompanied—more or less—by her friend Curtis.
It's not what they expected. The forest is, in fact, inhabited—it contains three distinct states, called by the inhabitants the North Wood, South Wood, and Wildwood, which is the untamed area Prue and Curtis wander into. Wildwood is on the brink of a revolution with the beautiful Dowager Governess Alexandra rousing an army of coyotes to fight it. Of course, as Prue and Curtis notice shortly after entering, not everything is as it seems, and the simple find-and-rescue mission soon wraps them up in the massive, intricate politics of the Wood and the fight to control it.
I don't read much fantasy. I'm pretty big on dystopias, but I'm not generally likely to pick up a mammoth five-hundred-page middle-grade fantasy novel. But I'm so glad I did. Wildwood took half an age to get through, but even when I wasn't actively reading, somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking about the plight of the Avians, whether Mac was safe, whether the incompetency of the South Wood's highest official was supposed to be a comparison to anyone in power down here in reality. The Wood is a world to get lost in, with its convoluted politics and customs, and it quickly becomes clear that the story of Wildwood is really an epic decades in the making. It's complicated and ultimately satisfying to finish.
The cast of characters is great. Since Prue and Curtis are so young—something like twelve years old—there's no embarrassingly predictable romantic subplot, and nobody's truly horrible to them. Wildwood, overall, is a nice fantasy world. Nobody circumvents the “usual evil” while the world still retains enough “bad” for older audiences to be captivated. Prue and Curtis have to grow up fast and make some rough choices, but they deal in a realistic way. People die; it's a war. People kill people. War is messy. Politics are messy. Characters are drawn in shades of grey. I may have wanted a little more depth on some characters if there was more space—even more space—in the book, as most of the good characters are simply good all the way to the core, but at the same time it was almost refreshing to have good people be just that—good.
There isn't anyone I would not recommend this book to. The target audience is around middle school age, but I wouldn't be surprised if older readers enjoyed it just as well before passing it down to younger siblings.
Sixteen-year-old Kate Carter loves two things: Crispix cereal and art. Average by most counts, Kate is a fantastic sketch artist, which comes into pl...more Sixteen-year-old Kate Carter loves two things: Crispix cereal and art. Average by most counts, Kate is a fantastic sketch artist, which comes into play when she sketches up a murderer. In an art class activity. On accident. The simple sketch throws her into a dangerous situation when the local news can't get enough of the story... and neither can the criminal she's put behind bars. Did I mention he's a murderer? With friends?
I started Sketchy Behavior on a road trip and finished it two states later, having read almost continuously the whole time. Not only is it a page turner (not quite impossible to put down, but it's a fair sight quicker than The Odyssey), but I absolutely adore Kate. Sarcastic and witty, she's a good narrator to have around, dropping TV and movie references every couple pages (“I'd never been to prison, but I kind of imagined it would look more like Alcatraz than the set from The Office.”) and generally making light of the situation, which could be a bit of a downer.
There were some things that bothered me, loose ends that didn't really fit in. For instance, Kate every now and then refers to some dating instance that shall never be spoken of again—something involving a guy named Kyle that is barely referred to after the beginning of the book and is never explained. I mean, with the threat of death, it's pretty easy to forget about that little thing, but it still irked me. Kate obviously cared—why don't we ever get to hear the juicy details, since it's hung over our heads for an age? And then there's the way the book starts, with Kate’s friend Maddy contemplating jumping off a small cliff into a five-foot “river” (really an overlarge creek). It's a nice, dramatic way to start up the book—all in media res like my lovely English teacher taught us in eighth grade. But the incident is over-the-top and unique to the one situation—it feels like the author tried to think of the most dramatic way to start the book and then just went for it, even if the incident doesn't really jive with the other two hundred some-odd pages of the novel.
Still, it's a fun read. It’s really interesting to read about criminal sketch artists, even for someone with zero artistic ability, and the inherent suspense of Kate-could-be-killed kept me reading straight through. The characters are definitely the high point—Kate, obviously, but also minor characters like Silent Justin from her art class and DJ, the policeman assigned to keep her safe—and the low points, aren't terribly distracting. Sketchy Behavior is relatively straightforward until the twisty-turny ending, and I'd recommend reading it if you happen across it—but don't try and think too hard, 'kay?(less)
Alison Temple, kind-of-almost-codename-that-is-mentioned-at-the-very-beginning-and-then-without-another-reference-becomes-the-title Alison Wonderland, is fairly happy working at the all-female Fitzgerald's Bureau of Investigation in London. Her boss, Mrs Fitzgerald, is lovely and has a lot of “depth” (read “a disorganized mash of character traits”). There are apparently other women working there as well who are lovely, though we never see them so it appears Alison has no co-workers. She's even met some nice people, like her neighbor, Jeff, who is in love with her for no apparent reason, and this random chick Taron, who for all intensive purposes serves as Alison's best and only friend, though she is introduced as “a dippy club chick I know vaguely wants me to do some research.”
Anyway, this gets a little more complicated when Alison is assigned a portion of Operation Brown Dog, involving Emphglott, a company using buildings in the West Country that were supposed to be abandoned; inhumane treatment of animals; Majors Flower and Bird, two thugs with God-like control who had been hired by said company to defend against knowledge of said inhumane treatment of animals; and Miss Lester, the director of services. Also, there's a sheep/pig hybrid animal. I'm not entirely sure if this was supposed to be the inhumane treatment/experiment problem. It seemed well-cared for to me.
Because yes, we get to see the shig and its keeper, even though Alison never does. In fact, we get to see very many things Alison never does, due to a shifting perspective that lands on most every character (I don't think Taron ever gets it, though I could be wrong and am not terribly inclined to check), and, of course, sounds exactly the same for every single one except Alison, who gets first-person narration instead of third. This would annoy me more, except for the fact that it is sort of the only way the book tries to make any sense of its own plot.
I started to get concerned about this whole plot issue within the first thirty pages, when I was bored out of my mind and rereading the back flap just because it was shorter and saw it was called a literary novel, which kind of scared me because I've also seen the phrase used in place of “plotless rag.” I continued to be concerned about this whole plot issue through the entire book, perhaps because it's a little hard to tell when the action is picking up and the plot is advancing with your eyes glazed over. It doesn't help matters that everything is written the same way, whether Alison and Taron are sitting in a car driving for hours or Taron's friend is getting beat up by a pair of masked intruders. You know how authors will often make the pacing pick up around an action-filled part, and the pages start whipping by at a break-neck pace?
Not a chance. Not with Alison Wonderland.
What in my eyes was the most redeeming factor is actually something most people would consider the worst—the “hint of magic” referenced on the back cover blurb. Wiccan-type stuff, it's unexplained, completely random, and makes not a lick of sense. But it doesn't try to, which is actually a little refreshing. It comes in handy without seeming like as much of a deus ex machina, perhaps because the explanations that come from the non-magic-related deus ex machina moments are so terrible by comparison. Additionally, Alison thinks it's all crap, which adds an interesting layer and shows some character development on her part.
The whole book reads a little like one of my half-formed NaNoWriMo novels, except with a much more developed starting idea. Still, I'm not convinced Helen Smith had an editor. An editor would have slapped her upside the face and told her this, that and the other thing about her book sucked, so go fix it. And if she did have an editor, I'd like to find him or her and slap them for the same reason. It's a slow read, and a bit of a dry read, though I suppose it's interesting to think about later.
In short, an E for Effort and a D for Dreadful Execution, though I'd stop a good bit short of a T for Troll.(less)
Dani Solomon is the perfect teenager. Star of the tennis team, star of the a cappella group at her school. She's popular enough...moreThree and a half stars.
Dani Solomon is the perfect teenager. Star of the tennis team, star of the a cappella group at her school. She's popular enough, and has one best friend she can rely on for everything. She's perfectly responsible, too, babysitting her five-year-old neighbor, Alex, while his mother is out at all hours. Alex is her life. So why is it that she can't shake a mental picture of his death--at her own hands?
Dani's beginning to think she might be dangerous, and the rest of the town heartily agrees. What started as the odd scary thought quickly snowballs into panic. Dani doesn't think she's going to hurt anyone, she certainly doesn't want to hurt anyone. But as the villagers grab their metaphorical torches and pitchforks, it doesn't look much like that's going to matter anymore. How far will fear drive the people of Hawthorne, Massachusetts to protect their children?
I so badly wanted to give The Babysitter Murders four, four and a half stars. I so badly wanted to love this book. But here's the thing: it took me an age to get through it. Why? Because, and there is no way to get around saying this, but the first fifty to seventy pages suck.
I don't mean that the beginning is a little slow; I mean that the first part of the six that make up the book just sucks. The second part isn't so great either. Dani is obnoxious and too perfect. The writing seems cut from cardboard. Mrs. Alex—Alex's mother, real name Cynthia Draper—is irritating. Malcolm, a cop's son, occasional point-of-view character and kid at Dani's school is irritating and equally cardboard. Gordy, crush, romantic subplot and singer in the a capella group is completely flat, though he's nothing compared to the second random romantic-subplot guy, also a singer, also Nathan, whose purpose in the whole thing I never quite discerned. (Was the love triangle supposed to be an important thing? If so, why? The premise is that Dani is believed to be a completely bonkers!) It took me weeks to get through the first fifty pages, to make myself read without feeling like braining myself with my own laptop because Dani was being so pitifully stupid.
And then I read the last two hundred fifty pages in two days.
The Babysitter Murders gets better. It gets so much better. Those first seventy pages of total suck set up such a platform for the rest of the book to build off on! All those characters that you can't keep straight for the first fifty pages come into play in at least a mildly interesting way at some point in the semi-distant future!
Dani's problem does, eventually, become a real problem. Though I don't agree with how her best friend reacts to the first mention of Dani’s oh-em-gee-I-keep-thinking-I'm-going-to-kill-someone thing, after a while the issue does become something very strange--well after Dani and BFF Shelley start flippin' out and thinking she's crazy, but still. Dani even stops flipping out after a while, which is to say as soon as there are things she should be flipping out over, like angry villagers wanting to burn her at stake! (I'm kidding about the burning at stake. They'd rather shoot her.) Beth, Dani's mother, steps in and adds to the story. Malcolm stops being pathetically irritating and starts being fascinatingly twisted. Gordy becomes more three-dimensional, as well as the other dude, Nathan. Well maybe not Nathan. I'm still not entirely clear why he ended up in the book at all. But Gordy gets that third dimension! He's just a little thin!
The Babysitter Murders is an acquired taste. By which I mean to say it takes ages to get into. The characters don't get better--the reader gets used to it. Eventually it makes sense. Or if it doesn't, well, you've gotten through the crap part anyway. Eventually it gets less annoying that the narrative jumps perspective like an ADD squirrel jumping between bins in the bulk section of Whole Foods. Which isn't to say the author ever stops jumping perspective. Just, it isn't quite so annoying after the fifth or sixth narrator. At least it's not in first person?
So a five-star premise, a four-star execution, and an oh-god-that-was-awful beginning--that averages to 3.5 stars, yes? Math nerds? Sure. Basically, though, read it. The beginning sucks. You will get through it. If you don't like it by page 150, sure, you can set it down. But by that point you're nearly halfway through the book anyway, and who could set down a book that late in the game? See what I did there? Mhm. Now go read. Read it fast. No, really, read quickly, maybe you can glaze over the initial suck!
Will never called his mom "mother" until after she died. But three days later, it's "my mother" this and "my mother" that. Maybe it's less painful tha...moreWill never called his mom "mother" until after she died. But three days later, it's "my mother" this and "my mother" that. Maybe it's less painful than calling her "Mom". Now that she's dead and all.
Now that she's dead and all, Will is painfully confronted with the fact of her--and his own--mortality. What's it mean to die? To live? Will finds new love just days after, and throws himself into the search for answers. In philosophy, Western and Eastern, in love, in other people. In the woods outside of Melbourne. He can feel himself changing on his search, but is this good? Or is it bad?
Will Ellis has left home to find answers, and he is lost.
Reading this book reminds me of something a friend told me regarding Grendel: The book isn't great, but the thinking is. That's a bit how I felt about The Beginner's Guide to Living. I like the ideas; I love the ideas. The philosophy. The search. It's a character-driven, though-driven book--there's not a whole lot of action in the traditional sense. A philosophical journey.
Or, if you want to reduce it to a few short sentences:
Boy's mother dies. Boy gets screwed (in more ways than one). Boy talks about philosophy.
I'm not sure how I felt about the character of Will. He's a pretty good protagonist, I suppose. I didn't always agree with him, but perhaps that's a good thing. The whole romance between Will and Taryn seemed a little odd at first--I mean, he meets her at his mother's funeral--but eventually it levels out until it's simply natural. Will and Taryn disagree and they come from completely different backgrounds, but they just... fit. Two pieces of a puzzle. It's a little strange timing, but it's an interesting relationship to read about, and Will's in no mood to be all sappy and crap.
The relationship is really interesting, I think, because the characters are all so real. Most of them are completely normal people. Taryn's family is a little, erm, different. (I absolutely adore her sister.) It's a bit like looking in through a glass, even though it's a first-person narrative. I suppose that's Lia Hills' skill, separating Will from the world in a particularly unique and effective way.
If a parent (or other adult) challenging the book in the public library system picked it up, they could make a strong argument. It's got a fair bit of sex and drugs. I had no idea there was so much sex in Melbourne, Australia. But really, it's so much more than a love story. It's a life story. It's about a kid trying to find his way through life, and yeah, he screws up. A lot. Constantly. But he learns. And it's got a lot of brilliant ideas that I personally believe everyone should have exposure to, just because, well, I believe in the benefits of thinking in the strange and philosophical ways that Will is exposed to.
Read it for the thinking. Read it for the philosophy. Or read it for a good love story. It's not fast-paced. It's not plot-driven. But it's some brilliant ideas, and certainly something to chew on.(less)
Lily's mother is dying. The last few years have been hard on her as she's fallen to multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that has been wreaking h...moreLily's mother is dying. The last few years have been hard on her as she's fallen to multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that has been wreaking havoc on her brain and spinal cord. After traditional treatments failed, Lily and her mother turned to bee sting therapy to help with the pain. But when the BST begins to fail, too, Lily is asked to make an impossible choice. Her mother has been classified as terminal, which under Oregon's Death With Dignity Act allows her to end her own life. Physician assisted suicide. How can sixteen-year-old Lily chose to let her mother end her life? But with her mother suffering so much, how can she not?
I'm a little fascinated by the debate over the morality of suicide, physician-assisted or not, so I was definitely excited to get my hands on a copy of this one. It starts out reasonably well, after Lily has already been asked, so there's no weird reaction scene. Lily clearly struggles with the idea, and she struggles with, well, the blurb on the back says the normal worries of high school sophomores, but it basically boils down to A Boy and two Former Friends. Odd thing though--it never seemed to me like she was really suffering all that much. She handles herself perfectly around The Former Friend, even makes up with The Other Former Friend (pretty convenient timing on that one, really). And don't get me started on The Boy, whose inclusion into the story at all I question.
Lily's conflict is, as it should be, her mother's proposition. While I might not agree with Lily all the time, I can still relate to her choices. Except when it comes to The Boy. I'm trying very hard not to talk about The Boy. It's a romantic subplot, and it is the low point of the book. It's not dirty. This is all I will say.
Overall, Mercy Lily kind of disappointed me, though. It's got such a strong premise, and while it's not bad--the writing isn't bad, the characters aren't bad (except--wait, not going to talk about The Boy), the research is good--there was nothing that properly impressed me. It's not all that profound, and within the first twenty pages I already had a good idea of how it was going to go down. I'd recommend it to someone interested in the subject matter or looking for a quick read, but in general? Not one I'm going to remember to mention.(less)
Definitely the best book I've read this year so far. (But Hawktail, cry the two or three souls who actual...moreReviewed for The Figment Review. 4 1/2 stars.
Definitely the best book I've read this year so far. (But Hawktail, cry the two or three souls who actually follow my reviews, The only book you've read this year so far is Hamlet! I know, I know. Shuddup... Best book I've read in a while...)
Jude the Obscure, Jude the outcast, Jude the washout. Sixteen-year-old Jude, who loves theatre but can't bring herself to post the application to the Lab in London. Jude, who would give anything to get out of her life in tiny Churchtown, England. Jude, who wants more than anything to escape her father, who still hasn't gotten over her mother's death. Who wants to be her mother, a fabulous actress and model.
If all the world's a stage, Jude is an extra, the girl half-obscured by props who wishes to be centre-stage playing Ophelia.
And then Stella comes back.
Stella is Ophelia. Brash, brave and bold, she was Jude's best friend before she left, and now that she's back, all full of glitter and danger. Stella smokes, Stella drinks, Stella is everything that Jude wishes she could be and then some. Stella posts Jude's letter for her, Stella defends her against the school's native it-girls, Stella introduces her to alcohol and sex and as much as Jude loves her, she scares her as well. Stella makes Jude into someone else, someone confident and sexy and unafraid. With Stella, Jude can do anything.
As such, Jude does do anything. Anything and everything she never believed she could do before, she does now, be it parties or drinking or finally posting that application... Stella beside her through it all, as even when Stella disappears, she always, always returns, just as Jude needs her most.
Let me just say, this book was fabulous.
That said, it took me a while to get into it. I'm not really a fan of the writing style, which is a little more detached than I generally prefer, and I spent a decent amount of time wondering where the book was going with one plotline or another. Emily, the head mean-girl at Jude's stuck-up private school, seemed to me more than a little overdone. Much of the book was spent wondering why characters weren't recognising Stella's presence, erm, at all, or at least as much as they should have been.
The ending, however, made it all worth it, tying together all the loose ends in a neat package that has left me reeling. I could not put the book down for the last seventy pages or so, reading through the attempts at conversation by anyone and everyone around me. The ending, if you can make it that far, makes the rest of the book worth it. The shivers down my spine, the sudden BANG as a million puzzle pieces fit together all at once--the ending makes the waiting and confusion worth it.
In short, it's not bad, but I'm not really into the writing style (personal choice, I guess); it's not that slow dry or confusing, but the ending is miles better anyway.(less)
In which I review a book awfully quickly because I have two books to review and owe Ellen at Figment a review for this week.
Everybody knows Hamlet. Ev...moreIn which I review a book awfully quickly because I have two books to review and owe Ellen at Figment a review for this week.
Everybody knows Hamlet. Even if one doesn't think they know Hamlet, one probably does. To be or not to be? Ringing a bell? Yes, that is Hamlet, that is Shakespeare.
With all of these people quoting her sort-of boyfriend, one'd think that Ophelia would get her share of the limelight. And with Ophelia: a novel, she indeed does--all three hundred pages of her share of the limelight. Let me be clear, this is in no way your average retelling of Hamlet--the tall dark and handsome prince spends much of his story somewhere, anywhere else. In fact, I was a little surprised by how little of Hamlet's story overlaps with Ophelia's.
This is not Hamlet's story, after all, but still.
I went back and forth for much of the book trying to decide whether I loved it or hated it, honestly. I couldn't decide whether it was so close to Hamlet that I had to adore it, or so far that I was amazed it passed as a retelling. Much goes on behind the curtain, evidentially; even more than I'd already assumed just from reading and watching the play.
On its own, without thinking about Hamlet, it's a decent enough book. It's written in a distinctly Ye Olde Writing style, though not completely incomprehensible like some true Ye Olde Writing (Shakespeare, I am looking at you). Some things come out sounding truly sharp, witty and/or poetic... but at other times, it seems the painfully obvious keeps being expounded because Ophelia cannot grasp the concept of show, don't tell. The plot moves along sluggishly at times, but the book really does just cover a lot of ground; years and years of Ophelia's life before and after what is contained within Hamlet.
Indeed, I think it was after it moved out of Hamlet and into just Ophelia that it really got good. I'm not a big fan of this Ophelia with Hamlet, really. Ophelia on her own, though, tells a pretty interesting story, showing a huge amount of creativity on the part of the writer. Really, it's part three that's the best--if you can hold out that far.
Overall, I've got mixed feelings. I'm not sure if it's because I'm first and foremost a fan of the original (a pox on spinoffs and covers! Torchwood and Kris Allen will never be as good as Doctor Who and OneRepublic!), but I feel the author could have dwelled much longer on exploring and deciphering Hamlet's psyche, the strange behaviours and madness that Ophelia never seems to quite understand. It has its great moments, and I think I may be biased, but that's not stopping me from giving it 3 1/2 stars--a valiant attempt, but a little weak. (Just as I feel this review may be.)(less)
Also, I'm not going to lie and say I read all of the crap before and after. I read the play. And now I'm going t...moreFavourite Shakespeare to date, by far.
Also, I'm not going to lie and say I read all of the crap before and after. I read the play. And now I'm going to watch the play. Maybe sometime I'll go back and read the commentary and all, minus the pages that were missing out of my edition (it's a long story).