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A Reader of Fictions: March 2011

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Across the Universe - Fiona Apple

Across the Universe
Across the Universe, Book 1

Author: Beth Revis
Pages: 416
Publisher: Razorbill

Brief Summary
The novel opens with Amy watching her parents getting frozen to be sent on a space journey three hundred years along; they are both scientific mucky-mucks and have gotten approval for Amy to come too. Her dad has just told her she can choose to stay on Earth in the life she has always known though, so what should she do? She'll miss her boyfriend and being frozen is clearly painful. Still, she loves her parents and takes the plunge. Of course, she didn't account on being unfrozen only partway through the journey, which means she will die of old age before her parents awaken. And the ship is now ruled by a crazy Hitler-esque dictator named Eldest, so can she really trust Elder even if he is her age and a bit sweet on her?

Review:
I ended up reading Across the Universe in two phases. I initially got the book from the library, as I was one of the first holds. Unfortunately, that meant my time with it was limited and I did not have time to finish it, since my library pile had gotten rather out of control. So I got about halfway through and had to return it and wait until I could re-procure the book to finish it. The point of all of this is that my opinion of the book had changed a bit when I came back to it.

The first half of the book did not really succeed in engaging me. I had heard so much hype and was so looking forward to it, and it did not live up to that. (Isn't that always the way with me?) Upon return, as I skimmed through the book to make sure I remembered everything and tried to locate my stopping point (because genius that I am I forgot to make note of that location), I found myself thinking how cool it was. Reading through the rest of the story was then a breeze.

The story still was not quite perfect (like many other teen dystopias, there's a section pretty much straight from The Giver), but I am super hopeful about the second book in the series. I really liked how shades of gray it was (not in the Jasper Fforde sense). Elder is the perfect example. He's a good a guy and I related more to him than to Amy (how much can I really relate to someone who runs for fun?), but he definitely has a dark side (and not in the oh no, I'm a vampire who might hurt you sense).

Dystopia fans should definitely not miss this one, as it is one of the awesome ones that is really a dystopia on several different levels (although more than the dictator would be spoilers). As a final enticement, here's a quote that encapsulates the book: "This ship is built on secrets; it runs on secrets."

"Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass they slip away across the universe"

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Top Ten Film Adaptations of Books

There will be some really fantastic book-based movies missing from this list. I decided that I need to have read the book as well as seen the movie to judge whether it is a good adaptation or not. These are the best of those I have seen and read to date. In trying to decide what movies would make my top ten, I realized that I own a lot of movies based on books. A whole lot. Narrowing my list down to ten was tough, but them's the rules. However, I never said I couldn't offer honorable mentions: Everything Is Illuminated, Mansfield Park, Chocolat and Casino Royale. So here goes.

10. Bleak House (2005) - Starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Denis Lawson and Carey Mulligan

Making Dickens into a two hour movie is pretty much impossible, because there are a ton of characters and even more pages of lots of stuff happening. Having read Bleak House last year, a rather arduous process, I can rightly say that the plot is really intricate. This is why Dickens' works tend to be turned into miniseries like this one, which clocks in at 510 minutes (over eight hours). Intimidating, I know, but so so so worth it. I have watched this in one long sitting (well, with some bathroom and food breaks) a couple of times. The actors will be familiar to people who watch British shows, but the only one who will be really familiar to most Americans is the woman from the X-Files, who puts in the worst performance in the film (and gets to be on the cover for the film). There is much betrayal and melodrama, but I for one find it superb. The movie definitely moves the plot along better than the novel, which I might not have liked if I didn't already know and care about the characters.

9. I Capture the Castle (2003) - Starring Romola Garai, Rose Byrne and Bill Nighy

I really love myself the Brits. They just make such marvelous dramas and comedies (well, except when they don't...I have been betrayed a few times). I reviewed the book by Dodie Smith just two days ago. The novel is good, but the movie made me care more about the characters. The dramas are easier to comprehend when you can really look at the people involved. Plus, the film itself is incredibly gorgeous, not to mention some of the actors (why hello, Henry Cavill).



8. The Lord of the Rings (2001-3) - Starring Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellan and Viggo Mortensen

These movies are great. I loved them long before I loved the books, although I did discover their glory while I was in college. Of course, in my exploration of the novels, I found some of the weaknesses of the film versions (most obviously, in the character defamation of Faramir), which is why they are this far down the list. Still, they will always be a favorite. The cast, the location and the music were all perfect.

7. Twelfth Night (1996) - Starring Imogen Stubbs, Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter

Twelfth Night is my very favorite Shakespeare play, so it should perhaps come as little surprise that the movie found its way onto my list. This movie is not super well known, which is again unsurprising. It probably didn't have a huge budget, even though it did nab some big names (Ben Kingsley's performance is pretty divine). While I do not much like Imogen Stubbs, who plays Viola, or the man who plays the Count, I still adore this charming film. There is just something so right about it that I cannot put into words. I suspect it has something to do with the supporting cast.

6. The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) - Starring Colin Firth, Rupert Everett and Frances O'Connor

They did pretty much everything right in the production of this film. Certainly the cast is top notch, although it also earns my only complaint. The only element of the film I am at all irritated by is Reese Witherspoon's portrayal of Cecily. She's not British and this bothers me. Sometimes her accent seems a bit off and I can't help but think, why not cast a Brit? That said, if you pass up this film (or this play) you are cheating yourself from an incredibly delightful experience.



5. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Since this film is animated, I couldn't put the cast list on, as it depends on whether you go with the subbed or dubbed version. I have never been an anime snob and have always chosen based on which I like the voice actors better in. For this movie, I always go dubbed, because Howl is Christian Bale, which is, frankly, fantastic. He makes a great broody hero. Both the book and the film are exceedingly charming, funny, dark, romantic and fantastical, even though they do have their share of differences. I was surprised at the number of changes made from the book, but I think they worked.

4. Sense and Sensibility (1995) - Starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant

Yay! Jane Austen! It pleases me no end that almost every Austen novel has a fantastic film adaptation. Sense and Sensibility is not among my favorite of her novels, but this film is among my utmost favorites overall. The reason the movie version is so astounding is, quite simply, the cast. Everyone captured their character perfectly. Take Emma Thompson, a regular firebrand for example. She perfectly plays a rather tightly wound, risk-avoiding sister. Hugh Grant plays a seriously awkward guy, but manages to retain some charm (but in a different way from his usual). Look out for Hugh Laurie as an irritated husband! The
cinematography is amazing too.


3. Anne of Green Gables (1985) - Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth

This film and its sequel are perfect. Really by this point in the list, there is pretty much nothing bad I can say about these movies. They have taken excellent books and made movies that perfectly capture the novel, both in the plot, the characters, the look and the heart. With Anne of Green Gables, they really captured Anne. She is just as real and as much of a kindred spirit to the viewer as she is to the reader. This miniseries is worth the four hours anytime (and another four for the sequel!).

2. Pride and Prejudice (1995) - Starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle

Yeah, yeah. This is such an obvious choice. It's so in vogue to be obsessed with or hate P&P right now. I don't care. I have loved the book and the movie since my very first encounters with them and do not expect that to change. Ever. Colin Firth makes an excellent Darcy (and as one my college friends mentioned he is 'the sexy,' which certainly doesn't hurt). Jennifer Ehle, unlike some lip-puckering waifs I could mention, is a perfect Elizabeth. She exudes all of the charisma and spirit that Elizabeth has. This miniseries (only five hours...short right?) is almost perfect; there's a reason a number of the actors from the 2005 version imitated their predecessors.

1. A Room with a View (1985) - Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands and Maggie Smith

There is no way I can describe this film well enough to do it justice. Suffice it to say that this is my favorite film of all time (so far anyway). Everything is perfect. Especially the kiss scenes, which are some of the best you will find in pop culture anywhere. Promise. Warning: full male nudity.

When you see this, good things are soon to come. I wish my Italy trip was like this. :-p

P. S. Kelly at The Book Tarts also did a post on this earlier this week. Check it out for some completely different recommendations.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Sound of Settling - Death Cab for Cutie

I Capture the Castle

Author: Dodie Smith
Pages: 343
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Brief Summary:
Cassandra Mortmain lives in a castle. Sounds romantic, right? Well, it is...and it isn't. Cassandra loves the castle, but her sister Rose just wants money. The Mortmains rented the castle for fifty years back when Father had money from his famous book, Jacob Wrestling. Now the money is all dried up and the family only survives because of the help of the unpaid help. None of them know what Mortmain has stopped writing. In the 1930s, things are getting desperate for the Mortmains; Rose is the most desperate of all. She cannot marry well if she never meets any eligible men. The family's slump ends and life gets a whole lot more exciting when two young Americans inherit nearby Scoatney.

Review:
This is my second time through I Capture the Castle. Although I did not get sucked in like I did the last time I read the book, I still very much appreciated the writing. The story is told in a diary format. Cassandra is an aspiring author, who is practicing writing naturally by relating the events of her life. Telling stories through diary entries is rather a classic trope for coming of age stories, but there is a reason for that: it works well (when done right).

I Capture the Castle is a romance. But it's not a romance in the sense that we tend to think of today, the kind with an open-shirted man on the cover and corsets. In fact, this is exactly the kind of love story that I hated when I was younger. In that way, it reminds me of A Room with a View. The main character (or characters in this instance) make terrible decisions with regards to romance. They choose the wrong men knowingly and are loath to change their minds, even though they are empowered enough to make their own decisions.

When I was younger, I thought these characters such fools for making such obvious errors with regards to their personal lives. How could you think yourself in love with someone for whom you clearly have no feelings? How could you lead on that poor soul who had the misfortune to fall in love with you, even though you know you will never fall for him? Why would you settle for the one you don't want when the other is within your reach? Stupid girls, I thought. So unrealistic. Then, I grew up and realized that emotions are really complicated and that situations that seem obvious from an impartial viewer are exceedingly difficult to deal with when you're embroiled within them. Once I realized that, I came to find these love stories so much more meaningful than the garden variety romances one reads nowadays.

The novel moves a bit slowly at times, as there are a number of mundane details included to make the setting and characters feel real. That certainly does work and it does really feel as though you are reading Cassandra Mortmain's journal and not Dodie Smith's novel. This slower pace may lose some readers, but I think it is worth the effort.

P.S. I couldn't locate the cover image for my edition (which is the one from 1948), but this cover is lovely, more attractive than the one on mine anyway. Also, apparently J. K. Rowling is a fan, if that strikes you as an inducement to read the book.

"I've got a hunger
Twisting my stomach into knots
That my tongue was tied off

My brain's repeating,
'If you've got an impulse, let it out'
But they never make it past my mouth."

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Books Made Into Movies: Battle Royale

One of the things in life that I love almost as much as reading is watching movies or television shows. Imagine my excitement when good books are translated into another medium! Of course, that joy is tempered with a whole shaker of salt, as I have seen so many wonderful books turned into crap films (Timeline, Harry Potter, The Time Traveler's Wife, etc.) and do not want to get burned again. I both eagerly await and greatly fear the upcoming Hunger Games film. Anyway, the newest feature on my blog: reviews of movies based on books!


Having read the novel Battle Royale, the next step was to watch the film, which I obtained from Netflix yesterday. Those looking for some gore will definitely find it here, although perhaps less than might be expected. Many of the bloodiest scenes have been cut from the film for the sake of time, including some martial arts and a car chase. Still, there are plenty of bullets flying, and landing in human flesh (over and over, because people in films need to be shot approximately twenty times before they can die).

Most interesting to me were the elements that had been changed from the book version. There were a surprising number of changes, even given the cuts that would be necessary to turn a 600 page book into a two hour film. There were two massive changes (and a number of somewhat insignificant ones), neither of which I felt did much good for the plot.
  1. Rather than including some back story about Shuya, the protagonist, the opening sequence shows a teacher get stabbed by a student running by. A girl picks up the fallen knife and hides it behind her back as the teacher limps off. A message tells the viewer that the teacher quit after this. Having not had an introduction to the characters at this point, this scene is incredibly mind-boggling. Nothing like this occurred in the novel, so I really didn't know what to make of it. Throughout the film, the secret is revealed (although there was no real need for secrecy and the why of it remained completely unclear). Apparently, Nobu (Yoshitoki Kuninobu, Shuya's best friend) stabbed Kitano (the teacher) and Noriko Nakagawa picked up the knife. Later, Kitano is their teacher on the island. Not sure why this was added, except to explain the weird relationship between Kitano and Noriko, which was creepy, stupid, and less cool than the original ending.
  2. Kazuo Kiriyama (sporting an awesome Carrot Top hairstyle) and Shogo Kawada (now three years older than everyone else) are both transfer students. They join the class on the island. In the book, Kazuo has gone to the school with everyone else for years and is the established leader of the thug group. Shogo transferred in at the beginning of the year. While it doesn't matter too much with Kazuo's plot line whether he knew everyone already (except for it being really odd that Izumi Kanai was hanging out with the class thugs at the southern tip of the island), it really screws with Shogo's character arc. There is really no reason for the movie Shogo to act as he does. And there was even less of a reason to change when the characters transferred.
I know Kazuo doesn't care about his hair, but really? This is what they went with?

These issues were a bit annoying, but overall the movie stuck to the book on the whole. Some of the weapons were changed, but all of the ones used to kill were left the same. Actually, thinking back on it, I suspect they changed the others to add in some humor (poor Shuya with his pot lid). A couple students died differently than in the book, but they were minor characters and it hardly mattered. The other unfortunate aspect of the film was that the actor chosen to play Shuya lacked the charisma the character is meant to have (which explains why so many people really like him).

Verdict: not as good as the book, but still quite interesting. Worth the watch, if you can deal with violence. Most of the violence is so over the top it wasn't too bad to watch. I am actually finding the manga version of the story harder to watch. I will be passing on the sequel to the movie, which sounds pretty terrible.

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Hundred - The Fray

Cryer's Cross

Author: Lisa McMann
Pages: 232
Publisher: Simon Pulse

Brief Summary:
Kendall Fletcher suffers from OCD. Every night, she checks that her window is closed six times. The food in the refrigerator must be organized just so, according to size. She always arrives early to school to arrange the desks, markers and curtains properly without anyone knowing. Kendall lives for routine, and for her best friend, and beau, Nico. Her ordered world falls apart when Tiffany, one of the teen girls in town, goes missing. Who can she trust and where is she safe? Of course, that fear pales in comparison to how she feels when Nico goes missing. What is happening in Cryer's Cross and who will be next?

Review:
First of all, I need to point out that this is NOT a dystopia. The reason I picked the book up was because I had seen it described thus somewhere, but it isn't. Cryer's Cross is actually more of a psychological thriller/fantasy/horror story. I wish it had been a dystopia.

Last year, I read Lisa McMann's Wake Trilogy, which I sort of liked at first, but later came to almost abhor. Her writing drove me crazy. It's so incredibly fragmented. Everyone told me that the writing was matched to Janie's thoughts and not a sign of McMann's inability to compose a complex sentence. Well, that excuse really does not fly here. The story is told in third person and yet, oddly enough, the syntax remains choppy and composed largely of sentence fragments. This will, hopefully, be my last foray into McMann.

All that so grumpily said, Cryer's Cross was not a terrible read. I think I liked it more than I disliked it. The ending was a bit too mystical for my taste, but there was a major redeeming factor. The one thing McMann does really well: she writes really attractive, atypical male leads. And some pretty hot scenes with them, even if they remain PG, as is the case here.

I recommend this for reluctant readers, although I doubt boys would be too interested. For a book with a lot of menace lingering about, there is very little action.

"So this is where you are
And this is where I am
Somewhere between
Unsure and a hundred"

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Blogger Hop, Question 1

As a fun new thing, I will be participating (when I remember) in the Book Blogger Hop, which I discovered via Heidi at Paper Adventures. Every Week, a new question is posted on Friday.

Book Blogger Hop
Clearly, books throw one happening party!

This week's question is: "If you could physically put yourself into a book or series…which one would it be and why?"

For me, there really is no contest for me. There are any number of books I would love to reside in (forever or just for a vacation...I feel a top ten list coming at some point!), but one stands out amongst them.

My book/series of choice is, of course, Harry Potter. How could I go anywhere else? To this day, I still daydream about living in that world. Lucky folks that you are, I will share a bit of my delightful fantasy.

I will be, quite unsurprisingly, a witch, a mighty talented one, too. Transfiguration is my best subject (hells, yeah! - I fully intend to be an animagus), followed by Charms. Unfortunately for me, I suck at Potions, which, in the early years, means I would have to endure some hellish Snape anger. (In my fantasy, I really wanted to say I rocked everything, but, given my epic fail when confronted with chemistry labs in high school, I couldn't take it seriously if I did that). I would be in Ravenclaw. Oh, and I always imagined that I transferred to Hogwarts from an American wizarding school. I also want myself some Fred Weasley. (Can you tell how much thought has been spent on this?!?)

How about you, dear reader? Anyone else build some ridiculously elaborate fantasies about actually being in a book you loved?

My Beloved Monster - Eels

I Love Him to Pieces

Author: Evonne Tsang
Illustrator: Janina Görrissen
Pages: 132
Publisher: Graphic Universe

Made for Each Other

Author: Paul D. Storrie
Illustrator: Eldon Cowgur
Pages & Publisher: Same as above

These two graphic novels are the first in a new series (My Boyfriend Is a Monster) that aims to capitalize on the popularity of monsters with teens. The first book involves the zombie menace and the second Frankenstein's monster. Both cap out at 132 pages, which is short to begin with and even shorter in graphic novel form. Reading both of these probably took a distracted half hour total.

The art for the two volumes, though done by different illustrators, was pretty consistent. While not my favorite graphic art style, it was acceptable and matched the stories well. I preferred the Made for Each Other overall, because the story was executed better. The first half of I Love Him to Pieces jumped around in time without warning. I kept thinking that I had somehow skipped a page, because the scene would jump in the middle of a conversation. Perhaps the original version was too long, so pages were removed a bit willy-nilly?

Overall, both stories were fairly cute little romances and had humorous moments (like puns - e.g. the titles). I do not plan to continue on with the series myself, but, if you're bored (impossible to imagine though that may be!) at the library, they will fill a bit of time enjoyably.

"My beloved monster and me
We go everywhere together"

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

To the Rescue from The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Atomic Weight of Secrets: Or, The Mysterious Arrival of the Men in Black
The Young Inventors Guild, Book 1

Author: Eden Unger Bowditch
Pages: 339
ARC Acquired From: Bancroft Press via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Jasper and Lucy, Faye, Wallace, and Noah all have three things in common: they're young, brilliant scientists, children to brilliant scientists and unsure where those parents have gotten to. They do not know what has happened or why men in black, dressed in crazy costumes, are watching them and searching through their parents' stuff. At first, they are saddened but not overly concerned; their parents are busy people and both their weekend houses, complete with sweet nannies, and their school, which comes with a delightful teacher, are nice. As time passes and they continue not to get word from their parents, they start planning an escape, so that they can go find and possibly rescue their parents.

Review:
This book reminded me from the first pages of the Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart (which incidentally are quite delightful). Although different in some aspects, they share the group of young people of immeasurable intelligence, all with their own skill to bring to the task at hand. Fans of the Mysterious Benedict Society should read this now! Non-fans should read both!

Every chapter title begins with a title and then an alternative title, just like book does. Part of me thinks that using this device in modern books is a bit pompous, but another part thinks that it's really awesome, so... Anyway, this method does work pretty well, given the historical fiction setting (late nineteenth century). Watch out for the cameo by some historical figures; it was clever and a bit unexpected.

The only weakness of the book is the nebulousness of the forces of evil. Nothing is really resolved or figured out at the end of the novel. Since this is the first in the series, this does not necessarily doom the book. The men in black are figures of menace (maybe?) throughout the book, but only sort of. There is a limit to how menacing people can be while dressed thus:

"Actually, there were two waiting carriages, one driven by a man wearing dark glasses, a black cape, and a bullfighter's hat that appeared to have actual horns coming out of either side, the other by a driver who seemed to be so short that he's have a hard time seeing over the knee guard on the coachman's seat. That said, his hat was so tall it seemed it would stretch higher than the man himself, is they were placed side by side. Like his fluffy jumper and ballooning trousers, the hat was black. His glasses, or rather goggles, were black, too." (58)

The Atomic Weight of Secrets is wonderfully written and a joy to read. It's in stores and libraries now, so look for it! I will be waiting impatiently for book two.

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Top Ten Wednesday: Top Ten Books That Made Me Want to Stab My Eyes Out Rather Than Finish

These are the books that I hated more than anything else I have ever read. They were almost physically painful to read and, from my view, lacked any positive qualities. The main problem in choosing the list is the books I had to leave off. Most books have at least a couple things that were enjoyable, but not these. Since I was restricted to 10 titles, but had eleven I wanted to include, here is a dishonorable mention for Uncle Tom's Cabin. I know the book is of great historical importance (it is actually for this reason that I spared it a place in the top ten), but I found it slow, boring and preachy.

Most of these are books I had to read for school or I probably would have stopped after a few pages or never picked it up.

10. Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Another class book. This one was for a Modern America history course, in which we read some pop culture stuff to get a sense of the times. Less Than Zero, Ellis' first novel, is the story of privileged white kids who ruin their lives because they're bored. They're all addicted to drugs, alcoholics and make unwise sexual decisions. Meanwhile, they remain really whiny. Ugh. Yes, it sucks that your parents neglected you, but I lost all sympathy for you when you reacted this way.

9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild was mandatory reading for August Experience at Hanover for all incoming freshmen. Chump that I was, all excited about college, I read the whole damn book. I hated it. To begin with, reading about mountain climbing just is not my thing. I am not a sporty person and prefer flights of fancy to doing a lot of work to see the view from the top of a mountain. Chris McCandless was an idiot, as I think most readers of a biography about him discover. He went hiking in dangerous areas without telling anyone where he was going. So he died. End of story.

Except not really, because Krakauer, a hiker/mountain climber himself, cannot resist injecting himself into the story. He admires McCandless it seems (how?) and wishes to be like him some day. One interlude was about how one day Krakauer did something stupid while sleeping on the side of a mountain and nearly died and how that was awesome. Spare me.

8. The Bar Sinister/Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll

I have a slight Jane Austen obsession, one which induces me to read as much of the published fan fiction as I can get my hands on. This has led to many rather unfortunate reads, which I doubt Jane would be particularly pleased to have inspired. Even amongst the often torrid, overblown and terribly written spinoffs, Berdoll's stands out as the worst of any I have as yet encountered. Presumably she must have admired Austen's novel and characters to endeavor to write a continuation for Pride and Prejudice, but the book itself would seem to indicate a desire to besmirch Austen's good name. Visit my review for a detailed account of just why it was so awful. On the plus side, it was also long.

7. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

This stinker was the bane of my senior year English class. Many of the classics have met with my esteem, but I refuse to pretend something is amazing when its not. Heart of Darkness was at least mercifully short and did have some action scenes, which were at least a bit more interesting than the rest of it. Why is it on my top most-hated list? The sentences. I'm a wordy writer and have a tendency to write extremely long and complex sentences, which make up long paragraphs. I have nothing on Conrad. His sentences were pages long, his paragraphs chapter length. In order to really understand what these convoluted sentences were attempting to convey, I had to read the book out loud.

6. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

This is the first of two titles from a Countercultures course in college. Mistakenly, I believed that studying countercultures would interest me. Turns out, it felt like reading books like Less Than Zero over and over again. Only worse. While I have been tempted to try to read all of the books from 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die, I never will, both because they thought this book deserved a place on the list and because I would have to read Tropic of Capricorn too. No way.

5. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

You may already have guessed that this is the other counterculture course book to make the list. With such a provocative title, I had actually been interested in seeing what it was about. I suspect Burroughs had some good points to make, but I was so grossed out by some scenes and confused by others that I was not able to garner anything but a serious distaste for the book. What makes this worse than Tropic of Cancer is how hard to follow it is.

4. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Having received a glowing recommendation of this from a friend whose opinion I respect and generally agree with, I set out on this literary foray voluntarily and with hope. Which was pretty quickly crushed. I hated this book from chapter one. However, stopping was not an option, as I had purchased a used copy. (I think if I spent money on a book, I should buckle down and read it; this is an attempt to force myself to use my money wisely). Getting through this took me months, because I would read a chapter here and there. There is no way I could have taken this straight through. It never got better. The high point (aka nadir of the awfulness) was when Jude's children overhear how poor the family is and kill themselves to spare their parents. Lovely, right? Honestly, I don't like kids much and I'm pissed.

3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Plath's novel was both for school and self-inflicted. I chose it off a summer reading list, for some reason suspecting that I would enjoy it. I emphatically did not. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, I cannot remember much of the book at all anymore and cannot rant properly. To do so, I would need to reread the book, which, you may have guessed, so will not be happening.

2.
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Required reading for my YA course during grad school. Stories about how hard people's lives have been really are not my thing. Normally, I would never have picked this up (or Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, which we read at the same time, although I liked that one better). Of course, her life stopped being hard when she got married; she talked about how nice her apartment was and yet couldn't help her parents. Yeah, I know mom and dad wanted to live on the street, but clearly they're insane, so maybe you should do something about that. Part of what makes me so angry about this, besides how much I disliked reading it (this one too was a long, slow slog), is how incredibly popular it is. Why do people love it so? I really do not understand the appeal.

1. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor

Thankfully, I have blocked most of the short stories from my memory by this point. All I remember for sure was that I hated it with the fire of every star in the universe. Coincidentally, I also hated the ex-cheerleader, favoritist (Christians and females got higher grades, the former of which got me into trouble) teacher of AP Language. The stories were Southern, depressing and soaked in Christian references I either couldn't understand or didn't like. Seeing the book cover (how dare it have such an appealing facade?) or hearing O'Connor's name still makes me incredibly angry.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm a Fool - Stay

Very! Very! Sweet

Authors: JiSang Shin, Geo
Volumes: 8
Publisher: Yen Press

Brief Summary:

This series centers around a half-Japanese, half-Korean boy who has been sent to Korea to learn about that side of himself. Right away, he meets his neighbor Be-Ri. They do not hit it off at first, but end up becoming close simply for proximity's sake. The plot focuses on the romances of these two, their friends and family.

Review:
For a manhwa, Very! Very! Sweet has a tame plot. Manhwa seems, to me at least, to veer off on insane flights of fancy more so than manga. Well, maybe not more, but the situations always seem even weirder. One of the series I am reading, the heroine's sidekick is a cactus that can talk, has a girl's name (Beatrice), and changes into a boy once a month. Huh?! How did someone make that up? And, more importantly, why? Anyway, that was a long way of saying that this series doesn't do that.

This is fairly typical shoujo fare. It was pretty cute and kept me engaged fairly well. Unlike a lot of manga series, this one did not seem to carry on unnecessarily. The ending did not quite flush out all of the story elements I would have liked to see wrapped up, which was somewhat irritating. Most notable were the two cats, Gu-Nyang and Doki. They're pretty cute, although I do not care much for the art style used for Gu-Nyang. Still, I adore cats, and the authors seem to have captured cat behavior really well.

If you really like shoujo, then this one is worth reading, but I only recommend it to hardcore fans. There is better stuff out there.

"I’m even sorry that these words are so late
But I’m waiting here for you shamelessly

Will you by chance come back tomorrow?
"

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Bird on a Wire - Rogue Wave

The 10 P.M. Question

Author: Kate De Goldi
Pages: 245
Publisher: Candlewick Press

Brief Summary:
Frankie worries about pretty much everything. It's in his nature, he thinks (and worries about that). But his family, close though they may be, is not helping things. His sister, Gordana, has been mean for ages, snapping at anyone who approaches her and calling Frankie a freak. His brother, Louie, has moved out the house and steals all the change (which Frankie needs for bus fare) when he comes back home. His dad, Uncle George, is busy all the time. His aunts are very large. His new best friend (not his girlfriend!) Sydney could be moving away again at any time. He has a rash, which could signal some incredibly dangerous illness. And, worst of all, his mother has a problem no one will even speak out loud about.

Review:
I love love loved this book. Frankie is such an awesome narrator. He is young, which usually loses my interest, but incredibly clever and real. Being a worrier myself, I totally found myself rooting for him and hoping he would find a way to deal. The lists that he makes to calm himself down are something I can relate to as well. My lists aren't mental like his, but I do compulsively keep track of certain things (mostly to do with reading). I also sometimes write lists just for the sheer pleasure and soothingness of creating them.

Frankie is not the only character who is well-drawn. The whole cast feels completely real and full of life, from the big fat aunts to the dad called Uncle George by everyone (even though he's not an uncle) to the family cat (The Fat Controller) to the teacher at Frankie's school. Everyone has their own crazy quirks and I could connect with them all.

Part of the reason the story is so successful, despite having a rather contemplative plot, is the focus on the relationships between family and friends. De Goldi has captured how a family can be full of love and still be dysfunctional. While the story does have a bit of an overarching plot, it's not really what you think it is at the beginning and the resolution isn't momentous. This is a story of Frankie's personal journey to learn to understand himself and his family.

Everyone should read this. It is absolutely delightful! Fans of A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time should definitely check this out.

P.S. The song isn't quite perfect, but I couldn't pass up these lyrics, although Frankie was geriatric in his early teens. :-p

"Geriatric at 20 years old
Break like a matchstick as soon as you're told
You're a bird on a wire
And you're wrestling
No station is final"

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Monday, March 21, 2011

ABC - The Jackson 5

Z Is for Zombie:
An Illustrated Guide to the End of the World


Author: Adam-Troy Castro
Illustrator: Johnny Atomic
Pages: 64
ARC Acquired From: HarperCollins via NetGalley

I nabbed this title from NetGalley because I enjoy reading about zombies. Much to my surprise (guess who could have done more research!), I discovered that Z Is for Zombie is (as I maybe should have guessed from the title) an alphabet book. Writing an alphabet book of this nature was certainly an...interesting choice. I can't help but wonder how many adults read alphabet books, even ones with clever page long explanations of each letter's word or phrase.

The writing is pretty hilarious. Certainly worth the few minutes it takes to read through the whole book. There is the standard cheating with certain letters (X, you jerk), but it's done pretty well overall. The best heading of all was "O Is for Omigod Omigod Oh Jesus Get It off Me Get It off Me Get It...Aaaarrrrgggh." Yeah! The art that accompanied the amusing anecdotes, however, did not appeal to me. The pictures are gruesome, but that was to be expected. The problem is that most of them looked cheap, as though they didn't take much time or use many graphic design skills to knock out those bad boys.

Conclusion: This could be an excellent gag gift/stocking stuffer/book to read while waiting in line at the Barnes and Noble.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

This Love Affair - Rufus Wainwright

In Office Hours

Author: Lucy Kellaway
Pages: 255
ARC Acquired From: Hachette Book Group via NetGalley

Stella is in her mid-forties, happily married with two children, and seriously successful at work. She is the only female executive at AE, a big oil company. Bella is in her late twenties/early thirties, a single mom, and works as a personal assistant (also at AE). Bella's boss, Julia, is fired because she had an affair with another man at the company. The story is told alternatively from both of their perspectives. The similarity in their names seems unnecessary in the context and leads largely to confusion; it's not like the parallels between their lives would have been difficult to see without this connection.

I expected this to be a chick lit novel about office romance. Although chick lit has not been my genre of choice for a number of years, a good one here and there can be quite enjoyable. Office romances are a bad idea in general, but it's not like they don't happen. Still, this could have been a different book.

This novel seems to suggest three things.
  1. Adultery happens. A lot. At least, if you're high-powered in a company.
  2. Age gaps are hot. Successful women will date younger men and successful men will date younger women.
  3. Women cannot focus on work in the midst of an affair, but men can.
The last of the three is the one that really pisses me off. During Stella's affair with her subordinate, he still manages to get his job done, but she mentions many times how little she cares about work compared to her trysts. She constantly skives off work for a rendezvous and is extremely non-productive. Despite that, she gets promoted and receives accolades for her excellent performance. Is this because even when half-mad with obsession she does amazing work or because the standards for female employees are lower and no one notices? Meanwhile, Bella seems to do very little, as her position was created so she can stay in the department with her cheating boss. She constantly invents reasons to go to his office and sends whiny text messages wondering why he is cold to her at the office.

Bella and Stella both obsess about their men constantly. The men certainly seem interested too, but are they really agonizing over whether a text message ends with an x? I just could not deal with how childish and absurd all of the people in this book were.

"I don't know where I'm going
But I do know that I'm walking
Where?
I don't know
Just away from this love affair"

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shankill Butchers - The Decemberists

Battle Royale

Author: Koushun Takami
Pages: 617
Publisher: VIZ Media
Brief Summary:
In this alternative, dystopian history, most of Asia has been taken over by a crazy Dictator. Every year, third year junior high students (one class from each prefecture) are selected to take part in the Program. This year, Shuya Nanahara's class has been selected. Now, they have to kill one another. Forty two students left for a class trip and woke up in a classroom on an island. Only one may leave...alive.

Review:
Before there was The Hunger Games, there was Battle Royale, published in 1999. Having read and enjoyed Suzanne Collins' series, I really wanted to read this book to see just how similar they actually were. Certainly, she must have found some inspiration in this story; it seems unlikely that elements of her story are so similar without some familiarity with Battle Royale.

The Similarities:
  • Dictatorship running a rather stupid Program to prevent its people from getting uppity.
  • A character who has been through the game before, won and had to go back.
  • Hesitant romance between main characters.
  • Zones that become unsafe to force characters into conflict, rather than just hiding.
  • Announcements on a regular schedule revealing who has died.
  • The victor receives a more comfortable life and TV coverage after the Program ends.
The Differences:
  • Battle Royale is perhaps even more violent. The kids here get a whole lot of guns and there are almost double the number of kids that have to die.
  • Since they are fighting classmates, the kids know everyone, rather than just one other person.
  • There is no way to volunteer to go in someone else's place. If your class is chosen, you're screwed.
  • Battle Royale has a less clear ending.
  • Battle Royale follows all of the characters, not just one, so you know what is going through everyone's minds.
  • In The Hunger Games, you are eligible to participate from 12-18. In Battle Royale, you are eligible only when you are in the third year of junior high (equivalent to a high school freshman in the U.S.).
Battle Royale was definitely an interesting read. And I enjoyed it, in the way one can enjoy something as grisly and macabre as books about young folks killing one another at the behest of a scary government. The story was great. Unfortunately, the writing is not. What I don't know is whether it is as poorly written (seriously grammatically incorrect and awkward sentence structure) in Japanese or if it was poorly translated. The copy of the book I have is the first American edition I believe, so maybe the newer one has been better edited? I don't really know, but definitely watch out for that.

Hunger Games fans should not miss this. Next up for me: watching the live action movie.

"They used to be just like me and you
They used to be sweet little boys
But something went horribly askew"

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Top Ten Wednesday: Top Ten Book Characters I Would Love to Punch in the Face

I'm starting something new: Top Ten Wednesday. These lists will mostly be quite silly, although I will do some more staid ones (like favorites and so on, because I love talking up awesome pop cultural things). The lists can be about anything I want, and that may not just be books (warning: it will not just be books).

The contents of this list are, as with all lists I make, completely subjective and based on my rather unfortunate memory. These are the characters who irritated me so much, I still remember them. I have delivered rants about them to unfortunate friends. Interestingly, most of them are characters you are supposed to like.

So without further ado, let the countdown begin!

10. Alaska/Margo from Looking for Alaska/Paper Towns

Technically, this is cheating. I know. Those are two separate characters from two different books by John Green. However, I combine them, because they sure felt like the same character. Both Alaska and Margo are interestingly named, gorgeous, mysterious girls, who are wanted by pretty much every guy in school. You hate them already right? I have read Looking for Alaska twice and Paper Towns once, and hated both characters all the way through. They're great books, but would be even better if I could sympathize with the main character for his obsession with these self destructive girls.


You never forget the crazy ones.

9. Mary from The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves

I disliked Mary from the start of the first book, but what really cemented her on the list of characters most deserving a beat-down was book two. *Spoiler Alert* In the first book, you have to sit through all of her whining about how much she wants the younger brother; then, she gets him and you have to sit through all of her whining about how she's bored of him. Realistic? Perhaps. Fun reading? Not in the least. Along comes book two, which stars Mary's daughter (who is just as frustrating as Mary). In this one, Mary is now back with the older brother. What the hell? I am so glad I sat through all of the earlier whining.

8. Cho Chang from the Harry Potter Series.

I love Harry Potter and adore many of the characters (especially the ginger twins!). Cho, however, I have wanted to toss into the branches of the Whomping Willow ever since her first appearance. Why does she make me so angry? Mostly because she really does not seem like she is worth all the drama she causes. Harry is obsessed with her for a long time, but in the scenes in which they interact, she really does not seem to have all that much character. What personality she does have seems like a sham. I never felt like she really liked Harry; she liked his fame. In my book, Cho needs to go!


I date all the cool boys.

7. Hamlet from...well, you know

Shakespeare wrote some pretty rocking plays, pretty much all of which I enjoy reading. His characters, however, can be pretty darn obnoxious. Like Hamlet. An idiotic professor in undergrad liked to call him 'a Renaissance man.' Not so much. He's not really good for anything, except for moping. He does a grade A mope. All he has to do is kill Claudius, and considering he doesn't really care about what happens to him afterward, that ought to be pretty damn simple. And yet, it's not. Someone get that procrastinator some Nikes.

6. Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre

Some crazy people want to argue that Rochester is a better hero than anyone Jane Austen devised. This is, of course, one hundred percent false. Rochester is a major creeper and an ass. His best quality is that he is not above dressing in drag to mess with people. His worst quality would be that he is a control freak truth-omitter, who likes to keep crazy wives in his attic. Also, he wants to be a bigamist. And he can only accept help from a woman, even one he purportedly loves, if he is blind. Now, that's true romance.


"Jane, make me a sandwich."

5. Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia

Yeah, I know, this is one of the most-loved characters from one of the most-loved children's series. I also know that this is allegorical Jesus (I wish I didn't). What drives me crazy about Aslan is that he never gives the kids a chance to solve their own problems. How will they stop being obnoxious themselves (particularly Lucy), if he never lets them learn from their mistakes? I, for one, am not a fan of deus ex lion.

4. Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew
Shakespeare again. Although I prefer the comedies to the tragedies and histories, I really hate The Taming of the Shrew. I have read it several times, hoping to find some hint, some clue to indicate that its not a play about a misogynist who breaks a woman's spirit the way people do to horses. Yeah, Katherine's not much fun either, but no one deserves Petruchio. The play can be done well, changing his character a bit (see John Cleese as Petruchio...), but the text itself does not indicate anything besides a whipped woman. Petruchio is a big, ugly jerk who deserves to hang out with the cast of Titus Andronicus for a while.

3. Almost Everyone from Wuthering Heights

Here are some characters you aren't supposed to like. The hardest thing to decide is which character to punch first. Whiny Linton? Violent Heathcliff? Creepy, codependent Catherine? Annoying and largely unnecessary Mr. Lockwood? Pretty much everyone in this novel is entirely awful. Props to Emily Brontë for still managing to make it a book worth reading.


They may deserve to get punched, but they don't deserve this...
Also, "love never dies?" I don't think they read this book.

2. Everyone from Jude the Obscure

Even worse than the characters from Wuthering Heights is everyone from Jude the Obscure. Most of the book is a blur now, because I promptly began trying to forget it even as I read it. From what I recall, it starts with an abusive farmer and ends with children who kill themselves for their parents. First up for punching is Jude himself, who makes awful decisions and, like the old school version of John Green's character's, can't get over Sue, a girl who is incredibly bad for him. And yet, I'm pretty sure he married someone he didn't really like, while still in love with Sue. Gah!

1. Fanny Price from Mansfield Park

Jane Austen is perhaps my favorite author of all time. Mansfield Park is one of the books I have read that enjoyed the least. Why? Fanny Price. Unlike Austen's other heroines, Fanny lacks spirit of any kind. She simply wants to be a good Christian girl and marry her cousin. Sure that was common back in the day, but at least be sassy while you're being incestuous. Is that too much to ask? All through the book, Fanny gets treated like crap and does absolutely nothing about it. Because she is a good girl. Screw that. I like my heroines with backbone. For what Mansfield Park should have been, see the movie version, in which Fanny is spunky.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Endless Love - Glee

Afterlife
Evernight, Book 4

Author: Claudia Gray
Pages: 246
Publisher: HarperCollins

Oh my goodness, the sappiness and cheesiness that comprise these books! They have always been this way, but I think they have been getting worse as they have gone along. I laughed out loud several times at the 'romantic' scenes. Are you wondering, why does she keep reading the Evernight series if she thinks it's so bad? Well, I really can't say. Once I read the first two books in a series, I generally feel compelled to finish (although I gave up on the House of Night books by the Casts). Besides that, my only other reason is that I make bad choices sometimes.

Okay, so I'm assuming that if you're reading this review, you either have already read the previous books and are acquainted with the plot or that you have no intention of ever reading them, so don't care about spoilers. At the opening of the novel, Bianca and Lucas are both dead; she's a wraith and he's a vampire. But (big surprise) being dead cannot stop their love (seriously, I'm so moved), as they keep reminding one another every three pages.

Of course, maybe they don't love each other as much in this situation. There is that human girl that Lucas befriended. Could just be me, but, had events transpired differently, I could imagine them getting along really well, if you catch my drift. Besides, Bianca said this: "It wasn't that I loved him any less for being dead—how could I?—but I knew that his life was something I loved about Lucas, and it was gone" (89). Really? I'm buying it. You don't love him less; you just loved him more before. That makes perfect sense. This is true love that lasts forever folks.

Best moment of the book, in my humble opinion, resulted from some poor editing. The final chapter begins with this awesome sentence: "I flashed myself to the small group of people huddled around Lucas's fallen form" (231). I assume that this is supposed to refer to some form of ghostly transportation method. However, what it actually says is that Bianca took off her ghostly jammies and gave everyone a little peek after the big battle. How awesome is that?

"My love,
There's only you in my life

The only thing that's right

My first love,

You're every breath that I take

You're every step I make


And I

I want to share
All my love with you

No one else will do...


And your eyes

Your eyes, your eyes

They tell me how much you care

Ooh yes, you will always be

My endless love"

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Farmer's Frolic - Gaelic Storm

Home to Woefield

Author: Susan Juby
Pages: 315
ARC Acquired From: HarperCollins via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Prudence wants to save the world from carbon emissions and global warming. She recycles and only eats organic food; she puts up solar panels (or has her boyfriend do it). The boyfriend is not as much into the green thing; in fact, it drives him crazy. After he leaves, Prudence learns that her uncle has passed on and left her his farm. Clearly, this is fate. She will go out to a beautiful farm and have a booming organic farm going before a few months are up. Of course, she's never seen Woefield, which is falling apart, has rocky soil and is already in debt. Her eccentric help might even make things more difficult: Earl, the gruff farm hand, Seth, an alcoholic with an allergy to work and sunlight, and Sara, a young girl obsessed with chickens and the rapture.

Review:
Home to Woefield is the story of a ragtag group of crazy folks trying to figure out how best to live their lives. The story is told from the perspectives of all four of the people who come to view Woefield as home. Juby really made each voice sound unique. A lot of authors try to use multiple perspectives and fail, because each character sounds exactly the same, but not Juby. She also made me feel interest in each of the people, even though, when I think about it, I didn't particularly like any of them all that much. That takes talent.

The group's misadventures are definitely humorous. Four people who know nothing about sheep trying to take care of a depressed one can result in some serious hijinks. That poor sheep. Of course, there's also Alec Baldwin the rooster (seriously, if Alec Baldwin were a rooster, this is how he would be...don't tell me you're not intrigued).

This is a quick, fun read. Juby does the group of misfits plot perfectly. Home to Woefield came out this week, so check for it at your local bookstore or library.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Tired of Waiting for You - The Kinks

Drought

Author: Pam Bachorz
Pages: 386
Publisher: Egmont

Brief Summary:
Ruby is in no way your average 17 year old girl. This is perhaps most obvious in the fact that she is actually 200. She and her mother and the rest of the Congregation have all lived for centuries. Ruby's father, Otto, led them and gave them long life through the power of his blood, but then he left. In his absence, they have been forced into servitude, made to gather Water so that others may share in the magic. They lied though about what turns water into Water; Darwin West, the man who enslaves them, does not know that there is Water only because Ruby drops some of her blood into it. Like her father's, Ruby's blood has amazing healing powers. Only they may not be strong enough to rescue the Congregation from Darwin West. And Ruby is starting to suspect that her father may never return to save them.

Review:
Drought is a really strange book. Partly because I thought it was going to be a dystopia, which it did seem to be for a while, but then it turned out to be something else. I would not have picked up on the point of the story at all, if not for an observation by one of the characters; I would discuss it, because it's an interesting theme, but the reveal is a part of what makes the story interesting, so I won't. Suffice it to say that it is covering fairly new ground in teen lit.

The story is fairly slow moving without much real action; the characters spend much of the book gathering water and getting beatings. While a whipping may sound like action, it felt more like drudgery, because it happened to the Congregants most every day. Just because the book is slow doesn't mean it was hard to get through; it actually flowed along at a slow pace, like a sluggish river.

The characters were a bit of a weak point. Ruby was definitely most likable, which is good since you see from her perspective. I couldn't get caught up in her romance or her worries about the Congregation though, because I did not see why either one really deserved such devotion.

Religious themes are hugely important to the plot of this novel. The Congregation is so named because they all worship together. They worship Otto, their savior who promised to return (sound somewhat familiar?). They believe in him because of the miracles he performed (now?). A couple of clever things are done with this, such as the scene where Ruby and her love interest both insult one another's beliefs: she his in the Holy Trinity and he hers in Otto.

Overall, I really do not know how I feel about this book. It was just so strange! For that reason alone, I think I am happy to have read it, because it is definitely walking some fresh ground. My plans to read Candor, Bachorz' other book have not changed; this book was well-written enough and interesting enough to earn her another try.

"I'm so tired
Tired of waiting
Tired of waiting for you

I was a lonely soul
I had nobody till I met you
But you keep-a me waiting
All of the time
What can I do? "

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Ramona - Guster

Scott Pilgrim

Author: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Volumes: 6
Publisher: Oni Press, Inc.

Brief Summary:
Scott Pilgrim is 23 and his life is not going anywhere. If anything, he's regressing, what with dating a high schooler and all (super shady times). He's in a band that's really probably likely not very good, has no job and shares a super crappy and tiny apartment with his gay friend Wallace (pretty much the only smaller and crappier apartment I have seen is the one I lived in last year in Pittsburgh). Scott starts seeing a new girl, Ramona Flowers, everywhere and he wants her real bad, so much so that he kind of forgets he has an awkward high school girlfriend. Oops. Well, he gets Ramona, but there's a price (a bigger one than the awkward breakup with Knives Chau (high schooler): he has to defeat her seven evil exes. Wah wah.

Review:
Most of you are probably familiar with Scott Pilgrim already from the movie that came out last year. I watched it with two of my good friends and it was pretty great. I highly recommend it to delightful, nerdy folk. The movie made me want to try the graphic novels again, which I confess I had not liked initially. My first attempt only made it through the first volume, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life. I just didn't get why it was funny. Sad, but true. Then the movie made it clear; the jokes are mostly from video games. This is a key thing to know.

With that knowledge in hand, I re-embarked on a journey through the six volumes of Scott Pilgrim's rather intense/forgetful courtship of Ramona Flowers. The series is really funny, although not at all points. I love a lot of the little things thrown in on the side. For example, at one point in the final volume, Wallace Wells says "J'accuse!*" to Scott and the footnote reads "*frenched." This is one of many such awesome things that made me laugh out loud.

The story line never really engaged me that much though. Scott and Ramona really aren't very likable people, so I didn't care too much about the progression of their relationship. I guess I wanted them to win, but mostly just because the 'evil' folks were so obnoxious that I couldn't stand them winning. However, Scott and Ramona are not the only characters, and some of the supporting cast are freaking awesome. My favorites were Wallace Wells and Kim Pine, who are fantastic in totally different ways. I expected to like Knives Chau (who was pretty awesome in the movie version), but she was super lame and whiny and overly into a loser like Scott.

I really loved how realistic the friendships between a lot of the characters felt (not the evil exes stuff, but just the kids hanging around town). They really seemed to interact like aimless people on the edge of adulthood might. I also want to praise this series for not being heteronormative. Both gays and lesbians can be found here. This is a thing I really love to find in fiction, so props to O'Malley.

I highly recommend this. It's a fun, super nerdy read.

"Why'd you have to be so nice?
A wink and a girlish smile
And why'd you have to punch my eye?
That was something
but I still want you to stay
When I was younger and thought of myself
I never dreamed I'd become like this
A snap of your fingers,
and end to the arguments
Anything for you, love"

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ashes to the Wind/Roux Returns - Rachel Portman

The Vespertine
The Vespertine, Book 1

Author: Saundra Mitchell
Pages: 293
ARC Acquired From: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Amelia lived a rather boring, country life in Maine until she was sent to spend a season with cousins in Baltimore. During this time, she was intended to meet a man of good station and get married. What she did instead was discover that she sees visions of the future, become famous/infamous for the former thing around Baltimore, behave rather indecently with a man who would not be a good marriageable prospect and ruin her reputation. Drama, drama, drama.

Review:
The Vespertine is one of those books that I cannot decide whether or not I liked it overall. I really thought the premise was interesting. I have always had a soft spot for high society/season things (I even made it through Godbersen's Luxe series). Plus, there's the magic element, which came off with a hint of magic realism (super cool). Still, there were other aspects that were less well done or just not fully used.

For instance, the opening chapter is pretty astounding. Amelia is shut up in a room for having brought shame upon herself and the family. Locked up by her own family. With that and the period piece element, I was thinking back on Wildthorn, although the books really are quite different. This chapter grabs the reader's attention and takes a powerful hold. You want to know all the gritty and dirty details about what Amelia has done. But that atmosphere never really comes back again.

What bugged me the most was how much like a trashy romance novel the story was at times (okay, only when Amelia is with her boy). Seriously, the dialog and descriptions would not be out of place in the latest Judith McNaught book. Plus, I never really got to liking Nathaniel (that's his name). Or mostly I just couldn't take him seriously, because he's such a stereotypical flirty bad boy leading her down a bad path in his introduction. Then, you get a description of him on a usual day: "His coat was cut in green and gold tartan, and he'd pinned the pocket with a nosegay of tangerine silk" (73). Yikes! That's some color combo.

The Vespertine makes a nice change from some of the more typical teen fare. Some important issues are brought up, along with magic, love, romance and ruination. Not for everyone, but some will enjoy this late nineteenth century romp.

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Who I Am Hates Who I've Been - Relient K

Here Lies Bridget

Author:
Paige Harbison
Pages: 219
ARC Acquired From: Harlequin Teen via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Bridget Duke is the queen bee of her high school. She has pretty much everything she wants, except for her mother (who died), her boyfriend (who broke up with her) and her father (who's a popular sports announcer and rarely home). Still, she has friends, a nice house, throws great parties and is totally hot and idolized by everyone. Everything starts going downhill though when a new girl arrives at school. The new girl is a genuinely sweet person and everyone likes her better. And of course once one thing goes wrong, other things tend to follow until your whole life is completely ruined and maybe even over.

Review:
The opening section of Here Lies Bridget is definitely an attention grabber. Bridget is driving recklessly, thinking of how everyone might react should she die. Awful and sad those these sentiments are, they are all the more powerful for being something most high schoolers can relate to (although many probably don't act on their macabre fantasies). The second chapter goes back to explain what brought Bridget, the most notorious girl in school to the contemplation of suicide. The framework definitely sucks the reader into the plot, curious to find out what exactly she did.

About at the halfway point, the plot catches up to the opening and the real point of the story arrives. Bridget, through some aspect of the crash, ends up in some place where she is being judged for her ways in a very Christmas Carol-y way. Only, she just goes to the past and sees her behavior through the eyes of others. This part was pretty cool and did a good job of getting the point across without taking too much time or repetition. The plot is entirely straight forward, but still nifty.

The fantasy aspect of the story was definitely my favorite, but I am a bit confused/puzzled/stymied/bothered by what happened. It just doesn't make sense. What in the world transpired here? I think that perhaps some additional pages spent in the denouement might have helped. The ending was rather abrupt, at least in the galley version which I read.

This is a good, super quick read. The story is predictable, but a good message and not like many of the other books I have read recently. If you're looking for something quick, fun and a little bit quirky, give this a try!

"Stop right there.
That's exactly where I lost it.

See that line.
Well I never should have crossed it.

Stop right there.
Well I never should have said

That it's the very moment that
I wish that I could take back.

I'm sorry for the person I became.

I'm sorry that it took so long for me to change.

I'm ready to be sure I never become that way again

'Cause who I am hates who I've been.

Who I am hates who I've been."

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gateway - The Seatbelts

Inside Out
Insider, Book 1

Author: Maria V. Snyder
Pages: 315
Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Brief Summary:
The scrubs have it rough. They work strenuous, boring jobs in 10 hour shifts. The food is slop (and not only that but the same slop over and over). There is no personal space. Trella escapes this cramped lifestyle by mostly remaining in the pipes, which she cleans as her profession. She explores every inch of Inside and knows it better than anyone, earning her the nickname Queen of the Pipes. This moniker also references her somewhat haughty and distant attitude. She has one friend, Cog, a guy full of hope that Gateway, the way to Outside really exists. When the next in a succession of prophets claims he can find the answer, Trella does not believe him, but decides to fetch the discs he hid to prove him a fraud. Only...he might not be.

Review:
Trella made a pretty good main character for me. She is not really the heroine sort, but she was someone I could very much identify with and understand the motivations of. She is one of the least trusting people and quite antisocial. Quite unexpectedly, she finds herself the leader of a revolution, someone people look up to and help in any way possible. The attention and the role are not something she relishes, but something she must learn how to deal with.

It was really awesome to watch her grow a little bit as a person throughout the book. Although I liked her growth, I also appreciated the plodding nature of it. Some characters change so fast in novels right at the very end; this change is much more natural and complete with setbacks. As a result of Trella's self-absorption, none of the other characters is all that well flushed out. Still, I think that is acceptable in the circumstances. And I do want to see more of some of the characters.

The dystopian society was pretty interesting, especially in the construction of the hierarchy. I don't really want to give anything away, but it definitely makes you think about the impressions one has of the lives of others. The grass is always greener, huh? Except that they're inside, so there really isn't all that much grass anywhere, but you get my point.

What impressed me the most about Inside Out was that I totally did not see the ending coming. Any of it, really. Snyder did a really good job of coming to an interesting and believable conclusion without doing the obvious. I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book, Outside In.

Check out this review from the author:

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