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A Reader of Fictions: May 2011

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Awakening - Switchfoot

Those That Wake

Author: Jesse Karp
Pages: 329
ARC Acquired from: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
In a future where people use their cell phones for everything and New Yorkers live in fear of terrorist attack, five people discover something they were not supposed to. They are then kidnapped and realize the depth and danger of their current situation. They will only have each other to rely on, since no one else remembers that they exist, except, of course, for the enemy.

This was one weird book. I mean, seriously odd. I was all disposed to like it, what with it being a dystopia and one of the main characters being named Mal (yay for Firefly and Nathan Fillion). Within a few chapters, things started getting strange.

To start with, there is all this stuff about technology, somewhat reminiscent of Awaken, in how dependent people are on television screens and cell phones. Okay, got it. There are also terrorists, apparently, who did something terrible to NYC during the big black. There is the overly strenuous security, always there to hassle you when you're not doing anything wrong, but not there to protect you when you're in trouble. There's the mysterious building that most people can't see that has lots of hallways with doors and a scary button for the top floor. There is also some sort of hyper advertising evil that's endangering the world.

As you can tell, there's a lot happening here, and it really does not come together well. Individually, I like some of what's happening in this novel, but, thrown together, it's just one confusing hodge podge of fighting interspersed with some speeches on one evil or another. Oh yeah, the fighting. There is so much of it in this book. Mal is always punching someone and the descriptions are not always pleasant.

I really just don't know what this book wanted to be. The characterization and plotting both fell completely flat. The writing wasn't awful, but definitely wasn't stellar. This definitely does not rank high for me. People who enjoy violent and frustratingly confusing dystopias (ala James Dashner's trilogy) might enjoy Those That Wake, but it's definitely not for me.

"I want to wake up kicking and screaming
I want to live like I know what I'm leaving
I want to know that my heart's still beating
It's beating... it's beating...
I'm bleeding"

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The Dance - Rachel Portman


Author: Heather Dixon
Pages: 472
Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Brief Summary:
On the night of the Christmas ball, Azalea becomes the oldest of twelve princesses and loses her mother all in one fell swoop. The Queen taught them to love dancing and really held the family together. The King withdraws, unable to look at their faces so similar to their mother's. The girls, rejected and unable to deal with the restriction on dancing during the mourning period, discover a secret magic passageway in the castle. They go their every night to dance in the domain of the magical Keeper, who they at first find to be kind and handsome. As time passes by, they begin to suspect that their secret hideout may ultimately be more of a curse than a blessing.

I love fairy tales, retellings or originals, so I always give new ones a try when I hear of them. Entwined caught my eye because of the cover, but when I heard it was a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, I knew I had to read it.

However, The Twelve Dancing Princesses is not my favorite fairy tale, even though I don't think I've actually read it. About a year ago, I read an adaptation of it, The Princess of the Midnight Ball, and pretty much hated it. Not having read the original story, it's hard not to judge the story overall. Anyway, I determined to read this anyway and hoped it would be better.

The first 200-300 pages felt much the same and I did not like them. I think the difficulty is that the sisters are so freaking obsessed with dancing; they care about it more than anything else in the world, so they really come off as airheads. Dixon tries to lesson that by making them poor princesses who have to mend their own shoes, but they have such one-track minds that I cannot see any of them as real people.

Although the end of the book definitely got better and became rather engaging, I never felt like most of the characters showed any real depth, except, ironically, for Lord Teddie, who I thought was absolutely ripping! They were all defined by one or two characteristics and that was all. However, the matches formed at the end are still super cute, so I enjoyed it, even if the characters are flat.

All in all, I am glad I read it, but I think The Twelve Dancing Princesses may have fallen even farther in my esteem. I definitely think Entwined could have been shorter and better done, but if you love dancing and cute pairings, you'll likely enjoy it. Although I definitely had some serious misgivings about this, I think I would be willing to try something else by Dixon before writing her off. For additional insight, check out Nori's review!

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Past in Present - Feist

NG Life

Author: Mizuho Kusanagi
Volumes: 9
Publisher: Tokyopop

Brief Summary:
Keidai Saeki is not your average high schooler. He's attractive, athletic, klutzy and popular. Oh yeah, and he remembers his past life. When he was a gladiator in Pompeii during the period before the explosion of the volcano. He's not the only one from then to be reborn in Japan. His little sister and arch rival are his parents. His best friend, Loleus, is still his best friend, although she's now a girl, Serizawa. He has been looking his whole life for his love, Serena, who he knows must have been reborn here as well. He finally finds her, only to learn that she is now a boy named Yuuma. Will he go gay for his past life love?

NG Life is one of the more original and weird mangas I have read, which is saying something, as anyone who reads manga knows. Certainly, I have read stranger things, but generally only online, the things that would never get published here because they are off the wall batty and creepy. Anywho, I was skeptical and still am about some of the aspects of the past lives thing (particularly that they were all reborn together in Japan), but I do find the idea of past lives fascinating, so I was willing to overlook it.

My favorite thing about this series, the thing that frequently made me chuckle, was the gender-benderness of it. There is a love triangle between Yuuma (who likes Serizawa), Serizawa (who likes Saeki) and Saeki (who likes Yuuma/Serena). No matter which of them Saeki ends up with, he'll be going gay a little bit, which I think is hilarious. Serizawa was a dude with his past self and his love from before is a dude now. I just love that. I also really loved Smyrna/Shinogu, who was totally a lesbian when living back in Pompeii (although that side story at the end of volume 9 was not okay at all...Serena needs to let Smyrna be).

If you read this be prepared for over the top ridiculousness (although that's the case with a lot of manga). Also, be ready for a lot of slapstick humor. The series often made me chuckle, although it did sometimes me make me angry, too. If you're into past lives, gender bending and comedy, this is definitely a series worth checking out.

"Feeling it from dark to bright
When a wrong becomes a right
When a mountain fills with light
It's a volcano, it's a volcano
It's a volcano, it's a volcano

So much present, inside my present
Inside my present
So, so much past

Inside my present, inside my present
Inside my present
So, so much past"

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The Phantom of the Opera - Gerard Butler & Emmy Rossum

Mercy, Book 1

Rebecca Lim
ARC Acquired from: Hyperion via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Mercy, or so she calls herself, borrows other people's bodies for a while. She has no control over what body she will be in, how long she will be there. Nor does she have any of the body's memories or many of her own. She can remember the last few bodies and lives she had, but that's it, except for the sexy mystery man, Luc, in her dreams. Her newest body belongs to Carmen, a tiny girl with a a giant soprano voice. Carmen has just traveled to Paradise with her school's chorus, where they will practice for a big performance while staying with local families. Carmen gets placed with a family whose own soprano daughter was taken two years ago, now presumed dead by all but her twin brother, Ryan. Carmen/Mercy decides to help him hunt for his sister, even though Luc is telling her not to. What is Mercy? What happened to Lauren?

Mercy definitely was not what I was expecting. My expectation was that it would be another of the paranormal fantasy wave, something about angels, judging from the girl on the cover. While the paranormal stuff is there, it's mostly just an afterthought, though. What this book is, more than anything else, is a mystery. It is about the search for Lauren and her captor and/or killer.

It was so much about that actually that the paranormal gifts that helped Mercy accomplish everything seemed like a bit of a cop out. She can read people by touching them and has powers appear to help her out of tough scrapes.

As for the characters, I do rather like Mercy. She's brash and strong, says what she thinks, even when it's inappropriate. It should come as no surprise that I like that in a heroine. Most of the supporting cast did not interest me at all, especially Mr. Dream Boy Luke. He can just gtfo. I am much more interested in Ryan and am really wondering whether he will make a reappearance in the series or if this will be episodic, with Mercy in a different body and dealing with different people each time.

Mysteries aren't my genre of choice, but the story did keep me reading. The novel was a bit uneven, too, but I am still curious to try the next book in the series to find out what's going on. I am also curious whether it too will be a mystery or something different.

"Sing once again with me our strange duet
My power over you grows stronger yet"

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust - Vocal Adrenaline (Glee)

The Reformed Vampire Support Group

Author: Catherine Jinks
Pages: 362
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Brief Summary:
Nina spends her nights writing fictional stories about a sexy vampire heroine, Zadia Bloodstone. She spends her days in a sleep like death in her mom's basement. Because she actually is a vampire. Unfortunately, being a vampire is not at all like being in Twilight or being Zadia Bloodstone. Mostly, you're helpless and hungry and sick all the time. Plus, Nina doesn't really like anyone else in her support group, well, except maybe for Dave. They are all united in their curse, inherited either directly or indirectly from one vampire, Casimir, and all determined not to drink from a human again. When Casimir is found dead, a little pile of dust, the group will have to find strength, motivation and liveliness they didn't know they still had.

I have been looking forward to reading this book for a while, especially so since I saw the cover for the companion novel, The Abandoned Werewolf Support Group. I expected Catherine Jinks to be really funny, and hoped that this would be a good readalike for S. G. Browne's Breathers (which deals with zombies). Very much to my disappointment, it was not.

The main problem is that Jinks goes too far in her attempt to deromanticize vampires. She wants to make them everything that's unlikable, pretty much. They're lazy, slow, stupid, boring and not attractive. Well, she succeeded in not making them Twilightish, but she also succeeded in making them not at all interesting. I didn't give a damn about any of the characters, except maybe Dave, because they were all of the things previously mentioned.

Plus, I did not much appreciate the constant references to guinea pig nomming. I mean, once, fine, but every time someone needs a little pick me up? And, here's some advice, Jinks: saying that you'll spare the audience a description of the gory happenings is the same as describing it. This is a perfect example of how something was supposed to be both funny and off-putting, but only managed the latter.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group fell completely flat. It was a struggle to read from the first pages to the last. I am not giving up on Jinks yet, but only because I already have copies of two more of her books to read. I hope, for my sake, that the others are better.

P.S. For today's song, I couldn't resist the pun about a vampire's death. Plus, the cover by Vocal Adrenaline was pretty much awful, much like this book. Good idea, oh so badly executed.

"Another one bites the dust"

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Does Anybody Even Notice? from Once More, with Feeling

Buffy Season 8, Volume 2:
No Future for You

Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Georges Jeanty
Pages: 130
Acquired From:
Dark Horse Books via NetGalley

Any fan of Buffy, or detractor actually, cannot miss the fact that all of the characters can be quite whiny. Now, while Buffy wasn't my favorite show, I did enjoy it overall, but, when everyone got all emo, it definitely got less fun. This volume is like one of those series of episodes. There are a couple of funny moments, but mostly it's complaining and sadness.

Buffy and Faith are doing their usual battle over who's more alone (a pretty easy win for Faith I should think). Of course, Faith also, when feeling alone, thinks back on the only time she felt loved, which would be when she was working with Mr. Creeper-Face Mayor. She won't take Robin's calls, even though he's all interested, but she desperately wants a friend. Okay, whatever Faith.

Willow's doing the "I miss my dead ex girlfriend" waltz, disguised as an "I am protecting my current girlfriend by keeping her from my friends" foxtrot. Not buying it, Willow. Dawn, as always, is whining, because she's still a giant who made imprudent sexual decisions. From what I here, she's got more coming, although that will be logistically difficult until she gets de-gianted.

This volume wasn't bad exactly, but it was doing a lot of setup. There are only eight volumes in the season, which will be over really quickly, so it's just frustrating to read through all the background. Still, I am totally ready for volume 3.

"Does anybody even notice?
Does anybody even care?"

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Top Ten Book Worlds I Wish I Could Have Adventures In

Or, I Want to Go to There

This week's posting emanated from a conversation I had with my bff last week. She said something about how we go on lots of adventures together and that, btw, she knows a guy. I said, "what the what?" as this did not make any sense at all. She responded, about a day later, that she knows a guy with some unicorns. Needless to say, this did not make me less confused. I asked for clarification, and eventually heard back that she meant it as a metaphorical example of our adventures. Anyway, end result was that I said I wished life were like a YA novel, so that we totally could have adventures with unicorns (although hopefully not the Diana Peterfreund kind). So, for this week's top ten list, here are the top ten book worlds (books defined as any sort of written material, for adults, children or teens) that Jordan and I would have amazing adventures in.

10. Ash/Huntress by Malinda Lo

Jordan, this one is all for you, so enjoy it. I actually haven't read this book yet (or the sequel, shown here because it has the much more interesting cover), but I had to include it. The premise is some sort of fantasy with faeries and an ass-kicking young lady. Who likes ladies. I'm guessing adventures will be had. I'll just try to keep myself entertained elsewhere (knowing that my kicks will come later in the adventures). Get it!

9. Janet Evanovich

It's pretty safe to say that this might not be Jordan's dream vacation on the surface, but Janet Evanovich's books (pretty much any) promise five things: so much laughter you'll have great abs by the time you're done, hot guys (yes!), ample quantities of delicious food, cute animals and shenanigans around every corner. This is a joint we could rock. Everyone is the kind of crazy we are, only in a world just as nuts. There is no way we would be bored during our travels through the world of Evanovich.

8. Shakespeare

Here's the second non-selfish selection. I'm gonna be honest: most of this list is for me, although I am sure Jordan would have fun. This one is totally for her more than me. Don't get me wrong, I really love a number of Shakespeare plays, but I probably wouldn't go just for me (you know those folks must smell awful). Also, we will never be able to stay for the end of the tragedies or historical plays, because we'll have to get out of Dodge. Actually, we should probably flee the comedies too, lest we wind up wedded to some poor saps. Of course, even better might be to travel with Doctor Who and go meet Shakespeare himself (but this is for books only, so this will have to do). I'll be Rosencrantz and you can be Guildenstern. Or was I Guildenstern?

7. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

Specifically, I want to go to Lyra's Oxford where everyone had a daemon, a little animal pal that was part of their soul. First of all, animals = adorable. Second of all, you'd never be alone, not that I would be, since I have a traveling companion on this particular hypothetical journey. Lastly, we'd be in England. I want to go to England so badly, but extra special England might be even better, especially if A Midsummer Night's Dream with David Tennant and Catherine Tate is showing. (Shut up with your reality; this is my fantasy, dammit, so if I say it's playing, it is!)

6. Tortall - Tamora Pierce

Like number two on this list, Tamora Pierce's novels set in Tortall are fantasy, set in a historical setting. The characters often have some sort of power or they just kick ass naturally. If that's not enough to interest you, consider the fact that in these books, female characters get lots of attractive men to choose from (after trying a number of them on for size...ahem, which they can do safely thanks to anti-baby herbs...Is anyone else offended that modern science cannot make this happen?). Jordan, while I don't know of any glbt characters in these books, I bet you can find some; you just need to find the lady in the lesbian pants. I mean, tunic? Kirtle? What did they even wear back then? This is the setting for us to have some slightly more serious epic adventures. It might be nice to learn how swordplay and archery, right? Someone's going to need to learn some survival skills!

5. The Thursday Next Series - Jasper Fforde

As two librarians on the town, what possibility could be more attractive than the prospect of being able to hang out in a novel!? This selection is so very meta. In The Eyre Affair, the first book of the series, Thursday spends much of her time in Jane Eyre. While not perhaps my first choice of a novel to visit, I want so badly to live in a world where I could venture into my favorite novels. Or have characters therefrom venture out, like Hamlet, Jordan's home slice (Edam, to be precise) Hamlet. Besides, Fforde's always hilarious, so you know we'd have a great time reading snarky footnotes and changing the endings of romance novels (just to see who notices).

4. Sarah Addison Allen

Unlike most of my other selections, Sarah Addison Allen's books are not fantasies per se. Allen makes use of magical realism to imbue our world with magic. I just adore the subtle magic of her stories, like food that can enhance emotions. I wish real life were like this. For reals. If I had to live in one of these worlds forever, this might be my top choice, well, except for number one. The 'world' of Allen's novels is like real life, only a touch better and more wondrous. Not sure how I feel about the new cover here, though.

3. X-Men

You will notice soon that my top three choices all involve having some sort of power, be it magical or evolutionary. My secret is out: I want to be super powerful! Who doesn't want at least one of these powers? The X-Men are my favorite of the comic book superheroes, because their powers are so diverse and awesome. Plus, you can have better story lines and drama with a bunch of characters than just one or two. Of course, I'm not so sure that I'd look good in all the leather the actual X-Men wear, so I think we would just be students and have various school adventures. Or something.

2. Graceling - Kristin Cashore

I know Graceling isn't super fun times all the time for those that live there, but the powers and everything are just too awesome for me to pass up. Sure, this might not be Jordan's first choice, but what are friends for but to indulge the whims of their friends (at least when the whims are mine!). For those who don't know, Graceling is set in a fantasy world (historical in setting, with kings and horse riding) where some people have two-colored eyes. These people are known as gracelings and each one has a special power. It can be something super serial, like the ability to kill or mind control, or it can be something pretty much useless. Anyway, I want to travel here and have eyes of two colors and some random power, even though I'm pretty certain Jordan and I would get the most ridiculous powers possible, but at least we could laugh about it.

1. Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling

Who didn't secretly, or not so secretly, wish for their Hogwarts letter to come in the mail? I know I did, even though I was already over thirteen. Maybe their had been a mix up in the Owlery, but surely my message would arrive any day. Now that I'm 23, I'm fairly certain it's not coming, but, if it did, I would be there in a second. The world of Harry Potter is just so perfect for adventures, although certainly Jordan and my adventures would be more of the hilarious and intellectual than the world-saving. We would use our magical powers (you saw that coming by now right?) for the pursuit of fun, as well as of cute warlocks (for me) and witches (for Jordan). Oh, and I will totally be an animagus! Hey JoJo, the first round of butterbeer is on me!


Monday, May 23, 2011

Books Made Into Movies: Kimi ni Todoke

Kimi ni Todoke is a manga series about a girl who bears and unfortunate resemblance to Sadako from The Ring. Even worse, her name is Sawako, so people just call her by the character's name. Sawako is awkward and nervous, which results in her hiding behind her long dark hair and making inadvertently scary. Because of this, people really are scared of her and do not want to get to know her. This changes when Kazehaya, a popular, outgoing guy notices her and works to draw her out of her shell.
I realize that this summary of the plot sounds a little bit She's All That, but it's not at all. He just gets a crush on her as she is and has no desire to change her; he's got it bad. That's one of the things I really like about this story. Unlike most pop culture, American or Japanese, it's usually the girl who has to nurse a crush throughout the plot line just waiting until the other person will have feelings for them. In this story, it's the boy that pines for the unsuspecting girl. It makes for a nice change.

He even likes her when she looks like this.

The film was definitely better than the manga, even though the latter continues after the couple has gotten together. The changes in Sadako's character happen so incredibly gradual in the manga that most of the time it feels like nothing's happening and is super frustrating. Here, she makes steady, realistic progress, learning to smile and convey her emotions to others.

Look at his super cute smile!

Mostly, this film was just super, super cute. Words can not express the adorableness of these characters, who looked just like their manga counterparts; that was some seriously awesome casting. Well, I guess Kazehaya doesn't look quite the same, but he's really cute, so who cares! If you like the manga, you should definitely check out the film; it will give you another fix while you wait for the next volume to be released in English.


What Can't We Face from Once More, with Feeling

Buffy Season 8, Volume 1:
The Long Way Home

Author: Joss Whedon
Illustrator: Georges Jeanty
Pages: 130
Acquired From:
Dark Horse Comics via NetGalley

If you thought Buffy ended after seven seasons, you're wrong. Buffy and the gang, well most of it anyway, are back. Of course, the gang's a bit bigger these days, what with there now being over a thousand slayers and all. Now though, the enemy might be harder to fight in a new way. It could be that humans, those the slayer was made to protect will be a bit uncomfortable with all of these superwomen running around. Backfire.

This first volume was pretty much like watching Buffy, only with subtitles. The characters look eerily like the actors that portrayed them in the show, only just a little off. Honestly, that is both cool and creepy. Some time has passed since the end of the show, so the slayer army has been organized, Willow's been coming and going doing magic things and Dawn has made a poor dating choice (who's shocked?) and is now a giant (apparently, shtupping certain demons will make you very large, and not in an eating a lot of Ben & Jerry's post breakup kind of way). Pretty awesome though, because I am amused by tall, whiny Dawn.

The final chapter in this volume was a bit boring, largely because it followed an unfamiliar character and does not yet have any meaning for the reader. Presumably, this will come later in the form of yet another foe for Buffy and the gang to kill. Otherwise, you can expect pretty standard Buffy fare, meaning completely ridiculous but in a rather nice way, even if there is someone I would rather not have seen again, especially with that person's new look.

Overall, I am happy with my reading experience; the graphic novel had the same balance between dark and silly as the show. "Great Muppety Odin" commands you to try it if you like the Buffster (29).

"What can't we face if we're together?
What's in this place that we can't weather?
We've all been there
The same old trips
Why should we care?"

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

That's All I've Got to Say - Jeff Bridges & Mia Farrow

The Last Unicorn

Adapted By: Peter B. Gillis
Illustrator: Renae De Liz
Pages: 167
ARC Acquired From: IDW Publishing via NetGalley

As a child, I greatly adored horses and, even more, their mythological counterparts, pegasi and unicorns. It should come as no surprise then that one of my favorite movies as a child was The Last Unicorn. It is very much one of those kid's movies that you either watched as a child and will thus adore forever, but, if watched for the first time in adulthood, definitely comes off as incredibly creepy. I can totally see why others don't like it, but it will forever hold a dear place in my heart.

For the most part, this graphic novel version of the story covers the same ground as the film. The look of the characters very clearly was inspired by the film version as well. The small additions to the plot in some places, and the subtractions (like the tree that freaked people out the most in the movie), made me even more curious to read the original novel. That is definitely a thing I need to do someday.

The graphic novel is definitely pretty and oh so colorful. However, its brevity means that a few things have to be cut. Much of the trimming took place in the latter half of the tale, making it rather confusing and, did I not know the story, I likely would have been confused by much of the time spent in King Haggard's castle.

"Once when I was searching
Somewhere out of reach
Far away
In a place I could not find
Or heart obey
Now that I'm a woman
Now I know the way"

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A Strange Education - The Cinematics

Awaken, Book 1

Author: Katie Kacvinsky
ARC Acquired From: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
In a not too distant future, only about sixty years from today, people live in their homes, almost never leaving. Violence in schools (think of incidents like Columbine) began happening to such a degree that life became digital:
"About thirty years ago security fences became mandatory around all schools, policemen were stationed at every entrance, and metal detectors made going to class like passing through airport security. Students were stripped of all metal devices and had to check their coats and bags to be searched. They were only allowed to carry their books to and from class until the end of the day, when they were permitted to pick up their bags again. Ironically, this tightened security only made kids more creative. It became a challenge to smuggle guns into the schools. Shootings escalated....The repercussion led to digital schools 1-4. Now there is no choice. Even going to a public tutoring session is new; this has only been approved in the last few years. It's still banned in many states. A digital screen is like a bulletproof jacket." (176-178).
All interaction is done in a digital world; there is almost no face to face communication left. Madeline's dad created the digital schools. When she was young, she rebelled, nearly ending digital schools, getting her father arrested in the process. She now lives under house arrest, her father monitoring all activity until she turns 18. Then, she spontaneously decides to meet a guy she has been studying with online and begins questioning the digital school system yet again, as she experiences true life.

Awaken grabbed me from the very first page. The book starts with a journal entry by Madeline, which discusses the fact that people do not write longhand anymore and keep journals this way. Nor do they print books or use paper, what with there not being real trees anymore. A definite dystopia for a librarian and lover of literature! These journal entries are interspersed with the narration. There are only a few, but I think it works, because she only has one journal and cannot write too often or will not have anywhere else to write important things.

Of course, Awaken does have the immediate super duper love thing. Madeline falls for Justin the moment she sees him. From then on, she generally describes each first sight of him in a room thusly: "I instantly felt the energy in the room shift as if the lights dimmed or an air current changed direction" (150). This is definitely a bit much, but perhaps more understandable considering that this is almost the first time she has ever met someone her own age. So if you spent most of your time in your room on your computer, then left to meet a friend you chatted with and he turned out to be incredibly hot, nice, smart and trying to save the world, you might fall pretty hard pretty fast too.

Katie makes a good main character. She's brave sometimes, petrified sometimes, capable of defending herself and others when she needs to, incredibly intelligent and unaware of her amazingness. All of this combines to make her into a real character, a teenage girl trying to figure out her place in the world and what she wants to make of herself. It was always interesting when one of the journal entries would come up, because you could really see her working through the things that preceded. Plus, you got a view into what she hid in front of others, because she likes to really think through possibilities before committing herself to something.

This was a great dystopian read with some fantastic quotes that totally kept me rapt. From the ending of this one, a sequel is pretty much certain and I am most glad of it!

"The trouble is, nothing looks the same
The trouble is, I don't think it ever will

Oh, have you come for me?
Oh, have you come for me?

Pull me out of the ocean
Take me up in your arms again
Just the way with the love you send
Such a strange education
Leads me into your arms again
Cast away, lost again"

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Le Festin - Camille

Bless This Mouse

Author: Lois Lowry
Illustrator: Eric Rohmann
Pages: 152
ARC Acquired from: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Hildegarde is the head mouse of the church where they all reside, 219 in total. She keeps the population down and enforces rules so that the mice are not discovered. She works hard to prevent the Great X, which results in huge losses every time it happens. Once a year too, she must prevent anyone from being harmed by a cat on the day of the feast for St. Francis. While doing all of this, Hildegarde also has to protect her position as head mouse from the obnoxious, power-hungry Lucretia.

Let me begin by saying that my favorite part of the story were the illustrations. The writing is good, as one expects from Lois Lowry, but the pictures were just so charming. I love looking at them, and they were a large part of why I requested this title from NetGalley, even though children's fiction is not my particular niche.

The story is cute and simple, teaching children some big words, like narthex ans sacristy, without feeling at all like a lesson. In fact, although the mice live in the church and worship themselves, it does not feel at all like Lois Lowry is trying to indoctrinate children. There seems to be no intention of conversion here; this is just where the story happens to be set.

The mice are definitely humanized, which is cool. The only thing I didn't like about the story was the way that that was done. I didn't mind the mice talking in their own language at all or they're ability to read or listen in on conversations. What bothered me is that they are depicted wearing clothing, which is cute, but I don't think is even accurate to the story so far as I can tell. Nor did I like that a mouse was able to converse with a human at the end. If that were so easy, then they would have done so long ago. In a fantasy, I would not mind at all (for example, the mice in The 10th Kingdom), but this seems to be set in the real world. That just seemed a bit jumbled to me, and to weaken the plot up to that point.

Despite those slight weaknesses, though, this was an exceedingly cute story. Fans of children's literature about animals should love it and I would definitely recommend it as a present to children who are reading chapter books and expanding their vocabularies. Today's song comes from the Ratatouille soundtrack, because they both have cute mice; I don't care that these mice are not remotely French. :-)

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Friday, May 20, 2011

All the Things She Said - T.A.T.U.

Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943

Author: Erica Fischer
Pages: 274
Publisher: Alyson Books

Brief Summary:
This is a true story about Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim. Aimée (Lilly's nickname) was a typical housewife living in Berlin during the Nazi era, married to a good soldier with four German sons. Both she and her husband had affairs, but neither particularly cared. That is until Jaguar (the nickname of Felice) came into her life. As a joke or challenge, the Jewish Felice decided to seduce the Aryan housewife, with little plan of actually succeeding, only she did. Of course, love stories set during WWII often do not end happily.

The World War II time period is one of my favorites to read about and study, so I was very curious to read this title. While I do not think the author's writing was very good (quite dry and boring), the story was astounding. In none of my other reading, courses or film watching have I heard a story from a similar lens. The lesbian angle is new of course, but so were all of the details about the Jews who managed to keep living underground (as it were) in Berlin throughout the conflict.

Much of the story, thank goodness, is told in snippets from Aimée's diary, Jaguar's poems, letters and interviews with the people who were still alive when this book was being constructed in the early 1990s. The number of primary sources included in the tale is unique, as well.

The epilogue of the book consists of Erica Fischer's comments on the creation of the book, most of which is a diatribe of Lilly. She does not trust Lilly, the main source for most of the recounted memories, because Lilly apparently knew her story too well and left gaps of time out. I cannot help but wonder if this is why her writing is so stilted and I did not care much for Aimée or Jaguar on a close level; I wanted them to live, of course, but I was not emotionally invested. I think Fischer's mistrust and judgment came into her writing and storytelling. For all that the cover names this a love story, she has her own opinions about that and it is quite evident.

After the war, Lilly wanted to convert to Judaism and thought of herself as a Jewess, about which Fischer has this to say: "I do not grant her the status of victim. I guard the line that runs between her and Felice, my mother, and myself obdurately, protective of my small piece of identity" (271). I leave this book skeptical of Erica Fischer as a historian, as she seems to biased, in this tale at least. Still, I am happy to have read it, if only for its unique historical perspective.

"I'm in serious shit, I feel totally lost
If I'm asking for help it's only because
Being with you has opened my eyes
Could I ever believe such a perfect surprise?

I keep asking myself, wondering how
I keep closing my eyes but I can't block you out
Wanna fly to a place where it's just you and me
Nobody else so we can be free"

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Books Made into Movies: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at the end of last year, so rather than recounting my opinions on the novel again, I'll just link to the review. The film does a remarkable job, overall, of capturing the plot of the exceedingly long and dense novel into two and a half hours. They had to cut a lot obviously, but Stieg Larsson wrote a lot of back story, which, while vaguely interesting, does not need to be in the film for the viewer to know what's happening.

I don't know what's going on in this cover, but I like it.

The actress playing Lisbeth did a good job, but I was not impressed with Blomkvist, perhaps because he seems far to ugly to have been such a player (mean, but true). Of course, in the film, he's not a player. This is the main change they made in the film adaptation. In the novel, Blomkvist has sexual relationships with three different women, while here he only has one with Lisbeth. They are clearly making their relationship more romantic than Larsson wrote it. I think that's kind of absurd, but what can you really expect, since audiences want a love story?

I like her best when she's hacking, Well, that and getting revenge on those who have fucked with her.

Having seen this film, I now know that I cannot watch the sequels until I read the novels, as I have the strong feeling that I would have trouble making it through the sequels if I already knew the exciting plot twists. Getting there could be a while, as my book queue is pretty full. This was a good adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, if not a new favorite movie, and I do plan to watch the other films eventually.


Can't Help Falling in Love - Ingrid Michaelson

Becoming George Sand

Rosalind Brackenbury
Pages: 296
ARC Acquired from:
Mariner Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:

Maria, a college french lit professor, has been having an affair with a grad student (in the sciences, so he's not her student). This has been happening for a while and she is completely caught up in the physical and emotional thrill of it. When her husband, Edward, clues in, as generally happens eventually, her life has to change. Her separation from her life as it once was firmly entrenches her within her George Sand obsession. She sees something of herself as she is and as she wants to be in this fascinating nineteenth century authoress.

The description of this book, at least as I wrote it, does not remotely do the book credit. Largely because the story is not the real point. I mean, it is and it isn't. More than being about a plot it's about what it's like being a woman, about the spaces between love and marriage, about feminism, and about literature and language. The writing is completely gorgeous, sucking me in from the first pages, even though the opening scenes chronicle the affair, a thing in which I have little interest. To me, there is no excuse for cheating and I do not believe Maria's romanticized idea of it (and not just because I know what happens later); the treatment of the affair in early pages reminds me of Chretien de Troyes, and how in that time folks believed that true love had to be extramarital.

Rather than speaking to what I loved and didn't (what little there was of that) as I usually do, I really want to include some of my favorite quotes and let the author speak for herself.

"'You can't be loved whatever you do. You have to be someone good, to be loved. People can't just love you for existing.'
'Hmm. Well, maybe. You don't believe in unconditional love?'
'Yes, I do, but it's for babies. You have to be worthy of love.'" (221).

"That's it, the last gesture of a long friendship lived over distance and time, without frequent meetings, between two languages; a friendship built over books, plays, poems, the written word." (252).

"What is it she needs, at this point in her life? To touch another life, to have it touch hers. To create, to understand. To give back. To be part of a whole." (286)

Brackenbury obviously wholeheartedly loves and appreciates literature, which makes her such a joy to read. I now want to check out George Sand and to read a biography of her life, as she sounds fascinating. Today's song is dedicated to George, Maria and all the other optimistic women who keep looking for love and thinking they've found it (and sometimes been wrong about that).

"Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can't help falling in love with you
Shall I stay
Would it be a sin
If I can't help falling in love with you"

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Top Ten Things That Make an Appealing Book Cover for Adults

Judging a Book by Its Cover, Part 2

YA books get a lot of attention these days for their flashy covers; check out last week's top ten to see which are my favorite. What you should not forget is that adult fiction, and even nonfiction, can have gorgeous covers as well. In my search for covers that I really liked, I found that some different things appealed to me in an adult cover. Neat, huh? Some things I like in any cover.

10. Beautiful Background

While I have never been a nature girl, I still like to look at pretty pictures of it. Still, I prefer the focus to be on something else. So put an interesting foreground with a gorgeous vista behind and I will be more interested in a book's contents. I had a third title for this one (In the Forest by Edna O'Brien, but the cover I like only had small images...).

9. I Love Books and Music

It should come as no surprise to any of my dear readers that I love books and music. For this reason, books that reference these things on the cover make me ooh and aah and generally want to get my hands on the words within. Book lovers cannot deny the beauty of these book-related covers, especially for the ladies Women Who Read Are Dangerous (which my library does not have, so I may have to buy a copy some day).

8. Understated Science Fiction/Fantasy

A lot of sci fi and fantasy covers are just absurd. I even sometimes kind of enjoy that, but my favorites tend to be a bit more subdued. They hint at the magical or incredibly advanced world within their pages, rather than beating you over the head with it. The others can be fun or funny, but these are truly lovely.

7. John Connelly Style

I have only read one John Connelly book (The Book of Lost Things) and I did not enjoy it as much as I hoped. However, I still want to read all of his other books, and even reread the one I already read, because the covers are so amazing. It's the font and the colors and designs that make them some of the best covers I have ever seen. Other authors could have covers like these, but I can only think of Connelly.

6. White and Black and Red (Read) All Over

When it comes to clothing, red, black and white are not among my favorite colors. I wear them plenty, but they have no special attraction for me. For some reason, though, I love them on book covers. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire fit this mold, as well, but Mockingjay's cover did not please me as well (even though I like that color better). Now, I don't know why the people in A Spot of Bother are on that two tier cake, but I love that they are. Also, The Gulag Archipelago consists of three volumes: one with red as the main color, one black and one white. I have so much love for that.

5. Color Contrast

Adult (really is there any good way to say this that won't make it sound like rated M for mature material?) book covers frequently make excellent use of juxtaposition. The contrast in the colors really makes the covers pop, drawing your eye to particular elements. Take, for example, the way the red pops on the Year of the Flood cover or you can't avoid staring back at the girl on The Host.

4. Corsets Still Leave Me Breathless

I still think corsets make for a great cover (they ranked first for YA covers), but there aren't as many good ones in adult fiction. So publishers, you might want to take that into consideration. I really don't know why they're so gorgeous when they're really instruments of torture, but c'est la vie.


There's just something about covers for books about World War II. They're so amazingly distinctive somehow. I can walk around a bookstore and inevitably add one or two to my want to read list just by browsing cover art. These books tend to have a bright color setting off a darker background, a thing you already know I appreciate. Some pretty dresses sometimes, too. Plus, this is a historical time period I really love reading about.

2. So Damn Classy

Some of my favorites don't quite fit in the other categories, so I made one just for them. Sometimes, you look at a cover and you just think: man, that's classy. I want to get me some of that. Well, I do, at any rate. These books are generally classics, which have finally been given a lovely cover. So many are given boring or downright creepy facades, so it's truly worthy of celebration when they're this pretty.

1. Books That Make Me Wish for a Better Wardrobe

This is one of those things I love in any book cover. If there is a gorgeous dress on the cover, I will want it like burning: both the dress and the book. This sometimes gets me into trouble, because there will be Christian fiction that fits this mold; I get all excited and then disappointed. Colleen Coble's book is one of these. Jane Austen spinoffs also fit this mold quite often (see below).