Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Multi-genre book reviews: What I've been reading recently

Hi everyone! I thought I 'd drop in, see how everyone's doing, and update you on my reading! 

Since my last post in September (yikes, I can't believe it's December already!), I've finished a few books, many of which I posted about over the summer, including:

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock 

  • I generally liked it
  • The motivations of a teenage killer are pretty enjoyable and relevant to today
  • Funny moments throughout
  • Extremely popular among my friends
  • 4 stars 
Belle Epoque 

  • Really enjoyable since it combines two of my passions, France and historical fiction
  • Maude's love of photography is extremely genuine
  • Interesting situations and plot, very creative
  • 4 stars 

The Geography Club 

  • Too undemanding in my opinion, though an interesting film adaptation is coming out soon
  • Juvenile writing
  • Good representation of GSRM, but otherwise flat plot
  • 2 stars
I Am the Messenger 

  • Extremely realistic portrayal of characters
  • Fascinating plot that falls flat in some parts, but picks itself up accordingly
  • Mystery is under-developed for sake of relationship drama (friends, family, romantic) but fits the story well, nonetheless
  • Great message, feel-good story
  • 4 stars

So Yesterday 

  • Lacking coherent plot, unnaturally-written
  • Defeatist ending
  • Extremely disappointing 
  • 1 star

Jellicoe Road 

  • Enjoyable read, especially since a film adaptation is currently shooting
  • Ending really wraps up loose ends
  • Beginning is a little confusing, but the story is understandable enough
  • 5 stars
Still Star-Crossed
  • Believable plot, liked the characters from start to end
  • Not extremely memorable, though I am now sold on Rosaline/Benvolio 
  • 3.5 stars
And now, I've started reading Alan Moore's Watchmen, so look out for a post on that soon! Unitl next time! Feel free to reach out to me on my tumblr on semi-hiatus, http://reasonstoread.tumblr.com/

-S

Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: The School For Good And Evil by Soman Chainani

Author: Soman Chainani

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Publication Date: 
May 14th 2013

Pages: 488

Who will read it: (young adults and up) People interested in fantasy with deep emotional undercurrent not buried by action

Rating: 4/5

Buy: 
Amazon / Barnes&Noble

Official Synopsis: 
“The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.”

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?

The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.

My Review

Plot: While a little lengthy for younger readers, I felt the story was jumped into as quickly as possible with little hesitation. The characters are immediately revealed to be Sophie and Agatha, a truly unlikely pair of friends. Immediately, I was enthralled with their struggles which reminded me vaguely of my own worries about school. They each struggle with the expectations placed on them by society, but are still filled with the incredible capability to hope. In fact, I think their very age and naivety drove the plot forward. Only with their brilliant schemes were they going to achieve their dreams. The schools were both so vividly described and completely engaging even for the casual reader. While nothing is allowed to be original anymore, I eagerly compare the plot to that of Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and also the musical, Wicked. Even the mystery at the end was very well-played.

Characters: 
Sophie: I despised her from the beginning. Even as “good” and as beautiful as she was, obviously, her thoughts revealed a deep streak of menace. Cunningly, she manipulates everyone around her in a way I find most impressive, but despicable. As such an under-estimated femme fatale and villain, she inspired me, and I actually found myself rooting for her at times.
Agatha: A loving, gracious girl who demonstrates wit and kindness. She adapts fairly well and is definitely the “level-headed” one out of the pair. Very admirable and courageous as well as relatable in her efforts to preserve order and peaces as well as astute in her observations of others.

Relationships/ Romance: Sometimes, the relationships in the story got a little tedious! But the kiss at the end, wow, a pretty big shocker! Not spoiling between which two characters the kiss is between, but it was pretty magical.

Writing Style: The style was also a bit tiresome and dull at parts since the sentences did not always flow as smoothly together as I would have liked. Several times, I had to re-read a paragraph or two back because I had lost the author’s train of thought. Overall, a little confusing.

Best lines/Favorite part: When Agatha is saving Sophie from the School Master. Honestly, the book was worth it for just this one scene.

Ending: Cliffhangers! A little exasperating that there are so few answers at the end, but still enjoyable. I have my own prediction that the two are transported back home, and I can’t wait to find out if I’m right in the sequel. The ending is not as satisfying as it could be, but I am definitely anxious to get my hands on any meta I can.

The Star-worthy Aspects: A magical and enchanting story with two great female leads and a possible queer romance! The detail in this world is to die for.

The Deficiencies: Very long novel, a little confusing to read at times. A lot of secondary characters on the good side were not as fleshed out as the ones on the evil side.

Rating and Closing Remarks:
This book receives a respectable 4/5 from me because though I loved it thoroughly and even recommended it to many of my friends, it could still have used some improvement.

#Bonus Points: A sequel called A World Without Princes has already come out, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of it.
Also, the book is becoming a motion picture produced by Universal Studios planned for 2015! Honestly, I would love to see certain actresses play Agatha and Sophie… and if any producers want to contact me about my choices or about needing help on the script, I wouldn’t really mind. ;)
I’ve actually got some great book recommendations based off my enjoyment of this including, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger and  The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones.

If you would like to find out more about Soman Chainani and his other books and films, please contact him at his website here:
http://somanchainani.net/contact/

-S


Monday, August 5, 2013

Books galore and no time to read them

I recently got some new books! I'm really excited about starting them, so I thought I'd share the goodness.

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani


The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist


Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick


Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross


Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub



Can't wait to finish the first one. I'll update with a review when I do. 

-S

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon



Rating: 1/5

Official Synopsis
Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

This improbable story of Christopher's quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

My Review

Plot:  While the book’s mystery started off very engaging, I soon felt very weary of the unrelated tangents the story suddenly followed. The absolute blandness of the setting prevented me from fully empathizing with Christopher, and I felt exasperated by his decisions. The ending was disappointing.

Characters: 
Christopher is a young autistic boy living with his father, Ed. I liked his initiative in uncovering the murder of his neighbor’s dog, but his “groaning” and na├»ve personality grated on me.

Ed is Christopher’s single father who lies to his son about Judy, Christopher’s mother. He is portrayed as impulsive and plain. Pretty boring.
Judy whom Christopher believes has died of a heart attack before the book’s start had been having an affair with Mr. Shears and moved out, a truth Christopher attempts to uncover.

Relationships/ Romance: The family relationships between Christopher and his father were simple and very realistic. His more complicated relationship with his mother was explored in an uninteresting, trite way that ended with an unsatisfying resolution. Judy’s relationship with Mr. Shears seemed short-lived and devoid of true emotion, fitting for their break-up. I sympathized with Christopher’s feelings of terror and distrust towards his father by the end, still reeling from the fact that ED HAD VICIOUSLY MURDERED A DOG!

Writing Style: Rather lengthy and divergent from the plot.

Ending:
 This book ended rather happily with Christopher taking his A-levels and meeting his mother again.

The Star-worthy Aspects: I had heard a lot of good reviews regarding the book’s treatment of social disability. The mystery being solved by an autistic protagonist seemed interesting.

The Deficiencies: I felt completely detached from the novel and getting through the writing was a dreadful ordeal. The mystery was solved early on and with little suspense.

Rating and Closing Remarks: I would not recommend this book to anyone. It receives a 1/5 rating from me for being tedious and melodramatic.

Bonus Points: The Monty Hall problem (as I had previously learned from The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow – a good read though long!) was described!

Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car, behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say #1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say #3, which has a goat. He says to you, "Do you want to pick door #2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?


Learn about the play adaptation on its website: http://www.curiousonstage.com/ and its trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9lEsUYlTU0

-S


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Music: Upbeat for the weekend

I've had a bit of a crazy week! In fact, I did little reading, though I shared a great conversation with my English teacher on Marcelo in the Real World and The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time, books that we enjoyed featuring autistic main characters. I started reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K Jemisin which, unfortunately, I abandoned about 1/5th through. I felt as if it was something I should enjoy, being a Hugo and Nebula award nominee, but I expected more from its rather bland heroine and her long drawn out conversations. Thankfully, this week I'm getting some new books! On to the music:

"Say You Like Me" by We The Kings

"Numb" by Usher

"Marry the Night" by Lady Gaga

"Want U Back" by Cher Lloyd

"Domino" by Jessie J


"As long as you love me" by Justin Bieber

"Human Nature" by Michael Jackson

"I'm still into you" by Paramore


"Gone gone gone" by Phillip Phillips


Please check out my tumblr at: http://reasonstoread.tumblr.com/ Thank you!

-S



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book Review: See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles



Author: Jo Knowles

Publisher:
Candlewick Press

Publication Date: 
May 8th 2012

Pages: 310

Who will read it: Middle school students, kids growing up in the restaurant business, anyone dealing with family issues

Rating: 4/5

Buy: Amazon: / Barnes&Noble:

Official Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a "surprise" baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, "All will be well," is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same.

My Review

Plot:
  A super read! Excellent, but not quite 5 stars, yet. I enjoyed Fern’s point of view greatly, though her tendency to be over-dramatic felt clingy at times. I connected to her feelings of embarrassment towards her family, and her insightful attitude towards everyone around her. Without giving away a major spoiler, the book carefully presents a heart-breaking physical and emotional conflict. I thought the build-up to the end was satisfying, and overall, enjoyed how the characters interacted with one another. The story was well-developed and fun to read. I particularly liked Holden’s part. The bullying he faced and his coming-out later in the novel felt appropriate and rewarding.

Characters:
 
Fern is a strong no-nonsense type of young girl who struggles to understand her family while dealing with the struggles of middle school. She drove the plot forward, and I liked her inner monologue of “would Fern (from Charlotte’s Web, her namesake) do this?” Her outwardly happy armor is often broken by the admonishing she receives from her family, but she continues to move on.

Fern’s parents do get the short end of the stick in the novel, though they are rewarded by the end. Her mother is portrayed as overwhelmingly hands-off, leaving the care of the restaurant to Fern. Her father is filled with big ideas to boost customers to their struggling restaurant, “Harry’s,” often to the embarrassment of his family. Though they have big hearts, their lenience towards their children means that Fern often has to keep her younger and older siblings in line.

Charlie was an accurate portrayal of the younger, annoying little sibling. His exuberance felt at times, “gross” as Fern put it, but also loosely heart-warming. The range of emotions he showed was limited, but his excessive hope brought a smile to my face.

Holden, named after the titular character in “A Catcher in the Rye,” has the matching gloomy personality. The responsibility placed on him to just tough out the bullying he receives at school and act heterosexual is enough to make anyone consider running away. Fern and Holden share a close bond, one where they mutually empathize with each other. However, Fern realizes that Holden must fix his problems on his own. I connected with Holden the most, and he felt genuinely realistic.

Sara was the least focused-on sibling, but I enjoyed her dedication to keeping her family together, especially by the end.

Relationships/ Romance:
 The more traditional family members (the parents) seemed loving towards their children without really knowing how to resolve their children’s problems. They needed actions spelled-out for them and were unresponsive towards the brewing conflicts that threatened to tear apart certain members. However, the love between this nuclear family was surprisingly strong in face of adversity, and demonstrated their cool confidence. Fern’s relationship with her best friend, Ran, did develop into something “more” by the end, and his careful reassurances were comforting. Holden’s developing relationship with Gray characterized the former’s conflicted feelings in the beginning. By the end, they had resolved their relationship in a mature, responsible way that gave me hope that Holden would later meet his true love.

Writing Style:
 The writing was emotionally poignant and Knowles’s crisp descriptions only furthered the plot and kept the reader interested. The characterization of Fern was entirely consistent and well-done.

Best lines/Favorite part: The water seeps through my sneakers and up my jeans. It’s icy cold, and it’s such a relief to feel an outside hurt take over the hurt inside. The pain stings my ankles and crawls up my legs as I walk deeper. (195)

I put my soap-covered hands up to my face and cry again. Cry and cry until I get so used to the smell I can’t smell it anymore, and I have to open the bottle and breathe it in. Breath after breath after breath. (197)

Ending: This book ended rather happily with Fern learning to feel happiness without the guilt she associated the feeling with. She and the rest of the family are able to continue their lives with a strength that only some regain after such a difficult event. I was pleased with the ending and felt it wrapped up the story nicely.

The Star-worthy Aspects:
 The plot originally attracted me since I wanted to learn more about the restaurant industry. The book was fascinating and well-fleshed out with characters that reminded me of my own friends.

The Deficiencies:
 I was not as emotionally moved as I wanted to be, considering other reviews. While the writing was precise, I did not feel a strong connection towards the actual event, but more towards the aftermath.

Rating and Closing Remarks:
 The different characters were all extremely likable, and their flaws only made them more realistic. Loyalty as a vital throughout generational differences stuck out to me. This novel earned a 4/5 from me, and I would recommend it to some younger readers.

Bonus Points: From her website, Knowles writes, “In college, I took a children’s literature course, got hooked, and went to grad school to learn more. There, I took a course on writing for children. I loved it so much, I decided to write my first YA novel for my graduate thesis. That semester I was lucky enough to meet Robert Cormier, my hero. I told him how his book [The Chocolate War] had turned me into “a reader.” He gave me his address and said to send him my novel when I finished. That message helped me finish my book. I sent it. He wrote back and told me I had talent, and that he hoped one day my book would be published with a blurb from him on the back. I have that letter framed in my office.

In February 2006, I sold my first novel, Lessons From A Dead Girl, to Candlewick Press. My dream of becoming a published author finally came true.”

If you would like to find out more about Jo Knowles and her other books, please visit her website at http://www.joknowles.com/Home.html or visit her Livejournal: http://jbknowles.livejournal.com/ or her twitter: https://twitter.com/JoKnowles

I can’t wait to read some of her other books and review them!

-S

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Book Review: Immobility by Brian Evenson



Author: Brian Evenson

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 
April 10th 2012 

Pages: 256

Who will read it: Science fiction fans into dystopias

Rating: 2/5

Buy: 
Amazon: / Barnes&Noble:

Official Synopsis: 
When you open your eyes things already seem to be happening without you. You don't know who you are and you don't remember where you've been. You know the world has changed, that a catastrophe has destroyed what used to exist before, but you can't remember exactly what did exist before. And you're paralyzed from the waist down apparently, but you don't remember that either.
A man claiming to be your friend tells you your services are required. Something crucial has been stolen, but what he tells you about it doesn't quite add up. You've got to get it back or something bad is going to happen. And you've got to get it back fast, so they can freeze you again before your own time runs out.
Before you know it, you're being carried through a ruined landscape on the backs of two men in hazard suits who don't seem anything like you at all, heading toward something you don't understand that may well end up being the death of you.
Welcome to the life of Josef Horkai….

My Review

Plot:  Mainly, I was curious about the ending and the actual Kollaps, yet the book failed to answer most of my questions. Instead, as Horkai struggled to understand his new society, I struggled to understand the ambiguous text. While some themes seemed to emerge of the dangers of living in hives (communism), acceptance of predetermined roles and paths, the separation of science and faith, or the trust of authority, there was not enough of a driving force behind the characters to keep me fully entertained.
The story was underdeveloped and never truly delivered on the suspense it promised. The unexplained information in the story was highly confusing.

Characters: When dealing with an oppressive situation, Josef Horkai showed few emotions. His self-doubt and rationality were never filled with passion. He seemed to be a big brute with little intellectual capacity, one that only served to carry out tasks. His only undisputable quality was the strangeness of
how and why he could survive without protection in the wasteland’s toxic air.
Rasmus, the enigmatic leader of this last-of-humanity shelter, has unfrozen Horkai and tasked him with stealing a mysterious silver cylinder, which he says is essential to their survival. While purposefully vague, the uncertainty of his details did not fascinate me, but frustrate me. Overall, his exchanges with Horkai did allude to the direct fallout of the Kollaps, and make him the more interesting character by default.
Qatik and Qanik are Horkai’s “mules,” people tasked to carry the paraplegic to where he can steal the cylinder, knowing they will not survive the journey. Their objective certainty and acceptance of the roles they must play in Horkai’s journey are disheartening. The conversations along the road are particularly frustrating as Horkai learns little information from them besides their strong desire to fulfill the “purpose” despite their physical weakness.

Relationships/ Romance: There was no romance within this novel. The relationships were all characterized by an imbalance of power either through lack of knowledge or physical strength. The relationship between science and faith was mostly the source of conflict (either letting the human race die out or prolonging their existence).

Writing Style: 
The stumbling writing provided little imagery and the characters’ respective point of views felt fake. The middle provided some interesting characterization but by the end, the writing had reverted back to bland unclear writing.

Best lines/Favorite part: The problem with faith, thought Horkai, is that there’s no arguing with it. Same problem, he admitted to himself, with lack of faith.
(Page 134) 

Ending: This is a standalone book. I was screaming about the wasted time I had spent reading it. The ending cancels out the entire novel and left me unsatisfied and disgruntled. The ending was of very poor quality.

The Star-worthy Aspects: The plot was interesting at times, and my curiosity led me to learn more.

The Deficiencies: The entire novel itself was disappointing from start to finish. I am completely turned off from some of Brian Evenson’s other writing.

Rating and Closing Remarks: The horrendous throw-away ending was a mess, but I did finish the book (while impatiently trying to uncover the answers to my questions). The characters felt either too melodramatic or too stolid. While certain elements were interesting, I felt continuously bewildered. All in all, the book earned a 2/5 from me. I would not recommend it to anyone.

If you would like to find out more about Brian Evenson and his other books, please read his Wikipedia at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Evenson or visit his research faculty page at Brown: http://brown.edu/academics/literary-arts/faculty/brian-evenson/brian-evenson

-S