Monday, September 30, 2013

A Review of 'A Monster Calls' by Patrick Ness (Audio Book)

"The monster showed up after midnight.  As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting.  He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

This monster is something different, though.  Something ancient, something wild.  And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth."

After finishing this book, I started thinking about a boy and his father.  Cameron and his father Henry.  Cameron had a type of cancer called Anaplastic Astrocytoma.  Put simply, he had a malignant brain tumor.  I didn't know Cameron personally, nor did I know his father, but my mom was in one of his father's productions through her work.  When she found out about his son, she told me and I started following his CaringBridge website from essentially the beginning.  I read about his ups and his downs, I read about the different things he did in his short lifetime and how he truly wanted to make a difference in the world.  In the few weeks leading up to his death, I remember his father posting on the CaringBridge website about how he told Cameron that is was okay to let go.  He was giving his son permission to die, to leave his weary body and move on.

This story, "A Monster Calls," is about a boy and his mother.  Instead of the boy, Conor, having cancer, it's his mother who has a type of cancer that is never specifically revealed to us.  I think Conor was thirteen, as Cameron was when he passed away.

This book is about letting go, even if you don't want to.  It certainly doesn't seem like that is what it'll be about when you start reading/listening to this book, but it becomes clearer as you keep listening.

'A Monster Calls' is wonderfully written.  Patrick Ness did a wonderful job using the details left behind by Siobhan Dowd and weaving them into this story.  I look forward to reading more of his work as well as Siobhan's work.

I give 'A Monster Calls':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, September 23, 2013

A Review of 'Saint Maybe' by Anne Tyler

"In 1965, the happy Bedloe family is living an ideal, apple-pie existence in Baltimore.  Then, in the blink of an eye, a single tragic event occurs that will transform their lives forever-- particularly that of seventeen-year-old Ian Bedloe, the youngest son, who blames himself for the sudden "accidental" death of his older brother.

Depressed and depleted, Ian is almost crushed under the weight of an unbearable, secret guilt.  Then one crisp January evening, he catches sight of a window with glowing yellow neon, the Church of the Second Chance.  He enters and soon discovers that forgiveness must be earned, through a bit of sacrifice and a lot of love...."

This is one of the books I'll be reading for my Philosophic Themes in Literature class this coming semester.  This is one book that I particularly look forward to discussing and dissecting.

'Saint Maybe' turned out to be very different than I anticipated.  It turned out to be more about religion and family than I thought.  Initially, it seemed more like a mystery, where Ian and his family would have to unravel the strangeness of Lucy's family history and life.  I wasn't sure where the Church of the Second Chance would come into play or how strong of a role it would take on.

This book really frustrated me.  I hated how much Ian relied on this church that he stumbled upon.  I hated how, on the first night he visited he told his story and took Emmett's advice to care for the children whose parents he may have caused to kill themselves.  This is something I can't hope to understand, but this is something that I feel like Emmett should not have advised Ian on.  Instead of going to college and getting himself an education in order to better his life and the lives of his family, he dropped out and started taking care of his nieces and nephew.  All to atone for something he probably didn't do.  To get God's forgiveness.  It would be very admirable if Ian had made this decision on his own, but it felt like he was doing it because he had to and because someone who was acting as the voice of God told him to and that's not admirable at all.  Not to me.

Another thing that I didn't like but really need to learn to accept is how "in your face" (sort of) Ian is about his beliefs.  I didn't like that he went from not really believing much of anything to suddenly being gung-ho about his new-found religion.  That's fine, I know it happens, but it makes me worry because it feels like he's walking into religion blind.  In order to make this feel less strange, I feel like this transition should have lasted a while, gradually getting to the point that it was.  That would have been more comfortable and I would have felt better about Ian's beliefs.  It would have felt like he actually believed them, rather than being told by someone that this was actually a thing.

You might be able to tell that religion is a very touch-and-go subject with me.  Feel free to start a debate and tell me how wrong I am in the comments.

I do really like this book though because I have formed such a strong connection and I can see that all of the characters are so strongly connected and very developed.  No one is alike and no character is "vanilla."  I also like the concept of the book, mostly because it evokes such a strong and sometime physical reaction within me.  Not very many books have that kind of power over me.  I remember feeling this way about "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."  I was extremely angry at the characters in that book and I have a similar reaction (although not necessarily towards the characters) with this book.

This book is good for those who enjoy philosophic discussion, aren't afraid to talk about religion, and are looking for a very engaging read.

I give 'Saint Maybe':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, September 16, 2013

A Review of 'Beauty Queens' by Libba Bray (Audio Book)

"The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras.  But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What's a beauty queen to do?  Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program-- or wrestle snakes to the ground?  Get a perfect tan-- or learn to run wild?  And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness.  Your tour guide?  None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of 'A Great and Terrible Beauty' and 'Going Bovine.'  The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again."

'Beauty Queens' is awesome to listen to via audio book!  I loved that the author herself read the book!  I also loved that she took on different voices for each of the characters and there were even some sound effects, which was awesome!  A few times throughout the book, there are "commercial breaks" so while Libba is talking in a candy-sweet voice drenched in sarcasm, there is twinkly and fantastical music playing in the background of the advertisement.

This book is perfect for teenage girls, feminists... heck, everyone should read this!  There is so much to go through... with thirteen very different characters, there are so many things to cover.  One character is transgender, another is the only black girl in the pageant, another girl has an Indian family, but that's not what makes her so interesting.  There are themes of acceptance, consumerism, personal images, what it means to be beautiful, etc.  I would love to bring this into my (future) English class someday and create a curriculum around it because there's so much to talk about!

As I sort of implied before, this book is for all audiences, I think.  It's not just about a pageant, which I thought most of the book was going to be about.  There's parts about survival, spy missions, a threat to overthrow the plot... if you're a fan of 'Lord of the Flies' and to some extent '1984,' (at least the concept of being watched), this will help ease the fact that this book is about a pageant and beauty queens.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I plan to acquire it for my own shelf so that I can carry out my plan of teaching this someday (along with 'The Fault in Our Stars,' which I have begun reading again).

Since I have talked about who would like this book, I will skip right to the rating...

Overall, I give 'Beauty Queens':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, September 9, 2013

A Review of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' by Helen Fielding

"Meet Bridget Jones-- a 30-something Singleton who is certain she would have all of the answers if she could:

a. lose 7 pounds
b. stop smoking
c. develop Inner Poise

'123 lbs.  (how is it possible to put on 4 pounds in the middle of the night?  Could flesh have somehow solidified becoming denser and heavier?  Repulsive, horrifying notion), alcohol units 4 (excellent), cigarettes 21 (poor but will give up totally tomorrow), number of correct lottery numbers 2 (better, but nevertheless useless)...'

Bridget Jones's Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget's permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement-- a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.

Over the course of the year, Bridget loses a total of 72 pounds but gains a total of 74.  She remains, however, optimistic.  Through it all, Bridget will have you helpless with laughter, and-- like millions of readers the world round-- you'll find yourself shouting, 'Bridget Jones is me!'"

Where has this book been all my life?

This is one of the books that I will be reading for my Lit Theory class this next semester.  We'll be studying Pride and Prejudice and various other versions (so keep an eye out for more Pride and Prejudice-esque reviews!).

I love how real of a character Bridget was.  I was originally going to say that she was an honest character, because this is written in diary format (see title), but let's face it, real people aren't completely honest with themselves.  Not all the time, any way.  You can see that Bridget has created a version of herself while the other characters created their own versions of her.  Bridget was different with her friends than she was with those she worked with and with her family.  Bridget's a wonderfully round character who feels like she could be your slightly neurotic best friend.

One thing that I didn't like was that Bridget was upset that she didn't have a proper boyfriend.  I can understand that she was upset when the "first" guy (not the absolute first, but the man she worked with) was a jerk who treated her as a booty-call, essentially.  That's entirely unfair and very hurtful.  But then why keep, for lack of a better word, pining for him when he treated you as he did?  Perhaps this says something about the women of today.  Why do we "go after" someone whom we know is not good for us?  This part bothered me not because it wasn't real, but because it is.  It's something I don't understand.  Women need to realize that they're worth the wait and not try and settle for the first person who comes along.  Men should not control our lives.  We need to live for ourselves and if Mr./Ms. Right comes along, we take it in stride and live as happily as we possibly can.

Rant over.

This book is a wonderful page-turner.  It'll make you laugh, feel for Bridget, and force you to look in a mirror, even.  I highly recommend it to anyone!

I give 'Bridget Jones's Diary':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, September 2, 2013

A Review of 'V for Vendetta' by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

"A frightening and powerful tale of the loss of freedom and identity in a chillingly believable totalitarian world, V for Vendetta stands as one of the highest achievements of the comics medium and a defining work for creators Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

Set in an imagined future England that has given itself over to fascism, this groundbreaking story captures both the suffocating nature of life in an authoritarian police state and the redemptive power of the human spirit which revels against it.  Crafted with sterling clarity and intelligence, V for Vendetta brings an unequaled depth of characterization and verisimilitude to its unflinching account of oppression and resistance."

I've been meaning to read this for a while!  Since Watchmen made me so angry, I figured that I should give him another chance.  He really is adept at telling a killer story.

This time, instead of becoming angry, I don't really know what to feel.  'V for Vendetta' talks about a society that, instead of turning into the society that it is today, anarchy reigns.  So V begins telling Evey about anarchy and why we need it.  He explains it as the path to true freedom: no one to enforce rules, just the allowance to build the world that we want; destroying the old and creating new from the rubble that remains.  It's like society is a phoenix.

The most unsettling thought in this book, to me, is the separation of anarchy and chaos.  V explains that it is anarchy if there is no authority.  It is chaos when bad things happen because of this lack of authority.  I feel as though that isn't true.  If there isn't someone to set an example or at least to enforce the rules that have been created for this particular society, who's to stop those who want to push their freedom to its limits?  It seems that chaos is bound to follow once an anarchy is put into place.

Needless to say, I don't think anarchy is the answer for the world.  If change must be made (and there's quite a laundry list of change that needs to happen), we need to fight for it and draw attention to it.  Nothing will be fixed if we start anew.  Many of the same people will be there.  You can't erase hatreds that have existed for thousands of years, it will take a lot of time to recover from war and rebuild a crippled society...

But like I said, this book left me not really knowing what to think.  Alan Moore did have some good points... or interesting points, at least.  A lot of them are the same points I mentioned above.  This makes the book confusing and I don't know what to think.  In some situations, you can destroy something to create something new.  The image that came to mind almost immediately was a painting.  You start with a blank canvas and then you put a lot of time in it so that it looks like something.  But if you change your mind about what you want to paint or you hate what you've put a lot of effort into, you can paint over the painting to create something new.

It's a weak image...

With this same painting, you can work with what you have, working to make it better, changing it as you see fit.  And maybe that's better.  You waste less paint that way...

This is a book that I will need to read again sometime.  Now that I've had a first reading, maybe I'll get more out of this book.

Overall, this is a truly powerful book and it will take some time to work through your brain, I think.

I give 'V for Vendetta':
Thanks for Reading!