Friday, December 24, 2010

Booo!

Just a quick post here to vent about how ridiculously sucky December has been on the whole!

Between work stress and family stress and most recently finding out that my boyfriend's mother was hospitalized due to a brain aneurysm (she's through surgery and doctors are optimistic that she'll recover - thank goodness), I feel like everything December has touched this year has gone terribly, horribly wrong, and I for one will be very thankful once 2010 is over!

I don't know what you have against me, December, but the feeling is mutual at this point. I say we go our separate ways, and soon. 

So, once again my well-intentioned blog plans have been thwarted *shakes fist at December* and I'm a little behind. I will try to do a catch-up triplicate Top 10 post tomorrow if I can.

Here's to hoping that 2011 is better! 


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

10 Days to 2011: Top 10 - New To Me in 2010

Today is December 21, 2010 (well, for 36 more minutes on the East Coast anyway), and I realized that 2010 will be over in 10 days. And because I like numbers in triplicate (I don't know why, just go with it), I thought I would do ten Top-10 lists to end out 2010.

And hopefully this one goes better than my Thanksgiving flop. Let's just brush that under the rug, shall we? *sweep* There. All better. Nothing to see here... Move along. Thank you!

Anyway... Here we go...

Day 10: Top Ten "New To Me" Books of 2010

The Passage (The Passage, #1)
10. The Passage by Justin Cronin - I really enjoyed this book, although it is quite different than I had expected it to be. I love post-apocalyptic fiction, and this definitely delivered on that! It's the first in a series, and ends on a cliffhanger, but the this is definitely not one to miss if you're a fan of post-apocalyptic literature with a touch of the surreal.

Little Brother   
9. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow - Another favorite genre here, dystopian fiction. This book was brilliant, and relevant, and a definite must read. If you worry at the lengths that those in power will go to in order to keep us safe border on intrusive (and one needs only look to our airports to see this in action) - read this book.



The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism8. Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein - Semi-related to Little Brother, in that "disaster capitalism" takes advantage of legitimate (and staged) catastrophes for profit and control of the people. This is only part of it, of course, but this is one of the best books I've read this year. Highly recommended.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
7. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride - I loved this book! It was unique, witty, awesome and fun. I could not put it down - not that I wanted to. I loved all of the characters, and the story, and the freshness of it - it definitely stood out as a favorite of mine this year. I can't wait for the next book! 


If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)6. If I Stay by Gayle Forman - This was another standout YA book this year, but for a very different reason. This book, far from being light-hearted and fun with an edge, like Necromancer, was all serious issues and pain and loss and grief, and addressed the struggle of continuing on in a life where we've lost everything we love. There's a sequel coming out soon, and while I thought that If I Stay was perfect as a standalone, I can't resist pining for Where She Went coming out in 2011. Read this with tissues at the ready.
Hurt Go Happy
5. Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby - Another soul-crusher! This book broke my heart into a thousand little pieces for so many reasons. But it was a good pain, because I felt so much... clearer and receptive afterward. This is one of those rare books that hollow you out and let you see things from a new perspective - but the process can be hard. I absolutely recommend this book. Trust me on this one. I'd never lead you astray.

The Help4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett - I. Loved. This. Book.
This is a beautiful story about 3 women living in the South during the 60s, during a very turbulent time in America's history due to racial tension, gender roles, social roles and ignorance and hate all meshing together... I definitely recommend the audio for this one, if you can get it. Lovely and touching.

Losing Julia 3. Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull - Allison from The Allure of Books sent this one to me on a whim for Christmas last year, and I read it in early 2010 and it became an instant favorite which has stuck with me all year. This book is fantastic on so many different levels. I didn't want it to end, but of course it had to. If you spot it out there in the world, pick it up. It's worth it.



The Gun Seller 2. The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie - I loved this book so much that when I finished it, I wrote in my review that I wanted to hump Hugh Laurie's leg for writing it. It was witty, hilarious, relevant, and awesome. I loved it so much that I had to own a copy - this is definite re-read material.



Horns1. Horns by Joe Hill - It's hard to say that this is my favorite book of the year, since I read so many great ones in 2010, but this gets the number one spot. For one thing, this book absolutely deserves it. Joe Hill poops gold, I swear it. Everything he writes is better than the last, and Horns is flippin' awesome. Like The Gun Seller, I finished this and wanted to hump Joe's leg too. Amazing and touching and made of awesome.

(Offer still stands, gentlemen, if you see this. Email me!)

So there you have it. If you haven't read any of these books, you're missing out. I loved each and every one of them, and wouldn't talk them up if they weren't worth it. Grab one and give it a try!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins ★★

I am probably one of the last people on Earth to read Mockingjay. It was one of the most highly anticipated series ending books ever. Everywhere I looked someone was talking about it - counting down the days till release. There was ARC craziness and spoiler worries and giveaways offering the book sprouted up like weeds (including one of my own!), but I just now got around to reading it myself, and I was more than a little disappointed by it.

Without further ado... My Mockingjay review.


Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)I'm really torn on what to rate this book. I went back and forth between 2 and 3 stars a few times, but I ended up going with 2 stars for a variety of reasons that I hope I'll be able to convey. I don't think that it was terrible, I was disappointed and irritated by quite a lot of it.

I will try not to spoil the plot, but if you haven't read the book, read the following at your own risk:

First things first... In The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I cared about Katniss and Gale and Peeta. They were just these kids who were unlucky enough to live in this society that puts on this horrific event every year. They were born into hard lives of hunger and uncertainty and fear and control, and then victimized and picked off annually for the entertainment of the nation. I felt like I understood Katniss in HG (Hunger Games) and CF (Catching Fire). She didn't have a choice how to live, but she did her best to make a place for herself and do what she could to survive and not become a monster. The same went for Gale and Peeta - they did what they could do and tried to be decent.

But in Mockingjay (hereafter called MJ), I didn't feel like I knew the characters at all! I know that there had been a lot of changes and a lot of hard choices and pain and all of that, but in a matter of 6 weeks from the end of the Quarter Quell that ended CF to the beginning of MJ, it's like ALL of the characters that I loved and knew had changed into cruel, angry and unrecognizable goblin versions of themselves. I was really hard pressed to find anything redeeming in any of them quite a lot of the time.

Katniss is aloof, angry, consumed by self-loathing and guilt, and just shuts down and shuts everyone out. Gale has become this cold, calculating tactician who has none of the warmth that he had before - not even when it comes to his best friend who is clearly struggling. They argue and fight all the time, even when Gale is supporting Katniss - and even during these times (because he DOES stand by her), she is horrible to him and everyone else. Selfishly acting like she's the only one to have suffered or feared anything.

And that's not even to mention Peeta. He is nothing, NOTHING, like the Peeta we knew in HG & CF. Granted, he has valid reasons (more valid than Katniss's selfish ones) for this change, but it was frustrating all the same - and even more so because of the way that Katniss reacted to him.

Again I will stress that I understand the pressure that they were all under, and the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty and impending war and all that. I understand it, and even appreciate it, but I felt like the way Collins handled it stripped Katniss, Peeta and Gale of their humanity. These are teens who have had to live through situations that most adults have never lived with - the pressure is intense. But I couldn't really care about any of that because these characters seemed so robotic and cold and unreachable. All of them. And that's incredibly disappointing to me. Even when Katniss and Gale were allowed special privileges to go hunting together as they used to, there was not really any closeness or friendship or support between them, no vulnerability. You'd think that they would rely on each other for support, but the relationship was completely one-sided, with Gale supporting Katniss and Katniss acting like the world is on her shoulders alone. I wanted her to rely on him - ANYONE - and let go a little... to not hold everything inside. To be human. But even when she did break down, it was so clinical and sterile I just couldn't care.

Buttercup the cat, who had, at best, bit parts throughout the series, evoked much more emotion from me than any of the major players. Yes... A cat. And Prim is her usual, wise-beyond-her-years, caring, bundle of goodness and strength. I loved her. She is really the only human character next to Finnick, who I came to really like in this one. He was vulnerable and human.

So, yeah. My main complaints were regarding the characters themselves. Many times they would act completely out of character, Katniss especially, and I found it frustrating.

=====================SPOILER========================
====================================================

For instance... After wallowing for the entire book and keeping a running list of all the people who have died or been hurt by her actions, Katniss votes YES to hold one last Hunger Games with the Capitol's children, so that they know how it feels. WHAT??? After going through two of them herself, trying to save as many as she could, after becoming the Mockingjay to END the regime that forces the Hunger Games on the people of Panem, she would vote yes to send more innocent kids to slaughter? That makes no sense to me at all.

====================================================
=====================END SPOILER====================

And then I have to say that the way the end was resolved didn't make sense to me. The twists, yes, they made sense and weren't unexpected. But I didn't really feel that Katniss was A) given enough information to lead her to the conclusion she came up with or B) clever or shrewd enough to get there on her own. And if she was, which again would be out of character, then why was this not conveyed? Katniss is telling this story - we get her every thought - even when all that entails is a refusal to think of something.

I wasn't disappointed by the relationship aspect - or lack thereof - in this story. Considering that I didn't really like or care about any of the characters, I wasn't exactly sitting on the edge of my seat with fingers crossed hoping for a certain outcome. It was not what I'd expected, but I was OK with it.

Regarding everything else, I thought that the dystopian themes and the events in the story (almost all of them) were good, and the pacing was great. Not everything was wrapped up how I would have liked, but it is a definite end, and for that I'm glad, because I don't see how another book in this series would be an improvement for me. I can see why some would really like this, but all in all, I was not thrilled with it.
View all my reviews

Since writing that review earlier, I've thought of more stuff that I should have included in it, like (Spoilers!) how the situation regarding Prim's death felt like it was manipulated by Collins to point at Gale being responsible, which felt like a ploy to shift all of the shippers to Peeta's team and make Katniss hate him, and subsequently Gale moving to District 2 and ending all communication with Katniss. This is so out of character for him - the guy who stood by Katniss through thick and thin and never wavered, I just can't imagine him giving up on her, or her casting him completely out of her life. (End spoilers.)

There's just so much that I felt was out of character and misrepresented. It seems silly to use that word since the story is Collins', but it feels true. It's like Mockingjay forgot who it was really about. I felt like the characters that I loved were gone, and there were angry, sullen, vicious strangers in their places. Very disappointing.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In My Mailbox (9)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren.

It's been a little while since my last IMM post - and I've been slacking a bit lately on posting anything at all on ze blog. Work and family issues and just general life have prevented me from doing so. Booo!

Anyway, I'm back now, and have IMM goodness to share!


From Goodreads Swap:

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

From B&N Bargain Books: 
 
The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice #1) by John Flanagan
The Terror by Dan Simmons
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

For Review: 
 Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Received from Publisher)

And (Holy Crap YES!) this:
 
Oh man! Early Christmas present NOOOOOOK! :D So freaking exciting! The handsome fellow shown on the screensaver is Homer. I've loaded a bunch of free books on it already including the Vampire Academy 1-5 and a bunch of classics. 

Sorry about the angle of the last two pics - had glare issues. :( 

Anywho... that's my IMM this week - what's in yours?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor ★★★★

The Anatomy of GhostsA good friend of mine raves about Andrew Taylor, and now I know why. I'd never read anything by him before, so when I saw The Anatomy of Ghosts available to advanced reviewers, I jumped on the chance to read it - and I very much enjoyed it. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of his books.

The story takes place mainly at Cambridge University, where a young student claims to have seen a ghost and is taken to a nearby sanitarium for treatment. His mother, Lady Anne, who is connected with the University and is concerned for her son, hires a down-on-his-luck man to investigate the matter and restore her son to his right mind.

This story is chock full of interesting characters, all of whom step right off the page and into living color. Jerusalem college (a college within the larger University), is almost a character in itself with secrets and habits and its own lifestyle. The young men who go there to learn come away with much, much more than the degree they studied for. It was quite intriguing, and put me in mind of rumors and whispers that one hears about old campuses like that.

I particularly loved the writing, though. The story takes place in the late 18th century, and the writing set the tone, character, and pace perfectly, without venturing off into wordy exposition, all the while keeping the suspense and the intrigue going. Quite a feat! Too often historical fiction forgets itself and strays into modernity in order to ramp up the tension and suspense, but Taylor did not lapse at all.

I also really enjoyed the slight social commentary running throughout the novel, with regards to rank and position and power. Of course this is a popular theme throughout history, as people have always been obsessed with rank and position and power, but I felt that here it was put on display, in a way. It's hard to say just what I mean, because I don't mean that the writing was Austen-esque in terms of satirical social commentary, but rather that it was so gritty and real feeling that a modern reader would see it as such. It was not glorified or glamorous, but rather what I think was an accurate representation of the lengths that some will go to to attain power and the lengths some will go to to keep it. Fascinating stuff.

I would have given this book 5 stars, except that I feel that one portion of the plot was not resolved at all in the end, and I was left a little disappointed. The ending itself was satisfying, and I could not guess any of the twists and turns that the story would take (and there were quite a few!), but this one little detail was irksome for not being resolved, and so I had to drop down the rating a bit. Otherwise, I was drawn in and engaged in the story, and felt as if I was watching from the sidelines rather than reading, and I love the feeling of falling through the pages of a book.

I definitely recommend this one to historical fiction, mystery and thriller fans.

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Monday... What are you reading? (7)

"It's Monday... What are you reading?" is hosted by Sheila at BookJourney.

So here's what I'm reading, and what I've read - November catch up edition!
I'm Currently Reading:
The Waste Lands by Stephen King - This is the third book in his Dark Tower series, which I'm currently reading for December with two different groups on Goodreads, one public and one private. This time around, for re-read number 1934872759, I'm listening to the audio, read by Frank Muller. It took me a while to get used to his reading style (all of The Gunslinger -unrevised edition- and a good bit into The Drawing of the Three), but now I'm really enjoying it and highly recommend it!

For November, I've read:
Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank
Changeless by Gail Carriger
The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower book 2) by Stephen King (Audio read by Frank Muller)
Blameless by Gail Carriger
The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan (Audio read by Nathan Lowell)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Audio read by Roses Prichard)
I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert (Audio read by Colbert & cast)
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor - ARC (review to come!)
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens - ARC (review to come!)
Darkfall by Dean Koontz
The Stand: Captain Trips (Graphic novel) by Stephen King and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
The Stand: American Nightmares (Graphic novel) by Stephen King and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Whew! That's a good amount of reading (and listening!) done in one month. My goal for the year is to hit 126 books read. Including The Waste Lands, I should make this, as December is going to be strictly fantasy with the following line up:

December Goals:
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (Yep - I'm reading these again! US editions this time.)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and theDeathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Another full month ahead of me - 11 books, and a total of 6940 pages. But I have a feeling that I will love ALL of them. :) Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review: Zan-Gah - A Prehistoric Adventure by A. R. Shickman ★★

Zan-Gah:  A Prehistoric Adventure (Zan-Gah, #1)This story is about a teen in pre-historic times, and his quest to find his twin brother who disappeared over a year ago. Zan-gah is brave and proud, and sure that if he starts his adventure, he will be rewarded in finding his goal. He encounters a lot of dangers and obstacles along the way, but never gives up hope.

I wish that I could say that I loved this book as I really enjoy adventure stories, but unfortunately, I had quite a few issues that I could not ignore. Overall, I thought it was OK, but I thought the concept could have been great and I had hoped for more.

First, I felt that the writing seemed to talk down to the reader. I know that this is a children's/young adult book, but readers still want to be immersed in the story and see the events through the characters' eyes. This was a book full of events that were told rather than shown, and after just telling the reader what happened, we were then told, with italics or exclamation points, what the events or actions meant, as if the reader would not understand. Perhaps these little asides were intended to draw in the reader, but to me they felt a bit condescending and repetitive. I think that this was done more to clarify what was happening than to condescend, but I didn't feel that the reiteration was necessary. We should be able to gather from context what a particular action or scene signifies, and examine that scene in relation to our own experiences. If every event is explained, we have no need to look for any other meaning or significance to ourselves, and it's then harder to connect or identify with the character without that bond.

I felt that the characters were interesting and diverse, but I didn't really feel as though I understood any of them. I did root for everything to come out OK in the end, but I couldn't really identify with the characters regarding their lives or choices or actions. I kept being surprised by the decisions that Zan made, because they were different than the ones that I would have made in his place. In a way this is a good thing, because I do generally enjoy unpredictable characters, but I admit that it did make me feel as though I didn't know Zan at all.

The second issue I had was the language used. It felt modern and out of place with the setting. The character names are all seemingly appropriate, and certain words in the presumed language of the pre-historic people, but then we have a teenage main character using modern English words like "proficient" that obviously didn't exist then. It just stuck out and unfortunately didn't work for me. Again, I realize that this was probably done in an effort to make the story more accessible to younger readers, but it was distracting and took me out of the story.

The third issue that I had was that there was just too much I found unbelievable. There were close calls, sure, but every time there was the least amount of trouble, the characters would find an incredibly convenient way out of it with little or no effort at all. Yes, Zan-Gah is described as resourceful, but he didn't really show this quality - and when he did, it was not his resourcefulness that benefitted him, it was luck or someone else coming to his aid.

There is a theme of unity and working together and loyalty that appealed to me, however. Zan-Gah helps to facilitate between his clan and those of his neighbors. Although it was effected very easily, with little more effort than gathering the people and making a short speech, still, he enacted a change for the better, and I did like that. I also liked the fact that he did not give up hope of his brother, and went to try to save him, against all odds, and knowing that he may never return. I was proud of Zan-Gah for his bravery.

I think that this book is one that younger readers may enjoy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Author Interview: Stephanie Dray, author of "Lily of the Nile"

Stephanie Dray is the author of the soon-to-be-released Historical Fantasy novel Lily of the Nile, a novel about Princess Selene of Egypt. From the moment I saw the beautiful cover of this book, and read the excerpt on Goodreads, I've wanted to read Selene's story, so I am thrilled to have the opportunity to find out more about the book from Stephanie herself in preparation for its release in January 2011.  Read on! 

Q: Both you and author Michelle Moran have written books about Cleopatra's daughter, Selene. What inspired you to write about her?

A: I've always been interested in Cleopatra VII. When I found out that she had a daughter--one who survived to become Queen of Mauretania--I had to know more. Imagine the life of a child whose parents both commit suicide, a child who is taken prisoner and dragged through Rome in chains, only to charm her way into power. That was an irresistible story for me. What made it more interesting is that Selene lived through a period of great social and religious transition. I wanted to know how her life fit into that context and I was moved by every new thing I discovered about her.

Q: Lily of the Nile is a historical fantasy - Did you know from the start that this was the type of book you wanted to write? If not, how did it change from what you had intended?

A: Originally, the story I planned was more historical fantasy than historical fiction. I wanted to write an alternate history where things turned out differently. But the more I researched Selene's life, the more her actual circumstances touched me. For example, though she was only ten years old when her parents died, she never forgot them, or any of the family that she lost. The relics found from her reign in Mauretania show frequent references to her mother and to lost loved ones. This is a little girl who grew up to be the last Ptolemaic queen, and her desperation to hold onto her heritage resonated with me and seemed like its own little bit of magic.

Q: What was the most difficult aspect of researching for a book like Lily of the Nile?

A: I can't read or write Latin or Greek and that was a huge limitation for me in my research. Having to rely upon English translations frustrated me. Also, there's a great deal that we know about the Augustan Age, but references to Selene are brief and tantalizing. For example, both of her brothers simply disappear from the historical record. Some historians suggested that they went on to live obscure lives with their sister but modern historians theorize that they must have died young or they'd be mentioned. There's a danger in making assumptions when we have so few surviving historical accounts, and those that we do have were often written hundreds of years after the fact. I try to approach historical mysteries without any hubris and am willing to admit that there are things we just don't know and might never know.

Q: I am very much a character reader; for me to enjoy a story, it has to have realistic characters that I can identify with and care about. What is the one "make or break" aspect a book must have for you to love it?

A: I'm with you. It's all about character. I can't get into a book, no matter how well written or clever, no matter how fast the plot moves, if I don't have a reason to care. Selene speaks to me as a character, and as a historical figure, and that's what makes the book for me.

Q: Can you talk about one aspect of writing and/or publishing that surprised you, either positively or negatively, and what you would do differently if you had the chance?

A: If I had the chance to go back and write Selene's story as one giant novel instead of three smaller books, I think I would have done that. I didn't understand the women's fiction market very well when I started writing, and I thought, nobody will buy a book that big!

Q: Have you ever been surprised by the reactions of readers? For example, readers loving a character that you disliked or vice versa?

A: Every now and then a reader will surprise me by wishing that Selene was a sweeter, more innocent girl, who never feels rage. A lot of fiction out there revolves around heroines who never lose their temper, who always do the right thing, who never struggle. I'm not very interested in those kinds of heroines and I rarely write them. What's more, I don't know any real women who are like that. Selene had a very difficult life and she has plenty to be angry about. She loves some of the people she's supposed to hate and she hates some of the people she's supposed to love. She tries, she fails, she changes, she becomes. I love her for that.

Q: I know that there is a sequel in the works - are there more books in the series planned?

A: The next book in the series will follow Selene on her journey to Mauretania as its young queen. It's in this book that she becomes the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice, and the one woman who can destroy his empire…

Q: Do you have any "quirks" regarding your writing habits? Like writing longhand and then typing it up, or using only a "lucky" font, or needing absolute quiet or loud music or background noise?

A: I like to have my kitties sleeping beside me when I write ;)

Q: Who or what is your favorite mythological figure or creature?

A: I have to go with nymphs because they are a primal expression of the mystery that women represented to the ancients. They lived outside of civilization and social norms. They were wild and alluring and even dangerous. They were the original bad girls of the ancient world and I love them for it.

Q: I'm sure you get the same types of questions all the time, so what is the one question you wish someone would ask you, and the answer you'd give?

A: I'd like someone to ask me if I really hate the ancient Romans. Selene's perspective in the book is very slanted. She hates the Romans and thinks everything they do is bad whereas everything about her mother's Egypt is good. This is a biased point of view and one that I intentionally adopted for her. Unfortunately, people think it's my point of view. I have enormous respect for the ancient Romans and I'm well aware of the influence they've had over our own culture. In fact, don't tell Selene, but I even have quite a soft spot for Augustus!

Thank you so much, Stephanie! I am extremely excited to read this one, and I can't wait to get my hands on it! :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (11): Tim by Colleen McCullough ★★★★★

Tim Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen at The Introverted Reader.

Wow... There is so much that I want to say about this book, and I don't know if I will really be able to do it all justice. I think I'm just going to go for my tried and true method and just ask you to tag along with my ramblings... Hopefully it will make sense at the end. :)

On the surface, "Tim" is a story of an unlikely relationship between a child-like 25 year old mentally retarded man, the title character, and a 43 year old straight-laced and emotionally distant spinster, Mary Horton. Naturally, their relationship is mutually beneficial, with each of them teaching the other how to live.

But the surface story, while absolutely moving and beautiful, is just the bottom layer of the cake. McCullough supplements that base with layer upon layer of detail and depth and insight and truth. While the finished product by another author may have been a tasty and even nice looking cake, in McCullough's expert hands it's something too amazing to actually mar by eating it. You want to keep this cake. You want to cherish it and remember every beautiful detail of it.

We're introduced to Tim, and from the beginning he's impossible not to love and want to protect. Tim's child-like innocence is what really broke my heart. He is tricked and fooled by his "friends", and is upset afterward, but not because he was tricked. His is not a knee-jerk reaction to being laughed at that causes him distress, it is the fact that he knows that he is not able to understand WHY he is being laughed at that distresses him. He seeks acceptance and understanding and love just like we all do.

All of us, that is, except Mary Horton. From the age of 14, she struggled and worked hard on her own to make a life for herself. Unfortunately, due to having a very hard childhood, her idea of "life" is one devoid of any personal relationships. She's never had a boyfriend, never wanted one, doesn't have any personal friends, and her only pleasures are solitary ones, her successes are material ones.

After a chance meeting with Tim, who fascinates her simply because of his sheer attractiveness, they each begin to fill a hole in the other person's life that neither knew they had. This isn't recognized until much later, but it warmed my heart to see them teaching each other what life is really about.

McCullough's descriptions of emotion and perception of the world is amazing. I'm not sure I've ever read anything like it. Her way with words is brilliant. It's like she's imparting secrets that you already knew, but just couldn't understand because the words are just words without MEANING. Even sitting here writing this, I'm at a loss to describe just what it is that touched me so deeply, but I'm close to tears just thinking about the way that she makes simple concepts turn into life-altering truths.

But more than that, she made me think of things in a way that I would never have thought of before. For instance, at one point when Tim is sleeping, Mary ponders what his dreams are like: Did he venture forth as limited in his nocturnal wanderings as he was during his waking life, or did the miracle happen which freed him from all his chains?

I had to stop and think about this. On the one hand, dreaming that you are not fettered by a mental handicap would lend the dreams a wonderful freedom, but on the other, I would imagine that waking up to realize that that freedom was only an illusion would be torture day after day. So, I hope that is not the case.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about McCullough's writing was its vividness. Her characters are just ALIVE and jump off the page. Their local slang and way of speaking had me laughing even while I had tears in my eyes, because while the phrases they use are hilarious, what they are actually saying is true in any language.

The characters are memorable, and none of them, not one, pulls any punches. I love that they say what they mean, and mean what they say. Brutally honest, perhaps, but if what needs to be said is important enough, sometimes it takes a brutal delivery to make it sink in.

I also loved the little snippets of Australian life and culture we get to see. I love reading about other cultures and people, and the only thing that I wish was extended was the small section dealing with the Australian bush. I wanted to see the people and find out how Mary would interact with them.

Anyway. I loved this book. I'm immensely glad that I read it, and can safely say that I will soon be reading much, much more of McCullough's writing.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In My Mailbox (8)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren.

Not very much going on this week at all... I only picked up two books this week:

Two Moon Princess
Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban (sent to me by Chris), and

Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate, #3)
Bought Blameless by Gail Carriger (Parasol Protectorate #3).

This past week I was yet again a slacker! I read:
Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank (Click for my review)
Changeless (Parasol Protectorate #2) by Gail Carriger

I'm currently reading:
Blameless by Gail Carriger
The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

That's all folks... Adieu until next week... or so. :)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Review: Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank ★★★★

Heidegger's GlassesI really enjoy reading stories about the Holocaust and about the people who have lived through it. I suppose that in a way, it helps me to gain perspective in my own life, and reminds me that there is goodness to be found in everything. The suffering of the Jewish people during WWII was immense, yet they continue to hope and live. That means something to me.

Heidegger's Glasses takes a different path, a surreal and philosophical and almost mystical one, and is a very different, but no less moving or beautiful story, because of it. We are told in the beginning that the leaders of the Reich were believers in the occult, and felt that winning the war hinged on answering letters to the dead. To do that, the Compound was formed underground, and multi-lingual Jews were placed there as Scribes to answer the dead's letters. When a letter comes in from a well-known person close to the Reich to a close friend who is currently in Auschwitz, the order comes down to answer the letter, even though the recipient is still alive -- the Final Solution must be kept secret, so the letter must not come from Auschwitz.

This throws a huge wrench in the lives of the Scribes, and the people assigned to run the Compound. Elie Schacten is close to the Reich, and has the ability to move freely throughout Germany as few do, and uses this freedom to help people as she can. Gerhardt Lodenstein the Oberst, is a good-hearted man who finds safety for the Compound in flying under the radar. Stumpf, the former-Oberst of the Compound is a believer in the occult and takes the letter writing to the dead very seriously, but is a it of a fool, and so tends to bungle everything he touches. The letter is written, delivered... and goes very badly wrong.

I think that what I enjoyed most about this book is that we get to see the war and the Reich from people inside it that hate it. They don't believe and they live in fear and uncertainty that they will be found out. The Compound is a mostly-safe haven for the Scribes under Lodenstein, and a temporary refuge for Jews in hiding, but after Heidegger's letter fiasco, you can cut the tension with a knife. They aren't sure if the Reich will come crashing down on their heads, or if they've forgotten, or if they don't care... there are a million ifs, but life must go on and there's very little that can be done either way. I felt like I was there, and was worried for this group of people who had lost nearly everything already.

I really enjoyed the writing in this book. It felt simple, almost surreal without quotation marks for the dialogue. The prose was straightforward, but contained some beautiful quotes that I wish I'd have marked. The sections were very short, for the most part, and separated by the letters that the Scribes were answering. These letters told the story of the "outside world" almost as well as any full book would have done, so that by the end, we can see the danger that the Scribes have managed to avoid, mostly, but they still have reason to fear. There were some funny sections in the book as well, which surprised me, since I didn't expect it at all in a novel about Nazi Germany. This helped the surreal feeling as well, but also provided the story with a kind of false-lightness above the seriousness and fear.

The ending was a little abrupt for me. The time shift and the unresolved whereabouts of one of the characters was a bit sudden and and disappointing. I'd hoped for this character to find what they were searching for and to find happiness, so the shift to an entirely new character jarred a little bit. But otherwise, I really enjoyed the story, and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a WWII story scene through a different lens.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (10): Little Brother by Cory Doctorow ★★★★

Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen @ The Introverted Reader

I originally read this book in March of 2010. 

My review:

Little BrotherI have to admit that the first couple pages or so had me rolling my eyes and wondering if I would be able to actually finish this book. There's so much technoslang that it seemed to me to be trying too hard, even though it is a book about hackers and technokids... Like, "Spending Fridays at school was teh suck anyway, and I was glad of an excuse to make my escape." Teh suck? Really. Ugh. (Although, to be fair, at least he spelled out "suck" and didn't write "teh sux" or something. I probably would have just had to close the book right then and there. *shudder*) Another example is using "vibe" rather than "vibration" when talking about receiving a text message, or "h4wt" for "hot", which doesn't make sense to me anyway, because it's longer and more cumbersome to type "h4wt" than it is to type "hot". But then later, the full and unabbreviated word "tarpaulin" is used rather than just "tarp", which felt out of place considering the shortening/slang usage of other stuff. I don't understand the stupidifying slang netspeak anyway, but then I'm older than 25, so I'm probably a lost cause.

Add to that that there is a lot of hacker exposition and explanation that I didn't really think was necessary, and you have the only two reasons that I couldn't give this 5 stars. I appreciate the author/narrator explaining the technical aspects of the story for those of us who aren't technologically super-savvy like the characters in the book, but it seemed like there was a lot that could have been contextualized (like gait-cams) rather than explained for pages.

But these are small nit-picks. Other than these two things, the book was brilliant, relevant and prophetic. I want to buy copies and hand them out at schools. I want my library to pick up 10 more copies and I want them to just magically appear in people's check-out stacks. I want people to read this book. I want people to learn from it and take away the knowledge that our freedom is more likely to be taken from us by Americans than by anyone else, and to fight against it when it happens.

This book is set in the not-very-distant-at-all future, after a "terrorist" attack in San Francisco, which essentially results in SF being turned into a vicious data-mining police state... Now with even more "With us or against us" mentality per square mile! *Used car salesman smile* It's frightening, because it's already happening right now. Innocent people are being held without trial, without representation, without anything, in the name of "security". This terrifies me more than anything, because there's no limit, no boundary. When there's a nameless, faceless, general "threat", "security" must by necessity become ever more pervasive and intrusive in our lives to find it. And the only people who suffer are us.

Benjamin Franklin said "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." The characters in this book understand this concept and they go about fighting for their freedom and their rights as American citizens even when the people they are fighting are the very people who are supposed to defend their rights as American citizens. Color me proud. Considering that this book is told from the point of view of a 17 year old, I can only hope that REAL 17 year olds think about this stuff, like prejudice and fear-mongering and overzealous uniformed officials, among others...

Anyway, I loved Marcus's character. Most of the time, probably because of the technoslang and the gaming, he felt younger to me than 17. More like 15. But in a way, that only made him more impressive to me. I loved that he was smart, and willing to stand up for himself and do the right thing, and learn from the world around him and from his own mistakes. When I have kids, I hope that they are something like Marcus... only minus the skipping school to play games stuff. Marcus carried the book well, and was believable as both a smart, mostly responsible teen, and a freedom fighter. I liked his honesty, and how he was unsure of himself but didn't let that stop him.

I expected certain things to happen as the story progressed, and I was right about many of them. The escalation of the security/police-state, the defenders of the security measures, the dissidents, etc. (They were done in a more high-tech way than we have now, but they aren't far off. RFIDs are already gaining popularity and there are 2 cameras that I can see from my house without leaving my porch.) But I was wrong about some predictions and suspicions that I had as well, which always makes me happy, because I really hate knowing where a story's twists will be.

This book should be a must read for everyone, right along with Nineteen Eighty-Four. Go read it. Look past the slang, and the technical explanations, and read this for the snapshot of our future if we aren't wary and vigilant with this so called "War on Terror". See you on Treasure Island... ;)

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (1) - Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Waiting on Wednesday was started by Jill over at Breaking the Spine.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Summary (from Goodreads):
A new collection of four never-before-published stories from Stephen King.
1922
The story opens with the confession of Wilfred James to the murder of his wife, Arlette, following their move to Hemingford, Nebraska onto land willed to Arlette by her father.
Big Driver
Mystery writer, Tess, has been supplementing her writing income for years by doing speaking engagements with no problems. But following a last-minute invitation to a book club 60 miles away, she takes a shortcut home with dire consequences.
Fair Extension
Harry Streeter, who is suffering from cancer, decides to make a deal with the devil but, as always, there is a price to pay.
A Good Marriage
Darcy Anderson learns more about her husband of over twenty years than she would have liked to know when she stumbles literally upon a box under a worktable in their garage.


I love Stephen King's short stories and novellas. His stories are so complete and fulfilling, and even when they stories run just a few pages, I feel like I have experienced the story along with the characters that we meet within the pages. 


Six days and counting... :D

Sunday, October 31, 2010

In My Mailbox (7)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren.

Alrighty - this week was a good week for me. I found a lot of books that I've wanted for a LONG time for ridiculously cheap prices. SCORE!!! I love when the stars align and book miracles happen. ;)

So here's what I got in my mailbox this week:

Library:
Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

For Review:
How The Government Got In Your Backyard by Jeff Gillman & Eric Heberlig
Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane (Kenzie & Gennaro #6)

Purchased Part 1:
The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir
The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
Push by Sapphire

Purchased Part 2: 
Flood by Stephen Baxter
Ark by Stephen Baxter
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Purchased Part AWESOME: 
Nightmares in the Sky by Stephen King
Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

I didn't know that Moonlight Mile was the sixth in a series when I requested it... so I guess I'll be reading the first 5 soon, eh? LOL 
But... I'm super thrilled about the Nightmares in the Sky score... I've wanted that book for a long time, and now I've managed to acquire it for a fraction of the original price. Woooo! 

OK, so here's what I've read since my last IMM post, which apparently was like 3 weeks ago... Such a slacker I am.

Read:
Looking For Alaska by John Green
The Gunslinger (original version - audio) by Stephen King
Everything's Eventual by Stephen King
Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson
Hell House by Richard Matheson
Room by Emma Donoghue
Keep The Change by Steve Dublanica

Currently Reading:
Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank

Upcoming: 
The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (reread - audio)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (reread)
The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan 
Push by Sapphire
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The King's Mistress by Emma Campion
...and/or whatever else strikes my fancy.

So that's what's in my mailbox this week... what's in yours?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Review: Keep The Change by Steve Dublanica ★★★★

Keep the ChangeI've had Waiter Rant on my radar for a long time, but for some reason just never got around to picking it up. I waitressed for a period of about 3 months back when I was 16, and even from such a short amount of time, I had some crazy stories! I've worked directly with customers in a service industry in some way or another since then (until last July anyhow), so the premise of Waiter Rant and all that it entailed was appealing to me. Sharing experience stories with people who've been there and who know what it's like to be on the receiving end of someone else's bad day with a smile plastered on your face is only one of the aspects that appealed to me about the book. But I'd also heard that it was funny, and I love funny. And then there's the added bonus of maybe people on the other side of life seeing a bit of perspective in the "people in the service industry are people not slaves" variety...

Anyway, when I saw that the author of Waiter Rant had a new book coming out, I requested a review copy. I worked in the service industry, as I mentioned, since I was about 16, but only the 3 month waitressing segment involved tipping. Still I considered myself to be a good tipper anyway... Until now. I've learned quite a lot from this book, and find that my tipping habits don't quite make the grade except in the case of restaurant gratuities. In almost every other category, I'm abysmally ignorant of correct tipping etiquette.

My tipping habits:
- I tip 20% of the total whenever we go out to a restaurant. (Grade: A)
{Industry standard is 15% of the bill, including drinks.}
- I tip $1 a drink at bars. (Grade: C)
{Should be approx. 20% of the bill. I do not give myself a lower grade here because drink prices are pretty reasonable in my area: $2-4/beer/shot or $7-9/mixed drink.}
- I did not know to tip the doorman at hotels. (Grade: F)
{Shame!!}
- I tip cabdrivers, but generally far below average. (Grade: D)
{Should be around 20% of the fare. But in my defense, I don't use cabs often!}
- I didn't know to tip car mechanics or detailers. (Grade: F)
{Should be $20-50 or so, depending on the work.}
... This is getting ugly, so I'm going to stop now.
If an A grade is 5 points, B is 4 points, C is 3 points, D is 1 point and F is 0, my average would be... 1.8 - D minus. Ouch.

So, needless to say, I feel like I've learned something from Steve here. I feel like I've been something of a tipping stiff in my life... and this despite the fact that I've worked for tips in my life and know how hard they are to come by and live on. But, the good thing is that Steve has given me the means to mend my ways, and I intend to follow them. I kind of feel like keeping this book with me at all times, kind of like a Tipping Bible, to be used in times of need (when stepping out of a cab, or into a hotel, etc) and containing words to live my life by.

That might seem a little extreme, but honestly I don't think so. Steve represents the facts of the working-for-tips way of life, and they aren't pretty. I knew that wait staff is usually underpaid, which is why I tip 20% rather than 15%, but I had no idea that was the case with so many other service jobs. It makes me rather ashamed of myself for not realizing this was the case, and corporate America for allowing and encouraging this kind of workforce exploitation. Steve presents the situation as he sees it, and in often brutally honest, no-holds-barred way, but still with an edge of wit and humor that makes the message a little easier to swallow. It still packs a wallop, at least for me it did, but it's a necessary evil to learn these things. Ignorance is bliss... for the ignorant. For the person on the other end, another's ignorance isn't going to put food on the table or a roof over their family's heads.

I found this book to be very informative and entertaining while still providing me with information I might never have learned on my own. I appreciate that. And not only did it serve both of these purposes, but Steve seems to also something of a philosopher and has an ability to understand human nature. Probably this is from so much time working with people, but it's refreshing to see a book about human nature that's not pretentious and not full of drivel. It's refreshing to see a book which doesn't feel like its author is above the reader somehow. This is just a regular guy, trying to understand a prevalent issue. I liked that.

So I will definitely be going out this weekend and picking up Waiter Rant. I know it's a little backwards, but better late than never, right? I definitely recommend this book for anyone who is confused by tipping (as I was!)... And remember - when in doubt, ask. :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Character Connection (4): Amy March

Character Connection is hosted by Jen @ The Introverted Reader.

I know that it is sadly disappointing that I am not doing a Halloween or horror themed CC post, but Little Women has always been one of my all time favorite stories, and so I've decided to pass up the horror this time around. I remember reading it when I was younger and falling in love with the March family, and with Laurie and Mr. Laurence and with Prof. Bhaer and John Brooke. I love the story and the trials they face and the way that they all stick together and come through them. It's such a beautiful, feel good story that will always be a comfort read for me.

Most people I've talked to choose either Jo or Beth as their favorite character. Jo, because she is lively and unruly and spirited and goes against the grain that says women must exist within their determined gender-roles. She has her dreams and she follows them, and damn the consequences. Beth, because she is just so wholly and completely, angelically good that you can't help but love her. She is the epitome of what anyone who aspires to be good would be if they could. (Wow - that totally rhymed.)

But my favorite character is Amy. She is the baby, theone that we get to watch become the woman she will be. In the beginning of the story, she's just a little, embarrassingly spoiled, girl who is concerned only with her appearance, her art and her social status. She gets exactly what she wants by wheedling and manipulation. She's rotten and selfish and generally intolerable in the first half of the book. But as the book progresses, she eventually grows out of those traits and learns to behave in a more mature and compassionate manner, and she learns to see things from a different perspective than just her own. In other words, she becomes a woman.


I love this turnaround in her, and it makes me proud of her that she took the initiative to make the change to her life, and be a better person than the one that she would have been otherwise. It's hard to reconcile those kinds of life-changes in a character that was so completely selfish and unlikeable previously, but in Amy, I don't find it hard at all. The circumstances in her life have forced her to mature and become independent when she otherwise would have floated along as the "baby" of the family. She learns to realize that the things that she thought were of the utmost importance when she was a child (her appearance and social status) are not important at all, and that friendship and love matter so much more.

Amy is an awesome character, and she shows that we can all be decent and compassionate people, no matter how horrid we are as a kid!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green ★★★★

Looking for AlaskaI've been seeing this book around for quite a while, but I never really thought about reading it. I figured that it was one of those "Let's see just how drunk, high and stupid we can get!" books, the ones that glorify the idiocy that is being a teenager. I went through that, I lived through it, even had fun with it at the time, but I outgrew that phase of my life (earlier than most) and I don't care to read about it now. So I was rather "Meh." about reading this book.

And then my friend, influential by persistence, introduced me to John & Hank Green via VlogBrothers on YouTube. Now, if you've never watched any of their videos, I highly recommend them. They are smart, funny, relevant and always make me think. So, via VlogBrothers, I came to understand John Green a bit, and realize that I had underestimated him. So, the next time I came across "Looking for Alaska", I picked it up. And this book did not forget to be awesome.

Right away, I was glad that I "met" John via VlogBrothers before reading the book. I could really feel his personality in it, and his intelligence and sense of humor. But I also felt like it was a story that he took seriously. Not only because of the serious subject matter, but because he captured the permanent impermanence of being a teen without making it feel like a joke. Everything now is forever until what was is yesterday and everything NOW is forever. Looking back on my teenage years, the furthest out I could imagine was 21, and that was only for the legal ability to drink. My friends were still my friends in this imagining, my life was still my life, as if the only thing that would change was my age. We just can't picture where things will take us. By the time I hit 21, I was so far from the predicted life I had thought I'd have that if someone had bet me a million dollars that I would have been there, I'd be out of a million dollars.

My point is that I liked the way that John portrayed these characters as having everything in front of them, to look forward to, but still they live in the moment as if that future never gets any closer. I loved that they were booksmart brilliant, but still make the same stupid mistakes and errors in judgment as anyone else. I love that they latch on to an idea and hold onto it despite realizing that it is slipping away anyway, because everything does and we change despite ourselves.

I loved Miles, or Pudge as he's called. I feel like I understood him. He's bookish, nerdy, a bit of a loner by necessity rather than choice, at least until he's around people who are ready to accept someone like him. Those people primarily being Alaska and Chip, aka The Colonel, who are both outrageous, brilliant and wild, and bring Pudge out of his shell a bit. Pudge forms an instant and close friendship with both of them, one that changes his life.

As much as I loved Pudge, I loved The Colonel more. He is one of those characters that, for me, just hop off the page and into being. I would have been friends with him. I liked that he came from humble beginnings, and that he and his mother weren't afraid to aspire to be better, that they weren't afraid to show how hard they work for something, that they weren't ashamed of who they are but rather proud of it. I loved that while he was as willing to play hard and get into trouble as anyone, he still took his priorities, which were his studies, seriously. I loved his loyalty and his determination to follow everything he started through to the end. He was definitely my favorite character here.

My least favorite character was actually Alaska. I don't know if this is because she's a female teenager written by a man, or if she just represented all (or at least a large chunk) of the things in teen girls that annoy me, but I just couldn't really like her. I can certainly see why Pudge would, why lots of teen boys would, but I just didn't. She was too much. Too wishy-washy, too moody, too impulsive, too flirty, too wild, too mysterious, too smart for her own good, too damaged-and-knew-it, too aware of her effect on others. But not all of these things are bad. And not all of them bother me individually, but all together, it was just too much and I couldn't care about her like The Colonel or Takumi or Lara or even Pudge did. And I find this last the worst, because Pudge is telling this story, so I should understand his feelings for her, but they just seemed shallow to non-teenage me. Attraction and flirtation do not equal love - unless you're 16 and a hopeful idealist.

But the one thing that I think affected me the most about Alaska is her sense of responsibility for others. She seems to take on the well-being and happiness of others as her own obligation, and the burden of guilt when she doesn't succeed. And it struck me that the guilt of failing someone is like a physical thing that can be passed on or spread. Alaska failed someone she loved, and then Pudge failed Alaska, and the guilt spreads.

Shortly after the shift from "Before" to "After" (which was a storytelling method I loved!), I realized why Alaska left the school that night, and I waited for the guys to figure it out as well. Normally, I would be disappointed that I figured it out before the main character, but this is not the type of "mystery" that gets solved like that. It's a human mystery, one where the only person able to solve it is the one you seek and cannot find.

I loved the depth of this book, particularly the philosophical aspects of their World Religions class. I wish I could have taken a class, and had a teacher like that. This book, and the class it depicted, makes you look at life, the world, and meaning itself differently. I am glad that I read it, because it was so much more than I thought it would be. And I officially declare myself to have been wrong. John Green, can you ever forgive me?

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (9): Horns by Joe Hill ★★★★★

Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen from The Introverted Reader.
This review was originally written on April 3, 2010.

HornsRemember, way back at the beginning of the year, when I said that I wanted to hump Hugh Laurie's leg for writing The Gun Seller? After reading Horns, and just the ARC - not even the finished, shiny and perfect masterpiece - I want to hump Joe Hill's leg for writing it.

Not too long ago, I read Hill's short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, and in the intro, Christopher Golden says that Hill is subtle writer, that his stories are "promises fulfilled". I think that Golden's words about Joe Hill are even more apt when it comes to Horns. This is Joe Hill fulfilling his promise to readers. Horns is his promise to the world that he can keep pulling new and amazing tricks out of his bag, and each one will be better than the last.

I'm sad that I'm finished, that it's over. I feel like I should just flip back to the beginning and read it again, because I know, without a doubt, that it will be even more brilliant the 2nd time around.

Joe Hill's subtlety and brilliance is much more in evidence and has more effect in this book than any of his other books I've read. I don't even know how to gush enough to do justice to what I want to say! I feel like with every line that I read, there was another line behind it that added to the depth of the one I'd just read. The way that he wrote Lee was amazing. Seeing things through his eyes was truly scary and disturbing. (I don't want to give too much away about his character, but I will say this, I think that Joe Hill wrote Lee Tourneau better than his father, Stephen King, wrote Junior Rennie.) When Ig sermonizes to the snakes, I was proud of him in that moment. Not simply for finally realizing that the snakes were his, but for his understanding of truth, and life, and love in that moment, and for accepting Merrin's decision that last night as being her right, even though it destroyed him. I feel like Joe Hill wrote these things, but then I also feel like he didn't write them, that he doesn't have to write them because they just seep out of the pages and into me. Merrin's letter is another one of those 'between the lines' bits. My heart hurt reading her letter to Ig, I felt like I was losing something myself, and I hurt for them. I definitely had some sympathy for the devil at that moment.

Which brings me to my next couple of points. I love how music works its way into Hill's writing and stories, and the depth that it gives them. It's not just there for set dressing or for a pop culture stamp to place the story into a familiar territory for the reader, one gets the feeling that not only is music important to Hill, but that it is vital to him. I feel like he was speaking through Ig when he was appalled at Lee's lack of music appreciation, his plain statement that music is simply the background noise to events or action. Music is something that some people live and breathe, and I feel like Joe is one of those people, and because he is, so was Ig.

I also loved the devilish humor inserted throughout the story. I love when a book can take me from one extreme to another, and this was no exception. I went from confusion, to shock, to laughter, to tears, to laughter, to more tears, etc. Every page brought some new revelation, and to me, Hill's timing with the humor and the heartache were spot on.

I further loved the full picture of Merrin we got, even though we never got to really meet her. We got a composite of her from various other sources, like a police sketch artist making a picture from one person describing the nose, another describing the shape of the eyes, another giving us the hair, or the mouth, or the jawline, etc. Merrin's loss hit me like a ton of bricks, even though I knew about it from the beginning. But it still hurt, because I came to love her the way that Ig did - even though there was a brief time that I disliked her when I saw her through Lee's eyes. Even though I knew it was hopeless, I still wanted to hope that something would happen to magically reverse what actually DID happen. That was wishful thinking, but what I'm saying is that Joe Hill made me feel that way, despite knowing what I knew about the impossibility of that.

I both loved and hated the way that people would spill their deepest and darkest thoughts to Ig, and I really felt for him having to endure the awful things that people thought about him. I couldn't imagine hearing those kinds of things from the people I love, and the people who are supposed to love me. Everyone claims to want the truth about how people feel about us, but I think that the plain, unvarnished truth is awful and unbearable. In my head, I can hear Jack Nicholson yelling, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" and it's true. I would have probably just crawled in a hole somewhere if people had said to me what they said to Ig. So, kudos to him for being stronger than I am.

I think that's enough gushing... There's a lot more that I wrote down to mention, but I think you all get the point now, don't you?

If you haven't already, read this book. Discover the greatness that is Joe Hill. I'm waiting! :)

 Oh yeah. :D

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Top Ten: Young Adult GLBT Books I Want To Read

Yesterday was Spirit Day, a day which mourns the loss of those who took their own lives due to homophobic bullying.

I am in favor of people being able to love as they choose, and it really sickens me that so many people refuse to let others live their lives without fear of persecution or hatred. So days like Spirit Day make me proud that people can come together to show that love is love is love, but also immensely sad that this sort of outpouring of support has to come at such a high cost.

So, in honor of Spirit Day, and love in all forms, here are the Top Ten books that I want to read featuring GLBT themes and/or characters. :)

10. Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

Fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year's Day to find himself in the hospital. Make that the psychiatric ward. With the nutjobs. Clearly, this is all a huge mistake. Forget about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart. Forget about his problems with his best friend, Allie, and her boyfriend, Burke. Jeff's perfectly fine, perfectly normal, not like the other kids in the hospital with him. Now they've got problems. But a funny thing happens as his forty-five-day sentence drags on—the crazies start to seem less crazy.

Compelling, witty, and refreshingly real, Suicide Notes is a darkly humorous novel from award-winning author Michael Thomas Ford that examines that fuzzy line between "normal" and the rest of us.


9. Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters

With a steady boyfriend, the position of Student Council President, and a chance to go to an Ivy League college, high school life is just fine for Holland Jaeger. At least it seems to be. But when Cece Goddard comes to school, everything changes. Cece and Holland have undeniable feelings for each other, but how will others react to their developing relationship? This moving love story between two girls is a worthy successor to Nancy Garden's classic young adult coming out novel, Annie on My Mind. With her characteristic humor and breezy style, Peters has captured the compelling emotions of young love.

8. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

It’s Dade’s last summer at home. He has a crappy job at Food World, a “boyfriend” who won’t publicly acknowledge his existence (maybe because Pablo also has a girlfriend), and parents on the verge of a divorce. College is Dade’s shining beacon of possibility, a horizon to keep him from floating away.

Then he meets the mysterious Alex Kincaid. Falling in real love finally lets Dade come out of the closet—and, ironically, ignites a ruthless passion in Pablo. But just when true happiness has set in, tragedy shatters the dreamy curtain of summer, and Dade will use every ounce of strength he’s gained to break from his past and start fresh with the future.
 

7. The God Box by Alex Sanchez 

High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they're good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he's also a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel's interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed. Manuel's outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand. 
  
6. Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

Hard Love tackles the delicate issue of unrequited love between a straight and gay teen. But what sets this novel apart from similarly themed books is Wittlinger's choice to present the story from John's straight male point of view. Funny and poignant first-person narration will engender empathy for John as he attempts to connect with his emotionally distant parents and an understanding of how his need for their affection has manifested itself in romantic feelings for a girl he knows is unavailable to him. Hard Love is a thoughtful and on-target addition to the growing canon of gay and lesbian coming-of-age stories. 

5. What Happened To Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci

The folks on Hackett Island, near Philadelphia, are not too friendly to newcomers. Anyone the slightest bit different is eyed with suspicion, as Claire found out when she missed a year of junior high due to leukemia. Now she works hard at fitting in, following treacherous but popular Macy's lead, hiding her passion for the guitar, and never talking about her fear that her illness will return. Or her nightmares. Or her eating disorder. The boys of Hackett Island's "in" crowd are members of the "fish frat"--hunky sons of the local fishermen--and their horseplay even among themselves is brutal and edge-of-danger.
And then Lani Garver shows up at school, a tall, thin, strangely androgynous person. "No. Not a girl. Sorry," he says pleasantly when Macy questions him about his gender with vicious curiosity. But Claire, much to Macy's disgust, is drawn to Lani, and his wisdom and kindness begins to heal her. He takes her to Philadelphia to meet his artistic friends, talks sense to her about her eating disorder and her blind devotion to Macy, finds her a therapist. Who is this Lani Garver? He resists "boxes" like "gay." Even his age is a mystery to Claire. Strangest of all, could he be a "floating angel," as his friends at the hospital seem to believe? Meanwhile, the fish frat are closing in for the kill, and when their harassment turns lethal, Lani shows a terrible side of himself Claire has never seen.
Carol Plum-Ucci raises tantalizing questions around a fascinating character in this gut-clenching story that transcends the clich├ęs of the gay-bashing novel.

4. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Logan Witherspoon recently discovered that his girlfriend of three years cheated on him. But things start to look up when a new student breezes through the halls of his small-town high school. Sage Hendricks befriends Logan at a time when he no longer trusts or believes in people. Sage has been homeschooled for a number of years and her parents have forbidden her to date anyone, but she won’t tell Logan why. One day, Logan acts on his growing feelings for Sage. Moments later, he wishes he never had. Sage finally discloses her big secret: she’s actually a boy. Enraged, frightened, and feeling betrayed, Logan lashes out at Sage and disowns her. But once Logan comes to terms with what happened, he reaches out to Sage in an attempt to understand her situation. But Logan has no idea how rocky the road back to friendship will be.

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
Since its publication, Stephen Chbosky's haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, and grown in to a cult sensation with over half a million copies in print.
It is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where all you need is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.
 

2. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.
When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it.
The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.
This is a happy, meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy, wonderful world.
 

1. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan 

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical. Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them legions of faithful fans. 

I think that we can all benefit from seeing things from a different perspective, and these books are sure to do that for me.

Have you read any great GLBT books lately? Let me know in the comments -- And don't forget to check out my review of  Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden which would be perfect for this list except that I've already read it. ;)