Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin ★★★★★

Rosemary's Baby4.5 Stars

I admit that I'm a little torn on what to rate this book, so I split the difference, although I'm really tempted to go all StarSearch™ up in this piece and do 4.75 stars. (Wait, did they have a 5 star rating system? No, I think it was only 4. Crap. Well, anyway, you get the point. That is, unless you're younger than me and don't even know what StarSearch is. In that case, you're a jerk, and go away.)

Anyway, I'm torn because, having seen the movie before, I think that Roman Polanski nailed the ending... He stopped at just the right point, and left us with that lingering empathetic horror, the mystery, the "What the fuck?!" feeling. We get just a hint, and the rest is Rosemary's reaction, and that subtlety's often better than the giving up the whole shebang.

The book takes the ending just a smidge further, and with a smidge more detail to the what, and that smidge further opens a line of possibility that is horrifying in itself. The things that a mother will accept, the things that a PERSON can accept, it's scary to think of in extremes like this. Imagine raising this baby with the eye of the world watching. Jeez. The terrible twos would be... apocalyptic. So... yeah, I'm torn. I don't know which ending I prefer. They are both great in their own ways.

I listened to this one as an audibobook, and I LOVED it. It was read by Mia Farrow and honestly, I think that her reading may have upstaged her movie performance. Not that she wasn't great in the movie, because I think she was, if a teeeeeensy bit melodramatic, but the audio relied solely on her voice, and so it was a bit more subtle and intense at the same time. I'm not sure how to really explain it, but just trust me, it was awesome.

Mia portrayed Rosemary's naivete perfectly. Perfectly. I feel like, perhaps if I'd have read this, I'd have found some of it a bit ridiculous. The things that Rosemary goes along with, I'm thinking, "No! Don't drink the putrid drink again! Are you STUPID?!" but then Mia does such an insanely great job at showing us this small town, kinda sheltered girl on her own in the big city, with her barely-married-a-year husband, in way over her head, super excited that she's FINALLY pregnant, and just wanting to do the right thing, even though she's not sure just what that is. She's manipulated on all sides, she's tricked and fooled over and over, and even though she's smart, she just doesn't know to be suspicious until it's too late. Mia Farrow shows all of that perfectly. The wavery quality in her voice, the whispers, the hesitation, the doubt and fear... all of it comes through, and really adds a lot to this story, I think.

Then there's Ira Levin's writing in general. Really great stuff. It's so... layered. But it doesn't FEEL layered. It feels straightforward and almost simplistic, but it's like seeing tree after tree after tree, and then finally stepping back far enough to realize that it's a forest after all. It doesn't change what it is, but the big picture is a sum of the parts. I loved the little things, the tiny details that Rosemary saw as a whole lot of trees, never realizing that she was too close to see the forest.

Also, I was really kind of impressed by Guy Woodhouse in this, although it feels very strange to say so. He managed such a ridiculously fine line of manipulation, it's hard not to be impressed that he carried it off for so long, even while being feministically pissed at his audacity and selfishness.

I was also struck by the emotional and mental abuse tactics that Guy used to keep Rosemary in line. Always keeping her home, with no money and no means of getting any, cut off from friends and family. She was always watched or followed. He didn't even let her do her own shopping - the neighbors would do it in the guise of being neighborly and helpful in deference to her sickly condition. Even without the paranormal bent of this book, it would be terrifying just for those reasons. I kept hoping that she'd leave, go to a friend's house, anything, but she didn't. I knew the storyline already, but I still wanted her to just GO. Guy wasn't physically abusive, but he was emotionally neglectful and distant and cruel (not to mention all the rest), and she just wanted so badly to have a happy family that she couldn't see it.

This is a fantastic book. I'm so glad that I splurged on it. Highly recommended.

Horror October 2011: #8

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: The Bell Witch: An American Haunting by Brent Monahan ★★

The Bell Witch: An American Haunting2.5 stars

From the blurb: "The Bell Witch took up residence with John Bell's family in 1818. It was a cruel and noisy spirit, given to rapping and gnawing sounds before it found its voices.

With these voices and its supernatural acts, the Bell Witch tormented the Bell family. This extraordinary book recounts the only documented case in U.S. history when a spirit actually caused a man's death.

[...]this book recounts the tale with novelistic vigor and verve. It is truly chilling."

Chilling? Not so much. I just kinda expect malevolent spirits to, you know... be malevolent. Just a quirk I have. So much of this book was about how this spirit would just sit down and have conversations with people regarding what it is and where it came from and what it wanted. There was surprisingly little poltergeist chaos wreaking after the initial start. I dunno, maybe the teller thought we'd get bored with that chaos and terror, and instead wanted to tell us all the mundane stuff about it, like... how it went out of its way to prevent injury or death to some or outright save others. Or when it touched that one guy's hand that time, in order to be "liked".

I had seen the movie, and so I knew how it went. I wasn't sure whether the resolution at the end of the movie would be a Hollywood re-write or not, and so I waited it out with the book to see. And I found out my answer about an hour before the audiobook ended. I could have stopped there, but I'm glad that I kept with it until the end. It didn't improve things very much for me, but I think that there was information in the book that wasn't in the movie, about the spirit's origin and manifestation, and I found that aspect very interesting. Hence the half star addition. ;)

The audio reader was very iffy for me. In the Editor's Note at the beginning of the book, he sounded very stiff and formal, but then when he started to read the story, he fell into this kind of Southern drawl that made me sigh with contentment. Unfortunately, he didn't keep it up. Boo!

I'm not a big fan of audiobook readers who "do" the voices. I usually just want the reader to read and let the characters speak for themselves. There were parts that were very well done, Old Kate's "main" voice, & John Bell's voice were both done well. But then, during straight narration, the reader would lapse into odd accents, or stumble over his words, or pause at inconvenient times (like the middle of a word). I heard something like a Scottish accent, hints of a Spanish one, a little bit of Minnesotan, etc. Every time one of these would slip in, I'd be like...

Yeah. So, this book? Not terrible, but not very good either. That is all.

View all my reviews

Oy... Look at the dust in here!

Yeah, so... It's been a reallllly long time since I've posted anything to my blog, and... that makes me a lazy jerk.

I'm gonna try to do better, because... well I shouldn't be lazy or a jerk, let alone both at the same time. It's just shameful.

So, I'ma open the windows, dust things off, and maybe get off the couch...


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition

The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition by Richard Dawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know that you're all swooning now and sitting in awe of how incredibly well read I am, but let's just all settle down a minute so that I can tell you what I thought of this. Because really, that's why we're here. ;) Overall, I thought that this was really interesting. I like Dawkins already after listening to The God Delusion (although I liked that one much more than this one). I think The Selfish Gene is intriguing and plausible and actually makes a lot of sense. It was really interesting to learn about the different possibilities for design and evolution, and to see the cause and effect of different variations of a gene. I liked the risk and reward concept as well... It all makes a lot of sense to think of things in this kind of philosophical way -- Everything we are and will be is a carefully honed creation of time and trial and error and cause and effect. It kinda makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Where this one fell a little flat was in the reading and the very last quarter of the book. The reading was pretty good. I'd give it a B- overall. Lalla Ward and Richard Dawkins alternate reading this one, and mostly do a good job with the tone and pacing and all that. But there are times when it was just plain distracting, too. Lalla Ward speaks very proper British, e-nun-cee-a-ting her words and speaking very crisply and clearly, almost to the detriment of what she's actually saying, when all I can focus on is her pronunciation. Even when it's not WAY strange pronunciations like "hah-reem" instead of "hare-em" for "harem", her pronunciation just gets in the way, and at times just sounds a little school teacherish. Richard read all his own end notes immediately after the section in which they pertained, and sometimes he sounded almost bored and sad. And other times he sounded very pompous and critical of others. At one point in an end note, he went on a little tirade about computer programmers creating computer viruses, which has nothing at all to do with the point of this book. Which brings me to the last quarter of the book, in which he goes off on a statistical and odds game ramble for AGES. Explaining different types of betting and games of chance, and possible outcomes and options depending on whether one plays this way or that way... Sort of relevant to genes, but not really new, in that he'd already illustrated the odds and possible outcomes of genes ending up one way or another, and the cooperation of genes with another to improve odds or to effect a desired outcome, etc. Kinda glazed my eyes over a bit in this section because it was just a rehash of information already provided, and in a much less relevant and interesting (to me) way. Overall, I enjoyed this one. I feel like I learned something, and that's why I read it. Could have been a bit better in the execution department, but I can't complain too much. You may resume swooning now. :D

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan ★★★★

Boy Meets Boy Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's something about stories like this that just make me cry from sheer pride and happiness. I love when people are who they are, and when they're willing to fight to be happy and not live in someone else's world, but make their own if that's what it takes. It's the opposite of the gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, hollow-me-out-and-leave-me-weeping stories that I love. These fill me up with such pride I just want to SQUEE! all over the place, but end up always getting something in my eye instead... So, I loved this one. This is a celebration and examination of so many things... What it is to be gay, what it is to be a teenager, what it is to be in an unhealthy relationship, what it is to love, what it is to be something other than what is expected of us, what it is to be brave and stand up for what's right, what it is to be a friend... Gosh there is so much in this little book, I don't know how Levithan fit it all in. Maybe he writes really small. I loved this community. Everyone, well, MOSTLY everyone, is so unbelievably accepting and quirky and fun. It's like Perfect Small Town Community, Exhibit A. There's the park with a lake with paddleboats with names and personalities; there's the I Scream Parlor, which serves up horrifying ice-cream concoctions while playing horror movies; there's the music shop run by a couple with polar opposite taste, and the shop reflects that by being split down the middle; there's the movie rental place run by the guy who won't rent to anyone he doesn't know, won't help people find anything, and categorizes based on his own personal thoughts about the movies... and VHS format only. The football team quarterback and the Homecoming Queen is the same person, a drag queen called Infinite Darlene, and our main character's kindergarten teacher outed him for being gay on a progress report and nobody thought this was strange at all. I loved the community, but at the same time, I couldn't help but be a little distracted by the unrealistic perfection of it all. If the world were really like that, it would be amazing. Unfortunately, it's not, so the paragon of acceptance shown here comes off feeling a little cartoonish, a little too-good-to-be-true. This, and one unresolved issue, are the reasons why I can't give this 5 stars. The next town over, where Tony lives, is much more realistic, and this is where most of the stuff got in my eyes and made them water a lot. Tony's parents are of the religious variety, and aren't exactly accepting of their son's preference for boys. Seeing Tony struggle with the two aspects of his life, his parents and his heart, was hard for me. Paul's friendship with Tony was invaluable here. He provided the support that Tony needed to cope with these two warring forces in his life. There were some amazing lines in this little gem of a book. So many quotables that just stand out and shine. I'm surprised that this book doesn't glitter like Edward Cullen on a sunny day. (Actually, this is a library book, and there's something spilled on the back of it, and it seems like it's the image of a Sasquatch. He seems friendly though, from his stance.) Anyway, right. I could kind of quote this whole book, but then it would be plagiarism and that's not cool. But here's one of my favorite sections in the book:
"The first time I met you," he says, not directly to me, not directly to the floor -- somewhere in between, "I honestly couldn't believe that someone like you could exist, or even a town like yours could entirely exist. I thought I understood things. I thought I would get up every morning with a secret and go to sleep every night with the same secret. I thought my life would start only when I was out of here. I felt that I had learned something about myself too soon, and that there was nothing I could do to undo the truth. And I wanted to undo it, Paul. I wanted to so bad. Then I met you in the city and on the train, and suddenly it was like this door had been opened. I saw I couldn't live like I'd been living, because now there was another way to do it. And part of me loved that. And part of me still hates it. Part of me -- this dark, scared part of me -- wishes I never knew how it could be. I don't have the courage that you do."
It's kind of heartbreaking, right? Beautiful though. I really loved this book for everything that it is. On the surface, it's just this happy little boy meets boy book, a little whimsical, and fun, but underneath, it's so much more. I highly recommend it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman ★★★★

Preludes and Nocturnes (The Sandman, #1)Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had this sitting on my shelf for a while, after a friend gave it to me... but flipping through it when I first received it, I was a little overwhelmed. At the time, I had read only one or two graphic novels in my life, and this just seemed dense and honestly, a bit confusing, what with the overlays and all.

So I set it aside, and I'm glad that I did, because that wasn't the right time for me to read it. I would have pushed through it, and probably would have enjoyed it, but it wouldn't have really been the same. I've read more of Gaiman's work, so I'm more familiar with his style now, and I've read more graphic novels, so I'm more familiar with the format now. And both of those things contributed quite a bit to my enjoyment of this one.

I really, really like Neil Gaiman. I don't think I've read anything of his that I didn't enjoy on some level. I particularly enjoy his stories about mythology and lore, though, and this tied into that perfectly. I thought that the blending of mythology and modernity was great. I loved the concept, and the execution was great. The artwork took a little bit to grow on me, as it's not really my style. In fact, I found myself drawn to the kind of ethereal abstract art separating the sections, which I guess are the individual comic book covers. I love that style, a subtly abstract painting that allows the viewer to see something new every time they look. Beautiful.

So, right, the content artwork isn't exactly my style - I prefer simpler lines and sketches. I like roughness and just a kind of bare hint of shape and color to suggest a form rather than detailed drawings. And it wasn't that this didn't have the qualities that I like, because it did, but I just prefer the detail to be kind of sparingly used, I guess, and that wasn't the case here. Not that it was bad, because it wasn't, but I'm a little picky. I'm not an artist myself (my stick figures end up looking like deformed Quasimodos) but I live with one and play one on TV, so I'm fully qualified to be so. ;)

But as I was saying, it took a bit to grow on me. And once it did, I was drawn into the story and I thought it was very, very well done. I loved Dream. I loved that he was flawed, but I appreciated that he knew both his strengths and his weaknesses and how to work with them. I liked how past, present and future tied in together, and how something so taken for granted can potentially wreak such havoc when out of balance.

I really liked this one, and look forward to reading the rest of the series... one day.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor ★★★

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry3.5 stars

Having just finished The Help for the 2nd time, I was already in a place to appreciate this book, and for the most part, I did appreciate it.

The Help takes place in the early 60's in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early stages of the Civil Rights movement. It's a very personal story about 3 women struggling with who they are, both in general and in the environment in which they live. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry takes place in the 30's just outside of Jackson, MS, and deals with a lot of the same issues...

Roll of Thunder focuses on the Logan family and their land. Paul Edward Logan bought their land in two parts during hard times after the Civil War, and ever since, the man who used to own it has been trying to get it back in an effort to remake the South how it used to be. Things are not pleasant in 1930s Mississippi. There's a definite imbalance of power with white people having almost all of it, and black people having almost none. This story is about the Logans trying to make a change to that imbalance, even though it is a small one. It's also about finding ones identity, and taking pride in it regardless of what others think or say about you.

Mostly, I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read for me, and it was brutal and thought provoking. But in a way, it fell short of my expectations. It never really moved me in the way I had hoped to be moved, and even the brutality and the shame and the hurt felt by the characters didn't really affect me in the way that I had hoped it would. I love nothing more than to be heartbroken by these kinds of books, to be left kind of empty and hurting... but I didn't feel that with this one.

Perhaps that is due to the fact that this was told in first person by Cassie Logan, who is 9. On the one hand, this worked in the book's favor because it allowed for a sort of innocence and naivete. Cassie doesn't understand the dichotomy of equality in the South. She thinks that the mistreatment and rudeness are due to forgetfulness and a "grownups vs kids" thing, or just a greediness, in the case of some. She blithely underestimates the fact of skin color in the equation. To her, the hate and the meanness aren't due to the fact that she is black and they are white, it's due to the fact that they just want what her family has (the land) and will do anything to get it back. Which is true, partially, but the fact that they are black gives them less legal ground to stand on, and makes the fight that much more dangerous.

But where I felt that the 1st person lacked was in the rest of the story. It worked well for the innocence and the idealism, but I didn't feel that the family or their neighbors or the story was all that well fleshed out. There were times when I read sections and didn't know how we got there. One minute Cassie is thinking that she needs to do something about the girl who was mean to her, and the next we're in the middle of a protracted plan of action, with no bridge getting us from there to here. This is Cassie's story, so I would expect to at least have a hint of her plans, but instead it felt like it lapsed into a different story for a bit there.

I also felt that some of the things that Cassie saw were unrealistic, and there was a kind of inconsistency regarding when the parents tried to shield her and the other kids and when they didn't or forgot that little ears might be listening. And to add to that, at times I felt that Cassie was kind of annoying in her demands and talkbackitude to be able to tell the story, and that kind of grated on my nerves. At 9, she was both intuitive enough to know when she'd get in trouble for something, but stubborn and oblivious enough to ignore the real potential danger of running off at the mouth... So Cassie heard, and thus told us, a lot more than I think she should have been able to realistically.

Finally, I thought that the ending was a bit of a letdown as well. There was no resolution about the land, or about the secondary plots. There's an ending, a realistic one, likely - but it's unsatisfying. Things come to a head, and then it just ends. This is part of a series, and that probably has a large part to play in the way the ending ended, but I just feel that there was a big something missing, and I'm not sure that I was invested enough in the story to continue on with the series.

I will give kudos to Taylor for telling as honest and brutal a story as she did, and for not softening the blows or the cruelty or the hatred for her readers. At least I didn't feel that she did. There was a palpable feeling of fear and anger throughout the story, as well as menace and a cruel calculation and manipulation on behalf of the men who have the power. A surety that they will win because the law is on their side. I thought that this aspect was very well done.

I am not sure if I will continue on with the series. But I am glad that I read this. It was good, and I feel like if I had read it in school or when I was younger, it would have had a huge impact on me. Reading it today, I can appreciate it for what it is, but I feel like it's missing the impact I wanted it to have.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Review: Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende ★★★★

Inés of My Soul3.5 Stars

This is my second book by Allende, and I can understand why people love her writing so much. She is a beautiful storyteller and her writing is so evocative and lovely and honest without being flowery or overdone. I love that quality in a writer - it's one of my favorite things about Colleen McCullough as well, especially in Tim. That book was my introduction to McCullough and it made a deep impression on me and instantly became one of my favorite books. Crap. Now I want to read it again!

Anyway, I was talking about Allende. The first book I read of hers was The House of the Spirits, and I really enjoyed it a lot more than I thought that I would. You see, I don't really care for magical realism and generally steered clear of it whenever I could. I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that, like anything else, there's good and bad magical realism, and I'd only read astoundingly bad examples of it... or read good examples of it and didn't recognize them as MR. But it took Allende and my friend Jackie recommending her books for me to see it.

Allende's books are beautifully written, and whatever mystical or magical or ethereal otherworldliness there might be is subtle and adds a little "Did you see that?" nudge in the ribs, but doesn't overtake the story, doesn't throw the narrative into confusion like some magical realism books I've read and hated with the fires of a thousand suns. I'm not going to name titles. You know who you are. >_>


So, this was another Jackie choice, and again I really enjoyed it, although I feel that this one lost something in the audio version. I wish that I had read this rather than listening to it. *sigh* Blair Brown did a passable Spanish accent, but quite often it was distracting. It just seemed to lack a fluidity and smoothness that native speakers have. Quite often, she'd hesitate for just a moment before pronouncing a word. It might actually only be a half second, but to me, it was a distraction. This is the kind of story that you need and want to just climb into and live for a while - and every one of those stutters pulled me out of it. I may not pronounce the Spanish correctly in my head, but reading for myself would have been smoother, since I probably wouldn't know it was wrong.

The second reason that I wish I'd have just read the book myself was that there were a whole lot of Spanish names in this one. People names, place names, historical names and Chilean native tribe names, and honestly, it was really hard to keep track of who was who when I had no visual link to the sound of the words being spoken. It didn't help much that, being told as a memoir type story, the narrative was less than linear. Wikipedia helped a lot here, and Google for being a good guesser at what I was misspelling. For instance, I'd type "Atawapa" and it would return "Did you mean Atahualpa?" Yes. Yes I did. THANK YOU GOOGLE! (And before any of you break out the ladder to get on your high horse, it's been a while since World History class, OK?) So anyway, Wikipedia helped a lot to keep the names and places and tribes and so on straight, so that I could enjoy the story and actually know who was being referred to.

I found this story fascinating. I don't really know much about Chilean history, but I feel like I know quite a bit more now. Because I was on Wikipedia and Google so much, I feel like I actually may have learned something.

This was a story about Spanish conquests and it was appropriately brutal. There were massacres and tortures and mutilations and subjugation of the indigenous people. All of that was to be expected. But there was also a softer quality to this story, a kind of empathy and understanding that Ines lent it. She claimed to not understand the 'indians' of Chile, but her description of them, and their customs and ceremonies and beliefs said otherwise. I thought several times while listening to this that she was confusing understanding with agreement. I think she understood them just fine. They wanted to live and be free and content in their lives just as she wanted to live and be free and content in her own. She could have said to the Mapuches "We're not so different, you and I." Too bad she wouldn't have gotten the Austin Powers reference. *sigh*

I really appreciated the religious aspect of the story, both from the Catholic standpoint and the Native standpoint. Allende represented both fairly, I think. Although, it seemed that there was a bit of the mystical on the side of the Christians, at least in Ines's eyes. I love that there was a little bit of that here, but also that it's interpretable. Was it a miracle that broke the rope and saved the man from hanging, or was it simply that the rope was frayed or weak? A comet, or a sign?

One thing I particularly loved regarding the religious aspect of the story was Ines, at 70, talking about how she sometimes forgets and calls God "Ngenechen", which is the Mapuche's name for their god or sometimes prays to the Earth Mother rather than the Virgin. It's such a throwaway reference, an old woman confused and mixing things up, but to me it signifies how similar beliefs can be, and how silly it is to try to force a "right" religion on someone else. What's in a name? Isn't what you believe and how you live and act more important? I think so, and I think that Ines did too. She worked for her people all her life, striving to make sure that they were as well looked after as it was in her power to do. She founded churches and hospitals and helped feed the poor and hungry, and defended the defenseless. She was definitely an awesome, if underappreciated, person.

I enjoyed this one, and might just have to read it for myself one day. I think it is a book that definitely deserves my full attention, and I couldn't give it that with the audio. But regardless, this was very good, and I'd definitely recommend it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review: Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brallier ★★★★★

Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?Before we start, a big thank you Max Brallier for sending me a signed copy of this book to review.

That out of the way, I can sum up this review in 5 words: "Yes, it is that awesome."

I love zombies, so when I saw 1) that such a thing as a zombie choose-your-adventure book existed, and 2) that I could get a signed copy to review, I jumped ALL over that! And I'm thrilled that I did. This book is fantastic, cover to cover. Speaking of the cover, it is great. I love the vintage look it has, as if it's a well-read 70s favorite paperback melded with a graphic novel. I love both versions of the cover art, and the artwork inside is amazing. Pen and ink, comic-book style sketches that perfectly fit and complement the stories inside.

I don't think that I've read all of the variations and storylines yet - there are a surprising amount of them in the book. So many that it could keep me busy for a LONG time going through them. I read a whole lot of them though, and not a single one disappointed me at all. They were everything I've always wanted in zombie fiction: Well thought out, believable, well written, vicious, original and interesting, with just the perfect amount of humor thrown in.

I liked and could identify with the characters, especially me (AKA: the main character), who was a perfect blend of Regular Joe and Rambo as needed and as fit the story for the choices made. The secondary characters were very human (until they weren't anymore). I loved the tension of reading this, not knowing if my choice would be the right one, or if it would be the one that led to disaster.

I could continue to rave about this book... but really, all I have to say is this: If you love zombie fiction, this book is a must read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Push by Sapphire ★★★

Push2.5 Stars

*****This review may contain some vague spoilers******

I love to read gut-wrenching books. Almost everything that I'd heard about this one practically guaranteed that this would be gut-wrenching, so when I saw it, I picked it up.

And I thought the first third of this book was great. Seeing life through Precious's eyes was horrifying. Her turmoil and her pain and frustration and anger were very real to me and I felt like I could identify with the experiences she's had, even though her life is very different from my own. I thought that Sapphire did a great job with the first 1/3 of the book. She did a great job portraying an uneducated girl, sexually abused, hating herself, her mother, her father, not able to trust anyone, desperate for a better life for herself and her kids.

Unfortunately, the middle and last third were not nearly as good. I thought it lost focus a bit in the middle and I wasn't sure where it was going, but mainly I had two major issues... No resolution, and inconsistency of the writing.

This is the kind of book that doesn't really require an ending all tied up in a bow, because we're supposed to infer that Precious will keep fighting and keep trying until she accomplishes her goals. That's fine with me. It's an unresolved, but hopeful, ending. But what I felt was lacking was the resolution of Precious's mental and emotional states.

This is a girl who has been abused in every possible way all of her life, at the hands of both of her parents. The very people who are supposed to protect her are the ones hurting her, and fucking with her head as well, as if it is her fault that the abuse is occurring. Naturally, she has a plethora of issues to work through, but she doesn't trust the therapist assigned to her in the halfway house, so she never works through them. She never even opens up about them in session. She starts to once or twice at outside support groups, but never fully lets anything out. She's described as going into a sort of frozen state - unable to move or speak or do anything... She's just trapped in her own body and mind. I really wanted to see some sort of resolution regarding this aspect, even if it was just that she found a new therapist that she trusts.

It is true that her journal is an outlet, but it's not enough. She needs someone to help her understand what happened to her, to help her understand that it was not her fault, and how to deal with her feelings of abandonment and betrayal and self-loathing, and how to move forward in her life. It is not enough for me to assume that Precious eventually gets her GED and an apartment and a job that doesn't entail changing some elderly person's diapers and that everything is golden from then on... I need for her emotional and mental progress to match her progress with learning to read and write. And it did not. Which is disappointing to me.

And this brings me to the second point that I found disappointing - the inconsistency of the writing. Sapphire wrote this in 1st person, so it is understandable to me that the writing style would mirror the speaking style of someone who is illiterate or just learning to read and write. I expect to see words spelled phonetically, slang, slews of misspellings and errors and incorrect grammar, etc. All of that is expected, and I think that initially, it added a reality to the story it would have lacked had it been written in more formal prose.

But the issue I had is that the writing didn't progress evenly with Precious's education. For instance, most of the book the word "mother" is misspelled as "muver", but early in the book, it's spelled correctly, and then again towards the end, and sprinkled throughout the book is "mutherfucker". Same sound, same word... three different spellings.

Words directly quoted are spelled and written perfectly, but the same words coming out of Precious's mouth are misspelled or slang, etc. I can see this being used to show the disconnect between Precious's situation and the situation of the person she's quoting (educated vs uneducated, etc), but it felt off to me, because this is Precious writing all of this in her book. I don't believe that SHE would have made that choice, or that she'd have even known she could, to write herself one way and other people another way. It seems to me that she would write what other people say the same way she writes what SHE says.

Another example is when she would write back and forth to her teacher, she would write, and her teacher would write the correct version underneath. Some words would be correctly spelled or used, and then almost immediately misspelled again. It was very inconsistent to me, and was distracting.

This book could be very powerful to some people. I can definitely agree with that. It was compelling and I could understand Precious's inner struggle and her will. I loved that. But I found the story to be a bit lacking in a very important aspect, and the writing style to not completely work.

I did really enjoy the final section, the school book section, with the girls' stories. That's some heartbreaking stuff there.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: The Running Man by Stephen King ★★★

The Running ManThe Running Man by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a pretty good story, but quite different from what I'd expected. Of course I knew it was a dystopia, and centered around a game-show, but other than that, I didn't have much idea about the story. I've never seen the movie - and looking at IMDB right now, that's probably a good thing - so I didn't even have those misconceptions to deal with. Ben Richards is not an ex-cop who was wrongfully accused of anything. He was born into the wrong economic situation and grew bitter because of it. Working in a factory known to cause sterility at best, he quit in order to try to have a child... and makes the mistake of telling the truth about why he quit, which blackballs him from finding any other steady work. He and his wife finally succeed in conceiving, but there's still no work to be had, so they have no food, no medicine, barely a place to live, thanks to Ben's wife who prostitutes herself out to try to make ends meet. When the baby gets pneumonia, Ben gets desperate, and signs up with the Network to appear on a game show for money.

The one he makes it on is The Running Man. Here's the deal: 1 man tries to last a full 30 days with a team of hunters chasing him, and the Network setting the citizens against him. If a citizen turns him in and he is killed, that person gets a reward. If he makes it, the contestant gets $1 billion New Dollars. For every hour he remains alive, the contestant (or his family when he's killed) will receive $100 ND. He only has to film 2 10-minute tapes and mail them to the Network every day, or defaults and wins nothing... but is still hunted.

So this is what Bitter Ben signs up for. But he's smart, and his game show experience turns out to be like no other.

This was kind of brutal, but being a Bachman book, that's to be expected. But there was also a kind of 'skim' feel to the story. Things didn't really delve all that deep, like with the pollution and corruption, etc, but it doesn't really NEED to. The context is enough to get it, but it would add a lot if it just had that extra something.

I found myself wondering about the Network. The cynical part of me kept wondering how people could trust their promises to pay and not rig the game. Desperation, I guess. But then I got to thinking about how the Network goes out of its way to demonize the contestants participating in The Running Man, turning everyday citizens into blood-thirsty vigilantes who think that they are working towards a greater good in ridding their country of criminals... and I started thinking, "OK, so, if a contestant makes it the full 30 days, and suppose the Network does stand by its promise to call off their dogs and pay out -- who is to call off the citizens? Those people who've been lied to and manipulated and think that the contestant really is as bad as they've been told? THEY won't stop thinking that the contestant is a criminal just because they were smart and wily enough to evade the hunters for a month... if anything that would reinforce their suspicions that they play by their own rules. It's a losing game all the way through.

Ben definitely plays by his own rules, and the way things work out was not at all what I expected. I thought it was a good ending.

I will say that there were a couple things that I found kind of distracting though. First, King's depiction of the future was a little off, mainly in terms of money. I know he's no fortune teller, but I couldn't help but think that he was using 1970s pricing in the story, and then just labeling it "New Dollars" to make it more futuristic sounding. Things like buying a baby crib mobile for 10 cents. Or getting narcotics for $3. I'd have found it much more believable if he had made the prices of things so ridiculous that a billion dollar prize would have seemed reasonable.

Secondly, as the main hunter, Evan McCone was really disappointing. This guy is supposed to be the most ruthless, the most fearless, the most resourceful and clever killer out there. His job consists of hunting down Running Man contestants and killing them on national TV. But I thought he was pretty... average. *sigh*

Overall, I liked the story, but I can't say that it's a favorite. Definitely worth a read though.

View all my reviews

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin ★★★★★

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I read this book, I had read some reviews which had me wondering if this one would be something I'd like, reviews from people whose opinions I trust. I am willing to read anything though, so the book stayed on my "TBR Someday" mental list... Until I decided to read it along with some friends. Friends who then got me so excited to read this that all of my reservations were hanging by a thread and blowing in the breeze.

And I can honestly say that not only did this book not suck, but that I loved it so much that I feel like other books I've loved should now be re-evaluated on this new scale in my head. I love it when a book exceeds my expectations and leaves me kind of lonely afterward because it's over. But luckily, this story isn't over... I've only just begun. SQUEEE!

I'm not going to discuss the story in this review. I wouldn't even know how to do it justice anyway. I will say that it kept me completely enthralled all the way through. Reading this book was less like reading and more like living it vicariously through the characters. I loved the characters, and reading about them had me a bundle of anxiety almost from the very beginning. I HAD to know what would happen, and at one point I had my fists so tightly clenched in nervousness that I left fingernail marks on my palms. One event was so gut wrenching to me that it took about 10 minutes to fully hit me, and then I was lost. I was so angry and shocked and hurt by this event that I had to vent and let it out and I was left seething and miserable... and then the sadness hit.

THIS is the kind of thing I read for. All of those feelings and reactions are why I read. The bar has been raised.

I loved the writing as well. In fact, it worked so well for me that I barely even noticed it - which to me is a great thing. I don't want to notice the writing - I feel like if I do, the author should have done better at making it invisible. The subtleties in the writing were awesome, especially the voices of the characters in their point of view narration - not their dialogue, but their interpretation of things going on around them. The foreshadowing was so perfectly done that I didn't even realize it was being used, even though it was serving its purpose and making me into that little bundle of nerves, until it was mentioned.

I loved this book. I cannot wait until the next one. Fantastic.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck ★★★★

The Good Earth (House of Earth, #1)I probably would never have picked this book up had it not been chosen by a friend for a group read. Honestly, I don't go for Chinese lit very much, but I agreed to read this one, even though I was prepared to be bored at least. But I downloaded the audio version, read by Anthony Heald, and listened to the book while doing some much needed organizational stuff, and it was surprisingly good. I enjoyed the reading so much that I would sometimes stop doing stuff to just listen.

I think that had I read this on my own though, I don't think I'd have enjoyed it as much. There are times when a reader can add a whole lot to the story, and this was one of them. I actually do have an e-copy of the book, and I read along at some parts, and I think that listening to it was a fuller experience for me. Heald just seemed to GET these characters in a way I probably wouldn't have. He almost seemed to channel them so that his reading was borderline dramatization. It wasn't over the top - it was just perfect.

I don't know how much of this accurately represents Chinese culture. I don't know much about it myself, and so I took it all with a grain of salt. I don't particularly care for the attitudes towards women that are generally depicted in Chinese lit, so I don't read very much of it. But even if none of the cultural references are accurate, this was still an engaging and interesting story full of very human characters. At times, I didn't know whether to root for or against the main character, Wang Lung. I initially loved his character, and then as he progressed through life and different situational hardships and prosperity, I found myself mentally crossing my fingers while watching him with a wary eye. I wanted to like him, but sometimes the things he chose to do made that very, very hard. At one point, I was so disappointed in him, that I was shaking with anger at the sheer gall the man had, especially after everything, everything that had happened. That man had some cojones on him, I'll give him that.

I think that my favorite character in the story was O-lan. My heart broke for her. We never really get to know her fully, seeing things through Wang Lung's eyes, and he's not particularly perceptive when it comes to O-lan, or kind when he is, but I loved her. She never gave an inch of her dignity, no matter what her hardship, and she had so many. I was in awe of her, all while my heart hurt for the lack of gratitude she received for everything she gave. She deserved much better.

I found this to be an interesting story about a man's life and the things that he was able to achieve with that life, at the cost of so much, and the fleetingness of it all. I think that's what saddens me the most thinking about this book: we can't take any of it with us. I did enjoy this one, and I think the story will stay with me for a while, if nothing else.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

In My Mailbox (12)

Hidey ho there all! I don't have very much to report for this IMM, since I'm trying desperately to NOT buy any new books so I can save up for my move. But here are the books I've taken out from the library since my last IMM post. (Sorry no actual pictures this time.)

Cold Sassy Tree - by Olive Ann Burns / Read for Historical Fictionistas Group Read

American Vampire Vol. I by Stephen King and Scott Snyder / Read just because it's freaking awesome.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner / Read because The Maze Runner was awesome and I had to know what happened. Is it October yet???

And finally, I'm currently reading (and loving) A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Read-A-Thon: Hour 19/Final Update

Yikes... So... Once again I missed my goal for Read-a-thon. Booooo! I'll wait until the snickers die down.

Ok. That's better. So, right, I didn't hit my goal, but I had a ton of fun reading and hanging with other Read-a-thoners on Twitter. Good times. :D

Here's a full recap of my reading yesterday:
Book 1: Remainder of The Ruins of Gorlan - 113 pages (4 stars)
Book 2: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - 181 pages (4 stars)
Book 3: Perry Mason: The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito - 219 pages (3 stars)
Book 4: Part of The Maze Runner - 176 pages (Lookin' like a 5 star so far)

Total Books Attempted: 4
Total Pages Read:  689

I guess that's pretty good for one day of reading. So I'm proud of myself even though I didn't hit my goal.Unfortunately, when I crashed, I crashed HARD. I slept like a log, and now my neck is stiff and sore and very uncooperative. >_>

Oh well... Here's the Final Survey:

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Hour 19 - That's when I crashed
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? The Maze Runner definitely kept me engaged - but I started it too late for that to do me any good! :(
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Still no. LOL
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I loved keeping up with the people on Twitter.
5. How many books did you read? 2 and 2 halves. :P
6. What were the names of the books you read? See above.
7. Which book did you enjoy most? The Maze Runner, even though I haven't finished it yet. It's creepy and awesome.
8. Which did you enjoy least? Perry Mason - and it's not that I didn't enjoy it, it was just somewhat twisty and I had trouble following all of them.
9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I wasn't a cheerleader this time around...
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Very likely - I love the Read-a-thon! :) I think next time I will read and cheer though.

So that's it... See y'all in October!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Read-A-Thon: Hour 15 Update

Holy cripes... I feel like I just got out of serving jury duty. Perry Mason... You took forever to figure that one out. On TV you used to do it in less than an hour!!

Next up is The Maze Runner! Woo!

Books: 3
Pages: 513

Oy. I need to step up my game here! Oh well... Meme time!

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now? About to start The Maze Runner by James Dashner
2. How many books have you read so far? 2 1/2
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? The Maze Runner
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? Well I TRIED! I had a whole awesome maniacal plan to ship my boyfriend off to help my mom reside her house... but NOOOO. Thanks a lot PA mud.
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Pt.1: Ugh. Yes. Constantly. Pt. 2: Evil glares.
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Not much... it's pretty much what I expected. Lots of reading, lots of awesome participants and lots of fun. I miss lots of cheerleading this time around though. I guess that's my karma for not signing up to cheer myself. *hangs head*
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope.
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I'll sign up as a cheerleader, since I've yet to do that and this is my 2nd Read-a-thon.
9. Are you getting tired yet? Surprisingly, no.
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Maybe lock significant other/children/needy pets in the attic? ;)

Read-A-Thon: Hour 6 Update

Whew... OK. Slow and steady wins the race! Eh? OK, not so much.

I keep being distracted by a certain boy who was supposed to be at my mom's house helping to re-do her siding... but NOOOOO... It has to be too wet and muddy for that. Even though it's sunny and nice today. Stupid yesterday rain.

So now he's bored... and hungry... and just wants to show me this ONE COOL THING... and just needs me to look at the other ONE THING-- REALLY QUICK!... and just keeps turning up his music or the TV or whatever...


I'm going outside.

Books: 2
Pages: 294

This is abysmal. :*(

Read-A-Thon... Hours One & Two Update

OK, so... Kind of uneventful morning. I never got to finish my book last night like I had wanted to, so this morning was spent finishing up The Ruins of Gorlan, and making a Dunkin Donuts run. Pretty good book - 4 stars. :)

Next up is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. I'm looking forward to that one. :)

Books: 1
Pages: 113

Now, for a Q&A session:

1)Where are you reading from today? My bedroom, maybe the porch if it gets nice later!
2)Three random facts about me… I have 9 tattoos / I'm blind as a bat without glasses or contacts / I really dislike gold jewelry (on myself).
3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? Potentially 20.
4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? I hope to read at least 5 complete books - but the more the better!
5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time? I've only done this one time before, so I'll leave the tips up to the pros!

Read-A-Thon... Starting Line.

My mom used to always sing this horrific off-key "Good Morning" song in the mornings when us kids wouldn't get out of bed on time. No amount of whining or crying or holding our breath or covering our heads would stop her. Nothing worked... except actually getting out of bed. 

Needless to say, it was irritating enough that we'd get up just to make her stop singing. Luckily, there is no sound on my blog, so you're all spared that experience. But I am not now, nor have I ever been, a morning person. I try... I have grandiose ideas about getting up early and having the whole day ahead of me... and then I stay up too late and sleep too long. Blissfully. :D

I think Saturdays should start around 11am. Any earlier is just indecent.

Anyhoozle... I'm starting off my Read-a-thon with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
It's short, and finishing it early will be a stroke to my ego and willpower. Plus, it just sounds awesome!

Then I was thinking I would move on to The Maze Runner. *sniff* I love the smell of dystopia in the morning!

Hmm... I seem to be channeling Apocalypse Now. Maybe getting out of bed wasn't such a hot idea after all. ;)

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's Read-A-Thon Time!! ...Well, almost...

Yep. It's almost here. Tomorrow, I and a whole lotta other people will be gettin' our read-a-thon on.

I can hardly wait! It's like Christmas, only without the tree, and the cold (at least I hope that it's without the cold! *shoots threatening glare at PA weather*) and without the presents and the music and the bell-ringers and the National Guard keeping the peace at Wal-Mart and the early Valentine's Day decorations starting to creep onto shelves... and, well ok, it's not like Christmas at all.

But it IS like an awesome day that allows me to read the hell out of some books! Ka-Ching!

Right... so, I know you're all dying to know what I might be reading. I won't keep you in suspense. Here it is... The Stack™.

Now what we have here, is a stack of 20 potential Read-a-thon books. All of these are from the books I'm selling to fund my move. I'm hoping to beat my October 2010 Read-a-thon best (*cough* ONLY) high score of 4 complete books. Five would be cool. Six or seven would be awesome.

Here is the list of candidates:
Confessions of a Shopaholic
The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
The Rising
Terminal Man
The American
The Spell of Seven
The Pilgrim's Progress
An Abundance of Katherines
Blue is for Nightmares
White Is for Magic
Ender's Game
The Maze Runner
The Doomsday Conspiracy
Alcatraz: the True End of the Line
Across the Universe