Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson

Lia is a high school senior dealing with some pretty heavy issues.  She has been jailed hospitalized twice for anorexia and cutting, her relationships with her parents are practically non-existent and her best friend, Cassie,  just died…alone…in a motel room.  Even though she is surrounded by pain and tragedy, Lia has a wit and charm to her that makes her sympathetic.  You can’t help but root for her to pull through in the end. 

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is the insight it gave me into eating disorders.  While Lia’s anorexia is only one of several plot lines, I thought the subject was handled beautifully.  I have known a couple of anorexics throughout my life, and like a lot of people, I have a really hard time understanding what they are doing to themselves and why.  The author did not glorify anorexia, nor did she overly demonize it.  Instead, it felt honest.  She didn’t need to beat the reader with the moral lesson in order to make us feel hope at the end. 

Wintergirls is not just a story about eating disorders.  The death of Lia’s best friend also has a primary focus in the novel.  For nine years, the girls were inseparable in everything…even their obsessions to be thin.  However, after Lia is released from the hospital, Cassie decides to break off their friendship, blaming Lia for encouraging her bulimia.  The girls hadn’t spoken in six months, but the night of Cassie’s death, she phoned Lia’s cell phone thirty-three times.  Lia never picked up.  Now, Lia is dealing with survivor’s guilt, which is making her feel that she is being haunted by Cassie.

I recommend this book for teen girls, because I think Anderson handles these subjects truthfully and in ways that many of them will be able to relate to. 

Overall, I give Wintergirls… 

Plot – 3 ½ bookmarks
Character Development - 4 ½ bookmarks
Moral Lessons – 4 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Dakota Fanning (Lia), Emma Stone (Cassie), Kate Burton (Mother), Richard Gere (Father),  Jennie Garth (Step-mom Jennifer), Ruby Jerins (Emma)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

For those of you who might be afraid of Russian literature because of the long, hard to pronounce names, this is a great novel for you.  I’ve read a few things from Dostoevsky and he is clear and understandable. 
Written in 1917, Crime and Punishment follows impoverished university drop-out, Raskolnikov, as he murders and robs a pawnbroker and her sister, then has to suffer under the consequences of his actions. 

Raskolnikov is quite possibly the world’s worst criminal and that is kind of Dostoevsky’s point.  The crime occurs in the beginning of the story and we watch the character unravel under the guilt of it all.  There was no physical evidence tying him to the crime.  He could have gotten away with it if he had kept his cool, but instead, Raskolnikov seemed to sabotage himself over and over—behaving nervous and guilty, getting defensive, failing to come forward to the police right away with his involvement with the pawnbroker, raving about the crime while suffering from fever.  But Raskolnikov’s actions support Dostoevsky’s belief that people who are basically good will suffer more from their conscience than the actual punishment itself. 

Is Raskolnikov a good person?  He killed two women with an ax and stole from them.  On the other hand, when his scoundrel of a drinking buddy dies, leaving a sick wife and several children behind, he gives the widow most of his cash.  He also seems to have genuine affection for his sister and saves her from making a mistake of a marriage for the sake of security.  He even falls in love with a kind-hearted prostitute, someone whom many men would not consider worthy of love. 

Overall, I give Crime and Punishment

Plot – 3 ½ bookmarks
Character Development – 4 bookmarks
Psychology – 5 bookmarks
Literary Merit – 4 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Robert Pattinson (Raskolnikov), Emily Blunt (Sonia), Michael Sheen (Detective Petrovich), Tom Hardy (Razumihin)

Review: ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac

On The Road is a novel that celebrates the Beat generation and provides a portrait of America in the late forties/early fifties.  The story revolves around the narrator, Sal Paradise, a twenty-something writer and ex-GI who travels the country by car, bus, train, and hitchhiking.  Along the way, he meets interesting people and a revolving door of friends who are also embarking on journeys of their own.  The book pay homage to the freedom of the open road. 

While the book lacked a unified plot (it’s mostly strings of stories woven together which make up a patchwork quilt-type book), I honestly have to say that this book had some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read.  Kerouac’s description is amazing!  He was able to say in five words what would take lesser writers two paragraphs.  His use of metaphor could have won him a gold metal if writing was an Olympic sport.  I’m not a note taker…not even in school…but I found myself writing passages down to ponder over later. 

The characters in this book were slightly disturbing, especially Dean Moriarty.  Sal seems to worship Dean in a bazaar and unhealthy way.  Dean is a philandering, pedophilic, criminal, yet Sal sees him as some sort of mystical god-like being.  I don’t get it.  The guy is a creep.  People have to lock up their daughters when he’s around.  He marries women, knocks them up and runs off with another over and over again.  At one point, he obtains a quickie Mexican divorce from his second wife, rushes back to marry his third wife, and that very night, he leaves wife #3 to go back to wife #2.  What a pig!  But Sal sees Dean as some sort of modern philosopher, always taking and eluding to Dean’s deep thinking.  I just saw him as a dude high on pot going, “Whoa, man!” “Yes!” over and over. 

On The Road wasn’t the most exciting book, nor had it the deepest characters, but it definitely has historic and literary value. 

Overall, I give On The Road…

Plot – 1 ½ bookmarks
Character Development – 2 ½ bookmarks
Literary Value – 5 bookmarks
Historic Value – 4 ½ bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Penn Badgley (Sal Paradise), Chris Pine (Dean Moriarty), America Ferrera (Teresita), Anne Hathaway (Camile), Tom Hardy (Remy), Reese Witherspoon (Mary Lou), Viggo Mortensen (Old Bull Lee), Lukas Haas (Carlo Marx)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

I always get sad at the end of a series that I really like.  Part of me just wants it to go on and on.  I want to know what is going to happen to the characters after the final curtain.  So, it was with a heavy heart that I finished Mockingjay, the last book in the Hunger Games Trilogy

While I really liked this book because I was so invested in the series, I had a few problems with it.  Let’s start with what I liked. 

Mockingjay finds the country of Panem in a full revolution led by the President of District 13 against The Capitol.  Because of Katniss’s popularity and identification with the rebellion, she is enlisted to become The Mockingjay, the face of the revolution.  Peeta is being held prisoner in The Capitol, where he is compelled to give interviews condemning the rebellion.  I really think that it is in this book where Katniss goes from being girl to a woman.  She is no longer playing a game, but using her skills to further a cause which will change the whole country.  This series is a rollercoaster ride of action and this book moves super fast!

Now, for my concerns.  We get a chance to see more of Gale in this book, which is nice, but I really thought we would have seen a more intense love triangle.  Gale didn’t fight for Katniss, and that seemed contrary to his character.  This wasn’t hugely distracting, since this is more of an action series than a love story, but I saw it as a missed opportunity. 

My main problem with this book was the change in the writing style.  Collins had so much that she needed to pack into this book, that she forgot one of the basic rules of writing – Show Don’t Tell.  In between the main action scenes, there were long passages of the author telling the audience what happened, rather than allowing the reader to experience it with the characters. 

Overall, I give Mockingjay…

Plot – 4 bookmarks
Character Development – 4 bookmarks
Love Story – 3 bookmarks
Social Commentary – 5 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Kristin Stewart (Katniss), Hunter Parrish (Peeta), Phillip Kelley, my best friend from high school (Gale), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Haymitch), Megan Mullally (Effie), Tim Gunn (Cinna), Chris Pine (Finnick), Kelsey Batelaan (Prim), Andre Leon Talley (Plutrach)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review: CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

If I don’t make my word count for NaNoWriMo, I’m blaming it on Suzanne Collins!  After finishing The Hunger Games, I thought I could set the other books aside for a couple of weeks.  Um…no.  My mind kept thinking about the characters and wondering how it was all going to turn out, so I gave in and read the next book, Catching Fire.

This book catches up with Katniss six months after the Hunger Games.  She and Peeta now both have houses in Victor’s Village alongside Haymitch.  Just as she and Peeta are about to embark on their Victory Tour through the Districts, Katniss receives a surprise visitor…President Snow.  The President tells her that her little stunt in the Hunger Games with the berries was interpreted by the Districts are an act of rebellion and it is up to her to tamp down the revolutionary wind sweeping the country.  If she fails to do so, he will have people she loves killed. 
As she and Peeta travel, they witness this rebellious attitude personally and it seems no amount of hamming up their romance for the cameras will make any difference.  They even stage a public engagement, which turns on the wedding fever in the Capitol, but does little to change feelings in the Districts.  Once they arrive home, they get devastating news…they are both going back into the arena for the 75th Anniversary of the Hunger Games.

Beyond having an exciting story, this book has a lot to say about government oppression, rebellion and how small acts can be interpreted as symbols, setting off unintended consequences.  I love YA novels with depth.  Each of these characters are dual-natured in that they have both good and bad qualities.  Even the dizzy people of the Capitol grow on you once you realize they are innocents. 

I love the character of Peeta.  (I am definitely Team Peeta all the way!)  He is probably the most genuinely good person in the books, yet he is strong and brave as well.  He is not afraid to take risks for Katniss whom he loves.  While I am still in the point of Katniss not committing her heart to either Peeta or Gale, I definitely see Peeta as the better match for her.  They have had such a shared history of the most traumatic times of their lives.  Gale seems like trouble to me.  His rebellious nature is reckless, where as Peeta’s comes across as smart, calculated and brave.  Peeta always frames his rebellion in such a way that the people are on his side and therefore, the government can’t afford to retaliate against him. 

Overall, I give Catching Fire

Plot – 5 bookmarks
Character Development – 4 bookmarks
Love Story – 4 bookmarks
Social Commentary – 5 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Kristin Stewart (Katniss), Hunter Parrish (Peeta), Phillip Kelley, my best friend from high school (Gale), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Haymitch), Megan Mullally (Effie), Tim Gunn (Cinna), Chris Pine (Finnick), Kelsey Batelaan (Prim)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

First off, for my regular blog readers, the reason I’ve not been posting as much lately is because I’m spending almost all of my free time working on NaNoWriMo.  I promise that once December gets here, I will be back to my regular reading schedule.    

Okay…The Hunger Games.  I am not a huge fan of dystopic novels.  Not sure why, I guess I don’t like to think about life as I know it ending and some horrible system cropping up in its place.  That said, I loved, loved, LOVED this book!  It had everything…exciting adventure, political and socio-economic themes and a nice emerging romance that I look forward to the playing out of in the next books in the series. 

The story takes place in a sparsely populated country which emerged when the United States was destroyed.  The country is ruled by an oppressive government in The Capitol.  The rest of the country is divided into districts where the people work to supply goods to The Capitol.  The people living in the districts are not free to travel or speak against the system.  Most of them are kept in extreme poverty, starvation and malnourishment being leading causes of death. 

Katniss is a sixteen year old girl living in District 12, the coal mining area of the country.  She lives in the Seam, an impoverished area where food is scarce.  To supplement the meager rations her family is allowed to receive from the government, Katniss and her friend Gale spend their time illegally hunting and gathering in the forest beyond the fences, where people of the District are not allowed to go. 

In order to keep the citizens in the Districts from rebelling against The Capitol, the government devises cruel ways to keep the people under their thumb.  One of these ways is by staging the annual Hunger Games.  Each year, the names of children between the ages of twelve and eighteen are placed into a lottery.  One boy and one girl are drawn at random and forced to participate in the games.  The games are broadcasted countrywide and watching is mandatory.  The game players are whisked off to an enormous outdoor area that can be any landscape and can have any number of perils in it.  The object is, players fight to the death.  The last one standing wins.  The prize?  Fame, fortune and food for their District. 

The game is basically a modern version of human sacrifice for entertainment…not much different than the Romans sending the Christians in to arenas with hungry lions.  What I loved about this book is that it was more than just an entertaining story.  What is says about human nature and social-classism is brilliant.  Players in the game can go from being normal, good kids to savage murderers over night, all for the sake of survival.  The lottery system is structured so that poorer children are entered into the drawing more times than rich children, increasing their chances that their names will be called. 

I also enjoyed the strategy part of the games.  Everything that happens from the time the name is drawn to the time when the victor returns home is carefully staged for the entertainment of the citizens in The Capitol and for players to land wealthy sponsors.  Katniss discovers the difficulty in knowing what is real and what is strategy when her competitor, Peeta, the boy from District 12 reveals something on national TV right before the kick-off of the games.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it lead to one of my favorite plotlines in the novel.

Overall, I give The Hunger Games…
Plot – 5 bookmarks
Character Development – 4 bookmarks
Love Story – 4 bookmarks
Social Commentary – 4 ½ bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Kristin Stewart (Katniss), Hunter Parrish (Peeta), Phillip Kelley, my best friend from high school (Gale), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Haymitch), Megan Mullally (Effie), Jodelle Ferland (Rue), Tim Gunn (Cinna)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: THE YEAR OF FOG by Michelle Richmond

Every parent’s worst nightmare.  You’re walking alone a beach, clutching the hand of your child.  You let go for a moment.  Look away.  It only takes seconds.  When you look back, she is gone. 

For Abby, that day on the foggy San Francisco beach when she let go of the hand of her fiancĂ©’s daughter kicked off the year from hell.  She is overcome with guilt and sorrow and convinced there is some detail that she is missing about that day trapped in her memory which will lead to the little girl who she loves as if she were her own. 

While the story is emotional and intriguing, the plot moved slowly (as if through a fog)—going on for long stretched about the science and philosophy of memory and time—to the point where I found myself skimming paragraphs impatiently.  I understand the writer’s decision to include these sections—it was a plot devise to slow the action down to get the reader to feel what the character was going through.  While the author was successful in this, it did make the book hard to get through.  That being said, I loved the sections which talked about the effect of the disappearance on the human relationships between characters in the story and the differences between how Abby and her fiancĂ© dealt with their grief. 

If you are looking for a book with a fast moving plot and lots of action, this book is not for you.  But if you don’t mind a slow read and have any interest in topics like memory, hypnosis or what it means to be a parent, you might like it. 

Overall, I give The Year of Fog…

Plot – 1 bookmark
Character Development – 3 ½ bookmarks
Research – 4 bookmarks (I got the feeling Richmond has read everything ever published on the topic of human memory.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Anne Hathaway (Abby), Shane West (Jake), Lizzy Caplan (Goofy), Emily Bergl (Lisbeth), Simon Baker (Nick)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: THICK by Colin Neenan

This month, I am reading several YA books that I discovered on the website. These are books which certain groups have attempted to ban from classrooms as being obscene or too violent or too sexual. Excuse me? Have you talked to a teenager lately? I mean, really talked to them honestly? They are dealing with some pretty heavy issues everyday! Even if they aren’t sexually active, being bullied, coping with abuse or having body image issues, you can bet that someone they know is. Why do people take such issue with their kids reading about real-life situations? For the most part, these books promote positive, healing behaviors. They let teens know that they are not alone in their feelings.

Anyway…(hops off soapbox)…Thick is about a teenage boy, Nick, who has been arrested for murder. He tells you right off the bat that he is guilty. What the reader doesn’t know is who he killed and why. As Nick tells his story to his lawyer, the reader discovers Nick to be a sweet, but slow boy, whose alcoholic father abuses and the kids at school bully. Nick handles the abuse as well as he can and even puts himself in the way when he sees others getting abused. This makes the fact that Nick will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars the ultimate tragedy.

This book was a quick read, but it was interesting. I think we all have known boys like Nick at one time or another, so he is easy to relate too, even if you have never been in his situation. I assume this book has been banned due to the main character shooting someone. The shooting is not glorified or sensationalized. Nick is genuinely remorseful and makes no excuses to avoid punishment. In a time when bullying is in the national spotlight, I see this book as a good one to promote discussion.

Overall, I give Thick…

Plot – 3 ½ bookmarks

Character Development – 4 bookmarks

Voice – 3 bookmarks

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Quinton Aaron (Nick), Michelle Williams (Alice), Xosha Roquemore (Hope)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: FEED by MT Anderson

Feed is a chilling novel set in the future were computers are hardwired into people’s brains as babies, making them completely dependent on technology.  These people seem to have few original thoughts, are consumed by materialism and are at the complete mercy of corporations.  Children no longer need to learn anything anymore, since the feed in their brains will give them answers instantaneously.  Because of this, the teens in the novel, including the narrator, are inarticulate and immature.  The adults are not much better.  Even so, Anderson makes them sympathetic, tragic in a way. 

I think the scariest thing about this novel is how real it felt.  Imagine how people felt upon reading Orwell’s 1984 when it was first released.  Feed has much the same feeling.  These kids are so dependent on the technology in their brains that the brain forgets how to operate.  When the system goes down, so does the body. 

Feed is not all doom and gloom.  There are some funny and intelligent moments as well.  The kids’ favorite TV show is called “Oh? Wow! Thing!” and the girls have to sneak off to the restrooms to change their hairstyles every so often in order to keep up with the constantly changing trends.  Pollution is massive in this future world, and people are developing festering skin legions and losing their hair.  Rather than being concerned, they set the sores on display as a new fashion statement. 

Obviously, the main theme of this book is to warn against the growing influence of technology and consumerism in our lives.  While this is heavy stuff, the book remains entertaining.  I would suggest that most teens read it, although there is some bad language used.  If parents are sensitive to that, this might not be something they want their teens reading.  I’m not a parent, but even if I were, I feel the ideas contained in this book outweigh the objectionable language.  This would make a really good discussion book for a book club or classroom. 

Overall, I give Feed

Plot – 4 bookmarks
Character Development – 3 ½ bookmarks
World Building – 4 bookmarks
Intellectual Stimulation – 5 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Hunter Parrish (Titus), Portia Doubleday (Violet)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: BLUE MOON by Alyson Noel

The second book in the Immortals Series introduces a new threat to Ever and Damen’s relationship…a strange new boy named Roman.  While Roman appears friendly and kind, there is something about him that sets Ever’s teeth on edge.  Then, strange things start to happen.  As Ever’s powers increase, Damen’s appear to be slipping away.  He even begins to take on an aura like a mortal.  Ever is terrified for Damen, but he doesn’t seem to want anything to do with her anymore.  Looks like Ever is on her own to stop whatever is threatening to take Damen’s immortality away. 

Okay, so I am only going to say this once, because it was the elephant in the room the entire time I was reading this book…New Moon.  The two books are similar because the destined couple breaks up at the beginning, leaving Ever/Bella on her own to face dangerous enemies.  Both girls become isolated from their friends.  Even the titles are similar—Blue Moon/New Moon.  However, I hope readers do not get distracted by this and make unfair comparisons of the two books.  They are very different and deserve to stand on their own. 

I really like the character of Ever.  She feels real to me.  I think this is because Noel allows her to have flaws and make mistakes.  She doesn’t always do the right thing (as you will see if you read the last chapter in this book), yet, they are honest mistakes.  She really does try to do the right thing for everyone, not just for herself.  This might be a tad bit of a spoiler here, but at one point, Ever is given the opportunity to go back and correct a mistake.  Rather than going back before Damen started losing his powers and warn him of the danger, she decides to go back to before the accident which killed her family.  In her mind, she knows that this is the right thing to do, even if it means she would have never met Damen, the love of her life.  (Don’t worry, the whole going back in time thing backfires and she ends up right back where she started anyway.)  I don’t know that many girls would have made that same choice.  Teenage girls can be very focused on their romantic lives and not see the bigger picture.  I know, I was one once. 

In summary, I think if you are looking for a good YA series to read, this is a good one. 

Overall, I give Blue Moon

Plot – 3 ½ bookmarks
Character Development – 4 ½ bookmarks
Love Story – 4 ½ bookmarks (The scene at the end of chapter twenty-six about broke my heart!)
Age Appropriateness – A strict, Puritanical parent might find issue with some alcohol use and mention of teen sex, but for the most part, I found it realistic and appropriate for most kids thirteen and older.
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Anastasia Baranova (Ever), a less pale Rob Pattinson from the first Twilight movie (Damen), Christian Siriano (Miles), Malese Jow (Haven), Hunter Parrish (Roman)