Friday, October 20, 2017

LEMONY SNICKET: THE UNAUTHORIZED AUTOBIOGRAPHY


Review of LEMONY SNICKET: THE UNAUTHORIZED AUTOBIOGRAPHY
(fourteenth in the A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS series)

Oh, did you think the series was done and finished after thirteen books? Well, it’s back with an additional bonus installment, a very tongue in cheek autobiography of the mysterious character behind chronicling the Baudelaires’ unfortunate events.

This is an even quicker read than the already short middle reader books in the original series, as it’s packed with photos and “documents,” meaning fewer actual words on the page.

At times I found the humor a bit young for me, sometimes tedious. Part of the style is Snicket’s propensity for ridiculous rambling tangents. That being said, I expect it’s spot on for the target age and has the fun reward of involving the reader as a co-conspirator in untangling this spy-like puzzle. And the humor still managed to take me by surprise with a good laugh. I particularly encourage reading the Index at the end. My favorite entry is “Poe, Edgar Allan,” which - after listing the relevant pages - says “see also overall feeling of doom.” Look up to the “O” section for “overall feeling of doom” and you find yourself redirected to “see doom, overall feeling of.” Flip back to “D” and the page numbers of relevance are listed as “ix-211.” Yup, that would be the whole book.

It should be no surprise to readers of the series if I add that there isn’t much logical flow to this “autobiography” and that you might find yourselves with more new questions than new answers by the end. Regardless, it’s a playful addition to a popular series that should give younger readers the chance to hunt for clues at coded double meanings.

Friday, October 6, 2017

BEWARE THAT GIRL


Review of BEWARE THAT GIRL by TERESA TOTEN
(based on a review copy)

This story switches in a quick back and forth between two teenage girls: Kate and Olivia. Kate is a hardened manipulator. After a nightmare childhood, she’s learned to take care of herself, a skill that involves no small amount of lying. Currently, she’s conning everyone at her prestigious prep school into believing she lives with her aunt, when in reality she rents out a dump of a room in Chinatown. When Olivia befriends and subsequently invites Kate to move in, it’s the break Kate needs.

Olivia is an idol at their school, due in part to wealth and part to juicy rumors. She disappeared for a whole school year and no one seems sure about why. From some medicine cabinet snooping, Kate knows it must be mental health related but not the details.

Then the young, charming Mark Redkin joins the school administration as a fundraiser. He’s gorgeous with a killer smile and always seems to know exactly what to say to win over whomever he’s addressing. So then why does he make Kate’s skin crawl?

Perhaps her past makes her too cynical, but Kate suspects Mark’s public mask is too good to be true. Her gut tells her he’s bad news, but she can see Olivia being sucked in by the charm. One of the keys to survival is not investing enough in the well being of others to jeopardize your own hard-won safety, but Kate’s finding it harder than she expected watching Olivia drift dangerously closer to Mark.

This is one of those books that exemplify why I dislike rating books with stars. I would give most of the book 5 out of 5 stars. I devoured it. I found the characters disturbingly believable and the suspense had a level of creepiness I usually only experience in speculative fiction. That said, I felt the whole story fell apart at the end. It feels like character development, believability, subtlety, all of that gets sacrificed at the alter of drama and fast pace for an overdone climax that doesn't fit well with the rest of the novel.

While disappointed that the book didn’t hold its own through the end, I still found it a fast, gripping read that I would particularly recommend to anyone interested in psychology. The main characters here are vastly different but each grapples with their own internal battle of survival and what that concept means to them.

Friday, September 29, 2017

NOBODY'S PRIZE


Review of NOBODY’S PRIZE by ESTHER FRIESNER
(second in the NOBODY’S PRINCESS series)

Helen returns for more adventure in this enjoyable sequel. Determined not to let her gender keep her from the action, Helen disguises herself as a boy and sets sail on the Argo. Of course, she can ignore her womanhood all she wants but the world won’t do the same. Her friend Milo and her brothers still want to protect her. There’s also all the romantic attention she receives by anyone who figures out she’s a woman, not to mention Helen’s own unexpected crushes.

These books feature the kind of skilled, unobtrusive writing that fades against the page and lets the reader focus exclusively on the story.

For anyone still not clear, the Helen I mentioned is Helen of Troy. I adore Friesner’s portrayal of this iconic figure. Helen is no damsel in distress. If she cannot escape a bad situation, you can trust that it’s not for lack of trying. She is clever and determined. These books take place before her beauty started a war and it’s clear from comments that she’s still growing into her beauty: a gangly ugly duckling slowly transforming into a swan. She doesn’t yet see herself as beautiful, but what she does know is that when men perceive her as beautiful it seems to be more trouble than it’s worth.

The book ends before the more familiar part of Helen’s story, but I can’t help hoping the author will return to tell more. I’m a sucker for women who refuse to climb into the box society has prepared for them.

Friday, September 15, 2017

BOY MEETS BOY


BOY MEETS BOY by DAVID LEVITHAN

Most of us are familiar with the classic boy meets girl storyline: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy wins girl back. That’s exactly what the title of BOY MEETS BOY promises...with one obvious distinction.

Paul attends a high school like none I’ve ever known, though I (and probably many others) wish this had been my high school. The campus is populated with dynamic characters. Take Infinite Darlene as one example, previously known as Daryl before she realized she likes strutting around in heels and false eyelashes just as much as she loves playing quarterback on the football team.

For our narrator Paul being gay has never been more than another part of his identity. Not a revelation, not a struggle. Of course, the same can’t be said for everyone. One of his gay friends Tony has religious parents determined to fix him. Then there’s Paul’s ex-boyfriend Kyle who, after what seemed a sincere romance, spread rumors that Paul somehow tricked him into liking guys.

In other complications, Paul feels he’s losing his best friend of forever, Joni, to a new relationship. He watches the person he loved being swallowed by someone else’s wants and feels powerless to stop it.

All that fades away when Paul meets Noah, the boy who seems different from any other boy. Uniquely and perfectly special. As our established storyline warns us, however, Paul’s about to make some dumb mistakes.

I have heard frequent criticism of this book that it isn’t revolutionary enough, that it’s merely the same old formula but with two boys instead of a boy and girl. Exactly! I think. Count up the number of boy meets girl stories for a ratio and you see we still need many, many more boy meets boy stories. Not to mention that it’s counterproductive to hold queer fiction to some higher bar where every book needs to blow your mind in a way not expected from romances between a girl and a boy.

Besides, I do think BOY MEETS BOY has potential for mind-blowing. The characters are so wonderfully quirky and nuanced and yet so believable. The high school seems like a “different” kid’s dream where everyone can “come out” as themselves with all their eccentricities worn on their sleeves. After all, the details make the story and the details here certainly make this book memorable.

Friday, September 8, 2017

THE END


Review of THE END by LEMONY SNICKET
(thirteenth in the A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS series)

In the final book in the lengthy SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS saga, the Baudelaire orphans find themselves shipwrecked on a strange island with their nemesis Count Olaf.

I’ll address the end first, because with the final book in a series this long the end is what affects the reader most. The end of THE END is neither satisfying nor unsatisfying. The author finds a good closure point for a tale that clearly continues. However, as I expected the closer we came to the end, many plot threads remain unresolved. That said, this has always been a strange, mysterious series for which it seems fitting that there remain things we never know.

In some ways the story gets even darker in this last book. However, the author also makes efforts to humanize the villain Olaf in the last few books, humanize without excusing any terrible actions.

This installment also continued the trend I disliked of having some incredibly long paragraphs - as in stretching across pages without a break long paragraphs. While it adds to the sense of a rambling narrator, this formatting takes the joke too far for me and just becomes frustrating for the eyes.

This whole middle reader series is a fun, quirky tale about being a good person even when the world isn’t being good to you.

Friday, September 1, 2017

THE NATURAL HISTORY OF UNICORNS


Review of THE NATURAL HISTORY OF UNICORNS by CHRIS LAVERS

This exploration of the legendary unicorn delves into historic records of unicorns and likely explanations for the creature’s mythical evolution across centuries. This in-depth analysis explores several cultures not to mention dozens of animals that all possibly contributed to the unicorn mythology.

To anyone already well-informed on their unicorns, I don’t think there’s much new here. The book can also feel a little technically dense with quotes from old writings about unicorns as well as detailed descriptions of animal species. The speculation becomes somewhat repetitive, too. In short, the theory is that different cultures borrowed aspects of real animals and pieced together this famous creature, which then developed further over time as the stories took on a life of their own.

That all said, if you care about the subject matter then this is still an interesting read. For one thing, I learned about a lot of species about which I had never heard before. I also found myself intrigued separating out where certain beliefs originated, be they secular or religious originally as well as geographical origins.

This is a detailed scholarly examination of an iconic creature and the truth behind the fantasy.

Friday, August 11, 2017

FUSE


Review of FUSE by JULIANNA BAGGOTT
(second in the PURE trilogy)

It took me a long time to get into this book. Were I someone who gives up on books, I may have stopped reading simply because this didn’t hold my interest for a decent chunk at the start. That said, once I did find myself being pulled in, the book pulled me in hard. I became more and more invested in the story with each page, an ardent fan well before the end. Hard for me to say why, but I suspect because the book feels more plot and action driven near the beginning while what I adore most about this series is the complex, unique characters.

At the end of the first book, Partridge escaped the Dome and uncovered a mess of lies perpetrated by their leader, his father. They send his crush Lyda out after him in the hopes she can convince him to return. The ironic twist is that Lyda ultimately wants to stay outside while Partridge feels he needs to return. Partridge also met his half-sister Pressia. She continues working with her companions Bradwell and El Capitan in an effort to decode each new mystery they encounter.

I expect some people love this story for the worldbuilding, the disfigured Beasts and Dusts left by the detonations as well as the politics surrounding the Dome and its inhabitants. Personally, I skim the action scenes. For me, the characters make this story. I LOVE these characters. Every one feels vibrant and intriguing, the relationships between them very real and layered. In fact, I adore these characters enough to talk about each one by one.

First, there’s Pressia, our original heroine from book one. The detonations left her with a doll in place of a hand and a fighter spirit that carries her through everything. Then there’s her half-brother Partridge, who is only now awakening to the realization that his sheltered life in the Dome has all been a cruel deception. I especially like Partridge’s crush Lyda, mostly because she would hate me labeling her that way. As much as she likes Partridge it only takes a little taste of freedom outside the Dome for Lyda to decide she would rather dangerous freedom than controlled safety; that includes Partridge’s own protective behavior. Pressia has a love interest of her own, the understandably cynical Bradley who shares her inquisitive mind. However, El Capitan has to be my top favorite character. The detonations fused his own brother Helmud to his back, but reduced Helmud’s verbal capabilities to repeating overheard phrases or words. El Capitan is a fierce, merciless man of war battling his own insecurities about being an unlovable monster. Last, I want to mention a new addition in this book, Iralene. She comes into play later, so I won’t say too much, but she’s a tragically convincing portrayal of someone pushed past the boundaries of a natural, healthy human life.

At times I found the villain, Partridge’s father Willux, too hyped for my tastes, more when others discuss him from a distance. I found I most related to the smaller interactions between him and his son Partridge. It’s unsettling imagining the mindset of anyone who can isolate emotions and rearrange his own perspective as needed for whatever he wants to accomplish.

Before signing off from this review, I do want to call out one thought I particularly admired from Pressia’s perspective. Having grown up in a post-apocalyptic world with few resources, no luxuries, and very little human connection, she muses on what she has learned about her mother’s past life before the detonations. Consider this beautifully phrased line: “Pressia can’t help but think of her mother as love-rich, love-spoiled.” In a society that puts so much emphasis on material possessions, I cherish the idea of reflecting on how love spoiled I am.