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.

Friday, July 28, 2017

THE PENULTIMATE PERIL


Review of THE PENULTIMATE PERIL by LEMONY SNICKET
(twelfth in the A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS series)

At long last we reach the second to last book in this tragic series. Momentum builds for a grand finale as the Baudelaires go undercover as concierges in a hotel that is mysteriously attracting almost every person, good and bad, from their recent past.

As if they don’t have enough difficulty telling friend from foe these days, there are also two managers named Frank and Ernest. One of them is an ally and one is a villain. Oh, but did I mention that they’re identical twins? In the end, the Baudelaires can’t tell who is who, so they can’t exactly reveal themselves or ask for help from either manager.

Nearing the end of the series we also see the Baudelaires straining to maintain their previous code of ethics. They’re starting to wonder what the good of doing good is if it only brings them so much bad. Doing the right thing has never served them well and you can see that harsh truth pressuring them like never before during their stay in the hotel.

My only quibble with this book is the long paragraphs. I haven’t compared, but I could swear this is only a trend with this particular book, not the whole series. The paragraphs run much longer then earlier books, to the point that some paragraphs go on for several pages before a new one. From a format standpoint, a paragraph is similar to a new sentence or a comma: it’s a pause between thoughts. To me, the long paragraphs feel very rambling and like I am not being given a moment to digest anything between these rambling thoughts.

The next book, the thirteenth, is the last in the series and I cannot wait to see how the orphans conclude their terrible story. Fingers crossed that they choose not to give up on good!

Friday, July 14, 2017

PAW AND ORDER


Review of PAW AND ORDER by SPENCER QUINN
(seventh in the CHET AND BERNIE mysteries)

Private investigator Bernie takes his beloved dog and most trusted partner Chet to surprise Bernie’s journalist girlfriend Suzie after she moved away. The sweet surprise turns awkward when Bernie bumps into another man leaving Suzie’s place. Even more awkward when the same man turns up dead less than a day later and the cops suspect Bernie.

The unique spin on this mystery series is that each story is told through the dog Chet’s perspective. A lot of fixation on smells and food, folks! As I’m finding usual with these books, I enjoy the narration more than the actual mystery. It’s worth mentioning that I’m not much of a mystery reader anyway, unless there’s something thematically that appeals to me like a focus on dogs or books. I usually find myself far less interested in Bernie’s leads and theories and even the ultimate reveal than I am in Chet’s tangents, obsessions, and other cute dog behavior twisting and turning the case in unexpected ways.

A fun layer to this particular perspective is how Chet adores his owner Bernie. As far as Chet is concerned Bernie is perfect. Chet’s only begrudging, embarrassed criticism is on the issue of Bernie’s appalling human sense of smell. Along those lines I found myself impressed in this one with how much the author must have thought through all the smells dogs encounter. Chet comments on all kinds of details that never would have occurred to me, but that do make perfect sense.

This is another fun, quick read following an adorable, dedicated dog’s efforts at solving crime.

Friday, June 30, 2017

THE GRIM GROTTO


Review of THE GRIM GROTTO by LEMONY SNICKET
(eleventh in the A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS series)

After barely escaping Count Olaf’s clutches at the end of the last book, the Baudelaire siblings find themselves, of all things, aboard a submarine. Here they continue their quest for answers while evading the relentless villain Olaf.

I like the shift in setting. The ocean is certainly a unique change of pace! In general, I prefer the whole series more when the books moved away from the repetitive going from one guardian’s house to another and on to more original locations.

Even this late in the series, we meet new characters. The Baudelaires make new friends and a possible new antagonist is introduced. Or perhaps an ally? All we know for certain is that this mysterious new person scares Count Olaf, which could be very good or very bad.

As more unfolds on the mysteries of V.F.D., alliances become a constant question mark. People the Baudelaires trusted have betrayed them and other times they discover surprising allies. It’s hard to know what to think anymore, but at least they can always remain confident placing trust in each other.

Sunny in particular emphasizes the passage of time throughout this series. She’s less an infant and more a notably mature toddler now. Her gibberish makes increasing sense, she walks instead of crawls, and her passions shift from biting things to cooking.

As I near the conclusion of this long series, I’m eager to see how it ends. While this is a re-read for me, I only remembered the first few books and from there everything else has felt fresh. I definitely don’t recall how it ends at all. The author has created a complex web of plot threads and I hope the end lives up to everything he’s designed.