Friday, April 28, 2017

THE VILE VILLAGE


Review of THE VILE VILLAGE by LEMONY SNICKET
(seventh in the A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS series)

“It takes a village to raise a child,” which is why the village of V.F.D. decides to accept guardianship of the three Baudelaire orphans. Unfortunately, the people in this village seem to have the saying a bit backwards. They expect the children to do all the chores for the entire village. To make matters worse, this town lives by a long, loooong list of strict rules: everything from what books (not many) are allowed in the library to how many nuts are allowed on a sundae. Punishment for disobeying any of these rules is being burned at the stake.

If you’re a silver lining sort of person, though, let’s focus on the fact that the town handyman takes the children under his wing. (You’ll get the pun when you read the book.) Hector is very much like Jerome from The Ersatz Elevator: nice and well-meaning, but sadly too much of a coward to be that useful as a guardian. Hector might be a reasonable person who knows all the town’s rules are alarming nonsense, but he’s too fearful of those in charge to speak up about anything.

There’s a fun mystery in this novel as the children discover a string of poetic riddles that they’re convinced their friend Isadora is leaving. They suspect their kidnapped triplet friends must be nearby...which means Count Olaf is probably nearby, too, not that his presence would be much of a surprise by now.

This may be one of my favorite books in the series so far. As I mentioned in earlier reviews, some of the books start to feel too repetitive in formula, but this addition had more of a complete plot within the one installment - thanks in great part to the poems mystery.

Friday, April 21, 2017

LUCY AND LINH


Review of LUCY AND LINH by ALICE PUNG
(based on a review copy)

This book took a very long time to pull me in, but I became a devoted fan by the end. On it’s surface, LUCY AND LINH is an almost cliché novel. Lucy comes from a lower class background, but earns a scholarship into a fancy private school where she struggles navigating the subtle teenage girl politics. Several iconic, thematically similar novels pop right to mind as you start reading. However, both Lucy and her story develop into something unique as you keep reading.

Lucy is a very smart girl, but quiet and withdrawn. She plans to coast through her high school experience, attracting as little attention to herself as possible. That idea goes out the window when she catches the eye of “the Cabinet,” the student nickname for a trio of popular girls who pretty much control the school, including the teachers, with petty but effective emotional warfare.

The Cabinet a tiresome trope, but I invested in this book so much because I found myself intensely relating to Lucy. She’s a hard worker who believes in work ethic for the sake of itself rather than for recognition. In fact, it embarrasses her when her work ethic, or anything else, draws to much attention her way. She’s smart, but many around her think having nothing to say is the same as having nothing to think. She wants to avoid drama, but finds sometimes it seeks her out. I connected most strongly, though, to her introverted side. Especially when things become convoluted or overwhelming, Lucy sneaks off to spend time by herself. Her peers find this weird and suspect, and I encountered similar confusion in my teenage years when I had social offers but opted for alone time instead. The book puts it very well: “As a general rule, teenage girls never, ever see solitude as a choice.”

This is a thought-provoking novel with plenty to discuss, especially around themes of class, privilege, and race. Lucy overhears one of her teacher’s friends refer to Lucy as “your little Pygmalion project.” Lucy may not know what that means, but we do. A good portion of this book is about Lucy’s slow revelation that sometimes by standing aside you are part of the problem. She wanted to stay tucked out of the way minding her own business, but as she sees behavior she detests she has to decide what’s worth more: taking a stand or minding her own business.

The whole book is told in first person as though Lucy is addressing an old friend from her previous life, Linh. So there’s some second person as well, directed at Linh. I think I found the format a little confusing and hard to get into, which is why the book grew on me so slowly. We don’t know that much about Linh, and it’s easy to forget she exists, except every now and then Lucy throws her name into the middle of a sentence as a reminder: everything’s being told to Linh. All that said, trust the author. There’s an unexpected twist about why the author chose this format. The twist is exceptionally well done and makes everything clear after the big reveal.

Friday, April 14, 2017

THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR


Review of THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR by LEMONY SNICKET
(sixth in the A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS series)

For their latest guardian, the poor Baudelaires find themselves living with Jerome, an old friend of their parents’, and Jerome’s status and money obsessed wife Esme. The couple lives in an “in” neighborhood filled with rich, bored people who spend all their time gossiping about what’s “in” and “out” and restructuring their entire lives around these arbitrary guidelines. Unfortunately, Esme and Jerome live in the penthouse suite of their building...but elevators are out. Fortunately, though, orphans are in!

Jerome isn’t so bad, but - as is the Baudelaires’ luck - he’s another incompetent adult, concerned more with getting along with everyone than doing what needs to be done. I liked his character and found him more realistic than I care to admit. He’s nice, caring, and articulate, which sadly makes his primary weakness of being a coward all the more disappointing.

However, I will say that this is the first book where we encounter some adults who don’t feel entirely incompetent. Unfortunately, hope is a fickle thing and the hope that someone might be able to help them followed by the realization that, no, they can’t after all might be one of the cruelest twists the orphans have encountered in a while.

I do like that the villains feel a bit more capable and, therefore, dastardly in this installment. So far, Olaf has leaned far more heavily on the assurance that everyone else is an idiot. This is the first book where I feel he really does pull one over on the Baudelaires and becomes a more threatening villain for doing so.

Overall, the entire series is becoming more nuanced than the first few books. The first ones had a repetitive rhythm of: orphans being sent to a new guardian, Olaf shows up in disguise, no one believes them, Olaf ruins what might have been an okay home, his deception is revealed, he escapes, and book ends with the knowledge that the orphans need another new home. Well, okay, these books follow that plot line, too, but the past two have far more layers and plot twists, and they actually start to surprise me a little.

These books are much younger than what I tend to read and I do find the logic too loose for my tastes at times. You need to suspend disbelief a lot to get into this over-the-top story and sometimes I find my capability in that area strained to the breaking point.

As always I love Sunny’s baby talk. I’m a sucker for smart characters being overlooked as dumb, especially because others just can’t understand their type of intelligence.

Friday, April 7, 2017

LEARNING CURVES


Review of LEARNING CURVES by GEMMA TOWNLEY

This is the first book that I’ve re-read that didn’t live up to my memory. I think perhaps I mix up chick lit novels, since they’re very formulaic. Maybe I confused this one for another that I liked more, but the point is that I questioned why I thought it worthy a re-read. I debated whether or not to even review it here since I have so many criticisms, but ultimately decided that I did still enjoy it. Despite a plethora of intellectual complaints, I would still recommend the book to someone looking for some pure fluff reading without much substance.

When Jennifer’s materialistic, corporate father cheated on and abandoned her mother Jennifer took her mother’s side. Her mother, Harriet, raised Jennifer alone and filled her head with environmental ideals, some business savvy, and a lot of badmouthing about her father. Jennifer hasn’t seen her father in fifteen years when Harriet pressures her into going undercover in his company as a business student. Harriet suspects some shady doings and relishes the opportunity to take down her ex. However, as Jennifer finally comes closer to her father, she learns that perhaps her mother wasn’t telling her the whole truth.

My complaints about the book are numerous, but can all be boiled down to superficiality. There’s a lot of stock put into appearance as well as concepts like “re-branding” yourself to win a potential romantic prospect. There’s a sense of the men knowing what’s going on while the women run around messing things up until the men explain everything. There basically wouldn’t be a plot if the characters simply communicated with each other like emotionally healthy, mature adults. Characters who, by the way, feel flat, more like puppets for the plot, a plot that often feels contrived, forced into twists that don’t seem organic. There are lots of info dumps and the sexual scenes read far more awkward than steamy.

Despite all this, though, there’s also a lot of humor. As one example, the business students repeatedly enjoy putting their professors on the spot by suggesting condoms whenever the professor requests a sample product to discuss selling. Cue innuendo.

This is a flawed novel to be sure, but if you’re looking for some light entertainment reading it will certainly do the trick.