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Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

I realize that “reviewing” a book that’s spent over a year on the NY Times Best Seller List is like throwing a salt shaker into the ocean and feeling like you’ve made a difference in its overall salinity, but bear with me because I’ve had a realization.

Here’s what the inside flap of my copy says:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

“Aw, hell no,” you’re thinking. “Not a book about kids with cancer.” And it is.

I knew going into it that it was going to mess me up, making me miserable and happy at the same time. It did, but probably not in the way you think. Obviously a book about anyone having cancer is going to be heartbreaking because unless you find the book in the section of the bookstore titled “Romance,” there is not going to be some kind of miracle cure–someone is going to die. That’s how cancer generally works and especially how it works in books because every book needs a conflict. Cancer wouldn’t be a good conflict if it was cured in the first chapter and the rest of the book was three hundred pages of being in remission (though if someone wants to write that book and make it interesting, by all means).

What I wasn’t prepared for, despite loving the vlogbrothers, was for it to be written so heartbreakingly beautifully. There are books that I read and think “Oh, I could have written this.” There are books that I read and think, “Wow, this is really good.”

And there are books that I read and think, “Why did I ever think that I might possibly be a writer someday? I should just give up because I could never do something this awesome.”

I mean that in the literal sense of the word awesome and not in the “Awesome Hot Dogs, Only $2.99” sense of the word.

Which isn’t to say that I’m actually going to give up, exactly. Just that I will probably never be as smart or as articulate as John Green. I’ll settle for half, though.

Book Review: The Humanity Project

August 19, 2013 Leave a comment

I’m going to be uncharacteristically brief to start this review: I didn’t like The Humanity Project by Jean Thompson.

Which really bothers me because the person who suggested it normally gives good recommendations AND the premise of the book was really intriguing. From the blurb on the book, I thought the book was about a girl who moved halfway across the country to live with her estranged father and a rich old woman started The Humanity Project to answer the question, “Can you pay people to be good?”

What I got was an attempt by Thompson to interweave a bunch of characters together and not succeed particularly well. I also never got an answer to the question, so the entire novel felt like Thompson took a premise, then tried to write about it, but never got around to actually dissecting the problem itself–some of the characters literally stage a conference to discuss the question as a way to avoid actually trying to answer it.

A conference. What could be more boring than a conference? Well, I’m about to get spoiler-tastic after the jump, so you might find out.

Read more…

Book Review: Glory Be

August 5, 2013 Leave a comment

After I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, I wrote a strange sort of not-review of the book to try and help myself understand what was going on with people’s reactions to it. It’s a time and place in history that, as a white Yankee, I have little experience with–almost every history class I took in high school got us from Columbus landing to just after the Civil War then petered out fantastically as the weather started to turn hot. I think Junior year might have actually made it to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but…yeah…not a lot of focus.

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood was recommended to me by a friend along with a stack of others, so I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about. Once I started reading it, however, I realized that it’s a spiritual little sister of The Help–it deals with the same type of prejudice in the same kind of small town in Mississippi–but it’s for kids.

The protagonist is eleven-almost-twelve-year-old Gloriana June Hemphill (known as Glory) who is eagerly awaiting her birthday party that she always has at the Hanging Moss, MS community pool. Unfortunately for her, it’s the summer of 1964 and racist members of the community have decided that it’s better that they close the pool than have the African-American side of the town be able to use it. She befriends a Yankee girl from Ohio named Laura Lampert who has moved to town with her mother who is starting a Freedom Clinic so that the African-American people of the town can have medical care they can afford.

Ultimately, Glory writes a scathing letter to the town newspaper about why she thinks the pool shouldn’t be closed. Everyone keeps telling her that it’s closed because there are cracks in the pool that need to be fixed.

Unfortunately for Scattergood, I don’t believe that Glory could have written the letter she wrote. I mean that from a completely literary standpoint, though. Throughout the book, Glory seemed to me to not really understand what was going on–why her BFF Frankie’s dad wanted the pool closed; why Laura’s mom was helping to open the clinic; why her family’s maid, Emma, would tense up when Glory would press her about why the pool was closed; why the librarian was taking a stand by not taking seats out of the library.

She seemed so focused on insisting that there were no cracks in the pool or holes in the fence that when I actually got to the letter and it specifically said, “The people in this town dumb enough to agree to shut down a pool to keep Negroes out–and lying about it by saying it’s the pool that needs fixing–they are the fools who can’t see,” I was a little flabbergasted. It seemed completely out of character. For half the book, she seemed like a naive eleven-year-old who couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t try to just get along, then wham, blindsided by a Letter to the Editor.

At least after that, she seemed a little less naive.

It was an interesting read and I can imagine that it would be a good introduction to children about what the Civil Rights movement was all about. NPR just had it as their Backseat Book Club pick in July, so if you want to hear a better summary than then one I gave as well as some input from the author, I highly suggest giving this a listen.

My only other nagging question I have about the book is…well…if her birthday is July 4th, why is her middle name June?

Book Review: Helter Skelter

April 24, 2013 3 comments

I’m not sure that I could say anything more about Helter Skelter that hasn’t been said since it was first published in 1974. It tells the story of the Manson Family and how Charles Manson orchestrated the murder of actress Sharon Tate, four of her friends, and the LaBiancas, a seemingly innocuous, if well-to-do, couple.

Instead, I’m going to talk about a criticism that was brought to me by a friend. I mentioned that I was reading Helter Skelter and his response was something to the effect of “Bugliosi is an asshole. Brilliant, but an asshole.” My gut reaction to this was “Alright, I’m not seeing it, but whatever,” so I started trying to look for something that would give me that feeling. The closest I got was that sometimes, while describing the actual Manson trial, he’ll make comments about how he felt that he had made a good argument or explain why he argued a point the way he did and that it worked. I suppose both of those could be indications that he thinks highly of himself, but it didn’t strike me as especially asshole-ish.

When reading the book, one has to remember that it was written right after the Manson trial and that while it’s easy for we of 2013 to think it’s ridiculous that anyone could ever have thought to acquit Manson, there was a real chance for that to happen–if there’s one thing Court TV has taught me, it’s that the jury doesn’t always get all the facts. Of course Bugliosi is going to insist that he made all the right calls just in case someone still doesn’t believe in the verdict.

Now, however, the idea of letting Manson or the three Family members tried with him–Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie van Houten, and Susan Atkins–is almost laughable.

Charles Manson was last up for parole in 2012 which he was obviously denied after he told the prison psychologist, “I am a very dangerous man.” He didn’t attend the parole hearing, as he usually does.

Patricia Krenwinkel’s last hearing was in 2011. It was denied, but part of the reason was because the LA DA’s office “suggested that if Krenwinkel was remorseful she would waive her parole hearings and accept her punishment.” So…in order to get paroled, she would need to stop wanting to be paroled? That reminds me of a certain Joseph Heller novel…

Leslie Van Houten was denied parole again in 2010 for the 17th time, much of the reason being that Sharon Tate’s sister is continuously fighting against any of the incarcerated Mason Family members from ever getting out of jail. She apparently still receives threats from Family members three or four times a year.

Susan Atkins, whose testimony bothered me the most with its horror (she confessed her involvement with great glee to a fellow inmate when she was being held for something else) was denied parole on September 2, 2009, then died of cancer only twenty-two days later, the first of those convicted of the Tate-LaBianca murders to do so. I was a little shocked to find out that she ended up marrying her attorney, which I feel exhibits a lack of judgement on his part.

Editor’s note: I originally stated that Rosemary LaBianca was the mother of Suzanne Struthers, which was the product of my brain seeing an S-name and Struthers and thinking of Sally Struthers. This was pointed out to me by a commenter who needs a lesson in tact and diplomacy.

Book Review: A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)

April 17, 2013 Leave a comment

If you haven’t read A Game of Thrones or you haven’t watched the HBO series and you don’t want it spoiled for you, then I suggest you don’t keep reading after the jump. If you haven’t done either of those and you don’t care about OMG SPOILERS, feel free. You have been warned.

For those of you just tuning in who are thinking, “A Game of Thrones? What is this nonsense? I wish to read ALL THE SPOILERS,” congratulations, you’ve been under a rock since 1996. I’ll give you a brief summary anyway: A Game of Thrones is the first book in an epic fantasy series by George R.R. Martin called A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s set in a fictional land where the seasons don’t cycle through the year, but last for arbitrary amounts of time–currently the world is experiencing a very long, seven year summer, but signs are pointing to the fact that Winter Is Coming. This is a touch problematic because after a very long summer there is usually a very long, very harsh winter and as I am about sick of winter myself at this point, I can’t imagine this nonsense lasting more than the three months it takes in the real world.

The kingdom of Westeros is led by King Robert Baratheon, First of His Name, whose second hand man (the Hand of the King) has died under mysterious circumstances that no one really wants to investigate, so he travels from the capital, appropriately named King’s Landing, to the north of the Seven Kingdoms, to enlist his best childhood friend Eddard “Ned” Stark of Winterfell as the new Hand.

As fans of the genre are well aware, this is generally where all hell will break loose and this is no exception. Where this novel takes a deviation from the norm is that in most epic fantasy, very few named people actually die. Sure, there’s bound to be a war, so obviously there’s casualties, but it’s all mostly the nameless masses who fall on the enemies’ swords. Sometimes someone important will die (won’t lie–still mad at Tolkien over Kili and Fili), but generally everyone shows up for the big feast at the end.

This is your last SPOILER ALERT. Turn back now if you don’t want to know.

Read more…

Book Review: The Road

April 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: This was originally published in January 2010 and I REGRET NOTHING.

I should probably turn in my English degree along with a piece of paper that reads, “I’m sorry. I didn’t like this book. Please forgive me,” and hope that the powers that be forgive my transgression.

Seriously, though, I’ve searched through the Internet and can’t seem to find one bad review of The Road…but I just couldn’t get into it. The first time I sat down to read it, I got halfway through and stopped reading. This time, I forced myself to not put it down until I finished it. I still wasn’t impressed. I want to be impressed. I want to like this book. I really do. I just…can’t.

It’s the story of an unnamed man and his son walking through a post-apocalyptic world, down a road, toward what they hope will be a better place.

I wish I had more to add to that summary, but…that’s about it. The whole book is the rising action, then it comes to a predictable climax towards the end which is followed by a small dénouement. Most of the reviews I’ve read have spoken of how moving and personal the book is, but I just…wasn’t interested in the man or the boy. I was actually more interested in the wife/mother.

Of course I’m interested in the character that’s dead before the book even begins.

That’s the book I’d actually like to read.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print. ISBN: 0307387895

Book Review: When You Reach Me

April 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: This was first posted in August 2009 and every time I pick up my eReader, I consider reading it again.

First caveat: I only picked up this book because I was talking to a friend of mine who works for Random House and asked “Any new good books coming out?” and she said, “Oh, yes, read When You Reach Me!” so I downloaded it without even reading the description.

Second caveat: Any book that repeatedly references A Wrinkle in Time automatically is going to get at least three stars from me. Just sayin’.

Third caveat: I don’t actually have one of these; I just like the word “caveat” out of principle. It’s snobbishly delicious.

So, I went into the book not having any idea what it was going to be about, just prepared for it to be good because I trust my friend’s judgement. As such, I was delightfully confused by the first few sections because the narrator, a twelve-year-old girl named Miranda is talking to someone, but I had no idea who. Luckily for me, I enjoy books that reveal themselves as you’re reading.

Which, I suppose, is inseparable from books that deal with time travel. See: Rant by Chuck Palahiuk or The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. If you enjoy this book, I suggest you read those other two just so you can see the similarities.

What pleased me most about the book is that it actually required the reader to think. Some yalit books assume that children are unable to critically think at all and instead of nurturing that ability, give the precursor to Danielle Steele level books. I’m all for getting kids to think. Easier books are good for getting kids to read, but after that, the process needs to continue, otherwise we get adults who are happy reading the same story repeated with only a change in locale.

The story itself is well told, revealing each piece of the mystery so that you discover what happened as Miranda had discovered it. The ending was somehow simultaneously happy and sad…but I’ll leave it at that rather than spoil it.

Of course, the downside (if this can be considered a downside) it also had the side effect that now I have to go buy A Wrinkle in Time…which will probably make me buy the whole series…so I guess I have some reading to do. 😉

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. 2009. eBook.