Children's · Fantasy · Teen Fiction · YA

Ever

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by: Gail Carson Levine

I’m a huge fan of Gail Carson Levine.  Ella Enchanted was the first re-imagined fairy tale that I fell in love with and her Princess Tales series was a favorite of mine growing up.

But I didn’t like Ever.  It was cute and the premise was good – I really wanted to like it!

Ever is the story of Kezi, a girl who lives in an alternate version of Ancient Mesopotamia.  (The cover models are oddly white, considering that.)  Doomed to die young, she falls in love with Olus, the Akkan god of the wind.  To be together, they must go on an epic quest and overcome great odds.  If they survive, they stand a chance of gaining their happily ever after.

Like I said, the premise is good.  Ancient Mesopotamia, powerful gods, a doomed woman, epic quests and dangerous situations.  Levine is a good writer and I generally like her characters – strong, intelligent, relatable – as well as the world she creates.  The setting in this book actually is fairly reminiscent of Ancient Mesopotamia, without losing its ability to relate to the modern-day reader. There a lot of everyday touches that really work to put you in the time period, and the dialogue is a nice mix of modern and old-fashioned so you’ve never jolted by the characters’ speech.  (That is a pet peeve of mine.)  She also uses some of the Sumerian language (I’m assuming here) which is a nice touch.

It’s told in first person perspective, alternating between Olus and Kezi.  It’s not my favorite, but she transitions well and uses it to build tension fairly well.

Like I said, the set-up is for a fairly good novel.  But Levine keeps this novel so simple that it becomes simplistic and looses all depth.  Now, it is a young adult novel and often they’re written on a lower reading level but that doesn’t mean that the novel has to be simplistic.  Simple can include depth.  The characters seem almost stunted.  They’re not very well-developed – I mean, they have an appropriate number of different traits and virtues and flaws, it’s just that everything about them is so straightforward and lacking depth.  They are completely scared, or completely grateful, or – their emotions just seem to lack complexity.

The situations are the same – they should be more exciting but everything is linear that it takes away from the suspense.  I don’t know – on its surface this should be a great book but it just doesn’t work on anything but a surface level.  I wish it did – I really do love Levine’s work.  But this book just doesn’t have anything going on besides the plot and the plot, while not terrible, isn’t enough to make up for its shortcomings.

It’s a quick read, so if you’re interested in Levine’s work or fictional representations of Ancient Mesopotamia there’s no harm in reading the first chapter or so.  The book is pretty consistent throughout, so if you like the first chapter you’ll probably like the rest.  Otherwise, you may want to give this one a pass.

Anyway, I’m interested in seeing what others thought of this book. Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments!

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Children's · Uncategorized

Calvin and Hobbes

They’re making a documentary about the importance of Calvin and Hobbes – which is long overdue, in my humble opinion.  I’m so excited about it! It’s showing in a city near-ish to me, but unfortunately, I’ll be out-of-state that entire weekend.

Calvin and Hobbes was a staple of my childhood.  I think I grew up after the newspaper run finished but my mom bought us the giant book collections and my brothers and I would squabble over who read them first.  They are just the perfect mix of funny and thoughtful and thought-provoking.  So I think I’m going to buy the DVD and host a viewing party with some of my friends, which’ll be great fun.

Any other Calvin and Hobbes lovers out there? Are you excited about the documentary?

Children's · Fairy Tales · Fantasy

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

 

 

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by: Catherynne M. Valente

When I picked up this book (a whole year ago!) I really wanted to have that magic feeling of discovery I had with the first book in this series. Unfortunately, you can really only discover something once and I didn’t get that “Look what I found!” feeling.  Which is why I put it down for so long.

But I finally picked it back up to finish!  I did indeed enjoy Valente’s second book and I do so enjoy her style – it is an old-fashioned style, slightly formal, that really adds to the magical feel of the book.

In the second book, September returns to Fairyland to find that the magic is all disappearing into Fairyland Below and it’s all due to actions she took in her last Fairyland adventure.  Realizing this, the slightly-more-mature September takes off on a quest to right her wrongs.  She heads down into Fairyland Below, which is populated by shadows who have left their people.  She finds shadow-versions of everyone familiar – and yet, these shadow-versions are not familiar.  She must draw on her strength, intelligence, bravery, and newfound adult compassion to ensure the survival of Fairyland.

As compared to the first book, I think I liked the characters less in this story.  The story was, more so than the last time, a story about September helping herself find herself.  She gets help from many characters throughout the story, but most of them are Merlin-type characters rather than her friends.  I think I missed that interaction.

I did, however, really love September herself.  September is growing up, and by doing so she is losing the heartlessness of childhood and learning to work with compassion and empathy.  She’s still rather young – I believe she’s supposed to be a preteen in this book – so it doesn’t lose the feeling of a children’s book.  Also, there’s a bit more attention paid to September’s life in the real world, which is nice. She’s living during WWI (or WWII? Sorry guys!), and her mom works in a factory while her dad is off fighting at the front.  You can see how her life is affecting her, even while she’s in Fairyland.  I liked Valente’s decision to age her rather than keeping her perpetually young.  September remains one of my favorite child protagonists.

The plot was a tad bit confusing at times and could have been tightened up a tad.  One or two things weren’t quite adequately explained to truly suit my need for understanding (but it is a fantasy book and that happens).  However, it was very fun and well-paced.  Excitement abounds and you’ll hold your breath with September as she struggles to complete her quest.  It’s a great length, too; by the time it’s winding up, you’re exactly at the point where you want to see a happy ending.

The world of Fairyland is always great to visit and I like the Alice in Wonderland literal-ness that Valente invokes when creating it.  Things are as a child thinks they should be there. World-building alone is a great reason to read this book, honestly.  It’s such a fun and magical place to visit.

If you’re looking for a new fairy tale, a new children’s book, or if you’re a fan of magic, Lewis Carroll-style, I would definitely give this book a try!  If you’re really into character relationships and more introspection than adventure, than, sadly, this may not be the book for you.

Comedy · Humor · Nonfiction

Hyberbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, and Other Things That Happened

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by: Allie Brosh

If you’ve never read the side-splittingly funny blog that is Hyperbole and a Half, you should stop reading my blog and head on over there pronto. Allie Brosh’s deliberately crude drawings and hilarious tales of childhood and life’s misadventures are not to be missed.

Her posts on depression are some of the best takes on the disease that I’ve ever read.  My mom suffers from pretty severe depression and it took me a long time to understand it; I wish Brosh’s comics had been around back then to help. I think the way she writes about it makes the disease really accessible for people who have never been depressed.  The comics are so important: for people suffering from depression – solidarity; for people who are affected by others’ depression – understanding and compassion; and for helping the general public understand depression – de-stigmatizing. (There is nothing more infuriating than someone without any experience with mental illnesses proselytizing that “sad people only need to think happy thoughts!” when the subject of depression comes up. Don’t do that.)  She manages to treat the subject with a kind of gallows humor – you laugh in the middle of these painful posts, but it’s a good laugh.  The kind of laugh that adds to your understanding instead of masking it.

Onto brighter things – the rest of her blog and book deal with rather more lighthearted things.  Childhood exploits, like eating an entire cake in one sitting, or quandaries of adulthood – being an adult is hard, y’all! – are all painted with the same brightly colored, achingly comedic brush.  The book contains probably 50-75% new material.  (Some of it is best of posts from the blog, though.)  I liked reading the old posts in book form – I got the e-book – and if I ever get the chance, I’ll buy the hardback and get a signed copy. Sadly, she’s not heading to my part of the U.S.A. anytime soon.

Some of the others stories made me put my Nook down and just laugh really hard, even the ones I had read before! I was having a really bad night last night – the family dog got accidentally poisoned – and I so desperately needed the laugh.  I was surprised that I laughed as hard as I did, honestly.

The last and biggest part of the book was a story on how she has impostor syndrome as a “good person.”  It was a little long for my tastes and I didn’t really relate all that much, but I suppose many other people will.  It was the only part of the book I didn’t absolutely love – but I still liked it. That is literally my only criticism for the book – so yes, it is that good.

My suggestion is pop on over to her blog and see if you like it. If you do, buy the book! It’s fantastic!  Even though some of the stories are in the blog, it’s nice to have your own copy that you can mark up and access and share anytime, with anybody who reads English.  And if you know someone whose life is being affected by depression, consider sending them a copy of the book or a link to the blog posts. Like I said, it’s a really important work on depression.

(NPR’s Fresh Air did a great interview with Brosh here.)

Romance

The Sum of All Kisses

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by: Julia Quinn

I love Julia Quinn. She’s one of my favorite writers. I love her sly humor and witty dialogue; I love that her characters are people I could be friends with. I adore that if someone told me I seemed like one of her heroines, I would feel complimented.

The Sum of All Kisses is Quinn’s latest book and the third book in the Smythe-Smith quartet. The hero, Hugh Prentice, is a bit of an ass. It’s not his defining characteristic, by any means, but it is there. He’s truly nice, but sometimes says things that are a little mean.  And then he realizes he has done wrong and apologizes.  He doesn’t need to fall in love to respect others’ feelings; he just doesn’t always adequately consider his words before he speaks.

The heroine, Lady Sarah Pleinsworth, is caring, intelligent, and just a bit selfish.  Not a spoiled brat, completely oblivious to other’s pain; just a wee bit too focuses on how things affect her. (Also, she decides to work on this not because the hero teaches her a lesson but through an interaction completely separate from Hugh! Sigh…)

It’s so nice to have characters who are truly realistically flawed – good people who screw up sometimes.  So very nice.

The Sum of All Kisses is light and fun.  There’s witty banter, amusing situations, and great fun throughout.  I love that her characters seem to understand just how lucky they are.  Here, Sarah’s understanding that not everyone has a loving family dynamic – that her family is loving and normal but others’ may not be – is what sets her up to help (save) Hugh during a particularly sticky situation.  Without those moments of understanding, I don’t think I would have bought her kick-ass save the day moment – but as it is, I absolutely love it.

This book has a villian-esque character, different for Quinn.  I’m not sure if I like the way she handled it – on one hand, it was brilliantly over-the-top and on the other hand – well, it was over-the-top.  I can’t decide if it worked amazingly well or if it fell short of being brilliant.

However, Quinn does handle painful situations delicately enough to respectfully convey pain without darkening the light tone of the book. Shit may happen but that doesn’t mean your life is either dark and scary or transformative and healing.  Sometimes you work through your issues and have a rather normal story.

 Like many romance novels, TSoAK has a short timeline, yet at the end it’s hard to believe the characters have only known each other for a few weeks.  I attribute this to the conversations of the characters.  They don’t hold discourses on Plato, but they banter and converse and think.  The conversations hold unexpected depth, in that the characters truly connect through talking: through a shared sense of humor, point-of-view, or uncommon trait. 

As for the sex scenes, TSoAK had a fair amount of petting leading up to the main event, which I thought added some nice tension. Quinn’s not super-explicit – you know what’s going on but you’re not fed detail after detail.  And they do help the plot get along, rather than the plot revolving around them.

In short, if you like light and fluffy romance novels with unexpected depth here and there, or if you have a thing for witty, intelligent characters, genre aside, you should read The Sum of All Kisses, or any Julia Quinn.  If you like your books hot and heavy, or if you’re a big fan of action-y rescue plots, than maybe this isn’t the book for you.  (But! I encourage you to try Julia Quinn even if you don’t think you like romance novels. Don’t let hate of a genre keep you from an excellent author.)

So –

Children's · Fairy Tales

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making

A short review that I wrote right before I started this blog but never published!
by: Catherynne M. Valente

This book is both amazing and wonderful! It is everything a fairy tale should be – honest, written in a slightly Victorian manner, and full of wondrous creatures.  The book is slightly old-fashioned in the best of ways  – the feeling comes from the slightly formal tone that makes the reader want to sit and listen to a story their favorite teacher (or nanny!) tells.

It’s the story of September, a girl living during WWI, who accepts the chance to go to Fairyland and all the adventures that entails. There’s humor, both for children and adults.  September is a wonderful character – she is decisive and neither saccharine sweet or unbelievably mature. She’s as practical as a 12 yr old can be, cunning enough to be interesting, and, most importantly, in charge of herself.  Best of all, she doesn’t spend the entire time worrying about getting home, but rather endeavors to have adventures and fulfill promises.  I highly recommend this book!