The Rest of Us Just Live Here Review

*A heads up for spoilers here, I was unable to give my opinion fully without them.*

I have been waiting for an opportunity to read this book for a while, ever since I first saw it. I really liked the cover, and the story sounded amusing and interesting; a relevant idea to all the super heroes in the media. As it turns put, unfortunately, the cover might be the best part. It was relatively quick to read, which I am thankful for. It seems that I am the only one that didn’t go with an audiobook this time, and I wonder how that may have effected my feelings for the book; considering I did not have to hear a narrator awkwardly trying to voice a female character.

I expected romance; it’s a YA novel. But I also have standards, and if one of your main characters is going to be unpleasant in regards to this, please also include proper character Growth. Michael’s possessiveness and jealousy over Henna could have possibly be a little less annoying if he actually had the chance to develop at some point, as opposed to him technically getting a slap on the wrist but then rewarded. I know that the book is set over just 4 weeks or so, but that doesn’t mean Michael couldn’t have actually grown up a bit. Henna does give appear to give him a good knockdown when she says something like “you are way too possessive for someone who doesn’t even date me”; but then gives in?

Instead of getting the opportunity for character growth, Henna’s rejection of him seems superficial since they still have sex. She rejects him in terms of a romantic relationship but he still gets a reward. Considering that he seems to be completely accepting of this, was he only in lust with her? In itself, them hooking up without being in a relationship is not wrong; however in the context that Michael could have had the opportunity to start growing, it tastes sour.

I was originally impressed by the seemingly diverse cast, but as Sugar Cube pointed out to me, it could come dangerously close to a sort of forced diversity. There was also a lack of context for some of the character’s diverseness, which I address lower in this book review. Mental illness and addiction was also liberally used, but perhaps too liberally? I was thrown off by Michael saying he had anxiety, but the anxiety having the appearance of an obsessive disorder. Near the end of the book, it is actually named as an obsessive disorder, so why call it anxiety before?? Anxiety and obsessive disorders may come hand in hand, and one developing from the other, but there was no reason to avoid naming his disorder earlier. He used to struggle with it, and has started to now. It would have helped with the fleshing out of characters a little (Although saying that makes me think that characters should be more fleshed out then just having a mental illness for a personality).  I was also unclear about Michael’s father’s struggle with alcohol. Were we supposed to sympathize with him at all? I never found myself doing so. I have mixed feelings about Jared offering to heal Michael of his obsessive disorder. My only positive feeling is that it didn’t actually happen. Healing mental illness with magic is a trope, and certainly one to be avoided.

I thought it was an interesting style choice to have the titles long, and yet that’s where you found the indie kids. In this sense, it’s the normal kids who are at the forefront, and the special ones are at the edges. The indie kids mostly show up when they effect the lives of the normal ones, as read in the chapters, and the regular kids have mostly no idea what is going on. The reader does, as the context is all in the chapter titles. I thought it was a clever style choice, however the regular kids were not really strong enough, didn’t seem to have full characters or lives to really carry the story. The fact that he made normal people the center of the story is fine. But that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be strong characters. If all fantasy parts of the story were stripped away, the plot and characters would be pretty uninteresting. In fact it could be said that the diversity, and the mental illnesses were simply added to make the characters more interesting, as plot devices. This is unfortunate. You should be able to write interesting enough characters without having to use such things.

Although he focused on the normals, it felt as if the book was too focused on them, with a microscope so that you only saw their lives without any of the surrounding environments. Again, I understand that there is only 4 weeks left of school, but there was little mention of school at all really. No clubs, no classes, nothing that would have added a little more depth to the characters and the book. How large is their school? Were they part of any clubs? Was there a small number of Finnish kids for some reason, and what was that reason? I also didn’t really get a good sense of where they were living. How large is their town? Were there any more children of missionaries there? I know Jared was a football player, that’s about it. There seems to be a vacuum around the characters, when, as supposed normal people, there really shouldn’t be.

The writer may have been trying to be relevant to the young persons reading his book. I assumed at some point that the Indies were supposed to be hipsters, although his tone takes mostly the mocking view of them that much of the media uses. Calling them indie kids was perhaps a reference to hipsters liking indie music? It is not clear to me.

The idea was was certainly intriguing, but the execution sadly needs some work.

 

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September Book Choices

Here are my choices for the month. I tried to think of books that might suit September, with a little bit of history, a little bit of creepy, as well as magic. And of course, school.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam–a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion–a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night…

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway – a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love – a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Illusive by Emily Llyod-Jones

When the MK virus swept across the planet, a vaccine was created to stop the epidemic, but it came with some unexpected side effects. A small percentage of the population developed superhero-like powers, and Americans suffering from these so-called adverse effects were given an ultimatum: Serve the country or be declared a traitor.

Some people chose a third option: live a life of crime.

Seventeen-year-old Ciere Giba has the handy ability to change her appearance at will. She’s what’s known as an illusionist. She’s also a thief. After crossing a gang of mobsters, Ciere must team up with a group of fellow superpowered criminals on a job that most would have considered impossible: a hunt for the formula that gave them their abilities. It was supposedly destroyed years ago – but what if it wasn’t?

Government agents are hot on their trail, and the lines between good and bad, us and them, and freedom and entrapment are blurred as Ciere and the rest of her crew become embroiled in a deadly race that could cost them their lives.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions…

Poll: https://goo.gl/forms/BgS0Oypm7DqZ5wu32

LateLateLate Reviews for May to August really (or Summer 2017 Reviews)

Oops? Summer is about to leave, I changed job locations, and apparently am behind in my reviews, having bits and pieces of my thoughts written and noted down everywhere but on this blog of course. I did finish August’s choice, Frederica, on time, but am still only half way through Hild. So:

Frederica:

After realizing my library didn’t have a paper copy, but an audio book copy of Frederica, I decided to take the challenge; I have not listened to an audio book in many years. Listening to an audio book is somewhat different, I found. First I struggled with the narrator’s voice, which while pleasant in general and fit with the main character Alverstoke, but made me cringe whenever he read women’s dialogue. Besides that, when I don’t have something to occupy my eyes, my mind tends to wander at some point. I found myself listening while doing the dishes or when i was setting up my desktop at work. I will have to get a written copy of the book to reread it, to pick up some details I missed.

I enjoyed Frederica; the story was relatively simple and the plot felt formulaic. This is not a complaint since formulaic plots don’t usually bother me; they feel relaxing and pleasing when everything turns out more or less as you did expect. The characters were fun, and for the most part lighthearted. I felt generally sorry for Charis, especially when I remembered she would have been 16-17, considering a majority of the characters, including her sister, call her things like a “beautiful ninny-pole”. Jeez sis. I also couldn’t help but wonder how Charis might fare today, as just another regular teenager.

The main pairing, well, I couldn’t quite see it. There didn’t seem to be much real passion, and his feelings of love felt sudden and without grounds. I was unconvinced. Perhaps I haven’t read much regency romance, or just Georgette Heyer, but I found some of the declarations of love over the top and silly.

Things No One will tell Fat Girls:

Well. In a way, I don’t relate very strongly to this book. I’m not a fat girl. And I never really thought of myself as such. When I was a bit younger, I was self conscious about my stomach or my legs to a degree, but I’ve mostly overcome that, long before reading this book. I certainly have not, and do not, always like my body, but really I’m pretty okay with it. When it comes down to it, I struggle with self consciousness, shame, etc but it usually does not relate to my physical self. I hope that my tone does not come off as bragging or righteous or something, just that this book is a book that is addressed to the reader. I am the reader, but I think I am not the intended audience, I do not particularly need the message in this book. That’s it. I would point out that reading a book that you can not relate to can be good, can widen your view of the world, that’s true. Reading a book about a girl, say, that grew up in China or Brazil is not something I can relate to, but can still enjoy. But a book like that would not generally be addressed to me, the reader. Still, I liked this book, it did make me consider that I should follow more body positive social media, and consider my own thoughts. I was impressed by her using guest essays to fill the holes that she could not, addressing gender and race.

As an personal amusing aside, I suppose, part of me reacted a little when I saw the author write “many scholars”, as that sort of phrase would always end up circled in red pen with the words “WHICH SCHOLARS?” scribbled next to it on my university papers. On the other hand, the author did have a nice little reference section at the back of the book.

The Improbability of Love:

I am generally speaking not a fan of a lot of description, although there are always exceptions. This book was not an exception, I’m afraid.

I’m not sure where to start. Some of the the description I didn’t mind, even enjoyed. Annie matching food and art was interesting to me, the small snippets of dining and food history were probably my favourite parts. They were fun little insights on how and what people ate, and the idea of having themed dinner parties seems very entertaining to me. There was some character description as well. Or, I should rephrase, there was way too much character description. I do not always recall the full looks of a character, but I can tell you exactly how many freckles Annie had on her face.

My other major complaint, and  both frustrated and amazed me that the author got away with such a thing,  was the use of perspectives in this book. Writing perspectives can be tough, when you juggle several characters whose stories need to be told; and I remember clearly fantasy authors such as G. R. R. Martin and Brian Jacques managed it well. They only switched every chapter however. In this book, the perspectives switch from character to character within chapters, and even occasionally within paragraphs. This can create a sort of mental whiplash feeling as you suddenly realize the character point of view you are reading is different from the last sentence you just read.

Well that’s it for now. Hopefully I will get through Hild and post my review then. Other then that, I am currently planning which books to make our September choices…

May/June Book Choices

While I’m unfortunately behind on reading The Improbability of Love as I got it so late from my library, as well as struggling to get through it, I figured I should put up my choices of books anyways.

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1. Hild by Nicola Griffith

Hild is born into a world in transition. In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, usually violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods’ priests are worrying. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief.

Hild is the king’s youngest niece. She has the powerful curiosity of a bright child, a will of adamant, and a way of seeing the world—of studying nature, of matching cause with effect, of observing human nature and predicting what will happen next—that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her. She establishes herself as the king’s seer. And she is indispensable—until she should ever lead the king astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, her family, her loved ones, and the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can read the world and see the future.

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

3. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

4. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Poll: 

Monstress Review

Monstress was something different then our usual choices, most obviously as a graphic novel. It only took me about an hour in total to read it leisurely, I enjoyed it nonetheless. The art was pleasing, especially the details in clothing and hair, as well as the varied expressions on cat faces’, which had me smiling. I found it occasionally a little gruesome for my tastes,  however I find many graphic novels tend towards gruesomeness, so I go with it. The story itself was intriguing; the pages that appear between chapters giving some historical context did their job, but did not always clear my confusion. I suspect a second reading would fix that. Also looking back…I can’t exactly recall what the plot was; I couldn’t sum it up for you in one sentence very well. It was rather convoluted, especially for something a little under 200 pages.

I think this novel suffers a bit with an overabundance of world building in a short 192 pages. I love stories with a rich and detailed fantasy world, societies that have history and culture that have obviously been thought out, but when  you are just thrown into them, there is the risk of getting a little lost and overwhelmed. Some details I can pick up on my own, such as noticing that Monstress seems to have women in most of the positions of power; its a matriarchy. I think if the map I found after finishing the novel was placed at the beginning, and perhaps included an outline of the 5 races I might have had a slightly clearer understanding of the world. This explosion of world building I see less in books, where the author usually has more space to build and describe the world they are presenting to us. I found the stories of the shaman-empress and the old gods intriguing, would have liked to see more of them.

The main character herself occasionally irritated me. I wasn’t sure if her “I don’t care if you live or die” was a persona; it seemed to fluctuate, but occasionally just made her look like a brat and less sympathetic as a character.

This review is certainly not filled with praises, but that’s not to say I did not enjoy Monstress. The art on some of the pages was nice enough that I stopped to admire it for a while, I was pulled by this world that seemed to be dominated by women and haunted by creepy dead gods, and I will probably try to pick up the second volume when its available.

And, hey. It has talking cats!

Belated Bad Feminist Review

I could not seem to organize my ideas about this book, and although agreed with much of what Roxane Gay says, I am not convinced of the title “Bad Feminist”. I almost feel like she told me about this label, and then convinced me not to use it. I am not sure? So here is my review, as seemingly disorganized as it might be. Perhaps if I read it a second time in a shorter span of time I will have more clarity. Or not?

I am glad I chose this book; I think otherwise it would still be sitting on my shelf now, cover pristine, as I well intentionally thought “soon”. The fact that it took me so long to get through this book should reflect less on the author’s style of writing, and more on my current attention span, especially for non-fiction. I quite enjoyed how the book was set up, and found that relatively short essays were easy to read. The content of those essays, not so much at times. The author’s writing is also clear and not dry; I was interested even as she discussed the details of competitive scrabble. I think I struggled only once to really understand what she was saying, only because I was completely unfamiliar with the reference.

The book resonated with me about having “problematic faves”, because if we cut out everything that said or did something we didn’t like, would there be anything left? The sort of embarrassed ,”Yes I watch that show, but you know, I’m still a feminist .” Does the feminist part really have to be necessary? You have to defend your stance on equality because you like make up or shaving your legs? Perhaps it’s those pesky categories, Feminism with a capital F, and how society and media defines it, is becoming more rigid as a category.

I also should mention of course, that she was also speaking, writing, her experiences as a black feminist as well. The chapters on racism were interesting and educational, as well as the same time I know I won’t experience the same sort of movie going anxiety and frustration. Reading the chapter on the book The Help was interesting; I read it several years ago,  probably when I had just started university, and when I was as yet unaware of such things as the White Savior or other subtle racist tropes. Now, it was not a complete surprise to me.

This book reminded me of an essay once called “Yes, you are”. It seems to be a response, at least partially, to the “essential feminist” that Gay mentions in her book. Far as I am concerned, If we all became this essential feminist, it almost seems that our personalities would fade a bit, be taken away.

“Yes. You are. You are a feminist. If you believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards equality of the sexes, you are a feminist. Period. It’s more complicated than that — of course it is. And yet…it’s exactly that simple. It has nothing to do with your sexual preference or your sense of humor or your fashion sense or your charitable donations, or what pronouns you use in official correspondence, or whether you think Andrea Dworkin is full of crap, or how often you read Bust or Ms. — or, actually, whether you’ve got a vagina. In the end, it’s not about that. It is about political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, and it is about claiming that definition on its own terms, instead of qualifying it because you don’t want anyone to think that you don’t shave your pits. It is about saying that you are a feminist and just letting the statement sit there, instead of feeling a compulsion to modify it immediately with “but not, you know, that kind of feminist” because you don’t want to come off all Angry Girl. It is about understanding that liking Oprah and Chanel doesn’t make you a “bad” feminist — that only “liking” the wage gap makes you a “bad” feminist, because “bad” does not enter into the definition of feminism. It is about knowing that, if folks can’t grab a dictionary and see for themselves that the entry for “feminism” doesn’t say anything about hating men or chick flicks or any of that crap, it’s their problem.

It is about knowing that a woman is the equal of a man in art, at work, and under the law, whether you say it out loud or not — but for God’s sake start saying it out loud already. You are a feminist.”

http://tomatonation.com/culture-and-criticism/yes-you-are/

 

Vassa in the Night Review

Another Fairy tale! I didn’t realize this until I figured out that BY stood for Baba Yaga. Fairy tale retellings are usually fun in seeing how the author incorporated the original tale and Vassa in the Night was…an interesting interpretation of Vasilia the Beautiful.

I went to read a summary of the original tale after I finished, so as to not risk any spoilers, but found that the end was different. Sort of. The ending of Vassa was a bit too open for my taste; I still had questions. I did not see how Vassa and Stephenie’s relationship would be healed by these events, although Vassa herself seems somewhat optimistic. In the original tale, Vasilia is given a magic lantern by Baba Yaga  and when she gets home, she finds that the lights have not returned and the lantern burns her half-sisters and mother to death. This is obviously a convenient way to get rid of evil step-siblings. On the other hand, attempting to repair the relationship between siblings without fiery deaths seems to fit a more modern version of the tale.

Parts of the story seemed somewhat convoluted or weighed down with extra detail. While I can go along with this at the beginning of a book, with the expectation of later explanation, I was not always satisfied in this case. For example, I was slightly confused with the interlude of the father becoming a dog, as it did not really seem to add much to the plot. It answered the question of where the father went, for sure, however that did not seem like an urgent question to me in the first place.

Recalling my review of East, and agreeing with my friends here, I was exasperated by the refusal to answer questions. It’s another traditional fairy tale element, I recognized that. But again, what’s a girl to do, sometimes? Discouraging questions, and then making her feel bad for asking them was exasperating to read about.

And to agree with Dancing Radish, I thought Vassa was written with a pretty realistic personality. Her impulsive choice to go to BY’s to prove a silly point to her sister was believable; I could see myself doing such a thing. Her inner struggles and her self-doubt did not feel contrived. We tend not to hear the inner thoughts of the traditional fairy tale heroines, they are silenced by the 3rd person narrative; and it is sometimes hard to imagine that they might be angry,  feeling lost and dispairing.