Monday, July 30, 2012

Review #4: THE SHAPE OF WATER by Anne Spollen

You can also find this review on Goodreads!

Author: Anne Spollen
Publication Date: April 8th, 2008
My Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

15-year-old Magda's mother has recently died. Now Magda must cope with the loss, while also trying to solve family secrets and find her own place in the world––all the while dealing with several surreal elements that have leaked into her mind. 

I'll be honest … I picked up this book because the cover is freaking gorgeous. There's no denying that. Seriously, the back of the book could have said "POOP POOP POOP" and I still would have read the book anyway. Because, man … THAT COVER. Such gorgeous artwork. And a cool, ironic title as well. Sounds good!

Well, the inside of the book was a bit disappointing for me. It wasn't bad, but I felt like I'd seen the same thing done before, but done better than this. 

Some areas for discussion:

The writing:

When I first started this book, I was in love with the writing style. I found it unusual and poetic, with a lot of great imagery. That didn't necessarily change, but after a while it started to kind of lose its glamour. Sure, the writing was very good, but it just didn't strike me as particularly realistic. Although it was pretty, it didn't flow naturally; it started to feel a bit forced, and it made it harder to connect with Magda when she didn't narrate like a normal person or have much of a distinct voice. 

In addition, Anne Spollen went a bit overboard with the metaphors and similes. Obviously, water and fish and other aquatic things are a big theme in the book, but after a while, it was just like, OKAY I GET IT. You can stop that now. 

Speaking of Magda…

As I said, I didn't feel very connected to her. It was partly the writing style and partly that I found her to be an unlikable person.

*Minor Spoiler* My main problem with Magda was that she was an arsonist. She enjoyed going off into the forest near her home and starting fires, apparently not giving a crap for the lives of the people living in her neighborhood. 

Sorry, but grief isn't an excuse to endanger other people's lives. I understand she was sad, but that doesn't make it okay for her to do such a horrible thing. Not only that, but she allowed another girl to be wrongly accused and driven out of town, and didn't do a thing about it. Ummm. Not cool, girl.

The pretentiousness:

I feel like a snob when I call something pretentious, because I feel like it's a harsh word. But, that's the term that comes to mind. Over all, I felt that this book was just trying way, way too hard. As I mentioned before, the writing was a little too heavy on symbolism, but it was more than that.

There was a lot going on in the book that felt really unnecessary. Magda encountered a lot of people/situations that served pretty much no purpose in the story, and instead it just felt like filler. For example, she had a conversation with a lady whose job was putting make-up on dead people, and talked to a guy who made women out of driftwood, and she had a random lesbian encounter with one of her friends. … I mean, these things could have been necessary, but they all went by so quickly and were hardly ever mentioned again after they happened. Ultimately, they just felt like artsy/quirky things that the author just wanted to add in for no particular reason. 

Then, there was the surrealistic aspect of the story. Where to begin.

Look, I'm a big fan of surrealism if it's done effectively, and I've seen it done very well in several YA books. But surrealism is hard to pull off, and if it's not executed properly then it just ventures into "WTF" territory––and I felt like that's what happened with this book.

Anyway, the surreal parts mostly involved Magda imagining a family of fish talking in her head, dressing up in weird costumes and arguing with each other. I understood it was supposed to be like, memories of her parents arguing that she had kind of suppressed or something. But why fish? As much as I tried to get into it, I just couldn't help but feel it was a little too ridiculous.

And then there was this thing where, whenever she was upset, Magda imagined herself turning into a giraffe. Uhhh … ? 

I don't know, I can't even try to understand what that was supposed to symbolize. 

So! In conclusion, this book was just okay for me. The writing was generally good, although I started to lose interest in it towards the end. It was original at least, but the surrealism and quirkiness felt rather forced. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I've read similar books that just pulled off the themes much better. If you want to read a YA book involving surrealism and grief, then read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Or if you just want a surrealist YA book in general, check out The Book Thief by Markus Zusak or Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma.

Next Review: THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson ... coming soon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review #3: JANE by April Lindner

You can also find this review on Goodreads!

Title: JANE
Author: April Lindner
Publication Date: October 11th, 2010
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

WARNING: This shall contain some spoilers for this book, as well as for Jane Eyre.

Meh. Just ... meh. I didn't hate this book. I just ... didn't really like it, either.

Before I picked it up, I knew it was a retelling of Jane Eyre. But, for some reason I didn't know it was a modern-day retelling. Okay, I don't know what I thought it was going to be, to be honest. But anyway, I get the book out of the library and I see this on the back:

"What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star?"

Ummm. Okay?

Basically, in April Lindner's modern retelling of Charlotte Brontë's book, Jane is a nanny. She ends up getting hired to work for a has-been rock star who is attempting to make a comeback. And she falls in love with him.

Oops I mean ... Jane Eyre, right.

Well, okay. I think the premise could have worked, if it had been thoroughly thought-out and well-executed. Instead, it ended up feeling more like a story Lindner had made up, with an occasional event from Jane Eyre smacked into it.

I don't think it was a horrible idea or a horrible book. But, ultimately, it didn't feel like a whole-hearted attempt to me. So, here are my issues:

Jane was made into a dull character.

She was just so ... blah. It seemed like her whole life revolved around being obsessed with what's-his-face. (Sorry, I can't even remember his name. But, you know, the rock-star Mr. Rochester replacement. *Looks it up* Oh, Nico! That was it.) So yeah, she spent most of her time obsessing over Nico, and didn't seem to have many other personality traits or interests. Heck, she didn't even really spend time with Nico's kid. This girl she was supposed to be nannying, Maddy, was just there the whole book but they didn't have many interactions. Weird.

Also, she was one of those "I'm not like other teenage girls" type characters. Like, "Oh I don't pay attention to celebrity gossip! Oh, all I do is read! Oh, I'm so above everyone else and I hate fun!" ... Urgh.

The romance felt forced.

I couldn't find much of a reason why Jane was "in love" with Nico. It just happened out of the blue. One moment she was like, "Oh, what a stupid bastard." The next moment she was suddenly like, "Actually, I'M OBSESSED WITH HIM." There was very little development between those two steps. Nico mostly seemed like a jerk to me, and I didn't see why they liked each other so much. I was just like:

The story just didn't work in a modern setting.

Maybe it could have, but I don't think Lindner really tried to make it work. Most of it didn't make sense when it was set in present day.

For example, in the original Jane Eyre, Jane meets Mr. Rochester when he almost runs her over with a carriage (or maybe just with a horse, I don't really remember). And she doesn't know it's him, obviously, because she hasn't seen his face before. In Lindner's version, Nico almost runs over Jane with a car (of course), and she doesn't know it's him because ... Oh wait, WHY WOULDN'T SHE KNOW IT WAS HIM? In this version, he's famous. And before this event took place, Jane had spent hours going through every issue of People looking at photos of this guy's face––because she wanted to know who she was working for. So, uh ... Doesn't make much sense to me. She makes up some lame excuse about how she didn't recognize him because he looks different in person, but ... I feel like she would have at least suspected that it was him.

Then, we have the age difference between the two of them––which is like, 20+ years or something. I mean, yeah, that did gross me out a little bit when I read the original book. But, it was a different time period and I figured that type of thing was a bit more common. And no, I don't really have a problem with there being a large age difference between two people in a relationship. But, I kind of have a problem when it concerns a teenager. And in this case, it just kind of seemed like Nico was being a total creeper, having sex with his daughter's teenage nanny. Personally, it weirded me out, and I don't think it was as romantic by today's standards. But, maybe that's just me.

(Okay, SPOILER TIME. So if you don't like spoilers, skip the next two paragraphs.)

The other thing is the whole crazy-wife-in-the-attic problem. In the original, it made more sense. At the time, no one really understood mental illness or how to deal with people who were mentally unstable. It would make sense that Mr. Rochester wouldn't want to send away his wife to some asylum where they would torture her, or something like that. I mean, don't get me wrong––it's still not cool to have a crazy wife in your attic and not tell your girlfriend about it. But still, at least I can somewhat comprehend the logic, due to the time period.

In a modern-day setting, it just seemed like abuse, with no good reasoning behind it at all. Nico was all like, "Oh, I just don't want to send her to a mental institution or something! That would be horrible for her!" ... And uh, apparently it's not horrible for her to be locked in your attic, when instead she could be getting the help she needs––since that is actually possible nowadays? Sorry, but no. Just, no.


The book felt misplaced as YA.

Just because the main character is a teenager doesn't always mean the book has to be marketed as YA. And Jane is barely a teenager anyway; she's 19. I don't think there was a single other teenager in the book at all. A vast majority of the characters were adults, who dealt with adult issues. Not to mention, Jane Eyre isn't a kids' book, so ... I don't really understand the reasoning here.

I guess most adults wouldn't pick this up since more of them are probably acquainted with the original story. If you're an unsuspecting teenager and you don't really know what Jane Eyre is about ... well then, I don't know. Maybe you'd like this. But, I think it's that sort of marketing attitude that causes YA to get such a bad reputation––this idea that, "Heck, kids will read anything!" And sure, they will. But that doesn't mean that you have to give them lame books.

I suppose that's a rant for another time, though. So, back to this book.

Over all, I found it disappointing. It's not the worst thing I've ever read, and it was entertaining at times, but ultimately it was just a watered-down and not very good retelling of the original story. I recommend you skip this and go read Charlotte Brontë's version.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review #2: THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath

You can also find this review on Goodreads!

Author: Sylvia Plath
Publication Date: 1963
My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Ugh. This review has been stalling me for several days, so I apologize for the delay. I'm not even sure what's keeping me from writing it. I guess it's just a difficult book to review, and I have some mixed feelings about it. But, I will try!

So, I was watching "Freaks and Geeks" again. (I promise, this is related. A little bit.) And there's this scene where Cindy Sanders reads aloud this really bad emo poem during a school newspaper meeting. And the teacher says, "THANK YOU, SYLVIA PLATH."

That's what Sylvia Plath's name always makes me think of. Just so you all know.

Also "Freaks and Geeks" is the best show ever, and WHY ON EARTH WAS IT CANCELED AFTER ONE SEASON and you should all go watch it. Really. As of the day I am writing this review, it is all on YouTube. So, get on that.

So if you don't know already, this book is pretty DOOM AND GLOOM. Here, I will show you the basic tone of this book using gifs of George Michael:

I think that about covers it.

Basically, this is a semi-autobiographical book about a young woman going through a mental breakdown. And ... that's it.

Don't get me wrong. I liked the book. It was well-written and thought-provoking, and it illuminates important issues. I just wish it had been a tad more eventful, and ... well, I'll get a little more into that later.

Here's what I liked:

I liked the writing. It was unique and full of interesting imagery.

And obviously, Sylvia Plath knows what she's talking about when it comes to depression. I felt that she portrayed it quite accurately. ... It's not necessarily something that's triggered by anything huge. It's these little things that build up over time––feeling like you're a failure at your life goals, at relationships, etc. And eventually you get into that dark part of your mind, and it's difficult to crawl out of it again. I think a lot of authors (especially ones who haven't experienced any form of depression) try a little too hard tojustify the depression––that is, one of the character's friends has to die, or he/she has to go through some huge breakup or something. I don't read a lot of books where a character is depressed just because; and I think, realistically, that's more what tends to happen. So, kudos to you Ms. Plath.

I also think she really exposed how terrible it was to be depressed at a time when no one really understood depression. I mean, all that electrotherapy and stuff ... goodness gracious, it's terrifying. Who even thought that was a good idea? "Hey, let's electrify depressed people and that'll make them happy, right?" Haha ... what.

Here's what I didn't like so much:

Mostly the problem was, I felt it dragged on for too long and got kind of repetitive. It was pretty monotonous and never really strayed from this attitude:

A good chunk of the book was the protagonist making various attempts to kill herself, and failing. After a while it became like, "So, how should I try to kill myself TODAY?"




(If anyone wants to know, Sylvia Plath actually killed herself by sticking her head in an oven. But, you know, that part's not actually in the book.)

My second biggest problem was, I think the book suffered a lot from being semi-autobiographical. Because the story was based on Plath's own experiences, I think she was a bit limited. She might have been able to create a more compelling story, and narrator, if she hadn't been writing about herself. I imagine it would be hard to really detach yourself from the story. Also, although she revealed a lot, I'm sure that she still had to hold back when it came to portraying people from real life––and thus, I didn't feel extremely invested in any of the characters.

But, over all, I did enjoy this book––maybe not as much as I'd hoped I would, but it was still good. Sylvia Plath is a good writer, and she executes her subject matter well. There are some flaws in the pacing and characterization, but otherwise it was a satisfying read.

(SIDE NOTE: Oh yeah, and I liked that it took place in Boston. And she went to the swanboats and stuff! Also Sylvia Plath went to college in Amherst, just like meeeee! But okay, that's all.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review #1: UNEARTHLY by Cynthia Hand

Hi there! Here is my first review for this blog. (You can also find this review on Goodreads. Yay!)

Author: Cynthia Hand
Publication Date: January 4th, 2011
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

A typical conversation I have with my friends/family:

Me (Reading something): UGH I HATE THIS SHIT SO MUCH.
Friend/Family member: Then why don't you stop reading it?
Me: Because ... what if it spontaneously becomes awesome or something? I know, it never really happens, but WHAT IF.

And it's true. It hardly happens. It's very rare that I start off hating a book, and then end up really liking it. I can only think of a handful of times it has happened. ... Well, Unearthly was one of those rare books.

I did not really expect to like this book. I probably wouldn't have picked it up, except I couldn't find much at the library that I wanted to read––plus, I had seen some glowing reviews of it. So I said to myself, Ah what the heck. It's summer. I can stand to read something fluffy, even if it isn't that good.

When I opened this book, I quickly realized it was a book about angels. And that made me nervous. Most YA books I've read about angels have been train wrecks––Hush, Hush, Fallen, Halo ... You get the idea. Not only that, but the front page had a blurb from Alexandra Adornetto herself. 

So I'm like:

Oh God, what have I gotten myself into this time?

And as I started this book, I strongly disliked it. The beginning was very rough for me, which is part of why I knocked off a star. It really felt like the beginning to every other paranormal romance out there:

- Protagonist (Clara) is supernatural––part angel, to be specific.
- She has a prophetic dream about a hawt guy in a burning forest. Oh noez! She decides it is her destiny to save him (because the idea is that every angel has a special "purpose" that they have to carry out).
- Clara and her family totally abandon their home and move to where this hawt guy (Christian) is, so that Clara can save him when the time comes. (Clara figured out where he lived based on the license plate on a car she sees in the recurring vision of him.)

So, seems like a really clichéd and predictable beginning. I'm like, Oh boy. Now I guess Clara is going to start stalking Christian and obsessing over him (and/or vice versa). And then she'll save him from a fire, and they're going to fall in insta-love and be making out with each other every five seconds. And I'll be like:

Not to mention, Clara was a total pain in the ass for the first fourth of the book or so. I mean, she was just such an asshole. See my first few statuses, and you can see how I felt about her. She spent a lot of time talking about how she was naturally beautiful due to her angel blood––and then she kept criticizing other girls' looks. For example:

"They seem friendly enough. Definitely not pretty people, all wearing T-shirts and jeans, braids and ponytails, not a lot of makeup. But nice. Normal."

At first I felt like:

I really did not like her. I thought she was another Mary-Sue-ish bitchface.

Yet, somehow about halfway through this book I found myself like this:

So, now you're probably wondering why I liked this book so much. And, well, I'm still trying to put my thoughts together and explain.

Basically––yes, this book has the setup of pretty much every other paranormal romance out there. But instead of making it crappy and predictable, Cynthia Hand actually made it work. Not only that, but the book actually had twists I did not expect at all


You're probably thinking:

But, it's true. Here, lemme explain why this book was actually pretty great.

Clara is not a whiney, boy-obsessed idiot.

She may have started off annoying, but by the end of the book I respected Clara. I'm still not crazy about her, but she had some admirable traits. As I said, I expected her to become entirely infatuated with Christian, and talk and think about nothing but him, and cry over him constantly, etc. But no! Clara actually spent time with friends like a normal teenager––instead of spending all her time stalking a boy (or being stalked by a boy). And her friends were not just cardboard dummies, either. (Well, Wendy kind of was. But Angela ... I loved Angela. She was supa cool.)

But what was most important was, Clara realized that she had to fulfill her "purpose" no matter what, and that was her main focus. She realized that, even if Christian did not like her in a romantic way, it was still her duty to save his ass from that fire––and she was going to do it, dammit. And she didn't just sit around waiting for it to happen, either. She actually practiced her flying, practiced lifting heavy duffel bags (because she knew she'd have to lift Christian out of the fire and all). So, go Clara! Woohoo!

The romance was actually well-developed.

WARNING, this is a minor spoiler. So if you don't want any spoilers at all, maybe you should skip this section.

Anyway, believe it or not, Clara did not actually fall in love with Christian. WHUUUUT. Nope, none of that insta-love, soul-mate crap. She fell in love with Tucker––a guy who she actually got to know and developed feelings for over an extended period of time. *GASP!*

I mean, she did still seem interested in Christian. And I imagine she'll get to know him better and he may end up being a conflict ... But still, I liked that she didn't totally lust after him, and when he asked her out she didn't dump Tucker or anything stupid like that. So, YES. THANK YOU, CYNTHIA HAND. This is paranormal romance done correctly!

Clara's mom is a frickin' badass.

You're probably like ... lolwut?

But seriously, when was the last time you saw a really awesome mom in a YA book? A lot of YA books suffer from "Disappearing Parent Syndrome" in which the parents are painfully absent or clueless during the whole story. Either that, or the parents are really awful and constantly arguing with their angsty teen child.

And sure, Clara and her mom have some arguments. But over all, they have more of a Gilmore Girls-esque relationship. (Clara even said so herself.) And that was something refreshing. As a teenage girl who thinks my mom is awesome, it was nice to read a book in which the mother and daughter were actually friends––and in which the mom actually played a significant role in both her daughter's life and in the story. GO CLARA'S MOM.

The ending blew my mind.

Once I started getting to the end of this book, I had no idea how Ms. Hand was going to finish it. There was a lot leading up to this forest fire incident, so I feared there was going to be some really predictable and/or anti-climatic ending.

But no. Clara ended up having to make a really tough decision between what she wanted for herself, and what her greater purpose was. Like, my stomach actually hurt a bit when I tried to imagine myself in her place. It was like, DAMN CLARA, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

And then suddenly, this HUGE plot twist came out of nowhere. I mean, I did not see it coming AT ALL. Normally I hate really big plot twists like that, but in this case ... I actually really liked it. I thought it added quite a bit of intrigue to the story, and I'm eager to see what happens with it in the next book.

So, yeah. This book was a pretty crazy journey for me. I started off loathing it, yet by the end I was like:

I really can't wait to read Hallowed.

Why hello there!

Hi everyone! I'm Brigid. You may know me from my writing blog, My Life as a Teenage Novelist. Or you may know me from Goodreads, where I am known as Brigid *Flying Kick-a-pow!*. Or perhaps you don't know me at all, and you just happened to stumble upon my little review blog.

Well, however you came to be here, and whether you know me or not ... Welcome! I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Anyway, I write a lot of reviews on Goodreads, and people generally like them. And a lot of people have been like, "Brigid, you should make a blog just for your reviews!" So I figured, why not? I already write them, so I may as well post them both on Goodreads and on this shiny new blog.

So, well. Here it is. I'm going to put up my first review in a minute. :) Hope everyone enjoys this!