Book Review: Juliet, Naked

Would it really have been so much worse to spend those years alone?  Why did there have to be someone else in the room while she was eating, watching TV, sleeping?  A partner was supposed to be some mark of success:  anyone who shared a bed with someone on a nightly basis had proved herself capable in some way, no? Of something?  But her relationship now seemed to her to betoken failure, not success.

Julietjuliet-naked-hornby, Naked by Nick Hornby is about, well, a lot of different things actually.  But mostly it’s about a man named Duncan who is obsessed with the music of a man named Tucker and what happens when Duncan’s longtime girlfriend Annie starts emailing Tucker.

What I Liked

– What didn’t I like?  The book is honestly a little slice of perfection.  The characters are all just perfectly hopeless living in their own little pockets of despair.  There’s just a real sense of how stuck they all are in the patterns of their lives and either want or don’t want more.  And the setting, plot, and everything else all just add to the understanding of the characters, the lives they lead, and how they get to where they are.

It was hopeless, life, really.  It was set up all wrong.

I keep trying to think of more things to say about the book, but I can’t think of anything except:  amazing.

Book Review: Liar

I can’t expect to be believed.  I am the girl who cried wolf.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier is, true to the title, about a girl named Micah who is a self-professed liar.  Only this time she swears she’s telling the truth.

I bought the book–a rarity because I am a huge patron of the library–in order to support the change that was made after the cover controversy, but, honestly, I should have saved my money.  Or better yet, bought Magic or Madness.liar2

I did not like this book.  At all.

Wait.  That’s a lie.  There are things I liked about the book.  Overall, though, I found it to be a severely disappointing read.  Most of the reasons why have to do with the spoiler (don’t worry; this review will be spoiler-free), but that’s because the spoiler makes up such a huge part of the book.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  There are things about the book that I did like.

What I Liked

– I loved the first third of the book.  The book is divided into three parts, and part one is my absolute favorite.  I loved all of the relationships brought up in part one: everything with Zach, Tayshawn, Sarah, Yayeko, and even Brandon.  Just everything about the grief over Zach’s death (not a spoiler; it’s revealed in the first few pages), the different ways his friends came together, the way the school handled it.  I just enjoyed all of that a lot.

– The stuff with Micah’s family and her brother.  All of those relationships were ace as well.

– The book is well written in the sense that it’s easy to read, and the language is well-crafted.  I also read the whole thing and that’s because I genuinely wanted to know what would happen to the characters that I had grown to care about.

– Obviously, I’m pleased about the cover.

What I Didn’t Like

– Most of what I didn’t like about the book has to do with the spoiler, but I can talk about it without spoiling the book.  Basically, what I hated about it is that once the spoiler is revealed, the book stops being about what I thought it was about and starts being something completely different.

I thought that I was reading a book about a screwed up kid who was dealing with grief over the loss of a friend.  I was actually reading a book about spoiler.  And spoiler was not the book I signed up to read, nor was it the book I wanted to read.

The big problem is that once the spoiler is revealed, there is no sure footing in the story.  And while Larbalestier has said that she was aiming for an unreliable narrator, I feel the story misses the unreliable narrator mark and shoots straight into unreliable story.  That is, I get no sense of what is real.  There is nothing concrete to hang the story on; I can’t even believe what characters exist and what characters don’t.

I won’t blame the spoiler entirely for that.  Part of it is also the way the novel is crafted.  That is, Micah is talking to a reader that she addresses explicitly (“I will tell you my story and I will tell it straight”).  However, the real reader doesn’t know who “you” is, so when the novel turns into this big guesswork of a puzzle with too many lies to tell the truth, there is nothing to guide the real reader (that is, me) to know what I should expect to be true.

What I’m basically saying is that there is no established way for the reader to read the story.

I was trying to think of books that do the unreliable narrator successfully, and there are lots, actually, but the ones I enjoyed always were pretty explicit about why I couldn’t trust the narrator’s perception of the thoughts and actions of others, but never about how I couldn’t trust the narrator’s story at all.

So that’s what I didn’t like.

And since that’s the essence of the book, I didn’t like the book.  Which disappoints me because I have liked her other books, and I wanted this one to be spectacular because of the controversy and all.  But.  You know.  It happens.

Book Review: Impossible

In her dreams, at the end, Miranda loved her.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin is the story of a girl who is cursed to get pregnant and go crazy at seventeen–just like her mother before her and her mother before her, et cetera and so forth, way back to the beginning of time.

impossibleThis book has a lot of similarities with the Magic or Madness trilogy by Justine Larbalestier, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t address that right away.  The main thing, of course, is the curse of teen pregnancy and the consequent madness, which I find an interesting approach to teen pregnancy.  I don’t study folklore or fantasy (nor do I read that much of it), but it made me wonder if pregnancy as a curse is recurring trope in folklore/fantasy.  I also find teen pregnancy as a literal curse to be a fascinating approach to teen parenthood and the way that teen parents sometimes beget teen parents.  So that it’s a curse is both problematic from a real life standpoint and interesting as a folklore trope.

I wish I had more to say about it than “huh, interesting” but…I don’t.  Maybe a folklorist would, though.

Anyway.  Down to business.

What I Liked

– I found this book compulsively readable.  I would pick it up and just read pages and pages in one sitting without even meaning to.  I really wanted to know what was going to happen.

– The relationship between Lucy and Soledad.  The evil dude even comments at one point that he hadn’t anticipated the effect of a mother’s love on helping Lucy break the curse, and I thought that was such a great moment.  The curse focuses on biological ties, but that Lucy’s bio mom is not able to help her but she has a wonderfully supportive and loving adopted mom who becomes instrumental in helping her break the curse is just awesome.

– The relationship between Miranda and Soledad, even as it’s written in the past.

Craziness aside, sadness aside, the diary was also the story of Miranda’s relationship with the one true friend that she felt she had ever had, and this was, of course, Soledad.

So, that goes back to the power of motherly love and also the power of female friendship.  Soledad is able to be such a fantastic mother to Lucy in part because of how much she loves Miranda and how connected the two of them are.  And part of the fight is Soledad reclaiming her friend’s life as much as it is about helping Lucy reclaim her own life.

– The romance, while cheesy, added to the overall message of the power of friendship and the all-encompassing power of love.


What I Didn’t Like

– This is not a story about the horrors of rape or the challenges of being a teen parent.  That said, Lucy is raped and becomes a teen parent, and while the book doesn’t exactly gloss over these as horrors or challenges, it doesn’t really do a good job of dealing with the issues either.  What I do like is that there is an emphasis on therapy and family support, but at the same time, I feel like Werlin missed an opportunity to really make some statements about both of these things.  Which leads into my next complaint…

– …the book is too short.  I feel like it could be a lot longer, and if it were, it would be able to address the Big Issues that it covers.  (It would also solve some of the summary/glossing over/big things happening off screen problems that some of the Goodreads reviewers had.)  Plus, I found myself actually wanting more of the story,  more about the characters, and more evidence of the connections between the characters, so I totally understood why Larbalestier did hers as a trilogy.  Because it’s just a lot of story to cram into a short book.  (Amazon says the book is 384 pages, but I still argue that’s short–especially given how big the font/margins are.)

– I don’t understand why this book was a National Book Award finalist.  I mean, yes, compulsively readable, but it had a lot of issues in execution.

In conclusion: I liked it, but recommend it with reservation just because I know several people who did not like it…mostly for the reasons I outlined above.

Book Review: The Princess Bride

What happened was just this:  I got hooked on the story.
For the first time in my life, I became actively interested in a book.  Me the sports fanatic, me the game freak, me the only ten-year-old in Illinois with a hate on for the alphabet wanted to know what happened next.

I picked up The Princess Bride by William Goldman because a friend of mine said she loves it lots and lots–more than the movie.  That intrigued me because I’ve heard lots of gushing over the movie in my time, but that was the first time I’d really ever heard someone say they loved the book.  It may have been the first time I realized the movie was based on a book.

princessbrideI was also really intrigued because I’m not that big a fan of the movie.  I know, intellectually, that I should like it.  It should be really funny and interesting to me, but it’s just not.  (And to prove it, I rewatched the movie after I finished the book and still got bored before the end and started finding other stuff to do.)  The movie is really great at capturing the overall spirit of the book–most of the fantastic quotes come straight from the novel–but it pales in comparison to the book, which is an absolute delight.

What I Liked

– The book is FUNNY.  I found myself laughing out loud lots and lots of times.

– The metanarrative. This is a story within a story that tells a story, and the most important part of the story is the absolute joy of reading.  The breakout quote I used is from the story that shapes the story (William Goldman’s father reads this book to him), and it just really shows what Goldman was going for with the whole thing.  That thrill that reading brings, that insatiable need to keep reading just to see what’s going to happen.  That’s what reading should be, and that his father in the story is an illiterate man who makes the book better by omitting the boring parts is the biggest call to editing ever.  It is AWESOME.

– The story of Westley and his quest to recapture Buttercup.  It has action, adventure, sword fights…well, you know the spiel from the movie.  All of that is in there.

– Awesome characters with great backstories and fully realized motivations.

– The book is long but doesn’t feel long, and it never gets bogged down in its own cleverness.  And it is extremely clever.

What I Didn’t Like

– I read the 30th anniversary edition, and it has a reader’s guide at the back.  One of the questions is about gender, and gender is VERY problematic in this book, on a lot of levels.  The big problem is that Buttercup is dumb as a post and is the biggest do-nothing character ever.  The way she’s treated in the book is super problematic:  she is nothing but a trophy.  There’s also the gender problems with the metanarrative.  According to ye olde pedia de wiki, Goldman made up the story for his daughters.  In the book, everything is rendered male.  The story is read to a boy by his father, and all of the women are obstacles to be overcome.  It is really kind of a problem.  But I wasn’t thinking about it as I read the story.

That said, the big thing for me was Buttercup and the lack of women in the story, but since the book is satire, it may have been his very intention to bring attention to the lack.  But I doubt it.

In conclusion:  Love, love, love, love, love.  So much fun.

Book Review: I’ll Pass for Your Comrade

I’ll tie back my hair, men’s clothing I’ll put on. / I’ll pass for your comrade as we march along. / I’ll pass for your comrade, no one will ever know– / Won’t you let me come with you?  No, my love, no.

I’ll Pass for Your Comrade:  Women Soldiers in the Civil War by Anita Silvey is the untold history of women who passed as men to fight in the Civil War.

ill_pass_for_your_comradeWhat I Liked

– The subject matter.  I don’t know why it never occurred to me that women would do this, but it didn’t.  (Irony alert:  We were watching Mulan as I was reading this.)  I love the stories of women, especially when they’re underestimated and never seen coming.  So this book absolutely captures that type of underestimated woman.

– The format.  The book is set up so that there are excerpts of diaries, letters, newspaper articles, and memoirs along with posters, illustrations, and pictures.  Each chapter is named after a major question the reader would have (reasons for enlisting, how they enlisted, life in the military, after the war) and is chock full of information.  Silvey explains why women enlist, how they did/didn’t get caught, what happened if they did get caught, and why we never hear about these women. I also love that she frequently referred directly to the memoirs that have been published, which basically screams for the reader to check them out.

– What I learned.  There was lots to learn in the book!

Nurses were lauded because women who dressed as men offended Victorian sensibilities; just like Mulan, it was easy to pass because women and men dressed so differently that if you were dressed as a man, it was understood/assumed that you were a man; lots of men helped their women join and stay hidden; less men were offended than you might think; the women rarely, if ever, talked about their experiences in the military once they left; the money was a big draw in the later years of the war.

There’s more, of course, but that’s just some stuff off the top of my head.

What I Didn’t Like

– The length.  I wanted more.  I mean, yes, it’s the perfect length and amount of information for the intended audience, but I wanted more.  Of course, that’s where the fabulous bibliography comes into play.

All in all, an excellent way to get an overview of these fascinating women.