Friday, September 28, 2012

Insurgent (Veronica Roth)

I liked but did not love Divergent, the book to which Veronica Roth's Insurgent is a sequel. I feel exactly the same about book two, which is frustrating. I was hoping that Insurgent would be higher quality, which is not to say that either of the books are low-quality; they aren't. They could just be better.

This book picks up right where Divergent ends: Erudite exerts some mind control technology on Dauntless, and unable to control their actions, Beatrice's new clan wipes out a good many of the Abnegation. Of course, Tris is immune to this simulation because she's Divergent. Her parents both die in the struggle, and when confronted by a mind-controlled Will, Tris kills him.

This is the cliffhanger that becomes the most obnoxious at the beginning of the book. Yes, I've never killed anyone, so it's impossible for me to imagine how I would deal with the information that a person's nonexistence is a consequence of one of my actions. I understand that. But I do not understand why we must rehash over and over that Tris killed her friend in a life-or-death situation. I don't want Tris to be remorseless, but it felt like every action that our heroine performs was prefaced by how killing her friend makes this action more difficult, in a way almost identical to the way she must contemplate how old, Abnegation Beatrice would do things in Divergent.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures (Emma Straub)

I received an e-ARC of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures from NetGalley. I'm not sure if I have to say that, but I see it in reviews all the time and I figure it wouldn't hurt. As I was saying, I received an ARC of this book and I was pretty excited. I had seen something about this book online and the premise sounded exciting: the rise and fall of a Hollywood actress in the Golden Days.

Straub takes us on a journey through the life of one Elsa Emerson, a small-town Wisconsin girl whose father owns a local theatre in Door County. She grows up around the theatre and is enchanted by acting, eventually marrying one of her fellow players and moving to Hollywood to hit it big. She has two girls, rebrands herself as Laura Lamont, divorces her husband and then marries a studio executive. She's famous, she's beloved, she wins an Academy Award for one of her roles.

Then her life goes downhill. She can't keep being famous forever. Her family is crumbling, she can't find any actress work, she's depressed. It's all very tragic. One of the things I was worried about was the Marilyn Monroe potential--here's a book about a small-town girl who becomes famous in Hollywood. Fortunately, Straub never lets this get out of hand. Unfortunately, there are still some issues I have with the book.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bossypants (Tina Fey)

This summer, I went on a Tina Fey binge, which means that I watched a few seasons of 30 RockBaby Mama and Date Night. The Fey marathon culminated in my reading of Bossypants, which I have been wanting to read for a long time and finally have. I heard nothing but good stuff about this book, and I was really looking forward to it.

I am always nervous about humorous books because it's very hard to keep up the humor consistently. I once read a humor memoir called Publish This Book that, when I started it, was hilarious. I was laughing at least twice a page, and they were genuine, full laughs. But after the first sixty pages or so, the humor wasn't consistent and I ended up feeling disappointed. There are also my experiences with Dave Eggers and David Sedaris, both of which were major disappointments. I figured, nonetheless, that if anyone could pull off a consistently funny book, it would be Tina Fey.

And for the most part, I was right. The laughs were consistent and chapters that weren't particularly funny were incredibly interesting (i.e., the chapter on 30 Rock and the chapter on being Sarah Palin). The anecdotes from Tina Fey's life are hilarious and she writes engagingly on all sorts of topics, including a honeymoon disaster, working at a YMCA and why she loves Amy Poehler so much.

But it's not constantly funny, and since it's supposed to be a humor book, it was a disappointment that it wasn't full of laugh-inducing moments. Nonetheless, Bossypants is a great read (and I hear it's even better in audiobook form because Ms. Fey herself reads the book) that I have no qualms recommending.

My rating: 4/5
Bossypants on Goodreads
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Monday, September 3, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)

This is not the first time I read Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It's my third, and I don't think the power of the book has diminished even slightly. It is one of my favorite books, after all.

Our narrator goes under the assumed named Charlie, and the premise is that we are reading these letters that "Charlie" has written us about his life and the goings-on therein. As the novel opens, he's just about to start his freshman year of high school, and he's kind of a loner and a weirdo. One of his friends recently committed suicide and it did not affect him well. Fortunately, Charlie makes friends in older, cooler seniors Sam and Patrick, two stepsiblings who are living the alternative life.

The rest of the book chronicles Charlie's year, and manages to hit on a lot of big issues: smoking, drinking, drugs, homosexuality, suicide, abortion and abuse, mainly. The book received some backlash for being an "issue conglomerate", i.e. a book that fills itself with hot-button issues to make a splash. I never understood that criticism, because the presence of these issues never feels forced or unnatural.

One of the things I like best about the book is the emotions it evokes. Very rarely do books make me feel anything one way or the other, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower is able to put me in a funk for days afterward. It's not a good feeling--it's something akin to the loneliness I feel after watching The Social Network, but the fact that these feelings are so strong means I love the book. It's interesting to watch my understanding of the book change each time I read it, too. It's not like a mystery novel where the second read-through can be appreciated for seeing the way the author set things up, but rather the way I view the book after different times in my life. I know that no two read-throughs will warrant the same thoughts from me and I love that.

It's not a perfect book; sometimes Charlie is really pretentious, saying things like "And in that moment, I swear we were infinite", which is something that a lot of people like to quote from the book. In fact, the book can sometimes just come across as pretentious, but I can never tell if it's intentional. Nonetheless, I am annoyed by it. Charlie can also be really frustrating as a person, and while it gets on my nerves, it's clear that this is intentional because it allows Sam to give Charlie a lecture at the end of the book about how important it is to find a balance between active and passive in your life. Blah.

Annoying portions aside, Chbosky's book is a fine one, one that can be appreciated by anybody for its observations on life and ability to channel raw emotion in the reader.

My rating: 5/5
The Perks of Being a Wallflower on Goodreads
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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Abarat: Absolute Midnight (Clive Barker)

Back in 2002, I saw the original Abarat on the new releases shelf. I was deeply mired in my fantasy obsession, and immediately loved the book. There was a lot to enjoy. Clive Barker fills the Abarat books with beautiful oil paintings (that he made himself!) of scenes and landscapes and characters. Just looking through the book and absorbing the surrealistic images was a treat.

There's a review excerpt on the back of Absolute Midnight that does a great job summing up the actual books: "vivid." The saga tells the tale of Candy Quackenbush, a normal girl from Chickentown, Minnesota getting transported to the Abarat and its 25 islands (this is the extent to which I will summarize the plot because this is book three of five), one for each hour of the day (and one that is "the 25th Hour" or something like that). This premise is incredibly imaginative and well-executed: each island is unique and is populated by exotic creatures and people.

However, it's this same overflow of creativity that bogs the book down. Absolute Midnight is the longest of the three books so far at 571 pages, and a lot of that length is padded out when Barker drags readers through conversations with new characters who don't seem to be coming back any time soon or spending time describing places we'll likely never see again. Despite all this extra length, there is a surprising absence of retelling of previous books' events.

One of the troubles of series is knowing how much to summarize from the previous books. There's a fine line between not enough and too much, and Absolute Midnight was most certainly on the "what's even going on" side of the scale. It doesn't help that this book was published 7 years after its predecessor. That's a lot of time between books, and so at least a little more recollection would have been helpful.

These books are definitely a unique, fun fantasy series, but I recommend waiting until all five have been published (which could be in 14 more years, who knows) to start. It will be less confusing that way.

My Rating: 3.5/5
Absolute Midnight on Goodreads
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