Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

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Ways in which The Diviners is so much like A Great and Terrible Beauty:

-Historical fiction + fantasy
-The young female protagonist has a special gift
-The young female protagonist has two female friends- one who’s a loser and one who’s beautiful and popular but very troubled
-The young female protagonist is mourning the loss of a family member
-The authority figures are constantly telling the young female protagonist that she needs to behave
-There’s some sort of weird cult involved
-There’s an interracial romance
-It’s a time of women’s sexual liberation and that’s part of the problem for the bad guys
-There’s an lgbt character
-The book is huge for YA and there are a lot of characters and plot lines to keep track of
I love love loved it!!

When I was in about 9th grade, the Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy were my favorite books, other than Harry Potter. They were so unique—a blending of all of my favorite genres (historical fiction, horror, fantasy, and girl power). They were also well written, and they made me feel a little dirty and grown-up because were a bit sexy at times. (With hot guys, of course.) After the series ended, I longed for more stuff like that from Libba Bray, and was then devastated to find out she was taking her writing in an entirely different direction. I get it now. I can’t even imagine how difficult it much be to construct a series as complicated GTB. But I’m sooo glad she returned to the yummy trail-mix of a genre that made her popular. Yah, The Diviners came out way back in 2012, and I’ve owned it since about then. I’m actually glad that I waited 3 years to read it, because now I don’t have to wait another 3 years for the sequel, which came out just a few weeks ago. Yaaaaaay!

While A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place in late 19th-century England, The Diviners is set in mid-1920s US. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve read of this book is that Bray never lets you forget that it’s the 1920s. It’s true. The book is packed with ’20s slang, and references to the clothes people wore, and pop culture, and the biggest news stories. It didn’t bother me that much. I bought into the idea that the main character, a bratty 17-year-old troublemaker named Evie, would be obsessed with everything trendy—just like how most 17-year-old girls today say “bae” every other word and often talk about what One Direction is like post-Zane. I also learned a lot about the 1920s that I didn’t know (even after watching hours of Downton Abbey), and I’m sure younger readers would learn even more.

And these characters are so great. Evie might seem like a Mary Sue at first, but early on you realize that she’s hiding under a lot of pain. She’s also very funny, and smarter than people give her credit for, and I think her spunk and confidence is admirable. I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with my younger sister reading books featuring main characters like Evie. Her friends are great too. I loved Theta especially, and I want to learn more about her. But hell, I want to learn more about everyone. I’d forgotten how good Libba Bray is at constructing back stories for minor characters without making them too obvious, cliche, or taking anything away from the main plot. I’m also giving the romance a big thumbs up. It was appropriately subtle for the first book, and I believed the chemistry between *spoilers* and *spoilers.* I even managed to start crushing on one of the guys… like I did in the freaking 9th grade… I am now 8 years older… and these boys are barely 18. #old. #ug. In my defense, the guy looks a lot like my boyfriend.

So grab some gin and tonic and pick up this book if you haven’t yet! Actually, please don’t drink gin if you are a child. Also, don’t drink gin if you hate gin. I personally don’t actually care for gin… But if I lived in the 1920s I guess I would have had to drink gin instead of vodka. In a secret place with the blinds drawn. What a dark time.

A Book Lover’s Survey

Barnes & Noble or Borders?
Umm… well I don’t know when this survey was originally written, but Borders has passed away. I really liked it, but I’ve gotten used to Barnes & Noble.

Hardback, trade paperback or mass market paperback?
I usually just buy the cheapest I can get.

Bookmark or dog-ear?
Bookmark. But I don’t believe in demonizing people who dog-ear. If the book is yours, do whatever you want with it.

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To Read: Goodreads Choice Awards 2015 Nominees

Last year, I had a blast making my way through as many Goodreads Choice Awards Nominations as I could. (Final paper grades probably suffered because of it. Oh well, I graduated.) I discovered a lot of books that I liked (Bad Feminist, The Fourteenth Goldfish, In the Blood), and had fun reviewing one that I hated (Love Letters to the Dead). So I decided to make a TBR (to-be-read) list from 2015’s nominees. Obviously it will be impossible to read everything on this list before the voting closes at the end of the month, but I’m going to do my best.

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Book Review: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

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5star-2

If you loved Coraline, you will love The Nest. In many ways they’re very similar, but I think they’re just different enough that I wouldn’t call The Nest a ripoff. I’d say it’s emotionally deeper and sadder than Coraline, cuz minor spoiler: [because instead of a kid who agrees to let a creepy female creature replace her parents, this book is about a boy agrees to replace his baby brother.]

Steven’s baby brother was born with a rare cogenital birth defect. The doctors aren’t sure how long he will live, but they know he’ll need heart surgery, and will probably develop with disabilities. The first part of the book is heartbreaking. Steven (who like Coraline, is around 12-years-old), explains how he’s overheard his parents crying, and that he’s somewhat envious of his younger sister who really doesn’t know what’s going on. Then we gradually get to know more about Steven’s personal struggles, and about the wasp nest that’s growing on the side of their house.

There’s a lot of scary magical stuff in The Nest, and I love that you can make a good argument for it all being a figment Steven’s imagination, as well as a good argument for it being real.

Honestly, this is middle grade horror at it’s best. I’m so happy to give it 5 stars.

Book Review: Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

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4-out-of-5-stars

My mom read this around the time it first came out and was so sickened/fascinated by it that she told me a little bit about “the crazy book she was reading.” I was 10, and it didn’t occur to me that this crazy book might not be appropriate for children. So I decided to pick it up and read it. My mom found it in my room and freaked. Thankfully, I’d only made it through the first chapter.

By college, Running with Scissors landed in my “maybe someday” category, because I’d heard mixed things about it. But during a meeting at my school’s Literary Society, a friend of mine read an excerpt from the book and I was surprised by how well it was written. I went up to my friend after the meeting and told him that I officially decided I wanted to read the book, and he told me I could borrow it. He also told me that when he was a kid his mom read the book and he also picked it up and tried to read it before his mom stopped him. What a weird thing to have in common with someone.

So I took Running with Scissors home and finished it in like a day-and-a-half. It’s a super quick read. Short, mostly dialogue-driven sentences. It’s a style that I know some people hate, but I think it worked well, especially because the story is so chaotic. My mom wasn’t exaggerating when she told me that she’d never heard of a more dysfunctional family. A lot of people have suspected that the book is mostly fabricated because there’s no way anyone’s life could be this ridiculous. But I have to say I believed all of it. As weird, and sad, and sick as it all sounded, none of it seemed implausible. I think it’s typical of average, middle class Americans to think of child abuse and severe mental illness and extreme poverty as stuff of fiction. But no, sadly there are children in this country who are raped and then develop Stockholm Syndrome. There are children who live in filth, and are under-fed, and aren’t encouraged by their parents to go to school. And you best believe there are a lot of doctors and therapists who like to break the law. I’m not saying that Burroughs’s account is 100% factual, because our memories aren’t perfect and he may have had to change things around to protect peoples’ identities. But still, I don’t think he lied to make a quick buck.

Running with Scissors will confuse your emotions. I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s interested in abnormal psychology. You’ll get good profiles of people with OCD, schizophrenia, mania, depression, and yah pedophiles too. Burroughs makes light of some of the situations, but don’t go into this book expecting to be a laugh riot. Some people brand it as a humorous memoir, like David Sedaris’s stuff, but I have no idea why. This is very, very dark humor. And sometimes it’s not funny at all. A few parts may even make you cry.

I didn’t expect to like this book so much that I would put Burroughs’s next memoir, Dry, on my to-read shelf, but I did! I really enjoy his writing style, and I ended up really caring about Augusten. I’m eager to find out what happened to him in NYC.

On the Anniversary of Your Trauma

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[NOTE: I published this yesterday but had to repost it because something weird happened in my computer.]

Two years ago today, something awful happened to me. Something that I rarely talk about, even to my close friends. Something that I’m still dealing with the repercussions of to this day.

It’s not like this trauma follows me around constantly anymore. I used to think that living with what happened to me would be much harder. But two years later, I’ve graduated from college on time. I didn’t move back in with my parents. I have a job. I have a serious boyfriend. And I have a general idea of where I want my life to go. I’ve also ended the habits that got me into the bad situation in the first place. (Am I talking about drugs? Yes. Am I talking about a guy? Also yes.) In general, I’m a much happier person than I was two years ago.

But occasionally I’ll get down on myself, and have flashbacks to that trauma. I’ll beat myself up over what I should have done differently that day. I’ll feel unmotivated. And I’ll have to resist the earge to lash out at anyone and everything that comes into my path. Naturally, it’s easier to fall into this awful pattern on the anniversary of the day of your trauma. Which for me, happens to be today.

Weeks ago, I told myself the same thing my mother said a few years after her mother passed away from a stroke: “I don’t miss my mother more on the day she died, or on her birthday, or Mother’s Day. It’s just like any other day to me.” I was about 13-years-old when my mom said this and couldn’t really relate. But it makes sense to me now.

For me, I like to try my best to think of the anniversary of this particular trauma, and of any other bad thing that’s happened to me, like just a regular day. A day when I might be more volatile, but a regular day nonetheless. Long ago, people made up the concept of a year and a month and a day etc. based on the movement of the Earth. Other cultures have entirely different calendars than we do. And because time only moves forward, there’s no real similarity between November 3, 2015 and November 3, 2013, other than the way we think and talk about the day.

And that it seems the same, you might say. It looks the same. It smells the same. People are doing similar things today than they were last year/2-years-ago/whatever. True. But you can live with these triggers. Most psychologists agree that the best way to get over your anxieties is to expose yourself to what scares you. Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. If you don’t feel like going to class on the day of your trauma, at least go outside and get some fresh air. You can’t go to the place where it happened. But maybe you can walk by it with a friend, and then talk with her about how this day makes you feel. You hate the smell of Fall because it reminds you of what happened. Make a list of everything you do like about Fall. Take it in baby steps, and focus on the progress you’ve made, not on how you wish you could recover faster.

And of course, don’t just take my word for it. Talk to a professional and ask her what she thinks you should do.

Does this mean good annivesaries don’t really matter? In the grand scheme of things, no. But I believe that in the grand scheme of things, nothing matters. Unless we give it meaning. I’m in control of which things in my life I assign meaning, and which things I don’t, and so are you!

Just… No…

Apparently JK Rowling, author of my favorite book series and a woman I love and admire, has revealed something stupid about the extended Harry Potter universe yet again.

She’s announced that American wizards don’t use the world “Muggle” to describe non-magical people. Okay, dope. I can believe it. Americans use a lot of different words than British people, and Muggle does have a sort of English ring to it. So lay it on me, as an American and non-witch, what should I be calling myself?

A “No-Maj”……………………..?

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It’s short for non-magical?? Get it? Cuz Americans like them short and snappy, non-intelligent, non-creative street slang.

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No, no I’m not saying she’s trying to offend Americans by calling us stupid… I think more highly of her than that. But am I little offended? Sheeyah. And mostly by how lazy and inconsiderate she’s been with her extended universe stuff as of late. Y’all remember in February 2014 when she revealed that she thought Hermione and Ron would have a bad marriage? And a little earlier than that when she said that she thought about killing off Ron at some point? (Poor Ron. He needs a hug.) It’s fine if you think all of that Jo, but there comes a point when expanding the universe just makes your readers dislike your books more than they use to. I’m not too sure why, maybe it’s because she doesn’t have an editor telling her what to do. I do get why it’s hard for her to keep her thoughts on Harry’s future/past/etc quiet. Harry Potter has been her baby for decades, and I would imagine it’s hard to stop writing about said baby. And if you like all of this extended universe stuff, and you think it’s all official, cool. But don’t shove your religious beliefs down my throat.

So I’m going to continue calling myself a Muggle, thanks.

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Book Review: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

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2-stars

(minor spoilers ahead) (also if this was your favorite book as a kid, this review might make you a little angry)

I had some fun with this book. But in the same way I had fun with say, Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin.

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It’s kind of hilariously awful.

Stargirl (aka Susan, she gives herself a new name whenever she feels like it, as you do) is pretty much this:

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Yes, I know Stargirl isn’t a film, and I know it was written a few years before film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term… but come on—Stargirl is the quintessential weird girl who fascinates a boy and then helps him believe in himself. *tear*

And just because the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl didn’t exist before 2004, doesn’t mean the concept wasn’t around (Audrey Hepburn was the original), or that MPDGs exist only in movies (we’ve got Lux in The Virgin Suicides, Sam in Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Alaska in Looking for Alaska just to name a few). I’m not against the trope entirely. The problem isn’t that the trope exists, the problem is that it’s overused. When it’s done well I can let it slide, but Stargirl is missing one important half of the Manic Pixie equation. The guy she’s supposed to be changing for the better has no personality. He’s an empty shell, along with all the other characters. They are so mind-numbingly normal. So all we’ve got is Stargirl acting weird in a vacuum, and that’s how a book that attempts to be inspiring turns out hilariously bad.

Here’s some of the crap Stargirl gets up to:
-She plays the ukulele (guitar is too mainstream)
-As a cheerleader, she cheers for both her school’s team and the other school’s team
-She brings her pet rat to school (wish I was making this up)
-She performs random acts of kindness, which would be sweet if she didn’t go as far as stalking people to find out what they need in life. She even went to a funeral of a guy she didn’t know, only to get thrown out by one of his family members.
-At prom, she shows up in an amazing dress, wows everyone, and get people to do The Bunny Hop. I can’t even…

[Bigger spoiler in the next paragraph]:

And then at the end she just disappears. Moves out of town for whatever reason. And like a decade later the main guy is still obsessed with her. He recalls a time in college when he and the retired teacher he and Stargirl used to visit a lot go to Stargirl’s favorite spot and pay respect to her as if she was a god.

That’s creepy. It’s weird enough that the guy is still hung up on his 11th grade crush, but it’s even weirder that the old man was so enamored by this young girl. It was even implied that going back to Stargirl’s favorite spot was the old man’s dying wish. Wtf?

In Conclusion: If I read this when I was 10 I probably would have liked it. I can see why a lot of 10, 11, 12-year-olds would really like it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving this to a 10-year-old to read, as long as you explain to them that while it’s good to admire people who are unique, at the end of the day no one is super-extraordinary. We’re all people. Other than that, it’ll just give kids unrealistic expectations about high school, which they get on The Disney Channel all the time anyway. I wouldn’t say Stargirl is worthwhile to read as an adult. Unless you read it outloud to a buddy while you’re both drunk. That sounds like fun.

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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3-5-stars

In case you haven’t heard, All the Light We Cannot See has won a crapload of awards, including the Pultizer. Why? Hell if I know.

Not saying this isn’t a good book. It’s totally fine. But it’s unremarkable.

I have read SO MANY books that take place during World War II, and will probably read many more in my lifetime. Why are there so many popular books about World War II? Because it was recent enough that we feel a connection to it, but it’s long enough ago that it’s not too depressing? Because between the Holocaust, and the soldiers, and German citizens, and the Japanese, there are so many story possibilities? Because as Americans, World War II fits our ideal notion of a war: one that’s justly fought and won by the obvious “good guys”? Probably all of these things. A lot of World War II books are on my favorites shelf, (The Book Thief, Maus, Sophie’s Choice, Slaughterhouse-Five), but a few World War II books kind of suck (like Sarah’s Key. Don’t even get me started.). All the Light’s is an in-between kind of thing.

I gave this 3.5 stars (rather than 3) because the writing is beautiful. There’s some gorgeous imagery and great metaphors, (with a few stupid ones here and there). And for the most part I cared about the two main characters and their families. I’ll admit that part of the reason why I didn’t love this was because I expected the plot to go in an entirely different direction. And other than that, for a war novel, it just wasn’t gritty enough for me. All the Light is World War II as approved by a conservative 9th grade English teacher. It didn’t help me think of the War in any new way. It didn’t make me squirm. It didn’t make me cry (or laugh). It was decent. But I’m going to forget about it in a few years.

So why all the hype? I guess because it’s well-written and non-threatening. It’s G-Rated and conventional enough that parents don’t mind giving it to their teenagers to read. As opposed to something like Middlesex, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner in 2002. My mom would have been horrified if she knew I was reading Middlesex when I was only 14. Yah… this makes me kind of mad. Not to say that every great book has to be “controversial,” but to me, remarkable authors are those who are willing to take a risk in one way or another. Sure, give safe things like this the bronze. But not the gold.