Gone, Part 1

This summer, I started reading this young adult series, that I have heard was popular. To be honest, I did not know much about it, but had heard some positive feedback. With so many other things going on this summer, it turned into a bit of an undertaking. I decided that a single post would not be sufficient to address a whole series, but a post for each book also seems just a bit excessive. I’m trying something new here, so let’s see how this goes!

img_6422Gone

A solid start to the series. One day, in the middle of a high school class, the teacher suddenly disappears. It is soon discovered that it was not just the teacher– everyone over the age of 15 has “poofed.” They soon discover that they have been trapped in some sort of dome, deemed the FAYZ, Fallout Alley Youth Zone, due to their vicinity to the nuclear plant and lack of adults. We get an introduction to most of the main players of the FAYZ here– Sam, Astrid, Caine, Diana, Lana, Edilio, Albert, Quinn, Orc, Drake, and Little Pete. I thought this was done well, in that we get to see pieces of each of them, although it is not quite clear if or why these individuals are important. The plot was fairly straightforward Good vs. Evil, although I appreciated that it definitely showed some gray areas. I thought Grant did a good job in imagining the actions of young people in the absence of adults: most aren’t quite sure what to do, and so they indulge themselves in junk food and laziness; those that recognize that they should be doing something are still not quite sure what that is. I also thought the discovery and development of the mutant powers was done well. Several characters start to show powers, but most seem to be uncertain about them. I also liked that many of the main characters do not have any special power, but still are able to find their place.

The early parts of the book left a bit to be desired as far as writing– I wouldn’t call it bad, but it certainly was not great. I felt like this improved later in the book. I did, however, have some issues with the book in general. The story is pretty intense, and there is some fairly graphic violence. While this does not bother me on principle, I find it a bit mismatched with the Fourth Grade reading level of the book. Also not a fan of the liberal use of the word “retard” in describing Little Pete. While it does address this as problematic, I feel like it could have been toned down quite a bit without losing the intent.

Hungerimg_7718

After the final battle in Gone, we have a 3 month time jump to Hunger. The kids in the FAYZ are beginning to realize that things cannot be maintained long term. Food supplies are running short, and the mysterious “Darkness” is starting to create influence in some of the teens. Much of this book felt slower, and a bit less connected than “Gone.” While it did come together in the end, I felt like it took a long time to get there. Sam, as the main character and leader, is in an obvious slump. I can admit this could be realistic, but to me he mostly came off as whiny and annoying.

We do see some good character development in this novel, although I was not a big fan of the female characterization. The three main female characters at this point are Astrid, Diana, and Lana. Astrid and Diana are claimed to be independent and strong women, but really seem to just be sidekicks for their male counterparts. Astrid is somewhat manipulative of Sam, but this is not for some bigger ambition, it’s her survival mechanism, as she does not seem to think she can do so on her own. Diana claims to be independent and in everything for herself, but her actions are primarily as a pawn for Caine. Lana appears to be different– she is strong, she has an attitude, and she is not afraid to take matters into her own hands. However, her encounter with the Darkness in the latter half of the novel leaves her broken and weak.

There is also the introduction of a new character, Zil, whom I find to be extremely unlikable, although interesting. Zil wants to be important, but has always been someone on a lower rung of the social ladder. He wants the prestige of being a leader, but does not really want the responsibility that goes along with leadership. It appears that he is somewhat jealous of those developing powers, but also mostly wants to save face when he is “shown up” by them. He feeds into fears, and seems to bring out the worst in those around him.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

img_5193Dates Read: September 18 to October 5, 2017

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

As I often do, I am finding it difficult to put in to words what it is that made this book great to me. Alas, here I am, trying to put it into words anyway.

The general theme of the story is fairly straightforward– good versus evil. The “good guys” and the “bad guys” are laid out pretty clearly, and there’s a clear winner of the battle. However, to consider this book only in those terms would be a gross oversimplification. While it may be built around a simple frame, there is something beautiful in the words that truly build this story.

Bradbury perfectly captures all of the wonder and magic of the fall season, and his style here fits with that beautifully. I have read Bradbury before, but never noticed the beauty in his writing. The Halloween carnival is the perfect setting, and I felt there was just enough mystery and intrigue for my liking. This is horror, but not overt, in-your-face horror. It’s more of a lurking, sinister horror, where you never know what may lay around the next corner– not quite waiting for the killer to jump out and grab you, but wondering what trap may have been set for you to stumble upon.

Boris’s thoughts: “I don’t know about all this creepiness, real life is scary enough! As long as you will keep me safe, I give it 3 paws.”

The Witches of Eastwick

img_5282Date Read: October 6 to November 12, 2017

Rating: 2 (of 5) stars

Although October is my favorite month, I am going to start it off with something a bit untraditional for me: a review of a book that I did not like! Prior to reading this, I had heard many mixed opinions on Updike. Most were negative. There are a few people out there, however, who think he is a genius. His characters are so “real.”

Let me start by saying I had some fairly high hopes for this book. Three small town witches, mysterious rich man, scandal. Sounds like so much potential! Unfortunately, my high hopes did not last long. Apparently, what people mean by saying his characters are “real,” is that they are “flawed.” This is definitely true. To a fault. There is not a single character in this novel that I liked. I could not find a single slightly redeeming quality in any of the witches. They were selfish, petty, and generally horrible people. Even their “loyalty” to their coven was so easily cracked with the introduction of a man. These are supposed to be “real women?” Seems more like a parody of every negative quality that you think a woman could possess.

Then there is a power of the witches, which is linked so heavily to their sexuality. This I can understand to an extent– there is a power in a woman’s sexuality, and this would be especially poignant in the era in which the book is set. However, this seems to be the only power that the witches have. A witch whose power is inextricably linked to her sleeping with other women’s husbands? Seems pretty lame to me.

I found the plot to be a bit lackluster as well. There were a few interesting moments, but for the most part, it seemed mediocre. The witches do some questionable things, introduction of mysterious man that seems good at first but ultimately leads to discontent among them, discontent leads to revenge, leads to more questionable things, we get a little hint of some possible remorse, but then ending with indifference. Nothing in the plot of the novel seemed to matter to anyone in the end. Perhaps this is supposed to be some deeper level of social commentary, but it comes off as rather dull.

I will give the novel as a whole a few redeeming points, which is why I gave this 2 stars instead of 1. I did enjoy the style of the writing, and many of the descriptions. This is part of what helped push me through the novel, although also gave me a false hope that it would get better as I read. There was also a single scene, so to speak, that stood out to me. When Alexandra first meets Darryl, he “traps” her on the island with the incoming tide. She realizes that this was in intent, and chooses to exert some power over him by leaving anyway– standing tall and turning her back to him, even though it should have been something that embarrassed her.

Boris’s thoughts: “What kind of real witch has a dog as a familiar? Where are the cats? 1 paw.”

The Little Prince

img_6395Date Read: June 10 to June 12, 2018

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I am a little bit ashamed to admit that it took me until 2018 to read this book. I really loved this book, but I also have some mixed feelings about this book. I’m going to admit up front that I’m not sure this is going to count as a traditional book review– more of my own semi-rambling thoughts. Although, I suppose that is at least somewhat appropriate for such a well known story.

The Little Prince is a book about what a pain adults can be, written by an adult for children, but maybe actually for the adults that are reading the book to children. Did I lose anyone there? Understandable.

I suppose what I’m getting at here, is that I cannot quite decide who the intended audience actually is for this book. Certainly it is written as a children’s book, but there is so much that I feel is intended for adults. These things, of course, are good reminders. We are kind of a pain– especially from the perspective of children. We are so often wrapped up in our own thoughts, our own things to do, our own “matters of consequence.” At the same time, I think there are plenty of themes in there for children as well– responsibility, relationships, recognizing that our actions are part of what gives the things around us value. Perhaps these are themes for children that are also areas where adults may need some reminders?

Honestly, I could probably type for days without ever feeling that I have done this book justice. It is sad, but it is sweet. If you’ve debated reading it, I would suggest that you stop putting it off. It is a fast, easy read–the only reason I did not finish it in a day is laziness and silly adult responsibilities. Even if you do not love it, it is a book that I feel undoubtedly is worth the read.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think this counts as a snuggle-time book. 4 paws.”

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

img_7411Date Read: July 12 to July 16, 2018

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Love, love, love this book. It’s a cute and sweet book, and a not-quite-love story, but also so much more than that. I suppose it could be best described as a sort of coming of age story, but that does not quite encompass the full scope either.

I really enjoyed the cultural aspects of growing up for both Ari and Dante, framing each of their experiences differently (and from a different perspective than my own). Dante is quite clear in conveying that he does not feel like he is a “real Mexican,” but is also clearly worried about not living up to his parents expectations. Ari’s narration of the story is interesting in that he can be quite introspective, but also quite clueless regarding his own thoughts and actions.

The dynamics within each of the families is another intriguing layer. Ari is fairly straightforward about feeling that his family is “broken.” He struggles to relate to his father, wants to talk about his brother but feels like he can’t, and seems to be a bit resistant in his relationship with his mother. He sees Dante’s family as completely different– they seem open, close, get along, and Dante freely admits that he is “crazy about” his parents. Of course, this is all from the perspective of a teenager, so perhaps Ari is not the most reliable. This plays out with a bit of a switch in the end, with a surprise for Dante’s parents, and the realization for Ari that his parents know him better than he thought.

Of course, all of this is outside the main story of Aristotle and Dante. I loved getting to know each of these characters. There are no illusions of perfection, just some messy and honest reality of adolescence. I found myself jotting down several quotes or passages as I read, partially because I felt they were so fitting for the time of life for these characters, but also because I can still relate to those feelings now. Definitely keeping this one around for future reads.

Boris’s thoughts: “Yeah, yeah, I can see why you like it. But really, why did Ari have to get a DOG? 3 paws.”

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Date Read: August 14 to September 10, 2017img_5077

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This is one of several books that I have placed in the category of “I can’t believe nobody made me read this before I was an adult.” I know that I had wonderful and well meaning English teachers throughout my time in school, and many of them probably assumed that another teacher would have us students read the classics at some point, but somehow I missed out on several books such as this. Alas, I somehow escape high school without ever opening a book by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, or myriad others that are considered the “books everyone has read” (or, perhaps, read just enough of to pass the class). Turns out, I actually quite like reading books typically labeled as “classics.” Admittedly, I probably have not read as many as I should. I digress.

I did feel a bit at a disadvantage for not reading Tom Sawyer first. I realize that this is not exactly a sequel to the other book, but felt there was a bit of lacking of background that I may have gotten from the other book. However, that did not stop me from enjoying this one. I enjoyed the series of adventures, strung together into a plot, but often possible to consider as independent storylines. I appreciated getting a glimpse of Tom Sawyer as a character in the end, although I admit that I liked Huck Finn better as a character. He is presented very much in the context of his “white trash upbringing,” but is smart and often thoughtful in spite of it.

The writing in period/southern dialect took a bit of getting used to, but was not a huge challenge to read. Of course, everyone reviewing this book must address the frequent use of the “n word.” Yes, it’s there. Personally, I can get past this considering the time and context– we are talking about a book that was set and published in the 1800s. I actually found it to have aged better than other publications from the time period.

Boris’s thoughts: “Classics? Are those the kinds of books that make you sit on the couch for a long time at night? I like those too. 4 paws.”

The Year of Goodbyes

img_7713Date Read: July 7, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Following the World War II theme from last week, I have a book with a very different feel. Debbie Levy presents this book based off of her mother’s posiealbum from 1938. It is an autograph book, filled with poems written by her friends. These poems provide the framework for a series of journal entries and reflections that string together the events of the year, from the perspective of the 12 year old author.

It was an interesting read, although a bit unsettling. The book shows the gradual change from normal life to the fear and uncertainty that lead Jutta’s family to flee Germany. Goodbyes from friends leaving, or in some cases disappearing without explanation. I suppose the gradualness of the change, people slowly losing their friends, family, and rights, is what is most unsettling, knowing what comes next. While there is definitely an emotional element in the book, it seems stronger in retrospect, realizing the history of what happened just after the year of the posiealbum.

I can see this being a good book as an introduction to the history of World War II for kids in upper elementary, middle school, and perhaps high school. Much of the content is taken from the perspective of someone in that age range, and there are certainly many possible discussion topics. The poetry is an interesting element, although admittedly not really my personal cup of tea.

Boris’s thoughts: “Short and sweet and lighter than your hardcovers. 4 paws.”