Cannery Row

img_8918Date Read: January 20 to February 2, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Cannery Row is not so much a novel, as a capturing of a moment in time. Light on plot, but heavy in description, it features dozens of characters that each play a part (however small) in the central story. Although there’s a long and winding road to get there, the main story centers on the planning of a party for Doc, orchestrated by Mack and the boys, a group of homeless men who have taken over an old warehouse. Their initial plan is ill conceived and leads to minor disaster, but eventually circles around through the community for a happier ending.

Taking place in a relatively quiet California coastal town during the Great Depression, the story is told through a series of vignettes of various length. There are some clearly driving the plot, and others that link to the main story in ways that are not obvious as you are reading. The style gives the book a inextricable feeling of community. The small details of each moment, the strings of each life in Monterey interwoven.

Part of what is interesting to me, is that each character seems to know their place and their part in the scheme of their own world. Most are destitute, but content where they are. Mack and the boys certainly know what they need to do to improve their situation, but are content to get by with life as it is. They have a roof over their heads, the little dog Darling to care for, and just enough niceties to make the Palace Flophouse home. Another character I found interesting was the woman who loves to throw parties, but cannot afford to actually put on a party herself. When she’s not able to help in planning for others, she contents herself with tea parties with the neighborhood cats. Well, why not?

Boris’s thoughts: “I am concerned with the collecting of cats for Doc… but would really enjoy a tea party, so I’ll even it out: 2 paws.”

 

The Marvels

Date Read: December 29, 2018 to January 3, 2019img_8825

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I am completely fascinated by the work of Brian Selznik. The way he perfectly intertwines illustration and narrative to tell a story is incredible. The concept he used in this particular book is unique even for him, and was done spectacularly.

The Marvels tells two stories– the first completely through illustration in the first 400-ish pages, the second in a traditional novel format. The whole time I was reading, I was trying to solve the mystery of how the stories would come together in the end. I was constantly making guesses as to where things were going, and constantly being surprised. When the stories began to overlap, I thought it was a clever twist that the novel turned to do the same thing that I was doing as a reader– putting words to the original illustrated story, and then trying to solve the mystery as well.

This book was beautifully put together. The illustrations beautiful, and the stories compelling. While perhaps geared more toward a younger demographic, there is much here to enjoy for readers of all ages. I was also thrilled to discover, as I came to the end, that this story was based, in part, on real events. While the story is completely fictional, the idea behind the story is based on an actual person and museum in London. I have definitely found somewhere that I will need to add to my travel wish list.

Boris’s thoughts: “This book is heavy, and I’m kind of over it. 2 paws.”

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

img_8777Date Read: December 3 to 29, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I have unintentionally done something that I generally try to avoid: writing about the same author twice in a row. At least there was a week off in between? Previously, I wrote about Cinnamon, a picture book by Neil Gaiman. I realized shortly after posting, that another work by Gaiman was up next on my novel reading list. While I suppose it is not ideal, here we are.

Despite the length of time it took me to read this relatively short book, I did quite enjoy it. In a way, it is a book about nostalgia and magic. But at the same time, it is itself nostalgia and magic. I love the idea Gaiman has here of magical places in the world, stuck in time: we go to them to remember things that happened there, but when we leave we start to forget. Forget the memories, forget the magic that we have experienced.

The main plot of the story is primarily a fantasy adventure, although I would say that it is “fantasy lite.” The magical creatures, both good and evil, are there, but the story primarily takes place in our world. In fact, the main point of the adventure aspect is to protect our world from things that are trying to sneak into it. For me, it really was the perfect amount and taste of fantasy: I do enjoy elements of magic, but get overwhelmed by the lengthy and often complicated works that dominate the true fantasy genre.

Boris’s thoughts: “The real important message in this story is the importance of the cat. Shame on that boy for forgetting his kitten. 2 paws.”

Beauty and the Beast

img_8589Date Read: November 26, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This is not the story of Belle and the Beast that you think you know. It is, of course, a translated and somewhat adapted version of the original tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Although, I am under the impression that the version I read is at least close to the original. Interestingly, this is also not quite the typical original fairy tale vs. popular story scenario either.

To start, our heroine’s name is never actually mentioned, she is just referred to as Beauty by everyone because she is beautiful. She is not the only child of an eccentric inventor, but is one of 6 children of a wealthy merchant who has lost everything and moved to the country. She adjusts a bit better to the new lifestyle than her sisters, who constantly complain about being poor and bored, but also refuse to do anything to help around the house. Beauty’s father does stumble upon an enchanted castle, where he is well treated. The Beast appears only when he has decided to steal a rose from the garden to take home for Beauty. However, the Beast is not the jerk that you suspect him to be. He is, from the beginning, a generally decent guy. Beauty’s father pleads his case to return to his family to at least say his goodbyes, and leaves in the agreement that either he or one of his daughters will return. Upon learning that it was her request for a Rose that caused this problem for her father, Beauty returns to the castle despite her father’s protests.

The next bit of the story proceeds without much incident or discrepancy from the more popular version. Beauty has a generally pleasant time at the castle, her and Beast get along well from the beginning. She does become homesick, and Beast agrees to allow her to return to visit her family, after she gives her word that she will return after a week. This is where we depart from the popular version of the story, to one that is a bit less dramatic. There is no jealous suitor after Beauty, there is no mob with torches and pitchforks. Beauty returns to visit her family, and her sisters continue to spite her for her new life living in a castle. As the end of her week draws near, they convince her to stay longer– not because they have missed her, but because they hope that she will be punished by the Beast for breaking her word.

Beauty stays, but after an additional week decides that she must return to the castle. We return to the castle to find, not a dramatic battle for the love of Beauty, but a heartbroken Beast. When Beauty did not returned as promised, he was devastated by the loss of her and is in a deep depression. Feeling guilty for the pain she has caused him, Beauty apologizes and declares her love, thereby breaking the spell. Beauty lives happily ever after with the prince, and her sisters are punished for their evil and selfish ways. Although the ending is quite similar, it actually a much friendlier seeming version than the one that we all know from Disney.

Boris’s thoughts: “Day reads make nice snuggle times. I approve. 4 paws.”

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

img_8460-1Dates Read: October 30 to November 25, 2018

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

The last couple months have been a bit crazy for me, and so it has been quite awhile since I have done a normal review. This is one that I struggled with quite a bit. On the one hand, this is a beautifully written and compelling story. On the other, the subject matter is a bit… should I say, problematic? I think perhaps the author hit the nail on the head with the title.

When I first read the description of this book, I thought it sounded potentially interesting. Of course, it’s impossible to ignore that it is definitely polarizing. The main plot is the development of a relationship between a young man and a female child. When they first encounter each other, I believe they are 19 and 8 years old, respectively. The situation that Wavy is living in is quite horrific. Her father is a meth dealer, her mother was recently released from prison and is obviously mentally ill, and she ends up as the primary caregiver to her infant brother as well as her mother. Enter Kellen, a “business associate” of her father, after he crashes his motorcycle on his way up their driveway. After recovering from the accident, he takes an interest in the children at the house. This seems partially due to a perceived debt to Wavy for saving him, as well as some genuine concern for how they are living (really, the first thing he does when he goes to the house is to clean up). Things become much more complicated from here, especially when 11 year old Wavy begins referring to Kellen as her boyfriend, and wondering what she needs to do to get his attention away from other women. This all leading to an increasingly inappropriate relationship developed between Wavy and Kellen over the next several years, with the novel spanning over two decades.

In some ways, it is difficult to deny that Wavy’s relationship with Kellen is in many ways the most functional and healthy relationship that she has with anyone. Does that make this relationship okay? No. It doesn’t. However, I think most of the commentary I have seen about this book ignores what I think might be the most important piece of this: where do we draw the line? I don’t think there are many people who would try to argue that any type of sexual relationship between a 13 year old girl and a 25 year old man is normal. Kellen himself is quick to point this out, and is very clear about the fact that he will not have sex with her. However, there are certainly lines crossed into the territory of sexual impropriety and even sexual abuse (no, it does not matter that she was a willing participant– she was a child, and encouraged his sexual interest in her because she thought it was what she had to do for him to love her).

However, if we look back to the beginning of the relationship, when did it become inappropriate? I think there are some definite places where we can see crossed lines, but many of them are a bit blurred. Was Kellen bringing food to the house, and helping care for the children wrong? Should he have not gotten involved when Wavy’s father was physically abusive? Was the line crossed when he knew that Wavy had a crush on him, but continued to come to the house?¬†What about pretending to be her father for a parent teacher conference, or lying on the forms so that she could be enrolled in school when her parents would not? When Wavy told her Aunt and cousins that she had a boyfriend? Was laying next to her on a blanket in the field wrong, or was it not wrong until she tried to kiss him, or when they started to go out on dates? When Kellen realized he loved her, or told her he loved her? When he gave her a ring?

Doubling back for a second, does any of this make the abusive factor of the relationship okay? Still no. My point though, is that Kellen is not exactly a sexual predator or even a definitive pedophile (he did not have a sexual preference for children; he had no interest in other young girls, just Wavy). Perhaps this is something we should take as food for thought, consider it in how we view other people in the real world. Does it justify their actions? No, but it can help us to understand how lines are blurred for certain people in certain situations.

Boris’s thoughts: “This is complicated. Can we try some light reading next time? 2 paws.”

Gone, Part 3

Fearimg_7940

There is a bit of a jump from the end of Plague to the beginning of this one, so it allows for a bit of time for things to settle. It is a time of relative calm, with separate settlements at the Lake with Sam and Caine reigning as the self-proclaimed King of Perdido Beach. Diana separates herself from Caine at the end of Plague, and Astrid has gone off the grid. It’s good to see Astrid on her own, relying on her own intelligence to survive rather than looking for someone to “save” her. It was also nice to see life outside of the FAYZ.

This was a pretty eventful book, which did keep it interesting and moving along, although I found some of the middle sections a tad overwhelming. There was so much going on simultaneously, with shifts in perspective, which sometimes made it a bit hard to follow. I liked the new perspective gained with Little Pete as still alive, but without physical presence.

img_8184Light

Unlike most of the other books, there is a minimal time gap going into Light. The FAYZ has gone clear, giving the children of the FAYZ their first glimpse into the outside world– and, of course, the world’s first glimpse into the horror of the FAYZ. I thought this was good in putting the whole arch of the story into perspective. Obviously after being cut off from the world for over a year, the mindset of those inside has changed dramatically. Normal life in the FAYZ is far from normal. This is, of course, an obvious observation. However, five books into a series that technically takes place in the “real world,” it’s nice to get that reminder. Grant does well in imagining how this change will play out in the minds of different characters– Brianna, who is younger, takes this as an opportunity for notoriety, bragging about her heroic deeds that horrify the outside world; some of the older characters– Sam, Caine, Astrid– are a bit more realistic about the consequences they may face with an end to the FAYZ.

Overall, I would say this is a solid wrap up to the series. The “end game” unfolds bit by bit, we get to see the demise and redemption of the main characters from throughout the series. My only complaint here would be that the final battle scene was a bit anticlimactic– we certainly have a big build up to this point, but the actual battle is over within about a paragraph. The only real surprise here is the revelation of who Little Pete has chosen to battle with. I also liked that there wasn’t a simple wrap up with the FAYZ wall coming down– there is a fallout, and we get to see how this plays out for most of the main characters.

Series

As a whole, this was a well written and well developed series. There is a good mix of action and the sometimes dull reality between, which helps to build the world of the phase. My only real issue with the series as a whole, is what I addressed specifically in the first book– the content seems a bit mismatched with the Fourth Grade reading level of the books. I can certainly see children that age enjoying parts of these novels, but there are some pretty graphic descriptions of the horrors of the FAYZ, as well as some elements that I would be a difficult discussion with that age group. I don’t just mean violence (although there is plenty of that)– I mean description of intense violence including mass murder, cannibalism, people being eaten alive from the inside by parasites, and issues related to sexuality, suicide, and religion. While I would agree that all of these fit in and have a place in the story (remember, we are focused on a group of children forced into adult roles by the situation), it just seems to be aimed at a bit more mature of a group than the reading level would suggest. I would consider this more appropriately as a young adult read than a novel for the middle grades.

Date Read: June 2018 to October 2018

My rating: 4 (of 5 stars)

Boris’s thoughts: “This is all a bit too intense for me. I think I need a nap. 2 paws.”

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.