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Category Archives: Literature

Quick read

The Last Girlfriend on EarthI just finished a short story collection titled The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love Stories by Simon Rich. It was a quick read; 24 hours didn’t even pass between the time I picked it up and the time I put it down. The stories were quirky and most were hilarious. The first one got me right laughing out loud on the airplane while I was sandwiched in between two older men. Once you figure out who the narrator is for that one, you won’t stop laughing (I’m not going to spoil it for you here). The next few stories that followed were okay, but the ones that got me were a little further in. There’s one where Seth meets his ex’s new boyfriend, Adolf Hitler, one where God’s girlfriend demands attention while he’s trying to create the universe on schedule, and one where a priest is asked to exorcise the ghost of an ex-girlfriend from an apartment, just to name a few. There are 31 stories in all, most of them funny, though one of them was sad (thankfully the collection didn’t end on this story or my feelings might have turned out differently). It’s difficult to put into words exactly why this collection was so good; I think the best thing I can say about it is that Rich has a way of thinking of situations, turning them on their heads, and making the best out of said situation. This collection is a must-read for anyone who’s ever been in a relationship.

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Posted by on March 16, 2013 in Literature

 

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I just have to know!

**This posts contains spoilers for the book The Selection by Kiera Cass**

Last March I started reading an advanced copy of The Selection by Kiera Cass. At the time, I had just read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. I needed a break before reading Mockingjay and decided to give The Selection a shot. The cover is what caught my eye and the synopses sounded intriguing. In a post-American world, 35 girls compete to win the prince’s hand in marriage. As many reviewers later put it, it was The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor.  Granted, just coming off reading The Hunger Games, I found that the books had several similarities, but nothing that could be considered plagiarism. I actually didn’t get very far into reading the book. The tone of it irked me, though I couldn’t really put my finger on why exactly. So I put the book down with no intention of picking it back up again.

Now, a year later I’ve started listening to audio books to help check books off my “to read” list a little quicker. When browsing online for downloadable audio books from my library, I came across The Selection. Sure, I remembered my dislike of the little bit that I read, but I was also curious. What happened after I’d stopped reading? My curiosity was too much and I decided to go ahead and listen to it.

The SelectionIn the futuristic world of The Selection, there’s a caste system in 35 different provinces and moving between castes is extremely difficult but not impossible. The royal family is the ones, twos and threes are still fairly well off, fives are artists, and eights are essentially the homeless for they are the bottom rung. There are strict rules and horrible consequences (pregnancy out-of-wedlock is grounds for jail and there are public beatings for stealing). The narrator of the story is America Singer, a five whose family does okay for themselves but could always use just a little more. Upon the urging of her mother and her secret boyfriend Aspen (a six), America enters the Selection. Not surprisingly – she is the narrator, after all – she is chosen as one of the lucky girls to be whisked off to the palace and try to win over Prince Maxon’s heart. Aspen takes himself out of the picture, but America cannot stop loving him just because he breaks up with her.

America quickly alliances herself with Maxon, promising friendship and help in making his decision for future wife. In exchange, he will keep America in the contest for as long as possible; each of the girls’ families are compensated monetarily each week she remains at the palace. Being a five, America’s family can use the extra money. Through the days, Maxon and America come to know each other and start confiding in each other. Maxon dismisses girls as he learns that some are not his type, but he keeps his promise and America stays. There is, of course, one fiercely competitive girl, Celeste, who is awful to the girls when the cameras aren’t around and sickeningly sweet when the Prince is around. There are also rebel forces (two different ones, in fact), who attack the palace, which throws a political twist and physical threat into the plot.

The reviews on Good Reads are mixed. Those who didn’t like it hated it and those who like it loved it. I’m one of the few that is split down the middle. I both loved and hated it. The things that I didn’t like were the ambiguous nature of the monarchy. How did the United States go from a democracy to monarchy? Early on in the book, America* alludes to a fourth world war but it isn’t until much, much later in the book that more history facts come into light. While I was glad to eventually have an explanation, it wasn’t a clear one. Too early on in the book, the reader is asked to take faith that the United States has suddenly become a monarchy and not ask why. Writers should avoid this tactic, unless the writer is an established one that the reader can trust has a reason for delaying important information. To suspend the believability for so long was a bad choice on Cass’ part. I think that she should have given more history at the beginning, through the homeschooling that is frequently mentioned but never seen, or action, like America reading the slightly singed history book, then more people would have been drawn in.

Let’s go back to that history book for a minute. It was quite an intriguing bit, once Cass got around to writing that scene. It was late in the novel, when America has been at the palace for at least a week and she describes a memory of finding the book in her parents’ bedroom. Not only are there burn marks on the book, but pages have been ripped from it. Through America’s thoughts, the reader learns that this is the only history book she’s ever seen, and her father says not to tell anyone about it. Curiouser and curiouser. Yet I feel Cass did two things wrong with this scene. First, she didn’t put it in the beginning of the book. If I were to read a book that has the United States as a monarchy and then immediately learn that history books are obsolete, possibly even forbidden, then I would sense a deeper theme coursing through the pages rather than a simplistic plot of down-on-her-luck girl becoming a princess. Many reviewers on Good Reads didn’t finish reading the book or skimmed much of it after reading the first part, much like I did my first time around. They probably didn’t even know that something’s up with how people learn and remember history. What if they had read this scene at the beginning of the book? Would they have stuck it out longer? I think so, or at least most of them would have. Second, Cass didn’t go anywhere with the scene. It was just there, thrown in with no follow-up. What were the things that America read? Did she ever ask her dad why they had the book if she wasn’t allowed to say anything about it? Why was it missing pages and singed? Maybe Cass is setting a foundation for the second book with this scene, but even if she is, the scene is out of place and I think loses a lot of its intrigue by not being mentioned again.

When the history lesson finally shows up, the book is two-thirds done**. This is way too late in the novel and I’m still a bit hazy on the details of it all, how the democracy crumbled and a monarchy was put in place. Having listened to the book, it’s hard for me to say whether or not the author skimmed over the details or I wasn’t paying good enough attention. It’s harder to go back through an audio book and pinpoint certain sections to listen to again.

Another hazy area was the reason for the rebellions. Cass establishes that there are two main rebel groups, but, again, this information comes later in the book and seems to be only something that concerns the royal family and not any of the provinces. It’s also not quite clear why the people are rebelling. Again, this could be because I didn’t pay close enough attention; I cannot say for sure. The rebels are mentioned only a handful of times, two of which were when they attacked the palace. But nothing ever resulted from the attacks. They were just another story element floating by itsself. Again, this could be foundation for the second book, but as an unknown author, Cass is asking her readers to have a lot of faith and patience that it will all come together eventually.

There were many other things that I can nitpick on that I wish Cass had done, but I want to move on to the good parts. First, the cover. Whoever designed that cover should get an award. I drew me in and many other reviewers as well. I want a dress like that! The basic plot and underlining political connotations (not much but some) were intriguing. Any writer could tell you it’s hard to come up with an original story, but Cass was definitely successful in that department (the execution was another matter). The best part of the book, I felt, was America’s emotions. Anger that the higher castes had no idea what life was like for the lower ones. Love and hurt from Aspen’s break-up. Jealousy of Maxon kissing other girls. And so on. I’d once read a dystopian novel where the main character/narrator quickly forgot about the love of her life when she met another dude just a short while later. America does start to develop feelings for Maxon, but she’s still hurt from Aspen and still loves him. That’s true to life. One doesn’t simply forget about a love – especially a first love – as soon as the break-up happens. The heart keeps on loving. The hurt keeps on hurting. Cass pinpointed those emotions perfectly.

The EliteSo, I’m torn. The book was entertaining, but I wanted more of it, more explanations, more detail. The second book, The Elite, is set to come out at the end of April. Of course, I have to know what happens. Does Cass explain the lack of history books? Does America’s feelings for Maxon grow deeper? Why are the rebels attacking? I just have to know!

(Also, what a great cover! I want that dress, too!)

*To avoid confusion, I’ll use America to mean the narrator and the United States to mean the country.

**This is an estimation; I don’t actually know because I listened to the novel and didn’t have a page count.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Entertainment, Literature

 

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Serving up a snoozer

In a previous post, I mentioned reading The Dinner by Herman Koch because it’s supposed to be the next big novel. Perhaps it will be but I can’t tell you whether or not it is because I didn’t even finish it.

The basic premise is two brothers and their wives go out for dinner on the town. Supposedly they are going to discuss the crime that their offspring committed but I didn’t get that far. I didn’t even make it out of the appetizers (the book is divided in sections by the courses). Typically, if I’m 50 or 100 pages into a book and I am not enjoying it, I put it down. This isn’t to say that the book doesn’t get better or is not good whatsoever, but I have so many books on my list (nearing 500 with more additions weekly) that I find it a waste of time to read something that is so painstakingly dull. (Well, except for that one time when I read Reached by Ally Condi because I knew that I would read the whole series just to see how it ended not matter what.) Supposedly there is some twist and/or big revelation near the end but I couldn’t fathom anything that would be good enough to get me to sludge through almost 300 pages to get to. So I dropped the book. Read it if you want, but I’m not going to keep it on my “to-read” list.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Literature

 

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Best of both worlds

Splintered by A.G. Howard

Alyssa is the great-great-great granddaughter of Alice. The Alice – the one that Alice in Wonderland is based on. She creates morbid art with the bodies of insects and parts of plants, hoping to quell the voices she hears. That’s right – she can hear plants and insects talking to her. But telling her dad would mean a one-way ticket to the same asylum as her mom, who shares the same infliction.

During one of her weekly visits to her mom, Alyssa begins to question whether or not the voices are real. Her mom hears the bugs and plants saying the exact same things she hears. If she were making it all up in her head, then the conversations wouldn’t match up word for word, right? Alyssa’s mom says that the family is cursed because of what Alice did, though she doesn’t explain what that is exactly. To break the curse, they would have to go down the rabbit hole. Since Alyssa’s mom isn’t going anywhere, it’s up to her to find the rabbit hole and right Alice’s wrongs (whatever they may be).

Let’s start with the cover. Gorgeous. Absolutely eye-catching. The thing with pictures, though, is that it doesn’t portray just how brilliant the colors shine. Go to your local bookstore (once you’re finished reading this blog) and find a copy. You will be blown away.

Next, the type. I’m not usually one to comment on the format of a book, font and otherwise, but perhaps that is because most books are just black type on cream paper. This book, however, is a little more lavish. The type is in purple, which I thought at first might be a strain on the eyes, simply because I’m used to reading in black, but that was not the case. I actually stopped noticing it after a while. The beginning of each chapter also has a little more decoration than the rest of the book. I don’t know how to describe it, really, except to say that there are intricate designs flowing across the top of the page. The best likeness I can think of is that it could be a wrought-iron gate design. The chapter title even has an enticing font; it has a little bit of a flourish but not so much that it’s illegible.

Everything about the book is appealing to the eye and intriguing to the mind. Before the reader even begins at the very first word, she is drawn in and excited about the adventure that awaits her.

The writing was beautiful and descriptive. Of course, when reading the book, I couldn’t help but think of the movies that have been made of Alice – the Disney version as well as Tim Burton’s version. I also thought about Lewis Carroll’s book, which I’d read most of a decade ago. From what I remember of what I read, Howard’s imagining of Wonderland fit well with Carroll’s tale.

This is no children’s story, though. The opening scene is Alyssa creating one of her dead-bug murals. And it just gets creepier from there. After finding the rabbit hole and making her way to Wonderland, Alyssa soon discovers that Carroll’s book wasn’t an exact depiction of the other world. The white rabbit, for example, is a creature that looks like a rabbit but with antlers instead of ears and most of his skin and muscles have been rotted away, leaving mostly bones behind. He claims he is of the White lineage and he is rabid, rather than a rabbit. It’s a dark and twisted version of the Wonderland that Alyssa grew up with. As she journeys through the world, though, she discovers things about herself that she never knew.

This is a definite must-read for any Alice in Wonderland fan.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2013 in Literature

 

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Challenge accepted!

The publisher W.W. Norton tweeted names of novels with a winter twist. Some of the tweets include: Fifty Shades of Yellow Snow, Plowers for Algernon, Less Than Absolute Zero, and We Need to Talk About Kelvin. Oh, the puns! Norton has also retweeted some really great titles from its followers. For example: To Chill a Mockingbird, A Farewell to (the Feeling in My) Arms, Nowhere Near the Tropic of Cancer, and Gloves in the Time of Cholera.

I love them all! Of course, this is not the full list, nor am I crediting anyone here. To see more and who wrote what, look for Norton on Twitter @wwnorton or search for #ColdWeatherLit.

Of course, I can’t see these tweets and not share a few of my own ideas. Here are the ones I thought of (and others may thought of them, too, but I didn’t see any of them tweeted…though I didn’t look that hard).

The Scarlett Sweater

The House of Warmth

Alice’s Adventures in a Winter Wonderland

The Heart of Winter (or) The Winter of Darkness

Ethan Frozen

Bleak Winter

Dante’s Inferno Sounds Pretty Good Right Now

The Man in the Ski Mask

A Room with a Fireplace

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Literature

 

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Those who don’t learn from history are stupid

Note: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) through my workplace. The book is scheduled to be released in March 2013.

The publisher Shadow Mountain has yet to fail me. When it comes to young adult fantasy and adventure, they know their stuff. Back in early 2009, they sent copies of teaser chapters from a new series by an up-and-coming author. Not one to read adult fantasy (save for the Quantum Leap books and a few others), I picked up the book sample and read it on my break. Instantly I was blown away. I wanted to continue reading beyond the two teaser chapters but the book wasn’t due to be published for another two months! Instantly, I ordered it and the day it arrived, I was eager to get home from work and start in on it. The book was The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner. He’d published a series before, but wasn’t widely known – yet. Within a year he published another book, The Maze Runner, through another publisher. It was through this new series (four books in total) that earned him the title New York Times Bestselling Author. I have every single one of his books and it is because Shadow Mountain first introduced him to me.

Then in late summer of 2011, my Community Relations Manager handed me an ARC of a book titled The Janitors by Tyler Whitesides. The publisher was Shadow Mountain so I thought I would give it a try. Once again, I was blown away by the clever and well written fantasy book!

Inventors SecretSo when my CRM told me he had an ARC from Shadow Mountain, I didn’t even ask who or what it was; I just said I wanted it. It was The Inventor’s Secret by Chad Morris. Not surprisingly, I loved the book.

It’s the year 2074 and twins Abby and Derick have been admitted to the world-renown school Cragbridge, a school for gifted and talented students. Abby doesn’t believe she belongs there. It’s Derick who gets the perfect grades and programs video games. She struggles with math and has done nothing extraordinary with her life. So why is she even admitted into the school? Because her grandfather founded it.

This makes life for the socially shy Abby even more difficult. She gets ostracized by her roommate, who then tells the other girls that Abby’s at school while someone who should be there isn’t. At this point in the story, I was already emotionally attached to this young girl and my heart went out to her when people started being mean to her. But eventually Abby makes a friend, Carol, who thinks that being ordinary in a school full of extraordinary kids makes Abby special.

Like most of its students, Cragbridge is no ordinary school. Animals are studied through avatars and historic events come alive in the classroom. Thanks to the wonderful inventions from Abby and Derick’s grandfather, learning has become so much more than just reading books.

Because of his inventions, though, Oscar Cragbridge fears he is in danger. Indeed he is right; a man the reader only knows as Charles seeks to learn all of Oscar’s secrets and to get them, he traps Abby and Derick’s parents aboard Titanic three days before its doomed demise. All Abby and Derick know, though, is that their family is missing and it’s up to them to follow their grandfather’s clues to rescue them. The clues rest in various places, including books, quotes, and historic events. I won’t say how it ends but lessons are learned and there is an opening for more to come.

The book is also a clever history lesson. Morris does a great job of describing the historic events as Abby and Derick review them, making it feel as if the reader is right beside them as they watch history. One event they review is Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance being stranded in Antarctica. As I read this part of the book, I remembered my own fascination with the story when I first learned about it a few years ago (22 men stranded in Antarctica for two years and they all survived). It made me want to read even more about the event; perhaps other readers will feel the same and pick up history books after reading this one.

Fans of fantasy and adventure are sure to love this book just as much as I did. Download or buy a copy (preferably from a brick-and-mortar store) in March – you won’t regret it!

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2013 in Literature

 

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Underpants!

This is a review for Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella. I was granted access to a digital Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) through Edelweiss. The book is scheduled to come out in May 2013. This review contains spoilers.

Wedding NightWhen people ask me for a good beach read, one of the authors I recommend is Sophie Kinsella. Her books are light and fun, often with quirky characters and laugh-out-loud moments. I’ve read almost everything she’s written under the pseudonym (her real name is Madeline Wickham and I have yet to read any of those books, though I want to). She’s most known for her Shopaholic series, of which the first book was made into a movie. While the Shopaholic series is fun, I think Kinsella’s best works are her stand-alone titles. Remember Me? and Can You Keep a Secret? are my two favorites.

Kinsella’s next book is another stand-alone titled Wedding Night. Lottie expects that her long-term boyfriend Richard is poised to propose at a special lunch date. When he doesn’t propose, and seems downright frightened of marriage, Lottie tries to save face by dumping him. The next day she makes plans with Ben, an ex she hasn’t seen in 15 years. When they meet for lunch, a mixture of alcohol and nostalgia causes them to do the unthinkable. Ben proposes and Lottie accepts. But there’s one condition: no sex until the honeymoon.

Lottie’s older sister, Fliss, reviews hotels and spas for a travel magazine. She’s going through a divorce from Daniel, who doesn’t seem to care about their seven-year-old son Noah. After a two-week trip abroad, Fliss comes home to find her sister engaged – and set to marry the next day! Fliss disagrees with the choice, seeing as Lottie just got out of a relationship and Fliss hasn’t even met the bridegroom. But Ben and Lottie elope anyway and jettison off to the Greek island where they first fell in love. Determined not to let Lottie ruin her life through a messy divorce like her own, Fliss does everything in her power to stop the couple from consummating their marriage. Acting through the VIP concierge at the hotel (whom she bribes with a five-star review and personal profile), Fliss manages to keep the two apart.

In the meantime, Fliss is on her way to the Greek island to rescue her sister. In tow is her son, who provides great comic relief to awkward moments. At the airport, Fliss spots Ben’s business partner, Lorcan, who needs some papers signed, and Richard who is finally ready to declare his love for Lottie. Everything comes to a head when Lottie discovers the truth about Fliss, Ben, and Richard.

The plot is right up there with Kinsella’s other books – unusual and inventive. It had its predictable moments, like Fliss and Lorcan ending up together, as well as Lottie and Richard. But how they got there was still quite creative. I don’t think I could have come up with so many ways to keep people from consummating their relationship! There were a few actual laugh-out-loud moments, which is usually a guarantee in any Kinsella book. There were also lessons that different characters learned, which was good, but what was even better was that Fliss forgot hers right away and had to re-learn it. It’s something that a lot of us do, I think.

So, would I put Wedding Night up there as one of my favorites? No, but it was good entertainment and would recommend it to anyone in need of a laugh or needed something for vacation. That is, if they haven’t already read Remember Me?

 *If you want to understand the title of this post, then you’ll have to read the book.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2013 in Literature

 

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