Sunday, August 26, 2012

Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols

Some books just have a great cover, don't you think?  I know, you can't tell a book by it's cover, but a cover can draw a reader in and make her want to bring that book home.  This cover was like that for me.  I read about Such a Rush  by Jennifer Echols on several book blogs that I follow.  One blog post in particular made this book sound irresistible.  As I was reading, I will admit that I was reluctant to put it down and found no difficulty getting through it quickly.  Sadly, this book was missing something for me. 
This is a Young Adult novel and while I have read several pieces of YA fiction that I have truly enjoyed, this one had the same disappointing feel that I have found in much of the YA genre that I have read.  I wish I knew how to describe that feeling.  Perhaps it is the lack of depth or of character development.   Leah is a 14-year-old girl who has had a tough life.  She gets a job at the small airport in town and soon becomes obsessed with learning to fly.  Three years later she has made that dream a reality, but something threatens to take it away. 
I will grant you that Leah is brave and driven, but I can't say I loved her character.  It makes me crazy to read about a character, especially a female character, that I just want to shake.  Leah is an underprivileged young girl who lives in a trailer park with her often absent mother.  She is treated like trailer trash by most of  the people she knows.  In most cases, this makes her want to do better, to be more, however she often lets other people's opinions of her get to her.  When she becomes frustrated, she often says something like "Oh, you think I'm a whore?  Well, then, I'll just dress and act like a whore."  Of course the reader can easily see the error of her judgement, but Leah can't and that started to annoy me by the end of the book. 
Also, Leah and her best friend Molly do a lot of that thing that some girls do that really irritates me: referring to one another in a derogatory manner.  "Hey, Bitch!" is a common greeting.  Why?  I don't understand using such ugly terms with a friend.  Then again, they two girls don't always act like friends. 
And my final complaint is that this isn't a book I would want my teenage daughter to read.  I have read many debates on book blogs about whether or not sex should be a part of stories about teenagers.  Many people will say, "They are doing it so you might as well face it."  Others will say, "Just because some teens are doing it doesn't mean we should glorify it in fiction."  I say, if a writer feels it is important to the story (and sometimes it actually is), then she should feel free to include it.  That being said, I also feel that might disqualify it as a book I can freely recommend.  Unfortunately, when teenagers have sex, they aren't always making smart decisions.  Personally, I don't think a teenager understands enough about the world to make those decisions and I fear they often result in regret, but like I said, that is my personal belief. 
This book was entertaining and a quick read.  It contained some interesting themes and I loved that Leah was able to see that her mother's life was not a path she wanted to follow.  I just wish there had been something more to it. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

I was finally able to finish The Amber Spyglass  by Philip Pullman.  With school beginning for the children and having to take a break to read my bookclub book, it took longer to get through than I had hoped it would.  This was at times painful because I couldn't wait to get back to it, but we've just been so busy.  Everyone has times like that and mine just happened to be right in the middle of a most fascinating novel. 

Let me begin by saying that I absolutely adored The Amber Spyglass and all of His Dark Materials.  The writing is rich and multifaceted.  The characters are fully three dimensional (some perhaps having more than the standard three dimensions).  The settings, so many worlds, inspire the imagination.  I was fully engrossed in this epic tale of a young girl and her quest for truth. 

Reading The Amber Spyglass I was finally able to see the issue that caused some of the controversy associated with the release of the film version of The Golden Compass in 2007.  I could see the issue, but that does not mean that it was an issue for me.  Lyra and Will are searching for the source of Dust.  Some people believe Dust is evil and must be destroyed.  Other people believe that The Authority or God is not actually God, but an angel that seized his position and must be destroyed.  Again, as I have said in reviews of the other two books in this trilogy, it is fiction.  When I read I am able to detach from reality (in most cases) and take the story for what it is worth.  My faith is mine and this book had no affect on it.  I can, however, understand where a parent might feel that his or her faith was being attacked and not what his or her child reading it for fear it would cause confusion.  I am always in favor of a parent being aware of what his or her child is reading and using it as an opportunity for discussion. 
In an interview here, Pullman describes his books this way:  "They'll find a story that attacks such things as cruelty, oppression, intolerance, unkindness, narrow-mindedness, and celebrates love, kindness, open-mindedness, tolerance, curiosity, human intelligence."  This is part of what I loved about these books.  There are several characters who possess such a strong love for one another that it is almost tangible.  There are characters who seem purely evil and yet redeem themselves.  Something so interesting about it is that the line between good and evil is not always obvious.  Each character is fighting for what he or she believes is right.  They hold to their convictions even unto death.  One character, the reader is sure is good and then no, that character must be evil and again, perhaps the reader was correct in the beginning?  Keeping a reader unsure is the mark of a talented author.  Redemption is a prevalent theme throughout the trilogy and I think that is something most readers can appreciate. 

I have to admit, however, that I was a little disappointed with the ending of the book.  I was sad it was finished and that it was time to let the characters go for a while, but also I felt it was unfinished.  There were a few plot points that I didn't feel were quite resolved.  The ending felt rushed.  My edition of the book was nearly 400 pages long, so it was a lengthy novel, but it almost felt as though the author wanted to just wrap it up and be finished, yet perhaps he forgot to tuck in all the edges.  I wish I could share with you all the wonderful little bits that I marked because they were so wonderful and that I could discuss the few elements that left me unsatisfied, but if I did, it would surely ruin the reading experience for you.

I do hope you will read His Dark Materials .  It was lovely and full of wonder.  I have heard from a very reliable source that the audiobooks are fabulous so I think I will have to find them at my local library and give them a listen.  I'll let you know how it goes.  And please let me know what you think.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Recently while discussing books someone mentioned to me that she likes to read, but she prefers books without too many characters and plot that isn't too complicated.  I nodded and smiled politely while thinking books like those would never keep my attention.  Now for the life of me, I cannot remember with whom I was having this conversation, so I certainly hope it wasn't you, but the point is that this book would not have been for her.

I know that I have been talking lately as if every book that I read is the best book I've ever read.  I am loving His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and The Night Circus is so wonderful, but I've also read a few lately that I haven't loved, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour for instance.  However, this month's book club book, The Shadow of the Wind  by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, is absolutely amazing.  As a matter of fact, when this book was mentioned in a previous book club meeting, one club member enthusiastically labeled it "F'ing Amazing."  And I can't help but agree. 

A gothic novel set in Barcelona, Spain in the 1950's, The Shadow of the Wind  revolves around Daniel Sempere.  At the beginning of the novel, Daniel is a ten-year-old boy who is missing his mother.  To distract him, Daniel's father takes him to a secret place, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  Daniel's father instructs him to pick any book and then to become that book's caretaker.  Daniel takes his book home and reads straight through the night.  He is mesmerized by the book and resolves to find out everything he can about the author.  That is easier said than done and so begins a great mystery that will follow him for years.  I won't say more because it would just be wrong to ruin such an excellent story.

Ruiz Zafon is a brilliant story teller.  I am amazed at such talent.  The language is sensational, allowing the reader to fully immerse herself in Daniel's world.  Just the first example of many that I marked:  "Six years later my mother's absence remained in the air around us, a deafening silence that I had not yet learned to stifle with words."  I marked so many passages that stood out like poetry to me that if I listed them all, you would have read half the book already. 

I adore the focus on the allure and importance of books.  Obviously I am rather fond of books and Ruiz Zafon seems to understand how I feel.  After reading his book for the first time, an exhausted Daniel says, "My eyes began to close, but I resisted.  I did not want to lose the story's spell or bid farewell to it's characters yet."  When I finished reading this book well after midnight, it took me a good hour to finally fall asleep and then my dreams were filled with what I had read.  In another section, Daniel says, "I leafed through the pages, inhaling the enchanted scent of promise that comes with all new books..."  The scent of promise.  Isn't that how any true book lover feels when she picks up a new book?  Isn't that exactly why so many of us have bookshelves that are full to bursting?  We know that an entire world exists within those pages and we can't wait to discover each one. 

Each character is so richly developed that it is difficult to believe they do not actually exist.  This book is brimming with characters and in a lesser book it might be difficult to keep them all straight, but not in this one.  Ruiz Zafon does such an exceptional job describing each character and then assigning them each their own voice that even without the name present it would not be difficult to guess who was speaking. 

This book touches on war, politics, corruption, poverty, forgiveness and redemption, education and the lack thereof, good and evil, mystery, and romance.  There is nothing one could want from a book that she could not find here.  I, like Daniel, stayed awake far too late reading because I just could not stop. 

One of the characters in this book claims that "we only exist as long as somebody remembers us."  I will remember and cherish these characters.  This is a book I would love to reread and relive.  I am certain that I will.  Won't you read it?  I guarantee you will be happy you did.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Top Ten Characters I Would Switch Places with for 24 Hours

So I missed last week's Top Ten Tuesday, but I really liked the topic so I thought I would just use it today.  Because that's how I roll.

Okay so the topic that I loved so much I felt compelled to break the rules is this:

Name ten characters with whom you would like to trade places for twenty-four hours.  This is a pretty easy one for me since I pretty much trade places with each of the characters with every book I read.  Some of those switches would be more fun than others, so without further ado:

  1. Anna from Anna and the French Kiss.  First of all, she gets to spend her senior year of high school living in Paris.  How amazing would that be?!  And, oh, St. Clair.  He sounds just lovely.  I think 24 hours in Anna's shoes would not be terrible.
  2. Azalea from Entwined.  So things aren't perfect for Azalea.  That's the whole reason for limiting the switch to 24 hours.  She has eleven sisters to care for, her mother has died and her father is distant.  The 24 hours I would take are right there at the end, but I won't say why in case you haven't read it yet which you really should do, by the way.
  3. Hermione from Harry Potter.  That is an easy one for a book worm.  Hermione is smart and bookish and level headed.  And in the end she falls in love and has a great best friend.  Plus, magic powers would be so much fun!
  4. Wanderer from The Host.  So, things are a little complicated, but she has wandered through seven worlds.  She has lived among the singing seaweeds and the ice bears.  She knows so much about the universe.  I would love just 24 hours of absorbing that knowledge.
  5. Lyra Silvertongue from The Golden Compass.  Lyra never sits still and at first has no idea what an insane turn her life is about to take, but she has great friends who are willing to give their lives to protect her.  Also, the golden compass, which only she can read, tells her the truth about anything she asks.  How amazing would it be to know exactly what to do, which direction to take, and whom to trust? 
  6. Charlotte from Midnight in Austenland.  Living in the world of Jane Austen sounds like a wonderful way to spend a holiday.  Charlotte is intelligent and wealthy (doesn't sound bad, does it?) and immerses herself in Austen.  I think just to be able to wear the clothing and use that language of that era would be delightful.
  7. Celia from The Night Circus.  She is beautiful, refined, and she can keep an entire magic circus running mostly with her own powers of illusion.  She builds amazing tents that mystify the circus patrons and she is a wonderful character.  Everyone loves Celia.
  8. Sarah from These is My Words.  I am still convinced that Sarah has a giant S printed on her underclothes and not for Sarah, for Superwoman!  Any woman who can kill a rattlesnake with a shotgun without harming the child that is only inches away and can fight off all the terrible men she encounters is a hero in my book!
  9. Elinore from Sense and Sensibility.  This is my favorite Austen novel and I love how smart and proper Elinore is, even if it does make things difficult for her at times.  She is conscious of the importance of propriety in her world and does everything she can put her family's needs above her own.  And of course falling in love with Edward and having her affections returned makes one sigh with a dreamy look on one's face.
  10. Bella from Twilight.  Wait!  Before you groan, I ask you to be honest.  Anyone who has actually read these books (not just seen the movies with the less than stellar acting) must admit to envying Bella a little.  According to the books, Edward is the perfect man except for that whole blood-sucking vampire thing.  He loves her more than anything else, he protects her and he sees in her what she cannot see in herself.  Plus, she gets to be best friends with Alice.  "Oh, Alice.  You want to buy me expensive designer clothes and put it all together for me?  Why, certainly!"

So there it is: ten characters with whom I could stand to trade places.  What about you?  Do you share any of my wishes on this list?  Who else would be on the list for you?  My favorite thing about reading is that just for a little while I can become the characters in a book.  I live their lives, I imagine what it would be like, and I wonder if I would have done anything differently.  Sometimes I even rewrite the novel in my head to go the way I wish it had gone (I'm looking at you These is My Words).  This is exactly why I love books.