Monday, May 29, 2017

What I've Heard- Before I Fall

It was only a few months ago that I read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I still haven't seen the movie version, but I just finished listening to the audiobook and I really liked it. As with the book, I really hated Sam at the beginning and the narration by Sarah Drew really works. Sam sounds exactly like the spoiled, mean, self-centered teenager she is meant to sound like, but as the book progresses and Sam's personality softens, so does her voice.

This book kept me moving during workouts and make it difficult to turn off when I was finished. This was a really good reading and I recommend it.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

I really like Julie Murphy. Her first two books, Side Effects May Vary and Dumplin', were fantastic so I was naturally thrilled when I saw that she had a new book coming out. I reserved Ramona Blue from the library before they even had any copies and the second I had it in my hand I started reading. The title character, Ramona (last name not Blue, hair color blue), lives in a small town on the coast of Mississippi. This is a town that has struggled to fight its way back from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that also left quite a mess of Ramona's family. She lives in a worn out trailer with her hardworking, loving father, her newly pregnant sister, and her sister's useless boyfriend. Ramona is 6 feet 3 inches tall and her world, and especially her home, are beginning to feel small to her. Ramona feels like she has herself figured out- she works two part-time jobs to help out her family and she's very comfortable in the knowledge and openness of being a gay girl in a small southern town- but maybe things aren't as clear as she would like. When a childhood friend moves to town and introduces her to competitive swimming, Ramona starts to wonder if there could be more for her than the beach town she's always known as home and if it is even a possibility.

Okay, SmartGirls. You know how I often complain that a lot of YA Fiction feels too shallow to me, that it just doesn't contain enough depth and can leave me feeling dissatisfied with its quality of writing? This has never been an issue with Julie Murphy's books. When Julie Murphy writes a character, the reader knows that character. We get involved and can't help but keep reading. And her writing makes me laugh. Some of the ways she phrases things make me laugh out loud in that crazy people-are-looking-at-me kind of way. For instance, when Ramona explains why she has to wear a two-piece swimsuit to the Y:

A one-piece on a girl as tall as me...well, that kind of camel toe might be a threat to national security.

She also introduces concepts that make me think of things in a way I haven't done before, while somehow also saying the things I've thought, but not known how to communicate:

It seems to me that childhood ends and adult life begins the moment you stop believing your parents can rescue you. As much as I love my dad, I stopped thinking that a long time ago.

Ramona Blue is wonderfully written and leaves me not at all dissatisfied. It is why I love Julie Murphy. Read it, won't you?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

I have been married for seventeen years and I love my husband, but if we ever met anyone involved in an organization like what is found in The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond, I would run for the hills! In this new thriller, we meet Jake and Alice, newlyweds who have been introduced to a great new way to keep their marriage strong. The Pact is a group of people extra committed to their marriages and to ensuring the survival of marriage as an institution. It is a group that comes with its own rules, all meticulously laid out in The Manual. "Read it. Memorize it." And no, that's not a joke. But what happens if someone decides The Pact isn't for them, or if, heaven forbid, their marriage doesn't work out? Let's just say that isn't an option. At all.

In this creepy book that details what sounds an awful lot like a cult in the beginning and sounds like it can't be anything else by the end, the reader has the opportunity to explore interesting theories of marriage. Not only has Jake joined this group, but in his professional life he is a marriage counselor so we have access to several different perspectives. Jake shares with the reader studies on marriage and relationships that are quite interesting. Among the rules shared in the book are no talking about The Pact; always answer your phone when your spouse calls; each spouse must buy the other a gift every month and the couple must take a trip together every quarter. These all sound pretty good, but it is when the consequences for not meeting these requirements are handed down through a pseudo court that it starts to get sticky. And there is no room for negotiation:

Fidelity to the Spouse, Loyalty to The Pact. Till death do us part.

I thought this was a very intriguing concept, but I was a little disappointed in its execution. I felt the author did not allow the reader enough of a look into the way the group normally works before things start to get crazy. I also felt that some of the writing seemed amateurish, that it could have used a little more polish. That said, there was a lot to like in this book. I loved the insertions of actual scientific studies on marriage into the insanity of The Pact. And I really enjoyed the descriptions of Jake's practice as a marriage and teen counselor. At one point, we read an interesting exchange he has with a group of teenagers he counsels. When he overhears two of them discussing The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Jake has this to say, which I thought was very interesting in the context of this book:

It is scary, but not for the reason you think. The scary part is that you might find yourself agreeing with some of it.

How much does the reader agree with the protocols of The Pact? How much is right and if it is right, are consequences a necessary part of any organization with strict regulations? How much should Jake and Alice "make peace with The Pact" or should they try to fight against it? These are all very compelling questions. I'd love to hear how you would answer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What I've Seen- The Circle

Today I saw, despite its less than stellar reviews, The Circle starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. And...I really liked it! I don't always agree with reviews, but when the critics and viewers say it's no good, I usually stay away, or at least wait for it to come out on DVD. After all, Rotten Tomatoes gives it 16% from critics and only 24% from viewers. That doesn't make it sound great, but having just finished reading the book, I wanted to see it anyway. I'm really glad I did.

I liked the book The Circle, but there were some things I didn't care for, some characters I didn't like, and the ending wasn't what I would have liked to read, but I understand that not every book can go exactly as I would want. The movie The Circle changed some things and normally I would be all up in arms about that, but a lot of what was changed from the book to the movie, I really liked. That's not to say that they didn't chop out parts I thought were important. Of course they did. That is par for the course in adapting a book for the silver screen. They just can't fit everything in to a nearly two hour film. There were a lot of details that the unread viewer will have missed so I absolutely recommend reading the book in conjunction with the film; preferably reading first, watching second.

One of the reasons that I was so willing to take a chance on this film was the cast. I love Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, but that wasn't the end of the star power. Also among the cast were Karen Gillan (who I LOVE!), Bill PaxtonJohn BoyegaPatton OswaltJudy Reyes, and even Beck. That is a pretty compelling group of actors and I thought the were wonderful.

I absolutely see the irony in blogging about this movie, but wanted to be sure to share, after all, "Sharing is Caring!"

If you haven't seen the film yet, here is the trailer to peak your interest. If you have seen it, let me hear what you thought. I'd love to hear it- zing me! 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle by Dave Eggers has been on my radar for a while, but after reading some mixed reviews I was less interested. A couple of weeks ago, with the movie version being released, my new book club chose it for the May book. I was interested, but cautious.

The Circle features Mae, a new employee at the largest tech company in the world. She is so excited to work in such a supportive, accommodating atmosphere- free gourmet food, fancy offices, a gym onsite, as well as parties and activities every night of the week and plenty of activities all weekend long. It seems like the perfect job and she loves it. As she becomes more deeply entrenched and more visible at the company, some questions are raised for the reader. What Mae thinks of as the perfectly normal progression of social media, what will surely turn the world into an absolute utopia, is quite frightening for the reader. Privacy becomes a thing of the past. "Secrets are lies" is an actual motto for this company and watching it unfold is fascinating and alarming.

Cameras are every where. EVERY WHERE. One of the leaders of the company puts it this way:

"And no matter how many times they try to eliminate the cameras, because they're so small, they'll never know for sure where they are, who's placed them where and when. And the not-knowing will prevent abuses of power."

The company promotes these cameras as a way to end all government corruption around the world. That sounds lovely, but what about the private citizens? Do we really want everything we do recorded?

Also concerning is the dependence on social media. Sure, we all know people who can't seem to step away from Facebook or Instagram, but in The Circle, it becomes all consuming. Mae is required to use her social media as a way to bolster the feelings of everyone who contacts her. A missed party invitation leads to a meeting with her boss where she is reprimanded for not considering the feelings of the party host. Suddenly Mae is spending hours every night going through the thousands of messages in her feeds as though it were her moral responsibility. And then she starts to live for the number of people who follow her, she strives to raise herself in the ranks of social media. It doesn't take much imagination to foresee something very similar in our future.

Most of this book was thrilling and an interesting thought experiment. What would it really be like? Sadly, the last bit of the book seemed to lose steam. It didn't go the way I might have liked, but I don't mind that as much as the way the writing lost energy and then kind of just ended. I would still recommend this book, but I wish it had a little more.

What I've Heard- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

I loved reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and listening to it made me love it even more. It is beautifully written and the audio version is very well read. I cried at the sad parts, even weeping at one point. It hasn't been all that long since I read this book, but listening to it reminded me just how wonderful it is. Listen to it. Read it. Whatever works for you, but don't miss out on this wonderful book.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What I've Heard- The Daily Show (The Book)

I am a huge Jon Stewart fan and I was thrilled when I learned that a book describing the construction of The Daily Show would be published. I quickly put my name on the library reserve list, but when it was my turn to read The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History by Chris Smith, I wasn't thrilled. The book is written as an oral history with each speaker's words preceded by his or her name. This made for a very choppy reading experience. In addition, the book was very large and this choppiness make for slow progress. Normally, I don't listen to audio versions of books I haven't read, but in this case I thought it might be better.

It was better, though not as much as I had hoped it would be. There are transcripts of episodes included within the text that I had hoped would be the actual audio from the show. I'm sure there were all sorts of legal reasons the show clips could not be included, but it would have been so nice to have it.

On the other hand, I learned so much about The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, and about how a show like TDS makes its way through production. The show did not always run smoothly, there were upsets and there were controversies, and the book gives a good sense of the people involved in the creation and running of the show.

I still watch The Daily Show, and I still like it, but I do still always hear the announcer say ..."with Jon Stewart" in the introduction. This is a show that has had a profound effect on the political involvement of so many people. It activated young people in system in which they previously felt unheard. It also changed the way the media approaches politicians and brought so many new voices to the conversation: most visibly Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee, but also writers and producers that are influential outside of the spotlight.

If you're a fan of Jon Stewart, I highly recommend this book. Read it or listen to it, either way I think you'll learn a lot.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

I'm a book nerd and, like all book nerds, I love a leisurely walk through a bookstore. I stumble across so many books I want to read someday. Recently on one such wandering, I stumbled across Tommy Wallach's We All Looked Up. There was something appealing about the cover and it was on a table with other books I had enjoyed, so I picked it up, liked what I saw in the description and added it to my TBR list. I didn't feel the need to purchase it right away, but thought I'd see if the library had it. Just a few weeks later I did find it at the library, at the book sale- my favorite sale in the whole world. I was able to purchase the hard cover edition for only $3! Sure, borrowing it from the library would have been free, but this way I'm donating to the library (I love the library!) and I get a physical book I can share with someone else!

Okay, enough about my library love affair- what's this book about anyway? Well, basically, the apocalypse. Told in the alternating points of view of Seattle teenagers Peter, Eliza, Andy, and Anita, the Earth is staring down the barrel of an enormous meteor that has a 66% chance of wiping out all life on the planet. With only eight weeks to impact, each of these main characters wonders how they should spend their last days. Peter, the All-American jock who had been headed for Stanford, may not want his last moments to be spent with the vapid girl he's been dating for too long. Eliza, the girl with the reputation, intends to document how the world is changing, even if no one will ever really see it. Andy, the slacker with zero plans, is pulled between power and his dreams. Anita, the buttoned-up straight A student aiming at Princeton, is certain she has to live her last bit of life the way she wants and not according to the plans of her ambitious father. Of course, with so little time left, the world goes predictably crazy, but these are teenagers so there is still plenty of social drama.

So did I enjoy reading this book? Sadly, not really. I had an inkling from the start that the writing in this book was going to annoy me and it did. There was some aura, some odor of pretension in the author's voice that I suspected would not appeal to me. I've talked in this blog before about how some YA just aggravates me without my being able to pin down the exact quality it either has or is lacking, but whatever it is, this book had (or didn't have) it. Many of the characters' actions seemed unlikely to me; the mistakes they made just frustrated me. Yet, I finished the book because I wanted to know what would happen. And it ended exactly the way I expected it to do. And I suppose that's fine.

Were there any good bits? Well, there were a couple of quotes that I enjoyed. At the very beginning, Peter is having a discussion with a teacher who asks him if he knows what it is that makes a book really good. Peter doesn't know, but here is the answer the teacher gives:

"The best books, they don't talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you'd always thought about, but that you didn't think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you're a little bit less alone in the world."

And in a conversation Andy, the slacker, has with the school counselor, Suzie, (a great character that needs her own book, actually) about his future, he claims he doesn't need to go to college because he doesn't care about money. She responds this way:

"It's not about the money. I'm glad you don't care about money. I'm talking about boredom. You think school is bad? A minimum-wage job makes school look like freaking Burning Man. Unless you have some kind of fetish for doing the same rote physical task eight million times a day."

When he claims that she is coming down on him too hard and that her job was to help people with the stress they have, not hand them more, she says:

"Strung-out people need to be chilled out. But chilled-out people maybe could use a good kick in the ass."

Much later in the book, in a conversation with Anita, Suzie tries to tell her there are still things she can be doing, that life still has purpose:

"There's still time for you to do things that matter. Even if it's just being there for someone who's freaking out."

Does it say something about me or about the book that the only parts I really liked were the ones that involved two adults at the high school? If YA is your thing, you may really like this one, but it just didn't have that something that I need in a book.

I think the word I'm looking for is depth. Or maybe not.