April 22, 2014
If you are a female reader of a certain age, the name Louise Rennison might mean something to you. She wrote the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series — 10 books about a British high school girl named Georgia and her “Ace Gang” of friends as they navigate the adolescent world of school, boys, family, etc.
I always liked the Georgia Nicholson books — they’re fun and kind of ridiculous — but they are also a bit cringe-worthy. Georgia and her friends are so incredibly boy crazy and self-involved (as most teenagers are, at least some of the time) and sometimes it felt like there was very little else going on beyond chasing after boys and worrying about clothes.
I bring this all up because Louise Rennison has a new series: The Misadventures of Tallulah Casey. There are three books so far — Withering Tights, A Midsummer Tights Dream, and The Taming of the Tights — and they chronicle the life of Tallulah (Georgia’s younger cousin) as she attends a (somewhat dilapidated) performing arts academy somewhere Up North. Tallulah is younger than Georgia and a little bit kooky and while she certainly has boys on the brain, there is a lot of other stuff going on as well.
The Tallulah Casey books also depart from the journal-entry only style that Rennison employed with the Georgia books, which I think allows for a lot more freedom in the narrative. Everything is still through Tallulah’s point of view, but as readers we get to see a bit more of the action.
These books are zany and cute and fun and I definitely recommend them (for readers of multiple age groups). In some ways I think Tallulah is a better role model than Georgia. She’s less superficial and while she still has her boy crazy moments, she doesn’t let that rule her life. She’s a supremely loyal friend and she’s true to herself and these are characteristics that girls should see in the protagonists of their books.
April 17, 2014
I first heard about The Rosie Project back at Book Expo America and remember thinking that it sounded cute and fun. Now, however-many months later I finally got a chance to read it thanks to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s digital overdrive e-lending platform.
I seriously love this service. It’s allowed me to expand my borrowing and really came in handy when I was recently hospitalized (I’m fine now, no worries). It’s super easy to access and is well-integrated with the library’s regular OPAC.
Anyway, back to the review:
The Rosie Project is about Don Tillman, a genetics professor with a brilliant mind, but less than stellar social skills (I know many have called him a Sheldon Cooper-esque character and while there are some parallels, I think the characters and their key motivations are very different). After a friend tells Don that he would make a wonderful husband — something that he had never considered — he begins the Wife Project using a detailed questionnaire to find a mate he believes will be compatible based on a number of parameters.
Enter Rosie, a young woman who doesn’t meet any of the criteria that Don has set out. And yet he is intrigued by her and enjoys spending time with her.
The endgame here is pretty predictable, I won’t pretend otherwise, but as the saying goes, it’s not the destination, but the journey. The point here is seeing how Don blunders through the new emotions and life experiences.
The Rosie Project is a quick and really fun read. I definitely recommend it.
April 12, 2014
It took me a while to decide how I felt about Red Rising. It’s a dystopian novel with a teenage protagonist, but Darrow’s life and the way he emerges into his hero role felt like a very different journey than the one taken by characters in other books in the genre.
For quite some time I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going or if I liked how it was progressing. Ultimately, Red Rising won me over. Everything takes place in a shockingly unjust world. The characters are interesting and the story is engaging. I want to know what happens next.
Fair warning: this is the first book in a trilogy and it only came out in January of this year, which means there will be some waiting involved if you jump into this world now. It’s a great read though, and I, for one, am willing to wait to see what happens.
April 12, 2014
You may remember that I read Max Brooks’s World War Z over the summer and, despite my apprehensions about the zombie genre, really enjoyed it. Well, I finally got around to watching the movie.
I was really curious about how they would make this movie work since the most interesting part of the book for me was the way that Brooks chose to tell the story. That oral history format is not something that would translate particularly well to the action movie that they were so clearly going to make.
Overall though, I was impressed with the way they adapted the story. Yes, there were a lot of changes, but I think that the filmmakers stayed true to the spirit of the book. It is also possible that I was just less attached to the material than in other book-to-movie adaptations and therefore didn’t mind seeing things changed as much.
Either way, it was an entertaining movie. I’d recommend it if you’re at all into this type of story. Maybe don’t start it at 11pm like I did (I make bad choices when it comes to the timing of my movie viewing) unless you want to stay up super late watching other happy non-zombie things after.
This was a really great book. I enjoyed reading about Cheryl Strayed’s emotional and arduous journey along the Pacific Crest Trail and the things in her life that led her to that decision. Though here are probably very few people who could claim to have gone through what Strayed did in her early adult life, her story remains incredibly relatable. The struggles of figuring out who you are, what you want, and of what you are truly capable are those that will resonate with many readers.
I read Strayed’s other book Tiny Beautiful Things a while ago and liked it, but I kind of wish that I had read Wild first — I think that it provides so much more context for the advice that she gave as Dear Sugar.
Nevertheless, I recommend both books. Maybe it’s because I’m inching closer to that “quarter life crisis” or something, but these books are feeling more poignant and important for me these days and I feel the need to push them on others. So here I am. Pushing.
April 3, 2014
It’s funny, I was so excited for this book to come out (I pre-ordered it and everything), but when I finally had it in my possession I didn’t get around to reading it for a while. Of course once I did, I finished it in something like two sittings.
This book wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting when I sat down to read the latest Gaiman novel, but I did enjoy it quite a lot.
It’s interesting because, being a memory, the story is (in a way) told from a child’s point of view, but combined with a grown-up perspective.
In other circumstances we might look at this child as an untrustworthy narrator, but that doesn’t really work here. You just go with it.
The characters in The Ocean at the End of the Lane are fantastic. The events in the book are formative and yet difficult for the narrator to place firmly in reality and fully remember.
I’d definitely recommend this one. It isn’t totally like Gaiman’s other stuff, but it has his dark streak.
I enjoyed reading it and finished it quite quickly. Maybe pick it up for a long weekend or a short vacation.
April 2, 2014
I’ve been thinking recently about the kind of books I like to read and while I really am all over the map, there’s one style that I’ve noticed I really enjoy: epistolary novels. Epistolary novels are told through letters (traditionally only through letters, but sometimes they have other kinds of writing mixed in).
Sometimes I think that they don’t get enough credit or recognition, but part of that might be that they can be difficult to do well and for readers to connect to the story. A common complaint is that they don’t move fast enough, which I suppose is a valid argument for some books, but epistolary novels give such a great view into the minds of characters as events occur. In many ways they more closely mirror “real life” in the way characters view and choose to present information.
One of my favorite epistolary novels is Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. In this story Ella and her family and friends live in a fictional island devoted to Nevin Nollop, the author of the phrase containing all 26 letters of the alphabet, “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” When letters on Nollop’s memorial statue begin falling and the island’s Council decrees that those letters can no longer be used, Ella finds herself fighting for language and freedom of expression.
The epistolary style that Dunn uses to tell this story is the perfect way to show the struggles of the community as they’re forced to drop letters from their vocabulary. I just don’t think that other, more traditional narrative styles would so seamlessly exhibit the characters’ experiences.
A more “modern” epistolary novel is Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. This book tackles some other issues that are more relatable in literature (read: not fitting in, family disfunction, etc.), but does so through giving readers glances at emails, electronic newsletters, and excerpts of online journal entries.
The style worked well in this particular story because it allowed Semple to control the flow of information — it didn’t provide the whole picture at once. The reader was able to see snippets of what was going on in each character’s life, but the full story wasn’t revealed until the perfect moment and this little bit of mystery kept everything interesting.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a great example of how epistolary novels can still work even as more of our communication moves online. I sincerely hope that authors do not abandon this style as it is such a fun way to get into characters’ heads in less conventional ways.
March 11, 2014
This book is expansive. It is the kind of historical fiction that I love — the kind that spans multiple time periods to put into context the journeys and the characters.
This story initially struck me as unexpected and I liked the portrayal of the bizarre friendship. Sometimes it moved a bit too slowly — the author took pains to get the details right and while it certainly added to the atmosphere, it was, perhaps, heavy-handed at times.
Interestingly, as the book progressed and action built, parts began to fall a bit too predictably into place. Or perhaps I’m just good at putting together the pieces?
All the same, I really enjoyed this book. The characters, their motivations, and their interactions were refreshing.
The Golem and the Jinni has gotten a fair amount of bookish buzz in recent months and it is well-deserved. It is a sweeping, poignant tale that will appeal to many readers.