Random Review: Every Day

I am surprised I did not like this book more.

Every Day by David Levithan3207401

A is a person without a body, awaking each day as someone new and supplanting that individual’s consciousness. It has been that way as long as A can remember, and A expects it to continue that way forever. A just tries to make as little impact as possible, until the day the mistreated girlfriend of the body A’s inhabiting piques interest. Suddenly A is desperate to hold on, after a lifetime of letting go.

On the surface, this seemed like a book I would love. I’ve really enjoyed the other Levithan projects I’ve read (Every You, Every Me and will grayson, will grayson.) I am the type of person who watched every episode of Quantum Leap, binge-watched Sense8 (twice), and tries to imagine the lives of other people driving down the highway with me. Where they are going, what they worry about, who they love and who loves them.

Every Day is well-written. It is an interesting story that has emotional resonance and high stakes, and yet it was just a three-star read for me. I am not sure why. Maybe because the idea that everyone has problems and worries and great loves is not an earth-shaker for me. Maybe because A falls in love with a thin, blue-eyed, blonde doormat and that is just painfully typical.

I think that’s it. The whole story centers around the growing connection between A and Rhiannon, and the impossibility of making it work, and I just didn’t like Rhiannon much. It was clear why she appealed to A: they are both intuitive, compassionate dreamers yearning for deep connection. The narrative explored just about every type of relationship and attraction through A’s body-hopping, which was a lot more gripping than the relationship on which A focused. I just felt like rolling my eyes at the desperation to get back to this blah girl who lets her boyfriend treat her like crap because he’s cute and has a sob story.

I wanted to like this so much more than I did, but I think a teenager who hasn’t read or seen much along these lines might be blown away by it. I suppose I will pass it on to my students and find out!

Chair Rating:

Looked more special than it felt.

Looked more special than it felt.

Don’t Touch It!

I think every book-lover, or movie-lover, or any-type-of-creative-property-lover has an ideal. That one something that is so close to the core of who you are that you turn into a feral dog at the thought of anyone toying with it in even the most minor of ways. It might be a classic car, one version of a song, a specific work of fiction…

TFioS Quote 2

Mine is Peter Pan. Many people know some version of the story: maybe the Disney animated film, maybe the Mary Martin play. I’ve met few who have actually read the novel, and only one who has admitted to a deep and abiding love for it.

I did not read J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan until I was an adult. About two years ago, in fact. Which is weird, because I checked the video of the play out of the library and watched the Disney VHS so much it drove my mother crazy. Peter Pan’s Flight is my favorite ride at Disneyland. I read all the time. Why did I never get around to the classic novel?

I felt its truth in my heart and my solar plexus and the backs of my eyes. It poked me right in things I felt that I could never articulate, and the (positive) adjective most commonly used to describe me is articulate.

So when I saw this:

I felt like this:

giphy (1)

It is not a feeling based in rational thought but, Joe Wright? I will cut you. Trust.

Lest you think I am a hater NerdGirl who will bear no departure from canon, know that I will openly admit to loving Hook and the 2003 Peter Pan live-action film. Those movies get it.

Random Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Things are getting out of hand.
bluelily

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

When we last saw our intrepid heroes the ley line was stronger than ever thanks to Adam’s efforts, Gansey and Blue had acknowledged both their mutual interest and the impossibility of acting on it, Ronan had begun to accept his power and nature, and Noah was still dead. Maura went missing, the Gray Man sacked up, and Persephone was helping Adam manage communications with Cabeswater. If the first novel in The Raven Cycle revved the engine and The Dream Thieves hit the gas, Blue Lily, Lily Blue drifts into some mud and gets its wheels spinning. The quintet at the center of The Raven Cycle is closing in on Glendower, but every step forward comes with another warning of grave danger. These warnings come from Persephone and Calla, Cabeswater, a giant hillbilly, a frequent employer of hit-men. The danger is real, and near, and as reality warps ever further the Raven Boys and Blue are stretched to their limits.

The focus shifts from Ronan back to Blue in this novel, though it checks in with everyone, and suffers for it a bit. Blue is just not terribly interesting as a character. Of all the characters in The Raven Cycle I find myself least interested in what happens to her and Colin Greenmantle. Both somehow remain more ideas of people than actual characters. During Blue’s angstier moments I found myself counting adverbs rather than experiencing the story. She had a few intriguing scenes, but none of them seemed to amount to anything. No payoff, yet.

In general, Blue Lily, Lily Blue has some really strong scenes. Spooky, eerie scenes. Scenes with intense sexual tension. Scenes of wonderment and terror. The novel is at its best when the quest for Glendower is moving forward. In these moments it is at its scariest and most profound.  Pretty much everything that takes place in a cave or involves Persephone is good reading.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is not the strongest entry in The Raven Cycle thus far, but it has a strong finish and I’ll be back for what is sure to be a thrilling conclusion.

**Because I am the luckiest duck, I received an ARC of Blue Lily, Lily Blue directly from Maggie Stiefvater a full month before it came out. This in no way affected my review, other than allowing me to post it before the novel’s official release. I will be re-reading the copy I pre-ordered from Fountain Bookstore when it arrives for comparison. 

Chair Rating: 

I am sure it's here for a reason, but not totally I want to sit in it.

I am sure it’s here for a reason, but not at all sure I want to sit in it.

Random Review: The Dream Thieves

Maggie Stiefvater, an author you can trust.8472014340_f18884df4d_o

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The second book in The Raven Cycle finds us back in Henrietta, Virginia with three Aglionby boys and one contrary girl. One of the boys has begun to flicker in and out of existence, another is sharing his existence with a supernatural forest. One of the boys is spending a lot of time pretending he doesn’t want the girl, while she pretends the same thing right back. The last boy sees all of this and then some. This motley crew continues the search for a dead Welsh king with the assistance of three psychics, a lot of money, brainpower, fast cars, charisma, the ability to manifest dreams, and the hindrance of a professional hitman on their tail.

This is Ronan’s story, and all the better for it. He is a fascinating character who seems to be composed of contradictions. He is religious and profane, violent and tender-hearted, distant but passionate. The Dream Thieves is the rare book that lives up to breathless blurbs touting a story that is “action-packed!” and “thrilling!” It really is those things. When I reviewed the first book in this quartet, I noted that it showed a lot of potential. The Raven Boys revved the engine of an exhilerating epic, roaring the promise of excitement and danger, and The Dream Thieves hit the gas. This book is explosive, emotionally complex, tactile, and sensitive. It is Maggie Stiefvater doing what she does best, unlike anyone else, on par with The Scorpio Races. All of the characters remain in play, weaving through each others’ stories as the plot winds tighter and tighter in anticipation of an explosive conclusion.

Just read it, you won’t be sorry.

Chair Rating: 

Strap in for the ride of your life.

Strap in for the ride of your life.

Random Review: The Wild Girl

Though Bitter Greens had three heroines suffering, The Wild Girl is three times more brutal to read.

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth download

Most people (of European descent) know of the folktale collection compiled by the Brothers Grimm, but few know about the women who told them the tales. One of these storytellers was Dortchen Wild. Second youngest of the Wild family, neighbors to the Grimms, Dortchen was an empathetic girl will a skill for herbalism and a long-running crush on Wilhelm Grimm. Against the backdrop of the Napoléonic Wars their collaboration and eventual romance unfolds, the darkness all around matched only by the darkness in Dortchen’s own home.

One of the things I loved about Bitter Greens, apart from the fairy-tale and deeply-researched historical fiction aspects, was how complex the writing was. Three stories intertwined like the strands that form a braid, echoing each other and moving the narrative forward. The writing in The Wild Girl is no less rich but, because the scope of the novel is so much smaller, at times it feels as though there is not enough story to justify the novel’s nearly five-hundred pages. The A-plot is ostensibly the romance between Wilhelm and Dortchen, but it is often swamped by the brutal realities of Dortchen’s day-to-day life. Where the arcs of Bitter Greens‘ three heroines called back to each other, in The Wild Girl it is the stories told by Dortchen that call back to her own life. Many fairy-tale themes crop up in the two-decade-long tale of her romance with Wilhelm: sisters going to a ball while one stays home to do chores, magic rhymes, and the transformative power of a really awesome dress.

Some of the themes of The Wild Girl struck so close to home that I have to admit they tempered my enjoyment of the story.  Dortchen’s experience as a civilian during a war that seems like it will never end, with her country first being invaded and then used to supply soldiers for the conquerors to invade other countries, hit a little too close to home for this American. While many would argue that America is the Napoléonic France of our situation, from a civilian standpoint my country was violently attacked when I was in high school and we’ve been at war with multiple countries ever since. I am married to a Marine who began his service right after 9/11, I have taught preschool and cared for infants on military bases, half of my friends enlisted straight after high school, and I have been groped in airports in the name of “safety” more times than I can bear to think about. My youngest brother currently has plans to enlist. In 2008 we were promised an end to this war and it hasn’t materialized yet, so I related to the climate of worry though my struggle has not yet grown so dire as Dortchen’s.

The other major plot of the novel is Dortchen’s relationship with her extremely strict father. As the war worsens and he becomes more stressed and worried, he devolves into outright abuse of his daughters. I will only say that the descriptions of this abuse are realistic to the point of triggering, if you have a past in any way similar. In her author’s note Forsyth mentions the plotting of these passages giving her nightmares. I do appreciate her commitment to leaning in when writing about the uglier aspects of life. I have always loved fairy tales because they are just as dark as life can be. Sometimes darker.

There is much to love about The Wild Girl, even if my personal experience prevented me from embracing it as fully as I did Bitter Greens. Germany (specifically Hesse-Kassel, here) is a beautiful, sweet country done justice by Forsyth’s realistic tale of romance between a dreamy writer and an apothecary’s daughter.  It may be a bit long-winded, but it’s an easy trap to fall into for lovers of history and literature alike (and an author sticking to a historical timeline.) People who enjoy Austen or Little Women will like the early passages with Dortchen and her siblings, fairy-tale lovers will be rewarded throughout.

Chair Rating:

overgrown_chair

A little overgrown and hard to settle into, but no less beautiful.

Random Review: The Stand

Not his best work (but not his worst.)

The Stand by Stephen KingThe-Stand-Book-Cover

After the outbreak of a deadly virus across the United States, what remains of humanity lives among what remains of society. As they band together guided by portentous dreams and intuition, they find themselves locked in a battle for the soul of humankind and each must make a choice. A choice backed by action, what one might call…a stand.

Early in college I went through a phase where I avoided dealing with all the crap that was piling up on my head by reading Stephen King novels. I read everything in the university library instead of going to class, which took me through Carrie, It, Dolores Claiborne, ‘Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, and several more. I had heard a lot about The Stand, and knew people loved it, but I kept thinking it was a John Grisham novel for some reason and I am just not into courtroom dramas (I’m into courtroom comedies like My Cousin Vinnie and Night Court.)

I finally read it in 2012 and, while I see why people go ape over it, I don’t think it’s near the top of the Stephen King stack. It was clear that he was aiming for a Lord of the Rings-scale epic, American-style. Some of it worked like gangbusters: Mother Abigail and Stuart Redman, Larry Underwood’s whole journey, the trashcan man. The tension the author built as the story progressed was almost unbearable by the time Tom Cullen took his solo trip. I think the length of the novel helped with that. There is a good strong vein of story underpinning the whole affair.

However, King loves a sweeping scope and at some point The Stand got out from under him. Randall Flagg came across a bit too campy to be truly frightening, The Kid started as an interesting (and frightening) character but quickly went completely over the top, and Frannie lost all her spark as a personality the minute she teamed up with Harold. Since major plot points hinged on Randall Flagg and Frannie, this hurt the overall quality of the novel considerably.

King has acknowledged that The Stand didn’t turn out quite as he had hoped, but it’s still a solid novel worth reading through despite the high page-count. It just didn’t reach the heights he was aiming for. I’d love to see him try something of this scope again, now that he has more life and many more novels under his belt (no, I don’t consider The Dark Tower an example of a second try.)

Have you read the book or watched the miniseries? What did you think? 

Random Review: Bitter Greens

A Rapunzel far more Grimm than Tangled.

Bitter Greens by Kate ForsythBitter-Greens

Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is the braided tale of three women’s lives, wound around the structure of the Rapunzel fairy tale. Three different women locked in three different versions of a tower, finding themselves there because of others’ actions. Imprisonment, violation, escape, and salvation play out again and again against a backdrop of Renaissance Italy and Rococo-era France.

This novel offers three (or more, depending on your interpretation) strong female characters at its core. Their stories are masterfully intertwined with Forsyth’s intimate knowledge of the culture, history, and languages of France and Italy. Each of the characters suffers every horror unique to the lives of women at the time and in general, without the whole affair turning into some kind of penny-dreadful. The narrative winds between all three women in a way that is never confusing, in fact it seems to make perfect sense. Famous historical figures appear, but Forsyth never overdoes it. The Sun King is a character is Charlotte’s tale, not an encyclopedia entry. The same goes for the painter Titian and La Bella Strega.  The author has woven a magnificent tapestry with the delicate handling of too many plot threads to count. It’s astonishing to behold.

All of the elements of the core fairy tale are here: a witch with rampion in the garden, a prince blinded by thorns, hair tumbling from a high tower window that it might be scaled…but the pieces have been joined in ways that seems perfectly natural. Only slightly removed from reality.

If you like France or Italy, sumptuous food or the idea of life at court, music or art or fairy tales…even black magic…this book is for you!

Chair Rating:

chair

Regal, powerful, and unabashedly feminine.