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Book Review Index

I'm going to attempt to keep this index with direct links to book reviews up-to-date, but I make no promises!

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The Skychasers Trilogy

Spoilers up to midway through book 2, Spark.

Also warning for some pretty funky formatting that I can't figure out how to fix because it is too much trouble. (If there was anyone going to read this, I'm pretty sure they are scared off by now)
[This review/babbling contains spoilers (click to open)]
I'm listening to Spark, the sequel to Glow. Glow was the kids-on-an-multi-generational-starship-out-to-colonize-a-new-planet book that I read a bit ago (LibraryThing tells me it was 2011, to be more specific) and actually quite liked. (The other was Across the Universe, which I found disappointing). What I liked about Glow was the insistence that the world was more complicated than it first appears, and the multiple facets of Ann Mather's character in particular. For instance, I liked learning that Waverly's idyllic experience on her ship wasn't true for everyone, and there was a pretty vile streak of sexual harassment and exploitation that she had been protected from because she was the girlfriend of presumptive-future-captain Kiernon (Kiernen? I don't know, I'll probably wind up switching back and forth because I'm too lazy and indecisive to look it up or pick one). I also liked that the atheists/religious ship divide resulted in some genuine complexities. I mean, I think it is a kind of stupid premise - putting all the religious people on one ship and all the atheists on the other seems guaranteed to start a holy war once the ships land - but I felt like the book did a decent job of resisting a tendency to portray religion as either universally good or bad. I also thought the exploration of what it is to be a leader, religious or secular, was pretty interesting. My biggest concern was that towards the end, when Kiernon decides that introducing a religious or spiritual element to the Empyrean (atheist ship) would help them all get through the loss of their parents. I don't have a problem with Kiernon feeling some sort of religious calling per se. But what I thought was bizarre was that he discusses this with a friend of his, who confesses that actually, even though this is the atheist ship, he and his family have secretly been practicing Muslims, and he talks about the comfort he takes in his religion. When Kiernon asks why their family wasn't on the religious ship if they were religious, the friend explains that they 'wouldn't fit in their either', and I'm sorry, I've got to give that a big side-eye, because what the hell was the plan here? Is this divide Christian vs non-Christian, or atheist vs religious? Was this boy's family the only religious non-Christians in the entire colonization population? Why were so few religions represented? What kind of precedent is it where non-Christians have to practice their religion secretly?

This in and of itself doesn't necessarily make for a problem. The book could go on to explore the many faults in the original plans for this colonization plan. But then, bizarrely, when Kiernon decides to create a religious ceremony, it is really Christian. I say it's bizarre because Kiernon is on the atheist ship, right, meaning that literally the *only exposure* he has ever had to any religion is his friend's explanation of Islam. So wouldn't it make sense that Kiernon's made-up religion would follow Islam more than anything else? Or it could be completely different, I could buy that too. But there is NO WAY that Kiernon just happens to dream up Christian services.

Unfortunately, midway through Spark, my concerns have multiplied. Kiernon's weird Christianity just gets more and more ridiculous. I mean, it gets to the point where his followers start spontaneously chanting 'Kyrie Eleison' to praise him because 'Kiernon' kind of sounds like like a contraction of the phrase, and it's maybe the origin of the name Kiernon. When this happened, I literally made a 'wtf' face, because seriously - *what the fuck*? Why would kids raised in an *entirely atheist civilization* randomly know the Christian liturgy? And even if some book in a library somewhere had the Christian liturgy for historical interest, how would that just spring to mind as a good thing to shout? Hell, I was raised Christian, and it would never have occurred to me to cheer for someone by shouting 'Kyrie Eleison'. And then later on, one of the kids on the atheist ship makes a joke to himself that literally ONLY MAKES SENSE if you know the Lord's Prayer. Why the hell are these kids, raised in an atheist vacuum, so knowledgeable about Christian prayers? I'm sorry, I just can't get over this, it's such a glaring and bizarre inconsistency that just keeps coming up again and again. Not to mention, since religion is becoming so much more important on the atheist ship, why doesn't Kiernon's Muslim friend take this as a cue to start practicing his religion more openly? It would make sense. But nope, thus far in book 2 the kid hasn't mentioned it again. In this book the only religion, period, is Christianity.

Other than that, we've got further exploration of the origin of the tension between the ships. There's a whole political thing where there is a stowaway/terrorist from the New Horizon that snuck onto the Empyrian, and Kiernon uses it as an excuse to become pretty tyrannical. That tyranny has a pretty religious bent as well, since he institutes mandatory daily prayer services led by him. Waverly, his now ex girlfriend, is extremely suspicious of Kiernon's newfound piety because her experiences with Ann Mather's religious leadership on New Horizon were very negative. Kiernon's I-don't-need-a-trial-to-jail-my-enemies attitude only makes her more suspicious. Waverly's attempts to oppose Kiernen politically has been pretty interesting so far. The love triangle between Waverly, Kiernen, and Kiernen's enemy/rival Seth, is boring to me; I wish these sorts of books didn't feel obligated to put in a romantic rivalry, it's often the least interesting part.

I was also disappointed in the characterization of Seth. Last book, Seth took control of the ship away from Kiernen, threw Kiernen in jail for no good reason, and generally did a shit job of everything. Kiernen gets control back, and when the book ends Seth is the one in the brig. I assumed that book 2 we would get more insight into Seth's character and why he acted the way he did. Well, we do get Seth POV, but he doesn't actually talk about his actions - the most we get is yeah, I know I screwed up. I really wanted more than that. He knows that what he did was wrong - when did he feel he got on the wrong path? How? Does he want to make amends in any way? If he had the chance again, what would he have done differently?
Anyway, I'll finish the book, but I'm sorry to say that Spark has really failed to live up to Glow's promise. I don't know if I'll read the third when it comes out.
(Also, randomly, the male narrator on this audiobook is pretty bad. The female narrator does a fine job, but I am often distracted by the guy. Is it really so hard for male narrators to do female voices without sounding absurd? Just pitch your voice *slightly* higher, you don't need to squeak like a mouse, guys. And that's not all, the dude's chronically distracting with his acting. I'm all for emotion, but it should enhance the story, not distract from it)

The Americans

I watched the pilot of FX's The Americans this weekend, and I thought it was all right. But the more I thought about it, the more something bugged me. It felt like the show expected me to feel a lot more sympathetic towards Philip than I did, and on reflection that's probably because the people making and framing the show expected us to identify with Philip more than I did, which then led me down this whole 'it's the patriarchy!'-stye rabbit-hole. So, uh, I'll go behind an lj-cut for spoilers and ranting.

[Spoiler (click to open)]
For instance, at the beginning we see Philip caressing his "wife's" hair ("wife" because they are KGB spies posing as a married couple long term), Elizabeth (the wife) rebuffing him, and Philip kind of wining about 'but you're my wife!'. When I watched thought, I thought 'ew, gross dude, she's clearly not into you so keep your hands to yourself,' and that opinion was only strengthened when we find out that Elizabeth had been raped when she was in training back in Russia. I was thinking things like, it must suck to be Elizabeth, to experience this big trauma and never be able to just be left alone and not pawed at, I mean seriously. But, the way the pilot completed, it made me feel as if my reaction was unexpected because it certainly wasn't dealt with. When Elizabeth beats the shit out of the KGB officer who had raped her, and who they have now captured after he defected, I was expecting her to exact her revenge, or choose not to, but either way to have her moment of catharsis or closure. That was what would have happened if this was Elizabeth's story - but it's not, it's Philip's. So Elizabeth inexplicably gives up after the KGB officer apologizes for raping her back when, and hands everything over the Philip - do whatever you want, I don't care, turn us in to the FBI, make a deal, whatever. What was going on in her head to make her do this? Who knows! That's not the point - the point is that now Philip can kill the KGB officer for her. And once he's done that, *now* Elizabeth is impressed, now Elizabeth wants to have sex with him and to create the additional intimacy of telling him more about herself. And I realize, those earlier scenes where Elizabeth rebuffs Philip, I had read them wrong - they weren't about Elizabeth being skeeved on by her partner, they were about Philip being emasculated. His "wife" won't sleep with him! He can't stand up to the goon perving on his daughter! He is losing faith in the mission! But now, in a moment, he has become re-invigorated, and his wife wants him! He can beat the crap out of the goon! He is rededicated, and Elizabeth is his 'reward'. Because this isn't her story; it's Philip's. Which is depressing, but not really unusual. I suppose what's unusual was that I noticed it so clearly this time.

I'm going to keep watching, but I'm hoping that this becomes a bit more equitable, more both their stories instead of Philip's story with Elizabeth as supporting cast.


And I mean, I enjoyed, like, 80% of it. And I enjoyed that 80% a *LOT*. I was laughing, and then having Poignant/Serious Moments, and I think the movie did an exceptional job of blending the two, and also of having good dialogue. And I think the actors did a great job of selling that dialogue. Jennifer Lawrence, I still love every movie I've ever seen you in, good job keeping the streak alive! Whoever the main dude was, I liked you too! My enjoyment of 80% of this movie was intense. But then that last 20%...oh boy. I had Issues, okay? And Problems. Later on one of the people I saw the movie with said "well, I guess this provies it is possible to make a good romantic comedy," (and I've got to say, even though I'm not a big romcom person, I thought that was a bit snobby). My reaction to that comment is that, ok, I mostly enjoyed the movie, but for me personally, I kind of felt like it failed as a romcom? And now I feel I should really go behind a spoiler cut.  (ETA - Uh, now that I've vomited all of this onto the page, it has come to my attention that this is really very tl;dnr. Sorry about that, if there is anyone out there reading this).

Silver Linings Playbook spoiler cut!Collapse )

Gossip Girl finale

Well, Gossip Girl ended tonight.
Spoilers Collapse )
Oh Gossip Girl, you were a crazy show that thought wayyyy too much of itself. It hurts my heart that you got this huge send-off while Gilmore Girls went out with a whimper, and it hurts my head that I had to fastforward through a crapload of promos for the Sex and the City prequel (why is this a thing that needs to happen? Even I think Sex and the City is for my mother not me, and I'm, like, ten years older than the CW's demo). Still, I enjoyed the ride at least 40% of the time. 


Mar. 20th, 2012

It's interesting how different people talk about history. The first lecture-on-tape I heard that discussed the Gracchi brothers (Ancient Rome, if you need your memory jogged) portrayed the Gracchi as almost martyrs - they stood up for the common man against the oligarchical senate, and in response the senate flouted all the rules of democracy ever and beat Tiberius Gracchus to death with clubs in the street, using the flimsy excuse of 'he was making himself a king! You could tell because he was pointing at his head!'. The podcast I am listening to now also talked about the Gracchi brothers, but framed it much differently - according to podcaster, the Gracchi were right in that agrarian reform was desperately needed, but they overreached like crazy and were the beginning of the end of the Republic, and there's a line between the Gracchi and Julius Ceaser. 

So, you know, clearly I have to read more. Preferably historical fiction. Yay historical fiction.
So I've been reading Divergent from Veronica Roth. It's a YA dystopia, and people like to compare it to the Hunger Games. As I'm reading it it's all right, but I have one big spoilery issue.

Spoiler cutCollapse )

There are other things that bug me too, but I'll wait ti l finish the book to make up my mind about it all.
I finally saw the end of Friday Night Lights (for ALL TIME EVER), and I cried so much it was embarrassing. My eyes still hurt ~_~. Seriously, how is the show so damn good? I think it's the most successful kids-graduate-from-high-school style cast turnover; I wound up caring about Luke and Vince and Jess just as much as I cared about Matt and Jason and Smash, and that's a job well done.

March 2011 books - part 1!

I will attempt quick reviews/reactions to all my March books. This is probably a highly ill-conceived idea.

Title: Five Flavors of Dumb
Author: Antony John
Pages: 352
First Sentence: For the record, I wasn’t around the day they decided to become Dumb.

I loved this book. The protagonist is Piper, a deaf girl whose parents use her college fund to pay for a cochlear implant for her baby sister- a choice that is especially bitter for Piper because they did not pay for her to have the same cochlear implant as a child. Piper talks herself into the job as manager for Dumb, a rock band at her high school, in order to try and make back the money she will need for college. There was so much to love about this book. I love how Piper comes to view Dumb, and music in general, as something more than a means for a paycheck, even though she is deaf. I love how I, the reader, learn more about deafness and its many variations without ever feeling jarred out of the story. I especially love the way that Piper and the girls in Dumb come to understand each other and become friends, overcoming the fact that their high school niches (nerdy deaf Piper, angry punk Tash, pretty It girl Callie) seem to have them set out as natural enemies. Antony John really does a fantastic job making the character relationships complex and interesting, from Piper and Dumb, Piper and her family, and Piper and her best friend who moved away. I really cannot say enough good things about this book; I'm so glad that I bought it on a whim instead of getting it from the library, because that means I can reread it as much as I like.

Title: Hijas Americanas
Author: Rosie Molinary
Pages: 278
First Sentence: I never had Latina girlfriends growing up.

I picked this up on a whim since I've been meaning to read more nonfiction, and think I saw it mentioned on someone (Eva from A Striped Armchair?)'s library loot post. The author conducted interviews and compiled survey results from a wide range of Latin-American girls and women, and wrote this book to discuss her findings. It was interesting enough, but I didn't love it. I think maybe one of my problems was that the responses Molinary got were just so varied that she couldn't really tie them all together with a thesis more specific than 'the experience of Latin-American women is varied.' Which, okay, I knew that already. And I can't really fault her for keeping the focus so wide - I mean, I wouldn't want her to force a generic Latina Story on all these girls and women. Life is complicated and every individual's experience is different, and it is good to recognize that. But the result for me was that the book felt like I was just reading a summary of her research. I didn't get into any of these women's stories, and even though I know that the same women came up again and again, I honestly couldn't remember what they had said last time. The big exception to this were the portions of the book concentrating on Molinary's life. I feel a little silly saying this because I am remembering that when I read Once Upon a Quinceneara by Julia Alvarez I really hated all the random sections about Alvarez's life. I guess the difference is that Alvarez had a more focused topic, the Quinceneara, and when Molinary just talks about Latina life in America in general the book wants focus, and telling her own story gives it the necessary bounds and structure. So I guess I wish that Molinary had profiled a few different Latinas that she interviewed more completely to give the book greater structure and impact so that it didn't just feel like 'some Latinas think this! Or that! Or something entirely different! Moving on!'

Title: Summer of Shadows: A Murder, a Pennant Race, and the Twilight of the Best Location in the Nation
Author: Jonathan Knight
Pages: 446
First Sentence: The image of Cleveland, Ohio, as a great American city – one once known as “The Best Location in the Nation” – died at four minutes before noon on a cool, overcast Sunday morning in June.

I was pleased to 'win' a free copy of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program because I love Cleveland, and am always interested to read books that take place there or talk about its history. Summer of Shadows, which could be described as a nonfiction book about the summer of 1954 in Cleveland, had plenty of really fascinating information for me. I found the prologue about the infamous burning of the Cuyahoga River to be interesting and engaging history. The story of Dr. Sam Sheppard, a wealthy doctor accused of murdering his wife that summer in a police investigation driven in no small part by the press, was dramatic and, at times, even riveting. However, I hadn't realized the extent to which this is a sports book about the Indians and their bid for the pennant. Personally, I find baseball to be excruciatingly boring, and these sections of the book really dragged for me. Finally I started skimming over the baseball sections to concentrate on the Sheppard story and the general atmosphere of life in Cleveland in the 50s. I imagine that someone with a greater interest in baseball than I have would enjoy this a good deal more than I did. Even so, I still enjoyed the book overall as I found the non-baseball sections of the book truly interesting.

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Pages: 230
First Sentence: I was born with water on the brain.

I reread this book for my book club, having read it already some years ago. It was interesting because what I remembered about this book was that it dealt with a lot of tragic events, but was still amazingly funny. This time, the tragedy took much more center stage to me. I was also impressed all over again by the voice of Arnold; I love the kid, and I want him and his best friend both to just do well in their lives. Even though they are fictional. At any rate, the book holds up really well on re-reading.

Title: A Northern Light
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Pages: 383
First Sentence: When summer comes to the North Woods, time slows down.

Wow, who knew Jennifer Donnelly could do this! To explain, I associate Donnelly with her historical romances, The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose, which are great fun to read but kind of silly, and maybe a little bit trashy. When I picked up A Northern Light I was expecting more of the same, but was very pleasantly surprised. A Northern Light is the story of Mattie, an intelligent girl who lives in the Adirondacks during 1906. Her desire to educate herself and become an artist is countered by her feelings that she ought to stay and care for her family, and her desire for a neighbor boy who is romantically interested in her but does not understand why she would want to ever leave their home. The book does an excellent job exploring whether art is inherently incompatible with the family life Mattie is also drawn to, and of portraying both of Mattie's conflicting desires in a compelling way. I also appreciated Mattie's constant frustration that she felt great literature always was about important people or great cities, and was never about simple people like her and her community in the rural Adirondacks. All right, Jennifer Donnelly, count me as impressed.

Title: The Mockingbirds
Author: Daisy Whitney
Pages: 335
First Sentence: Three things I know this second: I have morning breath, I’m naked, and I’m waking up next to a boy I don’t know.

I have conflicted feelings about this book. It is essentially a story about date rape. As the book opens (and the first scene is really very compelling; I wasn't sure which book I wanted to read so I read the first page of a whole stack, and The Mockingbirds really grabbed me), Alex wakes up naked next to a stranger and comes to realize that she had had sex with this boy the night before, and doesn't remember any of it. Because the teachers of Alex's elite boarding school never believe that their students could possibly do anything wrong, Alex feels that she cannot go to them for help - instead she turns to the Mockingbirds, a secret student organization dedicated to policing the student body to prevent bullying and other unpleasantness. I had a couple of problems with the book. On the one hand, I didn't understand why Alex felt that school wouldn't take her seriously if she reported her rape. I mean, the book *says* 'oh the school would never buy it', but it left me wondering, why? The feeling I got was that the school was oblivious to wrong-doing, not that they chose to cover it up when it was reported. If there had been some character saying 'oh, so-and-so reported rape/bullying/whatever and the school told her to stop making up stories', or something to that effect, then I would understand why the Mockingbirds had to exist. As it was, I just kept feeling like the book hadn't done its due diligence showing why they need to operate outside the system this way. The whole vigilante-student-justice committee just rubs me the wrong way when I don't see why they can't go through the school. I also didn't understand why Alex wouldn't go to the police. I know that there are many reasons a rape victim feels she (or he) can't come forward - not wanting to admit that this could have happened, the trauma of reliving the experience, fear that no one would believe her/him, the feeling that everyone would be whispering about them, the pain of going to trial and being cross-examined about such an awful experience, the fear of retribution. But the thing was, going to the Mockingbirds didn't help Alex avoid *any* of that. So again - why operate outside the system? Why are the Mockingbirds better than the police? Was it just that Alex's main concern was keeping it from her parents? I felt like the book just didn't explore or explain this enough. And one last thing, under the spoiler cut.

spoilers for MockingbirdsCollapse )

In the end, I feel like there were really good aspects to the book, but on the whole Whitney was just trying to do too much.

And as I suspected, doing all of the March books in one go is a terrible idea. I am going to stop for the time being. ~_~