Friday, January 30, 2009

How to Ditch Your Fairy (by Justine Larbalestier)

A very cute YA book that I put on my wish list when John Scalzi mentioned it on his blog, and I subsequently got for Christmas. I loved the central concept (everyone has a personal, invisible fairy that brings them a very specific type of good luck, like the ability to find loose change), the main character, and the inventiveness of the storyline.

But... the subplot where Charlie gets "kidnapped" repeatedly by Danders Anders is really distressing to me. She doesn't want to get in this guy's car, and he physically forces her into his car. Then she doesn't report him, and keeps going along with it (at least SIXTEEN times) because he's bigger than she is, and because she thinks the school will protect him. And there's another guy there, who doesn't do anything about it either, and in fact is Danders's accomplice. I get the feeling that it's supposed to be lighthearted, but the subtext felt so deeply wrong to me. If a guy tries to force you to do something you don't want to do, YOU RAISE FUCKING HELL. Or, if you don't (not blaming the victim here), the author needs to make it clear that this behavior on Anders's part is evil.  As it stands, that is not a message I am comfortable with, at all. And I kept waiting for something to happen that would underline how deeply wrong it is, but nothing really did.

I had other minor nitpicks and felt like many of the plotlines didn't quite get resolved at the end. (Also, the school and New Avalon society are clearly draconian and insane but there's no fallout from that either.) I guess I wished she had gone in a different direction with the plot point mentioned above, and maybe fleshed out the end a little bit. It was very likeable, though. Which is probably not at all how this review reads. But it was!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Houston, We Have A Problema (by Gwendolyn Zepeda)

I haven't read Gwen's online writing, I don't think really ever, but I've heard her name for years and years. I liked the premise of this book (girl bases life decisions on advice from a fortune teller) and although I think that premise was not realized as fully as it could have been, I didn't mind, because I found the characters and story to be very engaging.

The story hinges on the main character, Jessica, who has conflicts with her career, with men, with her family, and even with her cultural identity. All the conflicts seem very plausible, and Jessica is easy to root for. Better than I was expecting, an enjoyable read, and I would absolutely recommend it to chick-lit fans!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cold Comfort Farm (by Stella Gibbons)

I always thought Cold Comfort Farm was a mental institution--possibly based on long-ago movie trailers? But it turns out it isn't! The novel seems to be a satirical comedy of manners, and there are some postmodern elements too (in an introduction, the author announces her intentions to put stars next to the best passages, which are laughably overwrought descriptions of scenery).

Of course the book wouldn't work if it was 100% satire and you didn't care about the eccentric cast of characters at all, and you do. They're just this side of totally ridiculous, and you do root for them in spite of yourself! Now I need to see the movie....

A little later, as she sat peacefully sewing, Adam came in from the yard. He wore, as a protection from the rain, a hat which had lost--in who knows what dim hintermath of time--the usual attributes of shape, colour, and size, and those more subtle race-memory associations which identify hats as hats, and now resembled some obscure natural growth, some moss or sponge or fungus, which had attached itself to a host." (Page 80)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Assassination Vacation (by Sarah Vowell)

I got this book for Christmas from La Wade and was very excited about it, as I, like Sarah Vowell, really like going to see morbid things like the mummified hand in St. James Church in Prague or Lizzie Borden's house. And I wasn't disappointed in this, loosely a memoir about visiting various relics and sites associated with the assassinations of McKinley, Garfield, and Lincoln. (Weirdly, I started reading it right after I'd visited the assassination site of JFK.)

I think the words "discursive" and "erudite" are on the cover, but they still apply perfectly, so I will steal them! I wanted this book to go into more depth, to be twice as long, to talk more specifically about (for instance) how Garfield died (since they thought he was going to live) and maybe venture into the assassination of Kennedy, since he was on my mind at the time. I also found the sporadic railing against the Bush administration almost anachronistic---I mean, I certainly agree with her, but the Obama Age seems like a whole new world in many ways, and it no longer seems to apply.

All that being said, I found it charming. And I hope one day that Sarah Vowell will take me on vacation with her. Sarah, if you want to go visit morbid shit, call me!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (by Amanda Foreman)

Not as can't-put-down-able as any given book by Antonia Fraser (who, as I said below, is my high watermark for historical nonfiction) but still a fascinating look into the life of the Duchess of Devonshire. I of course was curious after seeing the Keira Knightley movie as to the "real" story behind the film, and I wasn't disappointed---lots more detail about her role in fashion, politics, culture, and her strange personal life.

The biggest problem for me was that I liked the personal stuff more than the political stuff, and there was a LOT about Whig politics in here. Then when the book ended, I wanted to know: what happened with George III? What happened with the Prince of Wales? I mean obviously, that's what Wikipedia is for. But I thought the focus was a little too narrow at the end, and didn't place Georgiana's life and times into the larger context as effectively as it could have.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Lady Elizabeth (by Allison Weir)

I picked this up in another airport, I think, hoping for another Boleyn Girl only with more historical accuracy, given that Weir is an historian. Well, it did have some interesting historical detail and some speculation based on historical rumor, but not nearly as good as nonfiction about the period (especially Antonia Fraser's, which is my high watermark for historical nonfiction).

Plus, there was some super clunky writing! I even marked a page so I could copy it down for you. A friend and I had just been talking about the whole "...she exclaimed happily," "he sighed sadly," "she chirped perkily," speech markers thing, so I was hyper-aware of it. It was bad though, she couldn't help but notice unfortunately.
"Fret not," Kat soothed, taking her hand...
"Oh, I am so relieved!" Elizabeth exclaimed.
"You know I could never leave you," Kat declared fervently..."The King has constented to me marying in the Chapel Royal," she went on excitedly....
"As long as you promise to stay with me, Kat," Elizabeth said graciously. "And as long as I can be your bride-maid!"
"Of course!" cried Kat, ebullient with happiness."
"I shall have to have a new gown," Elizabeth reminded her.
"Naturally!" Kat enthused.

See what I mean?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cruddy (by Lynda Barry)

Leant to me by my friend Annie, who knew I was familiar with Barry's Marlys comics. (I remembered reading them in L.A. Weekly.) I gather that Cruddy got a lot of attention when it first came out a number of years back; according to the cover, it made Entertainment Weekly's best books of the year list, whenever that was. (Notice I am too lazy to just Google it, already.)

Since it's labeled as "an illustrated novel" I expected more illustrations; there really aren't a ton, and I think there are more in Alexie's Teenage Indian book. What there are did add some zest to the text, but the prose really stands on its own. It's a fantastic book--dark, gruesome, gripping, and blackly comic. I guess it's a "YA" in that the protagonist is a young adult, but it deals with some heavy themes in a sophisticated way.

From the first paragraph, the narrator's voice sucks you in, and doesn't let go until the end. I read this on a plane, and I was happy when the plane ride lasted long enough to let me finish it. A fantastic read.