Sunday, December 27, 2015

Book Review: The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch (Volume One) by Daniel Kraus

My rating: 2.5/5

 From Amazon: "May 7, 1896.

"Dusk. A swaggering seventeen-year-old gangster named Zebulon Finch is gunned down by the shores of Lake Michigan. But after mere minutes in the void, he is mysteriously resurrected. ...

"Zebulon’s new existence begins as a sideshow attraction in a traveling medicine show. From there he will be poked and prodded by a scientist obsessed with mastering the secrets of death. He will fight in the trenches of World War I. He will run from his nightmares—and from poverty—in Depression-era New York City. And he will become the companion of the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.

"Love, hate, hope, and horror—Zebulon finds them. But will he ever find redemption?"

First of all, to Mr. Kraus if he should ever read this review: I love your work. Super love it. Scowler is one of my favorite books. I just didn't like this one.

Second, this was an advance readers copy obtained at a convention by a friend.

Third, I'll avoid them as much as I can, but I may describe some minor spoilers here.

I began reading this book back in July.  I have not read any books in between, and I'm both mortified and angry (at myself and it) for not having either finished or given up on this 600+-page tome earlier.  But by gød ( a convention in the book; please, no angry letters), I finished it on Christmas. And I'll keep it, because Daniel Kraus is one of my favorite authors and my friend got it signed for me and I think it's hilarious that the one autographed book I have from him is a book I pretty much hated. Irony is good; irony is for keeps.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

My rating: 4.75/5

From Amazon: "Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved."

I really loved this book. The shifting points of view confused me in the beginning, but I adjusted to it after a short while. Beloved herself continued to be confusing, but I think that has to be intentional, and it didn't take me out of the story. 

I haven't read any historical fiction for a while, and maybe that's partly why I enjoyed this so much. Without being too focused on details, it's an intimate look at slavery and its effects on human beings (sociological, physical, and psychological) and what it would have been like to survive it.  I can't say that I've seen or read anything else that put me right in the middle of this time period and really made me think and feel what slavery was like (though 12 Years a Slave does come close).  Nothing was overdramatized, which would have been easy to do. The reader has to deal with the events as they happen or are brought to light, right along with the book's characters. Nothing is drawn out for the sake of forcing or emphasizing how the reader should react. 

This book somewhat reminded me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, except that here every character was fleshed out enough to make them very real, even ones we never meet. And each one of the characters' viewpoints are made relatable. (Nothing against Castle; the townsfolk not seeming particularly real worked to develop the main character in that book; here, it works better to have each person made very real.) 

Due to the somewhat difficult writing style and some of the topics covered (rape, sex, death), I would recommend for high school and above. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Review: World of Trouble (The Last Policeman Series) by Ben H. Winters

My rating: 4.75/5

From Amazon: "With the doomsday asteroid looming, Detective Hank Palace has found sanctuary in the woods of New England, secure in a well-stocked safe house with other onetime members of the Concord police force. But with time ticking away before the asteroid makes landfall, Hank’s safety is only relative, and his only relative—his sister Nico—isn’t safe. Soon, it’s clear that there’s more than one earth-shattering revelation on the horizon, and it’s up to Hank to solve the puzzle before time runs out . . . for everyone."

The Last Policeman series is officially one of my favorites now.  This last installment was just as good as the first two.

Though I wanted to see more of the doomed Earth in the second book, I actually liked how this one took place mostly in one location.  It made sense, and the progression from the first book's wider view of the world to this one's much narrower one was nice.

The author is great at writing heartbreaking scenes, which again in this book brought me to tears.  And the ending... you couldn't ask for a better ending to this series.  It is beautiful.  And Hank is a beautiful person, in the face of tragedy and the unknown, both personal and shared, in how he reacts so honestly and cares so deeply.  People think he's weird, and he knows it and doesn't entirely understand it (which almost seems like autism), and I think that's a very relatable trait that many readers will understand, and that they don't get to see very often.  There's not much else I can say without spoiling anything, but I will say that each character is unique and realistic, and they act and react both predictably and unpredictably... just like real people, with logic and reason twisted in the face imminent death.

I do wish the chapter headings had included, instead of just the date, something like "2 months ago," so that it was easier to tell when it was a flashback.  It wasn't terribly difficult to understand, but I'm a forgetful reader and wouldn't remember the current date, so I'd have to flip back to another chapter to see where I was at time-wise.  Not a big deal though; I still loved the flow of the book.

Like the rest of the series, I'd recommend it for high school and older.  And I'm sad that the series is over, but I look forward to more writing from Ben Winters.

Movie Review: Divergent

My rating: 2.75/5

From Amazon: "Divergent is set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it's too late."

Long story short: I got bored.  Maybe it was because the movie followed what I remembered of the book well enough that I just wasn't surprised by anything, or maybe it was too slow.  Or both.  I do remember the book feeling very exciting, and the movie somehow doesn't bring that across. 

Unfortunately it tries to liven things up by mimicking Twilight's style of adding pop music to scenes that really don't need it (e.g., eating in the cafeteria). It was distracting to such a point that I'd turn to my husband and ask if one of the characters had turned on a radio and I missed it.  And Tris just doesn't come across as the strong person the book portrays her as. 

Seeing the movie did make the book's story seem more juvenile to me too and reaffirmed the fact that I don't care to read the rest of the series: She's special; she can't be put in a category like these other dopes! Dauntless is crazy-- they get tattoos and zipline! etc. 

I can't say the acting was terrible (not great, but not terrible), and there was nothing about it that was egregious, so I give it a 2.75. I can't quite bring myself to give it a full 3. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie Review: The Giver

My rating: 3/5

From IMDB: "In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the 'real' world."

I'll go ahead and out myself as holding The Giver on a very high pedestal as my favorite book of all time.  However, I generally don't care if movies don't precisely follow their book origins; I actually like differences, especially when a visual or aural style is used that couldn't really be expressed effectively in written word (or vice versa, if some faculty was used well in a book but couldn't possibly be expressed in a visual/auditory medium). So long as they make sense. 

This movie follows the book pretty well, but to a fault in my opinion. They could and should have left things out to leave more time for memory-sharing (which I thought was far too short before Jonas freaked). The whole thing in general also felt rushed, probably to try and pack as much as they could from the book into it, and there was far too much "telling-not-showing."  Every part that showed the audience what was going on rather than telling us was great.  For example, the ceremony, with all the different ages that being celebrated for different things, and Jonas's number being skipped.  That part was great.  Other parts though felt like unnecessary monologue and hand-holding, and this led to cheesiness that I never got from the book and seriously detracted from the movie.

Acting was very good, I don't have any complaints there.  I do wish they'd included the fact that "giving" a memory in turn makes the original memory-holder lose that memory, or at least only retain a very faded version of it.  This isn't addressed, and I feel like it was important and would have made Jonas's giving Gabe some of his memories more compelling and sacrificial than they seemed in the movie.  I also wish they'd shown more of the disdain for certain occupations, especially "birthmother;" the only time this is mentioned is when Asher hopes he doesn't get a waste-management position.  Personally I think it's important to show that, even though this is a "perfect" society, people still don't treat everyone exactly as equals.  

And then towards the end... did anybody else worry (like, a lot) about Gabe being seriously injured after the jump off the cliff on the motorcycle, and the fact that sometimes Jonas is carrying him only by his head? :-/

Overall though, it was still entertaining, and I did love how they showed memories in rapid succession sometimes, in extremely bright colors.  I also liked how they handled the color transition.  But a lot of things could have been done better I think, so I'll leave this at a solid 3.  Warning to those who are very squeamish: true to the book, there is a scene where a baby is put to death.  It's rightfully shocking, and makes this probably not a film for young kids.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Book Review: The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright

My rating: 4.5/5

"He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms."

Skilley the cat finds a sweet new gig for himself at the Cheshire Cheese tavern, where the finest cheese in all of England is made... and where they have a real problem with mice. Unfortunately for the Cheese's employees and patrons (a cadre that includes Charles Dickens himself), Skilley secretly hates the taste of mice. In fact... he prefers cheese.  Through some unusual friendships and not-so-unusual rivalries, Skilley and others learn about themselves, learn how to get along, learn what's important, and save the day (and even meet the Queen) in this smartly written young adult novel.

If you enjoy adding to your vocabulary (or your kids' vocabularies) in an easy-to-read manner a la Lemony Snicket, you should check out this book. It's a quick and entertaining read, even for adults.  The occasional artwork is nice too, and this could be a great introduction to Dickensian stories for a younger audience.

See also the book's website:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

My rating: 4/5. 

Succinctly from "When Tony Stark's world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution."

This was an exciting, entertaining movie, even with the one small complaint I have.  Unfortunately I can't fully describe that complaint without giving away a huge plot point, but I will say that the cheesiness of the Mandarin's television interruptions were never redeemed for me later in the movie, even though they were for my husband. I still found them cheesy and unbelievable, while he found them to make sense.  So, take from that what you will.  Otherwise I really enjoyed the movie, especially the exchanges between Stark and the boy. Loved that part.  I also appreciate when women are, at least sometimes, able to save themselves. We really don't see that often enough.