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Monday, February 27, 2017

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Official Book Summary:
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth. 
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

I went back and forth on the review for this. This is one of those novels where I was torn between mild enjoyment and extreme dissatisfaction. Granted, I will admit that I had heard so many rave reviews that I excepted something brilliant. I didn’t technically hate this book, or even dislike this book, but I didn’t love it.

So — after some serious thought, I decided I rate this a solid 2.5. It’s not quite a 3 (likable; even likely to reread), but it’s also not a 2 (dislikable; impossible to read again). This is one of those ‘okay’ novels for me.

The narrator, Cadence, is from a wealthy WASP family. She’s part of a group called ‘The Liars’ which includes her, her two cousins Johnny and Mirren and Gat. Out of these four, I only found myself interested in Gat.

Mirren, Johnny, and Cadence are embodiments of long standing Anglo-Saxon old-money. In contrast: Gat is poor and Indian.

Gat — while technically accepted into the Liars — is not ‘truly’ accepted. Cadence’s grandfather shows a distaste for him; a mixture of financial and racially charged reasons. Gat is hyper aware of his status. He’s also smart and highly self-aware. Out of all the characters, I found Gat the most interesting.

I honestly would’ve preferred a book from Gat’s perspective rather than Cadence’s. I thought Gat was a wonderful character. He was smart; socially, culturally, and book-wise. Yet instead of focusing on these wonderful attributes, Cadence just discusses his looks and rambles on aimlessly if he 'loves' her. Cadence's love of Gat often reads more like an obsession or infatuation.

Cadence is not a narrator that I can find myself enjoying. She’s highly dramatic, sheltered form reality, and lacks any self-awareness. While she positions herself as someone who is better than her relatives, she is honestly no less privileged; either mentally or financially. She shows disinterest to the ‘help’ and often lacks the ability to comprehend what Gat is saying in reference to his outsider status.

I think Lockhart was framing Cadence and Gat as Heathcliff and Catherine. Let me preface: Wuthering Heights is my favorite novel. Now with that knowledge, I am not a fan of Catherine. However, may I add, she’s interesting. She’s selfish, self-absorbed, and even spiteful — but she’s captivating. And despite Catherine's perpetual selfishness, she's self-assured and even understandable to the reader.

Cadence is none of these things. For instance: she decides to give away everything in her room. I suppose this is an act of rebellion against her wealth; a figurative way of saying, "I am not ONE of THOSE wealthy people!" Instead it reads as laughable.

Cadence encompasses the worst of Catherine — the obliviousness to others, the obsessiveness, and even the the natural pompousness that status affords. Except she’s not interesting to me. Nor am I relating to her. Catherine can make you relate; make you feel. Heathcliff also possesses this ability, even as a ‘heinous villain’ in the second half of the novel. The same with Heathcliff and Catherine. Even if you think their 'love' is crazed, frenzied and abusively charged (as many readers feel): it's undeniable that Heathcliff and Catherine both feel passionately towards one another.

If Gat and Cadence are supposed to be Catherine and Heathcliff, I dare say that there's zero passion. Even as a girl, Catherine was aware of how different Heathcliff was treated. Where's Cadence self-awareness to this matter in regards to Gat?

Why did I feel such a lack of connection to Cadence? I think is mostly the narration itself and the prose used.

Let me grab a quote from the book, so you can see what I mean by the sheer absurdness of it.

“Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,

then from my eyes,

my ears,

my mouth.”

You may read this and think, “Oh my goodness! She’s shot! Is she dying? Is she alright?” To answer your question: she’s fine. Cadence is merely describing how she feels. Yes, I am not writing in jest. This is an actual description of her feelings. This is a keen example of how difficult it is to like her.

Purple prose is not something I enjoy. I hated the indentations, half completed sentences and ridiculous usage of figurative speaking.

Not only was Cadence unlikable, she was unreliable. I won’t address the ending which has been discussed a lot. However, I will add that the ending didn’t wrap things up for me. It only made Cadence more unreliable.

So suffice to say, I was not particularly enamored by this. I found Cadence’s cousins to be as likable as she was. Nor was I interested in Harris (the patriarch) who manipulated his family with sociopathic precision. While, I will self-admittedly say, I did find the dynamics of a wealthy WASPY family to be interesting. I have always found a certain type of fascination for the colossal wealthy. The Sinclair family is not only immensely wealthy, but immensely dysfunctional.

Except this novel spent more time on its migraine inducing purple prose instead of actually following a plot-line. Or even focusing on interesting things — such as the family dynamics, the of classism, Gat, etc.

So in short: I didn’t hate this book. I wouldn’t say I liked this book… but there were parts I wanted more of; particularly Gat! If you’re able to tolerate the odd purple pose and the narrator than I think you may enjoy it — or at least feel like I did that it’s an ‘alright’ book. Most of my distaste for the book comes from Cadence and Lockhart’s purple pose. I also found the ‘plot-twist’ to be less thrilling and more-so… weird and not particularly sensible in regards to the entire book’s plot.

This is one of those books that I won’t ever read again, but don’t feel like I wasted my time reading it. I’m curious what Lockhart will write in the future. Hopefully, if she writes anything that I deem interesting that she’ll retire her usage of purple pose.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

And A Voice to Sing With: A Memoir by Joan Baez

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Official Book Summary:

The perfect time for a reissue: In October 2009, PBS will air a ninety-minute primetime special on Joan Baez as part of the Emmy Award-winning American Masters series. Told often from Baez's perspective, but supported by a rich performance and historical archive, the documentary centers on her career as a musician, power as an artist, those who influenced her, and those she championed. She will also be on a 27-city U.S. tour starting July 2009 . . . A musical force and a catalyst for social change: At the age of eighteen Baez was an international star with a Time magazine cover story; fifty years later she has thirty-three albums to her credit. She also marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., was jailed for supporting the draft resistance, and sang in the first Amnesty International tour. An extraordinary woman who has led an eventful life, Baez's memoir is as honest, unpretentious, and courageous as she is.

Joan Baez has been a long time fascination to me. I discovered Baez through Bob Dylan. Of course, I craved to know more about a woman who meant so much to my most very favorite, dear and special musician.

I soon was captivated by her voice; soprano, lucid and unlike any other musician that I know of. Through online research, I learned quite a bit about her. I had always admired her passions; especially for her campaigns for human justice. Throughout the years, I've followed her on social media and watched her 75th birthday celebration on PBS. I've been a fan at this point now for quite a few years. 

Somehow until a few days before buying this, I was unaware that she had written an auto-biography! I was stunned. I knew I immediately needed to read it. 

Baez’s voice in this memoir is raw. There’s no self-editing; she’s honest about her flaws, her insecurities and doesn’t try to paint her life as a beautiful photo without smudging. 

She’s honest not only about herself, but others. I was fascinated by so much of it. She talks about Dylan’s issues (for instance) and the issues within her own family. She is brutally, — yet gently — honest. I think it may be one of the rawest and honest auto-biographies that I’ve read.

I admire how she hadn’t tried to filter herself or her story. She speaks of her childhood until her age at writing the novel. It fascinated me. She has one of those writing tones that make you feel as if you're  there with  her. 

You’re singing on-stage with her; you’re marching for human’s rights! You're performing on-stage with thousands of fans; you're trying to survive a bombing in Vietnam! Baez's emotions fall out of every word. It's without question that Baez possess a magnitude of many deep emotions for everything; it radiates out of not only her writing, but her life story. F

rom the rich illustrations of her eclectic wardrobe to the sweet sentiments of her son; it's absolutely lovely. 

While I do admit that the novel can seem almost long-winded at times. That's mostly why I rate this as a four star book. It just seemed at times so long-winded that it was hard to continue on. 

Despite that, I was captivated for majority of the book. It was easily one of the best memoirs that I’ve read.Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t think anything less than a brilliant book when it comes to Joan Baez. If you have any interest in folk, the sixties and or seventies, or a deep love of Dylan (such as myself): I cannot recommend this enough! 

Rainbow and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Official Book Summary:

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I'm not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we're 16. 
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I'm not kidding, he says.
You should be. 
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you'll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under.
Eleanor is a curly haired redhead with a strange sense of fashion. She's also poor, lives in an abusive home and has two emotionally abusive parents. Besides her abusive biological parents, her step-father is also extremely abusive; both verbally and physically.

Park is biracial; his mom is from Korea and his dad is a tough war veteran. He likes indie music. He also only wears black and is one of the few non-white kids in the neighborhood. In short: Park and Eleanor are both atypical, both 'others' and both seemingly misplaced.

I guess you could call it fate when Eleanor and Park end up sharing a bus seat; quickly morphing from strangers who irritate one another, to kind of friends who hold hands and share music to dating one another.

I feel like this is one of those books that I liked, but definitely didn't love. The parts that annoyed me really annoyed me. Such as the random grammatical errors which I found distracting (iE, the wrong amount of periods in the ellipses or the half completed sentences, etc). 

The quick shift in the relationship that happened between Park and Eleanor was irritating to me, too, as I was reading it. I think the alternating POVS -- as well as the writing style -- made it hard for me to connect to the characters.

I did like that Eleanor was plus sized. We need more plus-sized characters, especially in YA. The same way that I enjoyed that Park was biracial. I think diversity is important! I think it was interesting to see their lives juxtaposition since they both were unlike their peers in a lot of ways. Park wasn't white, Eleanor was poor, etc.

I felt that the novel danced around a lot of issues. For example: Park expresses issues with his body because he's Korean. It's a topic that really is interesting because there's a huge focus to be blonde, have blue eyes, etc. There's a huge focus to be the most attractive, but there's a very one-sided view of attractiveness in America. But after Eleanor says that are in fact hot Asian guys (she uses Bruce Lee as an example), it's completely forgotten.

Even though Eleanor is poor, why does it never come up except in passing? I don't think that the author was trying to dance around the issues necessarily. 

I think it was more so that there was just so much going on plot-wise that it was hard to accurately address every issue. I loved how the issues were raised (how often do we see male hero bring up body issues?) but I felt like they never got their conclusion.

Honestly the most frustrating thing to me was the ending. One of the reasons why I did enjoy "Eleanor and Park" was because it did feel real. I could really see Eleanor escaping her abusive home with her new relationship and Park struggling with what it meant to be "Korean." 

It really did remind me of what it felt like to be so mesmerized by somebody that you can't believe they're real.

But the ending? I have a hard time believing that Park's father would allow him and his fifteen year old girlfriend to drive numerous states away to bring her to her uncle's house. Just process for that for a minute: their sure fire plan is to drive to Eleanor's uncle's house when Eleanor hasn't even double-checked that her uncle still lives there or is okay with her staying there. 

I felt bad that Eleanor didn't think of her siblings, but I understand that she's just a kid too. The siblings, I can understand. However, not calling her uncle? It's the 1980s, not the 1890s! Telephones exist!

Mostly I was just blown away at Park's parents for not being actual parents in this situation. I could see if it Park and Eleanor ran away together (without consent) to her uncle's, but the fact that Park's dad knew was so frustrating. I was also so mad, too, for Park being angry that Eleanor fell asleep. 

I was also upset that Eleanor never returned any letters or notes. Even if she just wrote a letter that said, "Park, I can't handle long distance relationships. Let's break up." The idea of just stringing the relationship without closure was so scary. I also found it totally OOC for Park's parents to be okay with this.

I don't think I will ever reread this, but I am looking forward to reading "Fangirl."

Even though I didn't see the loving devotion that it gets, I definitely see why people liked it. I may sound critical, but I genuinely did like it. It's just not what I was excepting. To me, it wasn't an outstanding YA novel. 

However, it was a nice read, despite my issues with it. I think this could have much, much more -- if it was executed differently. Despite it, I'm looking forward to Rowell's other works.

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

My Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars.

Official Book Summary:
Davey has never felt so alone in her life. Her father is dead—shot in a holdup—and now her mother is moving the family to New Mexico to try to recover.

Climbing in the Los Alamos canyon, Davey meets the mysterious Wolf, who can read Davey’s “sad eyes.”

Wolf is the only person who seems to understand the rage and fear Davey feels.

Slowly, with Wolf’s help, Davey realizes that she must get on with her life. But when will she be ready to leave the past behind and move toward the future? Will she ever stop hurting?

Davey is fifteen, an Atlantic City native and in most ways is a typical teenaged girl. Until the night  that her father is fatally shot at his 7-11 by burglars.

Suddenly, she’s fatherless and living in great distress by the sudden and violent oriented loss of her father. 

Davey, her mother and her younger brother and leave to take a ‘vacation’ to her aunt and uncle’s home in New Mexico. 

However as Davey’s mother’s depression worsens, it becomes decided that the family will be staying for the school-year. 

She’s no longer surrounded by the beach, her best friend or her boyfriend  Hugh. Davey also actively misses her father.

This book weaves loss with expert precision. It shows how loss, especially sudden grief, is not easy. It explores what it looks like to have a mother experience intensive and acute depression, to fight through haunting memories, to helping your friend’s alcohol issues or what it looks  to overcome fears.

Davey meets ‘Wolf’ (as he calls himself) during hiking. Her aunt and uncle who are afraid of everything are not knowledgeable of Davey’s hiking adventures. Davey and Wolf have an interesting connection. I would’ve love for the book to delve more into Wolf; not events a romantic sense. It just felt that there was so much more there; not just in Wolf, but also Davey  herself. I think that’s what made me only rate this book a three. It felt that there was so much more of a story to tell. 

 While her interactions with Wolf are on the minimal side, Davey finds peace again. With not only herself, but with her family — especially with  the loss of her father.  I think what I found most poignant was when Davey finally confronts her worst fear: the night that her father was shot. When she buried the clothing that she was wearing that night which were covered in her father’s blood, I found it really profound. 

While I didn’t think the ending was the best, I did enjoy that the family is shown to prosper, despite the loss.  

I think this is definitely one of  the much better books that I’ve read in the YA genre on death. It’s raw, realistic and doesn’t promote the idea that ‘true love’ will heal loss. The latter happens to be a very common YA trope that I find so irritable to read. 

I wish, however, that Blume had given a follow-up to this novel. Not for an ending for Wolf and Davey, but just to explore how much felt missing throughout the novel to me. 

Overall, I did enjoy it! Granted, I do find faults in the seemingly blankness that seems  to exist in the book. However, I did find it really enjoyable and enjoy the writing style. If you’re in the mood for a YA novel that deals with deeper issues — such as loss, depression, teenaged alcoholism, et.c — than I would definitely recommend it.