The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

Turtleback Books, 2003, 244 pages

Turtleback Books, 2003, 244 pages

After many, many weeks hiatus, another girly review to show the world I’m still alive and kicking (though unfortunately not reading all that much). I read this book a while ago, wrote a review, then promptly forgot to post it. Oh well, that goes to show how important it is for you dear readers to subscribe, doesn’t it?

It should surprise no one that I chose this book solely on the title. Still, it’s worth noting that this hilarious novel is also a Printz Award winner. Thankfully it lived up to my high expectations! It was every bit the girly, smart, and funny book I wanted it to be.

Virginia Shreves is our fifteen-year-old narrator, sadly characterized mostly by her weight. Virginia lives by her own “Fat Girl Code of Conduct”, which basically dictates how she interacts with the opposite sex (i.e. poorly). I felt sorry for Virginia in the first half of the book. It seems like everything in her life is working against her self-esteem: her best friend has moved away, her exercise-obsessed mom is unsupportive and undercutting, and her siblings are absent. Self-hatred saturates the first part of this book, and in such a real, believable way. The fact that it is the true inner voice of so many girls out there today is what made parts of this book really quite disturbing. There’s my warning.

The flip side of that, however, was Mackler’s ability to add wit and irreverent humour to every aspect of the story. While it touches on really serious subjects, it does so in the best way possible. It’s truthful, but it isn’t brutal.

Virginia’s real coming of age takes place through a shocking family event that rocks her world. Rather than watching it ruin her, the reader gets to see a journey toward self-actualization that is truly beautiful. I can’t say I was on the same page as Virginia the whole time – along with finding her voice and being able to stand up for herself she adopts somewhat of a silver tongue, for example – but I think that contributes to the realness of the novel. Teenagers are like that, and even the “nice girl” can’t always be super gracious.  The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is a genuine portrait of teenaged girl-dom, and I really really liked it.

Paper Towns by John Green

Speak, 2009, 305 pages (hardcover)

Speak, 2009, 305 pages (hardcover)

In the John Green hierarchy of book awesomeness, it is with a heavy heart that I’m actually able to call Paper Towns my least favourite. I still give it a 3 out of 5, but I was expecting something between a 4 or a 5. Maybe my expectations were too high, as it took me a good two years to get my hands on a copy. Maybe it’s because I’ve read literally all of John Green’s books and this felt like (don’t shoot me) more of the same.

This time around, Margo Roth Spiegelman is the unattainable girl that our first-person-narrated hero loves from afar. And when she disappears (not unlike Alaska in Looking for Alaska) the hero spends two hundred pages learning she’s not this carefree manic pixie dreamgirl (not unlike Looking for Alaska). Turns out Margo is a real girl with real problems. Nearing the end of the book comes the philosophical discussion that indefinitely confronts our protagonists’ deep-seated need to make a lasting difference in the universe (not unlike any of Green’s novels).

Okay, so I’m really poking fun here. Every author has a niche, and all I’m saying is I’m on to Green. I still think he’s the greatest living young adult author out there, because his writing is that good, and his humour is without fail. Sometimes I feel like his characters’ horniness-to-intelligence ratio is whack (in that they always seem to score pretty high on both) – but then I really know nothing about what it’s like to be a teenage boy. Paper Towns lost me in its last few pages, when [spoiler alert! highlight to read!] the romantic end felt more obligatory than necessary.

Still, for a light-hearted mystery, this fit the bill for a summer read.

AND NOW…

The John Green Hierarchy of Book Awesomeness (In My Humble Opinion)*:

1. The Fault in Our Stars (6 out of 5 stars and I can never read it again or the lack of newness will drop this score to a mere 5)

2. An Abundance of Katherines (4 out of 5 stars)

3. Looking for Alaska (4 out of 5 stars)

4. Will Greyson, Will Greyson (4 out of 5 stars)

5. Paper Towns (3 out of 5 stars, which is still a pass)

*I haven’t read Let it Snow or Zombicorns, neither of which I’d count as a true novel anyway….

Any thoughts? Agree, disagree? What does your list look like? Sound off below!

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? For this novel I certainly did.

The gorgeous photo of  Manarola, a city belonging to the infamous and spellbinding Cinque Terre, is what did me in. I was lucky enough to travel to the Cinque Terre last summer and so seeing such a beautiful image made me want to read the book.

In reality this book had nothing to do with the Cinque Terre. Talk about misleading!

The novel jumps from time period to time period (I’m really getting tired of this style) and is basically about a young man from Italy who lives in a small town close to the Cinque Terre (but never actually goes there) and his love for a mysterious American movie star who has arrived in his town to die of cancer. Back in America an old washed-up producer is trying to find his next big hit. Somehow the Italian man and the American man are acquainted and bond. And that’s about it.

Throughout the novel I felt as if it was leading up to an unwinding mystery. But no, there was no mystery and the book really didn’t build up to anything. The characters did not develop because each new chapter took place in a different decade. The characters were difficult to relate to. Nobody fell in love. And in the end, the resolution was neither interesting nor satisfying.

As I write this review I get more and more frustrated that I allowed myself to struggle through the novel for over 2 months. I should have quit the first time I put it down, just after a few pages, not to pick it up for another few weeks! Sometimes it is a sign that a book isn’t worth it if it isn’t devoured within the first or second week!

Moral of the story – don’t judge a book by it’s cover! I did and guess what? I now have 2 months of reading time that I can never have back!

Question: What’s one book that you wish you never read?

– Natasha

And now for a shameless plug: read about my time in the Cinque Terre (where I was in reality, not just in imagination) on my travel blog: www.arestlessnomad.wordpress.com!

If I Stay, Gayle Forman

Dutton Juvenile, 2009, 201 pages (hardcover)

It’s a regular Monday night and I’m just wising up to the fact that I still run a blog. Sorry if it hasn’t felt that way – life can sometimes change in an instant, for better or for worse. Priorities tend to shift in those moments. Which is a good lead-in for this latest review!

If I Stay follows an intriguing premise. A shy, cello-playing seventeen-year-old named Mia has just barely survived a car crash. One second she’s riding along with her family, and the next, she’s watching the wreckage from across the street. What follows are her lengthy out-of-body observations en route to and inside the hospital, while her body remains in its coma.

While I like the concept and appreciated a truly unique first-person perspective, I’ve concluded that this novel is overrated. Hand it to an eleven-year-old girl with a romantic streak and she’ll probably say it’s the saddest book ever. Truth is, while it’s got its definitive sad moments (those come with the territory), the plot for me actually wore a little thin. The bulk of the novel is shaped from flashbacks to happier times. Sure, this is about the only way to lengthen any book with a comatose protagonist, but I actually thought a lot of the dialogue and exchanges between Mia and her boyfriend Adam, and Mia and her parents felt unrealistic. I also felt the author overselling the irony of it all. The foreshadowing was too obvious and as a result took on this “see how profound this is?” quality that I didn’t love.

All this said, I think Forman has a talent for keeping her readers turning pages, and I’d happily read the follow-up novel (Where She Went) if it were to fall in my hands. I’m also pretty excited to see the movie, which is supposedly slated for this December. I have a feeling a lot of what this book is will work better on screen.

Wedding Night, Sophie Kinsella

Wedding-Night-coverI love Sophie Kinsella despite the fact that she can be a hit or miss. Her hits are just that good (for me). Wedding Night, her 2013 release, is unfortunately a miss.

Older sis Fliss always looks after Lottie, and when Lottie breaks up with her long-time boyfriend, Richard, she is ready for one of Lottie’s Unfortunate Choices; rash decisions Lottie always makes after a break-up (like a bad tattoo, or joining a cult). But even Fliss is surprised when Lottie elopes with an old beau, and she is determined to prevent them from consummating the marriage, which would disallow the possibility of an annulment. Fliss teams up with best man, Lorcan, and together with Richard, who is now determined to win Lottie back, and her son, Noah, they plan to break up the marriage, traveling to the Honeymoon destination Ikonos, and teaming up with hotel staff to create the worst honeymoon ever.

So the book is a little insane, and there is not much else to redeem it. The comedy fell flat and the romance was far from compelling. Rarely do I have so little good to say about a book, but it’s looking like this will be a pretty short review. I’m always baffled by the roller coaster of Kinsella’s works. Her 2012 release, I’ve Got Your Number is one of my favourites of Kinsella’s, and of the entire chick lit genre. Wedding Night was far too easy to put down, and a burden to finish.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013, 310 pages (hardcover)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was that book I saw everywhere. I became curious, enough to read the synopsis. It was annoyingly vague. I knew I was in for some sort of family drama (possibly involving monkeys?) but – hoping it’d be nothing like When God was a Rabbit – this was enough for me to take the plunge. In this case, it was worth it! I was delivered all the heartfelt, realistic and zany family dynamics I’m always in the market for, plus I acquired a new favourite author!

I would explain Completely Beside Ourselves as Rosemary Cooke’s journey toward self-actualization. What we know about her from the beginning is that she used to talk incessantly. She also used to be part of a well-oiled and functioning household, alive with trouble-making siblings, an active mom, and a clever psychologist father. Fast forward several years and something has happened to upend all of it. Rosemary’s mom is lackluster, her dad an amorphous presence on the sidelines of her life, her brother a rogue domestic terrorist wanted by the government, and she, at the centre of it all, has gone silent. What the novel does is suspensefully walk us through events preceding and following the mysterious event – we quickly learn it has something to do with her sister, Fern – that changed everything. Clues are dropped here and there, but nothing will prepare the reader for what’s coming.

Fowler takes a really distinct approach to words that I quite enjoy. Her observations about life are either poignant or droll, and often both. She excels at holding off important information until the moment it will have maximum emotional impact. Probably because her own father was a psychologist who studied learning behaviours in animals, that’s something I found this book did really well in exploring. It boasts a lot of psychology, raising important questions about animal rights, our human relationships with animals, and the myriad implications. All I can do is highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in animals or behaviorism. That, and get my hands on another Fowler novel ASAP.

The Spectacular Now, Tim Tharp

Directed by James Ponsoldt.

This book has got a lot of hype thanks to the movie version, which came out on DVD last week. Before saying anything about the film, however, I’m going to first tackle the novel.

I enjoyed reading The Spectacular Now. Party boy Sutter Keely offers some of the most interesting and believable narration I’ve read from a first-person teen novel in a while. The book starts with Sutter’s girlfriend, Cassidy, breaking up with him, to which his response is a new goal to win her back. Somewhere along the way, however, he crosses paths with Aimee, a sweet but naive and (let’s admit it) somewhat dorky classmate. Pretty soon it’s as if they’re dating, and after a while it’s official. 

Before I go further into plot, I need to explain a thing or two about Sutter. He drinks – a lot. And then he goes driving. Often he drinks while driving. He’s also clearly hung up on Cassidy for a good half of the book, a crush that overlaps well into his relationship with Aimee. While it can’t be said that Sutter treats her badly, his opinion of Aimee is rarely romantic. He leads her on quite a bit, and for a time it seems as though he’s only dating her out of pity.

Yet here’s the thing: on top of all this, Sutter comes out likeable. I would never want my [nonexistent] daughter to hang out with him, but yeah, the boy’s got charisma. That said, a lot of people will disagree with me. My friend Annie wrote the following:

This is like the modern Catcher in the Rye, which, from me, is not a compliment. Sutter and Holden share the same unlikeableness, arrogance, and ultimate stagnancy that was pretty horrifying to read.

The arc of this book was frustrating. For a book of this caliber (not top) and because of the hype and the forthcoming movie adaptation, I was assuming…that there would be closure of some sort at the end. There wasn’t. I was frustrated. I only kept reading because I thought some comeuppance was coming to Sutter, but it didn’t (not really, not satisfactorily).

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008, 294 (hardcover)

Strangely, it seems the very things some people don’t like about The Spectacular Now are what I loved about it.  While it’s easy to think him an idiot for driving drunk most of the book, it’s also easy to feel worried for him. Sutter is neither hero nor villain, because he rides the line between them. The end of the book is frustrating, but I thought it ended the most likely way it could have. And realism is what the movie is currently being praised for. Everything from the script, to the actors’ performances, to the quality of their adolescent skin is beautifully and shockingly real. Slight changes were made to the end of the story, which might placate those who were angered by the book. Not only does the movie allude to a more satisfying end, it also shows the definite beginning of Sutter’s self-improvement.

While this novel lots of mature content, it’s a great exploration of an everyday, middle-class, non-future-dystopian-society teen, with problems that are relevant to every teen of that description. I recognized every character as someone I myself went to high school with, and I think there’s something special about that. Like The Catcher in the Rye, I believe The Spectacular Now has the sort of timeless quality of a novel that will still be pertinent fifty years from now.

Another Non-Fiction Book From Kaite on the Friday 56

the-friday-56Hosted by Freda’s Voice, The Friday 56 follows these simple rules:Brysons Dictionary

  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
  • Find any sentence (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  • Post it.

Not that I’m trying to bore you readers to tears, but my current read is, yet again, of polarizing interest to the lovers of literature. Bill Bryson, one of my favourite authors, wrote this 2002 book after his experience as a copy editor for the London Times. Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words provides real examples of the many times writers fall into the numerous traps the English language. Full of misused, misunderstood, or misquoted words or phrases, Bryson’s book is full of interesting tidbits, and provides clarity for many.

decimate. Literally the word means to reduce by a tenth (from the ancient practice of punishing the mutinous or cowardly by killing every tenth man). By extension it may be used to describe the inflicting of heavy damage, but it should never be used to denote annihilation, as in this memorably excruciating sentence cited by Fowler: “Dick, hotly pursue by the scalp-hunter, turned in his saddle, fired and literally decimated his opponent.” Equally to be avoided are contexts in which the word’s use is clearly inconsistent with its literal meaning, as in “Frost decimated an estimated 80 percent of the crops.””

Excruciating!

Happy Reading,
Kaite

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a review. To be honest it’s been even longer that I’ve actually gotten through a good book!

A still from the 2005 Rob Marshall film.

I watched the movie adaption of “Memoirs of a Geisha” years ago. I remember thinking that it was a beautifully filmed movie and that I really enjoyed watching the special features to find out how the movie was made. I couldn’t remember much of the story line though, and so when I read the novel it was completely new to me.

The novel is set in Japan before and after WWII and tells the story of Chiyo Sakamoto, a young girl from a poor fishing village. She is sold by her father at the age of 9 to an okiya (geisha boarding house) where we learn about her journey to become a geisha and all that happens in between.

The art of being a geisha was completely unfamiliar to me. In fact, I didn’t really understand what a geisha actually was before reading the book. Becoming a geisha is an extremely difficult, emotional, and important process that requires years of training in order to succeed. Geishas lead unique lives in which they are judged based on what they look like, how they act, and most importantly, how they are able to interact with men. Through their interactions with men their path of life is determined a success or a failure, leading them towards the future.

Vintage, 1998, 428 pages (paperback)

It is clear that Golden did a lot of research in for this novel. Furthermore, he is an eloquent and captivating author. Through his research he was able to convey scenes with amazing clarity and emotion, making the book come to life in the process.

WWII history is one of the genres I enjoy reading about most but I always seem to read about WWII from a European perspective. Although “Memoirs of a Geisha” isn’t exclusively about WWII, it is interesting to read about the impact of WWII from a Japanese perspective. It was also interesting to read about Japanese culture, history, and daily life, something that I wasn’t familiar with before reading the book.

Now that I’ve finished the book I’m looking forward to watching the movie once more. The book was interesting, moving, and informative and I hope that this is portrayed well in the film. It’s one book that I would highly recommend. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read all year!

Books I Need to Read Over the Holiday

I’m lucky enough to be spending Christmas away this year. My family and I are going on a relaxing vacation in Cuba and we plan to do all of about 3 things while we’re away. The first would be to sightsee the beautiful new surroundings. The second: EAT! And the third is my favourite: sitting on the beach, reading.

There are a few books that I’ve waited this whole semester for and now that school is no more I’m happy to share the books I plan to read this holiday with you.

Pan, 2008, 1248 pages (paperback)

1) World Without End by Ken Follett: I’m about halfway through this sequel to Pillars of the Earth. Since I rely on public transit for school and work, I take the 3 hour commute each day as an opportunity to read. Fortunately I will now have less distractions and more time to finish the book without any interruption! So far so good with this novel. Much like Follett’s other novels, this tale is a sweeping epic with an intriguing love story that spans years. It takes place in the 14th century, two centuries after Pillars of the Earth left off. Although the novel still takes place in Kingsbridge, the characters are different – but I’m falling in love with them, just like the first novel. I’d recommend Follett as an author, especially if you enjoy historical fiction. I’ve never been dissatisfied with any of his novels.

on-the-road

Penguin Modern Classics, 2000, 281 pages (paperback)

2) On The Road by Jack Kerouac: This novel was suggested to me by a friend and I’ve been intrigued by it ever since. It’s a sort of coming-of-age novel about young men and their travels across America in the 1940s. They discover a lot of new things during this time and I think the book may be a bit risqué at times but I’ve been told that it’s an amazing read and I’m looking forward to tackling it! (This book was recently made into a movie featuring Kristen Stewart. Needless to say I have NO desire to watch the movie.)

6581303

Berkley Trade, 2010, 470 pages

3) Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn: I bought this book at Value Village and I hope that it fills my longing for Italy. It’s a story about a slave girl who falls in love with a gladiator. Now that I’m reading the back of the novel it reminds me a lot of A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers (an amazing read), but I look forward to exploring the history of Rome through this novel. I recently returned home from living in Rome for a year and so now I crave anything that will remind me of my time there. Hopefully this book will!

TVC-hi-res

Knopf Canada, 2011, 356 pages (hardcover)

4) The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay: I read McKay’s novel The Birth House and loved everything about it, especially her talent for writing. I actually didn’t know what The Virgin Cure was about until I read a summary now – and it sounds a bit heavy. The novel takes place in Manhattan in the 19th century and features a 12-year-old girl who gets involved in life at a brothel – and the importance of her virginity. It sounds a bit sinister but if the novel is anything like McKay’s last, I know that I’ll find this to be fantastic book despite the heavy content.

Maybe I’ll finish all these books while I’m away, maybe I won’t. Regardless I hope to have a few new reviews written up for you in a month or two!