Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Timebound (4)

I got this book for free from Amazon First Reads, and I was super pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It's young adult Sci-fi/Fantasy blend, so if that is not your cup of tea, you're not going to like it. That's fine. If you want to point and laugh at me for my soft spot for the genre, that's also totally understandable.

Sixteen-year-old Kate Pierce-Keller's life is turned upside down when her estranged grandmother decides to move to town to get to know her only granddaughter. There's more to Kate's grandmother tenements the eye, as Kate learns when she comes into contact with a strange blue medallion keychain.

And that's when she finds out she's a time traveller. Her grandmother was a historian in 2200 or something and did a lot of field work, often travelling with her husband Saul. But Saul had greater plans then to idly watch history unfold. He wanted to change it. To control it. And now Kate is the only one with the power to stop him.

DUN DUN DUN!! For a YA book about time travel, I thought this book was incredibly well thought out. Often things get sloppy as soon as time travel is introduced, but Rysa must have really laid out the timelines for herself because it is really well explained.

The love interest falls for Kate instantly in love with her and basically doesn't have a personality besides thinking she's the best thing ever. That's pretty normal for books trying to capitalize on the popularity of Twilight, and Kate is a much stronger character than Bella, so it's not obnoxious, just more of the same old thing.

It's the first book of a series, so jump on the bandwagon early! If you're in the market for a fun quick read, I'd totally recommend this book.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Someone Else's Love Story (4)

This is my second book by Joshilyn Jackson. And I devoured it just as quickly as the first one. I loved it. I thought it was beautiful and I got very little sleep on two different nights because I couldn’t put it down. The second I decided to just finish the damn thing so I could start sleeping again.

If you ask, "If you love it so much, why did you give it a 4 and not a 5?" It's because I love a lot of things. Like pizza. But pizza is not a 5-star food. This book did not change my life, and I probably won't read it 18 million times, so it gets a 4. You could say I throw the word "love" around a lot. 

Our story starts with Shandi, who is 21 and raising her three-year-old son, father unkown. Her best friend Walcott helps her in this endeavor and everything else ever, including moving to Atlanta to live in her father’s second condo so she can be nearer school and put her son, who is a certifiable genius, into a more advanced preschool.

On the way they stop for gas, Shandi and her son Natty go inside for snacks, and they end up in the middle of an armed robbery. And this hunky guy, William Ashe, gets in between the gunman and Shandi’s son. So, of course, she falls in love with him, who wouldn’t?

If that doesn’t sound like your kind of book, it probably isn’t, and you can feel free to join in my conversation that is chock full of spoilers. If you mind Shandi’s love interest being nicknamed “the great god Thor,” then this book is probably not for you. But it’s cute and exciting and talks about all manner of love: friendship, family, romantic, lust, love for child, love for parents, ect.

I loved this book and it made me feel really uncomfortable. So you can keep reading if you want to but there major, major, major spoiler alerts ahead if you do. But I want to talk about my feelings, I need to share them with someone and I don’t know anyone who’s read the book. Now, I’m probably reading way more than I need to into this novel. I completely understand and accept that. But two things bugged me:

Spoiler #1 (less major spoiler) Shandi’s best friend is Walcott. William’s best friend is Paula. For a second I thought this was going to be a breath of fresh air where guys and girls could be friends and sometimes sleep together and not be in love with each other. Though I contest that once sex is involved it’s probably going to get messy. And I do pretty much believe in the When Harry Met Sally line that guys and girls can’t just be friends. One of them is, at some point, going to fall for the other. But I really, really wanted this book to not go there because I’m really over that plot line and for awhile it seemed like it wasn’t going to go there. And I hate the idea of “oh my god, suddenly I realize I’m in love with him! I’ve always been in love with him!” And that’s probably just a personal problem I have because I don’t think that’s how love works, I think that’s how stories work, and I think it’s a lazy plot device unless you have a crime TV show that needs it to keep people interested (a la Bones. Mostly I just really loved Bones). I won't tell you who likes who though, so maybe this isn't that much of a spoiler. And I will say that Joshilyn turns the best-friends-in-love plot time around a few times in the book, so I could consider that she is exploring the idea. The very, very end part is definitely cheesy. 

Spoiler #2 (Basically going to ruin the entire plot of the book. Stop reading now. You've been warned.) So here’s the deal about Shandi’s son, who she loves with all of her heart. He is the product of her getting raped at a party. This is something she has repressed within herself and only actually admits it when he is three years old and she meets William Ashe, who is sitting between a loaded gun and her son. And on the one hand, ok, you decide you want to keep your pregnancy for whatever reason and you don’t want to think about how you got him because you want to love him. Ok. But it felt kind of preachy that she decided to keep it. Moving on.

So Will ends up being a genius scientist. Who has Asperger’s, so I guess that is sort of brought into the conversation as well? And Shandi’s mom is very Catholic and her dad is very Jewish so we're talking about what religion does to family relationships. And small-town Wilcott has two moms, because they are in love. So what I'm saying is: Joshilyn is all over the place about what she’s saying in this book. So there’s that. I kind of just wanted to ask what exactly she was trying to say about everything in the entire world. It felt unfocused. 

Back to the baby daddy. Genius but not quite socially adept Will uses genetics and they figure out who the dad is. The guy that raped her when she was drugged. He has some form of Asperger’s as well, and was trying to make friends by joining a frat and chugged way too much beer and was not the one who drugged Shandi but she mistook him for Walcott, who she was in love with for that moment, and the had sex in the backyard. Then he got sick and passed out in the bushes, so that’s why Walcott found her all by herself, half naked, in the backyard. But he’s actually a really sweet guy who just thought that Shandi liked him and wanted to have sex with him and he was really drunk so he didn’t know that she was drugged.

So, basically, I’m irked that while there are so many conversations about date rape and guys not really getting the blame and girls getting slut shamed for being raped and this book is like well sometimes everyone’s to blame. Or something. And while it’s super sweet to think that he’s not a villain and he’s a normal guy who’s misunderstood, but I just don’t think the world is that easy of a place. Maybe I just like to live in a feminist part of the internet and don't want to think that a guy ever has an excuse if he rapes a girl. Ever. We don't even get to find out who drugged her and is really the bad guy so I have no one to channel my hatred at. 

This was a really long rant. Have a unicorn.
I like that this book made me think about things and my views on things. I liked this book. I don't necessarily agree with much of it, but it was a fun read. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wild (5)

I’m not going to lie to you: I started this book for the wrong reason. I’d heard how famous and inspirational this book was, but I thought a book about a girl wandering around the woods sounded really boring. And the from lost to found part? I took it literally, and was like, so what? Clearly she got found because she wrote the damn book.
Then I found out Reese Witherspoon was filming the movie. Not only that, but my friend whose character tried to kill mine in my last show was in a scene with her. It all felt very real and artsy and like I must be a real actor, even though he’s the real actor and Reese is, obviously, the best. So I had to read the book, you know, before the movie comes out.

Photo: Reese Witherspoon, Twitter/WhoSay
I have two things to say about this book.
#1 Cheryl Strayed is my spirit animal, as the kid’s say these days.
#2 I am so glad I didn’t try to read this book any earlier then I did.
When Cheryl was a senior in college, she found out her mom had terminal cancer, and dropped everything to be with her for the last six months of her life.
When I was a senior in college, I found out that my dad might have cancer, and rushed home, planning on dropping everything and move two states away from my life to do whatever I could for my dad. One week later, he was gone. He passed away five days after being officially diagnosed with cancer. That is a big, terrible, black hole of my personal history that I am still, four years later, processing and healing from.
Four years after her mother died, Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. This book felt like the journey of a woman I could have been, and feel so very fortunate that I didn’t have to be. I feel very blessed that I wasn’t so broken that I had to hike 1,100 miles all by myself, putting my body through excruciating pain to come out on the other side finally whole.
Photo: Josh Myers
It’s a beautiful, honest memoir and not nearly as depressing as I just made it sound. What I love about Cheryl is that she is so strong and so vulnerable at the same time. I feel like any woman can understand what she’s going through as she hikes the trail, by herself and occasionally runs into some trouble. Sometimes she allows herself to be the damsel in distress (a little) and be fed by the kind strangers she runs into, and she certainly admits to being scared when she runs across a man that makes her feel unsafe, alone, in the woods, away from everyone. Or a bear. Or a moose. She runs into all of these characters and now I feel as though I got to experience this too.

That is the best thing about books. I can go on a safe emotional journey while sitting on my couch in my nice, warm house, but I can empathize and feel like I got to know someone and go on their journey with them, but also get to use my oven and my shower and see my friends and family.  
It's like babysitting. Everything's all great and you're playing with a baby and then it gets poopy or starts to cry and you give it back. 
Jill Greenberg.
protip: do NOT google image search "poopy baby"...cannot unsee...
Anywho. The book is beautiful and funny and wonderful and you should probably read it. I would not recommend it to anyone who recently lost someone, if I read it any early in my healing process I would probably have been bawling my eyes out for the entire book. Everyone else should read it. Though, if you're a hard core hiker you will probably laugh a lot at Strayed's absolute inexperience at the start of the book. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni (4.5)

I started listening to this way way back in October, and it was the perfect after-rehearsal book to listen to. I'd been working hard for hours, now it was time for someone to entertain me! I had a whole system, I would listen to the news in the morning on my way to work, I would sing in the afternoon on my way to rehearsal, and then I would listen to a story at night on my way home.

This worked for the first third of the audiobook. It started slow, because it's long and there's a lot to cover. Halfway through part two my show ended so I had one less commute to listen to things. Which meant I stopped doing my wonderfully productive and necessary singing and instead listened to this story. By Part Three, the only thing I listened to in the car was this book. I wanted to fall asleep listening to it but I was loathe to miss anything. I listened to it at the gym or on runs, I listened to it while cleaning, anything where I was alone. It still took me what felt like forever to finish because it was so long, but I loved it.

New York City
The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker, moves between a few different narrators far flung through the world, and sometimes through time, and during the course of the story these strands are knit together into a seamless story. We start with The Golem, a being made of clay with the strength of a dozen men, usually meant to protect its master above all else. This golem, however, was built to be the wife of a lonely, wealthy man moving to America. He wakes her during the journey, then dies and she is left alone, masterless, purposeless and completely brand new set adrift in a world she doesn’t understand. In America, she is taken in by Rabbi Avram Meyer, who names her Chava, and knows what she is, and teaches her how to become part of the world.

Then there is the Jinni, a powerful creature made of fire who comes out of a flask that a tinsmith was trying to fix. We see his story in the present as well as the distant past, before he was put in the flask he has been trapped in for hundreds of years. Now he is trapped in human form with an iron band about his wrist. Boutros Arbeely, the tinsmith, takes him in as an apprentice, but the jinni, who Arbeely names Ahmad, doesn’t need as much help as the Golem, and runs about New York creating mischief as he always has.
kinda like this guy...
Until one day, the golem and the jinni meet. Their unlikely friendship, the woman made of earth created to be obedient and the man made of fire who could fly about the world in an instant and enter the dreams of men and toy with them, is necessary for both as they are each the only creature of their kind, who never need to eat or sleep as humans do, but are forced to live among them and hide their true natures.

And one day, Yehudah Schaalman, the golem’s creator, decides that he is getting too old and must find a way to live forever. He’s known since he was a young man that God was angry with him, and he would find nothing but eternal suffering on the other side of this life, so he needed to find the key to eternal life. He creates a spell which leads him to New York City, the golem, and the jinni.

It is a beautiful story that weaves in themes of god, creators, natures, predestination, and free will. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Favorites of 2013

Happy 2014 Everyone!!

Thank you for being such avid readers of this eclectic blog of mine. I started it a couple months after I graduated from college in 2010 and it has certainly transformed from time to time. And now I am trying to get in to grad school to become a certified Elementary School teacher. YIKES! Which means this month I am going back to school to complete some necessary pre-reqs. I will be taking Biology & Math...DOUBLE YIKES! We'll see how long my lovely little blog lasts with these new things I have to do. Perhaps I will procrastinate on my bio homework by reading and writing reviews. As of now, I intend to continue to update every Wednesday at 6:30pm. So get off work, eat some dinner, relax, and see if I've found you a new book to fall in love with. I'm planning on starting to read some picture books and middle readers, so if I do get into school I will have something to read to the little ones and won't have to scramble. If you have any suggestions, especially kid-tested ones for grades K-6, I'd love to hear them!

This year I reviewed 29 books and gave 5 stars to Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, The Ocean at the End of the LaneSomeday, Someday, MaybeWorld War ZA Prayer for Owen Meany (it is incredibly embarrassing how long it took me to read that book), Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, and, of course, Hyperbole and a Half. 

Which is perfect, because each is for an entirely different reader.

Tony Award Best Play 2013 - Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike - Christopher Durang
For those that love comedic plays. Less crass then most of Durang's work.  Delightful. Read it. Or if you are so blessed see it.

Fantasy - The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman
Pretty quick. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author himself. Best bedtime drive story. A grownup children's story, with monsters and heroes, seen through the eyes of a little boy, but not for children.

Chick Lit (Really, for my actor friends.) Someday, Someday Maybe - Lauren Graham
The actress that played Lorelai Gilmore wrote a book about a girl in NYC struggling to become an actress. For all of you following the same path, your journey is beautiful and funny and miraculous and you need to read this book.

Horror/Zombies World War Z - Max Brooks
If you're a zombie person, you must have already read this. If you're not, it's not that gruesome and I find it interesting to see how different parts of the world reacted to the zombies, fought the zombies, and how we pieced ourselves back together, in this fantasy written as non fiction. Also listened to the audiobook which made it sound like I was listening to actual people telling the stories. Was disappointed that not all books had a voice actor for each character, even though I know that would be ridiculous.

Classic Literature A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
For those keeping score, yes, it really did take me two years to read this book. And yet I gave it five stars? Yup. This novel, my first piece of classic literature to read since the days when it was assigned to me, reminded me that there is a reason why "real" books are so long. You need that much time to figure out your characters and their world and the whole point of the story.

Contemporary Literature/Fantasy memoirs of an imaginary friend - Matthew Dicks
I can't even describe how beautiful this book is, I think it maybe took me two days to read it. An imaginary friend tries to find his kidnapped child and help him escape.

Hilarious Hyperbole and a Half - Allie Brosh
This girl is the voice of my generation. She is witty and poignant and suffers from depression, and also from the same compulsiveness so many of us do. Or maybe its just me. And her. At least I'm in good company.

I also have to add to the list Cinder, because I've read it at least twice this year. Whenever I hit the wall with a stack of new books I haven't quite committed to I cycle through re-reading books. The Harry Potter series is too long to do more than once every other year, but I usually hit up The Hunger Games, Ella Enchanted, sometimes Holes, and now Cinder. I am super excited for the third book Cress to come out in February (which you probably already know).
You can probably figure out from that list that Cinder is for the YA Fantasy/SciFi readers.

In other news:
Still working as an actor! I have not "thrown in the towel" to do the nice, easy job of teaching (ha ha), I just want my teaching to be more of a 9-5 (again, ha ha) and less of a...4-8pm...which conflicts with the whole acting thing.
I already have an acting gig booked for a murder mystery (? that's what I'll call it till I read the script) feature film. My character is a terrible, terrible person. So that will be a nice challenge! (because I'm nice? ha ha?)

What were your favorites? I've perused the best books as chosen by Amazon, GoodReads, and the NY Times, but what about you? What books did you discover that weren't written this year? Or were, that's fine too. Especially those not chosen by the bestseller list.