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Every Day – by David Levithan

March 27, 2013

Every DayThis is a difficult book to review because so many of my thoughts about it relate to the ending and I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say that I loved it, and that it was so deeply engrossing that when I finished it and came back to the world, I had trouble recalling what had happened in my own life in the last week or so. It’s the kind of book that makes reality seem gray in comparison.

Every day, A wakes up in a different body with a different life and tries to navigate through each day making as little impact as possible. A’s biggest rule is to leave each borrowed as close to the way it was as possible. No interfering in other people’s lives. But one day A meets a girl named Rhiannon and everything changes. A falls for her almost immediately and starts breaking all the rules to try and find a way to be with her.

It’s a fascinating concept and one that, in execution, turns out to be, among other things, surprisingly sad. A has a different perspective on the world than anyone else, having been so many different people from different walks of life. A’s experiences allow him/her to see things other people don’t and to understand people in unique ways, but they also limit A’s ability to see people rather than generalizations. Never spending more than a day with anyone means that A never really gets to know anyone that well – never has any friends or family of his/her own (I’m trying to avoid pronouns as much as possible here because A doesn’t really have an individual gender, but it’s difficult). One of the things I really liked about this book was the great variety among the people whose bodies A inhabits. They’re all the same age and live in the same part of the country, but they are male, female, transgendered, gay, straight, black, white, Asian, and Hispanic. One’s an illegal immigrant, one’s a drug addict, one’s suicidal, one’s grotesquely overweight – all of which could turn out very After-School-Special, but it doesn’t. It never felt forced to me, and Levithan handles all of these issues gracefully. It’s easy to assume, starting out, that the point of the book is to use A’s unusual perspective to point out the flaws in our own perspectives, but one of the best things about this book is that A’s perspective is not without it’s own flaws. A is far from perfect and doesn’t always do the right thing, but it’s also exceptionally difficult even for the reader to decide what the right thing to do is when there is nothing A can do without directly affecting someone else. It’s quite a thought-provoking book and I highly recommend giving it a read.

And Both Were Young – by Madeleine L’Engle

March 6, 2013

And Both Were YoungI’ve been a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle ever since the first time I read A Wrinkle in Time, but I had never read her earlier, more obscure books, so I figure this was a good place to start. And I loved it. I loved it the way you love books you read in middle school. Maybe it’s just that it was reminiscent of other books I read during that era, but it definitely struck a vein in me, and I’m sure I would have loved it even more if I had read it then.

It’s been a year since Flip’s mother died and she’s being sent to a boarding school in Switzerland while her father travels the world for a project he’s working on. Flip is quiet and awkward and doesn’t know how to fit in with the other girls. She feels lonely and left out and misses her father, but the one bright spot (outside of her art class) is a boy she meets named Paul. Relationships with boys are forbidden, so she meets with him in secret and their friendship grows, but there is something dark in Paul’s past, something Flip would like to help him with if only he would tell her what it is.

Flip reminded me so much of myself. One frequently finds quiet, bookish characters in books, but Flip’s particular level of introversion and difficulty conversing with her peers is rare, I think, and it endeared her to me instantly. There is a scene early on in which she is desperate for some time to herself, just to be alone, and I could feel that need with surprising intensity. Soon after that Flip has a mealtime conversation with a group of girls which mirrored so many conversations I’ve had in my life (Approximately: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say anything. Why don’t you talk more?” “Can you speak? Say something.” “I don’t have anything to say.” “How can you not have anything to say? I always have something to say.” etc.). As much as I liked and was invested in Flip’s relationship with Paul, it was these scenes that really made me fall in love with this book. Much like Flip herself, it’s a quiet and unassuming sort of book, but also lovely.

Death Cloud – by Andrew Lane

February 4, 2013

Death CloudI’ve become quite a fan of Sherlock Holmes lately, so a young adult novel about a young Sherlock seemed right up my alley. I had a couple of grievances, but all in all, Andrew Lane’s Death Cloud turned out to be quite a lot of fun.

Sherlock is disappointed to be sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in the country during the school holidays. He expects a summer full of boredom, but what he gets instead is an adventure. The strange set of circumstances surrounding two deaths in the town of Farnham draw Sherlock into the mystery and he becomes intent on solving it, no matter the danger, with the help of his tutor, Amyus Crowe, and his new friends, Matty and Virginia.

I haven’t read quite enough of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories yet to be able to judge how well this matches up, but I don’t have any reason to think that it doesn’t, and at points it is easy enough to imagine this young Sherlock growing up into the seasoned detective everyone knows so well. The inclusion of a romantic interest seemed a bit unnecessary, but I will admit that it’s nice to have a strong female character involved in at least some of the action. I also found the villain to be a bit ridiculous and over-the-top, although it occurred to me during the final showdown that fans of the Alex Rider series might really enjoy this as there were quite a few things that reminded me of those books. It was fun to see the beginning of Sherlock’s story, as he works his first case and starts to develop his skills of observation and deduction. This is the first in a series, and it will be interesting to see where the story goes in future books.

Beauty Queens – by Libba Bray

December 14, 2012

Beauty QueensI had so much fun reading this book. I am always interested in a story about a group of people stranded somewhere and forced to work together to survive. That concept fascinates me, and I particularly like watching a feeling of camaraderie develop among the characters. That camaraderie is one of those elements that really endears a book to me and turns it from something I like to something I love, and as such, it was one of my very favorite things about Beauty Queens.

When a plane on its way to a beauty pageant crashes on a deserted island, the surviving contestants are left on their own to find a way off of the island and figure out how to survive in the meantime. Transitioning from rivals to teammates is harder for some than for others, and the girls are in more danger than they realize because the island might be so deserted after all.

Full of feminist themes as well as humor, adventure, and romance, Beauty Queens is both a campy, fast-paced slumber party of a book and a satirical, substantive look at the treatment of teen girls in American culture. Some of the more satirical elements – like the commercial breaks and the scenes involving the Corporation sponsoring the pageant, the Sarah Palin-esque Ladybird Hope, and the nutcase dictator of a small, fictional country called the Republic of ChaCha – were a bit too over-the-top for me. They felt very much like a cartoon (though a pretty funny one), but all the same they didn’t detract much from my over-all enjoyment of the book. I loved all of the girls, particularly Petra (Miss Rhode Island), and Tiara (Miss Mississippi, who can’t actually spell Mississippi but who is delightful and endearing anyway), and one of my favorite things about the book is seeing the characters slowly reveal more and more of themselves to the other girls and to the reader. Also, Girl Con.

Book vs. Movie: Stormbreaker

December 4, 2012

Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker

Next up in Book vs. Movie is Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, based on Stormbreaker, the first book in Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. There are nine books in the series and I’ve read seven of them so far. Here’s a link to my review of the first book. The books are entertaining and fast-paced and I’ve quite enjoyed them for the most part, although they do start to get a bit repetitive after a while. The basic premise is that a fourteen-year-old boy named Alex is recruited by the British intelligence agency, MI6, after the death of his uncle who also worked for the agency.

The general plot of the movie version is essentially the same as that of the book, but there are many smaller changes, which make varying degrees of sense. Largely the changes amount to a decrease in Alex’s detective work and an increase in action scenes and car chases. For example, toward the beginning of the book, Alex has trouble believing that the reason his uncle was killed in a car accident is really because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt, so he tracks down the junkyard where the car was probably taken so he can get a look at it. In the movie, he follows a van that’s carting away his uncle belongings and there’s a long chase scene with Alex following the van on his bike and zooming recklessly around in traffic. It does make sense to cut some of the detective work stuff, particularly later on, since some things do have to be cut to fit the story into a 90-minute movie, but I can’t really condone cutting scenes just to replace them with car chases.

The tone, I think, is where the biggest change occurs. The premise is pretty ridiculous and hard to believe in both versions, but the movie version is far sillier. Everything is very fake-TV-spy with crazy gadgets and over-the-top secret spy headquarters and so on. Like, during the scene in the junkyard, there’s this part where Alex is hiding inside the car as it’s about to be crushed, which happens in the book too, but in the movie he only gets out because there’s an ejector seat button in the car. And then he fights five grown men at once with his mad martial arts skillz, instead of the one guy he takes out in the book. The entrance to the MI6 headquarters is possibly the most ludicrous part. Instead of just having a building that’s ostensibly a bank but really not, like in the book, there’s this silly Get Smart-style entrance in a photo-booth in a train station. Oh wait, I lied. The most ludicrous thing is the addition of a fountain pen gadget that shoots a dart which will make someone do your bidding, like they’re under the Imperious Curse. What?

There is also a slight change in the way Alan Blunt and Mrs. Jones present their offer to Alex, which I think makes a big difference. In the book, they claim they just want this one thing from Alex because they have this mission that requires a teenage boy, but in the movie, it feels more like they just really want him to be a spy and then happen to have this convenient job for which he’ll be perfect, which is a little bit harder to believe.

There are some good casting choices here, but in general, everyone feels more cartoony and less real.

  • Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) was one of the better-cast characters. Pettyfer looks the part and the character is mostly accurate, although you don’t get quite the same sense of his reluctance to join MI6, and his fighting skills were totally overblown.
  • Jack Starbright (Alicia Silverstone) bears little resemblance to the book version. For starters, she’s supposed to be a red-head, but instead is blonde. Plus, everything about her is just utterly ridiculous. She has way more involvement in the plot, including a car chase and a completely absurd fight scene with the (also ridiculous) Nadia Vole.
  • Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy) was well cast. During his first scene, I thought he was perfect. He looked exactly right and I love Bill Nighy, but in later scenes it became clear that he was just a bit too goofy. He didn’t have Blunt’s coldness.
  • Mrs. Jones (Sophie Okonedo) is fairly unremarkable. I don’t think she has quite as much personality in the movie, but perhaps she doesn’t in the book either and I’m thinking of later books in the series. Looks-wise, she’s described in the book as having “a strange, potato-shaped head” and a bad bowl cut, while the movie version is rather more attractive.
  • Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke), I’m sorry to say, was white-washed. He’s American instead of Egyptian, and was made fun of in school for…being a red-neck, I think? He’s okay otherwise, although his name was changed from Herod to Darrius. I can’t complain too much about that part though, since Herod is a bit on-the-nose, isn’t it?
  • Yassen Gregorovich (Damian Lewis) didn’t look at all like I imagined, but looking back at the book, he’s actually more accurate than my mental image was. Character-wise, he’s mostly the same as the book version, except that he seems to have just a little too much affection for Alex toward the end, which detracts from his cold-blooded killer persona.
  • Mr. Smithers (Stephen Fry) doesn’t look a thing like his description in the book. He’s supposed to be enormous and “bald with a black mustache and several chins.” He’s also missing that spark of delight and excitement about the gadgets he designs that makes him so likeable in the books. Plus, the movie version works in a toy store for some reason. And…designs spy gadgets in a back room? I don’t know.
  • Sabina Pleasure (Sarah Bolger) is largely superfluous. She’s not in the first book at all, so her inclusion is just for the sake of adding a love interest and it’s unnecessary. Plus, she’s kind of been reduced to this simpering, damsel-in-distress character, whereas the book version has more of a personality.

Other Thoughts
Sayle wasn’t the only character to get a name-change, and while I can understand that one, the others seem somewhat arbitrary. Why change Crawley to Crawford, Snake to Bear, or Stryker to Slater? What’s the point?

Finally, I have a bit of a pet peeve about exposition, so I can’t even tell you how much I detest the opening scene of this movie, in which a teacher for some reason singles out Alex to tell the class about his family so that we can get all the information we need about his parents dying and his uncle taking care of him and so on. It’s so unnatural, the way Alex just spills his guts about all this stuff. What is even the point of this assignment? And then the teacher asks him where his uncle is now, which frankly just makes him sound suspicious. Just…ugh.

And the Winner Is…
Like I said, they’re both somewhat ridiculous, but I think it should be clear that the book wins by far.


Teen, Inc. – by Stefan Petrucha

November 26, 2012

Teen, IncWhen Jaiden was a baby, his parents were killed in an accident thanks to a faulty gas valve made by a company called NECorp. During the resulting court case, NECorp decided to adopt baby Jaiden, making him the first person to be raised by a corporation. Now, at fourteen, his team of managers makes all of his decisions for him and Jaiden just wants to have a normal life. When he uncovers some information about the company that could change everything, he has to decide how far his loyalty toward the only family he’s ever known goes.

This is a fun and fast-paced read. The premise is fairy absurd and the corporation is a little too exaggeratedly corporate to be realistic, if that makes any sense. On the other hand, I can’t quite imagine how it could have been done more realistically, since in reality, no one would actually allow a corporation to raise a child. Which, I suppose, is the whole point. Jaiden and his friends, Nate and Jenny, are likeable and Jaiden’s struggle regarding his loyalty toward NECorp is compelling. I did appreciate that the book doesn’t just go to the easy ‘corporations are evil’ place, but instead opts for a slightly more balanced approach. Basically, if you can accept the premise and just go along for the ride, it’s a pretty entertaining one.

Ashes, Ashes – by Jo Treggiari

November 16, 2012

Ashes AshesI love post-apocalyptic stories, so I was really interested to read this one, about a girl living on her own in a decimated version of New York City. Unfortunately, the book never quite lives up to its great potential. Treggiari doesn’t really do anything new or terribly interesting with the concept, so ultimately, the book is just kind of so-so.

Lucy survived the plague that killed off 99% of the world’s population, including the rest of her family, and she’s been surviving on her own ever since in a world beset by constant floods and droughts. When a boy named Aidan saves her from a pack of wild dogs, she joins his group of survivors, but she’s not out of danger yet. A group called the Sweepers have been showing up and kidnapping small groups of people, who never return. And the Sweepers are especially interested in Lucy.

For starters, I have a bit of a problem with Lucy as a character. When she first meets Aidan, she’s surprised that he has time to just explore for fun, because she spends every waking moment looking for food and trying to survive, but after she joins his camp, all she does is complain about how much work they’re making her do. Not only does that not make sense, it’s obnoxious. And then there’s a villain at the end who doesn’t make any sense either. Like, there were plenty of logical reasons for said villain to be acting the way she did, but instead of being logical and presenting Lucy with an actual, difficult decision, she’s totally crazy and evil. The whole thing could have been so much more nuanced, but instead, it was just black and white. On top of all that, the romance aspect left a lot to be desired. It felt forced to me. Plus, there’s a love triangle (blah) and a pointless epilogue because, of course.