Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: Wolf Hall

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel


Things to know up front...

Recommended to: historical fiction fans

Objective Rating: 7/10

Subjective Rating: 10/10

Setting: Tudor England

Content:

  • Moderately frequent swearing, but touches on basically all curses on the profanity spectrum.
  • Frequent and varied forms of violence. A character experience domestic abuse, a character i known for getting into knife fights, the rack as a torture device is mentioned frequently, various forms of execution are mentioned and sometimes described in graphic detail, etc. 
  • No drug use. 
  • Sexual content isn't graphic, but is very relevant to the story line (we are in part talking about Henry VIII, after all).
  • Overall, it's a mature book, but I think that ages 13 and up should be able to handle it.
Description (Goodreads): England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

As an avid fan of history, especially that of Tudor England, Wolf Hall is a book that I've been intending to read for quite awhile, and honestly, I'm kicking myself a little for waiting so long to get around to it! I absolutely and completely adored it. 

The fluffy, worshipful review:

As far as historical fiction goes, this book was absolutely incredible. Heck, as far as fiction goes, this book was incredible. Mantel's writing style is probably one of the best that I've ever seen. Her words twist together so perfectly to create a mood (or is it tone? I get confused, kids) with so much gravity as you read about the seedy background of Henry VIII's grand life and court. The dialogue is filled with biting, witty double entendres that perfectly capture the two-faced nature of courtiers. Thomas Cromwell serves as a wonderful protagonist to experience the chaos of the revolutionary changes of the time period, as well as the effects of rising in power. Mantel did a marvelous job of believably fleshing out a person that history can't provide many details on, and I greatly admire the skill with which she weaved events together. Honestly, this is probably one of my favorite historical fictions that I've ever read. 

The realistic, 'this may not be everyone's cup of tea' review:

Though I loved the book, I recognize that there are issues with it that others may not be able to forgive:

  •  The perspective/tense sometimes shifts and gets very confusing. There were several times that I had to go back and reread a couple of pages just to understand where everything was going. 
  • Mantel frequently uses the pronoun 'he', which makes things tricky since most all of the characters are male. I learned after awhile that 'he' almost always referred to Cromwell, but getting through the book could be very challenging if one didn't pick up on this. 
  • There are so many characters in the story that it's hard to keep track of them all, especially all of the Thomases. Mantel does provide a little guide in the beginning, but going back and looking through could easily become a quite tedious. 
  • The plot isn't very eventful, nor is there a clear climax. I thought this was an acceptable choice because history doesn't necessarily have a climax, but it would have been much more audience-friendly if there was one; it is made for entertainment, after all. 
Overall:

I highly recommend this book, but only if you have prior knowledge of Tudor history. I would advise that if you are new to historical fiction, do not pick this one up because it's very complex and boring if you aren't very enthusiastic about history, especially this specific point in time. I have a friend that is also attempting to read this book, and she loves history, but doesn't enjoy this book at all because it's an awful lot to sort through. 

If you are really set on reading it, try picking up another book that is about the same time period to familiarize yourself with the characters and the events. A personal favorite author of mine is Philippa Gregory, who has written several books about Tudor England, but fair warning, her books are much more sensational in the original sense of the world than this one. 

BUT, if you consider yourself quite the Tudor expert and you don't mind details details details, then I'm practically begging telling you, go ahead and get your hands on Wolf Hall. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Long Time, No See

There's no point in prolonging it, so here's an unhappy announcement: I've really sucked at maintaining this blog. I haven't been reading much, and what I have read, I haven't exercised many critical thoughts on. In truth, my critical thoughts for everything are at an all time low since I'm kind of hitting this I'm-an-adult-now-and-have-to-make-real-decisions wall. It's a bit of a bummer.

However, there is a happy announcement (or maybe it's another unhappy announcement for you poor folks): I have the intent to really get back to reading and reviewing for you fine people!  I hope to release at least two reviews a month, which isn't very many, but it's best that I start out slow. I'm also considering throwing in more miscellaneous posts, perhaps about some entertainment mediums other than reading. Let me just say there will be education about Welcome to Night Vale at the very least, and I'm not sorry about it.

As we speak, I have reviews in the works for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I hope you all hang in there with me as I get back into the swing of things, and thank you for sticking around while I was on my unannounced hiatus!


Friday, July 12, 2013

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky


Recommended to: teens

Rating: 10/10

Setting: somewhere in the Eastern U.S. during the 90's

Content:
  • Frequent swearing.
  • Sex is not graphically depicted, but is a very big part of the book.
  • Frequent substance use, much of it by underage teenagers. 
  • Violence is infrequent, but also a pretty key part of the book. There is at least one school fight and a couple examples of physical abuse. 
  • Overall, this is for mature readers. Yes, I know I recommended it for teens, but this is a pretty heavy book in more way than one, so be prepared for it. 
Description (not mine): Charlie is a freshman.

And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can't stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

~~~

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those books that you constantly hear about. Honestly, if you haven't had to sit through at least one person singing its praises, then I suspect you may be living under a rock (in which case please remember to take a Vitamin D supplement). While the fact that it's so popular drew me to the book, it also made me scared to read it. I mean, things never seem to live up to expectation, do they? Wrong. This book is everything you've heard and more, let me tell you. 

Perks is charming, witty, thoughtful, and deeply moving, all due to the most well-written protagonist in recent memory, Charlie. Observant, yet caring and unassuming, Charlie paints an intimate picture of what it's like to grow up and try to live happily by sharing what he sees in the people around him. His narrative is simple and a bit reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye, but it's written in the most indescribably perfect style, something that will probably never be replicated. 

Sad, but ultimately hopeful, Perks ends in such a way that leaves you thoughtful and emotional for hours afterwards (a good kind of emotional; I promise). It shows the reader the importance of being more than just a bystander in your own life and that truly loving someone requires you to first take care of yourself, the main reasons why I highly recommend this to teenagers. 

Overall, I hope that every young person finds this in their hands at least once; trust me, it will stun you. Enjoy!



Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: The Ghost Writer

Book Review: The Ghost Writer by John Harwood


Things to know up front...

Recommended to: horror fans, thriller fans

Rating: 7/10

Setting: Australia and England

Content:
  • Some sexual content including mild sexual fantasies and a couple of sex scenes that are reasonably inexplicit since they come from the view of someone walking in on the whole ordeal.
  • A substantial amount of swearing, including the use of the f-bomb (if I'm remembering correctly).
  • Mild violence that is made to seem worse by sheer creepiness.
  • No significant alcohol/drug use.
  • Overall, I'd recommend that this only be read by mature individuals. While nothing is all that explicit, the sexual content and the violence are further marred by the horror of the story and are pretty darn disturbing. 
Description (not mine): Viola Hatherley was a writer of ghost stories in the 1890s whose work lies forgotten until her great-grandson, as a young boy in Mawson, Australia, learns how to open the secret drawer in his mother's room. There he finds a manuscript, and from the moment his mother catches him in the act, Gerard Freeman's life is irrevocably changed. What is the invisible, ever-present threat from which his mother strives so obsessively to protect him? And why should stories written a century ago entwine themselves ever more closely around events in his own life? Gerard's quest to unveil the mystery that shrouds his family, and his life, will lead him from Mawson to London, to a long-abandoned house and the terror of a ghost story come alive.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I do not often read from the horror genre, so if you're looking for an opinion from a well-cultured horror critic, do not look here. I repeat do not look here.

Also: I'm going to use the words "horror" and many forms of "creepy" several times because I don't have the energy to tap my inner thesaurus, and you will never understand just how sorry I am about that.

That being said, I do think I'm qualified enough to give the definitive opinion that this book is mega creepy. The first few pages alone had me jittery and freaked out, even though they were simply benign descriptions of Gerard's home life. I credit this partially to reading it in a room that has a wall of mirrors and two terrifying old portraits after watching three episodes of "Hannibal" right in a row, but I think the majority of the credit belongs to Harwood, whose writing is absolutely a thing of wonder. I don't think I've ever come across something quite like it. The first person flows beautifully, well-written, but not too grand, and the style itself immediately launches you into the perfect atmosphere for a horror story, somehow managing to make you feel unsettled and edgy even during the most mundane parts.

Even more impressive than the overall narrative is the insertion of Viola's stories, clearly written by Harwood, but of such a different (though still hair-raising) style that I had to seriously consider whether or not these were actually established works. These stories lend the novel a double-layer of creepy factor, as well as an air of mystery as you try to figure out the relation to Gerard's own journey. 

Unfortunately, there was one major flaw in the book: the climax. This, and this alone, is the reason that three points were knocked from my rating. Not only was it predictable, but it wasn't even all that frightening. In fact it was merely textbook, giving off the feeling of a cheap scare instead of the creative and subtle make-your-skin-crawl-kind-of-creepy that the rest of the book used. Honestly, everything leading up was just so gorgeous, so perfectly shiver-worthy, and then that hot mess happened. Ugh. Words will never describe how disappointing it was. 

Overall, I still recommend The Ghost Writer. Even though I felt underwhelmed by the ending, this certainly is not a bad book, and it certainly still deserves your attention, especially to the amazing writing (have I mentioned enough that I liked the writing?). I sincerely hope that you'll pick it up and enjoy!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review: Dear Mr. Darcy

Book Review: Dear Mr. Darcy by Amanda Grange


Things to know up front...

Recommended to: Pride & Prejudice fans

Rating: 7.5/10

Setting: England (I'm too lazy right now to be more specific)

Content:
  • Three extremely explicit sex scenes, one of which contains BDSM elements
  • Intense language--approximately one f-bomb every three sentences
  • Several knife fights and one major character death
  • Two examples of character drug abuse
  • ha
  • ha
  • ha
  • ha
  • Jaykay. I thought you could all use some excitement in your lives; there's actually nothing inappropriate at all. 
Description (not mine): In this imaginative retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Amanda Grange now tells the classic story through the eyes of its compelling romantic hero, Fitzwilliam Darcy—in a series of revealing letters that casts a sparkling new reflection on the manners and morals of the landed gentry in 19th-century England…

Here, for the first time, are the letters written by the exceedingly proud and stubborn Mr. Darcy, covering the life-changing events that defined him—from the death of his father, to his control of his Derbyshire estate of Pemberley to his conflicted courtship with the lively, intelligent, and delightfully willful Elizabeth Bennet. Try as he may, he cannot deny his attraction to this woman with fine eyes, a playful spirit, a mind of her own… and an embarrassing family that is frankly, and utterly, beneath him. But it is Elizabeth who controls both their destinies, and whose surprises will change Darcy’s life yet again.


This book came to me as a gift that I put off for approximately two months before reading because, although I love me some P&P, it's really hard for me to accept when people adapt classics because they're classics for the love of God. Yet I'm actually really happy to say that this book turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. 

Not only does Dear Mr. Darcy offer up more insight to the motivations behind the character actions in the original story, but each character representation stays true to Austen's initial representation, and every letter "written" gives off a feeling of authenticity. The author did an especially nice job of this with Darcy, particularly since it would be so easy to try to take away all of that incriminating pride he starts out with in an attempt to make him more sympathetic. 

I also really liked that the book was written in epistolary form, especially since it has been suggested that perhaps this was the way that Jane Austen originally intended for the novel to be written in the first place. There were so many things about the original story that Grange got to explore by using this format, such as minor and/or unmentioned characters such as Bingley's parents or the other Bennet sisters. 

As for the negatives, I'm not sure that there is any one thing I can say truly bothered me about this book, but I only gave it a 7.5 because it was merely a pleasure read, not something that really has much of an impact. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for Austen fans, but just make sure you go into it with an open mind!



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: Scarlet

Book Review: Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer


Things to know up front...

Recommended to: YA fans, Cinder fans, dystopian fans, fairy tale fans

Rating: 8/10

Setting: France and Commonwealth (China) in the future

Content:
  • No sexual content.
  • No drug use.
  • Little to no swearing.
  • A decent amount of violence for a YA book: physical confrontations, gun violence, violent animal-like behavior.
  • Overall, appropriate for just about anyone that wants to read it.
Description: This sequel to Cinder starts up right where the first book left off: Cinder's escape from prison. In the midst of breaking out, she makes a blunder that forces her to tote around another prisoner, Captain Thorne, who luckily turns out to be quite a valuable asset. Together they set out to locate Michelle Benoit, the woman that was thought to have housed Cinder after her escape from Luna. Meanwhile in France, Michelle Benoit's granddaughter, Scarlet, is frantically trying to discover the whereabouts of her grandmother. She teams up with a mysterious young man named Wolf, whom she knows she cannot completely trust, but can't afford to let out of her sight. What ensues is a compilation of the efforts of both parties to find Michelle Benoit and more importantly to discover the dangerous secrets she has been keeping.

Although not quite as good as Cinder, the author kept up much of the good work in this sequel, the bulk of which is seen in her twist on "Little Red Riding Hood." It's basically a guarantee that any time that an author does this I will like it, but Marissa Meyer just does it so well. It would probably be very easy to slip into the confines the particular fairy tale story, I imagine, but Meyer does a wonderful job keeping all of the important elements while still maintaining a completely unique plot arc. I could just pat her on her little head for it. 

Additionally, I quite enjoyed the suspense in this book that its predecessor kind of lacked, especially in terms of the character Wolf. I won't say anymore because I would hate to spoil anything.

Finally, the chemistry between all of the characters is absolutely fantastic. I could read about Cinder and Thorne all day long because their friendship is such a well-executed combination of squabbles, teamwork, and humor. The romantic chemistry between Scarlet and Wolf is also notable, but I can't say that I "felt it" quite as much as I did in the previous book with Cinder and Kai, but that may just be because I support the latter ship much more fervently oops my tumblr is showing.

The only real complaint I have about Scarlet is that I felt that near the end there was an undeniable break of character just so the plot could move along to the next book. I was actually fairly upset about it, as you can probably tell by the entire two point dock it caused. Don't ever do this, authors. Just don't.

Overall, this is yet another great YA experience given by Marissa Meyer, and I definitely recommend it!

P.S. Sorry this was such a lame review. I finished this book awhile ago, so I have lost a bit of my reviewing mojo for this particular book. I'll try to be better about this for the next book!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: Lone Wolf

Book Review: Lone Wolf  by Jodi Picoult

Things to know up front...

Recommended to: Picoult fans, fans of good 'ole adult fiction

Rating: 6/10

Content:
  • Frequent profanity
  • No drug use
  • Not much violence. Two characters get into a car crash, but it isn't really described. One character is extremely involved with wolves, so some descriptions of bloody carcasses may rub the squeamish the wrong way.
  • Little sexual content. One character describes a sexual experience with his wife, but it lasts for maybe a half a page and doesn't go into grueling detail. A character recalls walking in on a couple having sex, but nothing is described.
Description (not mine, for once): On an icy winter night, a terrible accident forces a family divided to come together and make a fateful decision. Cara, once protected by her father, Luke, is tormented by a secret that nobody knows. Her brother, Edward, has secrets of his own. He has kept them hidden, but now they may come to light, and if they do, Cara will be devastated. Their mother, Georgie, was never able to compete with her ex-husband’s obsessions, and now, his fate hangs in the balance and in the hands of her children. With conflicting motivations and emotions, what will this family decide? And will they be able to live with that decision, after the truth has been revealed? What happens when the hope that should sustain a family is the very thing tearing it apart?

Lone Wolf. I'm struggling on how to even approach describing this book, so I'll stick with a very handy, albeit unfortunate, adjective: disappointing. Luckily for this review and you, I can actually pinpoint what made this particular novel so bleh. 

The premise of the story is interesting enough: a family torn apart by the obsession and aloofness of one member due to--not the traditional drinking, drugs, gambling, etc.--but wolves. Not only does this lead to some very admirably written conflicts, but also a couple very well-executed characters, as well as a wealth of information about wolves that you may not have known, and if you're like me, you will love it. 

Unfortunately, these things weren't quite enough to carry the novel as a whole. Luke's interest in wolves was an original idea, but despite a whole narrative used to force his love and dedication to his work on you, he's a very tricky character to empathize with. In fact, many of the characters, Edward and Joe (Georgie's new husband), were not easy to really and truly feel for, which I would say is usually one of the defining characteristics of Picoult's novels. 

Another thing that Picoult has made herself known for is picking topics/conflicts that are often pretty relevant and pretty disputed, too. She has a particular talent for starting with a topic that you may think is pretty black and white, but make you see that there is so much more to consider by the time you finish. It's possible that this isn't what she was trying to do with Lone Wolf, but I highly doubt it. As far as I can tell, she was taking another stab at euthanasia with a side of oh, so you think this was a good guy that deserves to live well how about now, huh? how about now??? but I can't say that I felt like I was being presented with any new insight on the subject, and I definitely didn't have to reevaluate my feelings or opinions by the end.

Before I quit bashing, I also have to add that she added a couple of narratives into the book that were underutilized and clearly only thrown in to carry the plot, so they felt unfinished and just plain out of place.

Well, I guess I'll end by analysis on a good note. Even though I put all of my other positives in one spot and should have put this there, too. And that was an unnecessary fragment, and so is this oh my god I'm so annoying I'm sorry. Although I just didn't get many other good vibes from this particular book, I do feel the need to praise Picoult for an especially good portrayal of a gay character. In my opinion, many authors these days put in gay characters to be hip and forward thinking, but rarely give them the opportunity to be anything other than angsty over repressive familes/friends, as though they can't be given as important or as unique issues to deal with as other characters simply because they aren't heterosexual. Picoult did a darn fine job of making him multi-faceted, well-developed gay character. Heck, he was a darn fine multi-faceted, well developed character, regardless  of his sexual orientation, and that in itself is worthy of recognition, too.

Overall, I wasn't that pleased with this book because I am, as you have likely concluded, a fan of Picoult's work, and I don't think that it measures up to many of her other books. If you've never read anything by her, this may be a good book to start with because it is certainly worthy of your time, but I would definitely recommend you look to her other novels as well if you're looking for a more impressive read (I recommend Nineteen Minutes and My Sister's Keeper in particular). If you do decide to pick it up, I hope you enjoy!