The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Maureen Johnson is an author I’d enjoyed in the past, but kind of forgot I liked. I saw The Name of the Star mentioned on another book blog some time ago and purchased it on my Kindle. I started it when I found in need of some distraction during my lunch break.

Johnson has a very engaging style that is every bit in evidence here. I really enjoyed the character of Rory… From her first chapter, I loved her stories about her eccentric family in the south. She was overall a great lead.

The storyline was intriguing and great… Someone is repeating the Jack the Ripper murders. I loved the mix of history in this YA, set in an old city, at a boarding school (honestly, she had me at boarding school). The time period of the history is also one of my favorites… Victorian.

Supernatural twist: Did not see that coming/ was not prepared for it. But it totally made the book great.

I’m stoked to read the next books in this new series. The Name of the Star was pretty addicting and I’m sure the others in the trilogy will be as well, knowing Johnson’s writing.

The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But it wasn’t always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book. . . . Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With virtuosic skill and soaring imaginative power, Nicole Krauss gradually draws these stories together toward a climax of “extraordinary depth and beauty”.

This book is definitely in the running for my favorite book of 2013. Just a beautiful, beautiful novel.

Exactly the kind of thing you don’t want to be reading when you’re trying to edit your own novel. But I digress.

This is a novel I can see myself reading over and over. I’m actually itching to read it again because the storyline is a little confusing. It’s told from multiple viewpoints, in different styles, during different points of history, and all scrambled together.

But somehow, it just works.

Without giving much away (because really, you should just go read this book) I liked all of the characters, all of their individual stories, and how they pull together into a whole. I especially love the chapters that were dedicated to Alma Singer. I like the style of tiny vignettes. And the sections that were purported to come from The History of Love were also amazing. I wish it was a real book I could go off and read and die happy reading.

But most of all, I loved how quotable this book was. You could drop it open to any page and find something worth underlining. Truly. Nicole Krauss is an amazing writer and I look forward to reading more of her work.

I also think I just found a new literary hero.

Side note: Someone recommended this to me and I have no idea who. If you think it was you, please let me know!!

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town—and the family—Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.”

If that first line doesn’t make you sit down and take notice, nothing will. From the very beginning of the book, it is clear that this is an unconventional story. Made all the more unconventional by the fact that hers is a true story.

I wouldn’t recommend reading this book if you’re also working on/trying to write your own book: you might just feel like giving up. Walls’s writing is rich and powerful, sophisticated and tender. She tells a difficult story with a beautiful brush. As she moves from innocent child, for whom her parents are God, to independent adult, who almost pities them, her narrative style never wavers. Her story is generous and harsh in all the right places. While her parents were far from perfect and her childhood years even less so, we are never given the sense that Walls particularly regrets the past. Rather, she almost looks on it as a sad and distant adventure.

There is no question that it irrevocably shaped who she is. But perhaps, it was for the better. To triumph over such deep adversity, truly, that makes a person.

I loved the idea of “The Glass Castle”, what it represents, how it keeps coming back in the story, and ultimately, that Walls chose to title her memoir The Glass Castle.

Between that first line and this last line, lies an extraordinary book.

“A wind picked up, rattling the windows, and the candle flames suddenly shifted, dancing along the border between turbulence and order.”

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Your best friend hates you. The guy you liked hates you. Your entire group of friends hates you.

All because you did the right thing.

Welcome to life for Mena, whose year is starting off in the worst way possible. She’s been kicked out of her church group and no one will talk to her—not even her own parents. No one except for Casey, her supersmart lab partner in science class, who’s pretty funny for the most brilliant guy on earth.

And when Ms. Shepherd begins the unit on evolution, school becomes more dramatic than Mena could ever imagine . . . and her own life is about to evolve in some amazing and unexpected ways.

This is not the first time I’ve discussed having a book on your shelf for literally years (I would say a good five for this one), only to finally take it down, read it, and be completely blown away.

Blown. Away.

As usual with highly-charged issues, I don’t want this to devolve into a discussion or intelligent design vs. evolution vs. a combo of the two. I just want to talk about this book, which happens to handle that subject with a delicacy and aplomb rarely seen.

Mena was the perfect protagonist for this book. She feels as we all feel….sometimes you can’t just stop life from battering you on all sides. She feels like crumbling. Routinely. She doesn’t consider herself to be a strong person. And she’s not. But there is strength in her ability to get up and go to school every day, especially when her parents are freezing her out, too.

Then, Mena comes into contact with some amazing, passionate, devoted people, and her life changes. She evolves, for lack of a better word. Mena learns that she is more than she thinks she is and that she can be whatever she wants to be. More importantly, she learns that there are sides to everything. That sometimes middle ground isn’t an illusion created by people who want peace. Sometimes it’s a valid argument and an even more valid territory to occupy.

All of the characters were well-drawn and complex, even Mena’s ex-friends. People can be misguided and hurtful, but it doesn’t mean they’re evil. They just don’t see any alternative to believing what they believe. They don’t see grey areas or middle ground or any validity in another’s viewpoint. But it doesn’t make them evil.

265 pages that completely blew me away. Whatever your opinions on the subject matter, pick this book up for a fun, exhilarating, and well-crafted read.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A man returns to the town where a baffling murder took place 27 years earlier, determined to get to the bottom of the story. Just hours after marrying the beautiful Angela Vicario, everyone agrees, Bayardo San Roman returned his bride in disgrace to her parents. Her distraught family forced her to name her first lover; and her twin brothers announced their intention to murder Santiago Nasar for dishonoring their sister.
Yet if everyone knew the murder was going to happen, why did no one intervene to stop it? The more that is learned, the less is understood, and as the story races to its inexplicable conclusion, an entire society–not just a pair of murderers—is put on trial.

One Hundred Years of Solitude remains one of my very favorite books. It was also my first Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’ve tried off and on to read Autumn of the Patriarch, but sentences that are pages long really try my patience. I can’t sustain a thought that long. I am happy to say that Chronicle of a Death Foretold is Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the style of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

This is a short novel (120 pages), but well-developed. The course of the novel tells the story of Bayardo San Roman, Angela Vicario, and Santiago Nasar, past, future, and present, from all different angles. We see the winding path Angela’s brothers took, not bothering to conceal her plans, and yet, we see a society that is far more inclined to believe the best of people than the worst. Even when they were believed, too often the person who endeavored to stop the brothers from reaching Santiago were waylaid in one fashion or another.

The story turns and tumbles, following path after path, and still, we never encounter the truth of it. Was in Santiago Nasar who took Angela Vicario’s virginity? Did everyone really know what was going to happen and fail to stop it? In true Garcia Marquez fashion, the truth and the lie seemed inexorably bound up in each other.

The Rise of Endymion

The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons

See reviews of books one, two, and three. This review contains SPOILERS.

The time of reckoning has arrived. As a final genocidal Crusade threatens to enslave humanity forever, a new messiah has come of age. She is Aenea and she has undergone a strange apprenticeship to those known as the Others. Now her protector, Raul Endymion, one-time shepherd and convicted murderer, must help her deliver her startling message to her growing army of disciples.

But first they must embark on a final spectacular mission to discover the underlying meaning of the universe itself. They have been followed on their journey by the mysterious Shrike–monster, angel, killing machine–who is about to reveal the long-held secret of its origin and purpose. And on the planet of Hyperion, where the story first began, the final revelation will be delivered–an apocalyptic message that unlocks the secrets of existence and the fate of humankind in the galaxy.

The generally accepted thought is that each book in this series gets progressively less good than the one before. After having read all four, I’m not sure that’s true. I would say more that the first two books in the series are completely different than the last two. Especially if you think about book one in comparison to book four, you would really never have guessed what the ending to this whole series would be.

One of the things I loved about this book was the same as what I loved in all the others: the world-building. Yet again, we travel to even more fantastical planets, whose origins have just a hint of present-day Earth cultures in them.

I also liked that, in this novel, we get to basically see all of the original Hyperion pilgrims again.

Raul Endymion is hapless and bumbling. He even admits this in one rant inside the Schrodinger Cat Box. He’s always following, never seems to understand what’s going on, and is the last person to realize anything. This makes him somewhat of an annoying character. But it also makes him human. He displays insecurities far more than any other character. Which makes him a great contrast for the android, A. Bettik and Aenea herself, the child messiah that rarely seems like a whole person.

The philosophical explanations and endeavors weigh a little heavy. Most of the ideas postulated are so abstract, that it’s hard to get a hold of them. At the end of the novel, we see these explanations put into practice, but before that, it’s as if we’re grasping at cloud vapors.

I’ve thought about the title of the book a lot over the past few weeks, but I still don’t see it. The Rise of Endymion? The Rise of (Raul) Endymion? Raul doesn’t do a lot of rising or becoming a hero. He seems adept at surviving, I’ll give him that. But perhaps, the title is an allusion to the history that is never written, Raul’s story after the end of the series.

Is it worth reading the entire Hyperion series? I would say so. Unless you’re okay with never knowing the answer to certain mysteries like The Shrike, the labyrinthine worlds, and the Technocore.

Have you read the series? What did you think? Why do you think this particular book is called The Rise of Endymion.

 

On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance.

Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “Beat” and has inspired every generation since its initial publication more than forty years ago.

I honestly went into this book with the expectation that I wouldn’t love it. It has always seemed too hipster (isn’t this the bible of hipsters everywhere?) and most people I know that read it weren’t overly impressed.

In the end, I did like this book. It was different than what I expected. It actually covers four different roadtrips across America and into Mexico (I thought there was only one). I enjoyed Sal’s first roadtrip to Denver and on to San Francisco and his last one into Mexico.

The book covers a period of years, which is interesting because it allows you to see the members of Sal and Dean’s original friend group “growing up” e.g. getting married, having kids, and working a steady job. Oddly enough, Sal is the last one to get married and isn’t even married at the end.

Did anyone else who read this book think Dean might be a little bipolar? It’s hard to tell with Sal as our first-person narrator. He doesn’t seem to chronicle any low periods (if they are there), but there was an awful lot of manic highs, especially with the Dean declares his love for one woman only to turn around and run off after another, declaring that one the love of his life.

On the Road chronicles a picture of a more “innocent” America, where hitchhiking was common-place. I especially liked the contrast of the guys going down into Mexico at this time. There are vestiges of the US-Mexico relationship as it is today, but by and large, it is much more amicable. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you’ve probably gathered that I very much dislike the prejudice against Mexicans that exists today. I don’t want to discuss the politics at all, I merely bring it up because this section of this book very much got to me as a reader because it defines a time and status quo I wish still existed.

Is Jack Kerouac a great writer? Yes. There are most definitely some standout passages in this novel. Is the writing kind of clumsy elsewhere? To the extent that there’s a lot of direct dialogue and if you listen to how people talk, you realize that ninety percent of what they’re saying is filler with about ten percent content.

Have you read this book? What did you think? And the 64 million dollar question, what do you think of the casting for the upcoming movie?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

I am steadily working my way through the entire canon of John Green and David Levithan. I think I’m somewhere at five each.

This book had a great premise and it didn’t disappoint. For the most part. I really enjoyed this book, but I had the same issue with it that I did with Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy. It seems a terrible thing to say there’s not enough anti-homosexuality sentiment in the two books, but there’s not. While I love that these characters get to exist in a world where no one is constantly insulting them and bullying them because of their sexual orientation. It’s not realistic. And as there aren’t a heck of a lot of YA novels about homosexual characters, it’s hard to defend a complete departure from realism. People love to read characters they can relate to. I’m not sure what gay teenager can really relate to Tiny Cooper, except as maybe something to aspire to? I’m not sure.

With that out of the way, I can discuss the things I liked. One of the things that was really great about this novel was that, despite the title, the novel is really about Tiny Cooper. Will Grayson and Will Grayson narrate the whole thing and have their own stories, but only in the intersection of the two characters, do we see the protagonist beyond.

I liked how Will Grayson and other Will Grayson (o.w.g.) ended up being very different, but sort of the same. Will Grayson tries to repress all his feelings about everything and o.w.g. is depressed, so his social life is so non-existent he seems as if he’s repressing everything, too. The interesting thing is that, once o.w.g. meets Tiny Cooper, his life starts to flip around and much faster than one would expect. So suddenly you get this idea of Will Grayson as the more destructive individual, instead of o.w.g.

Another nice touch in the novel is that o.w.g.’s sections are written either in AIMspeak or the lingo of the internet. So, run-on sentences, no capitals, little punctuation, certainly no quotes. This helps to make the contrast of the latter part of the novel that much more apparent.

John Green is so great at writing these absolutely insane, larger-than-life characters. Tiny Cooper is such a character. Like Augustus, Alaska, and Margo, Tiny Cooper is one of those characters you wish were real so you could be their best friend. Seriously, these characters are fantastic.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a solid offering from two of YA contemporary fiction’s best authors. Also, the version I took the image of, includes a commentary from the two in the back, which is just fabulous and so worth reading.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while, but I finally downloaded it after a friend told me my writing is like Sherman Alexie’s. Well, I kind of forgot this was a young adult novel so I think the jury’s still out.

I read this book in about two days. It was really absorbing and completely not what I thought it would be. I’m not sure I even knew what it would be like, but it certainly wasn’t like it was.

This is an interesting book that speaks to some very human truths. Truths about race relations in the US between Native Americans and white people. But it also speaks to ideas about our perspective.

To Junior, the white school he transfers to is literally legions about the rez school. But as a reader, you know his idea of the school is somewhat tainted by context. It’s hardly the best school ever, but it’s certainly better than what he has. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel, and in fact the scene that sets him on the path to transfer schools, is when Junior gets a textbook at the beginning of the year and sees that it was used by his own mother, thirty years ago. He ends up throwing the book at the teacher.

If I had to pick one moment that encapsulates the ideas of the novel, it would be that.

A quirky and sadly beautiful short read.

Series Spotlight: Xenogenesis

Xenogenesis Series (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Image) by Octavia E. Butler

CONTAINS SPOILERS

(From Lilith’s Brood, which contains all three novels)

Lilith Iyapo is in the Andes, mourning the death of her family, when war destroys Earth. Centuries later, she is resurrected — by miraculously powerful unearthly beings, the Oankali. Driven by an irresistible need to heal others, the Oankali are rescuing our dying planet by merging genetically with mankind. But Lilith and all humanity must now share the world with uncanny, unimaginably alien creatures: their own children. This is their story…

I took a class on sci-fi literature last fall and we read Adulthood Rites. I always meant to go back and read the other two stories in the collection, which I finally did this holiday.

Each of the stories are interesting and complex in themselves. But what is even more remarkable is how the three stories TOGETHER add up to something much bigger.

To put it simply: Humans destroy the Earth in a war. An alien race, the Oankali saves some of the humans. Their price for saving them is a “trade”. The Oankali survive by merging genetically with new species, always seeking to improve and perfect. The traditional Oankali family structure consists of a male, female, and an ooloi (a gender-neutral being). Oankali are not capable of reproducing except through the aid on an ooloi. The new family structure includes the same three Oankali, plus a male and female human.

This series is many things. It is the story of the human survivor, Lilith Iyapo, and her journey in this strange, new world. It is the story of the Oankali, in a microcosm. It is the story of a species, of us all. When read together the three books essentially represent birth, growth, and adulthood. At the beginning of the series there are no human-Oankali children. By the end of the series, not only are there human-Oankali children, but the “construct” ooloi have essentially ended the feud between the two races: the Oankali and the humans who fear their own destruction through racial dilution.

The series is very complex and worth dissecting in its entirety, if you can manage it. There are so many endless questions, so many conflicts, that it seems impossible to truly grasp the extent of the series. I have never read anything by Butler before, but she is truly a master.