Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Love Drugged
James Klise

rating: 6.5 out of 10 "books"

What could be better than reading a book written by one of your own: I’m referring to a fellow librarian of course. In his first YA novel, Klise presents the possibility of a cure for homosexuality in the form of a little blue pill. And why shouldn’t it be a pharmaceutical company that invents the cure for such a “perversion of the human way of life,” (this is me quoting the opinion of countless people across the globe). For me however, I saw this story as one that presented a possible threat to the happiness of so many people who just so happen to be gay.

Love Drugged, is the story of Jamie Bates, a fifteen year old who just wants to be like any normal girl-obsessed teenage boy. The only problem is that he’s not: Jamie is gay. So when the should-be girl of his dreams, Celia, introduces Jamie to her father, the creator of a in-the-works gay cure called Rehomoline, Jamie, desperately seeking to live the life he feels he was meant to, has no choice but to steal some of the pills. However, as the pills take away his attraction to men; horrible side effects fill its place. Even worse, Jamie sees no advancement in his attraction to women, Celia included. The story follows Jamie as he makes bad choices, one after the other, and the people he will eventually hurt in his quest to be straight.

With the recent national “Things Will Get Better” campaign, I thought this book was fitting, especially since, within my own library system, there have been suicides due to unacceptance and ridicule because of sexual preference. Initially upon reading, I saw Rehomoline as a good thing; why shouldn’t people have a choice as to whether they want to be gay or not. But eventually, and as suggested further on in the book, why should that even be an issue? Why should a gay individual have to make that choice? It’s like an African American having the choice to become white, as if there were something wrong with being black. In an even larger scope, and something that I only realized after reading it further in this book, what if this drug did become available, and instead of people having the choice of whether or not they wanted to be “straight,” the drug was, for lack of a better word, weaponized, and forced upon homosexual individuals in order to mold them into some crazy idea of what a man or woman should be, or, more specifically, who they should love. In my opinion, that’s one less thing that needs to be made available to the likes of the ultra-religious homophobes. The worst part of this story is that the drug does nothing to “cure” homosexuality because although it may take away a man or woman’s attraction to the same sex, it does nothing to make a man or woman attracted to the opposite sex: it simply “suppresses the homosexual response in the brain,” thus destroying the one thing that separates man from all other creatures and turning people into a sort of zombie, devoid of any kind of human emotions relating to love.

Although this book and I started off pretty slow, I really came to like it, especially what it stands for and some of the issues and thought-provoking questions it brought up for me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro

rating: 6 out of 10 "books"

In the spirit of novels such as “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Unit,” comes a similar story that depicts the possibility of a not-too-distant-future, that while seeming hardly believable now, could actually come to conception when you really get right down to the root of the idea. An alumna of Hailsham, a mysterious school located in the English countryside, Kathy H. and her fellow classmates are not your ordinary human beings. Much of Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” is spent reminding readers that Hailsham students are “special,” a characteristic that up until the last quarter of the story, we can only guess at as to why. The students’ caretakers, or guardians as they are called, instruct Hailsham students on the importance of taking care of themselves, “keeping yourselves very healthy inside, that’s much more important for each of you then it is for me,” as one guardian puts it. As Kathy H. reminisces, “even at that age – we were 9 or 10 – we knew just enough to make us wary of that whole territory. We certainly knew – though not in any deep sense – that we were different from our guardians, and also from the normal people outside; we perhaps even knew that a long way down the line there were donations waiting for us. But we didn’t really know what that meant.”

The little pieces Kazuo Ishiguro lets onto early on in “Never Let Me Go” deal with the Hailsham students and donations. We are told that “normal” people are overcome with revulsion and dread at the mention of Hailsham students, especially Madame, the strange woman who comes to the school from time to time to pick up art for her “gallery,” that students spend much of their time creating. If for nothing else, this story had me reading to find out the great mystery behind the Hailsham students and their donations and kept my attention with the beautiful writing. Truly a coming-of-age tragic story, the plot follows Kathy H. and her closest classmates, Tommy and Ruth, as they grow inside the walls of Hailsham and beyond, dealing not only with the hardships of day to day life and growing up, but also those that face them in their uncertain future. If you’ve recently seen the theatrical movie release starring Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley, or you’re looking for a pretty decent read, I’d recommend checking out Never Let Me Go.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness

Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

rating: 8.5 out of 10 "books"

This town owned us, that was the good and the bad of it. It knew every inch of us, every sin, every secret, every scab. Which was why most people never bothered to leave, and why the ones who did never came back. But while other folks were busy cutting back their rosebushes, Light and Dark Casters with unique and powerful gifts were locked in an eternal struggle—a supernatural civil war without any hope of a white flag waving. Lena’s Gatlin was home to Demons and danger and a curse that had marked her family for more than a hundred years. A few months ago, I believed nothing would ever change in this town. Now I knew better, and I only wished it was true” -- Beautiful Darkness pg.2 &3

For those of you sick of the Vampire craze but looking for something to fill the void as the Harry Potter franchise draws towards a dramatic close, I’d recommend the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Although the storyline is much different than that of “the boy who lived”, many of the aspects of Beautiful Creatures and its sequel, Beautiful Darkness, are similar.

Living in a small South Carolina town where everyone knows each other’s business and no one really ever leaves after High School, Ethan Wate was counting down the days until he could finally get out of the town of Gatlin. But then Ethan began having very real nightmares involving a girl, dreams he’d wake up from physically hurt and covered in mud. When Lena, the girl from these dreams, turns out to be real, Ethan finds his life changed in ways he could never imagine. Everything he thought he knew about Gatlin has changed; because as it turns out, Lena is a Caster, a sort of witch capable of some pretty heavy stuff and everyone he thought he knew; his own recently deceased mother, her best friend and town librarian, Marian, even his caretaker, Amma, are involved. Sort of like Harry Potter is to magic, except in different terminology, Lena can perform some serious magic; like controlling the weather and making things happen that no one else could even imagine.

Lena lives in her uncle’s mansion on the outskirts of town. The Ravenwood Mansion is the town ghost story, it being the only mansion to withstand the burning of the town during the Civil War. Like Muggles in J.K. Rowling’s world, the people of Gatlin, perhaps sensing the power surrounding it, stay away from the mansion and the supposed hermit who resides in its walls. Lena’s uncle, Macon (said hermit), is even comparable to Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black. However, in the Caster world, there are much different creatures abound with much different powers. But whether it’s sirens, incubuses, seers, thaumaturgies, or palimpsests, each Caster must choose whether to be Light or Dark, much like the wizards and witches of Hogwarts.

The trouble in the first book comes into play when on her sixteenth moon, Lena will be claimed as a Dark or Light Caster. Cursed by the “Book of Moons,” the Ravenwood family has no choice as to whether they become Dark or Light like other Casters. Lena’s own cousin Ridley, practically her sister, turned Dark and was banished from the family. Lena’s situation is a little different however, because Lena is a special type of Caster and her claiming could mean the end of either the Dark Casters, or the Light, the outcome of which means losing some of the ones she loves either way. All the action of the story plays up to the moment of the sixteenth moon, with the balance of The Order of Things at stake, but in the meantime, Lena and Ethan must figure out the connection behind the dreams that they both share before it’s too late.

The first book ends on a sort of cliffhanger, but at the same time I was surprised when I discovered the sequel, Beautiful Darkness. I don’t want to give too much away as far as either book goes, for those who have not read Beautiful Creatures, but for those who were fans of the first story, you will not be disappointed by Beautiful Darkness. The stories are a little long, so they’re not for those looking for a super quick read, however, I found the books took me no time at all to finish just because they were so hard to put down!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary
David Sedaris

rating: 5.5 out of 10 "books"

From the author of “Me Talk Pretty One Day” and “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,” comes a collection of short stories chronicling the mishaps and ridiculous day-to-day happenings of animals. These stories, or more appropriately termed fables, are presented Aesop style with a normal enough beginning resulting in some sort of moral or insight type ending. The interesting part of these animal tales, is the fact that each animal personifies one person or another with whom we’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of interacting with at some point in our lives: the self-obsessed whiner who must be the center of attention at all times; the naïve acquaintance who will believe anything they are told, and oftentimes taken advantage of for it; or the group of guys who will poke fun (to the point of insinuating violence) at one section of the population and not even realize it, but make mention towards another and you’ve gone too far. Sedaris does an excellent job of pointing out many of the major and minor flaws that plague society.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a nice branching out in a new direction that departs from a lot of the autobiographical novels the author has written. The only downside to this story that I have found, is the fact that only a few of the stories on the audiobook are narrated by David Sedaris himself; Dylan Baker, Elaine Stritch, and Sian Phillips lend their vocals towards the other stories. Audiobook aside, each little story is a quick read, and the entire book could be read in one sitting if motivated.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Candor by Pam Bachorz

rating: 7.5 out of 10 "books"

Oscar Banks is the town of Candor's number one model citizen. He's got the perfect grades, the perfect girlfriend, and the perfect life. Every kid in school wants to be like him, and every girl in town is dying to be his girlfriend. But Oscar Banks has a secret: he's not who anyone thinks he is, including his own father. Living in a town his father created to turn the most delinquent of teens into model kids and help even the most far from fixing marriages, Oscar has figured out the underlying truth behind the perfection of Candor. Using what he calls "Messages" (ie. subliminal messages embedded deep in music), Oscar knows that his father is controlling and shaping the town's minds' into whatever each citizen pays big bucks for: resulting in a new and improved family. It's no wonder that the waiting list to get an extremely expensive yet basic plot of land is so long, when as a parent, you're guaranteed to have your brat of a child whipped into shape in a matter of a couple weeks. Oscar uses all this information to his advantage, promising to help newly arrived teens out of Candor before they change, in exchange for a large fee. He prepares everything for them, including cd's of his own Messages the escapees will need for the rest of their lives outside of Candor; because once you've been exposed to the Messages, you can't ever go without them or the consequences in most cases are death by personal injury. Making his own counter Messages is the only way Oscar's been able to make it as long as he has without turning into a Candor clone himself. As Oscar himself says “Other people don’t notice when a Message fills their head. But I’ve been here longer than anyone. And I’ve found ways to train myself. I know when my brain is feeding me Messages. I know how to fight them.”

Everything is going fine for Oscar until he meets the new addition to Candor: Nia. So unlike any of the girls he's initially met, and definitely different than any of the Candor clones, Oscar is torn between saving Nia from Candor, or keeping her for himself with his own concoction of Messages. His plan of keeping Nia in the dark as to the truth of Candor, while slowly feeding her Messages to prolong her genuine self, proves to be beneficial in the beginning. The only problem is, when Oscar's own meddling with the Messages sets off a chain reaction, Nia, and others in Candor, are no longer safe.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a little bit older, having come out in 2009 but it fits nicely into one of my favorite genres known as dystopian fiction; which according to Wikipedia, means, “Fiction set in a futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian.” If you’ve read the hugely popular Hunger Games series, another example of a dystopian society, it gives you an idea of the genre. I really liked that this story kind of ended with a twist, but not. I was surprised and upset by the end, but at the same time, could see the possible outcome from very early on in the book. I like stories that don’t necessarily end in a “happily ever after” sort of way, not to say there were not some elements of that present at the end. My advice: if you like “The Giver” by Lois Lowry or “Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, try giving this story a read. And after reading Candor, if you haven’t read the other two novels I’ve mentioned, definitely give them a shot too.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ape House
Sara Gruen

rating: 7 out of 10 "books"

If there’s ever been an author who will go above and beyond to research for a novel, Sara Gruen ranks high on that list. The newest book from the author of Water for Elephants explores the link between human-primate communication abilities, but on a deeper level, delves into the emotional link between the two and the similarities that exist no matter man or ape.

Isabel Duncan works for a college research facility studying the language and communication behaviors of bonobo apes. The closest things to family, her bonobos are her life. A reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, John Thigpen is assigned to report on the bonobo language facility. While Isabel and John are pretty much strangers to one another, leading two very different lives, when something major happens within the language lab, Isabel and John find themselves working side-by-side together.

Total romance novel-esque summary aside, Ape House is a very good read. Despite some bad reviews of the Water for Elephants follow-up, I think Gruen accomplishes a lot with this novel. I had no idea what this story was about besides apes, and even that gained tidbit from the title is not a fair presentation of the plot that follows. I really enjoyed the sort of split POV (point of view) that alternated between John and Isabel. The drama that occurs in each person’s life is a minor plotline that accentuates the overall theme of the story. John is constantly battling to keep his marriage afloat while economic, career, and mother-in-law troubles threaten to destroy his and his wife’s relationship. On top of that, his wife’s constant depression and yearning for a child leaves John anxious all the time. Isabel on the other hand, is dealing with her own personal demons; namely trust issues and an inability to fully open up to anybody, her fiancée included. Little is given to us as readers as far as Isabel’s family background, but it is enough information to discern that it has hugely affected Isabel’s current relationships.

Overall I’d say, if you liked Water for Elephants, try giving this novel a read. A lot of what happens in the story in relation to the bonobos are things that happened to Gruen herself when she was researching for the story at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa. A word of warning however for adults: the subject matter does get a little mature in some places, so have caution before adding this to your school collection or teen’s reading list.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

October Sky (Aka Rocket Boys: A Memoir)
Homer Hickam

rating: 9 out of 10 "books"

I know of quite a few people who hate when books are turned into movies. Common complaints include the degredation of the story from book to screen (you can't squeeze a whole book into a 90 minute movie!), departure of characters (appearance, or total deletion of), and yada, yada, yada, but honestly, I like book to movie adaptations because I think it's a great way to discover new books (or more specifically authors), that you may not have known existed before. What better way for kids to get into reading than for them to find out their favorite movie was adapted from a book? Especially when that movie is based on a real story?

I had never even heard of Homer Hickam until I saw the movie. "October Sky" is the story of a boy growing up in a small coal town and dreaming bigger than the life set out before him. During the on-set of the Space Race, Homer becomes facinated with the idea of outer space and the (at the time) seemingly science fiction-like possibility of putting a man in space. Despite his poor grades and lack of socio-economic opportunities growing up in West Virginia, Homer studies hard and learns beyond his school classes to persue his dream. He and his friends, the Rocket Boys, face challenges left and right; from their peers bullying them, to the company town threatening to shut down their rocket activities, to the school principal himself calling their rockets "bombs." Probably one of the biggest issues in this story, however, is the relationship Homer has with his father. It's heartbreaking at times to read how hard Mr. Hickam is on his son, and the disappointment Homer brings his dad when he dreams outside of Coalwood instead of following in his footsteps and becoming a coal miner.

I really enjoyed this book. Again having seen the movie before reading the book and then going back and seeing how things may have been added or deleted from book to movie might have put me off a little, but nothing too serious. Yes, some characters were different (some altogether excluded!) and some versions of how things "went down" may have been altered a bit, but all the same, it was an enjoyable read. I myself can understand the need to get out of a life you don't want, or a place that you don't want to be stuck in. That is why I give this story a rating of 9 "books."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ballads of Suburbia
Stephanie Kuehnert

rating: 7 out of 10 "books"

"It's like a big anomaly, but everybody in suburbia has a fucked up secret, an event or series of events that made you who you are. That's what you're confessing to here." Hence, ballad. "A true ballad tells a story about real life." "A lot of ballads are about the mistakes we inevitably make while trying to figure out how to live our lives." -- Ballads of Suburbia

Ballads of Suburbia is one of those stories that starts with the epilogue and then spends most of the book in a flashback. After being left for dead while OD'ing in the park near her house the summer after her junior year of High School, our narrator, Kara, is just now returning to Chicago after a four year abscence. Kara, however, was not always a royal screwup just a typical angst-ridden teen searching like any of us, for her place in the world. The back story of Ballads of Suburbia begins with not only the start of Kara's High School days and the loss of her best friend Stacey, (who has moved to another part of town), but the constant downpour of family issues that threaten to destroy the last familiar part of her life. It isn't until Kara meets the goths and punk rockers that hang around Scoville Park that she begins to feel as if she finally has a close group of friends. And while, for the first time in years, Kara and her younger brother, Liam, are hanging out and making the same friends, partying every weekend with the Scoville crowd, and experimenting with the abundance of drugs, everything around them quickly begins to spiral out of control.

The title of this story, Ballads of Suburbia, is part of the basis behind the layout of the story. As Kara descirbes, the dictionary definition of a ballad is "a song that tells a story in short stanzas and simple words, with repetition, refrain, etc," or as Kara puts it, "the punk rocker or the country crooner telling the story of his life in three minutes, reminding us of the numerous ways to screw up." Large chunks of the story are even divided into the parts of a ballad starting with the Verse, followed by chorus, and so on, including the must-have element of a ballad: the guitar solo. But even more central to the title of this story is the notebook that Kara finds out about one day that contains each of the authors included's messed up childhood stories ("firsthand accounts of the things that changed you and the mistakes you made.") and immediately labels "ballads." It's these ballads that really centralize the plot of the story and unites the various characters in the book. One cannot read the notebook until they have written their own ballad, a confession of one's own mess ups and secrets.

On the one hand, I feel as if I've lived a completely sheltered life, having lived in Suburbia myself throughout my childhood and never having anything like this happen to me. Sure, I'd hear of people at my High School having parties, doing drugs, and getting pregnant, but most of the time my friends and I saw this all as very scandalous and stayed away from it. But on the other hand, I can see how easy it is to fall into those sorts of traps, especially in High School where fitting in is probably one of the biggest deals ever. I can honestly see how Suburbia would be the perfect place for all these bad, lurking elements to collide and I have no doubts that some of the newspaper articles that the kids in this story collected about bad things happening in the Suburbs could be, or are, true. I suppose I could say that I have had some suburban drama happen in my life, and I do wonder if some of the problems I've faced in my post-High School life have been as a result of growing up in "sheltered" Suburbia.

I really liked the idea of the notebook and the fact that the characters felt safe airing their dirty laundry to their fellow peers. What was essentially personal journal entries for these kids became group knowledge. It reminds me of that new MTV show "If You Really Knew Me." I think it's really made these teens feel a whole lot closer during a time when parents, as hard as they might try, really don't understand what their teenagers are going through. I think a lot of parents argue that they know perfectly well what's going on in their child's life because "we were once teenagers too," but "the times, they are a changing." I don't know when the next generation of teens are going to have it easier than the previous, but for now it seems like it always gets tougher and tougher to be that magical age.

I liked this story. It might not be a literary masterpiece, but I think it speaks out to people, not just teenagers, of the trials and tribulations, up and downs that people go through, possibly have to go through, before they can become the people they are meant to be.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Ask
Sam Lipsyte

rating: 3 out of 10 "books"

I recently read this story as part of a book club a few of my friends and I started and from the book summary the story sounded interesting enough. The Ask by Sam Lipsyte is the story of Milo, an awkward loserish type, who works for a mediocre liberal arts college after his own dreams of being an artist fail. He spends his time begging wealthy alumni for money to fund the university's ever expanding art department projects. The Ask as the title refers to, is essentially whatever the college is looking to acquire from a particular alumni as opposed to what the alumni decides to Give. The rising crisis occurs when Milo, who has been fired from the university, is rehired on the condition that he help acquire a big Ask from an old collge roommate who specificially requests Milo's help. Bizzareness ensues as Milo tries to balance work, his crumbling marriage, and his ever curious three year old son as well as everything and anything in between.

I've often wondered what it must be like to work for an alumni organization calling one alumni after another in an attempt to sqeeze whatever bits of charitable money out of them as possible. To me, it seems like a slight variation to telemarketing, and although the story aims at dark humor, sarcasm, and bitter hilarity, the ridiculousness of everyday circumstances Milo finds himself in are more lewd than entertaining. I had a hard time trying to decide if some of the things Lipsyte writes in this novel are for surface level shock value, or if on some underlying level of his psyche Lipsyte is a misogynist.

Overall, there's a moment in this book that pretty much sums up The Ask as a whole. Milo, asks, "if I were the protagonist of a book or movie, it would be hard to like me, to identify with me right?" To which his co-worker, Vargina, (yes you read that name right) replies, "I would never read a book like that, Milo. I can't think of anyone who would. There's no reason for it." Almost as if Lipstye is using this as a disclaimer for any negative critiques, "The Ask" is nothing more than the boring story of a loser told in a narrative whether meaning to or not, reads like a cross between Salinger and Vonnegut. But not in a good way. Anti-hero or not, I did not enjoy this story.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hey Bloggers!

A few people have been asking where I've disappeared off too, and I just wanted to let the cat out of the bag so to speak,as to what's been going on over in my end.

I recently took up a part-time job after spending months looking for a library job in my area. It's nothing too glamourous and doesn't even pay that much, but it's helping pay the bills. Unfortunately the hours take up a lot of my time previously spent working on my reviews. I know I've said it before, but I apologize in advance for future book reviews. I will try my best to get some posted up here when I get a chance (I've read quite a few books that still need to be reviewed).

Thank you all for your patience!

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Water for Elephants News!!!

Hey bloggers. As I'm sure many of you have heard, the beloved best selling novel Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen is going to be turned into a major motion picture starring none other than Twilight's sexy vamp Robert Pattinson as well as Reese Witherspoon and recent Oscar winner Christoph Waltz of "Inglorious Bastards" fame!

If you would like to keep up to date with the progress of the adaption from book to film check out this website here for more info! I definitely know which book I am going to have to be revisiting and review in the near future!

Also, I've been doing a horrible job at updating, but keep a look out for my reviews of recent reads such as Shutter Island, The Other, and Ballads of Suburbia!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Japan Ai: A Tall Girl's Adventures in Japan
by Aimee Major Steinberger

rating: 5.5 out of 10 "books"

Japan Ai is the story of self proclaimed "geek" Aimee; obsessed with video games, comic books, and cute girly girl hair accessories, as well as a newfound obsession for Japanese Manga. When Aimee is invited to Japan by a representative who noticed her help in building a website about an exclusive type of Japanese Doll Company called VOLKS, Aimee finds her and her friends immersed in a totally new culture. From the beautiful shrines in Kyoto to the theme restaurants in Tokyo, Japan Ai is packed with interesting little bits of information about Japanese culture. For instance, did you know that people with tattoos are not allowed in the public baths of Japan? Or that there are certain hotels in Tokyo for "salary" men only, who stay at these hotels when they've worked too late and missed the last train home? This "manga journal" includes all these interesting facts and more, all illustrated by Aimee herself. I felt this story was a quick read and a very original way of recounting one's trip abroad.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

City of Ember
Jeanne DuPrau

rating: 8.5 out of 10 "books"

Review from Amazon.com:

"It is always night in the city of Ember. But there is no moon, no stars. The only light during the regular twelve hours of "day" comes from floodlamps that cast a yellowish glow over the streets of the city. Beyond are the pitch-black Unknown Regions, which no one has ever explored because an understanding of fire and electricity has been lost, and with it the idea of a Moveable Light. "Besides," they tell each other, "there is nowhere but here" Among the many other things the people of Ember have forgotten is their past and a direction for their future. For 250 years they have lived pleasantly, because there has been plenty of everything in the vast storerooms. But now there are more and more empty shelves--and more and more times when the lights flicker and go out, leaving them in terrifying blackness for long minutes. What will happen when the generator finally fails?

Twelve-year-old Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet seem to be the only people who are worried. They have just been assigned their life jobs--Lina as a messenger, which leads her to knowledge of some unsettling secrets, and Doon as a Pipeworker, repairing the plumbing in the tunnels under the city where a river roars through the darkness. But when Lina finds a very old paper with enigmatic "Instructions for Egress," they use the advantages of their jobs to begin to puzzle out the frightening and dangerous way to the city of light of which Lina has dreamed. As they set out on their mission, the haunting setting and breathless action of this stunning first novel will have teens clamoring for a sequel".--
Patty Campbell

So I got this review from Amazon.com just FYI (me giving credit where credit is due, and so I'm not breaking copyright laws). Originally I tried to think of how best to sum up this story and came up short, but I think a large majority of it is just that I've been on a lazy streak again. I have to say I really liked this book. I saw the movie when it first came out on DVD, and it was yet another one of those movies that I was surprised to find had come out of a series. I don't know why I was surprised as most movies are adapted from novels... But anyways, this book was a super quick read and I personally couldn't put it down. I do a lot of my reading before bed so this combination did not help my sleep cycle one bit. A lot of the time I had to force myself to put the story down and go to bed!

The best part about City of Ember is the idea of it. I had never heard of anything like this story before and that's what really attracts me to certain books. It seems like a lot of books these days are either knock-offs, or stories that borrow themes/ideas/plots from others. It would get to the point where I would literally come away from story after story thinking I had already read something just like it. City of Ember is truely original though and although it's technically a children's book, I'd recommend it to anyone. Read the book, and then go rent the movie, because both are fabulous :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Horizontal Life
Chelsea Handler

rating: 7 out of 10 "books"

For anyone who's ever watched the E! channel relatively late on a week night, I'm sure you've come across "Chelsea Lately," a late night talk show hosted by the hilariously witty, Chelsea Handler. On the show she openly talks about subjects that many would consider taboo or controversial, dishes out and speaks her mind about celebrity gossip, and most of all makes fun of the Hollywood elite. With her roundtable of guest comedians and her personal assistant, whom she calls her "little nugget," Chelsea Lately is hardly boring. I have become an avid viewer over the years, and try to catch it when I am able to stay up that late, but I had never really known anything about her personal life or other work-related projects outside from the show. I had never seen her do standup either, whether in person or on a TV special, so I was curious to read "My Horizontal Life" to try to find some kind of explanation as to the experiences that shaped the character that she is.

Of course, this book is a true story about a bunch of different one night stands, and given the subject matter may not be the best book for anyone under the age of 21 to read. However, apart from all the intimate details, this book is filled with laugh out loud moments from the situations (both embarassing and bizzare), down to Handler's writing style itself. While I had a hard time reading about her childhood memories and believing that she could act in such a manner as a 7-10 year old (the style of writing makes it feel like as a youngster, she spoke and thought much like she does now), eventually I was able to get used to it. I mean of course, having written this book as an adult, things are going to come across in her current voice... I think I just had a hard time believing she could be so clever and funny all her life. I sought some sort of explanation as to what kind of made her into the person she is, and yes the situations more than explain it, but somehow I still didin't find my answer. But again, that was not the intention of this book at all.

All in all, "My Horizontal Life" was a super fun read. I was able to get it read in no time at all. If you are a fan of Chelsea Handler, or just need an entertaining book to read on vacation or wherever, then I'd definitely recommend this book! Now I just need to get my hands on her other book "Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea!"

Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy Friday!!!

Greetings Book Bloggers! Well, as Chelsea Handler from "Chelsea Lately" on E! would say, these past couple weeks have been a whirlwind! I have had a LOT going on as far as trying to keep up with my reading, personal life stuff, and of course -- The Olympics!!! Seeing my fav athletes win has been pretty exciting and got me thinking that maybe I should try to find a biography or two to read to find out a little bit more about these amazing people.

I've currently been reading "The Other" by David Guterson and so far it has been pretty interesting. As far as reviews to come, look out for my thoughts on "City of Ember" and "The People of Sparks" both by Jeanne DuPrau.

Until next time, Happy Reading!


*** Pictured above: (Olympic Gold Medalists) Women's Skiing; Lindsey Vonn, Men's Figure Skating; Evan Lysacek, and Men's Snowboarding; Shaun White ***

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Unit
Ninni Holmqvist

rating: 8.5 out of 10 "books"

I saw a summary for this book on an ALA online booklist website once and have always wanted to read it. The only problem was the few copies my local library services had always seemed to be checked out. I had actually seen this book before I even heard mention of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood (reviewed further down my site), and when I was finally able to get my hands on a copy, I devoured this story! So without further adieu, here’s my review and thoughts on “The Unit.”

The main character of “The Unit,” Dorrit, has reached her 50th birthday at the beginning of the story. She recalls how she can hardly believe this benchmark has come so fast. She can remember like it were yesterday, when she’d just moved into her house at 42 years old and still regarded the future with optimism. “I still believed and hoped that it wasn’t too late to have a child. Or at least to start earning money from my profession and become financially secure, or find a partner, someone who would love me and want to live with me.” Dorrit has never been in love nor had someone love her other than her dog, Jock. A lot of this, we find, seems to stem from her upbringing.

Dorrit lives in a world in which, as she explains it “the housewife and her male provider have not only been out of fashion for a long time, they have been eradicated. And children are no longer a drag, a hindrance, for anyone. There is no longer the risk of ending up as a dependent, or falling behind on the salary scale, or losing skills in the workplace. There is no longer any excuse not to have children. Nor is there any longer an excuse not to work when you have children.” For in this dystopian society, everyone is equal; for the most part. You see, society is based on a sort of scale that measures people’s worth based on what they can offer the world in terms of children, financial prosperity, and success; anything that can benefit the future of society. In this type of world, men are ashamed if they openly show off their physical strength and women are scorned if they dare to be physically weak or accept help with heavy jobs. It is actually against the law for either party to take part in such activities.

So what it comes down to is: those who are “needed” and those who are not or, in other words “dispensable.” Dorrit finds herself amongst the latter, and therefore required to leave her world and spend her remaining life at the “Second Reserve Band Unit for biological material.” Women who are 50 years old and do not have a husband, children, or any significant accomplishments to speak of and 60 year old men with no wives, children or successes are all sent to “The Unit.” Here, their everyday lives revolve around scientific experiments and organ donations because those who are “dispensable” constitute a reserve, that when, in the event that a seriously ill “needed” person requires an organ “donation,” the “dispensable” person would provide the matching organ. The longer a person remains in “The Unit,” the more risky the experiments he or she is expected to participate in, while at the same time he or she moves closer to donating vital organs. The people of “The Unit” refer to this as the “final donation,” because the removal of their vital organ ultimately results in the “dispendable’s” death.

However, the treatment of the “dispensables” is hardly uncomfortable. Their living arrangements are very comfortable. Each person has their own apartment with all the amenities. They are allowed to bring any personal items they choose, although they can have no contact with the outside world (no telephone, email, text messaging, etc.). People in “The Unit” can pursue any hobby or professional activity they wish and never have to worry about finances again because everything is taken care of for them. There is a garden, library, cinema, theater, art gallery, café, restaurant, sports complex, etc. Above all, as the director of “The Unit” explains it, “you have each other. For the majority of you it isn’t until you come here that you will experience the feeling of belonging, or being part of something with other people, which those of us who are needed often take for granted.”

Dorrit, like everyone else just entering “The Unit” is very scared, but she tries to keep her head up and distract herself from what is going on by keeping busy at the sports complex. She begins to realize that the experiments are humane and the workers of “The Unit” try to keep them alive as long as possible before the “dispensables” are sent in to make their final donations. But even realizing that is not enough to keep Dorrit’s spirits up all the time. She explains to her psychologist that, “I used to believe that my life belonged to me. Something that was entirely at my disposal, something no one else had any claim on, or the right to have an opinion on. But I’ve changed my mind. I don’t own my life at all; it’s other people who own it.” The only thing that gets her though her situation, what makes her believe what she’s doing is meaningful, is to tell herself she’s doing it for the good of “the needed.” Things get even more complicated however, when she falls in love with Johannes, a fellow writer like herself. Saying goodbye to your "Unit" friends(the only friends you've ever really had)is hard, but this story begs the question: how can you deal with having to say goodbye to the only person you've ever loved?

"The Unit" was really amazing. Even with how horrible the overall idea of the story was to imagine, I found it one hundred times better to think about than what occurred in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Like another reviewer put it, I really enjoyed the characters, even if none of them were very memorable. This was another one of those “speculative fiction” stories, where the events presented in the story, while although appearing all science fictiony, are actually not all that far off from becoming true. I could totally see this happening in the near future, bizarrely enough. Of course, the one thing I did not like about this book was the ending. Yes, I am yet another reader who was unsatisfied with the ending of this book. I mean, I’m all for books having unpredictable endings, but this one just killed me. That cost this story points in my book. I’d like to rank “The Unit” by Ninni Holmqvist a 10 out of 10 “books,” but because of the above mentioned, combined with the less “wow” factor I felt between this story and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” I am going to have to give “The Unit” a rating of 8.5 out of 10 “books.” I do suggest anyone and everyone read this book though!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vampire Diaries: Team Stefan or Team Damon?                           What side are you on?

Hey bloggers! Happy Groundhog Day! Or maybe not so happy with the way things turned out this morning :(

Anyways, Zoe over at Zoe's Book Reviews has started a debate over which brother from the CW television show "Vampire Diaries" is better. She has graciously let me argue on the behalf of Damon, and I decided I would also share it here on my site. If you haven't seen the show or read the books, you NEED to! The show is sooo good and the books aren't too bad either ;)

OK then! Here goes:

I hate to hop on the Damon bandwagon, but like the other Guest Posters I am Team Damon all the way. Not only is Damon way more mysterious, hunky, and all that good stuff that you immediately pick up on while watching the show, but I think Damon is also waaaay deeper than he appears. He may have some tricks up his sleeve (but come on, it only makes things more interesting!), but deep down I know he is a good guy. Yeah Stefan may be conflicted with his whole vamp situation and disgusted by what he must do to get food, but Damon I believe, is more conflicted with himself (as in, not what he’s become, but who he is). Yes, Damon is pretty secure with himself as a vampire and feels no remorse killing, but I also think (as evidenced by this past Thursday’s episode), that Damon does have a caring side. He really seems to want to help protect Elena, for the sake of her well-being and not for the sake of his own personal interests (at least some of the time).

In this way, I think Damon has the potential to change – a lot. Now, I’m not saying he’s going to become all “Saint Damon,” but I think he could become part of “the group.” But getting back to my argument, it’s simple: Stefan is boring, dorky, and pretty much a “solid” guy while Damon is charming, funny, and most of all, the brother with the most range (I guess is the right word?) What I mean is that Stefan as a character is kind of stuck. He’s kind of this straight arrow type and it’d have to be some sort of mega-disaster before Stefan “switched to the dark side.” Damon on the other hand, has a lot of room to develop. Combine that with what the other Team Damon guest posters have said (see Zoe's site for the guest posters pieces), and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of supporting our side of the argument!

Again, I encourage you to read the books whether you are a fan of the show or just interested in the whole vampire craze. The books are somewhat different than what has happened on the show, and it's fun to watch the show after having read the books and try to guess what the CW will use from the books and so on. Definitely see my reviews of the first part of "The Vampire Diaries" books which have appeared in earlier posts.

Since we have six more weeks of winter, might as well make the most of it... Grab a book, a blanket, maybe even some hot chocolate and settle into your favorite reading spot! Until next time... Happy reading!


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Other Girl: A Midvale Academy Novel
Sarah Miller

rating: 3.5 out of 10 "books"

Summary From School Library Journal:

Predicting your boyfriend's every wish is easy, especially when you are in his head. Molly knows everything that Gideon thinks, and she uses that to be there when he wants her, to leave when he doesn't, and to fulfill his fantasies when the opportunity arises. However, when she catches him thinking of another girl during an intimate moment, Molly dumps him on the spot. And when a game of spin the bottle goes wrong, Molly ends up inside the head of Pilar, the hottest girl in school, dealing with her insecurities as well as her fantasies about Gideon.—Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Ok, so I got lazy with my review this time and used a review from School Library Journal on Amazon.com's webpage (this is me giving you credit!) Unlike the reviewer in the above summary, I actually liked this sequel to Inside The Mind of Gideon Rayburn much better. But after trashing the first novel, some of you may be wondering why I even bothered at all to read this next installment of the Midvale Academy (series?)? Well, originally I got The Other Girl from the library only later realizing it was a sequel. So I had the book, why not read it? I was holding out with the hopes that the next book would be better. And I wasn't totally disappointed. However, the book is by no means phenomenal. The characters are still pretty annoying, but there were some pretty humorous moments involving Pilar and a bit more development as far as the plot goes. Unfotunately, I don't think this book would work all that well as a stand-alone story so you could just skip the first story. With that said, I'd recommend that this two part story be skipped altogether (unless Sarah Miller does make this a series and produces more stories).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Inside The Mind of Gideon Rayburn
A Novel by Sarah Miller

rating: 2 out of 10 "books"

When this book first came in for me at my local library, I was a little embarassed to be seen carrying it around to be honest. I have no idea why the publishers would choose to make the cover a close up shot of a girl's chest regardless of the fact that the book basically details the life of a horny teenage boy. There could have been other ways to achieve this effect, especially since the target audience for this story is probably teenage girls (afterall, what teenage girl wouldn't want to know what their male classmate/whatever, is actually thinking?). The only reason I could see this being done is to draw in a more male audience.

With that opening rant, I have to say, Inside The Mind of Gideon Rayburn does not get much better. The premise is interesting: girl mysteriously ends up in boy's mind and uses this advantage to secretly win him over without his even knowing, because she knows what he wants and how he wants it. The narrator states at the very beginning of the story that, "My feelings, though perhaps passionate for someone my age and experience, are pretty normal. But my situation -- that is unique, and that's what puts me in a position to tell you everything. I mean it. Everything you've ever wondered about what guys think (and feared about what they want), I'm going to tell you. You are going to learn what boys say when girls are not in the room and how they feel when they're on top of one. I will, for now, leave out one very crucial thing: who I am. I'm in this story too, and not just inside Gid's head. But there are a lot of girls -- and women -- in this story. Which one am I?" Sounds interesting enough, but the majority of the story is about an oversexed boy trying to get a girl he doesn't even know, to sleep with him in order to win a bet his egotistical, misogynistic roommates set so he can prove himself to them. The romantic part, if you can call it that, is that in the end he happens to have feelings for his "lay."

I hated this story. The happy ending could not make up for the trashiness and sour taste left after reading the beginning to middle of the story. This is not a story for teenagers, at least not high school aged. The kids in the story are supposed to be High School Prep kids, but the story reads more like a dumb Van Wilder or American Pie movie, minus the funny. There's tons of bad language and sex talk, which although I can understand for a book that's supposed to be about what guys think and talk about, I guess I just wasn't expecting as much. If anything, the book is at least honest in that regard. Still, this is not a book you would want to add to your classroom collection or school library. For as much as I didn't enjoy the book Youth In Revolt, at least that one was bizzare and entertaining. You know the phrase, "Don't judge a book by it's cover?" With Inside The Mind of Gideon Rayburn, you should and it will save you a lot of time. I gave this book a rating of 2 out of 10 "books" which I consider generous and only did because while the entire story was lacking, at least the concept was somewhat original.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Happy Friday Bloggers!

Well, hopefully your start to the weekend has been going smoothy. I just wanted to give you all a little update. Recently a bunch of Borders booksellers stores have started to go out of business and all their books have been marked down as much as 80% off. It's sad to see bookstores go out of business, especially when they see the most business the last few weeks of business with all the sales, but I've been like a kid in a candy store trying to find books to buy. Here's some of my newest book purchases:

Following the book to movie trend as mentioned in my review of "Derby Girl" or evidenced by many of my reviews:

October Sky by Homer Hickam         Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer


And a book that I bought for my boyfriend that I might end up reading:

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

I guess that's all for now! Be sure to look out for my still to come reviews of "Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn" and "The Other Girl" both by Sarah Miller.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Derby Girl
Shauna Cross

rating: 7 out of 10 "books"

I don't really know why, but I seem to enjoy reading a lot of books that are later turned into movies or read books after I've discovered that a movie has been made about them. I think it's just my love of film that makes me do this. Having said that, I find it no surprise that I was drawn to the book "Derby Girl" by Shauna Cross when I discovered it was the book that later became the Ellen Page movie, "Whip It."

"Derby Girl" is the story of Bliss Cavendar, a 16 year old punk rocker who is, unfortunately, stuck in the small Texas town of Bodeen where football rules and people like her are limited. From her small Texas town to her "two culturally clueless imposters for legal guardians," Bliss imagines her "real parents" are out there somewhere doing cool art stuff or something. Bliss is into all things "punk rock." She loves indie music, thrift store shopping, etc, and has even dyed her hair blue to show her disgust for all things ordinary. Her mother is addicted to beauty pagents and is always trying to get Bliss to compete. Luckily Bliss's 4 year old sister fulfills much of that void, but "Brooke" (her mother) still has the delusion that Bliss will participate in the Miss Bluebonnet beauty pagent, a Cavendar tradition that has seen both Bliss's grandmother and mother win.

Her only friend is the beautiful Pash Amini who moved into town and shares the same indie rock spirit as Bliss. They spend most of their free time slaving away at the "Oink Joint," a gross barbecue restaurant that all the local hicks frequent. The only thing that gets them through the hell of small town Texas life is each other. That, and imagining finding the perfect rocker boyfriends whilest getting the hell out of Bodeen.

But everything seems to change when Bliss picks up a flier for Roller Derby while shopping in downtown Austin with her mother and sister one day. She doens't even know what it is, but Bliss knows she has to go check it out. She instantly falls in love with Roller Derby the first time she sneaks out to go watch a match. When one of the Roller Derby girls encourages Bliss to try out for an opening, the idea scares her, but yet as Bliss states "something about watching those Derby Girls and hearing their skates pound on the track -- it's like I got to peek through the window at what life could be like outside of Bodeen. I want more. I need more." Remarkably, Bliss makes the team and lies to her parents that she's joined an SAT study group in order to get away with coming home late. Bliss is suddenly immersed in a totally different culture. She falls in love with a rocker boy and gains a whole group of friends like she's never had before. Bliss even finds herself being nicer to her mother, and agreeing to enter the silly beauty pagent to appease her. But while her life gets better because of derby, her friendship with Pash begins to suffer.

"Derby Girl," is the story of a teen finally finding out who she is and gaining a sense of belonging. There's some heartbreak and true learning experiences thrown in there, but it's something Bliss, I'm sure, would not trade for the world. I enjoyed this story a lot. It was a super easy read (the book was small in size and length), and had a lot of enjoyable moments. However, this was also part of what I did not like about the book. I felt like the author could have developed the story a lot more; really gotten into Bliss's emotions. It felt like as soon as I began the book it was over. That's why I've given this book a rating of 7 "books" out of 10. If you want a humorous book that will take you no time to read, I think "Derby Girl" is perfect. From the first page of the story I could also see why they cast Ellen Page as Bliss: it sounded exactly like her character in "Juno." I have yet to see the movie, and have heard some negative reviews of it, but I wonder if it has anything to do with the shortness of the book. Oh well, I still want to see it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Greetings book bloggers! Just wanted to give you all an update as to where I am at right now. My computer is fixed! I had to reformat it but everything is all good. I just need to get Office and then I can resume posting reviews on this computer. So look forward to reveiws coming on the following books!:

Derby Girl by Shauna Cross         Inside The Mind Of Gideon Rayburn by Sarah Miller


Until then, Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry
Audrey Niffenegger

rating: 8 out of 10 "books"

Having read Niffenegger’s first novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and not caring for it in the least, I went into the reading of this book with no expectations. The main reason I even picked it up was because I discovered after seeing Neil Gaiman speak at one of my local libraries and reading his Newbury Medal Award winner, “The Graveyard Book,” that Gaiman and Niffenegger both visited Highgate Cemetery (I believe it was Highgate…can’t remember all the details) together while writing their “ghost stories” respectively.

I’ve seen many reviews by people saying this book is a huge disappointment; that it doesn’t measure up to “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” blah, blah, blah. And I suppose I can understand why people might feel this way. However, if you go into the reading of “Her Fearful Symmetry” expecting “The Time Traveler’s Wife Part II” you will no doubt be disappointed. This book is in no way a love story. Sure there are some romantic elements to the story, but if anything the overarching theme is people moving away from one another over time, not the other way around. The story begins with the death of Elspeth Noblin, who in her will, leaves her London flat and everything in it to the twin daughters of her own twin sister, Edie. Elspeth and Edie have long been estranged, and part of the mystery of the story is finding out the reason why this is. Twenty-ish year old twins Valentina and Julia move to London from Illinois to live in the Aunt they’ve never met’s flat, at least for one year before selling it, as the will states. They encounter all of Elspeth’s neighbors; from her much younger lover, Robert, to her strange upstairs neighbor, Martin, who suffers from severe obsessive compulsive disorder, causing his wife to leave him for Amsterdam early in the story. The twins not only look about twelve, as described in the book, but they act that way much of the time as well, which may cause readers some annoyance. The girls have never had a job, never really been on their own, and can’t even stay in school long enough to get any sort of degree. The story almost feels very Young Adult more than Adult at times, which may be reason why dedicated fans of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” may not like this book.

The title of “Her Fearful Symmetry” factors in a few parts of the story: the twins are what the author calls “mirror twins.” Valentina is the exact opposite in appearance from Julia in that while a mole on Julia’s face is on one side, let’s say the left, Valentina’s is on the right. They are identical but each of their features is opposite as if they were looking into a mirror when glancing at each other. Even the girls’ internal organs are opposite. While Julia has a normal layout of internal organs, Valentina’s are all opposite; from the placement of her heart on her right side of her chest and so forth. The author describes how the doctor had to use a mirror when performing surgery on Valentina as a baby because the reflection that it gave (of a normal heart) was how he was used to seeing it. Another portion of the novel that references symmetry is a passage narrated by Martin describing the way he likes to have symmetry in his washing and shaving patterns. As for the actual meaning of the title, that is up for the reader to decipher.

Although the twins do everything together and dress identically, their behaviorisms are very different as far as attitudes and interests. Julia is more outspoken than her twin and Valentina often feels resentful for the things they do not do because they are always things Julia does not want to do. Whereas Julia seems to have no life aspirations, Valentina would love to go to fashion school and get a real job. As the story begins to unfold, we see the twins’ relationship begin to unravel. Add to that the fact that the flat may be haunted by the ghost of Elspeth, which we do in fact find out, is the case. The story builds up to a very twisty climax and finishes on an utterly somber note.

As mentioned before, this is not a book for those looking for a happy ending. I was very surprised at the turn this book took. Niffenegger’s writing was very well done, especially in the descriptions of Highgate Cemetery, and I found this story very easy to read. There is definitely a style that I think Niffenegger has developed that can be seen in this story as well as in “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” I don’t know exactly how to pinpoint it, but in reading her passages on the more “intimate” parts of both stories, I can see a definite resemblance, especially in the male point of view. I honestly have to say that I enjoyed this novel. It was very different than much of the literature out there, and I felt it took a very different perspective as far as “ghost stories” go. I didn’t find it predictable in the slightest. Maybe it’s the average rating I would give “The Time Traveler’s Wife” that enables me to look past Niffenegger’s first novel and not feel disappointed by the second. I therefore give “Her Fearful Symmetry” a rating of 8 “books” out of 10.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Handmaid’s Tale
By Margaret Atwood

rating: 10 out of 10 "books"

Honestly, I’m not really sure how to begin this review other than to start by saying that “The Handmaid’s Tale” blew my mind. It was so seemingly out there yet eerily possible at the same time that after each time I set the book down I couldn’t help but think about what I had just read. Not only was this book amazing along the lines of the whole “dystopian society” theme (think “The Giver” but way more messed up), but I had a hard time tearing myself away.

Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is the story of a woman by the name of Offred. The story starts off in what had once been an old gymnasium. We as the readers have no idea when or where in time the story is taking place, but by the descriptions it is easy to assume it is in the near future. We come to learn that this is exactly the case, but that things are very different. For one, the United States is no more. The former U.S. is being run by a type of religious military operating under the front of a “return to traditional values.” As Offred remembers back to the past early in the story, she can recall the dangers that existed for women. However, now women “walk along the same street in pairs and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles.” Men must be of a certain age or rank to even touch a woman. Offred even teases one of the young men and instantly feels ashamed but then finds she is not at all. She says she enjoys her power. Men have no sexual outlets in this new society, except themselves. All the pornographic magazines, films, and substitutes have been abolished. Places that used to exist with names such as “Pornomarts,” “Feels on Wheels,” and “Bun-Dle Buggies” are no more.

It all sounds pretty great right? How awesome, as a woman, would it be to not have to deal with all that crap that many men do? The story almost sounds pro-feminist when I describe the story in this manner. However, this is only one facet of the story. The larger scope, or rather the trade-off, is much worse. Men rule society completely. Women have no rights. They cannot own property or work. They are not even allowed to read or write. In this futuristic story, the birthrate is shockingly low, and most of the female population is infertile. “Handmaids” have been employed, whose sole purpose is to breed for married couples. Offred, who is part of the first generation of handmaids, describes her and her lot as “two-legged wombs: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.” They are each designated to one “Commander,” or high ranking male, with whom they must have sex with to try to provide a child for the Wives, the infertile married women. All the other women despise the handmaids, believing them to be slutty, but mostly jealous of them because they themselves cannot conceive. Women are divided up in the society by function and men by power and age. Unwomen, or old women and any women against the new form of government are sent to work in the “Colonies,” where they starve and eventually die trying to clean up toxic waste dumps, nuclear plant accidents, and leakages from chemical and biological warfare stockpiles of the past. Homosexuals, or “Gender-Traitors,” are also sent to the “Colonies.” Handmaids may also be sent there if they cannot provide a child for the Wives and Commanders after three tries. They are cycled between couples, so they are not with one Commander the whole time. Once a handmaid provides a “keeper,” a baby not stillborn or containing deformities or defects, she is guaranteed to never be declared an “unwoman” and sent to the Colonies.

We learn early on that Offred is not even the narrator’s real name. It is the name given to her after she has become a handmaid. The name “Offred” itself is more of a slave name, meaning she is the possession “of Fred,” who we assume is the name of her current Commander. We find out that Offred once had a real life, with a husband and a daughter of her own. We only find out in the end how they were torn apart, and how Offred became a handmaid. We even find out that she had a choice in the matter. All throughout the story, Offred tries to keep her sanity and individuality, no matter how private she must keep it. She explains, “I try not to think too much. Like other things now, thought must be rationed. There’s a lot that doesn’t bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last.” She doesn’t know how long her current enslavement will last, let alone any outside information other than what she can get through whispered conversations with other handmaids at the market, but she is determined to someday reunite with her husband and daughter. She holds out for some sort of message from her husband, who may or may not still be alive, of which may never arrive but is the one thing that keeps her alive.

This type of fiction has been described as “speculative fiction,” meaning the events that occur in this story could actually happen. It takes specific attitudes held about women and sees them towards potential conclusions if they keep going down the path that they are following. Many points in this story are very chilling. One of the characters, the Wife named Serena Joy, was a huge promoter and speaker on the return of women to “traditional values” and when her religious and social beliefs become reality we see the outcome of all this. It’s kind of a “be careful what you wish for” sort of moment. Even the abolishment of pornography and treatment of women that occurs in this story has such a moment. Yes women do not have to deal with the sexually abusive treatment by men anymore to a certain degree, but is their current state in the book any better? And these moments are not only for the women. I believe there are definitely some “be careful what you wish for” type moments for men. In a conversation between the Commander and Offred the Commander says of the past, “The problem wasn’t only with the women. The main problem was with the men. There was nothing for them anymore. With all the “Pornycorrners” etc., the sex was too easy. Anyone could just buy it. There was nothing to look for, nothing to fight for. Men were complaining most about their inability to feel. Men were turning off on sex even, and on marriage.” The story even gave a frightening look at what could happen in the future if we don’t do something about the environment today, evidenced by the low birthrate due to damages made to the environment by nuclear power plants, etc.

This story really impacted me. One of the worst parts was the whole description of the beginning of the end of Offred’s real life; from the loss of her job to the loss of any money she had earned, all being transferred over to her husband. She described the scene of facing her husband as if something had suddenly changed. Her husband tries to console her saying, “at least we have each other,” but the narrator reflects on how “something had shifted, some balance. I felt shrunken, so that when he (her husband) put his arms around me, gathering me up, I was small as a doll. He doesn’t mind this,” she thinks. “He doesn’t mind it at all. Maybe he even likes it. We are not each other’s, anymore. Instead, I am his.” For some reason this was just a really powerful passage to me. I find myself not even being able to imagine something like this happening to me. The organization of this book is really great too. The story slips between the past and the present in a way that doesn’t give itself up all at once. This is what keeps the reader at it for hours if possible, until he or she must put down the book to finish or attend to some other task or what not. If I could have read the story in one sitting I would have. That’s how enthralling this book was.

There is so much that I wish I could include in this review, but I know it’s already super long. All I can say is that you must read this book. It is not preachy or outwardly “feminist” in any way (not that I think there is anything wrong with the latter). I whole-heartedly give “The Handmaid’s Tale” a rating of 10 out of 10 “books.” I have been really careful in my ratings to give what I believe are the best ratings and not inflate them in any way, and I honestly feel this book deserves not but the highest rating.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


It's been a hectic past few days to say the least. As of right now, my computer is holding on for dear life. I have been attempting to repair it, but it seems like I may have to reformat it in the end. Thus, my postings may be a little more spread out than normal but I will try to get them out at a decent pace! Look for my reviews of "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Let It Snow." Yeah, I know... I've been lazy about reviewing the latter.

Until then, Happy Reading!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Graphic Novel)
By L. Frank Baum
(Adapted by writer Eric Shanower and artist Skottie Young)

rating: 6.5 out of 10 "books"

Like many people, I had seen the Judy Garland film production of “The Wizard of Oz,” but never actually picked up the original story written by L. Frank Baum. It was only after my boyfriend suggested I read the graphic novel version of the story that I even thought about the original text created so long ago.

The main story line is still the same: Dorothy is caught in a tornado in her Kansas farmhouse that transports her to a strange but beautiful land called Oz. When she discovers her house has fallen upon and killed the Wicked Witch of the East, she is hailed by all the “Munchkin” peoples, who were at the time enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the East. But this does not make her feel any the better, and longs to return home to her aunt and uncle in Kansas. Thus begins her journey to the Emerald City to see the Wizard of Oz, whom she has been told is her best chance of getting home.

While the yellow brick road and the scarecrow, tin man, and lion are all the same, there are some major differences between the Hollywood movie and the original story. For one, Dorothy’s shoes, which she confiscates from the Wicked Witch of the East, are silver not ruby red (a minor difference but so what!), but also the timeline of the story is different. Dorothy meets the colorful characters of the scarecrow, tin man, and lion, but the greatest part about these characters is that we are given their back stories. We not only find out the usual stories of the scarecrow wanting brains, the tin man a heart, and the lion courage, but we discover how these wishes came to be. For instance, I would never have known that the tin man (called the wooden tin man in the story), had actually once been a man, but when his ax was enchanted by the Wicked Witch of the East it caused him to chop off his limbs and body, and he had them replaced with tin. I thought the most interesting back story was that of the flying monkeys. Having only seen the movie, I thought they were pure evil, doing the bidding of the Wicked Witch of the West, but it turns out they were not that way at all, that there was a lot we did not know from just watching the film.

The City of Emeralds was also very different. When Dorothy and the rest of the group arrive at the city gates, they must wear spectacles when entering the city because they are told the brightness of the city could blind them. Everything in the city is bright green, even the people. They end up staying in the palace of the Wizard of Oz for several days, because although Oz has agreed to see them, he will only see one person a day. Oz only agrees to help them if they can all ensure the destruction of the Wicked Witch of the West, who is very different from the movie character herself. The Wicked Witch of the West is terrified of the dark as well as water and only has one eye. There is really no mention of the Wicked Witch of the East and West having been sisters, and it seems the only reason she wants Dorothy and her friends destroyed is because they are in her territory and unfit to be slaves. I don’t think it had anything to do with Dorothy accidentally killing the Wicked Witch of the East. Other differences occur involving wolves, crows, bees, a city made of china, etc., that make for a pretty entertaining story.

Overall, it was a pretty enjoyable read. It was a bit repetitive at times. Between the characters repeating that if they had a brain/heart/courage they could do this, or because they didn’t have it (a brain/heart/courage) they could not do whatever, it got a little annoying. If I had been more interested in the story matter, I probably could have knocked this graphic novel out in one sitting. I found the background on writer L. Frank Baum a bit more interesting than the actual story. I never knew that he had actually written thirteen sequels to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” or that after the rights to the story were made public after the 1950’s, there have been tons of adaptations. However, I have to take into account the adaptation itself when it comes to rating this story. The story, combined with the awesome drawings interpreted by Skottie Young, led me to the 6.5 rating I landed at. If you are looking for something short to read with a lot of really cool pictures, I’d recommend this story. Or, if you are a huge fan of the Wizard of Oz, then this graphic novel is definitely for you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Guest Review by Rachel

Death Note: Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases

rating: 7.5 out of 10 "books"

Death Note: Another Note is a branch off of the popular main Death Note manga/anime series. The novel first starts off being narrated by a previous main series character named Mello. Naomi Misora, the main character, is mysteriously contacted by notorious L (yes his name is simply a letter, but one of many names that he goes by), to help work on a case, known as the Los Angeles BB Murder Cases. The gruesome serial killer in question is terrorizing the streets and has been leaving strange clues behind for the police force to discover. Naomi Misora is serving as L’s eyes and while she is at one crime scene, runs into a bizarre man, named Ryuzaki, who claims to be a detective hired by the victims families. As the story progresses, we begin to find out that the past somehow links the killer and L together. What follows is an intense search for the truth and a battle for justice.

Being a past follower of the Death Note manga and anime series, I enjoyed this book. I do not recommend this book to those who are not familiar with the main series, though, because it would be difficult to understand a lot of the terms used throughout the novel. The complexity of the characters transitions well to this novel from the original Death Note series, and makes for an interesting read. To all those manga/anime fans, and to anyone looking for something new and different to read, I recommend this book.

Guest Reviewer!

I am excited to welcome Rachel to Ambrosia Salad as a guest reviewer! Not only was she responsible for helping me come up with the name for this blog, but she has also agreed to add her thoughts and reviews on genres in the Manga, YA, Fantasy, and Sports (Running) ranges as well as others.

Keep a look out for her reviews!!!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I am pleased to announce I have joined the 2010 100+ Reading Challenge over at J.Kaye's Book Blog website! If you feel up to the challenge, you can sign up and view the rules Here or click on the Reading Challenge icon on the right sidebar.

I've also attempted to beef up my website a bit. It's been a long time coming, and I suck at HTML, XML, CSS, or whatever these blogger templates are made of. Oh well!

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Up In The Air
Walter Kirn

rating: 4 out of 10 "books"

Having spotted this book at my local Target store one early December day, and having seen the movie trailers for the new book-turned-movie starring George Clooney, I decided to give this Walter Kirn story a try. I had seen the movie version of Thumbsucker which Kirn had also written, so I knew Up In The Air would be just as interesting of a story, or at least a pretty interesting idea.

That being said, Up In The Air is indeed a pretty interesting case study of Ryan Bingham, a business man who spends more time in the air, traveling from city to city to take on the task of firing people for different corporations, than anywhere else. A self described member of a “mutated species,” Ryan takes comfort in the whole process of flying: from the VIP airport clubs, to the adrenaline rush of taking off and landing, Ryan finds peace in what he calls “Airworld.” With no earthly place to call home, only an apartment used for the storage of his few belongings, Ryan Bingham calls Airworld his home. As he describes, Airworld is “a nation within a nation, with its own language, architecture, mood, and even its own currency – the token economy of airline bonus miles that I’ve come to value more than dollars.” At the start of the story, we discover that Ryan is on his “farewell tour.” Fed up with his job at ISM as a Career Transition Counselor, Ryan decides to quit after “six more days and eight more cities to go,” on his itinerary. The major deciding factor for his quit date however, is the few more flights on the company dime that he needs to reach one million frequent flyer miles. After that, he swears he will quit. With a juicy book in the works and an increasingly prospective job at MythTech in the near future, Ryan figures he should be golden. But what we come to learn in the course of the story is that Airworld is taking its toll on Ryan. From his “mounting memory problems,” to his growing paranoia that someone high up is trying to toy with him (he suspects it could be the airline, his company ISM, MythTech, etc.), combined with his obsession with obtaining his coveted one million frequent flyer miles, Ryan is clearly falling apart.

I found this story very fascinating in the way that Kirn’s character Ryan finds comfort in things people normally despise. The beginning of this story was very entertaining to read about Ryan Bingham’s attitude towards his life in “Airworld.” From the way he views people in Airworld; the normal: “Fast friends aren’t my only friends, but they’re my best friends,” and the famous: with all the athletes, rock stars, and famous people he’s flown with in first class, “This is the place to see America, not down there, where the show is almost over,” it’s an interesting outlook to read about. We see where Ryan’s love of Airworld comes from, and ride alongside him all the way to the very end.

The only problem is that the story feels unfinished. The beginning and middle I felt were very well written; however, although we know Ryan is starting to lose it, we never really feel it. There are little reminders throughout, but they don’t mesh in very well with the rest of the action. The lead up to the end of the story was very confusing, and the whole issue of Ryan’s paranoia is never really revealed to be one way or another. The biggest let down was the ending. Things are revealed that were never really hinted at anywhere in the book, and as a reader I didn’t feel the excitement and accomplishment of Ryan’s obtaining the all important frequent flyer miles which encompassed the entire goal of the story. It left me feeling like nothing really happened at all in the book. Hence the reason I’ve only given Up In The Air 4 out of 10 book stars.

After reading an Entertainment Weekly article about the book and movie comparisons where article author, Missy Schwartz, describes the book as being “about a man having a mental breakdown, a guy who’s losing it,” and the movie as being “about a guy who finds it,” I’d be interested in seeing the movie as a way of comparing the two. After all, the movie is getting tons of good buzz, and changes in the plot have surely helped the story out. They book by Walter Kirn is definitely not one that can be read in one sitting and although I rated it as average, it’s definitely a different kind of read if that’s what you are looking for. My suggestion: go see the movie instead, but if you are planning on both reading the book and seeing the movie, read the book first to lower your expectations for the film. That way, you can’t be disappointed by both.