Finally, Outlander!

A Review of Outlander (episode 1), created by Ronald D. Moore and based on the books by Diana Gabaldon

Starz, 2014

Outlander

by REBECCA, August 13, 2014

Battlestar GalacticaY’all, I have been dreaming of seeing Outlander on the big screen since I first read Diana Gabaldon’s book circa the turn of the century. Like many fans, I approached news of Starz optioning it with the mixture of hope and trepidation that always attends beloved adaptations. Would they cast it right? Would it evoke the same feelings of the book? What if I hate Claire and Jamie onscreen? Knowing Ron Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame was at the helm made me hopeful, though, because he has such a great track record with sprawling, epic stories, of which Outlander is certainly one.

But, like many fans . . . I don’t actually have TV, much less Starz. Rather than watching episode one, “Sassanach” when Starz put it up for free viewing last Saturday, then, I waited until I came to visit my parents (who do have Starz—and a large TV) to watch. But now I have, so, though I’m late for the game I’ll be goddamned if I don’t talk about it. In list form. Because . . . mostly it’s just stuff I liked.

Most importantly, for me, I really liked Claire (Catriona Balfe). She was capable and brave and spunky without seeming like she had a chip on her shoulder. She seemed wise and mature, which she’s supposed to be, but still with a sense of humor.

I didn’t love Tobias Menzies as Frank, Claire’s husband. Since he and Black Jack Randall are played by the same actor, I really wanted someone who, as Frank, looked really appealing and cultured, and to me he looks like a villain as Frank, too, making his transformation into Black Jack less striking. He did a good job, though, and, most importantly, Ron Moore was smart to spend the meat of the first episode developing their relationship so that it will be understandable why Claire wants to get back to her own time.

OutlanderJamie. We didn’t see much of him, but he’s clearly Jamie-ish. Sam Heughan definitely looked the part and seemed to have Jamie’s tender youth and bravado pretty much sewn up. Also, you know, extremely handsome. Still, Jamie makes me slightly concerned about the cheese-factor . . .

My problem with the episode is actually a problem with genre. Diana Gabaldon’s book is not really a romance novel. It’s sweeping historical fiction at the center of which is a couple. But it’s often shelved in the romance section (I learned the embarrassing way in high school) and spoken about in terms of the romance genre. The character of Jamie isn’t actually the problem. The problem is that when viewed in romance terms, Jamie’s character has become a huge romance cliché: the strapping, red-headed 18th-century Scottish agitator who speaks with a brogue, threatens to throw women over his shoulder (in a nice way . . . ) and has, for the times, relatively progressive gender politics. It’s practically a staple now, nearly twenty-five years after Gabaldon wrote the book. So, I worry that simply by virtue of presenting Jamie faithfully, Outlander will verge into cheeseball territory.

OutlanderOf course, I would still happily watch a cheesy, romantic version of Outlander, but I don’t think that really does justice to the complex drama of the books, and it makes me a tidge worried that Starz won’t get the extra-literary viewership that it will want to justify renewing the show.

Okay, but aside from the tragic problem of Sam Heughan’s attractiveness and chest muscles, I thought the episode was great. Maybe this was a testament to my parents’ TV, but the long, sweeping shots of Scotland . . . that shit looked amazing. I loved the way the 1945 scenes were shot with a muted palette and dim or washed-out light; it makes the gorgeous natural colors once Claire goes through the stones really pop.

OutlanderThe music was gorgeous (not that I’d expect anything less from Bear McCreary, who also did the music for Battlestar), as was the cinematography. And I can already tell that I like the pace Ron Moore has chosen. It’s lingering, like Gabaldon’s books are, but not plodding. It meant that we got the great scenes of Reverend Wakefield’s housekeeper reading Claire’s palm, and the quiet moments of walking and driving around Inverness. The episode did a great job of establishing Inverness as a respite after the war—a safe place for Claire and Frank to reconnect after a long absence—which made it all the more shocking when Claire was ripped from it. Good show!

Scotland Decides 2014I am a little freaked out to see that Starz is splitting the first season, though, with episodes 1-8 running through the end of September and then going on hiatus until after New Year’s. I guess it’s good in that it will stop me from sitting in front of my computer staring and wishing I was in Scotland. Sigh. Also, I love that a show about independent Scottish clans will be airing simultaneous with the Scottish independence referendum (September 18).

Anyhoo, I was pleasantly surprised and cannot wait to snuggle back into the familiar world of Outlander! Did you see it? What did you think?

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“Two brothers. One psychopath. A beautiful girl. The road trip from hell.”

A Review of In the Path of Falling Objects, by Andrew Smith

Feiwel & Friends, 2009

In the Path of Falling Objects Andrew Smith

by REBECCA, August 11, 2014

hook

Brothers Jonah and Simon have left their home in New Mexico to try and find their father, who’s in prison in Arizona, and their older brother, who’s off fighting in Vietnam. One day, tired, hungry, and scared, younger brother Simon hitches them a ride with a beautiful girl and a man who terrifies Jonah. What happens next is why your parents told you never to hitchhike.

review

The reason I love Andrew Smith’s books so much is that, no matter what story he’s telling, his characters are always a particularly potent combination of vulnerable and reckless that makes me want to read about them doing anything. In In the Path of Falling Objects, it’s Jonah and Simon. They’ve never spent more than a few hours apart and their relationship is intimate and codependent even when it’s fractious. Because they’re close in age and have always been in each other’s pockets, this road trip—their first journey away from home—catalyzes them to reject some of the things that make them similar and try on new possibilities. Especially younger brother, Simon, who sees something in Mitch, the man who picks them up, that appeals to him.

In the Path of Falling Objects is told primarily from thoughtful Jonah’s perspective. Jonah, who has always felt responsible for Simon and feels so doubly now that their brother is off at war, can tell that something is off about Mitch from the minute he stops for them, but there’s something about Lilly, the beautiful girl riding shotgun, that calls to him. So, when Mitch reveals the true depths of his psychosis, it’s not just Simon Jonah wants to protect.

Set in the southwest against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, In the Path of Falling Objects is also great historical fiction. Interspersed with the chapters of Jonah and Simon’s journey are the letters that their brother, Matthew, writes to Jonah from Vietnam. As the brothers travel farther and farther from home, Matthew’s letters reveal increasing terror and depression in response to wartime conditions. These letters, and glimpses into other characters’ perspectives, give background on what Jonah and Simon’s life was like before their mother left them alone, with no food and no money, in New Mexico.

In the Path of Falling Objects Andrew SmithAs always, Andrew Smith’s writing is beautiful and his pacing is dynamic where it should be and lingers in all the right places. I felt Jonah’s helplessness to protect Simon—from Mitch and the world he ushered in, but also from the person he fears Simon may want to become. I felt his love for Lilly, even when he knows that it’s perhaps misplaced. I felt his desire to be a good person always at war with his desperate loyalty to his brother.

I didn’t need the short sections told from Mitch’s perspective as he spiraled further and further into madness, but they didn’t go amiss either. In the Path of Falling Objects is a beautiful book about the things we do for siblings—for better or for worse—and the things we do because of them. By the end of the book, though their road trip has ended, you really get the sense that they are only poised on the edge of real change. It’s a bold ending, emotionally, but feels like the only one I’d want for Jonah and Simon.

That Was Then, This Is Now S.E. HintonThere’s a scene in S.E. Hinton’s Tex (1979) in which Tex and Mason pick up a hitchhiker who pulls a gun on them and holds them hostage. The hitchhiker is Mark, one of the main characters from That Was Then, This Is Now (1971). Though this is never explicitly stated, Tex’s English teacher (who dated Mark’s brother in That Was Then, This Is Now), mentions that she knew the hitchhiker. Because of this scene, I was thinking of Tex all throughout In the Path of Falling Objects. For the obvious reason that Mark and Mitch share some characteristics. But also because the ending of In the Path of Falling Objects made me imagine that Jonah and Simon might be the parents of characters in Smith’s later books, even if unidentified as such . . .

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Stick Andrew Smith

Stick, Andrew Smith (2011). Stick feels to me like a companion novel to In the Path of Falling Objects. Fourteen-year-old Stick has always had his brother, Bosten, to look out for him, but when their abusive father learns that Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home. Once Bosten leaves, Stick takes his dad’s car and sets out to find him, thinking he headed to Aunt Dahlia’s house in California. Without much money or any connections, Stick finds himself in, erm, sticky situations (sorry!), which he handles because he has no other choice. My complete review is HERE.

Tex S.E. Hinton

Tex, S.E. Hinton (1979). I love all of S.E. Hinton’s books, but sincere, volatile Tex reminds me a bit of Simon in In the Path of Falling Objects.

procured from: bought

Movie Review: How I Live Now

A Review of How I Live Now, directed by Kevin Macdonald, based on the novel by Meg Rosoff

How I Live Now

by REBECCA

Meg Rosoff’s 2004 novel How I Live Now has been made into a movie and I totally didn’t know about it until five seconds ago. Yay!

If last week’s Ender’s Game adaptation made one big mistake that ended up gutting the whole story, How I Live Now makes small, smart decisions every step of the way. Within the first three minutes, I was completely and utterly sold on the world, the aesthetic, and the characters.

How I Live Now Meg RosoffHow I Live Now is the story of Daisy (Saoirse Ronin), who lives in New York City and has come to England for the summer to stay with her cousins, whom she’s never met, because her father is having a new baby. Her cousins live in a ramshackle old rural house with lots of woods, hills, creeks, and animals, and Daisy quickly falls in love with it, and one of them—her cousin Edmund. Soon, though, war breaks out and the cousins are separated, always trying to escape and come back home, to be together.

Our introduction to Daisy was pitch-perfect and effortless, managing to capture the attitude of Rosoff’s narrative voice, even without using heavy voice over (take a note, Ender’s Game). Saoirse Ronin, bless her, is a magnificent Daisy, never afraid to be nasty and moody, but always with a core of vulnerability. Basically, I would watch her eat cornflakes or, like, do something else that’s super boring, because that’s how compelling she is, as always. Also, she is an accent genius.

how i live nowThe contrast between the hardness of Daisy’s fresh-from-NYC aesthetic and control-freak attitude and the soft, wildness of her cousins’ run-down home, their trips swimming and running through woods and fields is beautifully done. The film captures the beauty and peace of their home in just the right way, so that when the war comes, the audience is as sad to lose it as Daisy is.

How I Live Now doesn’t shrink from showing the grisly moments of the war, either, which elevates it above any concerns I may have had that it would be yet another slick capitalization on YA dystopia-fever. Just like the book, this is truly a movie that thinks about the effects of war, on both the ravaged countryside and the psyches of Daisy and her cousins as they traverse it.

how i live nowIn addition to the beauty of the film, I was struck by its masterful balance of sound and quiet. The credits are very in your face and loud, bopping to the tune of Daisy’s music, and Daisy’s own inner-voices drown out any other silence. The scenes in the country house, on the other hand, are quiet at base, but punctuated by very specific noises—the call of Edmund’s hawk, the gush of a waterfall—that are just as loud as Daisy’s music, but peaceful enough that she doesn’t need the din of those inner voices. There are long stretches of the cousins’ journey back to one another without dialogue, too, and scenes of carnage that speak for themselves.

In Rosoff’s novel, the story is told retrospectively, and though we don’t have much of a frame, the film manages, in addition to dramatic immediacy, to capture precisely the tone of wisdom and dreaminess that would accompany a tale told from a point looking backward. How I Live Now might be my favorite YA film adaptation to date. 

Summer Reading Road Trip: Playing Tyler

Summer Reading Road Trip 2013Ahoy, summer readers! The folks at SparkPoint Studio are running a Summer Reading Road Trip. Each book on the list is set in a different city and state, so you can read your way across the country without gas-guzzling your way to a massive carbon footprint. Join in, and read your way from Massachusetts to Montana!

Today’s stop: New Haven, Connecticut for a Little Brother meets Ender’s Game adventure: Playing Tyler.

A Review of Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa

Strange Chemistry, 2013

Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa

By REBECCA, June 3, 2013

hook

Tyler’s dad is dead, his mom’s never around, his brother’s an addict, and his ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate on anything but gaming. Ani designed a popular video game, was an internationally-ranked gamer, and started at Yale all by the time she turned sixteen, but she still feels like a kid. Someone wants Tyler and Ani for their skills, but what will they do when they realize they’re implicated in something that will have far greater fallout than a video game?

worldview

Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardTyler MacCandless just wants to fly. Maybe he can’t concentrate on anything at school, but in the flight simulation games, he’s a genius. After his dad’s death and his brother’s turn to drugs, Tyler’s mom can’t cope, so she buries herself in work. The only one Tyler can count on is Rick, who he’s known for years through a mentoring program. Rick sees Tyler’s potential and says that if he performs well while beta testing a new flight simulation training game then he’ll make sure he gets into flight school. Tyler is shocked when the new sim’s designer shows up at his house to set up the sim and it’s Slayergrrl (Ani), the creator of his favorite game, World of Fire!

At first the new sim seems boring—Tyler is just flying drones over miles and miles of road. But then, little by little, Tyler starts to think there’s more to the sim than just showing off his flying skills. Is it possible that the “sim” is actually linked to real drones in the Middle East? And why has Rick insisted that Ani can’t have any contact with Tyler? But Tyler and Ani can’t stay apart and as their relationship heats up, so do things in the sim. And soon they’ll have to confront Rick and put their lives on the line for their freedom.

Little Brother by Cory DoctorowT.L. Costa’s debut is a compelling read and, while the premise itself isn’t new, this is a comparatively realistic, circumspect take on the when-is-a-game-not-a-game phenomenon. It’s told in chapters that alternate between Tyler and Ani’s points of view, and Tyler’s voice is great. His ADHD causes him to think in short, declarative sentences and sometimes omits first person pronouns, kind of like Rorschach in Watchmen. Tyler’s a well-drawn character—his worry for his mother and brother, his difficulty expressing himself, and his love and awe of Ani make him sympathetic and likable. But he’s also naive, and his struggle between his general patriotism and the specifics of what he learns is happening in the sim provide enough contrast so that he doesn’t just seem like a stereotypical hero-caught-up-in-forces-beyond-his-control. He is also occasionally quite amusing. On his first date with Ani he realizes that he’s not as good at paying compliments as might have hoped:

“Her face looks like I stung her. Shit. My face heats up, burns. So many books. Can’t one just like fall on my head and put me out of my misery? Please?”

Ani’s voice is less compelling, less particular, but it’s really awesome to see a supersmart gamer and computer programmer whose character isn’t undercut by the author’s compulsion to frame her as either hypersexualized or terrifyingly sociopathic. Ani is just a sixteen-year-old with a talent for programming got involved in something shady, and she and Tyler balance each other well.

As for the plot, as I said, it’s not new, but Costa makes a good choice, I think, in making this a small-beans plot as opposed to a mega-conspiracy or an intergalactic fight to the death. The storyline of Tyler’s brother’s heroin addiction and Ani’s relationships (or lack thereof) with her roommate and the other Yalies turn what could be a dry, by-the-book execution of an interesting plot into a very enjoyable drama with some intrigue, some romance, and some well-done family drama. This is an understated book, but it doesn’t strike a false note. I’m looking forward to seeing what Costa writes next.

procured from: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa is available now.

Why Aren’t You Reading… The Tapestry Series by Henry H. Neff?

houndofrowanthesecondsiegethefiendandtheforgethemaelstrom

by Tessa

Maybe you’re already reading this series, about a boy named Max who finds out that he’s the son of an Irish mythological figure, and goes to magical boarding school in America (not in that order) and then the world irrevocably changes because the wrong book gets into the wrong allegedly-demonic hands,  in which case RAD, can we chat about it together?

BUT – I’m guessing that lots of people haven’t – at least it hasn’t been written up in the many places that I go to hear about books. Granted, there are way more places to go read about books that it’s just not possible for me to visit. There are a couple of reasons that may explain this – the series is older middle grade and the first two books read very much like American Harry Potter, so I feel as though it may have been dismissed as reductive in some people’s minds.

There are some very compelling reasons (I hope) to give The Tapestry series a second look if you weren’t into the first book or a first look, if you haven’t  yet heard of it.

Pros:

– Irish mythology!

Ever since I read The Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland, collected by Jeremiah Curtain, I’ve been into the meandering, tough, hyperbolic, funny stories from that country. Even though I know I’m mispronouncing all the names when I read it in my head. Max finds out (spoiler alert?) that he’s the sun of Lugh Lámhfhada, an Irish god associated with the sun and athleticism, which means he’s the half-brother of Cúchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, which is why he’s known as the Hound of Rowan (Rowan being the American Hogwarts stand-in here). Not that you have to know anything about Irish mythology to read the series, I just enjoy that Max has a grounding in a mythology that exists outside of the books.

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

This also means that Max is a real badass. He’s full of Old Magic and a member of the Red Branch (magical CIA type people) and although he wields the Gae Bolga, a sword/spear embedded with the terrifying bloodlust of Cúchulainn, he’s a pretty thoughtful kid thrust into a world where he has to make life or death decisions for, like, the entire human race.

Actually there are 3 children of Old Magic in this series. They all have their own strengths, and their own secrets. The magic is well spread out among the students and teachers and the political intrigue is well done.

– Totally epic, metal demons

Demons are a big part of this series. They are trying to infiltrate Rowan to steal a powerful book that can rewrite REALITY ITSELF… and they eventually do. But they don’t turn the world into a stereotypical hell. It becomes more feudal, and more pastoral. But still with tentacled horrors that live inside wells and terrorize families. As the present becomes the past… with demons, things are correspondingly more epic. It recalled the lyrics of metal bands such as the brutal (read:rad) Absu. This is from a song off of 2009’s Absu:

The old woman of Nippur
Instructs Ninlil to walk the banks of Idnunbirdu
She thrusts he magic (k)
To harvest the mind of the great
mountain-lord Enlil

The bright-eyed king will fall to your anguish
His soul lures the hexagonal room
He who decrees fates – his spirit is caught
His soul lured to the hexagonal room

Nunbarshegunu
A silk veil strewn over you
Your face is the cosmos
You hide it in shame

I admire an author who is not afraid to change the entire nature of the Earth. Neff does it and pulls it off without becoming too lost in the large canvas he’s created.

A new kind of adversary

Astaroth is the main antagonist, although the political intrigues of the demon world shift around during books 3 and 4. He’s firmly not in the Eye of Sauron all seeing all evil all the time camp. He’s an activist godlike figure. Like if NoFace from Spirited Away had all the powers of Old Testament God but not all the wrath – Astaroth pretends he’s a softy but really the world is just his plaything. He’s doing it for humanity’s own good. He thinks humanity is better without choices. His face is an always-smiling white mask.

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) - via Wikipedia

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) – via Wikipedia

Cons:

– The first book is deceptively Harry Potter-like (with a dash of Riordan’s The Olympians)

I dunno, this isn’t a huge con for me, but it’s worth noting. Also, if you read the first book and were not into the Hag “humor”, it is much diminished in the others.

– The illustrations can take away from the story sometimes.

I hate saying this because Henry Neff is the writer AND illustrator, so these are the representations of the images that inspired the story that I enjoy reading so much… however, there have been times when seeing the illustrations takes the wind out of the much creepier thing I was thinking of in my brain, inspired by the prose.

– His website uses Papyrus as a title font.

 

Obviously the pros are much stronger than the cons, so what are you waiting for?

All I Want For Chanukah Are These Snazzy YA Reads!

Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell Winger Andrew Smith Paper Valentine Brenna Yovanoff

by REBECCA, November 26, 2012

As I write this, it’s the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, which means that it’s the time for cursing my father for making me drink so much this weekend thinking about what holiday gifts we want! In the spirit of turning our backs on giving thanks and preparing to say “thank you!” for the gifts to come, here is a list of the books I’m hoping some lovely Chanukah fairy might send winging my way. Sure, I know some of these won’t be out in time for Chanukah, but a girl can dream, no?

So, wipe that turkey off your face, recycle all those empties, and join me in lusting after some delicious stories! (Plot descriptions from Goodreads.)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

I love me some Neil Gaiman, and I can’t wait for this one. Primal horror, family drama, and unknown ancient powers? I’m in.

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed—within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.”

The SIn-Eater's Confession Ilsa J. Bick

The Sin-Eater’s Confession, by Ilsa J. Bick

Chanukah has come early via NetGalley on this intriguing tale. I really enjoyed Bick’s Draw the Dark, so I can’t wait for this one.

People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy. I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams—even if I didn’t understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them.

Jimmy’s dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands. What I don’t know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don’t know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead?”

How to Lead a Life of Crime Kirsten Miller

How To Lead A Life Of Crime, by Kirsten Miller

This looks awesome; plus the cover looks kind of like the opening sequence of Stick It. Dudes, it’s not called gym-nice-tics!

A meth dealer. A  prostitute. A serial killer. Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.

Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?”

Paper Valentine Brenna Yovanoff

Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff

Number one, this cover rocks my world. Number two, I loved the subtle creepiness of The Replacement, and can’t wait to read Yovanoff’s latest.

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls. For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

Teeth Hannah Moscowitz

Teeth, by Hannah Moskowitz

I’m a Hannah Moskowitz fan, but more importantly, this is a gay mermaid story. Can’t wait!

Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.

Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.”

Winger Andrew Smith

Winger, by Andrew Smith

Anyone who reads Crunchings & Munchings knows I love Andrew Smith—check out reviews of Stick and The Marbury Lens HERE and HERE. He has three books coming out in the next year and a half or so (yay!) but I’m particularly intrigued by Winger because it sounds like it shares some thematic interests with one of my favorite movies, The Reflecting Skin.

Fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West may be the smartest 11th grader in school, but there are some things he just doesn’t get. He’s convinced that the woman living downstairs is a witch—out to destroy his life; believes the girl he’s in love with only sees him as some kind of pet; and wonders why his best friend—the only voice of reason in Ryan Dean’s life—likes other boys more than girls. A funny, sometimes dark, part-graphic YA novel about fitting in, and the consequences that can occur when big deals are made over small differences.”

Moonset Scott Tracey

Moonset, by Scott Tracey

From the author of the Witch Eyes series, which I really like (reviews of the first two in the series HERE and HERE) comes this new series about a group of young witches!

Justin Daggett, his trouble-making sister, and their three orphan-witch friends have gotten themselves kicked out of high school. Again. Now they’ve ended up in Carrow Mills, New York, the town where their parents—members of the terrorist witch organization known as Moonset—began their evil experiments with the dark arts one generation ago.

When the siblings are accused of unleashing black magic on the town, Justin fights to prove their innocence. But tracking down the true culprit leads him to a terrifying discovery about Moonset’s past . . . and its deadly future.”

Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Kelly over at Stacked has really sold me on this eighties period piece! Great cover, too.

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
”I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.”

So, what about you, my desirous friends? What tasty morsels are on your Chanukah lists?

Jack Is An Arrow and That Hole Is Marbury: The Marbury Lens

Review of The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

Feiwel and Friends, 2010

By REBECCA, March 12, 2012

characters

Jack Whitmore: Self-contained protagonist with nary an annoying teenage quality in sight

Conner Kirk: Jack’s exceedingly loyal and horny best friend

Wynn & Stella: Jack’s indulgent grandparents

Freddie Horvath: Jack’s kidnapper

Henry Hewitt: Portal to Marbury

Ben & Griffin: Jack’s friends and fellow warriors in Marbury

Nickie: Jack’s meet-fugue love interest in London

Seth: A friendly ghost

hook

A sphincter-clenching journey through the war-torn desolation of Marbury as it converges with the equally chilling aftermath of Jack’s abduction as he tries to outrun the experience in London.

Here’s the blurb:

“Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly. The only person he tells is his best friend, Conner. When they arrive in London as planned for summer break, a stranger hands Jack a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, he sees another world called Marbury.

There is war in Marbury. It is a desolate and murderous place where Jack is responsible for the survival of two younger boys. Conner is there, too. But he’s trying to kill them.

Meanwhile, Jack is falling in love with an English girl, and afraid he’s losing his mind.

Conner tells Jack it’s going to be okay.

But, it’s not.”

worldview or, in this case, worldsviews

Were I a blurb-writer who needed to convey the tone of the novel as compared to others, The Marbury Lens would prompt me to use words like “unflinching” and “fearless” to describe how it approaches Jack’s kidnapping and its aftermath. Such descriptions have become clichéd to the point of meaninglessness, though, and seem to simply suggest that the author succeeded in writing about a potentially upsetting subject with the same ability as they might write about a pleasant one. It’s more accurate to say that Smith explores a world in which occurrences make ripples in characters’ lives, changing the way they approach the world around them. That is, Jack undergoes a trauma and afterward he sees the world through the lens of that trauma. This is a dark book, but dark because it’s about abuse, war, violence, betrayal and love, not dark because it is hopeless.

The Marbury Lens is the kind of book that makes me a fierce champion of young adult literature. I picked the book up in the library while waiting to meet a friend because I absolutely adored the cover (by Rich Deas, creative director at Feiwel and Friends). By the time my friend showed up, I was two chapters in and had already checked it out. I began reading, that is, with no expectations. The strong voice of the first-person narrator struck me from the first page; it had a tone of what I can only call resignation in beginning to tell what would clearly be a difficult story. Unlike many young adult novels, which seem to slavishly embrace teenspeak, avoiding language or ideas that might seem unrealistic in the mouths of their teen characters, The Marbury Lens uses Jack’s first-person narration as a tool: because Jack questions what is real, we must necessarily see things from his perspective, but because it is written retrospectively, that perspective is mature and natural. For example:

“I am going to build something big for you.

It’s like one of those Russian dolls that you open up, and open up again. And each layer becomes something else.

On the outside is the universe, painted dark purple, decorated with planets and comets, stars. Then you open it, and you see the Earth, and when that comes apart, there’s Marbury, a place that’s kind of like here, except none of the horrible things in Marbury are invisible. They’re painted right there on the surface where you can plainly see them” (3).

But Jack is not moving from London to Marbury. He is living both at the same time. The story of life and war in Marbury happens alongside Jack’s experiences in London, and is just as vivid. It’s part harrowing survival story and part gruesome horror; the prose is gorgeous and revolting. Many reviews of the book—even the plot blurb above—suggest that Marbury is all in Jack’s mind; that it is a reaction to the trauma of being kidnapped and sexually abused. Rather, the relationship among Jack’s different narratives, as he tells us at the outset, is complicated and unclear, nested within one another, but always touching. Elements of the worlds bleed into one another, roiling in an awesome mess of violence, pain, desire, addiction, fear, and friendship.

“And I see Jack as a kind of an arrow shaft that shoots through every layer,” Jack narrates, “simultaneously, the point directly piercing the exact center. I think everyone’s an arrow like that, too, aiming into their own centers” (282). This notion that each person’s reality is made up of a cross-section of multiple, abutting dimensions is a wonderful device for the fantastic elements of the book, certainly. But it’s also an elegant way to think about how the pain or trauma from one experience in Jack’s life can reverberate through multiple layers of his experience.

Smith’s characters are very well-crafted and various. Jack is complex and vulnerable, even while his voice is at turns self-recriminating, furious, and terrified. Conner, Jack’s best friend, is cocky, horny, and fiercely loyal to Jack, and the scenes in which Conner attempts to support Jack while neither of them have any idea what to do about their situation are particularly well-rendered.

As the novel continues, the walls among the different worlds begin to crumble and we are less sure which world things belong in. At the same time, Jack begins a romance with Nickie, a girl he meets in London. The simple and straightforward feelings that Jack and Nickie have for one another highlight the complex and uncertain relationships that Jack has with each other character, from the mother who birthed him on his grandparents’ kitchen floor and the ghost whose story crosses his own, to the man who kidnapped and abused him who, Jack thinks, did something to his brain.

what was the book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

The Marbury Lens asks what it would feel like to suddenly become aware that the world you have thought to be all-encompassing actually breaks apart quite easily to reveal another world touching it. For me, this was an unqualified success. The way the book is written manifests this for the reader. The story begins unfolding in California, setting the scene for the world we are familiar with being reality. Then, slowly, it begins moving back and forth between London and Marbury, making the reader as uncertain as Jack is about how much time has passed in either one. Finally, the addition of ghost-Seth’s story expands the scope of how many worlds might lurk beneath the conscious surface of what we thought was a singular reality, calling that reality itself into question.

Smith never panders to the reader by explaining the complexities of the story, and he doesn’t need to: his writing is so compelling and his narrative so mesmerizing that is a pleasure (albeit sometimes a painful one) to be pulled from one dark world to the next.

While The Marbury Lens absolutely holds up as a stand-alone novel (and, indeed, when I read it I didn’t know there would be more to the story), the sequel, Passenger, is coming out in the Fall of 2012, according to Smith’s blog.

personal disclosure

I can’t recommend this book highly enough—it is absolutely one of the best young adult books I’ve read. I feel quite impotent to convey how gobsmacked by it I was. In fact, if there is something that I could have written that would make you want to read it, pretend that’s exactly what I did write.

One of the things that I really appreciate about The Marbury Lens, and about Smith as an author/speaker/mentor, is that he’s particularly interested in writing books with male characters and in fostering literacy and writing in young men. This isn’t, of course, to suggest that this limits his audience in any way—rather that he has clearly taken an interest in purposely targeting an audience that is personal and meaningful for him and directing resources toward that audience.

readalikes

Skin Hunger (A Resurrection of Magic #1), by Kathleen Duey (2007). These books both glory in the details of dark and eerie worlds in which characters must confront (and often exceed) their own fears or assumptions to progress. You can read my enthusiastic review of Skin Hunger here.

The House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000). Worlds within worlds, questions of sanity, gorgeous descriptions of scary things.

Rumble Fish, by S.E. Hinton (1975). I found Jack and Rusty James to be hopeful and vulnerable in similarly appealing ways.

And, of course, any other book by Andrew Smith. They’re all wonderful and we’ll be reviewing more in the future.

Procured from: the library—but loved it so much that I immediately bought a copy! Also, check out our list of other books that we first got from the library but loved so much we had to own them here.

Yowza:

Too Old for Angels? – A Roundabout Discussion of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Welcome to our second Joint Review and Discussion! It will appear in three parts: today, tomorrow, and Wednesday.

Rebecca!

I’m going to solicit your opinion for a joint review! It will be slightly less fraught than our first, I think, because the issue at stake is not such a sensitive topic. But you never know.

Everyone is talking about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and by “everyone” I mean some of the blogs that I read.  So I read it – and I loved it.

I’d heard of Laini Taylor before because her book of stories (Lips Touch: Three Times) was a National Book Award finalist. But the cover turned me off so I’d never read it, and at that point in my life I was reading Kelly Link’s short stories and felt that more well-written short stories that dealt with things like faeries and goblins and other strange things was too much. Of course, now I can go back and read Taylor’s previous work.

charles bridge prague

I want to go here and eat goulash in Karou's favorite cafe like the tourists she hates!

 Daughter of Smoke and Bone has some seriously intriguing elements going for it: Prague–I’d always wanted to go. Teeth– Creepy.  Monsters.I’m very into monsters, because I was a child in the 80s.

So I read it and loved most of it… except the whole angel part. Rebecca, what is it about angels?  I’ve also read Fallen and Torment by Lauren Kate and had the same reaction.  Am I too old for angels?  I’ve tried to think of them just as “persons who can fly” but they still don’t seem compelling to me.

As I’m not against wings, in theory, I’m thinking it has to do with two factors:

1. perceived nobility/idealisticness and

2. too much goodlookingness.  I’ll go point by point.

1. Angels are going to be associated with Christianity and therefore with notions of good and evil.  Now, there are some really kickass art historical interpretations of angels out there, and I totally dig Michael killing the devil whenever I see a representation of it (going back to the monsters thing, I guess). But when I think of “angel” I don’t think “moral ambiguity”. I just think “good or evil”. And there’s nothing there that makes me want to know more. I don’t want to read about someone with black vs. white thinking.

hawt angel

photo by flickr user quinet

That’s obviously a problem that I have to get over because Taylor, in Daughter of Smoke and Bone has set up her book to make her angel character (and her monster characters) have good and bad sides, and good and bad secrets.  So in this case I’ll say that it’s my initial angel association that I have to get over, that is tainting my reading.

2. When authors are trying to describe a humanoid being who is otherwordly they have a tendency to lean on such a person being extremely good-looking, and that just doesn’t help me picture anyone. The more hyperbole the author piles on about how perfectly unearthly beautiful their character is, the more I can’t picture the character, and the more disappointed I’ll be when they are inevitably cast in the movie version by someone who is a bland 20 year old and not Michael Wincott or Viggo Mortensen.

These are pretty general complaints and say more about me than the book that I’m supposed to be reviewing. Daughter of Smoke & Bone deserves a real review, but it is the book that made me start wondering about the whole thing.  I felt my enjoyment of it suffered because in the middle of the book, where Karou and Akiva spend time together, turned the reading experience from a baklava of layered worlds full of secrets into Just Another Paranomal Love Story, and I chose to blame it on the fact that Akiva is an angel. I know that the plot in the book and in the books going forward hinges on the importance of that relationship, so I can’t say that it was wasted time, but it fell flat for me, and the angel thing is the only thing I could put my finger on.

What’s been your experience reading about fictional angel love?  What did you think about Daughter of Smoke and Bone? How much do you want to be Karou and wear the mask on this cover?

intense stare!

Actually, I prefer this one:

Be sure to check back TOMORROW for Rebecca’s response to Tessa’s angel-angst, and WEDNESDAY for the conclusion of the discussion. Part 2 is here.

Did you read Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Do you want to? Tell us your thoughts in the comments! 

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