Sunday, January 24, 2016

#CBR8 Review #02: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I’ve been describing this book to my friends as “How to Get Away With Murder, but without Viola Davis.” Except, I’ve never actually watched How to Get Away With Murder, so I don’t think that’s accurate in the slightest. In any case, simply put this book is like a reverse who-dun-it: as in, we know that a group of students murdered one of their classmates right from the get-go, we just aren’t clear as to why or how this came to be.

The Secret History occurs through the eyes of protagonist, Richard Papen, who is a young student living on campus at Hampden College. Now, the one thing I couldn’t tell you is exactly what time period this occurs in: for some reason I couldn’t figure it out, but I think it’s the late-80s/early90s??? Just, the prices of things, the technology, the language, etc got me a little confused. But continuing on with the plot, Richard tells the story of how we wanted to study Greek at college, but the only way he could do this would be if he is able to integrate himself into a tiny class of 5 students, with an old teacher named Julian who is very selective of who he teaches and never really wants any more than 5 students. These students form the eclectic, eccentric little group that Richard soon calls friends: these 6 students hardly ever see anyone else besides their fellow Greek students. Richard quickly comes to adore his new friends, goes to the country with them on weekends, and essentially becomes a staple in their little lives. However, he is not as involved as he thinks he is, and some interesting acts behind the scenes start to break some of the ties between different characters in the story, inevitably leading to the decision that one of the students –affectionately known as Bunny—should be killed.

The main cast of characters in this little group of friends are all interesting and different, though at times they come across as quite spoilt, a bit pompous, and behave in pretentious ways or have somewhat bizarre and grandiose ideas that I can’t entirely wrap my head around. But, they all added a certain flavor to the story, which I enjoyed. I also ended up picturing them as certain actors in my mind, even if this didn’t entirely make sense at times? It was like a little movie in my brain, which can make things interesting at times. And easier to envision the characters, in some ways? In any case, the main group of students the story centers around are as follows:

Richard Papen: Our protagonist, and a young man who leaves for Hampden College as a way to escape his bored life in California. Richard works hard at his studies, and unlike many of his friends, actually has a job in order to make his own money. In my mind, Richard took the shape of Jessie Williams (specifically circa “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” for some reason??)
Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran: The victim of the plotted murder. In my mind, the mere mention of a tweed jacket and floppy hair made me picture Bunny as Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. Okay, that works. Bunny is a loud, boisterous young man, who has some issues with his studies and has a tendency to take advantage of his friend’s generosity. Prone to mood-swings and switching between being a fun-loving friend and insulting, it is sometimes hard to decide if Bunny is really all that bad of a person or not. Whatever the case, people tend to remember him.
Henry Winters: Who I would call the ring-leader of the small student group. He is always the one who the others go to as he always has a plan and an ability to keep calm and stoic in most situations. Actually, he seems pretty straightforward and stoic all the time, is incredibly intelligent knowing multiple languages and constantly reading and learning new things, and also has a great depth of wealth at his disposal from his family. Described as being a big young man with dark hair and blue eyes (plus his name is Henry), my mind automatically envisioned a young Henry Cavill in this part.
Charles Macaulay: One of set of twins, orphaned at a young age and raised with his hiss sister, Camilla, by their grandmother. Charles initially comes across as the most friendly and easy to talk to member of this small group, though he does appear to have a drinking problem that escalates with the events of the novel. Described in a none-too-specific way, except to say that he is blonde, I found myself picturing Bradley James, specifically with his Merlin hair.
Camilla Macaulay: Charles’ twin sister, and an object of affection of most of the males in the group, as well as others outside. Richard in particular becomes infatuated with her, though I couldn’t help but feel like she was somehow distanced from the others in certain ways, in a world of her own. In my mind, Camilla was pictured as a Teresa Palmer.
Francis Abernathy: Described as being somewhat fox-faced with firery red hair and quite fashionable, you’d think I would picture Eddie Redmayne in this part. It would only make sense! But no, a young Domnhall Gleeson took this spot, and I’m not mad that my brain made this decision. Francis was definitely a character that slowly grew on me in time. Also from a wealthy family, Francis seems to be a somewhat elusive member of the group to really understand, but is always there with a complaint, and a tendency to be overly dramatic (right down to his hypochondriasis).

Strangely enough, those characters I began the book liking the most, I soon came to like the least, and those who I liked the least to begin with I ended up being quite unhappy with at the end. I think that is a major part of the book itself, to be honest: the idea that we sometimes wear rose-coloured glasses when looking at or dealing with certain people, only to find that they are not who we once thought they were. Idealizing people can often lead us down paths we never wanted, or lead us with nothing but feelings of disappointment. Perhaps this book is telling me to look at people more objectively and to try and truly see them for who they are, rather than let me preconceptions or judgments (whether positive or not) cloud my vision in understanding them on more fundamental level. People are not always who we think they are or want them to be. Though in general, I can’t help but feel like all of the main characters in this particular novel are somewhat selfish and that I probably would not end up liking any of them very much if I knew them in real life. But from the distance of fiction? Certainly! 

Beyond these themes of relationships and the ways we see people, other themes that I found particularly interesting were the concept of appearances that the students hold in terms of their scholarly nature and wealth, the nature of parental figures, and the exploration of sexuality. While some were more in-focus than others, all added to the complexity of the book, to not just be about one single thing, and to make the characters feel somewhat more rounded in a some ways (Henry in particular, is a hard shell to really crack into, I find, and might almost come across as a caricature at times, were it not for certain aspects of his relationship with Julian that come into play near the end of the novel).

Overall, I found The Secret History to be engaging, even though at some points I found it to be a bit long. And yet, paradoxically, by the time the ending came around, I wanted there to be more. Regardless, even though I could not entirely grasp these student’s fascination with the Greek and some of their strange ways of life and romanticized views (hey, I like Greek history and mythology, but not to this extent), I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing wasn’t too simple, but also not overly stylized to the point where I got confused as sometimes happens. I honestly feel like this might be one of those books that I need to read a second time around, just to fully grasp the nuances of it and perhaps catch things that I didn’t the first time through. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

#CBR8 Review #01: The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom

“An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients”

I would have liked to start CBR8 off with something more enjoyable rather than a required reading for school, but alas! Duty calls and all that. And to be honest, this wasn’t the driest or most difficult reading I’ve had to do for school: in fact it went by easily and was filled with some quite good ideas and tips that will hopefully stick with me as I come up to starting my first art therapy practicum at the end of the month (YEEP!). Yet, some of these tips I do wish Irvin Yalom would have expanded on: yes, I am in this field of study, but I feel like there were some assumptions being made as to what the reader would and would not understand, which unfortunately left me a little fuzzy or feeling like things were a bit vague at times. Though of course, nothing is ever concrete in a therapy session in terms of what to say and how it will go with people, so you need to just learn as you go.

Essentially, The Gift of Therapy is a compilation of 85 “tips” or suggestions for psychotherapists to utilize in practice, as based on Yalom’s extensive career in the field. They are presented in a way that is both brief, but long enough so as not to drag along. Some of the tips presented are no-brainers, but some I never really would have thought about until in the moment, and it seems like it would be helpful to maybe have a heads up about certain things.

I did, however, find that sometimes when Yalom would recount examples of conversations with clients, the conversation would read in a very stiff way. I understand that he was trying to really highlight the responses and suggestions for how to deal with certain topics, etc, but they seemed very inorganic and almost inauthentic. And I mean, how do I know that this isn’t really how the conversation went? Maybe it did! Yalom clearly has a great deal of experience and can come up with some great responses and deal with most situations effectively, to the point where reading some of them I wonder if I will even be able to come close to responding to certain issues and statements in such useful or insightful ways. Kind of hard to imagine at this point, to be honest.

Overall, this book has some good tips and ideas in it. Will I use all of them? Maybe not, as I don’t know how comfortable I am at this point with some stuff in the world of therapy, being as inexperienced as I am right now. But perhaps in time. The other question, however, is would I read this book unless I was required to or wanting to get into this field? Probably not. But as I kind of mentioned before, it is not the worst thing I’ve ever had to read by a long shot.  

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Friday, January 1, 2016

Let Me Talk About Star Wars: The Force Awakens for a Quick Second (But Just a Quick One)

Everyone's cute and I'm on fire.
That's it: that's the movie.
Because really, the plot seemed like a typical adventure, with a lot of luck and circumstance on their side. But the characters were all awesome and fun. 
And really, that's all I have to say about the movie. No long think-pieces here, which is somewhat odd for me since when I get hype about things I tend to get very wordy. That's all I need to say, and all you need to know. Go for the characters and for enjoyment. Don't think too hard about it (unless you really want to). 
It's not that deep, ya'll. It's not that deep. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

#CBR7 Review #29: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“This is my problem. I want other people to tell me how they feel. But I’m not so sure I want to return the favor.”
(Bruh, did I write this? Because this sounds exactly like me. Get out of my head).

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book full of lines that dig right into your heart. A book full of kindness and kind characters. Of feelings and phrases that seem almost too profound to be coming from such a young character, and yet it doesn’t feel as inorganic as many young-adult novels with characters who don’t feel organically young, just an image or distorted memory of what being young was like.
This book may tread on some familiar ground, and perhaps not all that much “happens” in terms of plot. And yet… so much happens. And every time the young protagonist drives to the middle of the desert to look at the stars I can’t help but think that that is exactly what this book feels like. Staring at the immeasurable sky above, with nothing but space to be. A warm breeze on the wind to tell you that maybe you aren’t as alone or small as you feel looking at something so infinite.
And apparently, I have a lot of thoughts about this book, just given all the things it reminded me of and all the emotions it seemed to stir up in me.

As I was reading Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a few people asked me how it was. Every time I would respond with, “It’s just so GENTLE!” Because it is: it deals with some common and sometimes difficult issues that people encounter in their lives, but does so in a very thoughtful way. As Alire Sáenz himself writes, “To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.”

The novel itself focuses on a Mexican-American teenage boy in the late 1980s named Aristotle, —who prefers to go by Ari—over the course of a few years of his young life. Told from Ari’s point of view, we get a good look into all the thoughts and feelings swimming in his head, many of which confuse him and he prefers to keep to himself: we get to see so much more than he is willing to show or share with anyone else, and in a way that feels like a gift. And I too resonate with that feeling of not being able to or willing to show what is inside to the external world. It can be scary, even as an adult (well, more like an emerging adult, I guess). Yet, I also find so much resonance with the other main character of the novel, Dante, who is another young boy who Ari becomes close friends with over the course of the novel. Dante is exuberant and full of life. He is able to find so much delight in the world and wears his emotions like badges of honor. And sometimes that is me. The two boys couldn’t be more different on the surface, and yet somehow they manage to fit perfectly together. The novel continues to follow their relationship as it grows, falters, hurts, and heals, over the course of a few summers together. Themes of internal wars, family relationships (particularly those between Ari, his parents, and Ari’s estranged brother who is in prison), Mexican-American identity, hate crimes, coming-of-age, and sexuality are also addressed and weave throughout the lives of the two boys.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know why I am always drawn to young adult novels, particularly when I often get so annoyed by the young characters, or feel like they are just imitations of what teenagers are like (hey, I’m not saying they can’t be profound or smart, but they often read as really… pretentious? I mean I tried to be poetic at that age and boy was it garbage. That’s not to say everyone is like that, though). And we all know teenagers have a tendency to be pretty dramatic about their emotions, which can get tiring after a while. But this didn’t feel forced or inauthentic to me. Well, maybe there was the odd line or two I side-eyed, but that’s not saying much. And perhaps at times I thought that maybe Dante seemed like a bit of a caricature of a character, but not to the point that I was irritated by it. Really, the biggest issue with characters I had was the parents, because sometimes I just considered if I have ever met parents who speak to and have interactions with their children like the ones in this novel do. It’s hard to say, and it left me wondering. However, they are so kind and so caring and accepting, yet complete with their own struggles and issues that you cannot help but feel like they belong so completely in the world presented.

But regardless of this, the characters and how they are written and how they express their internal selves are the real strength of this novel, and something that drew me in right away. Because when it comes to the plot, at some point I got the feeling that I knew exactly where everything was headed, and that it could end in one of two ways. Yet rather than feeling overused to me, the overall plot just felt familiar, and almost comfortable to me. I realize that it is hard for me to write about this without some serious personal bias (can we ever write a review without some sort of bias?), but I was personally glad by how this story unfolded. Because so many books and movies today with LGBT+ themes are inherently tragic, and I hate it. Is that what my life (as a bi individual) is? Destined to be full of heartache and pain? Of hiding and being broken as soon as I let the greater world see who I am? It’s like Ari says, “Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.”

But Alire Sáenz doesn’t do that. Really, the whole thing reminded me a lot of the Brazilian film The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho, in Portuguese). If you haven’t seen this film, I would very much recommend, as it is also very soft, gentle, and touching, and has the same feel as this book does. See, that’s what I mean about feeling familiar: it’s like I’ve seen another version of this story before, but it’s presented in a way that is emotive enough to be able to connect to in some way. And it’s also not incredible sexualized in the way that a lot of LGBT+ stories are. This reminds me of how Troye Sivan describes the story he presents in his song “Wild” (as a part of the “Blue Neighborhood” trio of songs, it’s called?), in that Ari and Dante’s story is about the young love we may find that is simply innocent and sweet, but still so meaningful and powerful.

And boy do I connect with a lot of the emotions and feelings presented in this novel. I relate to the struggle of really coming to understand what we are feeling inside of us (I think we can all relate to that in a lot of ways).
Of wanting people to let us in, but not being willing to do that in return. Of coming to learn new things about people that we never knew before, and wondering if we can truly ever understand someone else in their entirety.
“I got to thinking that poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just didn’t get—and never would get”.
Of being afraid of what we feel inside of us, and trying to push them away, but ultimately getting angry and pushing those who give you those feelings away instead. And this hurts, but maybe you can heal at some point.
“Maybe we just lived between hurting and healing.”
These are lines that we may walk every day. I know what it feels like to slowly come to know yourself and to not be certain that you even like who this person is. To question who you are when you come to find new facets of your being.
“And I thought that maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet. They were there. Lying in wait.”
Of being open with some but wanting to hide parts of yourself with certain people: in particular, my parents. They will more than likely be accepting of me, and yet like Dante, I feel like if I reveal particular aspects of my sexuality to my family they will be disappointed, and even if they are not, it ultimately changes how people see you. And that is a scary thing to think about.
I know what it’s like to have feelings for friends that they cannot reciprocate because of who they are, and you try to not be hurt, but it still burns inside. But you can’t blame them, and it makes you angry at yourself that you want to blame them, but also angry at them for making you think these things. We are constantly moving through life and discovering new things, and it changes us. And sometimes these changes are good and sometimes they are bad. And sometimes we would rather live in a world of not knowing than face what we might find inside of ourselves. In these ways, although I am not in the same stage of life as the boys in this book, I still see myself in them in many ways. There are emotions here that I think a lot of people can relate to, not necessarily in the same context, but they are the same feelings nonetheless. Do you see what I mean when I say I have a lot of thoughts about this book/inspired by what I read within it?

So the ultimate question remains: did I like this book? Yes I did. As I mentioned earlier, it is the embodiment of staring up at the night sky in the middle of the desert, with a warm breeze surrounding you. I ate it up. I wanted more. My heart feels like it has been wrapped in a hug. So sweet. So gentle. So pure. So beautiful.

Oh, and one last thing: I didn’t realize that Lin-Manual Miranda is the reader for the audio book version of this story. Which is awesome, and also somewhat hilarious and ironic given that one of the lines he has to say is literally, “I don’t want to study Alexander Hamilton.” (Can you believe this??)

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Monday, November 30, 2015

#CBR7 Review #28: Border Crossing by Pat Barker

I really don’t know when and how I ended up with multiple novels by Pat Barker on my kindle, but here we are. And knowing that a few of them belonged to a series, I opted to read Border Crossing, a book dealing with child offenders of serious crimes, and examining the idea of people changing and finding redemption years later. Or is evil an inherent trait that can be found in children as well as adults? Honestly, the whole thing sounded kind of like that Andrew Garfield movie, Boy A, except in comparison, I found the whole thing rather bland. Or, maybe “bland” is not the right word… I guess it’s just that I felt like I needed more: more of everything. Some interesting topics and themes were brought up, but I never felt like we really got to the depth of them, or even to the depth of the character of Danny and his manipulative personality, which I found to be super intriguing and the strongest force in the story. Yet, I was left with a sense of just gliding through the whole thing with nothing to really grab onto.

The story of Border Crossing itself focuses on a child psychologist named Tom, who we first see saving a young man who dove into a river in attempted suicide. Tom soon discovers that he knows this young man named Danny, or at least, he knew the boy for a time years earlier, when Tom presented evidence that resulted in the conviction of Danny for the murder of an elderly woman when he was ten years old. But now Danny is out, and has a new identity, yet he seeks out Tom’s help to go back into his past and reconnect to what happened all those years ago. Tom soon finds himself questioning and crossing the lines between the personal and the professional, and asking himself if people can find redemption over time. He also grapples with how to best deal with Danny’s wishes and personality, as well as Tom’s own crumbling personal life. But of course, even though new identities may hold for a while, the newly committed crimes of two young children threaten to bring Danny’s past life back into the focus of the media, and expose him anew. 

Truth be told, I found the character of Danny to be incredibly intriguing, and just the way he interacts with and affects the people around him. Yet, I felt as though I didn’t get enough of him through the vehicle of Tom, and didn’t even fully understand what Danny was doing or wanted from going to see Tom again. So while there was some serious potential and great points scattered through the story, the whole thing fell a little flat and came across as anticlimactic to me in the end. Though, I will say that it was not a difficult read, which is always nice when you don’t want anything too heavy or requiring of extra focus (especially since I read most of this during down-time at work). But in the end, while there isn’t really anything wrong with Border Crossing, I unfortunately feel like it is ultimately very forgettable. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

#CBR7 Review #27: No One Belongs Here More Than You – Stories by Miranda July

Miranda July is an interesting case, isn’t she? Sometimes I don’t know what to make of her and her work, and I find that she can be pretty divisive. There are some that find her to be gentle, profound, unique, and have a strong voice, while others may find her to be too whimsical, awkward, etc. And I happen to be right in the middle. I absolutely adore some of her work, but other times I just can’t connect with it and think, “Okay… that’s enough of you for a while.” And while the collection of stories in No One Belongs Here More Than You had a few short stories that really struck me, overall there were more misses than hits, and I couldn’t help but feel like everything in it was slowly dragging me down.

It is true that July has a distinct voice, and there is a skill to capturing small, single moments in a way that make you see them as so significant. In many instances, however, these moments in July’s stories center around her character’s sensuality or instances of sexual intimacy, which more often than not came across as somewhat awkward to me, which made me feel awkward reading them. And that is not to say I am uncomfortable reading about sex in any way, but in this case I was simply put off by something in almost all of the pieces included in this collection. In a way, I guess, I could only handle reading about and imagining so many uncomfortable women (and one, singular male protagonist), slowly and knowingly walking towards their own self-destruction, or into a place of more confusion and unknowing than they started in, but not in a inspirational way: in a disconcerting way. Though through some reflection, perhaps I feel a bit put-off by this behavior due to recognizing my own manner of working through life and issues, which may or may not follow a similar pattern. Yikes.

Yet, amongst all the other seeming misses and inclusions I just couldn’t connect with, there was one longer story around the middle of the book that really struck me for some reason, titled: “Something that Needs Nothing.” This story focuses on two teenage girls who run away from their suburban lives to live together in the city. The phases and realizations in their relationships and the way in which the protagonist found strengths and weaknesses made me think of things that, while not exactly the same, bore resemblances to my own life. I was even inspired to write a poem (which may later become a song??) about the things and feelings this story brought up in my own mind. And it’s kind of powerful when you can be inspired to make your own creative response to the work of someone else (kind of like how a dancer may be moved to choreograph in a particular way after hearing a certain piece of music).

The fact remains, however, that overall I did not find No One Belongs Here More Than You to be a very strong collection of short stories. And that is a shame, seeing as I really thought I was going to like it more than I did after having been exposed to some of July’s work before. Though perhaps it was the fact that many of the narrative voices came across as the same to me, and after a number of stories and a number of different characters, it all just felt a little flat. Or maybe it was the fact that I could be intrigued and immersed in a tale, only to come upon a line that I wish was never included, or drew me out of the story completely with the way it came across. I guess there are a lot of things that are keeping me from really loving this collection by July, save for a few of the brief pieces included. 

In any case, here are a few quick lines about what/who each of the remaining stories in the collection focus on:

  1. “The Shared Patio”: a woman becomes transfixed by the man who lives in the building below her and yearns for a relationship with him. 
  2. “The Swim Team”: a young woman reflects on the time she taught a group of older people how to swim without a swimming pool.
  3. “Majesty”: a woman fantasizes about one of the royal princes and imagines how she might meet him on day.
  4. “The Man on the Stairs”: a woman hears someone slowly coming up her stairs in the middle of the night and contemplates how to face him.
  5. “The Sister”: an older man hopes to meet a co-worker’s sister in order to form a relationship with her, yet the sister is elusive to meet.
  6. “This Person”: a hypothetical person has a celebration thrown in their honor, yet this individual wants to do nothing but retreat into themselves.
  7. “It Was Romance”: a woman goes to a class to learn how to be romantic, yet finds that perhaps romance is not necessarily what we think it is.
  8. “Something That Needs Nothing”: as described above, the relationship between two young girls who run away together.
  9. “I Kiss a Door”: a woman learns a secret about a past friend of hers.
  10. “The Boy From Lam Kien”: a woman lets a young neighborhood boy spend time examining her world.
  11. “Making Love in 2003”: a young woman wants to publish a story of a dark being she was once intimate with, only to find herself believing that one of her students is this same being reborn.
  12. “Ten True Things”: a woman takes a sewing class to try and get to know her boss’ wife better.
  13. “The Moves”: a young woman reflects on the lessons her father taught her regarding having sex with a woman.
  14. “Mon Plaisir”: a couple who have been together for a long time decide to become background actors together as a way to make their relationship more interesting.
  15. “Birthmark”: a woman removes a large birthmark from her face, only to contemplate on what this action means and how her identity is still tied to this mark she once had.
  16. “How To Tell Stories To Children”: a woman becomes like a second mother to a child of her friend, which is inevitably a strange family situation.  

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Sunday, October 18, 2015

#CBR7 Review #26: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places indeed deals with some dark issues, all centered on a character, Libby, who comes across as abrasive and unlikeable, yet she is still understandable and I was able to develop some empathy for her throughout the novel. I also personally enjoyed how the story was told as a series of present-day versus past event chapters, that alternated with one another to reveal different information from the viewpoint of different characters in a more staggered manner. This made the pacing interesting but not too straight-forward, and let me try and come up with my own theories along the way before the ultimate conclusion. Though at some points, I would get so interested in the past events of a chapter that I wouldn’t want to switch back to Libby in the present day just at that moment. 

Dark Places focuses on the life of Libby Day, 25 years after her brother, Ben, was charged with the murder of Libby’s mother and two older sisters when they were all children. Ben would have been 15 at the time, with Libby being around 7. Unsurprisingly, Libby has had a hard time adjusting to life after these events, and still holds some residual effects of experiencing such traumatic circumstances at such a young age. This leaves her now, 25 after, in a difficult financial position. Yet, she sees the opportunity to help herself make some money by agreeing to talk to people from her past regarding the night of the murders, after meeting with a club of sorts that like to investigate high-profile murders. One group, in particular, has been looking at her case and has come to a number of different conclusions regarding who may have in fact murdered her mother and sisters all those years ago. Libby had testified against her brother, but now she has to face the possibility that maybe he did not in fact commit the crime, and that her memory of that night does have some holes in it. Essentially we the reader are led to try and figure out what exactly occurred on the night of the Day murders while Libby herself seeks out information herself.

Along the way, we encounter a number of different topics, including guilt, financial difficulty, martial abuse, satanic rituals, peer pressure, and even the ever-tricky subject of child sexual abuse. That last point is a particularly difficult topic to address, and it just happens that I had recently watched Jatgen (The Hunt) with Mads Mikkelsen before reading this, which also dealt with the subject of children’s claims and accounts of sexual abuse that may or may not be accurate, and this is something that in my field of study can come up and needs to be dealt with in a very specific manner. When addressing such cases, you have to believe the child, and the child needs to know that you trust them no matter what they say. But as it is mentioned in Dark Places, the way in which children are questioned or treated in regards to incidents of sexual abuse is one that can sometimes sway children to behave in a particular way or say things that they think the adults want to hear, possibly even creating new memories of events. It is a hard thing to address, and something that I get really intense about, and I don’t really know how I feel about the way the subject was handled in this book to be honest (that is not necessarily a bad thing), but I think I need to reflect on it a little more before I’ll know for sure. 

In any case, I did get quite engrossed in Dark Places and the predictably dark subject matter. It doesn’t take long to get involved in making your own theories about what might have happened to the Day family, as slowly more and more information of the day leading up the murders is revealed. And really you just need to know what happened, so you keep reading. That’s what I found at least! And now I am definitely going to lend this one to a few friends who I think would also enjoy it.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Thursday, September 24, 2015

#CBR7 Review #25: Sabriel by Garth Nix

Let’s be real, I had no idea what this book was about before I started reading it. I wasn’t even aware that it was the beginning of a series! I just noticed the title when I was at the used book store, picking up some mysteries for my mum. And then I took a peek at the cover and thought, “why not!?” It looked like a medieval-ish adventure tale, and that is exactly what I got! And it was slightly confusing at times, perhaps due to the main character being just as out-of-the-loop and trying to figure things out as the reader is, but I still enjoyed the pace it clipped along at, with varying degrees of action and more stand-still or explanatory sections regarding this new fantasy world that the Abhorsen series presents.

Sabriel is a young woman, in the latter half of her teenage years, attending a private school in what I assume is our normal world, yet still being taught a variety of different courses in Charter magic, as she and a number of other students are Charter Mages. Or, more specifically in Sabriel’s case, she is the daughter of the necromancer, Abhorsen, which is a title that is passed down through the bloodline of the necromancer family. Not far from Sabriel’s school is a wall that leads to another, more magic-infused (and seemingly more medieval and less-modern?) world known as the Old Kingdom. This is where Sabriel’s father typically lives and attends to business keeping the dead at bay while Sabriel attends school in her own world, and has short visits with her father from time to time. Yet, the novel soon leads Sabriel on a quest in the Old Kingdom, as her father appears to be in danger. While Sabriel is equipped with some magical skills and is quite powerful for her age, growing up away from the Old Kingdom has left her unknowing of many facets to the kingdom and of Charter magic overall. She must find her father with what skills she has, learning on the way, and with the help of a powerful being held as a servant to the Abhorsen line for thousands of years, that now holds the form of a cat (and a snarky one at that, which goes as no surprise given what cats are generally like). Sabriel comes to learn of an evil in the Kingdom that her father has been chasing for many years, and involves the general downfall of the kingdom and dead rising in many areas. The royal family’s bloodlines and their history also becomes intertwined with Sabriel’s quest, in the form of a man who comes to be known as Touchstone. The two end up working together for a common goal in saving the Kingdom from some great and powerful dead, and while my description has already been quite vague, I won’t go into too much detail.

Overall, Sabriel is an interesting adventure stale of a young necromancer coming into her own. There are great points of action and suspense, despite the plot seeming somewhat cut-and-paste, while still being quite original in my eyes (I do like spooky stories about dead things and necromancy). However for some reason, there was one point of contention that bothered me far more than it should have, though this is likely to do with my general mindset on things these days. The romance between Sabriel and Touchstone (It’s not a spoiler, you see it coming the second Sabriel lays eyes on the guy) just seemed too convenient, yet also forced in how it came to be? Listen, I know how it is when you hang out with someone a bunch then one day it’s like, “Oh NO!” because you suddenly realize you have a thing for them. And that is kind of what happens in this story on Touchstone’s part (with Sabriel being more slow-coming). But I just wonder if it’s really necessary? And why oh why, in so many stories, you have two people fall in love and being all, “I can’t live without you!” after knowing each other for like, two weeks maybe? (How about y’all crazy kids calm down?)

But I say these things about romantic sub-plots in stories (and don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good romance, and get all squeaky and giddy at cute things), because a lot of the time they seem to be thrown in there just because. And I am always especially side-eyeing this when it’s a heterosexual romance, not because I am against this, but because I have had so many people in the past complain about stories involving LGBT+ romantic sub-plots of being “too gay,” as in “we get it, you’re gay!” Whenever someone says that to me, I want to say something about how it wasn’t necessary for there to be a romance in Jurassic World, but I got that incredibly forced and pointless romance anyways despite there being more important things to worry about like people being slaughtered by dinosaurs. Or how many reminders I got in The Scorch Trials of just how straight all the characters were (I get it!). I mean seriously, if there is ANY opportunity to put a heterosexual romance into a story, by golly, they will find a way. But no no, I get complaints about things being too gay after there are maybe one or two different characters who may or may not be heterosexual present.

And so, I have become curmudgeonly about any romance in a story that I feel came about inorganically, or was not per-say all that important or moving. Did Touchstone and Sabriel have to become a thing? Nah man. Did it really add all that much to the tale? Not in my opinion. But like I said, that’s just kind of a qualm I have these days.

In any case, I enjoyed Sabriel quite a bit and am maybe interested in continuing the series to find out more about the young Abhorsen and all the things that come with the powers of being a necromancer. But, I maybe want to dive into something else first before I come back to her.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Friday, August 28, 2015

#CBR7 Review #24: Daredevil, vol. 1 by Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen

I have this problem. The problem is that I always want to get into more comic books but never know where to start (bruh, you know people who can probably help you with this). But I saw that this edition of Daredevil said “Volume 1” on it so thought that hey, maybe that would be a good place to start. What I realize is that this was the first run of Frank Miller at the helm for the character (the first half of the volume being predominantly in the drawing, the second half with more of Miller’s writing). From what I understand, many believe that the character of Daredevil really came into his own when Miller began working with him, so at this point of me jumping into the series, Matt Murdock was already established as Daredevil and had some history that required me to fill in some blanks along the way with what I already knew about Daredevil (from the show, other conversations, etc), or to try and come to other conclusions regarding his relationships with certain characters based on the present information given. At the very least, almost all of the issues included in this volume made sure to go over how Matt Murdock gained his abilities and became Daredevil so that we aren’t so out of the loop on that front.

In any case, this first volume of Miller’s work begins with Daredevil appearing in a few issues of The Spectacular Spiderman before jumping into Daredevil on his own. The volume overall largely deals with Daredevil against one of his biggest foes, Bullseye, as well as Kingpin, who is in a stage of returning to America after giving up his life of running the crime lords for some time. We also see the first appearance of Electra, and have some run-ins with The Hulk and other villains. The beginning of the volume seems to be a bit lighter in fare, with the second half becoming more dark, and in my opinion, more interesting.

Overall, it is a good run of issues focused on Daredevil, yet I did feel like I was just jumping into something just for a little stint in the middle. I think I need to either continue to read more in order to get more into it, or to pay more attention with where and when to start a run with an already established character (and particularly one that I already have an idea of in my mind as based on the Netflix show of the character, whoops).

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Monday, August 10, 2015

#CBR7 Review #23: Bitten by Kelly Armstrong

Another one from the pile my friend handed to me when I asked for book recommendations! And a pretty enjoyable read, too, given how much I like werewolves these days (*cough* Teen Wolf). But I once again fall into this problem that I’ve been having lately in regards to protagonists: they just aren’t connecting with me. That is not to say that I like nothing about Elena, the main character in Bitten. But, she just seems to flip flop a bit to the point where I’m not sure if certain things are in fact out of character or if I just don’t truly understand her in some ways and am therefore seeing them as such. That’s my problem, though, and I don’t think everyone would feel the same as me.

Bitten is about a woman named Elena, who is the only female werewolf in the world (special snowflake sirens screech in the distance!! she’s a hot commodity, y’all!). But let’s not get caught up in what initially made me roll my eyes. Elena has been living a pretty decent human life as a wolf without a pack for a while, but gets called back to her old pack life when some violent acts start to occur in the area around where her former pack lives. Elena falls easily back into this life, and there the internal struggle begins as she is faced with decisions regarding human versus werewolf life, and her new boyfriend versus her old werewolf lover, Clay, with whom she has so much history. The violence in the area around her old pack is related to the threat of some outside, pack-less wolves (“mutts” as they are called), which soon begins to threaten the lives of Elena and her wolf family (I mean, that’s basically what a pack is, right?).

I won’t go too much more into details, as it’s always fun when not too much is given away. But the story itself is bloody and intriguing, and the characters all seem to be quite colorful and interesting (if somewhat one-dimensional in the case of a few). All in all, it was enjoyable for a werewolf novel, and I am interested in reading the next in the series. There is just that issue I had with Elena herself throughout the book. Something about her didn’t resonate with me, but that’s okay, as it happens sometimes. Though I did picture her as something of a mix between Ronda Rousey and Natalie Dormer, which certainly helped in coming up with a picture of her in my mind.

At the end of the day, I might pick up another one of these books one day, as Armstrong has a pretty concise yet engaging voice in her writing. It just might not be the first thing on my list to continue with (I just have so many other things now that I need to read and/or continue!).

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]