Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: In The Time of Butterflies--Julia Alvarez

Synopsis: From the author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents comes this tale of courage and sisterhood set in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the Trujillo dictatorship. A skillful blend of fact and fiction, In the Time of the Butterflies is inspired by the true story of the three Mirabal sisters who, in 1960, were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government. Alvarez breathes life into these historical figures--known as "las mariposas," or "the butterflies," in the underground--as she imagines their teenage years, their gradual involvement with the revolution, and their terror as their dissentience is uncovered.
Alvarez's controlled writing perfectly captures the mounting tension as "the butterflies" near their horrific end. The novel begins with the recollections of Dede, the fourth and surviving sister, who fears abandoning her routines and her husband to join the movement. Alvarez also offers the perspectives of the other sisters: brave and outspoken Minerva, the family's political ringleader; pious Patria, who forsakes her faith to join her sisters after witnessing the atrocities of the tyranny; and the baby sister, sensitive Maria Teresa, who, in a series of diaries, chronicles her allegiance to Minerva and the physical and spiritual anguish of prison life.

Review:  What an incredibly moving story.

As I stated a couple of months ago, I've been having trouble finding the time to complete books these days due to a crazy and chaotic schedule (and I know most of you can relate!). So what a joy it was, when I finally found the time to get back into reading, for my first book to be this one.

Alvarez, through 4 completely distinct perspectives, tells us this fascinating story of four incredibly strong women fighting for a cause they truly believed in; sacrificing their lives for the good of their country and standing against a government that showed no remorse in getting revenge against those who disputed it.

This book, a work of historical fiction, gives insight into the bleak side of Dominican history through the Mirabel sisters, whom (and Alvarez notes this herself) have been praised and revered they've become somewhat of a myth.  (They were real women and I applaud Alvarez for taking these women and giving us the, albeit fictional, human side of these women making them relatable.) Alvarez presents this story in a way that is simple yet fascinating.

I loved this book. I loved the story of these women and it made me wonder if I necessarily had the strength or courage to do something along the lines of the Mirabel sisters. All in all, definitely an entertaining read.

Grade: A

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review — Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Synopsis (Goodreads):  The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig.
The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.

The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?

Piper can't hear Dumb's music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.

Review:  I first heard about Five Flavors of Dumb over at Capillya's blog, thatcovergirl.  This was one of those books that I picked up purely for the cover.  It sounded interesting and the cover was pretty badass so I thought I'd give it a try.  However, unlike Her and Me and You, this one delivered with the story as well as the cover.

I skimmed the synopsis so quickly when I was looking into this book that I didn't even realize Piper was deaf until I picked it up and started reading.  You quickly realize Piper's deafness isn't a disability or hinderance, but it's a part of her.  John wove her deafness into Piper's character, without falling back on any kind of cheesiness or cliches.  You never forget that Piper is deaf, but it's not who she is, just another aspect of her personality.

Piper is one of those characters that you just kind of wish were real so you could hang out and become BFFs.  There's something inspiring about watching her evolve from a scared, pseudo-wallflower to the leader of a rock band.  As much as I don't want to admit it, I was surprised when I realized that this book was written my a guy.  I know, I know, a good writer can write any gender, so I should know better.  John created a fantastic, complex, strong female character that rivals, in my mind, Katniss, Buffy, and Jessica Darling.  There were moments when I wanted to shake her (mostly when it came to her utter blindness to the guy who was in love with her), but I couldn't help but love her.  There's a great moment with the band's "mentor," Baz, impersonating her father that had me laughing out loud and solidified Piper's position as favorite female character of the year.

I was impressed how well the other characters were complete, well-rounded characters.  Well, except for Will and Josh, I would have liked to see a little more of who they were outside of the band.  Josh was a bit one-note.  But Piper's parents were particularly well done.  They weren't necessarily perfect, but they weren't terrible parents either.  You could see that they were doing the best they could, and sometimes they made mistakes.  While I seriously hated her father though most of the book, his character had a nice progression.  The cynic in my wonders if he would have such a profound turnaround, but my heart is a black shriveled up husk so I'm going to go with it.  ('s only mildly withered)

There's also real reverence for music throughout the book.  Though Piper can't totally hear their music, she finds inspiration from Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix.  She's inspired by who they were, how they came to be musicians, and how they affected millions of people as much as any of us can be inspired by the music they made.  In these moments of music history, Dumb became much more than a book about a band trying to make it.  It was about the importance of music as, not just an aspect pop culture, but an aspect of history.

Also, I can't end my review without giving some love to Ed Chen.  If I ever complain that fictional nice guys are boring, remind me of Ed Chen.  Adorable, adorable Ed Chen (See also: Piper's brother, Finn).  Score one for the nice guys, Ed Chen.  (I think I just like saying "Ed Chen")

Review: A-

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review - How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead by Ariel Gore

Whew! It’s December and NaNoWriMo is over! OVER! If that challenge has taught me anything, it’s that writing a complete novel might be one of the toughest things to accomplish in life All authors whose work I has the chance of reading this year, including the ones I didn’t particularly enjoy (yes, I’m thinking of you, Liz Berry) deserve a hardy pat on the back for their achievement!

Now, should you be an individual who (unlike me) earnestly undertook the NaNoWriMo challenge and are well on your way to completing your first novel, but have never actually published anything before, you might be overwhelmed by the thought of the hurdles to come in transforming that NaNoWriMo baby into a tangible book.

It was with this in mind that I decided to read Ariel Gore’s writers’ self-help book entitled How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, in which she shares the secrets to publishing superstardom. Gore’s main argument is that the secret to success in the novel-wring world has more to do with one’s conviction than raw literary talent, and that we’re all capable of improving ourselves in both areas with a little discipline. Gathering an assortment of tips she has learned through her own journey as a writer and literary coach, she’s manages to create an excellent argument for writing. If you ever gave up on your dream of becoming a famous novelist because of age, time constraints or lack of ideas, you might find yourself inspired by Gore’s own success story. She made it while being a teenage single mother! And really, what’s tougher than that?

Interspersed in Gore’s narrative are snippets of advice from a few prominent literary figures from a variety of literary niches. Although they all have their own story to tell about what lead them to success, the key terms of discipline and self-confidence permeate throughout everyone’s advice. You might even be surprised by how basic yet profound their writing tips and recommendations are.  

Bottom line, Gore’s voice is filled with so much energy that even if you never dreamed of writing a book, you might get sucked into believing that you could and perhaps even should! I really enjoyed How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. Despite having little aspiration of writing a book myself, Gore’s word were compelling enough to make me add “write a novel” as a goal on my list of things-to-do-before-I-die.

LitSnit Verdict: A

Monday, December 6, 2010

Review—Her and Me and You by Lauren Strasnick

Synopsis (via Goodreads): First love, broken friendships, and heartache all play a part in this evocative, voice-driven novel about Alex, a girl whose world is ripped apart when her father’s affair splits her family in two.

Alex moves with her mess of a mother to a new town, where she is befriended by hot, enigmatic Fred—and alternately flirted with and cold-shouldered by Fred’s twin sister, Adina. Others warn Alex to steer clear of the twins, whose sibling relationship is considered abnormal at best, but there’s just something about Fred—and something about Adina—that draws Alex to them and makes her want to be part of their crazy world…no matter the consequences.

Review: I got to read an ARC of this book courtesy of Around the World ARC Tours and was excited.  The cover and synopsis intrigued me.  It sounded like a dark, complex look at love and family.  And it definitely tried to do that, though not very successfully.

It didn't help that Strasnick's writing style seems very curt and rather choppy.  Some chapters literally started with just Alex stating what day it is and where she is.  There isn't a whole lot to really get you to attach yourself to Alex or Fred and Adina.  Maybe Strasnick was going for a more bleak outlook, seeing as Alex is dealing with her mother's emotional breakdown and her father's infidelity, but it just didn't get me all that interested in the story all that much and it made Alex just seem kind of petty and boring.  Thankfully, though the plot seemed to just meander along, because it was so unembellished and stilted, it was pretty short and I flew through it on an hour-long train ride.

What really bothered me most is that we never understand why Adina and Fred are the way they are.  Adina runs hot and cold, clearly playing mental games with Alex, but we never find out why.  Fred alludes to the fact that she "has issues" as is clear with her eating disorder and almost sociopathic ways, but there's no payoff.  I don't need a resolution, but I at least need to understand what's causing her to act the way she is or deal with the fact that she's an anorexic alcoholic. Besides one incident that forces Fred and Alex to deal with her anorexia, it's never really discussed that she's going to get help.  It ends so abruptly and without any warning that I had to check and make sure it wasn't missing pages or something.

Plus, I never really got into Fred and Alex as a couple.  It seemed to me that their "attraction" was more due to the fact that Fred was there and Alex was "different."  Alex seemed to just want a boyfriend because her best friend back home had one so Fred would do even if he had a wacko sister and, at best, has a super weird relationship with her and, at worst, might be in love with her.  

I think this story could have worked as a dark, almost gothic story if it was just fleshed out a bit more.  Adina's craziness was interesting, but ultimately seemed to go nowhere so, when I finished, I just kind of didn't understand the point of it at all.  

The cover is pretty though.  Kudos to the designer.

Lit Snit Verdict: C-

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Movie/Book: 127 Hours/Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Summary: "127 Hours" is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston's remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolate canyon in Utah. Over the next five days, Ralston examines his life and survives the elements to finally discover he has the courage and the wherewithal to extricate himself by any means necessary, scale a 65 foot wall and hike over eight miles before he is finally rescued. Throughout his journey, Ralston recalls friends, lovers, family, and the last two people he ever had the chance to meet? A visceral thrilling story that will take an audience on a never before experienced journey and prove what we can do when we choose life.

I ashamed to say that I haven't read the book...I saw the movie.

Yes,I saw the movie first. Normally, I don't do this...I read the book because, let's face it, the book is always better. In this case, I had never heard of the book (arg. I'm ashamed) but was intrigued by the idea of someone...well, doing what he did to save himself. (I imagine you all know what I'm referring to but I'm attempting to keep this somewhat spoiler free). When I did learn that it was based on the book, I still threw caution to the wind and schlepped to the theater because I'm not necessarily big on reading survival stories. Call me superficial, but I like to keep my rose-colored glasses on when it comes to my books. So, while I decided to go see it first, I didn't think it was going to be that great.

Boy, was I wrong.

It's very hard an actor to be the only focal point of an ENTIRE MOVIE and keep you engaged. Especially with a subject like this, because it's very easy to play it one sad, "I'm going to die", grim note. In this case, James Franco more than succeeds. He's funny, he's charming, he's CRAZY. In the first few minutes of the film, you like him. So when he gets stuck LITERALLY between a rock and a hard place, you panic for him, wondering how he's going to get out (or at least I did...OY). Then you spend an hour of some change watching him try.

This is the first time I've watched a movie & then run out to buy the book (slightly annoyed that everyone has switched to the film cover now...) but it was such a good story via film that I can't imagine disliking the book. Part of this was Franco, finding the humor in this story while still managing to convey the panic/terror. Part of it was Danny Boyle, who directs this visually stunning film. The main part, though? This guy's story is incredible and extremely moving. It's an incredibly inspirational film. (Seriously, when I left the movie I was convinced I needed to learn how to swim, to rock climb, to ride a mountain bike 50 miles...I needed to learn how to be a survivor in case I was ever stuck in a canyon!)

So the book is now sitting on my shelf, ready to be devoured. In the meantime, I highly recommend watching this movie!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review - Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

Review: Bloodsucking Fiends introduces us to the love affair between two very different beings: Jody, a newly created vampire, and Tommy, a writer wannabe who moves to San Francisco in search of adventure. The two are drawn together by their individual need for somebody else. Jody needs a man who can take care of business during vampire off-hours: while the sun is out and she is out-cold in her dark hiding hole. Meanwhile, Tommy, who has never had a girlfriend, can’t resist the promise of excitement that someone like Jody can provide. Soon enough they both get more than either had expected as the ancient vampire who transformed Jody starts committing sinister crimes all over San Francisco and leaves clues pinning Jody and Tommy to his doings. Running out of options, it becomes Tommy and Jody’s goal to stop the fiend, a complicated task for a newbie vampire and her mortal boyfriend. 

Overall, I was impressed by this book. Vampires (as conventionally sinister as they might be) are make-belief. And so, while writing about them in a serious tone can work, mixing them into a comically predispositioned plot definitely works better! Christopher Moore used this to his advantage in Bloodsucking Fiends. Jody and Tommy are light-hearted characters thrown in unbelievably above-average circumstances, which in the hands of someone like Moore produces some very funny results.

My favorite part of the story were the characters themselves: Tommy and Jody. They are very different individuals. Tommy is steady and responsible but very naive about women. Jody on the other hand has a lot of experience with men, but has an unhealthy self-image. Over time, as they experience their relationship and explore Jody’s abilities, they manage to change and grow, becoming better individually and as a couple. Their love is never unrequited or based on struggles. Instead, its about exploration and compromises, which is refreshing knowing some of the other vampire love triangles floating around out there. 

The once mysterious vampires have quickly lost their literary appeal due to recent over-usage by many authors. And while some writers should have never gone down the vampirism path, I’m really glad Christopher Moore did. This is a vampire series worth reading.

LitSnit Verdict: A