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Words, Worlds, Whorls

A place where I write reviews and keep track of what I want to read or have already read.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern This book had me hooked from page one and I practically couldn't put it down afterwards. For a book that is essentially a love story, that is quite remarkable for me. The only thing that kept me from racing through all 500+ pages in two days was that I wanted to savor each and every description of the circus.The characters themselves were also fascinating. Not the main love-triangle; that was fairly straight-forward bordering on cliche. But the background characters - the opposing magicians who vie over nature versus nurture in magical capability; the contortionist with the secret background; the twins who were born as the clock struck midnight on the circus' opening night. The circus itself as a character. All of these and more were fascinating. Which of course meant that their less-than-thorough endings fell a bit flat and left me slightly unsatisfied.I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves beautiful description, magic, magical realism, Harry Potter, Mink River, or anyone just looking to lose themselves in a well-written book....so, basically everyone.

The Obnoxious Jerks

The Obnoxious Jerks - Stephen Manes I finally got around to reading this book Kathy gave me for Christmas. It was funny and cute, if predictable. But it was the '80s so what do you really expect. I love the idea of the boys wearing skirts to protest the student dress code, though.

Red Moon

Red Moon - Benjamin Percy 3.5/5I wanted to love this book - and in fact there were many aspects of it that I did love - but the symbolism of the werewolves hits you like a slap in the face. Werewolves are meant to represent every repressed minority in American/world history. They are shunned for being who they are and a few radicals give the whole group a bad name (Muslims), they were given their own country in 1948 (Jews), they had a civil rights revolution in the 1960s (African-Americans), lobos is likened to AIDS (homosexuals), and so on and so forth. Re-appropriating these historical milestones into one lump allegory makes them feel trite and insignificant, which is disheartening. Not only that, but sometimes the symbolism contradicts itself. Werewolves (or lycans) have been around since the 7th century, but it is mentioned that they got their own country in 1948 after nearly 2000 years of diaspora. Last I checked 1400 years does not equal "nearly 2000."Nevertheless, the action is up to Percy's usual standards. The use of present tense makes everything feel very immediate and creates a high tension that is maintained throughout all 500 pages. It was a relatively fast read, and the prose is imaginative and beautiful.

Wildwood (The Wildwood Chronicles Series #I)

Wildwood - Carson Ellis, Colin Meloy Before anyone chalks this rating up to me being prejudiced against kids' books, I would like to preface this by saying I started this book with a really open mind. And apparently I'm not the only one who found this book tedious. The action was slow, the characters bordered on outright cliche and sexism, and it was a little more violent than I had expected. But there were several aspects that I genuinely enjoyed, too. I liked the talking animals and the imagery and the idea that this place is right over the river from where I used to live. I love the fact that this book is so distinctly Portland. Maybe if it hadn't been quite so long I would've enjoyed it more.

Life After Life

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson About halfway through, I realized this book read more like a choose-your-own-adventure book except that the reader actually had no choice in the matter. There was one story-line in particular that left me rather disillusioned with the novel as a whole.

The Girl on the Fridge

The Girl on the Fridge: Stories - Etgar Keret There are short stories and there are short stories and then there is Etgar Keret. He is able to convey quite a lot with very few words, which is refreshing. He knows how to keep his readers off balance. I could have done without the domestic violence and misogyny displayed by many of the characters; in most cases it seemed superfluous other than to shock the reader.


Snapper - Brian Kimberling It's hard to say what attracted me to this book in the first place. Certainly not the "main" storyline - Nathan and his ethereal, unattainable (I believe the popular term these days is "manic pixie dream girl"). I think it was the promise of the setting-as-character trope. Usually an interesting thing to read. Plus there was the prospect of a plethora of quirky characters and a "hilarious new voice" in Brian Kimberling, as promised by the book blurb.Whatever the draw, Snapper did not live up to my expectations. It wasn't a particularly bad book. I just found myself wanting to do other things than read it. I would pick up the book and have the sudden urge to clip my toenails or clean the bathroom or write a novella.There were a few intriguing mini-plots: the snapping turtle named Mo, the friend who pushed Nathan down a flight of stairs, the German Shepherd who thought she could sing. but there was no sense of urgency to any of the action, when when Mo bit off a kid's thumb. In fact, the narrator - the first person narrator - faints, effectively cutting us right out of the immediate action. Then I kept waiting for the hilarity to start. It didn't, not really. Not even Fast Eddie, founder of Thong Thursdays, was particularly funny. If anything he was annoying because Nathan and his best friend were annoyed by him. The tone of the book overall was so subsumed by five layers of removal and introspection that the writing felt as dull and flat as Indiana itself.

Openly Straight

Openly Straight - Bill Konigsberg Even as I dug this book out of the kids ARC cubby at work, I said to my coworker, "This book is going to annoy the crap out of me...but I have to read it."It's a fascinating premise: high-schooler Rafe is tired of being known around town as ~the gay kid~. Everyone is very accepting of him, almost to the point of being too accepting. It's PCness gone horribly, horribly wrong, and Rafe is sick of it. He just wants to be a teenage boy without labels - or at least with no labels that make him feel left out. So he moves to a boarding school on the other side of the country and starts afresh as a boy who does not say his preference unless asked directly, in which case he is willing to lie.It is pretty understandable, for the most part. Fear of being labelled in high school was a big part of why I denied my own identity for such a long time. So it wasn't really the idea behind the novel that frustrated me (though I was skeptical at first), but the execution.I've been told repeatedly that I should not be allowed near teen books because I don't find them believable. Dragons and vampires and aliens? Lay 'em on me, so long as they have a realistic setting around them. Teens who get along with their parents and are pretentiously smart? Pfffft, no thanks. "Take it with a grain of salt," my coworkers tell me. Well, I took this with a whole boulder of salt and it still drove me crazy. Rafe thinks he has everything figured out, but at times his characterization is inconsistent. He wants to be a guys' guy but he lets his best friend call him "Shay Shay." He says he loves his parents but never seems happy with anything they do.The rest of the characters are two-dimensional stereotypes. The parents are the uber-accepting, hippie-dippie types who craft tofu into the semblance of a roasting pig. Claire Olivia is the self-centered gossipy BFF (excuse my unPCness for a moment but she is a completely stereotypical fag-hag; as soon as Rafe leaves she starts hanging out with another, even more flamboyant gay kid named Caleb). Steve and his crew are the jocks-who-seem-nice-but-are-really-assholes. The only person who felt really well fleshed-out was Ben, the love interest. I was rooting from the start (even though I thought I could tell where this was headed: "closeted" gay kid falls for straight best friend, best friend rejects him, spare me - thankfully I was sort of wrong), and then when he started questioning his own sexuality I was nearly beside myself. He knows he likes girls, but he also is in love with Rafe and wants to be close to him in ways beyond mere friendship. At one point they talk about agape - transcendental love. In the end when Ben could not reconcile who he is inside with whom he has to be for his family, it broke my heart. It sounded entirely too similar to a story I've heard before and that was more painful to me than anything Rafe went through. Does Rafe eventually learn his lesson and realize the damage it does to hide an integral part of himself? Well, it's YA fiction so of course he does. Is that a spoiler? I doubt it.So why, with all these complaints, have a rated it four stars? Consider that the boulder of salt. My new rule when it comes to teen fiction is "whatever your impulse is, add half a star to it, and that is your rating" and voila, 3.5 is upped to 4. Also, this is my first foray into teen LGBT fiction, ever. I've read several literary adult LGBT books, many of which were very well written and I loved, but since it's teen fiction, I'm supposed to give it some sort of leniency, apparently.

Who Done It?

Who Done It? - I think you have to go into this book expecting a lot of repetition, and that's why a lot of people reacted so poorly to it. It's not really the sort of book that it's necessary to read cover-to-cover, and that's okay. The point of the book is to benefit 826nyc, and kudos to all these authors for chipping in for a good cause. You can pick out your favourite authors and only read their alibis. You can read most or some or a few or all of the alibis and then skip to the end and it would not make any difference. Does that make it a bad book though? I guess if you're looking for a cohesive, novel-like story, then yes. But this is really more like a collection of short stories with a common theme.I mean, take for instance the fact that in the introduction, it is said that one leg of lamb was found amongst the items confiscated from the suspects. That leg of lamb in then used in three different author's alibis. How can three different authors possess one leg of lamb? Well, because continuity was not exactly the most important aspect in putting together this collection. Once I realized that, I took everything with a grain of salt.Some of the authors and illustrators got really creative with their alibis, which was pretty cool. Some of my favorites actually included John Green's and Libba Bray's, which were about one page each. Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown's art-based alibi is also pretty nifty. I wasn't going to write a review but then I saw all the one- and two-star reviews here and started rolling my eyes. Too repetitive for you? I'll admit I skipped the last five or so authors because I was starting to get bored and I didn't recognize their names. Some stood out more starkly than others.If you look at this book as some grand mystery masterpiece-wannabe that fell short, then I guess I can understand your one-star rating. I don't agree with it, but I do understand it. But if you take this book as it is meant to be taken, I think you will find it a quirky and fun read.

A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki A very strange and interesting book. I recommend it especially if you've ever wanted to learn a bit about the inner workings of a traditional Japanese Buddhist temple.There are two main plotlines within this novel: The first is struggling writer, Ruth, finds the diary of a young Japanese girl. The second is the diary itself, written by 16-year-old suicidal Naoko. Naoko's story - the fact that she wants to write down her great-grandmother's life story but ends up writing her own - was by far the more interesting. I loved learning about all the intricacies of Japanese culture and Buddhist rituals. Ruth, meanwhile, is a city girl trapped on a rural island because of her husband, a semi-autistic man whose soul purpose in the novel is to act as a mouthpiece for Ruth's inner conscience. Oh, and to be the impetus for Ruth to move to the island in the first place. I really liked Oliver...or at least I really wanted to. He's an intelligent character, sometimes almost too intelligent. He always has the right answer for Ruth, or is able to explain some complicated bit of science or machinery. He's pretty much a walking, talking Wikipedia. Nice try, Oliver, but I would have liked you more if you'd been a little more fleshed out.Up until the last quarter of the novel, I was ready to give it a three-star review. Not great but not terrible. But then (no spoilers, I think) a funky magical realistic element is introduced, which was kind of fun. Up until then Ruth has been firmly rooted in reality while Naoko opens herself up to the mystical universe - now Ruth must learn to do the same. Trite, perhaps, but it certainly caught my attention.

The Chronology of Water

The Chronology of Water - Lidia Yuknavitch, Chelsea Cain From the first page, I was astounded by the sheer beauty and lyricism in Yuknavitch's style. I thought to myself, 'the last book I read with such gorgeous prose was [b:Sometimes a Great Notion|529626|Sometimes a Great Notion|Ken Kesey|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348326073s/529626.jpg|1308344].' And sure enough, Yuknavitch had a class with the one and only Ken Kesey. Some people thought her including this information was needless name-dropping, but I must admit I was impressed.The story is painful, and the pain is made all the more obvious because of the poetic use of repetition. Miscarriages, addictions, sexual and physical abuse...it's all in here. There were a few instances where the horrors seemed too unbelievable that I was sure they must be exaggerated if not fabricated, but who am I to judge what is and isn't false? I almost stopped reading at the part where she describes how she head-on collided with a pregnant woman on the freeway. I thought 'this is my breaking point.' But I persevered.Two things bothered me, however. The first - I'm not sure who her copy-editor was but I'm positive a first year college student could do a better job. Some of the repetitions were obviously for poetic effect, but some sentences had words inverted or there was a number where there should have been an apostrophe. The second - for all that it was only 293 pages (at least my copy was, whatever GoodReads might say), the book felt too long. Maybe if I had been able to read it in two sittings instead of five, or maybe if I hadn't been so put off by the bit about the pregnant woman, I would have enjoyed the length just fine. The more I read, the less poetic the writing felt, the more trite it seemed. The more the editing errors jumped out at me. It's not so much that I had to force myself to finish as I had to force myself to finish in a timely manner.Overall, though, this book is definitely a permanent addition to my collection.

Mockingjay (part III of The Hunger Games Trilogy)

Mockingjay  - Suzanne  Collins ....What the hell did I just read?

Catching Fire (Hunger Games, Book 2)

Catching Fire  - Suzanne  Collins I absolutely flew through this book. Very intense, very fast paced, and I did not see the end coming at all. I'm moving on immediately to the third and final book (though I don't have terribly high hopes for it; I've heard it's not the best of the trilogy). If any of my favorite characters die, you better believe my coworkers will be hearing about it at length.

With or Without You: A Memoir

With or Without You - Domenica Ruta I don't think I can accurately describe why this memoir impacted me so much more strongly than, say, [b:The Glass Castle|7445|The Glass Castle|Jeannette Walls|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348702077s/7445.jpg|2944133]. I think it may have something to do with the way Jeanette Walls simply turned around and walked away from everything and came out more or less unscathed, whereas Domenica Ruta had to fight her way out of her past and heritage, kicking and screaming. I felt Ruta's struggle far more keenly than I did Walls'.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - This book was torture for me. I was so excited to read it because how does one render an "oral history" in text format? I guess I was thinking something along the lines of a transcript of a Blair Witch-esque horror film. That is pretty much the last thing this book is. A guy goes around interviewing survivors of the Zombie War....What?Right away I am having problems. First of all, we know humanity survives! That immediately takes away any sort of suspense! Second of all, we don't stay with a character for more than 4-5 pages. For someone who enjoys character development and interaction more than anything (like me), this is the worst thing to read. Plus, 90% of the characters sounded too much alike. Some curse, some don't. Some are arrogant, some aren't. Those are pretty much the only distinctions. A few stood starkly out, like the feral girl or the dog handler, but seriously how many times did someone utter a variation of "is this too technical for you?" Enough times that it caught my attention, that's for sure.Then there are the problems inherent when you create a book around something with so much background. When Justin Cronin wrote a book about vampires, he half-ironically had his characters watching Dracula for entertainment. Except then the main character goes "wait a minute..." realizing that the vampires in "real life" act so much like these mythological, sensationalized creatures. By the halfway point of World War Z, I had no idea how the previous zombie canon is supposed to be dealt with when considering this book. Are zombies something they saw films about? If not, where did the term zombie come from? Does anyone know the original lore about zombies from Africa/voodoo? This coupled with the fact that reading about these slow-moving, cannibalistic "horrors" made them more farcical than terrifying really soured my experience. People describe their extreme fright at the sound of the zombies' moans, but I could only laugh because I could not take them seriously as nightmare creatures.All I can say is I know I have a problem with a book when I can read for an hour and have only gotten through 15 pages. I think it's a great read for people who are really into zombie flicks - I, personally, am not one of those people. Kudos to the author for such an innovative narrative technique and the movie adaptation. Nevertheless, if this book hadn't been for my bookclub, I probably would have abandoned it and read something I enjoyed a bit more.

The Office of Mercy: A Novel

The Office of Mercy - Ariel Djanikian Get an advanced copy, they said.This book "will thrill fans of Suzanne Collins, Margaret Atwood, Justin Cronin, and Kazuo Ishiguro," they said.I've read three of those authors and plan on reading the fourth one soon, so of course I jumped all over this book. From the beginning I was a little disappointed. I couldn't get into it; it moved really slowly, especially since I just finished The Hunger Games, which moves really fast. I felt completely lost about what was going on and why. Plus the writing was amateurish at best. A bit of research revealed that this is Ariel Djanikian's first novel.Oh great, another first novel. I'm not having a great track record with those.What this novel lacks in artistry, however, it makes up for in plot and philosophy. Once I got about halfway in, things really started to pick up. The climax all but sneaked up on me. The real clincher was the ending. I'm still not sure what to make of it, like the other reviewers so far. The final verdict is that this one might just warrant a second read-through sometime in the future, and I certainly haven't been put off so badly that I won't give Ms Djanikian another shot if/when she puts out a new book.I still can't get over the phrase "Natasha coughed chokingly." I nearly spit diet Coke when I read it, and everyone I told it to laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of the phrase.