Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Childhood is a wonderful, imaginative, all-too-brief time of life.

"Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep through rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive."

Sometimes, a child can be thrust into very adult worlds. These worlds are often foreign and scary, and this novel explores exactly that: the frightening nature of certain experiences a child has.

When our unnamed male protagonist has to give up his room to a strange opal miner, the miner steals their car and commits suicide. The boy finds a coin in the car and pockets it. And it is there that the trouble begins....

The way this book was going confused me, at first. But we see, as the boy gets familiar with his nearby neighbors and becomes close to their young girl, Lettie, what exactly is at stake. Lettie, as a character was wonderful, and so sweet to the young boy. What I ended up loving was that we don't get the answers to everything about Lettie and her family.

(view spoiler)

Usually, the leaving questions open in a story tactic annoys me. It did, at first, with this book, too. But, as I started to realize how the world of the story worked, I found that I liked Gaiman keeping the questions unanswered.

"How can you be happy in this world? You have a hole in your heart. You have a gateway inside you to lands beyond the world you know. They will call you, as you grow. There can never be a time when you forget them, when you are not, in your heart, questing after something you cannot have, something you cannot even properly imagine, the lack of which will spoil your sleep and your day and your life, until you close your eyes for the final time, until your loved ones give you poison and sell you to anatomy, and even then you will die with a hole inside you, and you will wail and curse at a life ill-lived."

Just little bits of the story held so much more meaning than I expected. I like how Gaiman pondered on these questions with the story in an attempt to answer them, even if the answer couldn't always be found right away, or not at all.

“Small children believe themselves to be gods, or some of them do, and they can only be satisfied when the rest of the world goes along with their way of seeing things.”

I like how, as a child, the main protagonist learns that you cannot necessarily know everything. Not everything in this world can be known. But what knowledge there can be, can be cherished like a new book or toy, for knowledge is a powerful strength, even if sometimes it may seem like a weakness.

All in all, a fantastic story. Highly recommended!

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So quick story before I dive into this review.

I was going into ninth grade, about five years ago now, and this was on my Summer Reading List. I picked it up, but the story wasn't grabbing me right away (I was very impatient back then, what can I say!) so I ended up putting it down and selecting another book.
Needless to say, school has once again demanded I read this book, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised at having been so captivated by it. I mean, it didn't take me long to read it, and the burning questions I had kept me hooked. This is a wonderfully magical tale of murder, revenge, and what it means to live and die, and I really loved the atmosphere of the book, how it still managed to be lighthearted while delivering an important message regarding life, what a family can be, and the importance of having people who care about you.
I particularly loved the main antagonist of this novel. The man Jack really stunned me. I'll explain why. When I was a kid (around 13-14, maybe a little older) I used to write manuscripts and for a trilogy I was writing I dreamed up a man very similar to Jack. I was struck by how similar their goals were, why they were after what they were after, and what each character ended up being in the end. My character didn't kill the boy's entire family, but I digress.
Despite the similarities between the two, however, I have absolutely no doubt that Gaiman did it 1,000% better than I did. I was blown away by the atmosphere of it all, how it all really seemed so frightening!
The interlude that was added was a nice touch. As much as I loved seeing Bod explore the world of the graveyard and eventually the world around him, I like how Gaiman put Jack in there as if to say, "I haven't forgotten about him - he'll be back."
I remember reading about Scarlett interacting with the man in the graveyard, and the way it was handled, the way you could sense that something was wrong. My heart was in my mouth throughout the entire scene, and it was easily the most powerful part of the book (and probably my favorite part, to be honest).
As far as other characters, I think my favorite would have to be Silas. He was just so kind and caring to Bod, even though they both had their character flaws. I did enjoy how both Bod and Silas actually talked things out after an accident they went through. It showed that they were both willing to learn from their mistakes and grow from the experience.

I know I've been singing the book praises so far, but I do need to point out the few (very few!) shortcomings I saw.
First of all, and this nagged at me the entire book, what is Bod's real first name? It was nice to learn his last name and a little about his family before the graveyard, but I wish Bod had found that out. It just left things a little too vague for me in terms of Bod's character, even if there wasn't much to know anyway.
Second, I didn't love the way Scarlett handled the whole situation after the fact. I understand she was probably traumatized to a degree, but I don't think it was right of her to completely take it all out on Bod. And her negative response led to their friendship being over, and it just didn't seem right to me. I feel like she needed better closure. Maybe seeing Bod at some point in the future and there being some semblance of forgiveness or healing from the situation. I feel like it was just scrubbed, and I would rather have seen her work through how she felt about everything.

But, in the end, I was pleasantly surprised with this story. It showed heart, darkness, and hope in this spooky but still hopeful little book that I'm sure I'll want to revisit.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: Night

Night Night by Elie Wiesel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A short read.... but who ever said short couldn't be powerful?

My God.... this was on the summer reading list for my senior year of high school and I see why now. Looking back on it, I probably would have related to this more than the book I chose. At least I've read it now, ironically for school, although I'm at university level now. There's no "good" moment in this book, but given the subject matter that shouldn't be too much of a surprise. And, even when the story moved at breakneck speed, I was still looking for some semblance of a happy ending for the author. This must have been so hard to write, because that search for a happy ending was a wild goose chase for me.
I'm happy that Wiesel lived to tell his story, but I feel horrible that he went through all that he describes in the book. I could see the ending coming and I imagine he saw how his story would end, too, what the personal climax of this terrible time would be for him.
This story, like The Terrorist's Son by Zak Ebrahim, shows how religion can be used as a weapon if twisted and perverted enough. In the right hands, religion can be a beautiful diamond; in the wrong hands, it may as well be the burning ember that sets the forest around it ablaze. I say this because even today there are people who use religion as a way to achieve their own selfish or destructive ends instead of using it to better themselves, as I believe it could best be used.
Overall, a very short story with an extremely powerful punch. It well deserves to be taught in the schools and its message should never be forgotten!

May Elie Wiesel rest in peace....

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: The Crossover

The Crossover The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So.... I will admit that I have a love/hate relationship with this book.
I've never been into sports, mainly because most of them I'm not able to play, and I never got into watching them or reading about them. I just couldn't relate.
That said, this book had a message to convey that was so much more important than just the joy of playing basketball. Life, the main character Josh learns, doesn't come with a playbook and sometimes things change suddenly, they come out of left field (pun totally intended here).
I saw the climax of the book coming a mile away, and I just remember thinking, "Okay, when is (view spoiler) going to die, already?"
I know this sounds insensitive of me, but the truth is is that because of the verse narrative, I found it difficult to really form any attachment to any of the characters. Unfortunately, I wasn't fazed by what happened to the others. The only character I really felt much sympathy for was Josh, mainly because he lamented about how things were changing and he felt miles away from his own family. He's human, and he's made mistakes out of fear of things changing, something every adolescent can relate to.
Because of the way the book was written, things just moved too damn quickly, and while it meant that the story was a relatively quick read, there wasn't that much emotional payoff.
That being said, what little emotional payoff there was was very well done. It was fulfilling to see Josh ultimately reconnect with everyone after everything the family went through. The book's final scene was touching, moving, and left things on a hopeful note.
No matter how bad things get, there is always hope, and I enjoyed seeing that message.
Despite the book not being entirely to my taste, it conveys a very great message, so I'm awarding it 2.5 stars, rounded up to three.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska Looking for Alaska by John Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I woke up sick, so I apologize if this review is a little disorganized....

Well, this book was not what I expected. I expected a romance story with both Alaska and the main character Pudge. The first half of the story was long and, quite frankly, not holding my interest. I did wonder what the "Before" and "After" stuff was about, and it was handled nicely. In the back of my mind, I knew what was going to happen, but I was still shocked when (view spoiler) but, after all she'd been through, I didn't blame her. I liked the Colonel, he was a pleasant surprise - I honestly expected him to be the stereotypical bully!
And, also to my surprise, the novel raised important points about Alaska's actions and what drove them. That was nice to see, but it bothered me at the time, because I know what it's like to lose someone and it was reminding me of the person I lost.
I didn't love the way the book was written. Like I fear with most YA novels, the writing felt somewhat dry, although, as I said, it did pick up in the second half.
Although it wasn't perfect, it was honestly better than I expected.... you just have to be patient with it.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review: The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil's Arithmetic The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I was fourteen years old, I was nominated by my school district to receive an award known as the Raoul Wallenberg award. This honor was given to one kid from each school district in the state, and less than twenty kids per school are nominated to be considered for the honors program. The award was given to those whom school officials believed to emulate the spirit of Raoul Wallenberg, who selflessly saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps in Budapest.
Fast-forward five, six years later, and I've picked up this book for Yearning for YA. The writing just felt okay to me, and the first few chapters are by no means the most thrilling, but once this story got going it really began to click with me.
I honestly felt genuine fear and frustration throughout the story, and that tells me that the author did a really nice job capturing the fear and uncertainty for the people in the death camps. I liked how both present and past came together in this story to show the main protagonist the true significance of the persecution of the Jews in the WWII period, so she better understood why her family in the present came together and gave thanks for the life they live in the present.
After all, the people in power during that time, toward the end of the war, tried to clean up their mess, but it still remains a stain on world history, and there is a reason we will never forget it. And the author illustrated that perfectly.
There is one small thing that bothers me, though. As I said, present and past connect in this story. The main character gets transported to the 1940s by opening a door in the present day and suddenly the present day is gone and she lives in the WWII era and it's as if the present hadn't occurred yet. This bothered me because it is never explained how she ended up in the 1940s, not to mention how she returned to her present family. I wanted a solid explanation for that, and I felt cheated.
Otherwise, though, it was a pretty nice little story with a very profound message to give.
Honestly, back when I received the Wallenberg award, I didn't understand what the big deal was about what he'd done. But with this little peek into the history for the Jewish people, I feel like I finally understand why people like him are so honored and remembered.
Heroes don't just exist in storybooks, after all....

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Hoot

Hoot Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is listed under Project: Yearning for YA. To learn more about this project, click here.

I've had a love/hate relationship with YA literature in recent years. Depending on the hand writing the story, YA can be good, great, just okay, bad, or absolutely atrocious. I read Hiaasen under Project: Yearning for YA and I'm no expert on the subject, but I think this little story was interesting. The writing wasn't terrible and the story kept me coming back to find out what would happen next. Like most YA novels that I've read, I was thinking the story would end up not telling me everything I wanted to know. Some YA novels have this crutch where they refuse to tell the main protagonist (and therefore the reader) anything specific about the world in which the book is set or certain situations the main character may get tangled up in. I was afraid the story would go that route, but I was pleasantly surprised when we were given answers (even if I didn't understand some of those answers upon first glance).
What Hiaasen has done here is woven a weird little story that did not seem all that big of a deal at the start. But sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to gain the reward the book offers. I found what this book wanted to say touching, deep, and beautiful in its own little way.
Sometimes, YA can be just as profound as the adult novels and classics it rivals.

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