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review 2018-05-18 23:38
I'll never look at pickles the same way again
Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything - E. Lockhart

One of the drawbacks of reading so many books is that I have extremely high standards since I've read some truly excellent pieces of literature...and also some major duds. I say all of this because I read We Were Liars by E. Lockhart 2 years ago and so I know she has the capability to write amazing young adult fiction. I chose Fly on the Wall specifically because the review that I heard on BookTube led me to believe that it was a retelling of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis and because I had enjoyed Lockhart's previous book. What I didn't expect was for it to be chock full of really explicit sexual content. Why on earth did she have to describe penises in such revealing detail? And why did she keep referring to them as gherkins?! (And if I ever hear someone call them that or  refer to breasts as biscuits I'm going to slap them across the face.) The main character and the person who we view the story from is named Gretchen Yee and she is the prototypical teenage girl filled with angst. She attends a high school that focuses on the arts and her specialty is drawing comic book style characters (hence the cover imagery). Her obsession with a boy in her school leads her to make a foolhardy wish to be a fly on the wall of the boys locker room so that she can find out how he really thinks about her. (And this is where she begins to ogle the boys as they undress for gym class.)  I guess the story is supposed to be a character study or a revelation that what we think we know about people can be turned on its head if we see them at their most vulnerable. However, for me it was a letdown and vaguely nauseating. This was a 0/10 for me and I'll have to give serious thought to reading anything else from this author in the future.

 

PS There were also a lot of plot holes in the storyline and the ending truly fell flat. 

 

Source: Amazon

 

What's Up Next: The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-05-09 23:29
Review: The Astonishing Color of After
The Astonishing Color of After - Emily X.R. Pan

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

Another case of really good book but I’m not all that sure I really liked the main character much. The novel is about dealing with deep depression, and grief after the suicide of a parent and learning about said parent’s cultural heritage. 

 

One thing I really loved about the book was the look into Taiwanese culture, something I know nothing about. Main character Leigh is half white on her dad’s side and Taiwanese on her mother’s side. She’s never known her mother’s parents who live in Taiwan, when her mother left to marry her father it caused a big split in the family.

 

Leigh has a huge crush on her best friend Axel, over time her feelings for him have developed and she’s super jealous of Axel’s girlfriend. (This was really annoying. There weren’t many females Leigh’s age mentioned in the novel other than Leigh’s one other friend Caro and anyone girl who wasn’t Caro Leigh doesn’t seem to like, from what I remember, it got annoying fast.)

 

Leigh is an artist, she loves drawing and sees the world and her emotions in color. She and Axel have a thing where something is happening and Axel will ask her “what color?” and she will respond with whatever shade she sees at that particular moment. I don’t think it was synesthesia just her way of looking at the world. Initially this came across as kind of pretentious. I very nearly DNFed this book several times at the beginning. It felt very long winded and over written, and maybe there was something about it I just wasn’t getting. 

 

The description for the book hinted and magical realism which is one of my favorite things, so I stuck it out to see where it would come in. 

 

Leigh’s world changes, starting with a defining moment with Axel to the sudden shock of her mother’s suicide. She’s completely numb and devastated. Her emotions are all over the place and it’s completely understandable. While I could empathize with Leigh and could understand the massive trauma and shock such a horrific thing can do to a person, as a character I found her flat and hard to connect with. 

 

She finds herself heading to Taiwan to meet grandparents from her mother’s side she never knew while her dad throws himself into his work for the summer. The grandparents don’t speak much English and Leigh doesn’t speak much Mandarin though she is learning. There’s a lot of foreign language spoken in the book which sometimes can be very jarring when you don’t speak the other language (or can be for me which sounds terrible and very white privilege, I know) though in this book it just fit in the narrative and was really interesting to learn some new words and phrases. 

 

Leigh has an experience before heading to Taiwan where she thinks she sees her mother in the body of a red bird and becomes convinced she has to find the bird and the bird has now turned up in Taiwan with her. There is a cultural legend revolving around the reasons why.

 

A young lady called Feng, a friend of the grandparents shows up to help with the cultural differences and language barriers. Leigh learns about Spirit Week and some of the festivals taking place at the time she is visiting. While thanks to her mom’s influences Leigh is fairly well versed Taiwanese cooking, but there’s a whole host more to learn when she’s there. The descriptions of the food sound absolutely divine.

 

The narrative is in a then and now format - what happened with Axel and Caro before and what’s happening in the present. This also ties in the magical realism aspect when Leigh starts accessing her memories of her mom and not just her memories. There’s a really fascinating element where she can see her mom’s past memories as well. Leigh learns some things she never knew about, and has to come to terms with some things she did but couldn’t really bring herself to accept. 

 

There’s a wonderful family dynamic as hard as it can be for one family, when she meets her friend Caro, Caro’s family is so different and vibrant from Leigh’s own more sombre one. The difference is kind of heart breaking but interesting at the same time. 

 

Leigh and her family visit all her mom’s favorite places in Taiwan. Which again is completely absorbing. It’s beautifully described and beautifully written. Though Leigh can be quite a bitch to Feng who’s only trying to be nice and help. Feng has a really unexpected back story and there’s a twist to her character as well.

 

The other focus of the novel is Leigh’s plans for college and her future. She desperately wants to follow art but her dad is pressuring her to find something more practical. Leigh has to figure out whether she wants to do something that’s right or follow her heart to find something in the field that she really loves. 

 

And then there’s her relationship with Axel. (Kind of predictable and bit eye rolling) but did make me smile at the end. 

 

Despite a rocky start, I’m glad I stuck with the novel as it really did get better and by the end I loved it, and it made me quite teary in places. While sad in some respects, there were some uplifting moments. An honest and believable novel, at times hard and unflinchingly difficult in the narrative. But definitely worth a read. And most certainly an author that is going on my auto buy list. I loved this so much by the end I did buy a finished copy.

 

Thank you to Netalley and Hatchette Children’s Books for the review copy. 

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review 2018-04-25 14:56
The Astonishing Color of After
The Astonishing Color of After - Emily X.R. Pan

I am so happy that I got this book via my library. I was curious about it since it was marketed as a magical realism book. And I rarely get to read that genre these days. There were some slight flow problems and a bit of repetitiveness here and there. However, I just have to say that was easy for me to overlook since I thought this book had such great heart and a wonderful message.

 

"The Astonishing Color of After" is about teen Leigh Sanders who is dealing with the fall-out from her mother's suicide. Leigh is also dealing with losing her best friend Axel who she felt on the verge of something more with when her mother killed herself. When Leigh comes face to face with a bird that she knows is her dead mother coming back to life, strange things start happening to her. She and her father finally travel to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents.

 

Told in the first person, we have Leigh alternating between memories of before her mother committed suicide and the present day with her in Taiwan and discovering her mother's history.

 

I have to say though upfront that Leigh is flawed. You may want to shake her and then hug her right afterwards. She is a walking wound in so much of this book. She is missing her mother and also missing Axel. She is wishing for a do-over in her life (as many people do when someone they love commits suicide) and she is going through some anger towards her father.

 

The secondary characters in this book get a chance to shine. You have Leigh's best friend Axel, the only boy that she has ever cared for who she is losing to his girlfriend. You also have Leigh's friend Caro who is not here for her BS about things. We get Leigh's memories of her parents and the colors she can see when it's related to a memory, emotion, a smell.

 

Leigh's father though he doesn't feel present in the present parts of the book, does feel present in her memories.

 

I loved how Pan had Leigh discovering parts of her mother through the incense and the bird that only she can see.

 

The magical realism aspect of this book was done so well. I loved every part of it. Leigh realizing that even though her mother left her, it doesn't mean she wasn't loved.

The ending was so good. I smiled.

 

"What is memory? It’s not something you can physically hold, or see, or smell, or taste. It’s just nerve impulses jumping between neurons. Sometimes it’s a matter of choice. Other times it’s self-preservation, or protection."

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text 2018-04-25 14:55
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Astonishing Color of After - Emily X.R. Pan

I loved this book!

 

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review 2018-01-24 00:49
The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace
The Memory Trees - Kali Wallace

Alas, The Memory Trees falls on that odd line that I've found lately between something that enchanted me, and also left me slightly cold. I'll do my best to explain, I promise. It should be noted that I love Magical Realism. There's something beautiful about books that keep one foot firmly rooted in our reality, while exploring something otherworldly at the same time. In this case, I'm just not sure that Sorrow's story really accomplished that as well as I had hoped.

At the core of this story is a deep family lineage that, as is often the case, is peppered with grief and loss. The Lovegood family has never had it easy. From the moment that the first Lovegood moved onto their ancestral land, their lives have been difficult and layered. I appreciated the fact that Wallace took the time to let the reader see the vast history that surrounded Sorrow's childhood home. It's easy to see how one event can echo through history, and even affect the present in ways that might not be completely obvious. The stories that were told rooted me in the Lovegood's lives like nothing else could.

The downside to this way of writing though, is that it's rough to really settle into. Although I felt for Sorrow, and understood her anger at what she had lost, I couldn't quite step into her shoes and really become her. There were portions of this story that, while I could see that I should be feeling grief or hatred or anger, all I felt was a missing connection. It's a little tough to explain, but I felt like I was being told this story by someone far removed rather than someone who had actually experienced this. Additionally, I felt like the Magical Realism wasn't really coming through as strongly as it could have. There were small elements of mystery and magic, but they didn't feel as fleshed out as I would have liked. I wish I could have felt more of the magic that Sorrow was meant to feel. Try as I might though, it never stuck.

As you can see, I'm of two minds about this book. The Memory Trees has great bones. The family history here is vast, and gives this book something that I'd been missing. It gives it roots. On the flip side, I never felt fully connected with our protagonist and that made things tough. What I can say is that the audio book version of this is definitely perfection. The narrator that was chosen has a voice that pins down that ethereal quality, and really brings the ghostly Lovegood family to life. So, my final suggestion is just to read this! If you're in love with rich familial ties, wide open country land, and stories that pull you into the life of someone unlike you, this is a book for you.

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