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review 2017-09-15 00:40
Stand-off (Review)
Stand-Off (Winger) - Andrew Smith,Sam Bosma

I am finally reviewing a book I actually read this year! However… I finished it in May, so here’s to the (almost) last shorter-than-normal review. I borrowed a copy of this book from a teacher, so I don’t have any notes or ability to flip back through it and remember my thoughts better; I’ll still give this my best effort at detail, though!

 

As you may remember, Winger was one of my favorite books. It’s not a book that someone like me typically goes for as Ryan Dean West is not typically the type of character I enjoy reading. However, something about Andrew Smith’s ability to craft him as this realistic, perfectly imperfect guy just struck a chord with me. Winger also ripped my heart out unexpectedly, which always scores points with me.

 

When I discovered that Winger had a sequel, I had to read it right away. Fortunately, the teacher I was working with let me borrow it, and I got to reading right away. I got through the first third no problem, but then it took me several months to pick it up again. When I finally did, I binged the last part in a day or two. I worried that I had outgrown Ryan Dean, but I was delighted to discover that Andrew Smith still had the ability to make me laugh out loud and cry within mere pages of each other.

 

Stand-off explores a lot of themes related to grief and especially avoiding grief. Ryan Dean goes through a lot of things he can’t quite explain, and this book is about him trying to understand himself again and dealing with the fact that he doesn’t want to be miserable for the rest of his life. I completely empathize with NATE (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) because I experienced the same thing after one of my friends passed away in high school. I thought this novel was excellently crafted, and it is a great follow-up to Winger. However, it lacked the same sparkle, and I found myself missing that all-encompassing enthusiasm for the book. It had an overly-satisfying ending, in that everything wrapped up with a pretty, little bow, and the resolution seemed forced to me. After the unexpectedly world-shattering ending of Winger, I could have stood an ending less-than-ideal than this one. It felt like Smith really wanted to end this story, and he wrote out a resolution that would leave no room for speculation or further wondering. I loved the ending of Winger without the idea of a sequel, so having a sequel that perfectly wrapped up the story I’d loved so much was fairly disappointing.

 

Overall: As with Winger, I don’t recommend this to younger readers. Ryan Dean West may be fifteen years old, but I doubt I’d let my kid read it at fifteen. Use discretion because there is a lot of language and Ryan Dean West is a teenage boy who thinks like a teenage boy, but, unlike how I usually feel, it all contributes to the characters and the story overall. Stand-off wasn’t as brilliant as Winger, but it’s still worth reading if you loved the first book.

 

Read the review on my blog:

http://thaliasbooks.tumblr.com/post/165345904967/stand-off-review

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review 2017-08-01 22:02
For discerning readers who enjoy books about the human condition
A Horse Walks into a Bar: A novel - David Grossman,Jessica Cohen

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is the first book I’ve read by David Grossman. I hope it won’t be the last.

The description probably gives a fair idea of the plot. Yes, we are in Netanya, Israel, and we are spectators of the act of a stand-up comedian, Dovelah Greenstein (or Dov G.). He is 57 years old (as he repeatedly reminds us through the evening), skinny (almost emaciated), and seems to become increasingly desperate as the night goes. He tells jokes, anecdotes, makes comments about the city, the spectators, Jews (yes, the self-deprecation readers of Philip Roth, for example, will be familiar with), says some politically incorrect things, tells a number of jokes (some really funny, some odd, some quite old), and insists on telling us a story about his childhood, despite the audience’s resistance to listening to it.

The beauty (or one of them) of the novel, is the narrator. Yes, I’m back to my obsession with narrators. The story is told in the first-person by Avishai Lazar, a judge who was unceremoniously removed from his post when he started becoming a bit too vocal and opinionated in his verdicts. The two characters were friends as children, and Dov calls Avishai asking him to attend his performance. His request does not only come completely out of the blue (they hadn’t seen each other since they were in their teens), but it is also quite weird. He does not want a chat, or to catch up on old times. He wants the judge to tell him what he sees when he looks at him. He wants him to tell him what other people see, what essence they perceive when they watch him. Avishai, who is a widower and still grieving, is put-off by this and reacts quite rudely, but eventually, agrees.

Although the novel is about Dov’s performance and his story (his need to let it all hang out, to explain his abuse but also his feeling of guilt about a personal tragedy), that is at times light and funny, but mostly sad and even tragic, he is not the character who changes and grows the most during the performance (his is an act of exorcism, a way of getting rid of his demons). For me, the story, sad and depressing as it can be at times (this is not a book for everybody, and I suspect many readers will empathise with quite a few of the spectators who leave the performance before it ends), is ultimately about redemption. Many narrators have told us in the past (The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness) that in telling somebody else’s story, they are also telling their own. This is indeed the case here. The judge (at first we don’t know who is narrating the story, but we get more and more details as the performance advances) is very hostile at first and keeps wondering why he is there, and wanting to leave. But at some point, the rawness, the determination, and the sheer courage of the comedian, who keeps going no matter how difficult it gets, break through his protective shell and he starts to question his own actions and his life. If this might be Dev’s last performance, in a way it is a beginning of sorts, especially for the judge.

Readers become the ersatz club audience, and it is very difficult to stop watching something that is so extreme and desperate, but it is also difficult to keep watching (or reading) as it becomes more and more painful. It is as if we were spectators in a therapy session where somebody is baring his soul. We feel as if we are intruding on an intimate moment, but also that perhaps we are providing him with some comfort and support to help him go through the process. Although other than the two main characters we do not get to know the rest in detail, there are familiar types we might recognise, and there is also a woman who knew the comedian when he was a child and, perhaps, plays the part of the therapist (a straight faced one, but the one he needs).

The book is beautifully written and observed. Grossman shows a great understanding of psychology and also of group interactions. Although I am not an expert on stand-up comedy, the dynamics of the performance rang true to me. I cannot compare it to the original, but the translation is impressive (I find it difficult to imagine anybody could do a better job, and if the original is even better, well…).

As I said before, this is not a book for everybody. Although it is quite short, it is also slow and intense (its rhythm is that of the performance, which ebbs and flows). None of the characters (except, perhaps, the woman) are immediately sympathetic, and they are flawed, not confident enough or too confident and dismissive, over-emotional or frozen and unable to feel, and they might not seem to have much in common with the reader, at first sight. This is not a genre book (literary fiction would be the right label, if we had to try and give it one), there is no romance (or not conventional romance), no action, no heroes or heroines, and not much happens (a whole life happens, but not in the usual sense). If you are interested in characters that are real in their humanity (for better and for worse), don’t mind a challenge, and want to explore something beyond the usual, I recommend you this book.

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review 2017-07-13 12:13
For lovers of historical fiction and the French Resistance, a novel based on a true episode of cruelty and destruction that should never be forgotten.
Wolfsangel - Liza Perrat

This is the third book by Liza Perrat I have read, and it won’t be the last one. After The Silent Kookaburra set in Australia in the 1970s, I read the first book in the Bone Angel Series, Spirit of Lost Angels. (Read the review here). This is a series that follows the women of a French rural family through the generations, with big jumps in time. The name comes from a little bone angel talisman these women wear and inherit down the female line, together with a skill and talent for nursing (including knowledge of herbs and natural remedies) and midwifery. While Spirit of Lost Angels is set around the time of the French Revolution, this book follows the main character, Célestine (Céleste) through the difficult years of the German occupation of France during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath.

The book is again narrated by its protagonist, a young girl, eager to prove herself and to lead an interesting life away from her seemingly uncaring and cold mother, in the first person. I know some readers do not like first person narrations although they bring an immediacy and closeness to the proceedings, and help us understand better the main character (well, to the point she understands herself). This device also means that we share in the point of view and opinions of Céleste and we are as surprised by events as she is, as we do not have any more information than she does. I am fascinated by narrators, and although Céleste is not an unreliable narrator by design (she does tell things and events as she experiences them), her rushed and unthinking behaviour at times, her quick reactions, and her youth make her not the most objective of people at times. Of course, if readers cannot manage to connect with Céleste at some level, the novel will be harder to read, but she is a likeable character. She is young, impulsive, and enthusiastic. She is eager to help and will often do it without thinking about the consequences and risks she might be taking. She helps a Jewish family very early on, hiding them on the farm, even when she is convinced her mother will not be happy. She wants to help the Resistance cause and is frustrated by the assumption that she is incapable of making any meaningful contribution to the war efforts because she is a woman. She works hard to prove she can be as useful and courageous as a man and runs incredible risks to achieve her goals.

She is not perfect, though, and her youth is particularly well reflected in her romantic attachment to one of the German officers. As is often the case for young lovers, Céleste seems to fall in love with her idea of romance, having only very limited and furtive contact with the officer. If at first she tries to convince herself that she is only playing a part to gather intelligence (and even her sister Felicité encourages her to try and obtain information), soon things turn serious, proving that she is not as calculating and mature as she would like to believe.

Céleste develops throughout the novel, moving to the city, becoming a true resistance fighter, helping the war effort as a nurse, feeding the prisoners at the station on their way to the camps, spying and passing secret information, and becoming a determined and independent woman. She also proves her strength and determination and survives a terrible ordeal and severe losses.

The cast of secondary characters is also exemplary. Céleste’s family (except for her father that we don’t know much about) are well-drawn and fascinating. The relationship mother-daughter is one of the strongest points and it reminds us of the strong bonds and connections between women (not always straight forward) the series is built on. Felicité, Céleste’s sister, is an amazing character, brave beyond the call of duty and, as we learn later, based on a historical figure. Her actions and her courage are very touching. Her brother is strong and supportive, and also a member of the resistance, and we get to know her friends, the doctor, the priest, and to understand that a lot of the population supported the resistance (some more openly than others), although there were collaborationists there too.

The author creates a great sense of place and historical era. The language, the foods, the clothing, the difficulties of an occupied nation trying to survive and resist are vividly brought to life thanks to the detailed descriptions of the landscape and the events, that make us share in the experience, without burdening the novel with extraneous information. The research is seamlessly incorporated into the story and it reminds us of how close the events are to us and makes us reflect on historical similarities with current times. The style of writing is poetic at times (the descriptions of the forest, Céleste’s love for her home and her pendant…), dynamic and flowing, and it has psychological depth and insight too.

The novel is harrowing and realistic as it describes death and tragedy on a big scale. The events that took place in Oradour Sur Glane in 1944 (and that inspired the novel) are horrific and reading them in the first person helps us understand more fully the kind of horror experienced by the victims and also the survivors.

The ending ties all loose ends together and is perfect for the story.

This is a great book for anybody who loves historical fiction and is interested in the French resistance from a more human perspective. It personalises and brings the readers closer to the experience of the era, at the same time helping us reflect on events and attitudes that are all too familiar. If you prefer your history close, personal, and in the first person, this is your book.

 

 

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review 2017-06-14 01:13
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Review)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling

Alright, once again, I finished the book almost two years ago and because I was in school and had other nonsense going on, I took very few notes and put off writing the review until now. I have few details to give, which is especially depressing when you’re giving a low rating to a book that is beloved by thousands, if not millions, of readers. You want to have more to say to defend your opinion, but… well, yeah.

 

When I first tried to read this series at the age of thirteen or fourteen, Prisoner of Azkaban killed me. I quit partway through, and this is a big deal because I never just quit a book. I have not finished exactly two books since Prisoner of Azkaban all those years ago, and both of those were because they had graphic sexual content—obviously not the case here. Even the second time around, it took me months to finish this book.

 

This book is just boring. There’s not a lot happening, and it follows a very distinct pattern from the first two books. I enjoyed Lupin, but that was about it. There’s an incredibly interesting story lurking somewhere underneath the side plots and downright boring writing. Without the nostalgia of reading this as a child, I don’t have a lot of patience for the childish nature of the side stories and writing. Most of the story happens in a few exciting chapters, but everything else is muddled and boring. I get that these books are sentimental to lots of people, and I know there are things I love to read that others find boring, but this one was just kind of painful to get through.

 

Overall: Fortunately, I’ve already read Goblet of Fire, and I actually enjoyed that one. For me, this is where the childishness ends and we can move forward into a grown up and intricate plot. I’m relieved to put this one behind me and move forward with the series. I can’t count how many people told me to skip to Goblet of Fire to begin with, and they’re certainly right.

 

Read this review on my blog!
http://thaliasbooks.tumblr.com/post/161793118862/harry-potter-and-the-prisoner-of-azkaban-review

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text 2017-06-14 00:33
31 of 369 (8%)
The Martian - Andy Weir

Let me preface this by saying that I loved the movie of The Martian. I went into it completely expecting science fiction suspense, and it was one of the funniest films I've seen in a really long time. 

 

So far, the book is much the same (thank goodness!). It's got quite a bit more cursing than the film (which bothers me, but oh well), but so far that's the only stickler for me. Mark is a sarcastic, deprecating narrator, but he's smart and witty. I'm trying to follow the science, but since I'm the type of girl who gets low Cs on science tests (when you're allowed to use Google), it's slow going and most of it goes over my head. 

 

This is slow going so far because I'm kind of easing myself back into reading for fun. I grew up listening to stories when I went to bed, and I've been listening to the same "Emperor's New Clothes" collection since I graduated from college. I decided to listen to Fellowship of the Ring, but since I always fall asleep before the chapter ends, I'm also reading along. So my main priority right now is reading a chapter of Fellowship a day, and this gets fit in between that.

 

Sorry Andy Weir, but Tolkien will always be bae. 

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