Monday, September 30, 2013

Where's the tissues? Six books that made me ugly cry

I'm not much of a crier. Funerals and when I'm super stressed are about it. But every once in a while a book or movie will have me tearing up, and even more rarely than that, sometimes a book will come along that has me practically sobbing. I got on this topic because a certain book's been on my mind lately: "A Swift Pure Cry," by Siobhan Dowd. I read it probably four years ago, and that book made me a hot mess from beginning to end. And lately I've been wanting to reread it, but I'm a bit nervous of the emotional commitment it demands. Anyway, thinking about that book had me thinking about what other books I loved that had me full-on crying, and these are the ones that first sprang to mind:

"A Swift Pure Cry," by Siobhan Dowd.
This book is the ultimate sobfest for me. Like, I don't think I've read any that compare in terms of prompting copious waterworks from me. Shell goes through some horrific things, made worse by the fact that she doesn't have anyone to rely on outside her younger siblings. But what puts this book over the top for me in terms of tears is how beautifully it's written. It's a double whammy to have such a heartbreaking story told so perfectly.

"My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece," by Annabel Pitcher. 
I managed to barely hold it together throughout the book and was feeling pretty proud of myself for doing so until I hit this one scene near the end involving the cat that just pushed me over the edge.

"Deerskin," by Robin McKinley.
I love this book so much, but I have to brace myself a little every time I read it. Because I know I'll not only cry during the devastating bits, but I'll also cry through every step of Lissar's slow and painful journey of healing.

"Between Shades of Gray," by Ruta Sepetys. 
Well, seeing as how this book's about a Soviet prison camp in the 1940s, I don't think I need to give much of an explanation about why this one had me sobbing.

"With This Ring," by Carla Kelly.
It's a romance novel, so there shouldn't be any tears, right? Wrong. When I first read this book, I was up past my bedtime in the room I shared with my little sisters, and I remember trying to sob as quietly as possible so I wouldn't wake them up. Happily, this book only had me crying in the beginning, and the rest of the book was the story of Lydia gaining the self-confidence her abusive family had never let her have. One of my favorite romance novels--juuust saying.

"Little Women," by Louisa May Alcott.
Anyone who's read this book can probably guess exactly where I fell apart. Hint: it involves Beth. But what made this book so memorable to me in terms of crying is that it's the first book I remember crying over. I think I was in 5th grade or so, and up until I read this book, I don't think I knew that the written word could make me cry.

So. What books make you cry? Do you have any that just get to you every single time?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Lirael

Lirael (Abhorsen #2), by Garth Nix. The GoodReads summary:
Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Now, two years past the time when she should have received the Sight that is the Clayr's birthright, she feels alone, abandoned, unsure of who she is. Nevertheless, the fate of the Old Kingdom lies in her hands. With only her faithful companion, the Disreputable Dog, Lirael must undertake a desperate mission under the growing shadow of an ancient evil.
As you probably know by this point, I have an unfair but well-developed prejudice against YA books by male authors. But for whatever reason, Garth Nix and his Abhorsen trilogy have been proving surprisingly good. I personally attribute it to the fact that he’s Australian, and apparently my love for Australian authors outweighs my dislike of male authors.

Anyway, “Lirael” picks up 14 and then 18 years after “Sabriel,” the first book, ends. Though Sabriel and Touchstone make a brief appearance in this book, the main characters are Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr, and Sam, prince of the Old Kingdom and Abhorsen-in-Waiting. The Disreputable Dog, who’s all kinds of awesome, is also introduced, and Mogget (who still pretty much remains my favorite character in the series) makes a comeback.

Lirael and Sam ended up surprising me a bit as characters. At first I wasn’t that fond of Lirael, but after the opening chapters, she quickly grew on me. Sam was the opposite. I liked him quite a bit in the initial chapters, but I grew increasingly less impressed with him as the story progressed. Though to be fair, based on what happens at the end of this book, I feel like in the third book, Sam will probably grow on me again. I don’t think I like the character of Lirael quite as much as I liked Sabriel, but there is still plenty of potential for her in the next book.

Plot-wise, this book felt mostly like setup for the third book. Which is not to say it was boring, because it actually was fairly well paced. But nevertheless, by the end, I felt that though I’d learned a lot about Sabriel and Sam, it was obvious that the major parts of the plot were going to happen in the third book.

Overall, a good second book, if a little heavy on setting up for the next book. Actually, now that I think about it, I think this book comes off more as the first half of a book rather than as a standalone book, if that makes sense. Like, there’s no point in reading this book if you’re not going to read the third. Which I’m definitely going to do, because I kinda need to know what’s going to happen.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In which I talk A LOT about Jane Eyre movies

It’s no secret that I love “Jane Eyre.” And it really doesn’t take much to get me in the mood to read or watch it. So after reading this post over at Angieville about Jane Eyre adaptations, I decided that what I really needed was a Jane Eyre marathon. So this weekend I took it upon myself to re-watch four of the better-known versions. I’ve never watched all of them in a row before, so I ended up comparing them way more than I usually do. So here's more than you ever wanted to know about what I think of the four:

Timothy Dalton version (1983):
This version is all about Rochester for me. Timothy Dalton will always be the real Mr. Rochester in my mind. Maybe it’s because he’s the first version of Rochester I encountered, but I also think he plays Rochester closest to how he is in the book. The other film versions tone down Rochester a bit to make him a more sympathetic character, but Dalton’s Rochester is just as abrupt and unstable and ridiculous as the real deal. This film adaption also has the full-on gypsy scene, which the other three versions don’t, and everyone one knows the gypsy scene is one of the best parts of the book. However, the Jane in this version is my least favorite of the four. She comes off as bland and anemic to me, and I never feel like I get a true sense of who she is or what she wants. She’s totally upstaged by Rochester. This version feels the most staged and rehearsed of the four, but since it’s so long, it’s able to follow the original plot the closest.

William Hurt version (1996):
To say this version is freely adapted is a bit of an understatement. For the sake of trying to fit the story into two hours, quite a bit gets changed and condensed, especially towards the end. They’re not bad changes, but they’re changes all the same, and the part of me that wants the film to stay true to the book always gets a little offended. Jane in this version is gentle and all wide-eyed innocence, and while that’s not the way I usually imagine her when I read the book, it’s actually kind of a refreshing take on her. William Hurt as Rochester is . . . old. I know he’s supposed to be, but in this version you can definitely see the age difference between him and Jane. It’s always a bit shocking, even more so than in the Michael Fassbender version. One thing that stands out to me from this version is the actress who plays Jane as a child. Usually the childhood scenes feel endless in Jane Eyre adaptions, but this actress is interesting to watch, and after the scene where she gets her hair cut, she seriously becomes one of the cutest children ever.

Toby Stephens version (2006):
I totally fell in love with this adaptation this time around. Toby Stephens makes an adorable Mr. Rochester. He plays Rochester as much more personable than he is in the other film versions or the book. It’s easy to see why Jane falls for him—Stephen’s Rochester has brooding and rude moments but he also has moments of humor and playfulness. He’s less spoiled and more self-deprecating, and the drama of his relationship with Jane is tempered by their bits of banter and teasing. They’re always giving each other these little smiles and it’s so dang cute. This version of Jane is my favorite of the four. Ruth Wilson’s Jane is reserved and quiet, but she isn’t totally serious. She’s not afraid to needle Mr. Rochester, and that scene after the proposal when she goes to her room and smiles to herself is perfect. And oh my gosh, the final scene of the movie is everything I could ask for in terms of swooniness.

Michael Fassbender version (2011):
The version is the best of the four at capturing the gothic feel of the novel. All that mist and dark and dreary scenery is perfect. Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is very pensive and solemn. Even after the proposal, her happiness is very cautious, like she isn’t quite able to trust it. Neither Jane nor Rochester have much of a sense of humor in this adaptation—you can feel the weight of their pasts on their present, and that weight seems to prevent any levity. Michael Fassbender’s Rochester doesn’t stand out to me much. He’s perfectly adequate in the role, but Jane jumps out as a character much more. And this version, while generally staying true to the book, cuts out quite a bit of the plot. Some of these cuts are done really well though, and I especially like how the scenes with the Rivers family are interspersed throughout, rather than dragging down the middle of the movie. However, I also feel that a lot of the relationship between Jane and Rochester gets axed, so I don’t find their love quite as believable overall.

Basically, here’s the takeaway: The Timothy Dalton version is probably my favorite, just because it’s the one I grew up with and because Dalton’s Rochester is the Rochester of my heart. The Toby Stephens version was a lovely surprise this time around, as the chemistry between the two leads is wonderful and there’s quite a bit of humor. This is the version I’d recommend to anyone who hasn’t had any experience with Jane Eyre before. The William Hurt and Michael Fassbender versions are the shortest, so that’s their biggest draw for me, though I prefer the Michael Fassbender version because it stays truer to the original plot.

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Which movie version do you like best?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: 17 & Gone

17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma. The GoodReads summary:
Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.
Hoo boy. Psychological thriller does not even begin to describe it. This book will mess with your mind, I tell ya. It reminded me of “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer,” by Michelle Hodkin, or “Tighter,” by Adele Griffin, in that the plot starts off fairly normally, gets a little crazier, then little by little progresses until you realize the book has so totally messed with your mind that you don’t know if you should trust your perceptions as the reader or not. And I was not expecting that, honestly. I was expecting some straightforward mystery, but I should’ve know better seeing as how this is the author of “Imaginary Girls” we’re talking about.

The main character, Lauren, was difficult to get to know. We don’t really get to see her before all the crazy stuff starts happening to her, and once those things start happening, they take over her entire life. And as she becomes more and more obsessed with finding the missing girls, I felt like there was less and less of her to get to know because the obsession takes so much out of her.

I don’t really know how to write this review, because I don’t want to give anything away. So I’ll just mention the two non-spoilery things I can think of. One, I liked Jamie, Lauren’s boyfriend—he’s way more supportive and understanding than I would’ve been in that situation, that’s for sure. Two, the writing was really well done. That’s reason I picked up this book in the first place actually—I liked the writing in “Imaginary Girls,” so I wanted to give Suma’s second book a go. I’m terrible at describing writing styles, so I’m not even going to bother, but I will say that it created the perfect atmosphere for the story.

Overall, if you want a book that will play mind games on you, this one is for you. It doesn’t wrap the ending up in a nice little bow either. So if you’re in the mood for a psychological thriller, go for it.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: Shadowfell

Shadowfell, by Juliet Marillier. The GoodReads summary:
Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill--a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk--Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec.

During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death--but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban's release from Keldec's rule. Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.
As much as I love Juliet Marillier as an author, I found that this was a book that was easy for me to put down and do something else. It didn’t grip me, in other words, and hence it took me the better part of a week to read. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. I did—and there were some things (or, ahem, some people) that I definitely liked about it.

I think the reason this book failed to draw me in was twofold. One, it’s a fairly slow story. The majority of the book is Neryn traveling, either by herself or with Flint or with some of the Good Folk (the fey creatures only she can see). And since most of the time she’s in hiding or trying to avoid other people on her journey, it’s a pretty quiet story. The main plotline is her learning more about her powers and what they might mean for the struggling kingdom, and there’s not all that much action, so while it was interesting, it didn’t really grab me.

Second, I didn’t find Neryn to be that charismatic of a narrator. I admired her for sure, but I never felt a particular connection to her and found her a tad boring. On top of that, she makes some choices that, while I totally understood her reasoning, annoyed me a bit nonetheless. I think she has potential though, and hopefully in the next two books she’ll evolve more as a character.

Now for the thing I loved a lot about the book: Flint. Oh my goodness, FLINT. That boy is a dream come true, let me tell you. I kinda feel like this book is worth reading just for him. He’s gone through terrible things and done even worse things, but beneath the guilt and self-doubt, he’s a good and kind man. And that’s the thing that gets me. That he manages to somehow hold on to that bit of goodness when anyone else in his situation would’ve lost their grip on it a long time ago. And that though he’s on the verge of giving up on himself, he doesn’t give up on those around them or his cause. I just . . . gah! FLINT!

Anyway, overall, as you can see, although this book didn’t blow me away in the same way some of Juliet Marillier’s other books have, it’s got Flint in it, and I suspect anything with Flint is worth reading.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: Also Known As

Also Known As, by Robin Benway. The GoodReads summary:
Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.

Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.
So this this book was practically the definition of cute, fluffy, and adorable. I wasn’t quite sure going into it how I’d feel, since I really liked “Audrey, Wait!” by this author but didn’t dig “The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June” quite as much. But, yep, this book was adorable. And actually rather hilarious as well. Maggie made me smile on, like, every page. You know who else I loved? Her friend Roux. She’s not a former-mean-girl turned nice so much as a former-mean-girl turned sarcastic, and she’s practically as hilarious as Maggie, so when you get both of them in a scene, it’s pretty much all you could hope for. And Maggie’s banter with the crush-worthy Jesse is grin-evoking as well.

The only problems I had with this book are the problems I have with pretty much every YA spy novel. 1) Why does the main character never do the logical thing and get help from more experienced spies when things start going downhill? And 2) Why does she always feel the need to spill the beans about who she really is the first time a cute boy comes along? But other than that, I didn’t have any issues with the book. It was pretty predictable, but I was expecting that, so it didn’t bug me.

Overall, a light, funny read. It was a quick read, but it kept me entertained the whole time. Recommended for fans of Leila Sales.

Rating: 3.5 / 5
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