Monday, January 26, 2015

"Landline" by Rainbow Rowell

      Landline is the latest novel by Rainbow Rowell, and author who has written both adult and YA romance novels. Landline follows the story of TV writer Georgie McCool as she struggles to balance her work life and her home life, while the state of her marriage declines. When she attempts to postpone a family holiday vacation as the result of an emergency at work, her husband, Neal, insists on taking their children home for Christmas anyway without Georgie. During the holiday week, Georgie tries to call Neal at his mother's house--however Neal's habit of never charging his cell phone leads to Georgie resorting to her parent's old rotary land-line phone to call Neal's mother's land-line. What Georgie soon realises is that this land-line connection allows her to call Neal in the past before they were ever married. Georgie now has an opportunity to either fix her marriage before it begins or to end it and see if they would have been better off never being married in the first place.
      I first discovered Rainbow Rowell's novels when her YA novel Fangirl hit the library shelves and I found myself faced with another author who's novels I wanted to binge read. Unfortunately until July of 2014, there were only 3 novels to binge read--and it's very difficult to binge read slowly when you're a speed reader. So when Landline was published in July, I jumped on it. Immediately I realised that this wasn't going to be like her other books. This one seemed to be darker, and less idealistic that Attachments, Fangirl, or Eleanor & Park had been. Not to say that it crosses the border into Gone Girl territory--not at all. Rather, it paints a picture of the "what happens after the happily-ever-after" that all her other novels end at. While all of her novels have an element of realism and identifiable situations andcharacters (that's what hooked me in with Fangirl, after all), this one takes it a step further and describes a romantic relationship that has already reached the happily ever after stage and now has to deal with the reality of...reality. It made the story of Georgie and Neal much more emotional. 
      Landline by Rainbow Rowell, as well as her three other novels, are available at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"The Cure for Dreaming" by Cat Winters

      The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters presents the story of Olivia Mead--a young suffragist in 1900 Portland, Oregon whose headstrong and determined ideas regarding women's rights cause her father to hire a performing hypnotist to hypnotize Olivia into being a more docile and submissive woman. Unbeknownst to her father, the hypnotist instead unlocks Olivia's mind to the ability to see people beyond their physical appearance and into their souls to see their true nature and intentions, while continuing her fight for women's rights.
      I was drawn into this story right away with the presentation of Olivia Mead. She is the daughter of a dentist who is a prominent man in the city of Portland, and has to live up to her father's expectation that she be the perfectly well behaved and content with her place in society of being subservient to all the men in her life. Unfortunately for her father and his expectations, Olivia is also incredibly smart, well read, a progressive thinker, and determined to achieve more in her life than marrying high in society. She has dreams of going to college, having her own career, and standing with the suffragists on the courthouse steps, demanding the right to vote.
      While the story focuses on the story of one girl during this time in women's history, it is without a doubt a fantastic metaphor for the experience of women as a whole. Olivia's father hiring a hypnotist to alter his daughter's mind in order to silence her free will and her expression speaks to the suffrage movement and how people opposed to the movement and opposed to women being granted the same rights as men were striving to oppress and stifle the voices of an entire segment of the population.
      The very essence of this story is that it is a fictional story illustrating a very real period in time when women were fighting for their right to vote, their right to be heard, and their right to be equals. Cat Winters has drawn in elements of the supernatural in order to highlight an important historical moment.
      The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters is available as an audiobook at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

Friday, January 16, 2015

"As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust" by Alan Bradley

      As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is the latest installment in the Flavia de Luce mystery series by Alan Bradley. And is the first book in the series that takes place in a location other than the large English estate of the de Luce family. Set in a girls boarding school in Canada, 12 year old Flavia de Luce once again finds herself in the middle of a mystery after discovering human skeletal remains in one of the chimneys of her new home. The story follows her attempts to once again solve a murder, while also unraveling more of the mystery that surrounds her deceased mother's enigmatic past, and the secret government agency of which she was a part.
      I was turned on to the Flavia de Luce series by a friend who knows that I enjoy all things science, as well as strong well written female characters. It has quickly become one of my favourite mystery series. This newest one is almost a complete reinventing of the series, come at just the perfect time when I was beginning to wonder if the entire rest of the series would always be set up in the same way. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust introduces the reader not just to a new location for our intrepid heroine, but also to an entirely new cast of characters to interact with her. In fact, the only familiar character is Flavia herself, while everyone else is a stranger. 
      The Flavia de Luce series is wonderful because it takes the notion that all mysteries written for adults must have adult protagonists, and breaks it apart. You see a girl who seems to be equal parts Harriet-the-Spy and Violet Baudelaire dealing with issues and situations in an adult world while maintaining her fiercely independent and fiery personality. The series is captivating, and wonderfully written, and it is quite easy to find yourself three books into the series without realising it. I definitely read this new one too quickly and now have to go back and reread the series from the very beginning (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) until he publishes the next one.
      As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the latest adventure of Flavia de Luce, is available at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

Monday, January 12, 2015

"The Voices" by F.R. Tallis

      The Voices by F.R. Tallis is a horror story set in England in the 1970s. It tells the story of a young married couple expecting their first child, and the old Victorian house into which they have just moved. Chistopher, the husband, is a movie score composer and plans to use the spacious rooms of the house to set up his recording studio, while Laura is a former model who wants to step back from the fast paced world of fame in order to raise their daughter, Faye. Christopher soon discovers that when he plays back the recordings he makes in the house, he can hearvoices on the tape reels. Further investigation into the history of the house leads Christopher to believe that one of the voices on the tape belong to the former owner of the house, an illusionist who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Rather than be overly concerned with the fact that recording in the house seems to be picking up the voices of the dead, Christopher decides to use the ghostly recordings as part of a new composition. Laura, meanwhile, becomes concerned when one of the voices begins to take an interest in their infant daughter.
      To anyone who might be an avid fan of horror movies, this plot may seem familiar. I definitely have seen similar plots before, on the screen. However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I did not become bored with the plot at all. In fact, it was somewhat reminiscent of the first season of American Horror Story, in which anyone who died in particular house was then stuck in that house as a ghost. In the case of The Voices, it seemed to be a similar case, except the ghosts could not be seen, only heard through an recording or other electric medium (there are times when the voices can be heard through the baby monitor static). But as stated previously, the concept of the haunted house occupied by a new family is a plotline that is very well used, so much so that it could be hard to muster up a proper scared reaction to it. So where then, does this feeling of horror come from?
      For me, it came from the feeling of helplessness exhibited by Laura. Throughout the book she is aware that something is wrong with the house, that something has targeted her baby, and that something is physiologically affecting Faye to the point where Laura begins to seek medical attention for her child. And at each point, when Laura exhibits her concerns or her fears, she is brushed off by all of the men around her. Christopher thinks she's overreacting and trying to stifle his artistic expression, the doctor refuses to give any credence to her concerns and is condescending and dismissive, and even their friends don't believe her fears to be anything more than over protectiveness. This sense of helplessness and frustration at being marginalised when the lives of your loved ones are at stake elicits a different kind of horror than a normal jump-scare would. The book focuses less on the history and nature of why the house is the way it is, and focuses more on the devolving relationship and mental states of Christopher and Laura and what can happen to a person when everything and everyone around them is determined to work against them. 
      While it may not necessarily be the outright scariest horror story I've ever experienced, it has a definite sense of apprehension and dread that kept me determined to see how the story played out. See if you feel the same: The Voices by F.R. Tallis is available at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

Friday, January 9, 2015

"Paper Towns" by John Green

      Paper Towns by John Green was first published in October of 2008, and was his third novel. With the announcement that Paper Towns was going to be adapted for the screen, following the success of the film adaptation of Green's latest novel, The Fault in Our Stars, I decided it was a perfect time to reread the book.
      Paper Towns follows the story of a highschooler named Quentin "Q" Jacobson and his friendship with an eccentric girl named Margo Roth Spiegelman. The bulk of the novel is Q following clues left behind by Margo after she runs away from home several weeks before they were to graduate. Along the way Q finds himself forced to reevaluate his perspective about his town, his friends, his classmates, and his idealised image of Margo.
      Rereading this YA novel, I immediately remembered what it was about Paper Towns that set it apart from other YA novels. There are a lot of stories in the YA literature designation that involve the idea of a quiet, nerdy boy finding the eccentric, wild, and damaged girl and "fixing" her with the power of his love; thus perpetuation the notion of female characters being present solely for the purpose of furthering the development of the male characters, without having a background or purpose to the story otherwise. This manic pixie dream girl trope is essentially the opposite of the Bechdel Test, the test determining if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
     John Green takes the idea of Margo existing as a "broken" girl for Q to improve his life by "fixing" and pretty much smashes it into the ground. While Q is the protagonist of the story, and we are seeing everything from his point of view while Margo is physically present only at the beginning and end of the story, it becomes obvious that there isn't going to be the tearful dramatic love story ending that one might be expecting. Or that Q is expecting, since he spends a majority of the story picturing this kind of reunion with Margo. 
      But when [SPOILER WARNING] he does find Margo at the conclusion of the book, he is given a giant reality check. Margo makes it very clear the "clues" Q was following were not intentionally left by her to be used to find her, that she in fact did not want to be found at all. When Q realises that his idealised image of Margo is not the reality of Margo, he at first reacts angrily and blames her for causing him to waste so much of his time worrying about her. It's only after Margo accuses him both of holding other people accountable for how he thinks of them and of idealising her depression into something that he could "fix" by "saving" her, that he realises how damaging (to both of them) his idolising of Margo was and that he needs to value her friendship more than the image of her he has spent so long building. 
      John Green [END SPOILER WARNING] uses the set up of the manic pixie dream girl story to essentially and ultimately destroy the romanticised image of a troubled girl needing to be saved or fixed by a boy. And that is why I love Paper Towns.
      The Paper Towns movie comes out in June of this year. You can get ready by reading the book first! Available, as always, at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"The Map of Time" by Félix J. Palma

     What would you do if you could travel through time? Would you change the past or take a daring trip into the future?  

      The first book of the Trilogía Victoriana (Victorian Trilogy), The Map of Time is a time twisting, fantastic journey of the life of the famous author H.G. Wells and how his novel the “Time Machine” influenced not only just the people of London but the world. The narrator, a time traveler perhaps or an all knowing being, guides the reader into three different stories that are all interwoven with each other. The snippets of Well’s life gives the reader a different dimension of the writer and the why he wrote the Time Machine. Also, it shows how Wells has gotten himself to be involved in all these lives, even if it was against his will for some of those moments.

     This book has a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy including an alternate universe, a large dose of steam punk, some historical elements, and much more. Going between major events from Jack the Ripper, to helping to heal a suffering individual, bringing couples together, this book has some very complex but intriguing story lines. Félix Palma’s way of interweaving many elements and stories made this book not only an interesting find but a very enjoyable read. The twist at the end of the story was quite unexpected. This was truly a book that grabbed my attention from beginning to end. I cannot wait to read what the other two books may bring.

The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma is available at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

Monday, January 5, 2015

"Yes Please" by Amy Poehler

      Yes Please is a memoir self-authored by SNL actress, writer, and comedian Amy Poehler. 
      Sort of.
      When I say it's sort of a memoir, I mean that it is autobiographical in nature and there are mentions of Poehler's personal life--however, she does not dive deep into detail about her life. The parts of her life that she talks about, she does so matter-of-factly and briefly before moving onto the next topic. In addition to this, there are sections that she hands over to other people in her life in order that they might weigh in on her ideas...or maybe just because she was tired one night and needed additional chapters, she she handed the reins over to Seth Meyers and Mike Schur who give some outside perspective about what working with Poehler and being her friend is like. 
      But the autobiographical bits are not the focus of the book. I put myself on hold for this book before it was even published, because I am a fan of Amy Poehler in general--her acting, her writing, her general niceness, etc. I was expecting a straight forward autobiography. What I got was so much better than that. The focus on the book is really more life advice, tips on succeeding in the world as a decent human being, and how to be really really good at what you do. With chapter titles like "Talk to Yourself Like You're Ninety," "Gimme That Pudding," "Don't Forget to Tip Your Waitresses," "Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend," and "The Robots Will Kill Us All: a Conclusion" Poehler lays down some straight forward advice about living your life the way you want to, making the best decisions about what is best for yourself, and getting away with stating the truth with minimal repercussions. Even the title of the book is advice on how to not be a terrible person, and still have a powerful presence:
      "It is called Yes Please because it is a constant struggle and often the right answer. Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes Please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please. I love saying "yes" and I love saying "please." Saying "yes" doesn't mean I don't know how to say no, and saying "please" doesn't mean I am waiting for permission. "Yes please" sounds powerful and concise. It's a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman. It's also a title I can tell my kids. I like when they say "yes please" because most people are rude and nice manners are the secret key to the universe." 
      And lest you think that this book lacks the comedic wit and lightheartedness of other comedic biographical works--if you listen to the audiobook, Poehler turns the narration briefly over to Sir Patrick Stewart in a section containing haiku about plastic surgery. The whole book is layered with Poehler's wit and comedic timing, even though it is more of a life-advice book than a memoir. It's what makes it stand out from other comedic memoirs. Basically, I read this book as a how-to manual on how to become Amy Poehler. And I can think of way worse things to be.
      Yes Please by Amy Poehler is available at the Ocean City Free Public Library.