Saturday, January 16, 2021

Book Review: Family

 


Book Review: Family by Micol Ostow 

Goodreads Description: It is a day like any other when seventeen-year-old Melinda Jensen hits the road for San Francisco, leaving behind her fractured home life and a constant assault on her self-esteem. Henry is the handsome, charismatic man who comes upon her, collapsed on a park bench, and offers love, a bright new consciousness, and—best of all—a family. One that will embrace her and give her love. Because family is what Mel has never really had. And this new family, Henry’s family, shares everything. They share the chores, their bodies, and their beliefs.  And if Mel truly wants to belong, she will share in everything they do. No matter what the family does, or how far they go.

My Review: **There will be some minor-ish spoilers for the climax in this review. 

Well... it was a book all right. 

I picked up Family many years ago and added it to my TBR pile because I'm a fan of fucked up things, generally, so an exploration into cult dynamics seemed right up my alley. Over the years that it's sat at the bottom of my pile, I forgot (or never realized) that this was a verse novel, which is not something I usually partake in. Regardless, I did find myself enjoying the verse style at times, especially because it allowed the author to touch on some poetic emotions that might have been considered superfluous in a traditional narrative. As a fan of purplier prose, I did enjoy this, but quickly found the style tiresome in its repetition. A lot of the book felt like the same lines over and over, and I honestly wonder how much book would be left if all the repetition was removed. Some of this repetition worked to reinforce ideas, and other times it just became annoying. 

The verse style also focused more on the main character's emotions than communicating details of the plot, which gave the impression of an unreliable (if not just freakin' clueless) narrator. Because of this, what actually happens isn't the focus, leaving a thin plot that bordered on boring and stereotypical. Part of my interest in this book, and what the back cover bragged it was, was an exploration of someone pulled into a cult. I was under the impression that the book would showcase the transformation: how someone from an ordinary life could turn into a cult member willing to commit murder. However, that was not what I got. I can't blame the verse for this either, this was just plain poor writing. The book presented Mel, the main character, as born broken, a concept that is highly problematic. Mel lived in an abusive home, with her mother emotionally neglecting her while her step-father sexually abused her. This is a fairly stereotypical set-up for a runaway situation, but not a death knell, if only the author put some development into Mel herself. Instead, Mel is the perfect cult member before she even joins the cult. The first time Mel meets Henry, the cult leader, she describes him as if she's already a devoted member: talking as if he's god, with abstract descriptions that give me no sense of who Henry is, aside from perfect. There is no attempt to show how a stranger on the street could become someone so important to Mel that she would willingly surrender her identity without thinking about it. It gave the impression that Mel is just 'crazy,' leading into that premise of some people just being 'born broken.' We don't see how she loses herself to the cult, from page one, she just willingly submits, taking a lot of the power out of the novel. Instead of reading about someone's fall, I instead get a boring story about a family who commits a murder, without any interesting plot twists. If the author wanted to focus more on emotions and relationships, they still could have accomplished this while having the 'murder plot' still be fairly simple, but there's no effort put into the character dynamics, nor does the book dig into how these dynamics could influence the cult 'family,' which would have made for a far more interesting book. Instead, the cult members all seemed like a hive mind at times, with only hints that they might have their own thoughts and ideas. 

Finally, that ending just pissed me right off. If you're going to commit to writing a novel about cult members who do bad things, and more so if you're creating a fall arc, don't chicken out at the last minute. During the climax where Mel and several other family members murder a fictionalized Sharon Tate and Alfred Hitchcock, Mel backs out and lets the 'singer' free, and runs away from the family herself, which not only made no sense for how Mel was written, but robs the story of its believability. How and why would the family let her go? We didn't see Mel's transformation into this person, so how do we know what pulled her out of it? Why the sudden change of heart when she was so freakin' devoted to Henry? Not to mention, way to cop out on the promise of the novel. Readers picked up the book because they wanted something dark and gritty, and instead of showing us a true fall arc, we get a crybaby who runs away when things get tough. 

Ultimately? Boring, unimaginative, stays within the box, flat characters, NOTHING HAPPENS UGH, and a cop out ending. But, uh... at least there's some pretty writing? 

TL;DR: 2/5 stars. It's a book, but probably not worth reading. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Book Review: City of Ghosts

 


Book Review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab 

Goodreads Description: Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself. 

My Review: If there's one thing Schwab has always been good at, it's atmosphere. And City of Ghosts has that to spare. 

If there's one thing Schwab has always struggled with, it's humour. Which could have saved City of Ghosts from its pallid existence. 

The book is good, don't get me wrong, but there's nothing in the book that sinks its teeth into the reader and makes them care. There isn't enough character to make this book great. Cassidy and her ghost sidekick are simply bumbling through their time in Scotland without any real direction or motivation. They're largely dragged along by the events of the plot, or rather, Cassidy's parents as they bring her to each filming location filled with creepy specters. While there is plenty of tension, and clearly defined stakes which Schwab wasn't afraid to raise, this book lacked an emotional core that made me invest in the characters. This may be due to the fact that every character was kind of... flat. Cassidy's parents were simply caricatures of TV hosts, Findley played the role of "good adult who sort of understands the magic," and the brief glimpses we see of Lara don't give us enough to show her as a fully formed character. Cassidy is arguably the most developed, and still she comes across as flat, uninteresting, and without passion. Even if Schwab wanted to skip the deeper emotional notes, a little humour would have made the reader just as invested in these characters, and would have made more sense for a middle grade audience. 

Since I know Schwab can do better, character-wise, I'm tempted to blame the faults on it being a middle grade book, or rather, Schwab underestimating middle grade fiction. Just because a book is for children, doesn't mean it needs to be stripped of complexity or character. 

As far as middle grade goes, this book is VERY MG. I would even put it at the lower level of middle grade, more suited for 8-10 year olds than 12 year olds. Part of this is due to the simplicity of the story. Not only were the characters very straight forward, but the plot went straight from point a to b without any interesting twists, which may make it easier for a younger reader to follow. As well, Schwab's writing style was parred down to reflect the reading level she targeted. Schwab is known for flowery prose and atmospheric descriptions, which has been dialed back in this book to simpler sentences and straight to the point descriptions. It was fascinating to see how Schwab adjusted her style for the audience, although she tends to slip into telling over showing more than I think is necessary. 

The only other complaint I 'd have is the Harry Potter references REALLY date the book. I'd like to think Schwab wouldn't put in so many references if the book was written today, with JK Rowling outing herself as transphobic, but as it stands the references were in poor taste. I wouldn't have minded if there was only one or two, but they were peppered throughout the book. As well, the Harry Potter books themselves are a far more interesting world and story than City of Ghosts, so the constant references only reminded me how much more interesting the story could be. Hopefully next time Schwab will put more effort into worldbuilding so she won't have to reference other fantastical worlds to compensate. 

TL;DR: 3/5 stars. City of Ghosts was good, but certainly nothing to write home about. 


Monday, January 4, 2021

Book Review: Blood of Olympus

 


Book Review: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan 

Goodreads Description: Nico had warned them. Going through the House of Hades would stir the demigods' worst memories. Their ghosts would become restless. Nico may actually become a ghost if he has to shadow-travel with Reyna and Coach Hedge one more time. But that might be better than the alternative: allowing someone else to die, as Hades foretold.


Jason's ghost is his mother, who abandoned him when he was little. He may not know how he is going to prove himself as a leader, but he does know that he will not break promises like she did. He will complete his line of the prophecy: To storm or fire the world must fall.

Reyna fears the ghosts of her ancestors, who radiate anger. But she can't allow them to distract her from getting the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half-Blood before war breaks out between the Romans and Greeks. Will she have enough strength to succeed, especially with a deadly hunter on her trail?

Leo fears that his plan won't work, that his friends might interfere. But there is no other way. All of them know that one of the Seven has to die in order to defeat Gaea, the Earth Mother.

Piper must learn to give herself over to fear. Only then will she be able to do her part at the end: utter a single word.

Heroes, gods, and monsters all have a role to play in the climactic fulfillment of the prophecy in The Blood of Olympus, the electrifying finale of the best-selling Heroes of Olympus series.

My Review: Every time I sit down to review a Riordan book, I go through the same thought process. First, I wonder if there’s even a point. I struggle to find any major flaws to discuss, and I feel it’s not much of a review if all I’m saying is “This good. Buy this.” Second, it’s hard to dig into each book, since not only are they chunks to a bigger story, they’re not as independent as some book series. Each one flows into the next to create this epic adventure, so it’s hard to understand the context of one without reading them all. As well, Riordan books follow a very particular formula that makes each book kinda the same. Not in a way that becomes boring, thank god, but in a very brand-specific way that means I know exactly what I’m getting from each book, without there being a lot to differentiate it from the others.

Every Riordan book I read, I’m determined to find a reason, any reason, NOT to give it 5 stars. And without fail, every time, Riordan sinks his claws into me and plays my heartstrings like a lyre, and reluctantly I have to admit to myself that the Riordan machine has pumped out another banger. 

Blood of Olympus is no exception. 

The finale to the prophecy of seven has come to fruition, as our seven demigods arrive in Athens to stop the giants from resurrecting Gaia. They bounce from one trial to another, bringing them closer and closer to the Parthenon of Athens, where the resurrection will take place. The thing that really keeps me hooked into these stories is not so much the action, but the heart that Riordan weaves into the quiet moment between every big battle. Don’t get me wrong, the action is smashing, and Riordan describes it in a way that is not only simple and easy to follow, but also very visual, but it’s those character pieces crammed in between that keep me slobbering for more. Riordan has a way of weaving both action and character into scenes so they’re not distinct. It’s not a case of action in one box and then character moments in the next box, but instead woven together so characters may be having pivotal interactions while dealing with dangerous creatures, making it feel more real. Sometimes the feelings a character has for another interferes with the mission, and that makes the story much more delicious to read. 

I mentioned earlier that I thought Riordan’s book were a bit repetitive, and I feel like I need to expand on this before the Riordan stans come breaking down my door. Riordan’s formula for his books is rolled out in a way that you know exactly what to expect of his stories, even if the characters, events, and obstacles will vary from book to book. Before opening a Riordan book, I hesitate because of this. Will this be the same story I’ve read before? How much longer can I find this formula entertaining? And yet every book is thrilling, funny, and difficult to put down, even if due to the structure of the narrative, it feels like the same shit, different day. From a branding perspective, this is incredibly powerful. Riordan knows exactly what to keep the same and what to change. From a narrative perspective, I’m struggling to find a huge fault in this method as well. Because even if every book feels similar, I’m still coming back for more and walking away happy each time. 

It’s been a few years since I read the House of Hades, but it wasn’t difficult to pick up the story when we left off. As a finale to the prophecy of seven, Blood of Olypmpus slaps, and the series on the whole is a great read. Riordan’s books also get more and more inclusive as time goes on. The cast has become much more diverse racially and ethnically, but it was exciting to see Nico coming out as a gay demigod, as well as reckon with his feelings as an outsider. Nico’s perspective felt refreshing in this book, since his experiences are so different from many of his demigod counterparts, and that also helped to flush out the feelings of ‘diversity’. Even kids who are hurting have someone they can identify with, and Nico does an excellent job in this book of showing how you don’t have to stay in the shadows forever. 

TL;DR: All in all, I cried, I laughed, I just can’t believe how good this man is. 5/5 stars. An epic conclusion to this demigod adventure that measures up to the true meaning of the word epic.  

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Book Review: Howl's Moving Castle

 

Book Review: Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Goodreads Description: Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl's castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

My Review: I wanted to write a review that focused solely on the book, but I have watched and loved the Studio Ghibli movie for years, so it feels impossible not to compare them. Especially since the stories are so close yet decisively different in very important ways. There will be SPOILERS in this review, so if spoilers spoil for you, then, y'know, look away now. 

Sophie Hatter is doomed. It's something she's known and accepted about herself since she was young. As the eldest of three, she is destined to never find her fortune, while her younger sisters are sure to find success in their endevours. Feeling curbstomped by fate, Sophie resigns herself to work at her family's hat shop for the rest of eternity with nothing but the hats to talk to. This ages and cripples Sophie long before she ever meets the Witch of the Waste. She identifies as the boring old spinster in grey so completely that by the time the Witch curses her with the body of an old woman, it's more of her outside transforming to match her inside, rather than Sophie turning into something she's not. She adapts to her new body shockingly well because of this, and the true conflict of the book becomes convincing Sophie to change back. 

Ghibli's movie version may have been a love story, but Jones' book is a self-love story. Sophie has little to no self-esteem /self-worth and resigns herself to the inevitable. Unique to the book, Sophie is also a witch with the ability to speak life into things, and this, ultimately, seals her fate. Howl (as well as others) would have been able to remove Sophie's curse right off the bat, were she not a powerful witch who reinforced the Witch of the Waste's curse with all her negative self-talk. Through Sophie, we get to see the very real power of negative self-talk, how it limits us and distorts our perception, and ultimately how we can overcome it, even if it never entirely goes away. 

As for the other characters, they're all so much more alive than their movie counterparts. While Studio Ghibili took these characters and filed down all their sharp corners, the book delivers us characters with juicy flaws that both aggravate and soften the reader. Howl is the flamboyantly dramatic king of train wrecks in every scene as opposed to one (*coughhairdyescenescough*), Michael is a teenager with his own goals outside of Howl, and both of Sophie's sisters are fierce, independent women who fight for their futures. Seeing these characters with their own flaws and motivations makes you realize how much of them was stripped away for the romanticized movie version of them. 

The movie also simplified the plot extensively, in ways that didn't always make sense, but hey, it looked pretty, right? The Witch of the Waste is a more serious villain, Howl is actually a college student from Wales, Sophie's sisters swap places with magic and start courting Michael and Howl, and a schoolteacher back in Wales tries to capture Howl's heart in a dangerous way. All of this leads to a much more satisfying story than the aesthetically pleasing but nutritiously hollow snack of a movie by Ghibli. 

Sophie is an unreliable narrator which makes this book so good to re-read. I suppose calling her an unreliable narrator is unfair, since she's not, really, but Jones is so good at making sure we see the world through her perspective that we can miss what's happening. She doesn't catch on to Calcifer's clues right away, and so those clues are buried, without any narrative cues to the reader to let them know this is IMPO INFO YO. Sophie's self-esteem issues and her judgement of others keep her from being able to see Howl's feelings towards her, which leads her to wildly misinterpreting situations and creating a wonderful duality where the reader can see why Sophie thinks this way, while also seeing that it's not actually true. Jones accomplishes this with a deft touch that doesn't make Sophie look delusional, nor is it overtly obvious that her perception has clouded her vision. 

The only complaint I'd have, is I didn't feel there was enough romantic payoff after an entire book full of longing and will-they-won't-they. Though, I suppose that's what the sequels are for. 

TL;DR: 4/5 stars. If you think you know this story from the movie, think again.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Book Review: The Song of Achilles


Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 

Goodreads Description: Achilles, "the best of the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful--irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath. They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice. 

My Review: 
“Will you come with me?” he asked. 
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. 
“Yes,” I whispered. “Yes.” 

Frankly, I wasn’t going to do a review because school has eaten my brain, but when I read a beautiful book, sometimes I just need to shout its praises from the rooftops. It shuffles free all the demons and leftover feels that stick like baked molasses to the cookie sheet of my soul. So I’ve dug out my soapbox today to tell you why you need Achilles and Patroclus’ brand of Too Gay To Function in your life. You may not realize you do, but that’s okay. I didn’t realize how necessary it was either. 

As much as it tries to dress itself up in Greek myth, lyrical writing, and a historical setting, The Song of Achilles is, at its core, just a romance. The first half of the book seeks to establish Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship, which is then used to highlight the tragedy of the Trojan war for the second half. Yet the book doesn’t hammer on the romance to make the loss more poignant later. In fact, I found the book took a ‘light touch’ to the romantic or sexy scenes. We get just enough of those romantic moments for the reader to savour, but not enough to satisfy, which propels the reader through the rest of the book. Achilles and Patroclus never say the words ‘I love you’ in the book, but it’s because they don’t need to. It’s shown, very clearly, to the point where it would be superfluous to put it to words. Part of the appeal of the loss isn’t that we spend the book learning how much they love each other, but rather why. We fall in love with each of these men alone and together, making the ending so much more devastating. 

The writing is pure gold. It captures that antiquity feel without alienating a modern reader. The prose is melodic, which makes the book very enjoyable to read. These characters could be planting daisies or recording a shopping list and it would still be a joy to read due to the delivery. It’s definitely a book you read partly for the story, and partly for the poetry of its construction. 

The end is devastating, as is to be expected if you know anything about the Iliad. However, like the love scenes, the tragedy isn’t meant to wring you like a dishcloth to pull the emotions out of you. I didn’t find myself crying, but rather overwhelmed with its inevitability. This was purposeful to illustrate to the reader how the characters themselves felt, holding onto the prophecy of death through 10 years of war. The amount of foreshadowing is quite profound as well. There are the obvious pieces of foreshadowing, which Miller does nothing to hide, but also much subtler pieces sprinkled all throughout the book which adds to the feelings of inevitability.

So, seriously, what more do you need from a book? Blending of myth and history? Yes! Melodic prose? Yes! Romance? Tragedy? The gay agenda? Triple yes. Will it leave you borderline suicidal when you realize you will never have a relationship as profound as the one between Achilles and Patroclus? If it does, consult your local mental health professional. I’ve got several on speed dial. 

TL;DR: 5/5 stars. Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451


Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 

Goodreads Description: Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television 'family'. But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people did not live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. 

My Review: "We have everything we need to be happy but we aren't happy. Something is missing...
It is not books you need, it's some of the things that are in books. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us." 

Guy Montag seems like a happy, fulfilled man as he leaves his work as a fireman one night. He loves his job, his wife, and any nagging feelings of wrongness are washed away in the cacophony of mass media. Until the night he meets Clarisse, a curious 17-year-old who questions the barrage of ads and enjoys unusual pastimes like walking and chatting with people. Clarisse lives in a way that is completely contrary to what Montag is used to: she stops to observe the morning dew, she looks out for the man in the moon, she plays with dandelions to see if Montag is in love-- all of this childish innocence is enough to shake Montag of his certainty in life. Why don't people talk to each other? What did fireman do before they burned books? 

Is he happy? 

The transformation for Montag comes swiftly after that-- nothing in his life is luxurious anymore, nothing is worth whistling over. In fact, everything is dark, save for the flickering glow from the television wall screens that dominate his wife's time-- dominate everyone's time-- and Montag walks like a ghost through his life. He sees his wife with new eyes-- a woman who constantly keeps her Seashells, thimble radios, pressed to her ears so she never has to think, stuck in the room with screens covering three walls showing mindless television where she can't even discern a plot. Within their home, the pair were as far apart as two people could be. Technology brought Montag and his wife, Mildred, closer to the world and yet opened an ocean of space between them that Montag couldn't hope to cross alone. Upon arriving home, Montag finds the answer to Clarisse's question in the form of his near-lifeless wife, having swallowed an entire bottle of pills in a suicide attempt. 

They're not happy, he realizes. Maybe no one is. Yet Montag and Mildred had done everything right, hadn't they? They had everything they needed (save for maybe a screen on the fourth wall to complete their TV room), so why was everything so wrong? They didn't talk about sadness and emotion, or anything beyond the surface level, so why were so many people lining up to take their own lives?

Maybe the answer was in the books. 

I feel like I could write books about this book. Maybe that's what truly makes a classic a classic-- whether the conversation continues past the last page. Despite being written approximately 60 years ago, Fahrenheit 451 feels so incredibly relevant in our modern society dominated by mass media entertainment and an anti-intellectual "fake news" rejection of facts. The thing that makes F451 truly terrifying, and incredibly real, is the idea that the government did not crack down on books and ban them, rather it was the people themselves who checked out from reading in favour of mass media that didn't challenge or inspire emotion. The majority chose to stop thinking and began to feel challenged, inferior to, even threatened by well-read individuals who questioned the status quo. The laws banning books came because the majority wanted them. 

In Bradbury's dystopia, the reader doesn't feel the presence of the big bad as much as in other dystopian novels, such as 1984. The government oppression is felt through the work of the firemen, but as Montag is one of them, it's less a feeling of boogeymen hunting you down in the night and more like having an illusion shattered. It made the novel feel more personal; this is the story of a man's awakening, an intellectual "coming of age," framed within a dystopic setting. What makes Montag different from many other main characters of this type of sci-fi is that he generally didn't question the society he was born into until being triggered by Clarisse. Once he realizes that he's not happy, that something in his world is very wrong, he learns how to question things. But boy, is he awful at it-- he asks dangerous questions at work, lets phrases slip like 'once upon a time,' and just generally can't keep his secret books secret for the life of him. Montag stumbles into learning to think with all the grace of a toddler learning to walk, which grants him an innocence that reflects his level of intellectual development. 

Aside from reminding me of the terrors of majority tyranny, F451 poignantly touches on the feeling of disconnect that is born out of a mass media society. When we perceive that our social needs are being met by technology, we stop reaching out to others, and then often don't understand why we're struck with feelings of emptiness, depression, and anger. We can see this displayed through Mildred in how she checks out from the rest of the world. Even sleeping, she feels she needs to have the Seashells blasting in her ears, possibly to escape something in herself or, as is implied by the narrative, that she's searching for connection and finds it through watching the television show "the family." She obviously doesn't get her needs met this way, as the reader first meets her during a suicide attempt. 

Montag begins to realize how much distance lays between them by asking Mildred if she remembers how they met. The fact that neither can remember their first encounter could show how identity can be washed away when you allow yourself to stop engaging -- with the world as well as people around you. This is further supported when Montag eventually does remember how they met, and by then he's fully realized as his own thinking, feeling person. We can see after Mildred's suicide attempt that she doesn't have a great grasp on her emotions or inner world (or she's blatantly lying) when she denies attempting suicide, insisting "I wouldn't do that. Why would I do that?" I feel like that last question is especially important, as this is almost a legitimate question. Mildred has no idea why she would attempt suicide (they're happy, aren't they?) and yet she did. Her inability to put words to her emotions keeps her from truly knowing herself, as well as knowing anyone else. Montag also suffers from this inability to talk about his feelings or serious subjects, as we can see when he tries to talk to Mildred about the suicide attempt. At first he rolls over and agrees that the reason Mildred feels unwell is due to a party, and later even when he is able to say she attempted suicide, he gives her an easy out to avoid conflict ("Maybe you took two pills and then forgot and took two more..."). 

Mildred and Montag don't know how to talk to one another, because people simply don't talk anymore. And how can one get their social needs met by another living person if they don't know how to instigate it? But it's not just Montag and Mildred who can't communicate-- this distance can be felt everywhere. It's highlighted when the "men with machines" come to treat Mildred for her suicide attempt-- these men see "nine or ten cases [of suicide] a night," and Montag notes how cold and impersonal these men are in their work. "Nobody knows anyone," Montag thinks. That's certainly true in Bradbury's world. Bradbury's book would have us believe that mass media in itself is inherently harmful, but anyone living today would hardly deny the positives that mass media can achieve. However, relying on technology to replace human interaction and using it to consume rather than create could definitely lead someone to ending up like Mildred.

As for dystopians go, the ending is a rather positive note. I'm doing my best to avoid spoilers here, but comparing it against something like 1984, F451 doesn't leave you completely soul crushed and dots you with a bit of hope. It very much reads as a warning for what could come, but also shows ways that resistance can be achieved by individuals. 

Books, therein lies the power. But books on shelves do nothing but collect dust. They're meaningless bindings of paper. You need to read them, internalize them, then burn them and actualize its message. Don't become so attached to the tome that it sits like a totem to an ideal you never try to make a reality. 

TL;DR: 5/5 stars. Fucking read it, okay? Could you not tell from this gushing review that I love this? In fact if you don't read it, I'll punch you. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Book Review: Mort


Book Review: Mort by Terry Pratchett 

Goodreads Description: In this Discworld installment, Death comes to Mort with an offer he can't refuse -- especially since being, well, dead isn't compulsory. As Death's apprentice, he'll have free board and lodging, use of the company horse, and he won't need time off for family funerals. The position is everything Mort thought he'd ever wanted, until he discovers that this perfect job can be a killer on his love life.

My Review: I find it quite difficult to review books considered 'classics,' whether that be cult classics or the traditional kind, because often I find I have little more to say than, "Everything you've heard about this book is right. It's awesome, go read it." To be honest, I actually hate giving five star reviews, because as a reviewer, I believe my job is to play critic and point out things that may disrupt a reader's experience. Therefore, when I end up having to write a five star review I struggle, because it's hard to keep the review critical when all I want to do is gush like a fangirl frothing at the mouth. (I love reading five star books, just hate reviewing them.)

Mort is one of those five star books for me. Right from the first page I fell in love. Before I even finished the first few chapters, I was already reading lines aloud to my friends, family, and generally anyone unfortunate enough to be caught up in my general vicinity. The book is funny, endearing, heartfelt, and gets straight to the point. There are so many throw-away, blink-and-you'll-miss-it funny lines and moments throughout the book. Pratchett's humour is so interwoven into the voice that it doesn't always need to draw attention to itself. While at the forefront of a scene a serious, plotty discussion may be taking place, there's almost always some hilarity going on in the background or between the lines.

Part of what makes Pratchett so successful is he understands that readers want to work. They want to pick up on clues and form theories on the story's outcome. Mort is such an enjoyable read because Pratchett doesn't spell things out for the reader, he simply lines up all the facts and allows the reader to draw their own conclusion. Pratchett doesn't make it ambiguous, either. It's often clear what is happening, or about to happen, in a scene, but he trusts the reader to put it together. It engages the reader by asking them to do just enough work to feel smart without breaking a sweat, making for a more enjoyable reading experience. 

The cast of characters in Mort are all delightfully flawed and charming in their own ways. This is one of the few books where I really like every main character. Each character has noticeable growth throughout the story and I could feel each transformation as it took place. What surprised me about the plot of the book was how simple yet solid it was. Each character had pretty simple motivations and desires, yet as the book progressed, those desires clashed in ways that made for strong conflicts. It all amounts to a climax which still has end of the world stakes without trying to throttle you with tension. Really, I'm using a bunch of words to say: Mort had the perfect touch. Not too much of anything, and not too little. 

Mort makes for such a delightful read as it pits the very best parts of human nature (love, loyalty, conviction, etc.) up against the vast and uncaring nature of the universe ("there is no justice, just me," the powerlessness of humans against time righting itself, the frightening power of Death, etc.). It shows how the lack of impartiality allows us to have incredible friendships and motivates us to literally stand against the will of the universe to save those we love. While that means we may never be suited to the stoic jobs the universe needs done, that passion is ultimately what makes us human and can't compare to anything else in the universe. 

TL;DR: All in all, 5/5 stars. What happens when you give the powers of death to a teenage boy? He'll disrupt the natural order of the universe trying to impress a pretty girl.