Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grace, Sam, and the Reality of Relationships


As I'm sure most everyone frequenting the book blogs knows, Maggie Stiefvater's new novel, Linger, was recently released (and is doing really well)! This post might not make a whole lot of sense for people who aren't already familiar with the series, because I don't plan on going into a whole lot of detail. But anyway: I ended up getting the book and the audiobook (Partly because Stiefvater mentions on her blog that the actor reading Cole sounds sexy, and I couldn't pass that up, could I? And also: Sam sings.) Anyway, I've read part of it and listened to part of it but still haven't finished (yet!). So this post isn't a review. But there was something that caught my attention, and I've kind of been thinking about it the past several days.

Here it is: Sam and Grace (the two leads from Shiver and Linger) don't share the same interests. They don't listen to (or like) the same music. They read different kinds of books. They have different ways of expressing themselves. They have totally different approaches to viewing the world. But it's okay. It's good, even. I feel like this is the rare book to even point out the main couple's different tastes/interests/etc. I wouldn't say it's a focal point, but it's there. And I think it's important, because when I was younger I had the sense that relationships were kind of all or nothing: it was necessary to like the same things. Sometimes I think these sweeping, get-carried-away romances in books don't always make room for different interests and overwhelming, never-ending love. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I find it refreshing that Stiefvater includes these facts-of-life (i.e. you will not automatically like everything your significant other likes) while still writing about that unusual, extraordinary connection between two people.

Does this make sense? Any thoughts to add? Comment below!

-Bea

This is me listening to Cole:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Book to Movie: Fail Boats and Triumph Taxis

Mostly, I do not like book to movie adaptations. Or rather, I like them, but they rarely do the original book justice. Honestly? I don't think the Harry Potter movies are as good as they could be. But only because they don't have that special magic (too much? too corny?) that the books have. I love them in their own way, and look forward to them, and squeal at the previews (and Tom Felton...should I not admit that?), but they're just not in the same league. I have to enjoy them as separate from the books, and that makes the movies fun. Alternatively, the Twilight movies haven't particularly let me down, but I think that's because I wasn't particularly invested in it anyway.

But I don't actually want to talk about all the crap that doesn't live up to my expectations or doesn't please me in some way: I'm actually here to talk about something awesome. Because Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging does total justice to the original Georgia Nicholson series. In fact, I might like the series better for it. The girl who plays Georgia (fortuitously, her name is Georgia Groome) is hilarious and wonderful--in the books, Georgia sometimes wore on my nerves, but this girl is so immanently likeable and really embodies all the best parts of the book character. Also, it was directed by Gurinder Chadha, who did Bend it Like Beckham. So it also had that going for it. Instead of being sloppily cast/written/filmed (as it seems more movies are wont to be), this was true to the books and genuinely hilarious with excellent acting and writing. There is also a priceless scene where Georgia's friend Jas does a spot-on impression of Keira Knightley. I rewound it just to watch it twice. It was so satisfying because it stayed true to the tone and characters of the series, but also condensed it into a highly entertaining 90 minutes without leaving out any necessary bits.

This is Georgia Groome and Aaron Johnson, who played Robbie the Sex God. (And also was in Kickass, apparently, but I don't care so much about that):




Are there any book-to-movie adaptations that have blown you away with how good they are?

Also, can we get this Triumph Taxi thing going? We need to counter-balance all the fail boating in the world.

-Bea

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau Banks (2008) by E. Lockhart

Back Jacket

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14: Debate club. Her father's "bunny rabbit." A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15: A knockout figure. A sharp tongue. A chip on her shoulder. And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks: No longer the kind of girl to take "no" for an answer. Especially when "no" means she's excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society. Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places. Not when she knows she's smarter than any of them. When she knows Matthew's lying to her. And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16: Possibly a criminal mastermind. This is the story of how she got that way.

Review: I've read this book twice now, and let me tell you: it's even better the second time around. In fact, I liked it so much that I wrote a list of what made it good. I will now share that list with you. Before I do, though, I should perhaps share some things about myself that make me predisposed to like this book: 1) I was a debater for the first three years of college, 2) I'm a Women's Studies minor, and 3) I'm sort of in love with postmodern philosophy and critical theory. ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE IN THIS BOOK.

Characters:

Frankie: Awesome. Fifteen. Smart. Hot new bod. Her cool sister Zada is off to college, but they chat frequently.

Matthew: Cute, popular senior. Member of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, a secret all-male organization on school. Frankie's dad used to be a member, but he won't give her details because it's "secret" and "all-male." Matthew likes Frankie immediately, now that she's got her noticeable new bod. The year before, Zada had introduced them and Frankie had even eaten lunch with Matthew and his group, but he doesn't remember any of it.

Alpha: Mercurial, more-than-meets-the-eye kind of guy. One of Matthew's best friends. Met Frankie over the summer in a fleeting but memorable encounter. Which he says he doesn't remember. Also a member of the Basset Hounds.

Why it's so good:

1) Lockhart does a really good job (using Frankie as her channel) of cataloging various instances in which women are underestimated, undervalued, and intruded upon. This is evidenced in Frankie's everyday experiences with almost everyone. For example, in the opening scene, Frankie is on vacation with her family and wants to walk into town, but her mother won't let her and her uncle says it isn't a good idea. Except we learn Frankie's twelve year old (male) cousin, Paulie Jr., was allowed to go the year before without any questions. Later, her mother (who insists she does not underestimate Frankie), asks if she can carry a bowl of potatoes to the table, warning that it is "very heavy."

2) Frankie has a really interesting way of observing and noting what she sees and experiences, as though storing it for reference at a later date. I especially enjoyed a scene where she is invited to a night-time party on the golf course by Matthew. Instead of being cool and fun, it's poorly organized and mostly boring. Lockhart writes, "Although she went home that night feeling happier than she had ever been in her short life, she did not confuse the golf course party with a good party, and she did not tell herself that she had had a pleasant time. It had been, she felt, a dumb event preceded by excellent invitations. What Frankie did that was unusual was to imagine herself in control....She asked herself: If I were in charge, how could I have done it better?" (p. 85-86).

3) The emphasis on how Matthew, Alpha, and their group of friends use space. Space is intimately linked to power (those in power are given more space, use more space, invade others' space more readily, and touch others more). Lockhart hints at this relationship several times, whether it be the boys sprawling in their chairs or the way Alpha jogs across the cafeteria for butter while his plate remains on the counter, calling to the lunch lady to let him know when there's hot bacon. Which, to me, really gives the sense that he sees it as his right to use that space (and that much of it). He doesn't think twice about it. Which kind of leads into the next point.

4) Unearned privilege. There is lots of it in this book, and Frankie points it out. Her own included. Frankie mentions (several times) the doors being opened by virtue of having enough money and connections to attend Alabaster, the additional privileges the boys have just for being boys, and again the way space becomes a very real representation of this kind of thing.

5) The panopticon.* Originally designed by Jeremy Bentham as a prison, Michel Foucault took the idea and used it as a metaphor. Lockhart describes it thusly: "The architecture of Bentham's panopticon was created to allow a watchman to look at all his prisoners without the prisoners knowing whether or not they were being observed--making them feel as if they were constantly being watched by an omniscient being. In other words, everyone in the panopticon knew they could be watched at all times, so in the end, only minimal watching actually needed to happen....Michel Foucault uses the idea of the panopticon as a metaphor for Western society and its emphasis on normalization and observation. Meaning, we live our lives in places that operate like the panopticon. Schools. Hospitals. Factories. Office buildings. Even the streets of the city" (p. 53-54). Like I already said, I'm a fan of philosophy and Foucault, so to see it IN A YA BOOK blew my socks off.**



6) I should also mention that plotting, characterization, and pace were excellent. I might have made this book sound like it's theory-laden and dry and boring, but it is not. Lockhart weaves these elements in without losing any momentum or narrative feel. There's also a whole bunch more to the plot than I've gone into here. And, of course, there are other aspects of the book that I like, but this review is too long even for me at this point.

Conclusion: 5/5. Absorbing, exciting, and thoughtful, this book is one that gets better each time I read it. Frankie is one of the best female protagonists I've read in a long time. I love that it gets into issues like gender, feminism, power, and philosophy while remaining a fun read with dynamic characters.

-Bea


* This is an approximation of the panopticon design:









**Actually, my socks stayed on my feet. But, you know.

FTC: Bought it myself. No relationship to author/publisher/distributors.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Review: Summers at Castle Auburn


Summers at Castle Auburn (2001) by Sharon Shinn


Back Jacket:
She was a girl...with a talent for witchcraft and a taste for adventure. The illegitimate child of a royal lord, she longed for a man who could never be hers. And she lived for her summers at Castle Auburn. She is a woman...who has grown accustomed to standing alone. What she once loved, she has lost. Where she once saw joy, she now sees terrible injustice. And at the castle where she once lived in peace, she now walks in fear for her life.


Review:
Okay, let's be honest: the back jacket gives you no clue what this story is about. And even maybe sort of makes the book sound like a trashy medieval romance/mystery.*
But that's okay, because I'm here. Also, there's a great synopsis on Shinn's official site (third one down).

The story begins when Corie is fourteen years old. Throughout the greater part of the year, she lives with her grandmother in a small village, acting as her apprentice in potion-making and other beneficent witchery. Because she is the illegitimate child of a noble man,
Corie travels to Castle Auburn with her Uncle Jaxon every summer, unaware that those around her are prepping her for sale into an advantageous marriage. All she knows is that she loves the company of her kind and graceful half-sister, Elisandra, and Kent, the good humored cousin of the prince who always makes time for her. And then there is the prince himself: Bryan is arrogant but beautiful, and despite his flirtation with every girl at the castle and his betrothal to Elisandra, Corie can't help but fall in love with him more each time she sees him. (Bryan would be the man for whom she yearns but cannot have, as indicated by the back jacket). AND THEN there is the reserved but talented new guardsman, Roderick, who is blond and has a nice smile. So there's the romantic angle of the book, and all the important main characters.

The other angle of the book is a mixture of fantasy and politics. All the noble families hunt and capture aliora--ethereal, beautiful creatures**--shackling them with harmful metals so that they cannot escape.
At first, Corie sees nothing wrong with this: it's how things are done, and it's how households are maintained. Even working as servants, the captured aliora are kind and gentle, always ready to comfort Corie. But as each summer passes, she grows more uneasy with the arrangement and becomes appalled by the uncle she once loved, for Jaxon is the most renowned hunter in the land and he is on a mission to capture the aliora queen.

I love this book for its pacing and its characters, and the way Corie changes over time between fourteen and seventeen. Slowly but surely, she comes to see Bryan as erratic, reckless, and a frightening prospect to be king. She also comes to understand that Elisandra, who she has always thought was lucky for her betrothal to Bryan, feels trapped and devastated. As for the romance, unless you're very smart (which I am sometimes not), you won't have a CLUE how it's all going to pan out. Because there are all sorts of misunderstandings, and people not saying what they're thinking. I love how Shinn writes: Often, it's not what the characters are actually saying to one another that's exciting and romantic; it's what they're not saying. Or it's the implication of what they're saying. I like Shinn's approach to the romance because she doesn't make you wait for it, but she doesn't overdo it, either. I have several favorite scenes from this book. In this scene, Corie is fourteen and on a hunting trip with her Uncle Jaxon, Prince Bryan, Kent (the prince's cousin), Roderick (the new guardsman) and Damien (the prince's food tester). Corie left with the boys before the female chaperone who was supposed to accompany her was awake (sneaky chit!). They've come across a wide, rushing river and after two days of hot, wearying travel through the woods, are ready to play:
I hadn't exactly packed for swimming, but I was wearing a dark shirt under my man's jacket, and it hung to my knees. Modesty enough with my uncle as chaperone, don't you think, Greta? Yes, I think so, too!
I was the first one in the water, Kent and Roderick right behind me. The river was not as cold as I'd feared, so it must have lain quiet in the sun a mile or so before it raced down the falls, but it was frothy as a cauldron bubbling over the fire. It boiled past me with a delicious tickling effect, and I squealed with chill, sensation, and delight.
"Careful! Don't go too far in!" Kent shouted, splashing over beside me and spraying water everywhere. He had stripped to his breeches, and as he strove with the river, his pale chest seemed more well-muscled than I had expected. "It's probably deep farther in."
"I can swim!" I called back.
"Not in this current!" he replied.
So I was careful to go no farther than my feet could find a purchase on the sharp rocks of the riverbed. Roderick had instantly dived for a handful of those same rocks, and now he came up, his sandy hair sleeked back from his face. The sudden severity of the hairstyle threw his broad cheekbones and strong chin into relief; he looked like nothing so much as a model for good, sturdy, yeoman strength. I watched him as he began skipping rocks into the lively water. The current swallowed his first two stones on his first two throws, so he adjusted his stance and sent the next one skipping downstream, along the face of the moving river. This time the rock leapt back into the air, two times, three, four. He had got the trick of it already....
Myself, I was delighted with a chance to get clean, and I ducked under the water again and again so that my thick hair would let go of its day's store of dirt and twigs. Every time I surfaced, I found Kent nearby.
"I'm not going to drown!" I informed him over the steady roar of water. "You don't have to be ready to snatch me to safety!"
"You look so small--like the current could sweep you away!" he called back. "I'll just stand right here." (p. 33-34)


Conclusion: 4/5. This book is well paced, has plenty of plot and romance, and I've loved it and remembered it since I was about fourteen. I love the subtle humor to Shinn's writing and that Corie's emotions are very real. She makes mistakes, is playful, kind, and also torn between the many contradictions in her life. I like to re-read it every few years, and I'm so happy to finally own a copy. I mentioned before that I had to order it because the bookstores aren't stocking it anymore, but if you're interested, libraries should be able to get it pretty easily.



*Don't get me wrong; trashy romance/mysteries are great. Love 'em.

**Cate Blanchett in LOTR most readily comes to mind as an example:








P.S. You can read more excerpts on Amazon here.
P.P.S. If you like Sharon Shinn's writing, you're in luck. She's prolific! I highly recommend Jenna Starborn, a sci-fi retelling of Jane Eyre.


-Bea

FTC: No one is sending me free books. I buy them all on my own.
Also, I am not affiliated with Amazon in any way.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Update

I'm currently experiencing VERY SKETCHY internet service right now. (Meaning I broke the Internet at my parents' house and am now paying the price). So...that would be why I haven't been updating. And why I won't be updating for the next few days. I would have thought that the lack of internet would reduce me to a nervous, leaky mess somewhat like this:

But actually it's kind of given me the chance to experience Real Life and go frolicking through meadows in breezy peasant dresses. As people are wont to do. BUT! I am not just a bearer of bad news. I also bring good news: Soon to be posted will be a review of Eoin Colfer's adorable and adventuresome Middle Grade book Half-Moon Investigations and Sharon Shinn's equally adventuresome YA/Adult novel Summers at Castle Auburn. Which, incidentally, I had to ORDER SPECIALLY because it's, um, no longer in print or something. (What! I know, I don't get it. THE NINETIES WERE NOT THAT LONG AGO, YOU GUYS!!! C'est la vie).

-Bea

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review: Half-Moon Investigations



Half-Moon Investigations (2006) by Eoin Colfer

Back Jacket: Fletcher Moon has never been like other kids. For one thing, he has had to suffer the humiliating nickname "Half Moon" because of his short stature. But the real reason Fletcher is different is that ever since he was a baby, he's had a nose for sniffing out mysteries. And after graduating at the top of his Internet class, he is officially certified as the youngest detective in the world. He even has a silver-plated detective's badge to prove it. Everything is going along fine until two things happen: a classmate hires him to solve a crime, and his prized badge is stolen. All signs point to the town's most notorious crime family, the Sharkeys. As Fletcher follows the clues, evidence of a conspiracy begins to emerge. But before he can crack the case, Fletcher finds himself framed for a serious crime. To clear his name, he will have to pair up with the unlikeliest of allies and go on the run from the authorities. Fletcher has twelve hours to find the guilty party--or he is the guilty party.

Review: This book is smart, wry, and laugh-out-loud funny. It's so easy to like Fletcher, not least because of his engaging narration. Told in the first-person, Fletcher is dryly humorous, and I could easily picture him in a trench coat, hat pulled low over his brow. He pretty much swaggers around in the spirit of his P.I. idols. Kind of like Calvin's (of Calvin and Hobbes) alter ego Tracer Bullet.* For example:

My name is Moon. Fletcher Moon. And I'm a private detective. In my twelve years on this spinning ball we call Earth, I've seen a lot of things normal people never see. I've seen lunch boxes stripped of everything except fruit. I've seen counterfeit homework networks that operated in five counties, and I've seen truckloads of candy taken from babies. I thought I'd seen it all. I had paid so many visits to the gutter looking for lost valentines, that I thought nothing could shock me. After all, when you've come face-to-face with the dark side of the school yard, life doesn't hold many surprises.

So, basically Fletcher is adorable. But readers will also learn that while he talks like he could be a P.I. in a small, smoky office, he is also a twelve year old dealing with regular Twelve Year Old Stuff. Like his parents, going to school, and trying to make friends. Which relates to the other great thing about this book: the side characters really have vim. Take, for example, Fletcher's older sister Hazel, who practices her own scripts into the wee hours of the morning and is basically a cynical fifteen year old WHO IS AWESOME. Also, every other character including Red and April. And of course, it doesn't hurt that the plot is fast-paced, with the puzzle pieces falling into place for the reader at just the right pace.

Conclusion: 4/5 Eoin Colfer has a magical way with characters, words, and voice. I distinctly remember laughing out loud in several spots, as did my sister. (We took turns reading aloud; sometimes it's the best way to enjoy a book). I can't say for certain whether I would re-read this book (it's hard to do with mysteries) but the buoyant joy of the experience is enough to earn it a 4.



*Calvin and Hobbes is probably my most favorite comic strip. Also, Bill Watterson's birthday was July 5th! Happy Birthday. Here, here, and here are Watterson's strips of Calvin as Tracer Bullet.

-Bea

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rapunzel, Rapunzel: This Isn't Your Story Anymore, Okay?

Let me be up front: This is a rant.

I found out sometime last year (early this year? who knows) that Disney was working on a Rapunzel movie. Which, you know, I'm almost always down for animated kid movies so I'm sure that this one will be no exception. (But let's admit, the original story is WAY CREEPY and I don't like to think about it).

Anyway, there's been some controversy because they've changed the title from Rapunzel to Tangled. Which I don't like that much, but when I found out that they did it so the movie would be more appealing to boys, it irked me even more. And THEN I read that they expanded the male role so that, um, he's KIND OF THE MAIN CHARACTER. Here's the trailer:



I mean, okay, he's portrayed as a lovable, cocky thief (and who doesn't love some of that, amirite?) but the notion that somehow anything girly about the movie has to be eradicated so that it's commercially feasible makes me mad. Because here's the thing: girls and women read Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and no one says that the male lead alienates or excludes women. But to have a female lead? Boys shouldn't have to put up with that! The injustice. I guess some of this was in response to the fact that The Frog Princess didn't make as much money as Disney had hoped.

I'm not saying we should force men into watching things they're not interested in. But the fact is that men are treated as the norm and (as Simone de Beauvoir wrote) women are still the second sex. Somehow, men are "people," but women are "women." A lot of times, women and girls are erased or made secondary in media because producers and corporations (helmed by old white men) argue that "women stories" will alienate/disinterest half the population (less than half the population, if we're being accurate) and that females don't consume in a way that's as profitable for the company. But, um, hello: Twilight is this insanely popular, profitable, money-machine that is basically fueled entirely by female consumers. So obviously women are legitimate consumers/fans that can drive a franchise into record breaking popularity without the help of male consumers. Oh, but wait: as soon as women like something, it's ridiculed. It's like, "Can you believe the crazy crap all these frenzied hens like?"(Read this post about it for more analysis. It talks about how female fans are held in contempt as stupid "uber-consumers" while men are seen as resisting the mainstream by being fans).

Thoughts? Agree or disagree, I love discussions about these kinds of topics.

More relevant articles can be found here, here, and here.

Notes

1) Yes, I am a feminist (which I think people know already and are not scandalized by this)
2) No, man-hating is not a part of that. But the way our system privileges and legitimizes men's experiences/opinions/representation over women's is problematic.