Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book #87: The House of the Scorpion

Book #87: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
5/5 stars

Does anyone else remember reading this book in middle school? I certainly did when my YA lit professor showed it to us in class, but I didn't remember much about it other than that it was a sci fi novel, and one of the few of this genre I had read as a kid. Published in 2002, House of the Scorpion captivated me as a young reader, and then again 10 years later as an adult. That's the sign of a good novel!

The novel is set in the country of Opium, land located between Mexico and the United States. Opium is run by powerful, greedy drug lords who grow, you guessed it, opium, and sell it for obscene amounts of money. The drug lords "employ" would-be illegal immigrants trying to cross the border to or from the United States and Mexico who have to cut through Opium to get where they're going. Those who are caught (and most are), are turned into "eejits", who are basically turned into zombies who only have the capacity to do a specific simple job or two. One of the most famous and powerful drug lords and owner of countless eejits is a man called El Patron, who is well over 100 years old. However, he's not who the story is about.

The House of the Scorpion is about Matt, El Patron's young clone. He grows up with one of El Patron's servants for a time, Celia, who becomes a mother to him, but also shelters him excessively. Finally, around the age of six, Matt experiences the outside world and finds that it is cruel to him, because he's a clone, he's "different". Yet, when Matt meets El Patron, everything changes for him. The man loves him, as he is a vain man who sees in Matt a chance to give his clone the life he never had as a youth. However, most people still treat Matt with disrespect and disgust when El Patron isn't around.

Things start to change as Matt grows up. He falls for a human girl, but struggles with the fact that he is a clone, and therefore lesser. He finds a secret passage through the house and begins to learn the secrets of El Patron and his family and "friends". And finally, when El Patron is in the poorest health of his long life to date, Matt starts to realize the reasons behind his existence, and tries to escape the darkness of Opium.

Even from there, Matt goes through even more adventures and such, but I can't give it all away. Guess you'll just have to read and find out! =) The novel was quite suspenseful, and the science fiction element was not as strong as one might think when dealing with clones and such. The novel had about as much sci fi as The Hunger Games if that helps put things in perspective. So it was interesting, but not too much science fiction for those of you like me who like "softer" sci fi. Because of the location of the setting, there were elements of Spanish in the novel, which some readers might find interesting as well. I think any reader would enjoy the quick paced action interspersed with touching relationships. It was a great novel to read 10 years ago, and great to relieve again with a new perspective. Fun fact: In researching this book, I found out that Farmer will be releasing a sequel to this novel called The Lord of Opium in Fall 2013! So I guess that gives you until then to get a hold of The House of the Scorpion and find out what becomes of Matt.

What I'm reading now...

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (classic)

2. How They Met, and Other Stories by David Levithan (YA short stories)

3. Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott (mystery)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book #84: An Abundance of Katherines

Book #84: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
4/5 stars

Yes, another John Green novel! Gah I love this man. If you haven't read one of his novels yet...really...what are you doing with your life? Go to your local bookstore, library, anything, and find one of his novels asap. He will change your life. =)This is the fourth book I have read by Green out of his five currently published novels. It was not my favorite of his (The Fault in Our Stars was), but it was still an enjoyable read nonetheless. Once again, Green introduces quirky, unique characters that make him stand out, not only in the YA world, but overall as a great author.

The story follows Colin, a recent high school graduate, and child prodigy, though not a genius (yes, there is a difference!). In order to become a genius, and give his life a little more meaning, he is searching for a "Eureka!" moment, that will change everything. Oh, and another quirk: he only dates girls named Katherine. Not Katie, and definitely not Catherine, only Katherine. As of his latest breakup, he has dated 19 girls named Katherine. And they have all dumped him.

Reeling from his most recent breakup, Colin agrees to go on a road trip with Hassan, his funny, Muslim best friend who is just a little obsessed with Judge Judy. Talk about quirky. However, their road trip is cut short when they encounter Lindsay Lee Wells in Gutshot, Tennessee, also known as the middle of nowhere. The boys soon become friends with Lindsay, and are offered summer jobs working for her mother, Hollis. As Colin starts to become attracted to Lindsay, he struggles with the fact that not only is she dating a jerk also named Colin, but that she is not a Katherine. This leads him to a "Eureka!" moment, that causes him to spend his summer trying to come up with a theorem that explains his relationships with Katherines, and people's relationships in general. But their summer (and the novel) doesn't spend its entirety involved with the Theorem, no worries. The three friends get up to plenty of adventures, including hunting wild hogs, and interviewing all kinds of crazy characters to learn about their lives in Gutshot.

The Theorem is probably what caused me to not love this particular novel as much as Green's others, but it was still in Green's own class, so different from other YA novels. The characters are unpredictable, strange, and lovable, and the plots are different, often hilarious, and heartfelt. I admire Green for exploring such a different idea in this novel, while still maintaining his recognizable style. If you haven't experienced John Green's work yet, I'd suggest starting with his first novel, Looking for Alaska, but definitely take the time to check this one out as well for a light, funny story about a crazy group of friends and their unpredictable summer.

What I'm reading now...

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (classic)

2. How They Met, and Other Stories by David Levithan (YA short stories)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book #83: My Point...And I Do Have One

Book #83: My Point...And I Do Have One by Ellen DeGeneres
4/5 stars

As a huge lover of Ellen and all that she stands for, I've decided to read all of her books (I believe there are three to date), and I figured why not start with the earliest one. As you can tell from the cover, it's a bit dated. It was published in 1996! However, her humor still resonates and it was a hilarious experience reading this book. And, it's actually non-fiction believe it or not! And I rarely read non-fiction, but this is the type of non-fiction that I could actually enjoy. =)

Contrary to my original belief upon picking up this book, it is not an actual memoir. It pretends to be one, but upon reading it you come to find out that it's a hilarious comedy sketch that spans 224 pages, telling "true stories" from Ellen's life. To get a feel for the tone of the book, here's an excerpt from the beginning:

Dear Reader,
I was awfully excited when I was asked to write a book. I was however, nervous. I was afraid I didn’t have anything important to say. But when I began writing, I realized that although I don’t know a lot about any one thing, I know a little about a whole bunch of things: baking a pie; dancing; curing the common cold; running the Iditarod–it’s all in the book. And I realized I notice things that maybe some people don’t notice (or they don’t notice that they don’t notice). That’s all in the book, too.

This is just a small sampling of the randomness presented in Ellen's book. The chapters have wacky titles, and they each explore a different idea presented in Ellen's comedic, ridiculous voice. I could almost hear her in my mind saying what was written because it was written like she talks on her show. Ellen looks at how we act in elevators, fashion trends, how to explain the birds and the bees to kids, and gives her recipe for her favorite Real Frenchy French Toast. 

This book was unlike anything I had read before; it was almost like attending one of Ellen's comedy shows, with all the randomness and laughs you would expect from her. It was a quick, light read, and great for people like me who are not normally non-fiction fans. I'm looking forward to reading her other two books, and will be sure to review those as well!

What I'm reading now...

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (classic)
2. Matched by Ally Condie (YA dystopian fiction)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book #82: Change of Heart

Book #82: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
5/5 stars

Once again, Jodi Picoult delivers in her 2007 novel that tackles tough subjects such as religion and the death penalty. If you aren't hooked on her novels yet, what are you waiting for?!

June, a woman who has suffered the loss of a husband and child gets no break, when her remaining child, who never got the chance to meet her father, is growing weaker by the day. Her daughter is desperately in need of a heart transplant, yet she is racing against time, as she comes closer to death every day that she waits for a donor. Meanwhile, Shay, the murderer of June's husband and first daughter resides in jail, as the first death row prisoner in New Hampshire in over 60 years. He is simply waiting to die, having lost all of his appeals.

However, things start to change in the jail, and people start to wonder if Shay is not in fact a bad person, but perhaps a Messiah. Shay even has a priest who was on the jury that convicted him doubting whether he was truly guilty. Yet Shay is also in a battle with time, as his life is drawing to a close, in a very different way than June's daughter. He finds a chance for salvation before death, but it involves the cooperation of June, who is having an understandably difficult time in life, and who is not receptive to helping the man who screwed everything up for her.

I wish I could say more, but what I love about Jodi Picoult is that her novels include so many twists and so much suspense, up until the very last page. What I can say is that this novel poses some deep questions about organized religion and the death penalty. It really made me think, and I wanted to talk to everyone about the book because it has some great discussion points. The novel is told from four different viewpoints: June's, Father Michael's (the priest previously mentioned), Lucius's (a fellow inmate of Shay's), and Maggie's (a lawyer who becomes involved with Shay's case). The changing narration makes the story move quickly and offers different ways of looking at the intense situations presented. Plus, it helps keep the suspense of, something that Picoult has mastered.

I am a lover of all of Picoult's novels, and Change of Heart was certainly no exception. I love that she stares controversial subjects right in the face, and clearly does her research, in this and all of her novels, making them so much more realistic. This would be a great novel for a book club, or just to read on your own...just make sure to find me or someone else who has read it when you're finished, because there's so much to discuss! Happy reading =)

What I'm reading now...

1. White Swan, Black Swan: Stories by Adrienne Sharp (short stories)

2. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (YA Science Fiction)
3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (classic)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book #81: The Giver

Book #81: The Giver by Lois Lowry
5/5 stars

Somehow during my middle school career I missed out on reading this classic by Lois Lowry: The Giver. However, after reading it I'm glad that I read it for the first time as an adult, rather than an ignorant fifth or sixth grade student. I don't think that young middle school students are at the level of understanding that this book requires. Though they can understand the language, this as one of the earlier dystopian novels is better for older middle school readers, even high school and adult readers. While some people that I've talked to remember hating the novel as a child, as an adult, I thought it was wonderful.

I didn't know much about the novel before beginning it. I just remembered some of my peers reading it when I was young, and that there was an old man on the cover. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a dystopian novel, from way before The Hunger Games was thought of. It presents the society first as a seemingly utopian one, where everything is perfect and everyone is content. The society has become less and less diverse, and proclaims "Sameness", which erases basically all emotion and individuality. People seem robotic, apologizing for wrongdoings in a specific way with a robotic forgiveness automatically given. Families share their dreams each morning, dissecting one another's dreams until everything is rationalized. Each year for twelve years, children partake in a ceremony in which they are acknowledged as being one year older and receive something to show everyone that they are a specific age. For example, one reaching a certain year, children receive bicycles.

Jonas is reaching his twelfth year, in which he will be assigned the job that will define his adult life. He isn't sure what he wants to do or where he will be assigned, but he is shocked to learn that he will be the next Receiver. This is a job that is chosen very rarely, because there is only one Receiver at a time, and a new one is hard to choose because it is a demanding job that requires specific traits in a person. Jonas goes to train with the current Receiver who will be retiring once Jonas is ready to take over. He asks Jonas to call him "The Giver", and he begins to share with Jonas with secrets and burdens of their "utopia." His training is not easy, and it makes Jonas wonder about why the world is the way it is, and what happened to all of the things that the Giver shares with him, such as feelings, especially love, and other parts of the way life once was.

This novel was a quick read and a fantastic one! Though dystopian literature has exploded since The Hunger Games, this novel was published in the early 1990s, and Lowry was probably one of the founders of many of the ideas present in current dystopian lit, even in The Hunger Games. The idea of this society is fascinating, and he parts of our current lives that this futuristic society as chosen to do away with are interesting to consider. Can you imagine life without feeling? No love or hate, not even the feelings of being hot or cold. The Giver presents a strange community that is supposedly perfect, but in fact they seem to be living in ignorance, which is only questioned by Jonas and the Giver. The ideas are deep, yet the novel reads quickly and isn't difficult at all. Whether you read this novel as a kid or, like me, missed out, give it a try, whether it'll be your first or second time reading it. It's a wonderful, well-written novel that really made me think. From what I've heard, there are three subsequent novels after this, the most recent having just been published, but be aware that they are not sequels, but companion novels. This means, as far as I know, that you won't see Jonas after this novel. But I still plan on reading the other novels, and I'll be sure to share what I think. Happy reading!

What I'm reading now...

1. White Swan, Black Swan: Stories by Adrienne Sharp (short stories)

2. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (YA science fiction - sequel to The Maze Runner)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book #80: Boy Toy

Book #80: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
5/5 stars

This was quite the controversial YA novel in my YA Lit class this past semester, so I'm interested to see what other readers will think about it! I will warn that it is not for everyone as it deals with a mature subject matter: a relationship between a teacher and student. As you might have been able to tell from my reviews on Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls and Patricia McCormick's Sold, to name a few, I love reading YA novels that deal with tough subject matters, and this novel fits right into that category.

Josh is now eighteen, and still haunted by memories of Eve, his seventh grade history teacher with whom he once had a sexual relationship. Since then, she has been found out and put in jail, and Josh has been seeing a therapist. However, he is not "back to normal" by this point. He often experiences what he calls "flickers", which are memories of his time spent with Eve that make him appear zoned out to those around him, and he hasn't really dated since his time with his teacher, because he feels uncomfortable about being with girls in that way, not because they're actually his age, but because he hasn't ever learned how to properly date a woman. As he is approaching gradation and trying to deal with his past, he finds out that Eve has been released on parole for good behavior. This opens the gates to all of his suppressed and unsuppressed memories of when he was twelve years old and was manipulated by his teacher.

The novel flashes back to the time when Eve, then twenty-six, and Josh first met as teacher and student, and follows the progression of their relationship, up until her arrest and trial. I will warn that this does get graphic at times, and is hard to stomach at points, but you have to get through it to finish the story, and I couldn't put it down because I wanted to find out what happened to Josh. You can be comforted by that fact that you know that it stops eventually, that Eve is caught and punished. Eventually, the novel gets back to the present, and though I won't give anything away, I will say that it continues to follow Josh at eighteen through the end of his senior year, focusing on where he's at now, and where he's going.

This novel definitely didn't shy away from the controversial, and I admire that the author took risks. Not many will write about such a topic, and Josh's voice at twelve and eighteen was believable and the difference in Josh over time was clear. The author was able to explore a dark subject without making me too uncomfortable to go on, yet not shying away from risks. The novel sparked some great conversations in my class, and everyone who read it was made uncomfortable by it at some point, yet did not regret reading it, because it's a really great novel. When it ended, I felt satisfied with the ending and where the characters were at. It felt real, and that's a sign of a great book.

What I'm reading now...

1. White Swan, Black Swan: Stories by Adrienne Sharp (short stories)

2. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (YA fiction)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book #79: Into the Darkest Corner

Book #79: Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
5/5 stars

Happy New Year everyone! For those who found my blog a little later, yes I am trying to read 100 books in a year, but I wasn't smart enough to come up with the idea last January! Therefore, I still have until March 1 to finish my 100 books, and since I recently finished #83, I think I can do it! And something else little before I get to the review...just for fun, as a new little feature I've decided to add at the bottom of my posts a list of what I'm currently reading so you can get a feel for what's coming up in the blog. Sometimes it'll just be one title, sometimes more than one, as I like variety, depending on my mood. =)

Alright, so now...this book is one that I teased out on my Facebook a few week ago, describing it as one of the most terrifying novels I've ever read! This novel was recommended to me by a friend, who warned that it kept her up at night, but that only intrigued me. =) This is the debut novel of a British police intelligence analyst turned author, so it includes some frightening situations that the author may have pulled from her own job, and they are played out in realistic, terrifying ways.

The novel begins with a trial transcript from 2005, in which Lee is on the stand, testifying that Catherine is basically crazy, and that he did nothing wrong, but ends with a cross-examination that leaves the reader doubtful and confused. The novel then flashes back and forth between 2007 (the present), and 2003, in the life of Catherine Bailey. In 2003, she seems to be a healthy, fun-loving young woman who doesn't necessarily lead the safest life, but is enjoying herself. But in 2007, it seems as though we are looking at a different character, because Catherine has developed a debilitating form of OCD and some definite paranoia, that does not allow her to have close relationships, and forces her to spend hours checking that various parts of her apartment are secure. When a nice man moves into the apartment upstairs, Catherine struggles with her feelings for him, as he seems safe and friendly, but she cannot let go of her past. Just when life seems to be taking a turn for the better, Catherine gets a phone call that changes everything.

We come to find out through the flashbacks to 2003, leading up to the present, the reason that Catherine has so changed: Lee. Catherine's relationship with Lee starts out great, but the reader is on his or her guard because of the court transcript from the beginning, and the obvious change in Catherine just a few years later. It turns out (and don't worry, this isn't a spoiler!) that Lee is not the perfect man that he originally seemed to be, and Catherine becomes more and more frightened of him, yet can't seem to shake him from her life. The entire story is later revealed, and the suspense is insane!

It's so hard to describe this novel without giving all of the good stuff away, so I guess you'll just have to read it! What I can tell you is that despite the length of this novel (416 pages), it was a quick and seriously chilling read, up until the final page, which left me shivering. This book is not for everyone; I will warn that there are some very graphic scenes that not every reader may be able to stomach, so make sure you can handle it before you start this book, because once you begin it, you won't be able to put it down! It is absolutely the best suspense/psychological thriller novel I've read in a long time, maybe ever. I would love to talk about it with someone, so if you decide to read this book let me know, because so far no one I know has been brave enough to try it! Happy reading =)

What I'm reading now...

1. Cutting and the Pedagogy of Self-Disclosure by Jeff Berman and Patricia Hatch Wallace (nonfiction)

2. White Swan, Black Swan: Stories by Adrienne Sharp (short stories)

3. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (YA fiction)