Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

Confession: I somehow made it to age 25 without ever reading "Pride and Prejudice." My high school was swapping around English curricula when I was a Sophomore/Junior, which meant I missed the staples of English fiction - no Austen, no Dickens. The more remarkable fact is that I also made it to age 25 without being even remotely spoiled for what the book was about. All I knew was that there was a character named Lizzie Bennet (thanks to press on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries), another character named Darcy, and I guessed they probably ended up together. That was it.

When two dear, book-loving friends discovered this, they were appropriately shocked. And promised that if I read the book this summer, they would reward me with a book chat over tea. I was in. I dug my copy and dug in.

It's a good thing I waited on this book. High-school-Nicole was super into fantasy, science fiction, and current literary fiction. Not so much into 19th-century prose. Even when I sat down to read this a few weeks ago, I was frustrated by how long it took me to get through a page. Plus, the character names are confusing - you can call the same person by his first name, last name, or the land he owns. Headaches ensued.

But once I got past all that - or, more accurately, gave up and checked out the audiobook - the charm and wit of the novel carried me pleasantly through. Austen is a master of capturing the dozens of little ways people snipe and snark at, gossip about, and generally interact with each other. The behavior of her characters rings true and even feels familiar over 200 years later. Circumstances may have changed, but as social beings, we still relate to each other in many of the same basic ways as her characters in this novel.

I'm excited to read the rest of Austen's cannon, and super excited to finally read/watch all of the adaptations. I marathoned "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," and am waiting for Kyle to finish reading "Pride and Prejudice" himself so we can start comparing adaptations. If you have a favorite, definitely let me know!

Verdict: Affirmed, it's a classic for a reason.

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. Originally published January 28, 1813. Audio narration by Carolyn Seymour, published March 10, 2005 by Blackstone Audio.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Where She Went" By Gayle Forman

I checked this out on Overdrive almost immediately after finishing "If I Stay." Somewhat surprisingly, I enjoyed this sequel to  even more than the original.

The novel picks up about three and a half years after the car crash and subsequent events in "If I Stay," and is told from Adam's point of view, which I wasn't expecting.

Adam is now a rock star with Shooting Star, his same band that was on the verge of breaking out in "If I Stay." But the group's dynamics have completely shifted from the close-knit, supportive group we glimpsed in "If I Stay." Isolated and shut out from the group, hunted by paparazzi hoping to get a shot of him and his movie star girlfriend, it's no wonder Adam is on the verge of a breakdown, even as Shooting Star is currently the biggest act in music.

Adam is dreading the start of a 67-day tour with his band, to whom he no longer speakers, nor even stays in the same hotel. As he checks off his to-do list in New York City before the show starts, he encounters something that makes him recall Mia. He now has new plans for how he will spend his dwindling time before the tour starts. I don't want to say more on the plot, to avoid spoilers for both this and "If I Stay."

Forman uses the same narrative structure that I found so intriguing in "If I Stay." She sets the story in just a brief day or two, but tells the tale of all that came before through flashbacks, grouped thematically, rather than chronologically. She packs big emotional punches through those flashbacks, both happy and sad. The story and the structure still feel fresh, and this title was every bit as engaging in the first, without the coma-ghost weirdness lurking around.

Verdict: Affirmed, though you'll need to read "If I Stay" to fully grasp this sequel.

"Where She Went" by Gayle Forman, published on April 5, 2011 by Dutton Juvenile. Audio narration by Dan Bittner, published on April 5, 2011 by Penguin Audio.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)" by Felicia Day

I'm not sure exactly when I became a fan of Felicia Day. When I started watching "The Guild," I already knew Day as one of the Potentials on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." She then went on to star in "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and to create the YouTube channel Geek & Sundry (which introduced me to Sword & Laser, my first & favorite online book club/podcast!)

If that blurb wasn't clear, Felicia Day is enormously accomplished. A pioneering web creator, she also graduated from UT Austin with dual degrees in math and music at only 19. She's also smart, funny, and charming in her many, many, many YouTube videos. So I was excited to read her memoir about how this home-schooled violin prodigy became an actress & general internet superstar.

The book starts about as I expected. Quirky stories told with Day's self-deprecating humor. It bounces from topic to topic a bit. Day's career has happened all at once. She seems to have her hands in a bunch of really cool projects at once, and the book is separated into chapters by project, rather than time. It makes it easier to follow, but a does make it a bit difficult to figure out just how much she was actually doing all at once (which was a lot!). If I'm nit-picking, I could've used fewer ALL-CAPS SENTENCES, and would have liked to see a paragraph or two on her time on Buffy, but on the whole I enjoyed it.

The last three chapters, though, really pushed this book from a solid three-star that I'd recommend to Day's fans, to an incredible memoir that I'll recommend widely. Day talks honestly about her struggles with depression, anxiety, and physical health problems at the height of her success. She admits to several bouts of crippling mental health struggles, and how difficult it was to overcome them. Her last chapter on GamerGate describes the frustration, anger, and even danger that comes with being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated corner of the Internet. The raw honesty with which she describes her struggles is inspiring and empowering.

Verdict: Affirmed. Prior to reading this memoir, I knew only of Day's immense success as a creator and actress. In "Never Weird" she lets her fans see her failures, and her success shines all the more brightly for it.

"You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)" by Felicia Day, published August 11, 2015 by Touchstone

Thursday, August 13, 2015

"If I Stay" by Gayle Forman

I checked out this audiobook while browsing for something to fill my dog-waking time. I recognized the title from bookstagram, where dozens of the instagram-ers I follow had been raving about it. I went in blind & deeply appreciated what the author managed to achieve.

Mia is an incredible cellist, born to punk-rock parents and dating a budding alt rock musician. She's at a crossroads as she wraps up her final year of high school and faces decisions about her future, her music, and her relationships. Those are all put in a starkly different light when she is gravely injured in a car accident with her family. Now she must decide if she should continue living or move on to whatever comes next.

It's a different approach for a high school coming-of-age story. Mia does spend a lot of time reflecting on her current predicament, but this often leads to flashbacks where she recalls scenes from her relationships with various characters. How she met her best friend, how she began dating Adam, when her younger brother was born, what it was like growing up among her parents' punk rock friends. Telling her life's story out of chronological order, and instead grouped by relationship is unique, and I'm impressed with how well Forman pulled it off. She is able to distill the essential qualities of each relationship, and demonstrate how they've shaped the person Mia has become.

I can't say the ending was too surprising, but it fit nicely with the rest of the novel. I was surprised to see that Forman wrote a sequel, as I felt everything was tied up nicely in this single volume. I'm curious enough to continue on, though! Kirsten Potter's audio narration was on point, and I hope she continues to narrate the next volume(s) in the series.

Verdict: Affirmed for fans of YA who want to see something structured a little differently.

"If I Stay" by Gayle Forman, published April 2, 2009 by Dutton Books for Young Readers. Audio narration by Kirsten Potter, published July 31, 2014 by Listening Library.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass (Pt. 1)

This series was one of my dog walking picks. Light enough to follow while half of my attention is on the dog, but interesting enough to make the time pass a bit more quickly. The series has it's hits and misses, but it's interesting enough that I saw it through. The audio narration is also excellent, so if that's your medium of choice, I definitely recommend it.

The first novel, "The Selection," lays the groundwork for the world-building. We're in a future America, renamed Illea after some political shifts and developments explored over the course of the series. Society is organized into a strict caste system, and one of the few ways of moving castes is by marriage. America Singer, a lowly Five (out of eight castes) is chosen for the Selection, a Bachelor-like dating competition to marry Crown Prince Maxon. Like many YA novels, the love triangle is completed by America's beau from home, the Six, Aspen. Once America arrives at the castle for the Selection, she gets to know the prince she never thought she'd be interested in, and learns more about her country as rebels seek to break into the castle.

The love triangle is predictable to anyone who's read more than a couple YA novels of this type. But the world-building and rebel plot lines kept me intrigued enough to continue the series. You can't read the description of the book without knowing you're getting into a YA romance, but if you accept it for what it is, this is a fun read.

I liked the first enough to continue on to the second, "The Elite." It can hardly be considered a spoiler that America continues past the first round of the competition, seeing as "The Selection" is the first in the series, and, as I've already mentioned, the romance plotlines are extremely predictable. As I mentioned in my Goodreads review, the second novel expands on both the positive and negative aspects of the first. The romance plots are even more frustrating, with excruciating miscommunication and changes of heart that will give you whiplash. But we also learn more about the rebels, how Illea came to be, and the ways in which the history of the country has possibly been covered up.

I have my name on the wait lists for the third and fourth books in the series, and am looking forward to continuing. While waiting, I checked out "The Selection Stories: The Prince & The Guard." This was a colossal mistake. While I cautiously recommend the main series to general YA fans who don't mind (or even enjoy) a love triangle amid their revolutions, these side stories did nothing for me. They actually made me dislike Maxon and Aspen even more. The stories are just different pieces of the main story told from side characters' points of view. Yet their motives and thoughts were not compelling, and at times a bit infuriating. After listening,I could only think wonder why anyone would fall in love with either of these two. I turned off "The Queen" after listening to about one quarter of it.

Verdict: Jury's Out on the main series - if you're into YA dystopia, and don't mind a love triangle, this is a solid choice. It doesn't cross over well to mainstream readers, though. The short stories are dismissed - not worth it unless you're the most intense of fans who needs to know everything about the series.

The Selection series by Kiera Cass, published by HarperTeen. Audio narration by Amy Rubinate for "The Selection" and "The Elite," and by Amy Rubinate, Nick Podehl, and Tristan Morris for "The Selection Stories: The Prince & The Guard."