Monday, August 30, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

"Knock, knock!" "Who's there?" "SPOILERS."
"...Spoilers who?"

(That completely obnoxious "joke" is meant to tell you that there are going to be spoilers from the first two Hunger Games books.)

Previously on The Hunger Games, there was the Capitol. The Capitol is the controlling city of Panem, which was formerly North America. People in the Capitol are incredible consumers. They are shallow and easily manipulated. The Capitol rules over the 12 districts. Most district people are poor and on the brink of starvation. Their children have been forced to kill each other at the Hunger Games for the amusement of the Capitol. Finally, the districts realize that they cannot allow this anymore. They have to put an end to the Capitol's power. They have to fight back. This time, they have to win.

Katniss Everdeen won the Hunger Games. People fell in love with her and her fake/maybe not romance with Peeta Mellark. During the Quarter Quell in Catching Fire, Katniss was taken from the arena by a hovercraft from District 13. District 13 was said to have been completely obliterated by the Capitol. However, all that was simply propaganda. The district simply went underground, building an entire civilization. Unfortunately, District 13 was not able to rescue Peeta. He was taken by the Capitol.

Because she is so recognizable, Katniss is asked to be the face of the resistance. Katniss will be the mockingjay (A hybrid of jabberjays and mockingbirds, symbol of resistance). She films messages for the Districts and the Capitol. At the same time, the Capitol is filming Peeta. He is urging both sides to stop fighting, fearing the great loss of life. Katniss knows that the Capitol is abusing Peeta. President Snow is keeping him alive because Peeta is the one way to get to her. Eventually, District 13 sends a rescue team for Peeta. What they bring back is just tragic. I was sobbing during all these scenes, sobbing just thinking about it. I'm even about to tear up now.

The love triangle gets thrown for a loop, definitely. However, there are also some changes to Gale that make it even more difficult to predict. There's also even more decisions to make in the rebellion. How far is too far to go? Does the ends justify the means? Is it really victory if it turns you into the very thing that you hate?

Mockingjay is just explosive. The entire series is fantastic, but this is just the perfect ending. It's heartbreaking, but ultimately heartening. It's also more satisfying than a million Breaking Dawns, maybe 1 1/2 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (But I still love you, J.K. Rowling!). You NEED to be reading these books right NOW.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, and Richard Isanove

The year is 1602. Elizabeth I is Queen of England, but she is fading fast. King James of Scotland is chomping at the bits to take over when she is finally gone. English colonists have settled at Roanoke in the Americas. Spain is preoccupied with their Inquisition, weeding out those in league with the Devil who would imperil the church and its people. It is a time of great miracles, wonder, and changes. The most unsettling of these changes are the lightning storms. Although nobody is sure exactly what is the cause or the outcome, they are fairly certain it means the end of the world.

There is an object harbored by the Knights Templar, an object of incredible power. This object could be powerful enough to save the world. Head of intelligence Sir Nicholas Fury hires a man, the blind minstrel Matthew Murdoch, to fetch the object for the good side. Count Otto von Doom is trying to steal the object for less noble purposes. Doom also sends three creepy henchmen to kill Queen Elizabeth, Fury, and the young Virginia Dare. Virginia is the first child born in Roanoke. She returned to England with her bodyguard, Nativeman Rojhaz, in order to get English aid for the colony. The strange storms started in the colonies a short time after the colonists arrived...maybe when Virginia was born? Now they have followed across the sea to England.

In other parts of the country, Carlos Javier and his College for the Sons of Gentle Folk serve as a safe harbor for those who are labeled as "witchbreed." The Inquisition, namely Grand Inquisitor Enrique, have been killing as many as they can find...or have they? Once Elizabeth dies, the less-tolerant King James comes after Javier and his students, accusing them of killing the Queen. Fury and Javier have a mutual understanding, and Fury must decide whether to break Javier's trust or commit treason against his new King.

Why are all these Marvel superheroes alive over 300 years before their time? What (Or WHO) sparked the end of the world? Where can a witchbreed go to gain freedom from oppression? Why bother changing Peter Parker's name when you give him the obvious (And horrifying) moniker of Peter Parkquagh?

This was my first real attempt at a graphic novel, if you don't count the graphic novel version of The Baby-Sitters Club. Let's call that training wheels and this the big-girl bike. The mixture of classic superheroes and historical figures was creative and just plain awesome. In a nice touch, the illustrations look like woodcarvings, and I have just enough knowledge to recognize the superheroes (With a little help from the lists in the introduction and at the end of the book). My graphic novel experience was incredibly positive. I will definitely read them again in the near future.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

*Here be Hunger Games spoilers. Proceed with caution.*

At the 74th Hunger Games, the contestants were told that two tributes could win if they were from the same District. This was because the audience fell for the pairing of Katniss and Peeta. They played that angle up for the cameras to get food, water, and medicine. Once only Katniss and Peeta were left, it was announced that the old rules were back, only one could win. That's when Katniss took out the poisonous berries, both started to eat them, and suddenly they were both winners!

Katniss' moment of inspiration could be interpreted as a love-sick girl doing anything to save her boyfriend...or as an act of rebellion. The Capitol is worried that the Districts will be inspired to stage an uprising. President Snow even visits Katniss to threaten her family and force her to keep pretending to be madly in love. She tries her hardest, kisses and hugs Peeta, even gets engaged, but President Snow still doesn't believe it. Worse, as Katniss and Peeta take their victory tour, they accidentally cause innocent citizens to be killed. The more Katniss sees of the other Districts, the more she she knows how much better everything is back in District 12, a place where things kind of suck in the first place.

Unfortunately, when Katniss returns home, everything changes for the worse. There are new Peacekeepers, representatives of the Capitol who keep everyone in line. The old Peacekeepers turned their backs on the rule-breaking that was going on. Now, every indiscretion results in a whipping or time in the stocks. Katniss' other love interest and fake cousin Gale gets whipped for being caught with a dead turkey. Because Katniss and Gale won the Games, District 12 gets a monthly delivery of food. Even this is ruined, all the food sent is rotten. When the Capitol treats people this way, how can they expect anyone NOT to revolt?

On to the Capitol's biggest and best form of punishment, the Hunger Games. It's the 75th anniversary of the games, and every 25 years is known as the Quarter Quell. The Quarter Quell throws an exciting new twist into the teenagers killing each other for sport. This year, the tributes will all be selected from the victors of previous Hunger Games. That means Katniss is definitely returning to the Games with either Peeta or Haymitch (Their mentor, winner of the 50th Hunger Games). Haymitch gets picked, but Peeta volunteers in his place. Katniss feels that she owes Peeta and makes it her mission to keep him alive, even making Haymitch promise to make sure Peeta gets out alive.

Once the games start, it's business as usual, kill or be killed. Peeta and Katniss make new allies, allies chosen by Haymitch. Katniss doesn't fully understand the game that Haymitch is playing, but it ends up being far bigger than her or the Hunger Games.

Now for the big question of the Hunger Games books: Gale vs. Peeta. I personally love Peeta. He is big and clumsy. He bakes and decorates cakes. When Katniss was starving, he gave her bread. To be fair, Gale isn't featured as much as Peeta. He nobly takes care of his family and would have taken care of Prim and her mother if Katniss had died. However, Peeta is always showing total devotion to Katniss. Gale just seems to be pissy that she never wants to go out with him. Finally, he actually looks a lot like Katniss to the point that they could be related and I think that might end up being one of the twists in the next book.

Catching Fire was a great segue into Mockingjay, which I expect to be completely explosive from beginning to end. I liked the method that Suzanne Collins used to get Katniss back into the Hunger Games. When I was reading the first book, I pictured Katniss having her name called at the Reaping to participate in her 23rd Hunger Games, looking in the camera and saying, "I'm too old for this..." (Note to Suzanne Collins: If you end up expanding the trilogy or writing a 20 years in the future sequel, you can totally use that scene.) Now, I'm just excited to read Mockingjay and learn the outcomes of all my favorite characters, whether Katniss ends up choosing Gale or Peeta, finding out exactly WHAT is going on in District 13, and probably most of all hoping that there is a happy ending. I know, happy endings suck, but these are fictional people that I care about, so I want a happy ending all the same.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

So, there's a guy named Harold Winslow on this zeppelin, the Chrysalis. He's stuck there with his insane girlfriend and her father. Stuck on a zeppelin with his insane girlfriend and her dead father, who he killed and put in a freezer. Now, he is writing a memoir to tell whoever comes across the pages about the events of his life, everything leading up to what sounds like the weirdest joke ever.

When he was 10 years old, Harold visited Nickel Empire, an amusement park where everything costs a single nickel. He wanted to ride the Tornado, a giant roller coaster. Instead, he paid a nickel to climb to the top of a giant tower and was propositioned by two men. Thankfully, this proposition was just to put his future in the hands of Prospero Taligent. Taligent is the richest, most powerful man in the world, creator of the mechanical man. He is looking for children to attend the 10th birthday party of his adopted daugther Miranda. Harold will have to give away the remainder of his nickels and his hopes of riding the Tornado, but in return he will no longer have the burden of deciding his own fate.

At the party, Taligent tells all fifty children in attendance that he will grant them the one thing that they desire most in the world. They will receive this at any point in their lives. Harold gets asked back to the Taligent Tower to play with Miranda. They act out scenarios in her playroom, then one day they kiss. Taligent throws Harold out of the Tower. He has some serious issues about his daughter growing up, to an incredibly scary degree. After deciding that Miranda is impure, Taligent looks at his now adult daughter sleeping and says, "I'm going to do terrible things to you." (Shiver) Surprise, surprise, he is the one who drives Miranda insane.

Harold grows up and becomes a greeting card writer. He also becomes hard and mechanical, like the robots Taligent creates. This is indeed one of the themes of the book. There is an "age of miracles" when you are young. You can believe in things, you are the Virgin. Growing up means understanding more of the world, but understanding takes away the miracles. You become the Dynamo, the mechanical man. It's seen over and over. Flesh is weak, tin is strong. If your daughter begs for a flesh and blood unicorn for her birthday, you have the surgeons drill a hole in a horse's head right in front of her. She's got to learn sometime! Flesh will die but metal is eternal.

There is a point in the book where Harold attends a cocktail party and meets an author named Dexter Palmer. That kind of blew my mind, the idea of an author giving himself a cameo in his own book. The story jumps around a lot, showing Harold at different ages, interludes aboard the Chrysalis, journal entries from Prospero Taligent and someone called Caliban Taligent. It's all incredibly weird, but weird isn't really a bad thing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim

I loved this book. I was well over half-way through with my next read when I saw this book at the store. I was just going to read the first chapter and wait to read the rest until I finished the book I was already reading, but I stayed up until 3 a.m. reading Confessions of a Prairie Bitch. Alison Arngrim tells the story of her childhood, experiences during the filming of Little House on the Prairie and all that happened after the show.

The television stories were really my favorite part. Who doesn't love Little House on the Prairie? It's possible to watch several hours of the show every day in syndication. Reading Arngrim's stories about the set made me feel like I was privileged with top secret information. I learned that Michael Landon would wear tight pants with no underwear and drank lots of Wild Turkey. He also kept everyone on the set on a pretty short leash. His high standards didn't stop when it came to the child actors, who earned a paycheck just like all the other actors and were expected to behave as professionally as the other actors. Arngrim brags, "Cast of Little House: no arrests, no convictions." Compared to other televison shows, this was a fairly admirable statement.

Melissa Gilbert, Nellie's nemesis Laura Ingalls, was actually Arngrim's real-life bff. They had slumber parties and got accidentally drunk off of convenience store rum cakes. Melissa Sue Anderson, the goody-two-shoes Mary, on the other hand, was very stand-offish. Anderson seemed very abrupt, even kind of rude. I am seriously thinking about reading Melissa Anderson's book, The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House. It would be interesting to see things from her perspective and see if there was any explanation for her behavior. (Though, If I actually do read that, why quit without reading Melissa Gilbert's Prairie Tales? Little House Autobiography Trifecta!)

I was thoroughly enjoying Confessions of a Prairie Bitch and then I reached the parts about her molestation at the hands of her brother. It was a bit of a shock in the context of everything that I had read up to that point. Even though I know this sentiment isn't worth much, I really wish that this wouldn't have happened to her. I have nothing but respect and admiration that she survived all that and later advocated for other abused children through the National Association to Protect Children, helping to repeal laws protecting abusers in cases of incest. If that isn't awesome enough, Arngrim became an advocate for APLA (AIDS Project Los Angeles) after her close friend Steve Tracy (Husband Percival on Little House) was diagnosed with the disease. She continues to work with both organizations and more.

I loved Alison Arngrim's attitude from the very beginning of the book. A lot of celebrities take great pains to distance themselves from roles that originally made them famous. Arngrim now embraces the character as part of herself. Nellie Oleson wasn't shy and didn't take anything from anybody. Though a fictional depiction of a real-life 1800s bully, Nellie helped her portrayer to be bolder and braver, she gave her money and friends, and a means to help other people. In all honesty, Alison Arngrim is now one of my heroes and it will be difficult to dislike Nellie Oleson as much when I know the story of the person underneath the curly wig.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Presenting: nook!!!

Attention, interwebs! I have a new foster nook. As an employee of the prestigious B&N (2298, Maumee, Shops at Fallen Timbers), we get to take home a loaner nook for a few days to explore the many attributes of nook.
I had planned to ask for a nook tomorrow after my shift, but my manager offered a nook after we closed tonight, and I jumped at the chance. I had hoped to be finished with my current physical book (The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer) before borrowing nook. Instead, I decided to finish it on the nook. I love my adopted nook. I can't wait to pick which book to read next, to download music, and to upload a picture.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller

As a child, Haven Moore used to talk about a boy named Ethan. She once packed up all her dolls in the middle of the night to run away to New York. Haven's father knew something was different about his daughter, so he contacted the Ouroboros Society. They are an organization that deals with individuals who have memories and talents left over from previous lives. Deja vu, love at first sight, even special skills, all of this can be explained by reincarnation. Because of this contact, the plot of the book actually starts.

At the beginning of the book, 17-year-old Haven Moore has a pretty sucky life, even for a teenager from a small Southern town. She is under the guardianship of her super-religious grandmother, Imogene. Her father died several years earlier in a devastating car accident. Her mother, Mae, relinquished custody after a brief stay at a mental institution following her husband's death.

Haven plans to leave their small town of Snope City for New York to go to the Fashion Institute. Then her visions come back, visions of herself in a different life with a boy named Ethan. Because of the visions, Imogene decides to keep Haven at home. Haven also has to take up counseling with Dr. Tidmore, the town's reverend. After a particularly bad vision and violent reaction, Dr. Tidmore stops his sessions. Then things get even worse. During a sermon, Tidmore invites Haven and her gay best friend Beau and calls them both the Devil. Practically the entire town turns on Haven.

One day, Haven sees a picture of Iain Morrow. Iain inherited a lot of money from his parents and is being hounded by paparazzi for his alleged involvement in the disappearance and suspected murder of rock star Jeremy Johns. Haven immediately realizes that Iain Morrow is the current incarnation of Ethan Evans. After the town turns against her, Haven finally takes the initiative and runs away to New York. She plans to contact the Ouroboros Society once she gets there and use them to help her meet Ethan/Iain. Once there, however, she encounters Iain, he recognizes her, and before you know it, they are off to Rome. Still, can Haven trust Iain? He may have killed Jeremy Johns, and as Ethan, may have once killed Haven.

In their past life, Haven was named Constance Whitman. In Rome, she fell in love with a boy named Ethan. He was poor and unsuitable, but she was determined to marry him anyways. They both belonged to the Ouroboros Society, which was led by Dr. August Strickland at the time. Strickland died and surprisingly left a good deal of money to Ethan. Because of that, Ethan was suspected of killing Strickland. Constance also worried that he was cheating on her with another Society member named Rebecca. The pair later died together in a fire at Constance's house, one that Haven thinks might have been set by Ethan.

Honestly, the back and forth Haven does gets tiresome. (Can I trust him? I can't trust him! Oh, that explains it, now I trust him again! Wait, can I trust him?!? Lather, rinse, repeat.) In the end, The Eternal Ones was incredibly addictive. There was a lot of romance, but also suspense from the intrigue of a secret society and its creepy gray men lackeys. It was predictable, but teen literature is hardly Shakespeare. It's pretty good for what it is.

P.S. Thank you to Razorbill and Penguin Group for sending the advanced reader copy of The Eternal Ones to my Barnes & Noble store. Also thank you to my coworkers for being to slow in getting this and the other books I managed to grab for my Cannonball Read blog.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

When I look in the Toledo phone book under Grayson, there are three listings: D&C, K, and T&P. When I searched for Will Grayson on Facebook, there are 120 results. There are 168 for William Grayson.

What is the purpose of my search, one may ask? Mostly, I am trying to come up with a way to write about this book by seeing if the major plot is at all plausible, that plot being the meeting of two young men who happen to share the name Will Grayson. From my two seconds of research, I must conclude that the plot is somewhat feasible.

As for the fictional Will Graysons, one is a semi-loner who lives by two rules:
1. Don't care too much
2. Shut up
He is best friends with the flamboyant Tiny Cooper, a giant football player who is writing a biographical musical spectacular. This Will Grayson meets a girl named Jane. He likes Jane a lot, but also is turned off by Jane. He doesn't know what he wants.

The second will grayson does not use capitalization at all (That kind of bugged me.). will grayson is a bit acerbic. I didn't like him much at first. He hangs out with a girl named Maura who like likes him, but he doesn't like like her and doesn't have the guts to tell her. In fact, he has an internet relationship with a guy named Issac. The story really starts when will grayson and Issac arrange to meet in Chicago, at what turns out to be a porn store. This is the same porn store where Will Grayson is shopping after a mishap with a fake I.D. led to him missing a Maybe Dead Cats show. Will Grayson meets will grayson. Truths are revealed, universes collide.

will grayson was difficult to like at first. We find out that he is gay, we find out that he takes mood regulating drugs. Neither of those is a reason to dislike him. However, he has this constant attitude problem. He would get really mad at his mother for no reason, he would become convinced that Maura was spying on him or hacking into his email. Worst of all, he would get so mad when anyone tried to commiserate with him. "I'm depressed, too, sometimes" would make him incredibly angry because obviously will grayson is the most depressed one of all. What I mean to say is not that actual depression isn't a serious medical condition, but that obviously people try to say things to make you feel better or just to say something. will grayson didn't seem to understand that.

Then again, Will Grayson was weak. He figured out that he wanted Jane only after he lost her, which was kind of infuriating. I've been fascinated by Schrodinger's Cat ever since I read this article. There was a lot about that theory in this book. Maybe Dead Cats was one of the bands, Will Grayson and Jane had a whole discussion about being scared to open the box and see whether the cat is dead, the cat being their relationship. There was lots of discussion surrounding Will and his fear of opening the box to see if the cat was dead, but if you wait long enough, the cat will be dead anyways. It was cute, honest.

In the end, I loved both Will Graysons (will graysons). Will Grayson was generally likable all along, albeit annoyingly self-centered. will grayson was obviously dealing with a lot, and there were all kinds of breakthroughs and revelations that made him more sympathetic and likable. I've read lots of John Green, but I've never read any David Levithan. They partnered together really well, with Green writing the Will Grayson chapters and Levithan writing will grayson. The entire thing is well written. There are lessons to be learned, but it's not preachy. Gay characters are portrayed, but not stereotyped or exploited. Same-sex relationships have just as much awww-power as straight relationships. I really want this to be made into a movie, if only so I could see Tiny's musical in real life.