Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do rises in the ranks. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Review: Pak Jun Do is an almost-orphan living in North Korea. His ability to shift his identity to conform to the unpredictable whims of the Korean government helps him stay alive, but there is only so much that one person can take. When Jun Do’s family is put in danger, he risks his life to help them escape.

This book is beautifully written and difficult to read. Much of the story takes place in camps where prisoners are tortured and worked to death. The author doesn’t shy away from grim subjects. This is one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in a long time. Some parts of it are so realistic that it doesn’t feel like fiction.

The best part of this novel (aside from the writing) is the contrast between the government’s ridiculous propaganda and Jun Do’s struggle to survive. The reader is never quite sure what’s real because some of the characters try to put a positive spin on horrific situations. The blend of humor and horror is surreal.

Even though I can see why this book won a Pulitzer Prize, I had a difficult time getting through it. The story feels convoluted in places. There is a lot of stuff going on, and it’s sometimes slow or confusing. There were also sections where I was so bored that I found excuses not to read the book. I had to force myself to keep picking it up, especially in the beginning.

Overall, I liked the book for its writing and realism, but it wasn’t an easy (or pleasant) read. I’d recommend The Orphan Master’s Son to anybody who is interested in North Korea and isn’t afraid of dark stories.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Sunday Post #26 — I’m Back (Kind Of)

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson.
  • On Tuesday I play Life of a Blogger tag.
  • On Wednesday I review Holes by Louis Sachar.
  • On Thursday I wrap up November.
  • On Friday I pretend to write a book.

In My Reading Life

I’ve failed epically at reading this month. I’ve only read three books. Right now, I’m rereading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

In My Blogging Life

I added more blogs to the Blogs I Stalk thing. It’s over there. ----> Go check it out if you’re looking for new blogs to follow.

I don’t know how my blog is going to look over the next few weeks. I’m home, but I’m still really busy. There might be slightly fewer posts than usual.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I’m finally home.
  2. Traveling was an interesting (and intense) experience.
  3. I started my third semester of graduate school.
  4. Thanksgiving!
  5. I got a $26 book for $4.99. Winning at book shopping.

I hope you had a great week. See you around the blogosphere!

Friday, November 27, 2015

FF Friday: In Which I’m Not Broke (It’s A Holiday Miracle)

Feature & Follow is a weekly blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.

This week’s question: You have $100 to spend on books. What are you going to buy?

Answer: School takes all of my money, so having $100 to spend on non-school books would be a small miracle for me. I would want a variety of books, so I’d get 1 poetry collection, 1 nonfiction book, 2 novels, and 1 graphic novel.

Crow: From the Life and Songs of Crow – Ted Hughes

Crow was Ted Hughes's fourth book of poems for adults and a pivotal moment in his writing career. In it, he found both a structure and a persona that gave his vision a new power and coherence. The hero of Ted Hughes's Crow is a creature of mythic proportions. Ferocious, bleak, full of anarchic energy and violent comedy, Crow's story is one of the literary landmarks of our time.

Dispatches from Dystopia: Histories of Places Not Yet Forgotten – Kate Brown

In Dispatches from Dystopia, Brown wanders the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation, first on the Internet and then in person, to figure out which version—the real or the virtual—is the actual forgery. She also takes us to the basement of a hotel in Seattle to examine the personal possessions left in storage by Japanese-Americans on their way to internment camps in 1942. In Uman, Ukraine, we hide with Brown in a tree in order to witness the annual male-only Rosh Hashanah celebration of Hasidic Jews. In the Russian southern Urals, she speaks with the citizens of the small city of Kyshtym, where invisible radioactive pollutants have mysteriously blighted lives. Finally, Brown returns home to Elgin, Illinois, in the midwestern industrial rust belt to investigate the rise of “rustalgia” and the ways her formative experiences have inspired her obsession with modernist wastelands. 
Dispatches from Dystopia powerfully and movingly narrates the histories of locales that have been silenced, broken, or contaminated. In telling these previously unknown stories, Brown examines the making and unmaking of place, and the lives of the people who remain in the fragile landscapes that are left behind.

The Dumb House – John Burnside

In Persian myth, it is said that Akbar the Great once built a palace which he filled with newborn children, attended only by mutes, in order to learn whether language is innate or acquired. As the year passed and the children grew into their silent and difficult world, this palace became known as the Gang Mahal, or Dumb House. In his first novel, John Burnside explores the possibilities inherent in a modern-day repetition of Akbar’s investigations. Following the death of his mother, the unnamed narrator creates a twisted variant of the Dumb House, finally using his own children as subjects in a bizarre experiment. When the children develop a musical language of their own, however, their jailer is the one who is excluded, and he extracts an appalling revenge.

Geek Love – Katherine Dunn

Geek Love is the story of the Binewskis, a carny family who set out–with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes–to breed their own exhibit of human oddities. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan . . . Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins . . . albino hunchback Oly, and the outwardly normal Chick, whose mysterious gifts make him the family’s most precious–and dangerous–asset. 
As the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion; as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene. Family values will never be the same.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Stephen Collins

On the buttoned-down island of Here, all is well. By which we mean: orderly, neat, contained and, moreover, beardless. 
Or at least it is until one famous day, when Dave, bald but for a single hair, finds himself assailed by a terrifying, unstoppable . . . monster*! 
Where did it come from? How should the islanders deal with it? And what, most importantly, are they going to do with Dave? 
The first book from a new leading light of UK comics, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil is an off-beat fable worthy of Roald Dahl. It is about life, death, and the meaning of beards. 
(*We mean a gigantic beard, basically.)

The follow part: If you are a book blogger and you leave a link to your blog in the comments below, I will follow you on Bloglovin’. I’d love it if you also followed me. If you want to be friends on Goodreads, TwitterBookLikes, or G+, that would be awesome, too. Click the links to go to my pages on those sites. I’m looking forward to “meeting” you.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

November Currently . . .

Time for another personal post. Here’s what I’ve been up to this month.

I’m Currently . . .

Reading: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. This book is amazing, but it has taken me an entire month to read it because I haven’t had much time for reading.

Watching: Thanksgiving stuff on the Food channel.

Stalking: Booktubers. I don’t like watching booktube videos because they’re boring, but I like listening to them while doing other things. My favorite booktubers are Jen Campbell and Jean BookishThoughts. Go check them out.

Planning: To stay home. I was traveling for the first three weeks of November, and I’m so ready to sleep in my own bed. I also have a lot of photos to edit and show you.

Making: Lists of what to get people for Christmas.

Stocking up on: Books, of course. The answer to this is always books.

Wishing for: My jetlag to go away. In the past few weeks, I’ve been to almost every time zone in the continental US. My body is so confused.

Enjoying: Fuzzy winter clothes, space heaters, holiday food, and being home with my dogs.

Trying: To finish grad school by next winter. It’s going to be a challenge.

Eating: Everything! It’s Thanksgiving.

Goal setting: I need to make a schedule for myself and stick to it so that everything gets done on time during the holidays.

Learning: I’m more capable than I think I am. If I want something to happen, I can find a way to make it happen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Tilt – Ellen Hopkins

Tilt – Ellen Hopkins

Three teens, three stories—all interconnected through their parents’ family relationships. As the adults pull away, caught up in their own dilemmas, the lives of the teens begin to tilt . . . 
Mikayla, almost eighteen, is over-the-top in love with Dylan, who loves her back jealously. But what happens to that love when Mikayla gets pregnant the summer before their senior year—and decides to keep the baby? 
Shane turns sixteen that same summer and falls hard in love with his first boyfriend, Alex, who happens to be HIV positive. Shane has lived for four years with his little sister’s impending death. Can he accept Alex’s love, knowing that his life, too, will be shortened? 
Harley is fourteen—a good girl searching for new experiences, especially love from an older boy. She never expects to hurdle toward self-destructive extremes in order to define who she is and who she wants to be.

Review: Ellen Hopkins is one of my favorite authors, but I was disappointed with this book.

Tilt is a companion novel to Triangles, which I haven’t read (yet). Both books focus on three families. Triangles is about the adults, and Tilt is about their teenage children. Tilt tells the story of love in all its stages. Fourteen-year-old Harley is desperate to be sexy and have a boyfriend. Sixteen-year-old Shane has just begun his first serious romantic relationship. Eighteen-year-old Mikayla is pregnant and in love with her high school boyfriend. Some of these relationships turn out better than others. This book is written in a mixture of free-verse and formal poetry.

My favorite storyline is Shane’s. Even though he has his problems, he’s the most responsible and relatable of the characters. His relationship with Alex feels authentic. It’s not perfect, and it’s believable. I also like that Alex is HIV positive. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a HIV positive character.

I did have a lot of issues with this novel. My biggest problem is its predictability. Nothing about it surprised me. Maybe I’ve just read too many Ellen Hopkins books, but it was obvious to me how each storyline would end.

I also think that there are too many points-of-view. The awesome thing about verse novels is that they strip stories down to their essential elements. There’s no extra stuff. The poetry gets right to the heart of the story. Unfortunately, there are so many characters in this book that their stories feel very superficial. The characters have a lot of problems but not a lot of personality. It was difficult for me to keep all the characters straight at first because there are so many of them.

Like all of Ellen Hopkins’s books, this one is beautifully written. I love her poetry, and I read a few of the poems in this novel several times because they’re so well-written. Even though this isn’t my favorite Hopkins book, I’m still looking forward to reading Triangles

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Things I’m Thankful For

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is a Thanksgiving-themed freebie, so I’m listing the top ten bookish things I’m thankful for.

My Bookish Thankful List

1. Parents who could afford to buy me books. Books are a luxury item that many people in the world can’t afford. Luckily, I grew up with parents who could buy me as many books as I wanted.

2. The books I got in my Christmas stockings. My parents gave me books as Christmas presents. I don’t know how they decided which books to buy me, but I got some really good ones.

3. My education. I’ve gone to a bunch of different schools, and a lot of my education has focused on bookish topics. First I studied English lit., then publishing, now children’s lit.

4. Children’s Illustrated Classics. Are these still a thing? They’re classic books rewritten and illustrated for children. I loved them when I was a kid. My favorites were Black Beauty and The Call of the Wild.

5. Stephen King. I didn’t start to love reading until I discovered Stephen King when I was a preteen.

6. Edgar Allan Poe. I first read his poetry when I was in middle school. I became obsessed with his work. Reading his poems and stories gave me the courage to read the adult versions of other classics.

7. Margaret Atwood. She changed the way that teenaged me thought about stories and how they could be told.

8. The book blogging community. You guys are awesome.

9. My computer. I wouldn’t be able to blog without it. Plus, all my friends live inside the computer.

10. The ability to understand English. I wish I knew more languages, but English is so widely spoken that it’s pretty easy to find English translations of well-loved books.

What bookish things are you thankful for?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Printz Review: The White Darkness – Geraldine McCaughrean

The White Darkness – Geraldine McCaughrean

I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now—which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I'll be dead, too, and the age difference won't matter. 
Sym is not your average teenage girl. She is obsessed with the Antarctic and the brave, romantic figure of Captain Oates from Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole. In fact, Oates is the secret confidant to whom she spills all her hopes and fears. 
But Sym's Uncle Victor is even more obsessed—and when he takes her on a dream trip into the bleak Antarctic wilderness, it turns into a nightmarish struggle for survival that will challenge everything she knows and loves.

Review: This book reminds me of my childhood. When I was around the age of the main character, Sym, I also had an obsession with Antarctica. Just like Sym, I had a shelf full of “ice books.” I read everything I could about Scott’s failed attempt to reach the South Pole in the early 1900s. Also like Sym, I was more comfortable with my imagination than with real people. It’s eerie to find a fictional character who is so similar to fourteen-year-old me.

Sym is obsessed with Antarctica, so she is thrilled when her uncle takes her on a surprise trip to this frozen wasteland. What she doesn’t know is that her uncle also has an obsession. He believes that there is a hole in Antarctica that leads to the center of the Earth. He’ll do anything to find the hole, even if it puts Sym’s life in danger. Once in Antarctica, the only person who Sym can fully trust is her imaginary boyfriend, Titus Oates.

This book is intense and beautifully written. It’s a survival story with amazing descriptions of Antarctica. You’re never sure which characters to trust because they all have selfish motives for being so far from home. They’ll even resort to murder to get what they want. By the end of the book, you can’t even trust Sym because the cold and sensory deprivation of Antarctica makes her hallucinate. I couldn’t stop reading this story. I had to find out how Sym would survive.

Sym is a slightly frustrating character because she’s very naïve, and the other characters manipulate her easily, but she’s still a realistic fourteen-year-old. She’s hearing-impaired and not comfortable with herself or her body. A lot of teenagers could probably relate to her.

My second-favorite character—after Sym—is Titus. The concept of an imaginary boyfriend is awesome. I haven’t read many books about characters who have imaginary friends. Titus has a dry sense of humor and jokes about his own death. He gives Sym the courage to keep going whenever she wants to give up.

I like Sym and Titus, but a few of the other characters are over-the-top. They’re a little cartoonish and unrealistic. I especially feel this way about Uncle Victor. I liked him more at the end of the book than at the beginning, but he still doesn’t seem like a real person. He’s a caricature of a mad scientist.

My only other criticism is about the pacing. The book gets repetitive in the middle because Sym spends a lot of time wandering aimlessly around Antarctica. I think the book could have been shorter. The repetitiveness makes it lose some of its intensity.

The relationship between Sym and Titus is intriguing, and the setting of this book is one of the more interesting settings I’ve come across in young adult fiction. If you like survival stories, you’ll probably enjoy The White Darkness


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Quotes from Printz Award Winners

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten quotes I love from books I read this year. I’m not the type of person who writes down quotes, so I’m relying on Goodreads for this, but we all know that you can’t trust the quotes you find on the Internet.

This year, I’ve been reading (or rereading) all of the Printz Award winners. I decided to choose ten quotes from Printz books.

10 Random (and hopefully accurate) Printz Quotes

1. “There's light and joy, but there's also darkness all around and we can be lost in it.” – Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond.

2. “The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” – Looking for Alaska by John Green.

3. “Is a person worth more because they have someone to grieve for them?” – Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.

4. “I don't get nearly enough credit in life for the things I manage not to say.” – How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.

5. “So, now I've been to see a drug counselor who told me I need to lay off the drugs and talk about my feelings, and a shrink who heard what I had to say and immediately put me on drugs.” – Going Bovine by Libba Bray.

6. “It's easy to become anything you wish . . . so long as you're willing to forfeit your soul.” – American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

7. “It’s human nature to tear one another apart. Be glad you come from such a successful line of killers.” – Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.

8. “I can't seem to be a pessimist long enough to overlook the possibility of things being overwhelmingly good.” – Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.

9. “‘I love you,’ I say to him, only it comes out, ‘Hey.’
‘So damn much,’ he says back, only it comes out, ‘Dude.’
He still won’t meet my eyes.” – I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson.

10. “He is everything, everything, everything I ever admired and wanted and couldn't have. He is everything I needed and couldn't find in real life. Of course he is. That's why I invented him.” – The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean.


Friday, November 13, 2015

FF Friday: In Which I Explain What Amused Child-Me

Feature & Follow is a weekly blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.

This week’s question: What are the funniest books you’ve ever read?

Answer: As an adult, I don’t read too many funny books, but there are a few funny picture books that I loved as a child. I checked these out of the library every chance I got.

The Dumb Bunnies series by Sue Denim and Dav Pilkey. Just as the title suggests, this series is about a family of rabbits who do really, really dumb things. Child-me thought this series was the pinnacle of literature.

The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. This book puts a funny spin on classic fairytales. It has the word “Stupid” in the title, so of course it would appeal to child-me.

The follow part: If you are a book blogger and you leave a link to your blog in the comments below, I will follow you on Bloglovin’. I’d love it if you also followed me. If you want to be friends on Goodreads, TwitterBookLikes, or G+, that would be awesome, too. Click the links to go to my pages on those sites. I’m looking forward to “meeting” you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Printz Review: American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang

Jin Wang starts at a new school where he's the only Chinese-American student. When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn't want to be associated with a FOB like him. Jin just wants to be an all-American boy because he's in love with an all-American girl. Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls. But his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-Kee's annual visit is such a disaster that it ruins Danny's reputation at school. The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. He's ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven. But there's no place in heaven for a monkey. Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other? They're going to have to find a way—if they want to fix the disasters their lives have become.

Review: I’m not sure how to review this book because it’s the only graphic novel I’ve ever read. I have nothing to compare it against.

American Born Chinese tells three intersecting stories. One is about a monkey who attempts to become a god. The second is about a Chinese-American boy who wants to be more American. The third is about an American boy with an obnoxious Chinese cousin. The three stories come together in a surprising way at the end.

My favorite of the storylines is the one about Jin Wang, a boy who is trying to be more American. Even if you aren’t an immigrant, it’s easy to relate to Jin Wang. Everybody has something about themselves that they wish they could change. Also, he looks adorable with his perm.

This story works perfectly as a graphic novel because the pictures add a lot of humor. The book is about learning how to accept yourself as you are. I think the message would have been heavy-handed in a regular novel, but the funny pictures keep the book from being preachy. It’s done very well.

I love the ending. I knew that the stories would intertwine eventually, but I never expected it to end like that.

This is a great book for kids (and adults). The art is colorful, humorous, and easy to follow. The stories are simple but meaningful. The book shows the harm of stereotyping and the importance of being yourself. More people need to read it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Movies That I’ve Failed To See

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten book-to-movie adaptations that I haven’t seen. If you’ve been around this blog, you’ll know that I’m horrible at watching movies. I just don’t have the patience for them. I’d rather be reading. So, here are ten recent book-to-movie adaptations that I’ve failed to see.

1. Paper Towns. I’ve read all of John Green’s books, and I really like them, but I haven’t seen this movie yet.

2. The Fault In Our Stars. Yeah, I haven’t seen this one, either.

3. The Silver Linings Playbook. I love Jennifer Lawrence. I even have a copy of this book with her face on the cover. That didn’t motivate me to actually see the movie.

4. The Maze Runner. I wasn’t a fan of the book, but my bookish friends loved the movie. I can see how the book would translate well to the screen.

5. The Hobbit. This was one of my favorite books as a kid . . . still haven’t seen the movie.

6. Far From The Madding Crowd. I’m a fan of Thomas Hardy’s work. I didn’t even mind being forced to read his books in college. I guess I’m not a big enough fan to see the movie, though.

7. Wild. I read the book because I saw the movie trailer and thought it looked interesting. I never did get around to seeing the movie.

8. Me And Earl And The Dying Girl. When this movie was in theaters, I actually looked up what times it was playing. But, I never went.

9. The Giver. Another one of my favorite childhood books. People have told me that the movie is very different from the book, though.

10. Gone Girl. When I read Gone Girl, I thought, This would make a great movie. I have no idea if it did make a great movie because I haven’t seen it.

What movies have you failed to see?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Printz Review: Looking for Alaska – John Green

Looking for Alaska – John Green

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. 
After. Nothing is ever the same.

Review: You guys know what this book is about, right? A teenager nicknamed Pudge goes to boarding school and becomes infatuated with a girl named Alaska. Pretty much everyone I know has read and reviewed this book. I’m not sure what to say about it that hasn’t already been said.

I don’t usually reread books, but I’ve read this one three times in the past few years. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like the type of book I’d love. In fact, it has five things that I usually hate in books:

1. Excessive use of interabangs. This is possibly the most useless punctuation mark in the English language. Why does it exist?

2. High school pranks. Seriously, pranks were stupid and juvenile when I was in high school. As an adult, I don’t care to read about them.

3. Obnoxious characters. Alaska . . . just . . . ug. I do not like her. At all. Not even a little.

4. Believability issues. That final prank could have been foiled by a Google search. I think the prank should have been slightly harder for the characters to accomplish.

5. Predictability. The first time I read this book, it was obvious to me where Alaska went at the end. I don’t know why it took the characters so long to figure it out.

So, why has this book stayed in my mind for years? Why do I keep coming back to it?

It’s because of the way that the author captures emotion. Even though I don’t like Alaska, I can believe that Pudge is infatuated with her. He’s built her up in his mind and made her something greater than she actually is. I think that’s realistic behavior, especially for a teenager who’s never been in love before. I can feel Pudge’s awkwardness when he is trying to get Alaska’s attention, and I can feel his grief when he can’t have her. It takes a very talented author to make me feel something while I read. That doesn’t usually happen.

The book also explores some important themes. Looking for Alaska is about love, forgiveness, and learning to live with questions that can’t be answered. It shows that it’s impossible to fully know someone. The image of a person that you have in your head will never match up to the person in real life.

I keep coming back to this book because I get something new out of it every time I reread it. I know that I’ll want to pick it up again in a few years.