Monday, April 11, 2016

#CBR8 Review #09: Captive Prince #1 by C.S. Pacat

I got about a third into the second book in this trilogy when I realized that I really did not care enough to finish it, despite zipping right through the first book to see what direction it was going to take. Turns out, I don’t seem to like the direction that things appear to be heading in (I mean, I can’t know for sure, but I have a pretty good idea based on some spoilers/stuff from fans that have popped up on my tumblr dash, which is where I first heard about this series to begin with). Consequently, I am jumping ship for a few reasons.

The Captive Prince trilogy is about a young Prince of Akielos named Damen, whose half-brother desperately wants the throne to the kingdom. So much so, that he announces Damen’s death, and sends Damen off to be a palace slave in Vere, a country that has had a long-standing feud with where Damen is from. This is supposed to be a sign of peace between the nations, as new treaties between them have just been signed. But Damen knows that if anyone were to discover his identity in this enemy territory, he would be dead. The rest of the tale focuses on Damen coming to learn about the culture of Vere, in particular the culture of sexual slaves or “pets” for royalty. Damen has essentially taken up the spot of the pet of the Veretian Prince, Laurent, who is cold, cruel, and manipulative. Yet, other manipulations and jostling for power seem to be taking place in this nation, and Damen has now found himself swept up in it. Yet, his main goal of escaping and returning to Akielos ever remains.

The tensions within this book are very real, Damen himself is a likable character, and the plot has a lot of potential to be very interesting. And yet, I don’t think I can continue reading it, as there are a few things that are off to me. 

The first thing that I noticed in this book was that it began with a list of characters and what titles/positions they held: rather than introducing and explaining characters as they came, most (though not all) are simply referred to by name, almost as though you are expected to remember everyone after a brief glimpse at the character list. Being that I was reading this on an electronic reader, it would be an ordeal to flip back and forth to refresh my memory when new people came up, and because of that, I came to not deem a lot of the side characters to be memorable enough or important enough to stay in my mind as I did not really have an introduction to them. It’s a nit-picky thing, but I found it to be a little annoying. 

Apart from this little nuisance, however, there are other things about this series that I just can’t get my head around or come to enjoy. One of these things comes in the form of the cultures present in the book, in relation to slaves and what most societies today consider sexual crimes: the Veretian culture is brutal, and has sport essentially based on the act of rape. I know that this is put in the story to contrast Damen’s view of slaves (yet there are still things in the Akielan culture that is questionable), and I know that it is meant to be shocking and showing how being brought up in different cultures makes you believe in different ways of life. But just because something is shocking does not mean it is good writing. That is not to say that C.S. Pacat’s writing is bad, but that if you are going to use the potential your story has to try and create shock-value, there needs to be something else with substance behind it to back it up. And I just don’t know that there was enough other substance for me, personally.

Another facet to this book is that it is very character-driven, so not a whole lot “happens” plot-wise, though the character development and happenings of this book lead to a new setting and more action within the second book (at least, that’s what it seemed like in the little bit of the second novel that I read before stopping). Damen and Laurent are both incredibly interesting characters, and Laurent especially I wanted to know more about: why he is the way he is and what some of his motivations are. There are a few clues about this dropped out so I have some idea as to what some of his background might be, leading him to his current state and personality. There is definitely a lot of potential here to make it an interesting character story, yet despite all the drama and slow chipping away at characters, I feel like there are some inevitabilities that you can easily see coming as hints are placed along the way. This comes especially in the form of the relationship you see forming between Laurent and Damen: I can’t help but feel like there is going to be some reveal to Laurent’s past and motivations, and that the two are coming closer and closer, despite the cruelty and humiliation that Laruent has inflicted on Damen. But that line from Brooklyn-Nine-Nine rings in my head: “Cool motive, still murder.” And so, I just don’t want to see certain things come into fruition that I feel are inevitably going to happen. Of course, I may be wrong, but I don’t know if I really want to find out. Earlier I said that I was jumping ship, but it turns out I may just not be boarding one particular ship to begin with, if you catch my drift.

All in all, this book isn’t bad, but I there were just a lot of roadblocks stopping me from really enjoying it. And perhaps the remaining two in the trilogy have some surprises and twists in store. But there are just so many other things I would be reading and so many other characters I would rather spend time with than those in this world. Which is unfortunate, as I was really excited to get into this trilogy. Maybe I’ll try again another day, as there is definitely potential and some good things about The Captive Prince, just not enough for me to want to keep going at the moment.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Thursday, March 31, 2016

#CBR8 Review #08: Seven Tears at High Tide by C.B. Lee

I’m just going to start this off by telling you that if you love beautiful, soft animation and art, you should definitely see the movie The Song of the Sea. It’s adorable and sweet, and has some of the most stunning background artistry I’ve ever seen. But now you may be wondering what that has to do with this book I’m about to review? Well, I was just reminded of the movie because both the film, and C.B. Lee’s Seven Tears at High Tide focus on the myth of selkies! In different regards, of course, but both are also super sweet little stories (almost too sweet at times, in regards to the book, but we’ll get to that).

I am actually currently in the middle of reading another trilogy of books, that are kind of dragging along for me at the current moment. And they are grim and somewhat brutal, so I just needed a break from that. At which point I picked up Seven Tears at High Tide, not realizing what an extreme shift in tone it would be from the other series I’m working on. It’s almost like night and day, to be honest, and this little young adult novel is quick, sweet, and full of young love. It’s not too complicated, and really harkens to that feeling of young innocence and love, to a point where it’s almost a little too cutesy at times, but hey! Sometimes you need that optimism and something light to break up certain a dullness or pretension in other things.

The focus of the novel is on two young boys: Kevin, who is a lonely teenager, trying to get over a recent rejection, and Morgan, a teenage selkie (a shapeshifter who can be both human and seal) who happens to become entangled in Kevin’s world. Kevin makes a wish to the sea for someone to love him for the summer, and the selkies, reading the trueness of his heart send along Morgan to be Kevin’s companion. Morgan is quick to announce his love for Kevin, and the two soon become quick friends and even boyfriends. There is an innocence to Morgan, as he has not really shifted into human form before, and he slowly learns the way of the human world and comes to love it. But, the summer only lasts so long, and the two must face the realization that Kevin’s wish was only for the summer, and Morgan is bound by some other laws of his supernatural world that he must abide by.

All in all, this book is quite simple and has some good parts to it, but also some things that didn’t work out entirely smoothly in my mind. One of the first things I think to mention is Moran’s innocence and adorable bright-eyed nature as he learns about the human world. It’s very cute and I am glad people are so gentle with him, but I can’t help but wonder if a lot of people would actually just think he’s a weird kid? It’s lovely how people just react as though he has been sheltered, but I also found it a bit cloying at times, and I feel like Morgan’s nature might start to annoy people after a while? Maybe that’s just me.

I also found that Kevin’s idea of love, romance, and relationships is very in line with the idea of young love: someone to cuddle and kiss and hang out with, watching movies and looking for rocks together. This is truly sweet and they clearly care about each other, but I do take note that the idea of love presented is quite simple. And perhaps this is in order to reach the younger audience who is the intended demographic of this book? I also very much appreciated that Kevin mentions that he is young and perhaps isn’t sure what love is at his age.

Another thing that I did like about this book is the presentation of Kevin’s sexuality: we learn early that he is bisexual and came out to his family and others the previous year. While this does cause some issues in terms of homophobic remarks and activity from some school mates, there is no point in the book where people refer to Kevin as “confused” or “going through a phase” or having “one foot still in the closet,” which are all common things to hear about bisexual individuals. That is to say, there is still that prevalent idea that this is not a “real” sexuality in some ways. And I could go off on this whole subject for a long time, but that’s another topic altogether. In Seven Tears at High Tide, the only comment anywhere close to that is when Kevin’s sister is telling him how proud she is of him, and that she never realized that bisexuality was a thing until he came out, but she didn’t really question it at all; in fact, she questions herself and her own identity more than anything. And I think that having this kind of simple representation is good in stories for young people, showing that hey, it is a thing and while of course Kevin’s identity is a part of his story, it is not his whole story. My tiny bi heart approves. 

Alright, now I’m going to warn about spoilers for this last little part I’m going to speak about:
Something that did bother me a little with this book was how everything played out at the en. There is mythology thrown in there regarding the selkies, and it essentially sets itself up like The Little Mermaid in that Morgan faces a choice near the end (yet, unlike The Little Mermaid, Kevin and Morgan have actually spent a good chunk of time getting to know each other and coming to have feelings for one another). Yet, this choice that is present is almost made to be null by a deus ex machina of sorts coming to play where Morgan is not forced to make a difficult decision. Things work out, and I do love myself a happy ending, but not if it seems like it was almost forced or contrived to happen, you know? It’s another thing that adds to the almost too-sweet and slightly juvenile feeling of this book. But as I think I’ve already said, this book is indeed aimed towards a young adult demographic.

All in all, Seven Tears at High Tide is a quick and simple little story about young love. It is very cute and I can see a lot of young people loving it. It was just a little cloying for my tastes at time, to the point where it became a tad too much. So I am not sure that I would read it again, but it was great as a little break from the other books I am currently trying to work through at this time.   

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

#CBR8 Reviews #5-7: The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare

Listen… Listen… Okay, just listen… I’m weak. I should know not to get myself into this cheesy nonsense, but good grief I do every time. Let’s follow the path that led me down this rabbit hole:

It all started in high school when my friends told me to read The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, and boy howdy I really enjoyed them! Well, I never got around to reading the last two, but I really liked them. Then that HORRIBLE City of Bones movie came out based on the first book of the series and it was so unintentionally hilarious but also so cringe-worthy, I still can’t even understand it. And now there’s the Shadowhunters show on Netflix… and well… Like I said, I’m weak. And it’s so corny and a total thirst-watch at this point (y’all, the two they got to play the Lightwood siblings are both GORGEOUS and I’m sweating) but I really do enjoy it in all it’s cheesy goodness. But my friends started noticing in the show a lot of references to things in The Infernal Devices trilogy: a prequel to The Mortal Instruments series, set in the late 1800s and showing a number of the ancestors and history of the shadowhunters seen in The Mortal Instruments. My friends assured me that this series is totally better than the one from which it was spawn. And thus…. Here I am. And I totally did like them, despite predicting that I would be tired of the whole thing. Apparently, I am very much not!

In any case, let’s discuss what these books are about. And, mild warning: some spoilers as to the general outplay of the story will follow. The titles in order are: Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess:
It all starts with a young American woman named Tessa traveling to London after the aunt who she was living with dies. She is going to England to meet up with her brother who is currently employed there, yet is soon kidnapped upon arrival by two witch-like women, who train Tessa to discover a special ability she has. This is a world where most humans (unless they have “the sight”) do not know about another secret world amongst them: a world of demons, fairies, vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and those who are descendants of angels known as “Shadhowhunters”. Tessa is not human, but no one is really sure what she is. In any case, Tessa is soon found by a young shadowhunter named Will, and she is taken back to the London Institute of shadhowhunters, who fight demons and other downworlder creatures that do not abide by the peace treaties and laws that exist between them. It is found that a powerful man in the downworld called The Magister wants Tessa and her unique abilities for some sinister purpose, and Tessa thereby becomes a solid ally of the shadowhunters, effectively coming to live with them and be a part of their little clan in London (there are multiple institutes and groups throughout the world, as we may know from The Mortal Instruments, we well).

What follows is a tale of mystery, deception, betrayal, personal discovery, the bonds between people, magic and of course, romance. There are some pretty serious “love shapes” as I like to call them happening here, in particular one central triangle between Tessa, Will, and Will’s parabatai named Jem. And usually love-triangles bore me, but my goodness y’all, this parabatai thing… I love it. To be a parabatai with someone is basically to take a shadowhunter oath to be bonded with another shadowhunter in a deep and intimate way. It is like their souls are connected, and they can feel each other in battle, and when the other is hurt; they can take strength from one another, and will never take another parabatai even after one of them dies. So basically, Will and Jem love each other, and it is the truest, more pure kind of love that I feel in my soul. They are BROS FOR LIFE, and yet it’s heartbreaking because of certain circumstances of Jem’s existence and the course of his life. (Okay, so I basically fell in love with the character of Jem, and I feel like that is super predictable of me, and yet I walked right into it despite knowing it was going to be somewhat painful). And my solution to this painful love-triangle was to just have Tessa, Will, and Jem be in a polyamourous relationship, since they all love each other so much and so deeply (case: CLOSED!), but then two pages later I read that parabatai are forbidden for being romantically involved with one another by shadowhunter law. Soooooo… yeah, we had to scrap that one. And I do feel like there was a certain predictability to how this all played out, but  there were still a few surprises or interesting ways in which things progressed throughout. Actually, that’s how I felt about the book in general: there were some predictable facets, yet enough twists and new ideas to keep it interesting, without trying to throw too much crazy stuff into the mix from out of the blue in order to keep it engaging. I will, however, say that the epilogue really gave me mixed feelings: some of it was beautiful and sad and heartfelt and great, but some of it was kind of like, okay, I see exactly what you’re doing here and I ain’t entirely buying it.

But now, let me just do a little rundown of characters, because that’s really what kept me the most interested in this whole book. The characters are lovely, and while some of them aren’t the most original and maybe follow certain tropes, there are a few that had some nice storylines and character traits that made me really want to get to know them more and keep reading about them (in particular, Jem, Magnus, and Henry), though I do realize that I was imagining them to be a bit older than their character descriptions, and was always jolted a little when I was reminded of how old they really are. I find that I tend to do that with young adult novels though, despite my better knowledge and judgment. I don’t know why that always happens. But in any case, here are some of the major players throughout the series, with numerous other minor characters I have left out:

- Tessa Gray: Our main character, 16 years old, raised by her aunt, and the object of the Magister’s fancy due to some unique magical abilities she possesses. Sometimes quite at first yet speaks her mind with people, and is a big fan of losing herself in novels, often desiring to be like the heroines she reads about in books.
- Will Herondale: Young shadowhunter, 17 years old, who left his parents (one of which was an ex-shadowhunter) at a young age to live at the institute. Strongheaded and snarky, the brooding-type, with a secret he that keeps him from being close to anyone but Jem.
- Jem Carstairs: PRECIOUS CINNAMON ROLL, TOO GOOD FOR THIS WORLD. Originally from the Shanghai institute of shadowhunters, but moved to London after his parents died. Also 17 years old, and suffers from serious health issues which arose in relation to his parent’s death. Kind-hearted and a talented musician. Always able to add some ease to tense situations and a calming force for many in the institute.
- Charlotte Branwell/Fairchild: Head of the London institute, along with her husband, Henry. Somewhat of a mother-figure, who holds pride in her title yet is always willing to take in those who in need.
- Henry Branwell: The purest, more precious peanut. Married to Charlotte, and a little oblivious when it comes to people and relationships, but really a sweetheart when it comes down to it. A gifted inventor, creating tools for the shadowhunters to use, though many do not hold faith in his inventions after some of his endeavors have gone awry.
- Jessamine Lovelace: Another young shadowhunter who was taken in by Charlotte after her parents died. However, she is more interested in marriage, fashion, and living a human life in the city than being a shadowhunter and wants to leave the institute when she comes of age.
- Sophie Collins: A human (or “mundane” as they are called) who is able to see supernatural beings unlike most humans. She works at the London Institute and also longs to be a shadowhunter.
- The Magister: A real piece of work. The main antagonist, with a grudge against shadowhunters that has been enacted into a complicated plot of revenge against them.
- Magnus Bane: An immortal warlock that is an ally to the shadowhunters, helping them with magic tasks, healing, and gathering information about downworlders. Also present in The Mortal Instruments, and is usually played off as a bit quirky and free-wheeling, but is really a gentle soul who wants to help those that he can. He’s a fun character and I like him a lot.
- Benedict Lightwood: A fellow shadowhunter who yearns for Charlotte’s position at the institute and seeks to undermine her.
- Gideon and Gabriel Lightwood: Benedict’s sons who aid in the combat training of Tessa and Sophie, and become involved in some plots of blackmail and spying for other shadowhunters.
- Cecily Herondale: Will’s younger sister who trains at the institute, but wants nothing more than for Will to return home to their human life.

In any case, this is getting long now, so I’m going to try and wrap it up. While I am now less won-over by the cheesy young romances in most YA novels today, and found there were certain inevitabilities within The Infernal Devices trilogy along those common teenage romance lines, the relationships within the books seemed a less cringe-worthy than I remembered them being in The Mortal Instruments (we had no incest panic this time, thank goodness). So that was a positive thing. Honestly, I did enjoy this trilogy quite a bit, and read them all in one go! Is it a masterpiece of a trilogy? Not by any means. But it’s an enjoyable and not very difficult read. Plus, I’m absolute trash for this world these days, largely because of some pretty pretty faces that drew me back in via Shadowhunters. As I said… I’m weak. And that’s all there is to it.

I leave you now with some of said pretty faces. Yeah, okay, so only one of them is technically also a character in The Infernal Devices (my main man Magnus!), but this totally relates, right? It's like, science or something??

Are you ever disappointed in yourself for how predictable you are? You just gotta show me a guy with dark hair and a nice smile and I'm toast. 

GIRL LET ME TELL YOU... I'm actually pretty pleased with how they treat Izzy's fashion and body confidence in this show as just a cool part of who she is. Unlike the movie where they say nasty judgmental stuff? Not cool. Also DO YOU SEE HOW BEAUTIFUL???

Not to be "that girl" but is he going to dance at all, or what? Because you know I love me some dancing. Also his sparkly eye makeup is always SO on point. #LookGoals
One of the most chill werewolves I've seen lately, and I'm totally about it. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Sunday, March 6, 2016

#CBR8 Review #04: Chew, volume 8 – Family Recipes, by John Layman and Rob Guillory

I feel like I’ve said this before, but this is one of those series that for some reason I never really read back-to-back, but end up having long breaks in between picking up new volumes. Is this a good thing? I’m not sure, but fortunately, I don’t run into that problem I usually have of forgetting the plot or characters when I come back after some time, as John Layman makes sure to do small recaps of characters and their abilities as the story goes along. It really doesn’t take anything away either, as the refresher is good, and is always tied into what is currently occurring the plot, so as not to become a distraction or drag the action.

In any case, what we have in this 8th volume of the Chew series is Tony Chu using his ability of gaining a psychic impression of the past of anything he eats, as a way to contact his recently deceased sister. Meanwhile, Tony’s late sister, Toni, has the ability to see the future of anyone she bites. She has therefore used this gift to see her own future and death, and now holds information that Tony desires in order to catch Toni’s killer. So what does Toni do, to prepare for her death and her brother’s desire to avenge her? She leaves a toe behind for Tony to eat, as a way to contact her and gain any information she may have.

The whole thing is a real trip, honestly, but Toni is such a fun and erratic character that it makes it an absurd but hilarious ride. And with the exception of some side-plot action with Tony’s partner at the FDA, John Colby, this volume is not really heavy on plot-progression, so much as giving information and developing characters. And you know what? Sometimes that’s exactly what you need, and I really enjoyed this instalment of the story. The art style of Rob Guillory also definitely fits the kind of strange and humorous nature of the story, though at some times I wonder what exactly is going on with the bizarre proportions of his human characters. But overall, it works really well with the tone of the series.

Am I planning on continuing with it? Absolutely. But once again, it’s just a question of when I managed to get around to it (so many books and series, with so little time, you know?).

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Sunday, February 14, 2016

#CBR8 Review #03: Introduction to Art Therapy - Faith in the Product by Bruce Moon

I feel like at the stage that I am at in my art therapy program, it is strange to have to read a book with the words "Introduction to Art Therapy" in the title. Shouldn't I be past that? And I have indeed already been required to read a lot of other material by Bruce Moon in the same field. And yet, something about this book really helped at this point in my studies with concretizing some ideas for me that I have been presented with before, but have not yet really envisioned the practicalities or application of. If that makes sense? It also helps that Moon has a very straightforward writing style that captures the essence of what he is trying to say, without being too dry like many textbooks, or too abstract like I have actually found a number of the texts in art therapy in particular to be.

In this book, Moon essentially lays out some information on the development of art therapy in the US, briefly describes some of the major theorietical foundations within the field, and explains the fundamentals of the process of facilitating art therapy and healing through art. All of this is elaborated and enhanced by detailing particular case studies and individuals that Moon worked with that help to paint a picture of the process going on in creative therapies. His chapter specifically focusing on the fundamental values and concepts of the profession and practice of it was the one that I found to be most informative in a sense of truly presenting how he sees the core concepts of art therapy playing out and presenting themselves, which is something that I sometimes have a hard time wrapping my head around. What is mean is that a lot of the time I hear a concept or idea and think, "I understand the theory behind this, but what exactly would that look like??" It's sometimes hard to identify how things might actually manifest, play out, or show up in the therapy room. And of course, it is always very situation specific, which can make things tricky, but the way Moon explains things just makes more sense to me than when others try to describe or explain the same concepts. 

Overall, I would say that this book has been helpful to me as I begin my first practicum, and continue with my coursework. Would I read this book if I were not pursuing art therapy as a career? Probably not, and I'm pretty sure I say that with every textbook or school book I review. But this one wasn't so bad, and I actually think I might have to revisit a few chapters for another look as I continue. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Sunday, January 24, 2016

#CBR8 Review #02: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I’ve been describing this book to my friends as “How to Get Away With Murder, but without Viola Davis.” Except, I’ve never actually watched How to Get Away With Murder, so I don’t think that’s accurate in the slightest. In any case, simply put this book is like a reverse who-dun-it: as in, we know that a group of students murdered one of their classmates right from the get-go, we just aren’t clear as to why or how this came to be.

The Secret History occurs through the eyes of protagonist, Richard Papen, who is a young student living on campus at Hampden College. Now, the one thing I couldn’t tell you is exactly what time period this occurs in: for some reason I couldn’t figure it out, but I think it’s the late-80s/early90s??? Just, the prices of things, the technology, the language, etc got me a little confused. But continuing on with the plot, Richard tells the story of how we wanted to study Greek at college, but the only way he could do this would be if he is able to integrate himself into a tiny class of 5 students, with an old teacher named Julian who is very selective of who he teaches and never really wants any more than 5 students. These students form the eclectic, eccentric little group that Richard soon calls friends: these 6 students hardly ever see anyone else besides their fellow Greek students. Richard quickly comes to adore his new friends, goes to the country with them on weekends, and essentially becomes a staple in their little lives. However, he is not as involved as he thinks he is, and some interesting acts behind the scenes start to break some of the ties between different characters in the story, inevitably leading to the decision that one of the students –affectionately known as Bunny—should be killed.

The main cast of characters in this little group of friends are all interesting and different, though at times they come across as quite spoilt, a bit pompous, and behave in pretentious ways or have somewhat bizarre and grandiose ideas that I can’t entirely wrap my head around. But, they all added a certain flavor to the story, which I enjoyed. I also ended up picturing them as certain actors in my mind, even if this didn’t entirely make sense at times? It was like a little movie in my brain, which can make things interesting at times. And easier to envision the characters, in some ways? In any case, the main group of students the story centers around are as follows:

Richard Papen: Our protagonist, and a young man who leaves for Hampden College as a way to escape his bored life in California. Richard works hard at his studies, and unlike many of his friends, actually has a job in order to make his own money. In my mind, Richard took the shape of Jessie Williams (specifically circa “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” for some reason??)
Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran: The victim of the plotted murder. In my mind, the mere mention of a tweed jacket and floppy hair made me picture Bunny as Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. Okay, that works. Bunny is a loud, boisterous young man, who has some issues with his studies and has a tendency to take advantage of his friend’s generosity. Prone to mood-swings and switching between being a fun-loving friend and insulting, it is sometimes hard to decide if Bunny is really all that bad of a person or not. Whatever the case, people tend to remember him.
Henry Winters: Who I would call the ring-leader of the small student group. He is always the one who the others go to as he always has a plan and an ability to keep calm and stoic in most situations. Actually, he seems pretty straightforward and stoic all the time, is incredibly intelligent knowing multiple languages and constantly reading and learning new things, and also has a great depth of wealth at his disposal from his family. Described as being a big young man with dark hair and blue eyes (plus his name is Henry), my mind automatically envisioned a young Henry Cavill in this part.
Charles Macaulay: One of set of twins, orphaned at a young age and raised with his hiss sister, Camilla, by their grandmother. Charles initially comes across as the most friendly and easy to talk to member of this small group, though he does appear to have a drinking problem that escalates with the events of the novel. Described in a none-too-specific way, except to say that he is blonde, I found myself picturing Bradley James, specifically with his Merlin hair.
Camilla Macaulay: Charles’ twin sister, and an object of affection of most of the males in the group, as well as others outside. Richard in particular becomes infatuated with her, though I couldn’t help but feel like she was somehow distanced from the others in certain ways, in a world of her own. In my mind, Camilla was pictured as a Teresa Palmer.
Francis Abernathy: Described as being somewhat fox-faced with firery red hair and quite fashionable, you’d think I would picture Eddie Redmayne in this part. It would only make sense! But no, a young Domnhall Gleeson took this spot, and I’m not mad that my brain made this decision. Francis was definitely a character that slowly grew on me in time. Also from a wealthy family, Francis seems to be a somewhat elusive member of the group to really understand, but is always there with a complaint, and a tendency to be overly dramatic (right down to his hypochondriasis).

Strangely enough, those characters I began the book liking the most, I soon came to like the least, and those who I liked the least to begin with I ended up being quite unhappy with at the end. I think that is a major part of the book itself, to be honest: the idea that we sometimes wear rose-coloured glasses when looking at or dealing with certain people, only to find that they are not who we once thought they were. Idealizing people can often lead us down paths we never wanted, or lead us with nothing but feelings of disappointment. Perhaps this book is telling me to look at people more objectively and to try and truly see them for who they are, rather than let me preconceptions or judgments (whether positive or not) cloud my vision in understanding them on more fundamental level. People are not always who we think they are or want them to be. Though in general, I can’t help but feel like all of the main characters in this particular novel are somewhat selfish and that I probably would not end up liking any of them very much if I knew them in real life. But from the distance of fiction? Certainly! 

Beyond these themes of relationships and the ways we see people, other themes that I found particularly interesting were the concept of appearances that the students hold in terms of their scholarly nature and wealth, the nature of parental figures, and the exploration of sexuality. While some were more in-focus than others, all added to the complexity of the book, to not just be about one single thing, and to make the characters feel somewhat more rounded in a some ways (Henry in particular, is a hard shell to really crack into, I find, and might almost come across as a caricature at times, were it not for certain aspects of his relationship with Julian that come into play near the end of the novel).

Overall, I found The Secret History to be engaging, even though at some points I found it to be a bit long. And yet, paradoxically, by the time the ending came around, I wanted there to be more. Regardless, even though I could not entirely grasp these student’s fascination with the Greek and some of their strange ways of life and romanticized views (hey, I like Greek history and mythology, but not to this extent), I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing wasn’t too simple, but also not overly stylized to the point where I got confused as sometimes happens. I honestly feel like this might be one of those books that I need to read a second time around, just to fully grasp the nuances of it and perhaps catch things that I didn’t the first time through. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

#CBR8 Review #01: The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom

“An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients”

I would have liked to start CBR8 off with something more enjoyable rather than a required reading for school, but alas! Duty calls and all that. And to be honest, this wasn’t the driest or most difficult reading I’ve had to do for school: in fact it went by easily and was filled with some quite good ideas and tips that will hopefully stick with me as I come up to starting my first art therapy practicum at the end of the month (YEEP!). Yet, some of these tips I do wish Irvin Yalom would have expanded on: yes, I am in this field of study, but I feel like there were some assumptions being made as to what the reader would and would not understand, which unfortunately left me a little fuzzy or feeling like things were a bit vague at times. Though of course, nothing is ever concrete in a therapy session in terms of what to say and how it will go with people, so you need to just learn as you go.

Essentially, The Gift of Therapy is a compilation of 85 “tips” or suggestions for psychotherapists to utilize in practice, as based on Yalom’s extensive career in the field. They are presented in a way that is both brief, but long enough so as not to drag along. Some of the tips presented are no-brainers, but some I never really would have thought about until in the moment, and it seems like it would be helpful to maybe have a heads up about certain things.

I did, however, find that sometimes when Yalom would recount examples of conversations with clients, the conversation would read in a very stiff way. I understand that he was trying to really highlight the responses and suggestions for how to deal with certain topics, etc, but they seemed very inorganic and almost inauthentic. And I mean, how do I know that this isn’t really how the conversation went? Maybe it did! Yalom clearly has a great deal of experience and can come up with some great responses and deal with most situations effectively, to the point where reading some of them I wonder if I will even be able to come close to responding to certain issues and statements in such useful or insightful ways. Kind of hard to imagine at this point, to be honest.

Overall, this book has some good tips and ideas in it. Will I use all of them? Maybe not, as I don’t know how comfortable I am at this point with some stuff in the world of therapy, being as inexperienced as I am right now. But perhaps in time. The other question, however, is would I read this book unless I was required to or wanting to get into this field? Probably not. But as I kind of mentioned before, it is not the worst thing I’ve ever had to read by a long shot.  

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Friday, January 1, 2016

Let Me Talk About Star Wars: The Force Awakens for a Quick Second (But Just a Quick One)

Everyone's cute and I'm on fire.
That's it: that's the movie.
Because really, the plot seemed like a typical adventure, with a lot of luck and circumstance on their side. But the characters were all awesome and fun. 
And really, that's all I have to say about the movie. No long think-pieces here, which is somewhat odd for me since when I get hype about things I tend to get very wordy. That's all I need to say, and all you need to know. Go for the characters and for enjoyment. Don't think too hard about it (unless you really want to). 
It's not that deep, ya'll. It's not that deep. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

#CBR7 Review #29: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“This is my problem. I want other people to tell me how they feel. But I’m not so sure I want to return the favor.”
(Bruh, did I write this? Because this sounds exactly like me. Get out of my head).

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book full of lines that dig right into your heart. A book full of kindness and kind characters. Of feelings and phrases that seem almost too profound to be coming from such a young character, and yet it doesn’t feel as inorganic as many young-adult novels with characters who don’t feel organically young, just an image or distorted memory of what being young was like.
This book may tread on some familiar ground, and perhaps not all that much “happens” in terms of plot. And yet… so much happens. And every time the young protagonist drives to the middle of the desert to look at the stars I can’t help but think that that is exactly what this book feels like. Staring at the immeasurable sky above, with nothing but space to be. A warm breeze on the wind to tell you that maybe you aren’t as alone or small as you feel looking at something so infinite.
And apparently, I have a lot of thoughts about this book, just given all the things it reminded me of and all the emotions it seemed to stir up in me.

As I was reading Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a few people asked me how it was. Every time I would respond with, “It’s just so GENTLE!” Because it is: it deals with some common and sometimes difficult issues that people encounter in their lives, but does so in a very thoughtful way. As Alire Sáenz himself writes, “To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.”

The novel itself focuses on a Mexican-American teenage boy in the late 1980s named Aristotle, —who prefers to go by Ari—over the course of a few years of his young life. Told from Ari’s point of view, we get a good look into all the thoughts and feelings swimming in his head, many of which confuse him and he prefers to keep to himself: we get to see so much more than he is willing to show or share with anyone else, and in a way that feels like a gift. And I too resonate with that feeling of not being able to or willing to show what is inside to the external world. It can be scary, even as an adult (well, more like an emerging adult, I guess). Yet, I also find so much resonance with the other main character of the novel, Dante, who is another young boy who Ari becomes close friends with over the course of the novel. Dante is exuberant and full of life. He is able to find so much delight in the world and wears his emotions like badges of honor. And sometimes that is me. The two boys couldn’t be more different on the surface, and yet somehow they manage to fit perfectly together. The novel continues to follow their relationship as it grows, falters, hurts, and heals, over the course of a few summers together. Themes of internal wars, family relationships (particularly those between Ari, his parents, and Ari’s estranged brother who is in prison), Mexican-American identity, hate crimes, coming-of-age, and sexuality are also addressed and weave throughout the lives of the two boys.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know why I am always drawn to young adult novels, particularly when I often get so annoyed by the young characters, or feel like they are just imitations of what teenagers are like (hey, I’m not saying they can’t be profound or smart, but they often read as really… pretentious? I mean I tried to be poetic at that age and boy was it garbage. That’s not to say everyone is like that, though). And we all know teenagers have a tendency to be pretty dramatic about their emotions, which can get tiring after a while. But this didn’t feel forced or inauthentic to me. Well, maybe there was the odd line or two I side-eyed, but that’s not saying much. And perhaps at times I thought that maybe Dante seemed like a bit of a caricature of a character, but not to the point that I was irritated by it. Really, the biggest issue with characters I had was the parents, because sometimes I just considered if I have ever met parents who speak to and have interactions with their children like the ones in this novel do. It’s hard to say, and it left me wondering. However, they are so kind and so caring and accepting, yet complete with their own struggles and issues that you cannot help but feel like they belong so completely in the world presented.

But regardless of this, the characters and how they are written and how they express their internal selves are the real strength of this novel, and something that drew me in right away. Because when it comes to the plot, at some point I got the feeling that I knew exactly where everything was headed, and that it could end in one of two ways. Yet rather than feeling overused to me, the overall plot just felt familiar, and almost comfortable to me. I realize that it is hard for me to write about this without some serious personal bias (can we ever write a review without some sort of bias?), but I was personally glad by how this story unfolded. Because so many books and movies today with LGBT+ themes are inherently tragic, and I hate it. Is that what my life (as a bi individual) is? Destined to be full of heartache and pain? Of hiding and being broken as soon as I let the greater world see who I am? It’s like Ari says, “Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.”

But Alire Sáenz doesn’t do that. Really, the whole thing reminded me a lot of the Brazilian film The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho, in Portuguese). If you haven’t seen this film, I would very much recommend, as it is also very soft, gentle, and touching, and has the same feel as this book does. See, that’s what I mean about feeling familiar: it’s like I’ve seen another version of this story before, but it’s presented in a way that is emotive enough to be able to connect to in some way. And it’s also not incredible sexualized in the way that a lot of LGBT+ stories are. This reminds me of how Troye Sivan describes the story he presents in his song “Wild” (as a part of the “Blue Neighborhood” trio of songs, it’s called?), in that Ari and Dante’s story is about the young love we may find that is simply innocent and sweet, but still so meaningful and powerful.

And boy do I connect with a lot of the emotions and feelings presented in this novel. I relate to the struggle of really coming to understand what we are feeling inside of us (I think we can all relate to that in a lot of ways).
Of wanting people to let us in, but not being willing to do that in return. Of coming to learn new things about people that we never knew before, and wondering if we can truly ever understand someone else in their entirety.
“I got to thinking that poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just didn’t get—and never would get”.
Of being afraid of what we feel inside of us, and trying to push them away, but ultimately getting angry and pushing those who give you those feelings away instead. And this hurts, but maybe you can heal at some point.
“Maybe we just lived between hurting and healing.”
These are lines that we may walk every day. I know what it feels like to slowly come to know yourself and to not be certain that you even like who this person is. To question who you are when you come to find new facets of your being.
“And I thought that maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet. They were there. Lying in wait.”
Of being open with some but wanting to hide parts of yourself with certain people: in particular, my parents. They will more than likely be accepting of me, and yet like Dante, I feel like if I reveal particular aspects of my sexuality to my family they will be disappointed, and even if they are not, it ultimately changes how people see you. And that is a scary thing to think about.
I know what it’s like to have feelings for friends that they cannot reciprocate because of who they are, and you try to not be hurt, but it still burns inside. But you can’t blame them, and it makes you angry at yourself that you want to blame them, but also angry at them for making you think these things. We are constantly moving through life and discovering new things, and it changes us. And sometimes these changes are good and sometimes they are bad. And sometimes we would rather live in a world of not knowing than face what we might find inside of ourselves. In these ways, although I am not in the same stage of life as the boys in this book, I still see myself in them in many ways. There are emotions here that I think a lot of people can relate to, not necessarily in the same context, but they are the same feelings nonetheless. Do you see what I mean when I say I have a lot of thoughts about this book/inspired by what I read within it?

So the ultimate question remains: did I like this book? Yes I did. As I mentioned earlier, it is the embodiment of staring up at the night sky in the middle of the desert, with a warm breeze surrounding you. I ate it up. I wanted more. My heart feels like it has been wrapped in a hug. So sweet. So gentle. So pure. So beautiful.

Oh, and one last thing: I didn’t realize that Lin-Manual Miranda is the reader for the audio book version of this story. Which is awesome, and also somewhat hilarious and ironic given that one of the lines he has to say is literally, “I don’t want to study Alexander Hamilton.” (Can you believe this??)

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Monday, November 30, 2015

#CBR7 Review #28: Border Crossing by Pat Barker

I really don’t know when and how I ended up with multiple novels by Pat Barker on my kindle, but here we are. And knowing that a few of them belonged to a series, I opted to read Border Crossing, a book dealing with child offenders of serious crimes, and examining the idea of people changing and finding redemption years later. Or is evil an inherent trait that can be found in children as well as adults? Honestly, the whole thing sounded kind of like that Andrew Garfield movie, Boy A, except in comparison, I found the whole thing rather bland. Or, maybe “bland” is not the right word… I guess it’s just that I felt like I needed more: more of everything. Some interesting topics and themes were brought up, but I never felt like we really got to the depth of them, or even to the depth of the character of Danny and his manipulative personality, which I found to be super intriguing and the strongest force in the story. Yet, I was left with a sense of just gliding through the whole thing with nothing to really grab onto.

The story of Border Crossing itself focuses on a child psychologist named Tom, who we first see saving a young man who dove into a river in attempted suicide. Tom soon discovers that he knows this young man named Danny, or at least, he knew the boy for a time years earlier, when Tom presented evidence that resulted in the conviction of Danny for the murder of an elderly woman when he was ten years old. But now Danny is out, and has a new identity, yet he seeks out Tom’s help to go back into his past and reconnect to what happened all those years ago. Tom soon finds himself questioning and crossing the lines between the personal and the professional, and asking himself if people can find redemption over time. He also grapples with how to best deal with Danny’s wishes and personality, as well as Tom’s own crumbling personal life. But of course, even though new identities may hold for a while, the newly committed crimes of two young children threaten to bring Danny’s past life back into the focus of the media, and expose him anew. 

Truth be told, I found the character of Danny to be incredibly intriguing, and just the way he interacts with and affects the people around him. Yet, I felt as though I didn’t get enough of him through the vehicle of Tom, and didn’t even fully understand what Danny was doing or wanted from going to see Tom again. So while there was some serious potential and great points scattered through the story, the whole thing fell a little flat and came across as anticlimactic to me in the end. Though, I will say that it was not a difficult read, which is always nice when you don’t want anything too heavy or requiring of extra focus (especially since I read most of this during down-time at work). But in the end, while there isn’t really anything wrong with Border Crossing, I unfortunately feel like it is ultimately very forgettable. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]