Sunday, August 25, 2013

#CBR5 Review #41: City of Glass by Cassandra Claire

Or as I like to call it: City of Why Can’t You Guys Just Communicate a Little Better?

And so, after a strong first novel and slightly less-engaging sequel, this installment to Cassandra Claire’s Mortal Instruments series hits the third-book-slump for a number of reasons. While the story is still engaging if you have become invested in these characters from the previous books, there is a definite increase in melodrama and love-angst in City of Glass. Furthermore, many of the plot twists and outcomes can be seen coming from a mile away, making it far less exciting than say, City of Bones with all it’s amusing turns. Although I must admit, I did accidentally spoil one of the big twists for myself before reading this book (I was dorking around on the internet, rookie mistake, I know), but I still feel as though you could see where all of this was headed very easily.

[Hold on to your hats, kids, if you haven’t read any of these books before, this plot description is likely to leave you a bit lost:]

City of Glass picks up after the battle against Valentine in City of Ashes. Jace and the rest of the Lightwoods are planning on going to the city of Alicante in the Shawdowhunter homeland (Idris) to speak with the Clave about what happened with Valentine. Clary also wants to go to Idris to find Ragnor Fell, the man who supposedly knows how to wake her mother up from her self-induced coma. Jace, however, is afraid that the Clave will ask questions about Clary’s role in Valentine’s defeat, and wonder about her special gifts, only to use her as an experiment. He pleads with Simon not to let Clary come along, but as he is doing so, the troop is attacked and forced to portal to Alicante with vampire Simon, even though doing so is illegal. Clary is left behind, and resolves to find her own way there despite Luke begging her not to go, claiming it is too dangerous for her. But does Clary listen? Of course not.

And so, everyone ends up in Alicante, in one unfortunate situation or another. Because Simon is a vampire who can walk in the daylight, the new Inquisitor imprisons him, despite telling everyone that he is to be sent home. Clary does not know that Simon came along, and obliviously trundles her way to Alicante with a reluctant Luke, and with the help of Luke’s sister who he hasn’t seen in years, Amatis. Jace and Clary fight about her being there, and it is clear that they both still have feelings for each other despite wanting to treat one another like brother and sister. The plot thickens, however, when Clary meets a young man named Sebastian who is all too eager to help her find Ragnor Fell; Sebastian is extremely charming, yet there is something sinister about him. It is only later that we learn the true reasons for this, after the city of Alicante is attacked by demons, a situation that should be impossible. After the destruction, everyone is on high alert for Valentine as he searches Idris for the last mortal instrument, a mirror. During this time of tension, Luke tries to reason with the Clave to form alliances with the four different factions of downworlders (vampires, werewolves, fairies, and warlocks) in order to protect themselves from demons now and for the future. Meanwhile, Clary and Jace continue to struggle with their relationship, and find out more and more about how Valentine had been experimenting on them in order to give them special gifts. These special gifts end up coming in handy when everything comes to a head at the end for one final battle with Valentine, and the big, ultimate reveal that (tada!) Jace and Clary are not in fact related. I think we all knew that that was the case from the get go. At least, I did, so that’s why I wasn’t all too concerned about the incest vibes leading up to this point.

Apparently it’s quite difficult to succinctly relate what occurs in these books because there is just so much going on! I didn’t even scratch the surface with this. In any case, most of City of Glass features lengthy conversations or back-and-forth information as to what is occurring with everyone all around Alicante and nobody can seem to really keep anything straight at any one point in time. Honestly, there are a lot of he-said-she-said situations and missed connections that lead to angst on many people’s parts. But that’s not the only problematic thing I found in this installment to the series:

First of all, Clary’s stubbornness is a trait of her character, I understand that, but her act-first nature and insistence on doing whatever she wants regardless of what people tell her is starting to tire me. Of course, it is this nature of hers that leads her to be the one who magnificently comes up with the solutions to all the big problems, but sometimes it’s like, wow, you are being totally disrespectful to both people and customs, girl, I don’t care how much of a special and gifted little thing you are.

Furthermore, all the characters seem to be keep rehashing all their old issues with nothing really new to bring to the table character-wise for some reason: they all started out with so much potential only to get lost in melodramatic love stories and static stereotypes. And the melodrama is really hindering the writing as of now; no seriously, I’m pretty sure I saw the word “wistful” being used to describe someone’s expression about 100 times in the last 3rd of the book alone. Sure, there are still some surprises to enjoy, but a lot of times it just seems like everyone is relying on Magnus or Clary to do all these fantastical magical things in order to save the day, and many of the twists, like I mentioned, can be easily predicted after just one too many hints are given along the way. I guess I’d say this book is the most derivative of typical young adult fantasy so far.

But more than anything, I am tired of the Jace and Clary relationship struggles. At first, it was kind of different, but as soon as you can see that they love each other and act like “soul mates,” you just know that they aren’t related. And because of this, I didn’t really care about their issues, because I knew they would eventually solve themselves to allow for them to be happy (You’re the father! Wait, no, HE’S the father!) . Plus, nobody else really seems to care about them being in love and yet related either. Sure, sometimes characters will use this to taunt them and call them disgusting, but apparently people understand that they love each other and see the way that they are just drawn to one another and so look past the relation or something? I don’t know. I guess I’m just exhausted from the countless YA books that promote the idea that there is one person who sends electricity through you and once you find them you are bound forever in some unspeakable way. Yeah, okay, so everyone that comes into your life becomes a part of you and a part of your story, but this just seems like a little too much. Also a little sappy: sappy writing is no good in my books.

All that being said, and despite all of City of Glass’ downfalls, I still liked knowing what was going to happen to these characters after City of Ashes. And the ending wrapped things up nicely, in a way that felt like it could have been the end of the series as a whole, if in a overly happy and neat manner. Happily ever after, ya’ll! Oh… no. There are still some books to go. But I think I’m going to give Mortal Instruments a break for a little while before picking up the next novel in the series. Because I do like them, I really do! This one was just disappointing.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Monday, August 19, 2013

#CBR5 Reviews #39-40: City of Bones and City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Whenever I read a young-adult series, I find that I fall in love with the first book, only to be extremely disappointed by each sequel that comes to follow it (I’m looking at you, Maze Runner, a series I still haven’t finished from frustration with the second novel). Because of this, when I embarked on reading City of Bones before the film adaptation is released this week [Jonathan Rhys Meyers film career, back from grave!], I also decided to read City of Ashes immediately afterwards. While City of Ashes does experience a bit of a sequel slump, it’s not nearly as drastic as I feared it would be, and is still quite good.

In any case, the first two books of The Mortal Instruments series have definitely made me want to continue reading to see what happens: I’m enjoying them a lot. Maybe it’s my love of all that fantasy, angels and demons stuff (which we can see in the fact that I never met a Supernatural reference I didn’t want to make). Or maybe it’s that everything seems to have a very distinct purpose and is very planned out; the books are richly detailed, but not so much so that it becomes a chore to read through them. Of course, being that these books are aimed at the young-adult demographic, there are bound to be some young romance plot lines, which vary in their degrees of being seemingly necessary or just plain irritating. City of Ashes definitely hinges more on the slow-paced discussions of relationships and issues of love than the action and back-story-filled City of Bones.

City of Bones
City of Bones begins with 15 year-old Clary Fray at an all-ages club in New York with her best friend of many years (who is hopelessly in love with her) named Simon. At the club, Clary sees three young people attack another boy, who they claim to be a demon, yet nobody else seems to be able to see these people at all. She is shaken by this, and starts wondering if she is hallucinating. Soon after, Clary and her mother fight about leaving town for a while, and Clary runs off for the night with Simon, at which time, Clary’s mother, Jocelyn, gets kidnapped. Clary only discovers this after bumping in to one of the boys who she saw killing the demon at the nightclub, named Jace. Jace appears to be following her, and when Clary returns home to see about her mother, Clary is attacked by a demon. Upon waking up, Clary finds herself in “The Institute” for “Shadowhunters,” which is what Jace is. Essentially, Shawdowhunters remove demonic threats from the earth for the protection of humans. They also make accords with other “Downworlders” such as vampires and werewolves, so that they might live peacefully with all other races; in a sense, they uphold supernatural laws. Jace introduces Clary to a brother and sister named Alec and Isabelle who are also Shadowhunters, as well as an old man named Hodge who runs the Institute in the New York area.

From here on out, Clary (and Simon) are thrust into a strange world that they don’t fully understanding, taking part in dangerous adventures, and learning more and more about Clary’s mother and what being a Shadowhunter entails. Clary learns that her mother was once a part of The Clave of Shadowhunters, but that her husband and Clary’s father, Valentine, was essentially a power-hungry dissenter. Valentine, who they once thought to be dead, now appears to be on the hunt for The Mortal Cup, an artifact that can create more Shadowhunters, by having children drink from the cup to turn them into Nephilim (half angel, half human). Jocelyn is believed to have hidden the cup, leading to her kidnap. Clary also learns that she herself is a Shadowhunter in blood, but not in training, as well as the fact that her mother’s best friend, Luke, is actually a Werewolf who was also once a Shadowhunter. Yeesh, things sure do get complicated and tied together in this big conspiracy, don’t they?

The main focus of the story, however, is on Clary trying to find her mother. This involves meeting some interesting characters, such as the High Warlock of Brooklyn, named Magnus Bane, who had Clary’s “sight” of the supernatural world wiped every two years since she was a child, at the request of her mother. Oh, and of course, the story also focuses on Clary and Jace starting to develop feelings for one another, only to have those hopes dashed when they find out they are… related. Closely. As in siblings. Bonds are formed, betrayals occur, loyalty is questioned, and the blood ties of family are tested.

One of the great strengths of City of Bones is how interconnected everything is, and how shocking some of the little twists are. I literally gasped a few times during this book, which doesn’t happen all that often with me while reading (well okay, sometimes). I also found it refreshing that while the Shadowhunters appear to have some special abilities, most of their power and skill comes from years of training, and also from temporary runes that they draw on their skin. In addition, all the characters seem to have a prominent role in this book, so no one is really left to the side to be undeveloped by the end. All in all, I found City of Bones to be very intriguing, especially in learning much of the history of the Clave and the Shadowhunters. I guess I’m just kind of into that stuff, as I mentioned earlier.

City of Ashes
City of Ashes deals with the aftermath of Valentine’s first reappearance, and his new insistence on finding another mortal instrument (like the Mortal Cup). Clary and Luke are left to face the fact that Clary’s mother is essentially in a coma and won’t wake up after being kidnapped by Valentine. Jace, on the other hand, is being accused by the Inquisitor of the Clave as knowing all along that he was Valentine’s son, and also of working with Valentine to steal the Mortal Cup. Jace is reeling in that fact that he never knew his father was such an evil figure, and also in the fact that the girl he loves is his sister (who is also now dating Simon), so he reacts stubbornly to authority figures at this point in retaliation. The Inquisitor imprisons Jace at the Silent City because of his insolence. While he is there, Alec, Isabelle, and Clary decide to rescue him, only to find that all the Silent Brothers of the city have been murdered and the Soul Sword has been stolen; the Soul Sword is a sword used by the Inquisitor to make people tell the truth during trials, but Valentine appears to have stolen it in order to perform a spell on it that will allow him to summon any and all demons to his command in the human world. This spell requires the blood of four different types of Downworlder children, including a warlock, a werewolf, a vampire, and fairy.

The Clave doesn’t want to listen to Jace’s ideas about what Valentine is doing, and so he turns to Luke, the Lightwood siblings (Alec and Isabelle), and Magnus Bane to help him try and stop his father. Their actions are seen as unsanctified and dissenting from the Clave, leading to these young Shadowhunters to be pulled at from every direction, not knowing what to do. Meanwhile, Simon is experiencing some troubles of his own, as not only is Clary clearly still in love with Jace, but he is also afraid that he is turning into a vampire. Clary, on the other hand, appears to have skills in drawing new runes that she never realized she could before. Apparently, Valentine had been using new Nephilim as experiments, to see if they could be bestowed with special gifts, and apparently he has succeeded. Everything comes to a head when Valentine kidnaps a young member of Luke’s werewolf pack and newly vampirized Simon in his attempt to finish his spell on the Soul Sword. The Clave of Shadowhunters is led to act and fight in a battle with hundreds of demons in order to stop Valentine, and the loyalty and abilities of the Shadowhunters are once again put to the test.

While City of Ashes is definitely still worth the read, it falters a bit in comparison to City of Bones. This may have to do with the fact that the first great lengths of the book hinge on discussion and tactical ideas, rather than any real action, only to have all the fighting and faced-paced stuff shoved into the last few chapters. That being said, there’s a slight Cabin in the Woods feel to all the demonic creatures being released in one bloody free-for-all at the end, which I definitely enjoyed. On the other hand, some characters were almost too relied on in this novel to do some serious heavy lifting on the magical side of things (Magnus), while others fell to the sidelines and became flat and almost just mentioned from time to time to remind us that, yes, they are still here (Isabelle). What the biggest downfall of this book is, however, is the insistence of many of the characters moping about their relationships and unrequited loves. Ah yes, this really does become a huge topic of this novel, not just with the Jace, Simon, and Clary issue, but also with Alec, Jace, and Magnus, as well as Luke, Jocelyn, and Valentine. Funny how they all manage to parallel, huh? Though I’m sure it will all work out eventually for them; I mean, Jace and Clary are soul mates or something, they can’t be siblings, right? That’s the vibe I’m getting from this author, at least. I suppose I’ll have to read more to find out, which at this point, is what I intend.


At first, I thought this was just going to be another story about a girl who thinks she is so ordinary and unimportant, only to find out that she is really a truly special snowflake, becoming all kick-ass and immortal after kissing a boy for the first time. But thankfully, I was surprised by a difference to this: oh yes, there is still the whole, “you are special but you didn’t realize it,” and “you think you are so plain but you are really so beautiful to everyone” thing going on, but Clary herself has had a much slower and more progressive transformation into the Shadowhunter world than I anticipated so far. She doesn’t just become a lean, mean, fighting machine after discovering who she truly is, but still needs people to help her, while slowly becoming more active in fights and decisions as she learns more about this world. At the same time, despite these general young-adult feelings, I still often forget how old the main characters are supposed to be. Sometimes they speak way older than their age, and it leaves me wondering if any teenager has ever talked like that. Maybe, given a different Shadowhunter upbringing? It’s hard to say, but sometimes when I get reminded of their age I have to do a double take. Though at the same time, having them feel slightly older may also work in connecting with people that are just out of the target age-range as well.

What is also beneficial to the series as a whole is the insistence of people in this world trying to live semi-normal lives, and how they are shown doing seemingly ordinary things all while the hectic life of a Shadowhunter or Downworlder is still pulling them at every end; just because you are a werewolf doesn’t mean you don’t need a regular job, and just because you are a demon-hunter doesn’t mean you don’t stop to go out for donuts or watch Gilligan’s Island every now and again, you know?

One thing that I do find a bit tiring, however, especially in City of Ashes is the repetitiveness of some of the conversations about danger and going in to certain situations.  “You can’t come, you’re not trained/just a mundane.” “I’m not just sitting out of the fight/I’m not going without him coming too.” “Okay, fine. You’re stubborn like your mother.” I’m sure you can see how this would become slightly exasperating after a while.

And while I am interested to see how this entire world and adventure pans out as a whole, I am a tad worried (as always) that the coming sequels will be less and less engaging as time goes on. Will Valentine always be the “big bad” that they face, only to just slightly defeat him each time before he manages to run away and escape again? The Mortal Instruments could easily fall into this monotonous cycle, but I guess for now, all we have to do is wait and see. Not to mention, go see the film soon to see what angle they choose to take in adapting it. Aidan Turner as Luke Garroway? I’m not sure, but I am definitely intrigued.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball read group blog]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What's The Hobby You’ve Always Wanted?

I can't tell you why, but I've always loved these things.
Is there a hobby or thing you’ve always wished you’d gotten into? Sure, maybe you already have a lot of hobbies (as for me, I almost have too many). Or maybe you already have a ton of sports you like to play. And yet there is still that one thing you wish you knew how to do, or one sport you wish you had learnt or joined a team for.

For me, that thing is cars. Oh, I know, I may be the most unassumingly tiny little girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get excited by a nice vehicle or want to know more about them (which wouldn’t be hard seeing as I know basically nothing). I feel like there is just something so gratifying about being able to change your own oil or fix up little problems in your own vehicle without having to go ask someone for help or to do it for you. It also seems like it would be a lot of hard work, yet fun, to have a old, classic “project car” that you are refurbishing or working on putting a new engine into to make it more fuel efficient for today. That way, you could have that old car you always thought was awesome without having to worry about the environment or it crapping out on you randomly on the street because it’s so old. Being able to take care of cars just seems like a good skill to have, but I am at a loss as to where to even begin when it comes to that.

Leave me alone. It's beautiful, okay?
Of course, I could always still pick it up! Who is to say that we can’t start doing things we’ve always wanted to just because we’ve gotten older (says the 22 year-old). I guess it just seems simpler to learn things at a young age and stick with them with practice over the years. And I suppose the other problem with my hobby of choice in particular is that cars and parts and tools are ridiculously expensive! Yikes. But you know what? Never say never. I should just look and see if I can find one of those “For Dummies” books on auto-mechanics somewhere, see if there is a class I can take on this stuff one day, and go ask my uncle for help if I have any questions. And then maybe, just maybe, I will have my fantastic VW Minibus that I’ve always wanted. Or a 60s Chevy Impala, of course: carry on my wayward son, we’re going hunting!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

#CBR5 Review #38: Star Trek/Doctor Who – Assimilation^2 by Scott and David Tipton

 (With art by J.K. Woodward)

A crossover between Star Trek: The Next Generation and Pond-era Doctor Who? It’s like a super geeky fantasy dream! Written as a short serial of 8 issues collected into two volumes, this idea totally roped me in, but in the end was a bit disappointing. There was potential here to do so much, but inevitably all the conflicts and conclusions felt… easy, I guess? And the action was very swayed to feel much more like a general 2-part episode of Doctor Who than a Star Trek story. At the end of the day, however, Assimilation^2 is a fun little story that combines two worlds that may not otherwise meet, if not in a very memorable fashion.

The main conflict in Assimilation^2 centers around a combined attack on Federation planets between the Borg and Cybermen, who are using each other’s technologies in order to co-conquer the human race. Upon this crossover of threats, the TARDIS chooses to mobilize between universes and appear on the Holodeck of the Enterprise-D. Why this crossing-over between universes occurs and what the ultimate ramifications for it may be are never really explained in this book, which was a little confusing to be honest. In any case, The Doctor, Rory, and Amy appear to have new memories of this universe that formed when they materialized in it, and they now want to help the crew of the Enterprise in eliminating this combined threat.

Soon, however, the threat of the Borg appears to be minimal, and we see the Borg actually asking Starfleet for help, as the Cybermen have betrayed their alliance. Captain Jean Luc Picard is hesitant to help out the Borg defeat the Cybermen, due to past traumas. The Doctor, however, insists that he helps, and shows Captain Picard just what the Cybermen will be capable of doing to the future of his universe. Captain Picard reluctantly agrees, and he and the Doctor lead a strike force into the center of the main Cyberman vessel in order to defeat them. Although the Borg and the humans now have an alliance against a single enemy, the question then remains if the Borg will continue to uphold this, or if they will try to use the new technologies of time-travel as seen in the TARDIS to overtake humans through all of time and space.

One issue I had with Assimilation^2 was the characterization of many figures: The Doctor was written true to form and was very fun, as was the robotic yet endearing Data, but many of the others fell a little flat or felt like one-note characters (it basically highlighted the most irritating parts of Amy Pond, while also pushing her to the sidelines, which is unfortunate). Also, although J.K. Woodward’s artwork would be beautiful as stand-alone pieces, as a means of telling a story, the artwork could probably do with some refining. There is one section in the first volume that flashes back to tell a story of when the crew of the USS Enterprise NC-1701 (Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty) had once met the 4 incarnation of the Doctor: the artwork in this segment is crisp and energetic, and I almost wish the whole thing had been done in a similar style.

So I guess in the end, there could have been a little more thought and work put into Assimilation^2. I mean, overall it’s a quick and amusing read for fans of the two series being involved here, I just really think it could have been a lot better.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Monday, August 5, 2013

#CBR5 Review #37: Burned by Ellen Hopkins

Written as a series of short, connecting poems, the young-adult novel Burned tells the tale of a young girl in a strictly religious and abusive household who is sent away for the summer after her father finds her in a compromising position. A few years back, I read another work by Ellen Hopkins, written in a similar style, called Impulse, and absolutely loved it. But did I love this one? Not as such. While Burned does bring up some interesting questions regarding faith and spirituality in a person, there were too many problems that I found in this novel that I just couldn’t get around, many of which involved that subject of religion which the novel was trying to address in the first place. But more on that in a minute:

The story of Burned focuses on 16 year-old Pattyn, the oldest of 7 daughters, all raised to be Mormon by an alcoholic, ex-army father, and detached mother who is often beaten by her husband. As Pattyn is growing up, she is finding herself to be questioning a woman’s role in the world, and wondering if there is more for her than simply getting married and spawning children. She is also experiencing sexual thoughts about some of the non-Church-going boys at school, and begins to wonder if these dreams she is experiencing are being put there by God or if it is wrong to even think like this. When one boy starts to take interest in her, however, she chooses to act on it and acquires her first boyfriend, Derek. Pattyn keeps her steamy relationship a secret due to fear of what her father will do; of course, Pattyn’s father eventually discovers them through word from people at Church (who heard about the couple from some of Pattyn’s old Mormon friends at school) and splits them up, which really does a number on Pattyn, but not so on Derek who appears to have been only interested in Pattyn for physical reasons. Pattyn is hurt and begins to act out, making her a bit of a pariah in the eyes of the Church and local Latter Day Saints community. From fear of stigmatization by other families, Pattyn’s father sends her away for the summer to live with her somewhat estranged Aunt Jeannette in the Nevada desert.

[Be aware of some spoilers in the remaining plot description to come]
After basically doing nothing but help raise all her younger sisters for her whole life at the hands of an uninvolved mother, Pattyn isn’t sure what to do with herself in the desert, so she chooses to work on the ranch with Jeannette, and learn about her Aunt and why she had become estranged from Pattyn’s father all those years ago. Stories of past abuses and anger lead Pattyn to hate her father even more than she already has, and she wonders if she really wants to go back home. But more than anything that may be stopping her from returning, Pattyn soon finds herself falling for a young college boy named Ethan who sometimes helps Jeanette on her ranch. Ethan becomes a serious boyfriend for Pattyn, and the two of them find themselves feeling deep and in, as Aunt J calls it, “forever love” with one another.

By the end of the summer, Pattyn and Ethan’s relationship has become more than they ever thought it would, and Pattyn continues to wonder where the meaning in her life should come from, if there this newfound, freer Pattyn really has a place for her family and religion in her life at all. But home beckons her, and after some serious altercations at home once she returns with a new attitude and outlook on life, Pattyn has to ask herself if she really can escape her past self and her family, regardless of the new life that she has started to forge for herself. And as such, at the end of the novel we are left with a girl who is broken, floating, and deciding between two options for herself: does she try to get revenge for the wrongs that have been done to her and the things she has lost? Or does she end all the pain and uncertainty in her life once and for all? We never really find out the answer, but are left to decide on our own what she does (or doesn’t do). It’s quite haunting in a way, leaving the reader to determine the action she takes, especially considering the two dark paths that she is choosing between.

In addition to having a serious and compelling means of ending the novel, Burned also finds some strength in the fact that a number of the poems used to tell the stories are simply beautiful. However, I personally feel like they would be beautiful as stand-alones, and that telling a narrative as such in this manner becomes a bit gimmicky at times. This was especially noticeable to me when the physical format and layout of the poem itself was set up in a strange way in order to convey the subject of the poem as well. Spreading out all the words to make a firework shape while the characters watch fireworks? Stuff like that made me roll my eyes a little, but I found this to be the same in Hopkins’ other novel that I read as well (and mentioned earlier). However, the means in which the story was told didn’t really take away from the ease of reading, and in fact made it easy to pick up again once you put it down or had to come back to it at some point.

But these little things that Burned has going for it doesn’t make up for a lot of the issues that I found in the novel. Maybe some of them are just personal, or because I’ve been finding myself increasingly detached from the emotions in young-adult novels as of late (what is wrong with me? I’ve loved them for so long!) but the whole thing is just… too much on either side of the coin for my liking? At some points there is so much lovey-dovey stuff that it becomes sappy and juvenile ("Forever love"? Really?). But then at other moments it is so gritty and dark that it is almost overkill. Yes, I know some people’s lives really are unthinkably heartbreaking and difficult, but the flip-flopping of emotions was really tiring. Just like the flip-flopping of Pattyn’s character: she slid back and forth between “new” and “old” Pattyn so quickly that it almost gave me whiplash. The changes that occurred in her were incredibly blunt and didn’t really have all that long to process or become ingrained in her. I just found it to be a little jarring.

Other problems came in the form of characterizations. First of all, Ethan is basically presented as perfect and with no flaws at all. Maybe it’s just Pattyn’s young interpretation of this great guy, or maybe it’s the writing of the male Mary-Sue boyfriend (a Gary-Stu?). Pattyn herself has some of these qualities at all, but more than being perfect, it’s more that she is suffering from Bella Swan (and/or special snowflake) syndrome: she doesn’t think she is pretty or special at all, but really she is totally beautiful and wonderful and finds that she is a true light upon the world once the most gorgeous guy ever opens her eyes to it. And what about Pattyn’s father? Well he is totally opposite to Ethan and is presented with essentially no redemptive qualities at all. Then there are the stereotypes of the catty, Church snobs who tell their pastors about what other girls are doing, the randy young teenagers who have no religion at all at school. And of course, Aunt Jeanette is the typical, crusty but loving old ranch-gal. I don’t know, I just found nothing special about these characters at all, and if there is nothing compelling or complicated about them like real humans are, I lose a lot of interest.

But more than anything, the very subject that the novel raised questions about was the biggest and most irksome thing to me: the portrayal and question or religion in a person’s life. This is a particularly interesting subject to me, so my interest in the book was somewhat peaked by this, but the portrayal of the Mormon, Latter Day Saints religion was very black and white. As in, you are either ridiculously strict (which, yes, I am aware that they are), or not at all. It was almost as though the novel was saying that you are either very religious or not, and can’t be in-between. The only shade of grey that ever came up was in Aunt Jeanette, who walked away from the Mormon Church but still presented some ideas about God having a life for all of us in the world. But she certainly didn’t go to church, and only presented these ideas when asked an opinion of it: I guess we’d say she is agnostic? It’s hard to say. In any case, those in the Mormon religion are painted in a very negative and generalized way in Burned. It was as though the novel was saying that the majority of people in that religion look down on those who are not Mormon, that they are abusive and restrictive of women’s rights, and aren’t truly willing to help those in need or who make mistakes in their lives. I guess it just seemed like spirituality was being presented as an either-or, and I truly don’t believe that it is that way. Perhaps that’s just coming back to my own thoughts about spirituality and religion lately (they are not strictly-speaking the same thing), but I found the representations of beliefs to be very divisive into two communities that apparently couldn’t mix.

So with all of that lengthy stuff taken into consideration, I suppose Burned is an easy and quick read, but with a melodramatic story and a lot of little things that made my scowl. I couldn’t bring myself to like it, though I did want to and did try. After reading Ellen Hopkins’ fantastic Impulse, I guess my hopes were just a little high.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Saturday, August 3, 2013

#CBR5 Review #36: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I first read this iconic Ray Bradbury novel for my 9th grade English class. And while I may have pretended otherwise, my 15 year-old self didn’t really… get it. Also, apparently while reading it, we were supposed to mark down every figure of speech we ran across and label them accordingly: boy did I do an atrocious job at this, as half of them I just didn’t even notice, and many others that I did notice were marked completely incorrectly (yes, I still have that same copy from 8-ish years ago). But now I am older and I thought I would give this book another go. And did I understand on this second occasion? Well, I definitely feel like I got a lot more out of it reading it this time. And it truly is beautifully written, with some eerie predictions of our present day, made all the way back at its publication in the 50s.

I’m sure many people have already read this book, but in any case, Fahrenheit 451 focuses on the issues of censorship and the control or manipulation mass media can have upon people. The main way in which Bradbury addresses these issues is through the subject of book burning (it’s kind of ironic, therefore, that this book found itself being censored for a number of years, no?):

In an futuristic American setting, we find a fireman named Guy Montag, whose job is not to put out fires, but to find people who have hidden books in their houses, and to burn them. Books are being burned as a means of eliminating negative and dissenting ideas in this society, where people are constantly focused on their positive “families” that play through their television walls, or listening to music through their seashell earphones. Guy appears to like his job and his place in keeping with social norms, until he meets a young girl who has moved in next door to him, named Clarisse. Clarisse is an odd girl, who does not fit in at school, as she chooses to ask questions about the world around her and not engage in the mindless violence and technological lives of her peers.

Once Guy gets to know Clarisse a bit, it becomes clear that she is greatly influencing the way he is looking at his own world and his place in it as well; in a way, Clarisse is like a catalyst for Guy to begin his journey away from the rules of life that he has always simply complied with. Guy’s first act of dissent comes when he is forced to burn down a woman’s extensive book collection with the woman still inside of her house, refusing to leave the site: Guy cannot understand why a woman would choose to die with these books unless there was something incredibly important in them. Because of this, he chooses to steal a book from the fire site, and attempts to learn more about what these books really mean, thus thrusting himself into a spiral that will inevitably lead him away from the people and life he has always known.

The action of this novel sort off starts slowly, simmering until it ignites, and then once again smoothly drips off into the ending. And the ending? It leaves a bit of darkness and questioning as to where to go in the future. I’m not sure I personally connected with the vagueness however, as Guy went through a lot of hardships for too many empty promises and more hard times to come, on the assumption that history will be cyclical. Though I suppose, if you have a cause, you act for it whether or not you know there will be victory. But will society ever really circle back to a time when people question things and want to learn? Or are too many people too far gone at this point to ever really want to change and give up the anesthetized comfort they have found themselves in for so long? And can I really believe that that many people have photographic/eidetic memories that can refill the pages of hundreds of lost books should they ever find the need to become printed again? I’m not sure.

What is fantastic about Bradbury’s writing, however, is that even when not a lot is happening, he is still saying so much; Fahrenheit 451 isn’t one of those books that waxes poetic about things, using as many tricks of language as it can without really saying anything at all. No no, you can definitely tell that every line and every word has a purpose. (Hands up if Michael Buble’s “Everything” is stuck in your head now… Oh, just me then? Okay.)

Unlike my young, teenage self, I can now see why Fahrenheit 451 is so highly regarded, and why it is seen as so important, especially with the way life has become today. But was it a favourite read of mine? No, but I did enjoy it a lot, and I do appreciate what is being said. And more than anything, I wish more books with this much weight read as smoothly as this one did.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]