Chemistry: A Book-of-the-Month Review

“The boys asks the girl a question. It is a question of marriage. Ask me again tomorrow, she says. He says that’s not how it works. 

Diamond is  no longer the hardest mineral known to man. New Scientist reports that lonsdalite is. Lonsdalite is 58 percent harder than diamond and only forms when meteorites smash themselves into Earth.”

31ecj3pv+6L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_That’s how Chemistry begins, and it gives the reader an excellent idea of what’s to come.

I’ve been a Book of the Month member since my boyfriend gave me a subscription for Christmas two years ago. It was only for three months, but I continued on with it every month since then, and he knows that a three-month gift to BOTM is a good birthday present every year. They’re a pretty good selector of quality books. Most of them are deep and take a while to read. Lately, they seem to be including more and more YA, but this book isn’t the YA for June 2017, and that’s why I picked it. I needed a change.

I must admit, I am almost nothing like the unnamed narrator of Chemistry. Science was one of my weak points in school, I’ve never been proposed to, and my parents aren’t overbearing Tiger Parents who would sooner kick me out than watch me quit a career path.

At the same time, it’s so easy to get inside the narrator’s head and become one with her, because her words are at once humorous and sympathetic. This isn’t a book about a special snowflake going on a grand adventure to free her people. This isn’t a sweeping epic romance with a Fabio lookalike. This is a pretty simple (though, simultaneously, anything but) take about a young woman who, all at once, decides she doesn’t like the path her life is taking. She’s fed up with chemistry, and while she loves and appreciates her boyfriend, his proposal makes her re-think her relationship with him.

I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but let’s just say it was exactly the ending I was looking for.

I will admit this book probably isn’t for everyone. For as small a volume as it is (slightly under 200 pages), Chemistry is a bit of a slow-paced read. The author takes her time going through the motions and mental exercises of the main character. Instead of chapters, each stream-of-consciousness section takes up a few paragraphs, but the style of the writing can be so deep that it takes a few passes before the reader is satisfied enough to move on.

While I’m not sure I would re-read this one for entertainment any time soon, it is a fantastic book nonetheless and worth at least one go-around.

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Book Review: Alex & Eliza…yes, they threw away their shot

Let’s get it out of the way right now: yes, I bloody love Hamilton, and yes, I fully subscribe to the belief that Lin Manuel Miranda is a 21st Century Shakespeare. There, I said it.

giphy (1)Now let’s deal with this factoid: yes, I’m well aware that the musical is…err…slightly inaccurate. Beyond just the mere facts (indeed, Angelica Schuyler was married before she ever met Hamilton and it wasn’t likely she had a ‘thing’ for him), the musical’s main flaw is that it portrays the titular character a bit too sympathetically. Granted, it’s literally a show ABOUT Alexander Hamilton so of course they’re going to do that, but the show gracefully ignores the fact that Ms. Maria Reynolds’ wasn’t exactly A-Ham’s only ‘indiscretion.’ Yes, Hamilton was probably an outright cad who stuck L’il Ham into anything and everything.

At least the show didn’t outright ignore every flaw the man had. It did keep somewhat of a balance between the overly saccharine and the heartbreaking fact. But leave it to a YA writer to totally surrender to the fantasy that Alexander was Jesus incarnate and a Ye Olde 1700s Fabio and create a self-insert story that centers around his courtship with Eliza Schuyler, mixing it in with some lazy cliches that were likely ripped from a 1990’s teen romance playbook. That’s what Alex & Eliza by Melissa De La Cruz became.

Before I even review the book, look at the cover. Look familiar? Yeah, this was clearly written as a cash-in on the musical’s phenomenon. Guess what? It wasn’t the first to do that. Seriously, any more obvious and these books would’ve been titled “My Shot” or “Helpless.”

 

I’ve read both of these, and both read like Hamilton fan fiction, which is okay when it’s posted on Archive of Our Own, but as mainstream, stand-alone, published-and-distributed tomes, both fall flatter than Aaron Burr’s political career.

Don’t get me wrong, writing fanf iction isn’t bad at all. Dear gods, I was one of the biggest fanfic nerds in high school and college it’s embarrassing to admit. But a successful fan story not only gets the characters right, but they explore the characters even deeper than the original work, even if inaccurately. Neither of these books even give distinguishable traits to the dramatis personae to begin with. The Hamilton Affair was so damn forgettable that I’m focusing the rest of this review on Alex & Eliza, which was more recently published and more recently read. I’d better get this out before it totally fades from memory.

Alex & Eliza follows the courtship of the titular couple and ends on their wedding night, which is an odd place to stop, seeing as the bread and butter of their entire relationship came AFTER their wedding. De La Cruz’ reasoning for this choice was because the time period between Alex and Eliza’s meeting and marriage isn’t as well documented as the time after, mainly because A-Ham was away at war for much of it. De La Cruz felt  this meant there were blank spaces to fill in, which gave her some liberty to work with the narrative. Problem is, that narrative was a highly unlikely, predictable soap opera.

Most of the story takes place from Eliza’s POV away from Albany during the winter of 1770, when she supposedly when to her aunt’s home in New Jersey to aid the war effort. There, she comes across Hamilton, who is taken instantly, but she finds him off-putting until plot convenience changes her mind. They putt around for a bit until Eliza’s mother betroths her to a walking Gaston-esque cutout against her will. Of course, all ends well when A-Hem saves the day, Not Gaston is foiled, and Eliza’s mother blesses her union with Hamilton. End story, and all is perfect until the affair that nearly ruined his career and her life fifteen years later.

Yeah, that’s right. The book relies on an ‘engaged to someone else’ plot in the third act to bring the lovers together, which is incredibly unlikely to have happened, seeing as Eliza’s courtship was the ONLY one of her sisters’ to be blessed by their family. The author justifies this with the famous “poor man’s wife” quote from one of Hamilton’s letters.

Accuracy aside, this book was just…dumb. Mind-numbingly so. It relies so much on the usual fare it was literally the ‘hardtack and creek water’ Hamilton story. At times Eliza gets a good moment with Angelica and Peggy, but they even seem to flanderize the other Schuyler Sisters. Angelica’s a wit and Peggy’s a flirt. Um…work?

In addition, the long-winded passages about the mundane events in the story are almost Steinbeckian, and not in the good way. It’s basically akin to the infamous ant-crossing-the-road chapter from The Pearl. We get almost three chapters devoted to Alex and Eliza riding a horse on a cold winter’s night. Another full chapter is centered on Eliza settling in and being sick at her aunt’s home. Two chapters at least are about Eliza inoculating Washington’s troops. Long portions more are dedicated to dinner parties and fireside chats between Eliza and her sisters and aunt. By the time De La Cruz introduced Not Gaston to the plot, I was ready for them to just be done with all of it.

Honestly, the only good thing about Alex & Eliza is that it’s so easy for the reader to self-insert into Eliza’s place because she’s so blandly written, and as such, having vague fantasies about myself riding on horseback with Lin Manuel Miranda was the only major benefit the book offered. If that was the whole story’s intention, then De La Cruz succeeded.

If you feel compelled to pick it up for yourself, don’t let me stop you. I advise, however, it’s worth it to just find it at your library as opposed to shelling out $17.99 for some one-read-only romance. Also, don’t read it while listening to the musical soundtrack. It will depress you very much.

Book Review: Bad Girl Gone (but it’s for the best)

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from a Goodreads.com giveaway.

“Sixteen year-old Echo Stone awakens in a cold sweat in a dark room, having no idea where she is or how she got there. But she soon finds out she s in Middle House, an orphanage filled with mysteriously troubled kids.

There s just one problem: she s not an orphan. Her parents are alive…but she s not.”

bad-girl-goneThus begins one of the saddest let-downs that ALMOST wasn’t.

Bad Girl Gone is by veteran author Temple Matthews, whose resume consist more of television episodes than novels. The blurb promises something interesting, if not perhaps a little shallow. Well, shallow I got in spades while reading this, but interesting, not so much.

Painted as a YA Supernatural Mystery, teen queen ‘Echo” (her nickname because as a child she parroted her parents) quickly learns that she is stabbed in the heart by a mysterious assassin, and her consciousness is sent to Middle House, which is essentially Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Ghosts. Youth who are murdered are sent to this purgatory until they can uncover the stories behind their murders and get the appropriate revenge on their assailants, at which point they ascend to some Heavyside Layer-esque place to await reincarnation.

Each ghost child has a ‘gift’ that is supposed to aid them on their journey. Of course, this means Echo gets the uber-rare ‘special snowflake’ gift that allows her to figure out her story at a much accelerated pace. And, of course, this also means she attracts the attention of a hot male-ghost who wants her to fall for him, even though she cant let go of her earthly beau.

Along the way, Echo realizes that she might not have been the ‘Miss Perfect” she thought she was, and that her actions on Earth may have affected some people negatively.

As you can see, I wasn’t too thrilled with this one. The main characters are unrelentingly dull. Echo is very unsympathetic. Someone should have told Mr. Matthews as he was writing this that the general book-reading public is growing weary of the Special-Powers Brunette Female Protagonist. She’s got about as much draw to her personality as Bella Swan.

But even worse than the lack of interesting characters is the cliches, which this book is absolutely RIDDLED with. You have a love triangle with a female center, a tough girl with a soft side, a bitchy antagonist who tries to get with the heroine’s ex out of spite, the creepy-but-misunderstood First Suspect (who never turns out to be the murderer), the Actual murderer who is glossed over until it’s revealed they are a monster in the last act, the ‘gifted’ team of ragtag allies who have nothing better to do (like solving their OWN murders) than help our lead get her way. Oh, the cliches! The cliches!

LRSjD6

What’s even sadder than that, however, is the PREMISE isn’t altogether uninteresting. The concept of someone dying, and in their afterlife discovering that they left both and positive and negative legacy in their wake, all while realizing they put their trust in the wrong people is not a bad idea. While it’s not a NEW idea at all, it’s something that, if done right, can leave a reader with some emotional fallout. Bad Girl Gone takes the idea and beats it to death with all the usual elements that make many YA books redundant.

The writing itself isn’t the worst. I’ve certainly read worse from much less competent authors. It’s just annoying that this author HAS experience with writing (quite a large list of things, if you want to check them out on Goodreads), so why hasn’t he seen that when you add stupid love triangles from 2007 into book for 2017, interest readers drop like flies?

I hope Mr. Matthews’ next endeavor is more appealing than this one. I might be willing to give him a second chance.

Book Mini-Review: The Rejected Princesses

51zqABtThyLWe live in an impossibly backwards time, especially in the United States. So it’s beautifully refreshing to see that so many people are fighting the tides of populism and anti-intellectualism that are rolling in with our latest administration. In this case, the rebellion comes in the form of ‘The Rejected Princesses,’ a book in the form of a collection of ‘bedtime stories’ filled with short-but-satisfying biographies or real-life women of the past who are too awesome in respective ways to be considered your typical history class subjects (or Disney Princesses).

The book (which, to my glee, was just announced to have a sequel en route) is the collection of tales brought to attentions thanks to RejectedPrincesses.com, and each one is complete with thoughtful illustrations and trigger warnings (some of the stories DO get a little bleak).

Each story was well-written, as if meant to be a bedtime fairy tale for a future feminist. Rejected Princesses doesn’t take the term ‘princess,’ literally, either. Most of the magnificent subjects of the stories were scientists, fighters, rogues, and rebels. What is even better is one can choose to go to the website and find very regular updates of more stories of heroines, hellions, and heretics. Apparently, unlike what the white, male canon would have you believe, history has no shortage of bad ass women to look up to.

3daffa9849a1ad5e439e42fa3d8494a5Even better than the triumphantly feminist feel is the inclusivity and diversity of the aforementioned heroines. Rejected Princesses doesn’t hesitate to draw inspiration from every race, religion, and corner of the world to find these tales. Each story is even more powerful than the last, and it’s truly a shame that more people don’t know about some of these women.

Be warned, however, if you’re looking for a morally-pristine tale to read your daughters, pay attention to the warnings and disclaimers the book kindly denotes. Not all of these stories are of angelic people. Some women found within were bandits, thieves, rogues, killers, and otherwise of ambiguous character. The point of Rejected Princesses is not to portray Disney heroines, complete with singing birds and wedding bells. It’s about women who fought oppression, patriarchy, and an unfair, unbalanced rule book to pursue greater destinies. I wouldn’t be so quick to lull my daughter (if I had one) to sleep with the tale of Julie d’Aubigny, the opera singer who committed capital arson in order to free the nun with whom she had a lustful affair.

However, with a little discretion, there is no problem with reading some of these amazing true stories to empower your daughters, sisters, or friends (especially the stories in the first third, purposefully put in front as the least ‘offensive’ chapters).

My advice on this one? Definitely worth picking up a copy for keeps. It’s the kind of book one can reference on a whim or read through like a novel.

The Selection & The Elite: A Book Review

The Selection Collage**SPOILERS AHEAD!**

It’s not often that I read two books in a series that I consider to be insipid and uninspired, yet find myself actively awaiting the third installation of the trilogy. Kiera Cass’ The Selection and The Elite are rare examples of this sort of book. The Selection is like candy: bad for you and useless, but still addictive. It’s The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games. The characters are bland as unsweetened oatmeal, but you still want the female lead to end up with the right man. It’s a formulaic teen dystopian fiction, but it still keeps your interest somehow.

The first book sees our heroine, who has the most ridiculous name in fiction since Obi-Wan Kenobi. America Singer is a girl living in Illea, a monarchy that rose from the ashes of America (and Panem, I presume). The government has a royal family and eight castes, which linearly decrease in wealth and can be determined through birth, marriage, or career. America is a member of the Fives, a lower-middle class caste that seems to be made of of artists, performers, and minstrels. She has a forbidden relationship with Aspen, a Six (blue-collar workers). And yes, the names just get dumber and dumber. Aspen dumps America just before she is selected to be sent to the royal palace as a potential bride for Prince Maxon. She competes in a Bachelor-style contest and quickly becomes a favorite. She also finds herself falling for Maxon, who seems to favor her above the other girls. She makes friends and enemies, etc. Meanwhile, a rebellion is happening, and America, as the possible future princess, is at risk of being lynched by the rebels. In the midst of all of this, Aspen is sent to the palace as her bodyguard, and re-declares his love for her, forcing her to make a choice: new love or old?

The second book, The Elite, sees America making the final six. At this stage, she’s tutored in the ways of politics to prepare for her future role. The rebellion gets worse, and she falls deeper in love with Maxon, who may or may not be under the thumb of his tyrannical father. She makes an enemy of the King while calling for change and abolishing of the caste system. She once again is nearly killed by rebels, and the book ends with her vow to fight the King for Maxon.

America Singer as a character is sort of an amalgamation of Bella Swan and Katniss Everdeen, in that she has the poor background, good intentions, and longing for equality that Katniss has, but she’s also a passive lover and a blank slate as far as personality, a la Bella. This makes for a rather uninteresting narrator that isn’t too difficult to root for, but also not very easy to relate to. She fits in to her caste well as a violin player and starts off not particularly fond of the system, but also not wholly against it. In one word: she’s dull.

Interestingly, the most well-rounded character in the dramatis personae is Prince Maxon. Through America’s words, Maxon comes off as a decent fellow who is fighting an internal battle due to this daunting task of giving 35 girls and equal chance to win his heart and the crown, as well as the hard job of weeding out who is genuine and who is just in it for the fame and riches. Maxon is not without his flaws, but he’s also rational and realistic.

Overall, the formulaic plot, characters, and setups of the books are meant to numb the brain in a harmless way. It is a harmless series except for one factor: there is something about it that makes you want to keep reading. Like I said, I am eagerly await the third installment: The One, due out in 2014. But I probably will not be reading the books again and again. Once is enough. If you’re looking for intelligent and strategic writing, this series is not for you. But if you read purely for the entertainment, then I would give this a look.

My Top Five Favorite Books of All Time

Seeing as this is, in fact, a book blog, I think I’ll just get my top five favorite books of all time out of the way so commentors don’t start bugging me about them (foresight, everyone!).

I love books. I love reading. I just love literature and everything about it. I walk into a book store with the excitement that a child would walking into a toy store. I’m a pure, bona fide dork. And I’m proud of it. Choosing a favorite book would be like choosing a favorite star in the sky. So, instead of choosing my all-time top favorite books, I’m choosing my top five favorite genres,  choosing my favorite book from each of those genres. This post may be short, but it took me a LONG time to ponder. And you can be sure that I did a LOT of editing and changing things in the meantime.

So, with that said, here we go!

51BbEyzSXKLMy Favorite Classic- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I first read Jane Eyre in high school to boost my SAT vocabulary, and I ended up just really falling in love with the book. Jane gets a lot of shit thrown at her during the book, and yet she allows her creativity and passion drive her in spite of it all. She is intelligent and brave in her own right. In 1800’s England, she is not a woman, she is a person who takes care of her own destiny. I also love Rochester, and how he is the love interest of Jane, our narrator, and yet he’s still clearly described as imperfect and flawed. It makes him even more handsome and more realistic in my mind. He’s not Edward Cullen, who’s shit doesn’t stink according to his lover. The plot never drags, the side characters are pretty well-rounded, and you just can’t help but wonder how Bronte could get away with some of the elements she suggested in the book, such as the affair Rochester had with Little Adele’s ballerina mother. It’s a large book, but it’s a pretty quick read as opposed to some other classics of the day. It’s also easy to follow, with a singular, first-person narrator as opposed to the 3rd-person narrator that Jane Austen favored.

My Favorite Child’s Book- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

When you’re a redheaded spitfire like myself, Anne Shirley was your heroine. She had spunk, imagination, intelligence, and a handsome suitor to boot. You could easily sympathize with her struggle to fit in to a strange new place and her fight to relate to her strict (but kind) guardian, Marilla. And who couldn’t resist the fact that Anne always blurted out what the reader was thinking ahead of time, such as when she called Rachel Lynde a fat old gossip? It’s a sweet, innocent, but nonetheless meaningful tale, and the next two books in the series are the same (beyond that I actually never got around to).

dustMy Favorite Futuristic Book- Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence 

Not many people have heard of this story, because it’s a British preteen book from 1985, right at the tail-end of the threat of the Cold War going nuclear. It’s about three different people with odd connections to one another over time: Sarah, Ophelia, and Simon. The first third chronicles Sarah surviving a nuclear war with her stepmother and siblings, and slowly coming to terms with the fact that they are all dying of radiation poisoning (except her littlest sister Catherine, who never fell ill). The second section follows Ophelia, born and raised just after the war in a military bunker set up to preserve humanity as it was before the bombs fell, and how she discovers that some humans did survive on the outside. Simon, the third character, comes across a newly-evolved sub-species of human, who developed special abilities such as telepathy and intensely accurate eyesight due to surviving the radiation.

The reason this book is my favorite post-apocalyptic book is because it is a simple book with a simple message: maybe things do happen for a reason, and maybe fighting the natural evolution of humanity is only going to hurt it. The nuclear war is a plot setup as opposed to the entire story. Only the first sixty pages or so curtails the immediate after-events of the war itself. The rest focuses on the themes of survivalism and a desperate group of people who want to preserve their way of life, even though it was rendered impractical due to the changing circumstances surrounding them. The theme is so heavy that the fact that that characters are sort of flat (aside from Simon and Catherine, who do have some character growth over the course of the book)  is easily looked over. You don’t read books like this for the characters. You read it for the message. It’s also a very quick read…I got through it in a day.

My Favorite Biography- Marie Antoinette, The Journey, by Antonia Fraiser 

Unbiased, straight forward, and detailed, The Journey is everything a biography fan could ask for. It’s also very timeless in nature: it covers so many facts in a way that one can interpret it in any way they choose. Obviously, it’s subject matter is of great personal interest to me, and I’ve always been in the camp that argues that Marie Antoinette gets more flack from historians than she should. I do feel like she was an airhead, but she was a pawn at court used and abused more than anything. The book is very academic as far as it’s approach goes, which, in a biography, is always appreciated.

anne-frank-diary-of-a-young-girlMy Favorite Non-Fiction Book- The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank

I have read this book about twenty times, and I promise you that I will read them about twenty more times before I’m forty. You have got to know about this book. The only word I can use for it is inspiring. I relate to Anne in more ways than a lot of people do, for reasons I won;t get in to. But the bluntness and the creativity about Anne Frank is what strikes me the most. How can a girl so young speak with the tone and wisdom of an older adult like that? And how many more young people like her would still be alive today were it not for the cruelty of the Nazis? I only wish I could be half as optimistic and genuinely awesome as Anne Frank was. If I were living in her time and knew her, I can picture us being best friends easily.

As a side-note, I also love her ‘Secret Tales’ book, which not as many people know about. It’s a collection of short stories, memories, and an unfinished novel she wrote while in her hiding place.

SLIMED!: A Mini Review

slimedI grew up during the Golden Age of Nickelodeon. It was practically the only channel I’d watch as a child. Screw Cartoon Network. Screw Disney Channel (my parents wouldn’t fork over the extra cash for that channel anyway). Nickelodeon was my station. I watched them all: Salute Your Shorts, Pete & Pete, and of course, All That.

So when I saw this book, an insider’s look into what it was really like in those days, I flipped a shit. Nostalgia Time! The book promised an ‘Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age,’ so I knew all of the stuff in the book was going to be exactly from the mouths of the people who were there. While some really interesting factoids came out of it (who knew Christine Taylor got her start on Nick in the early 90’s on that less-interesting show about the dude ranch?), I have to admit the book does leave a few things to be desired.

The format itself is a little hard to deal with for the first few chapters. The book reads like a transcript of an interview done directly with past Nick cast and crew members. They got a LOT of people to do this. Alas, I didn’t know who 3/4ths of these people were until I flipped ahead to the index page, where they have brief bios of everyone who participated in the interviews. Those bios would have been so much better off before all of the interviews began. It’s hard to follow otherwise.

Also, the book allows everyone who participated to comment in every chapter, which leads to a lot of missteps when reading, especially in determining who says what. Was the book done in one huge interview done panel-style? Because it may have been to the book’s advantage to do each chapter’s subject as a separate interview done only with those with direct experience with that topic. For example, did the cast of Clarissa Explains to All really need to provide feedback on the chapter about sound editing and music? Not that their insight wasn’t fascinating, and not that I don’t appreciate how they actually got Melissa Joan Hart to sit for this thing (considering she’s so busy making unfunny sitcoms on ABC Family), but everything becomes a little blurry as the book goes on.

Also, while the chapters being separated by technical aspect (such as sound, art style, and cast experiences), I would’ve much preferred if the chapter-dividing was done by show. That also could have helped narrow down how many people are involved in each interview, and it would help a reader keep better track of what the subject was. It just would have improved the overall organization of the subject matter.

There are some funny anecdotes and interesting facts in the book, and you have to admire that it does read not as a college dissertation, but as an genuine interview. You can tell that there’s no slant to the attitude the book takes on certain matters. It just tells it like it is, which is how Nick got the way it was back then. It makes me miss the chaotic nonsense we got as kids on this channel, instead of the pretentiousness the channel throws at viewers today. Nick has shied away from the Rocko’s Modern Life and Salute Your Shorts formulas that were so popular, and instead decided to ride the coattails of Disney’s success with Hannah Montana (notice how most of the shows today aren’t even animated?) and make most of their content about upper-middle class white preteens played by eighteen year-olds.

The book Slimed! is still a good read for anyone as addicted to Nostalgia as I am.