Saturday, March 10, 2018

113. "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll

(Image Source)

Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2005.

129 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

Most people know of this classic children's story. Most people also cheapen Alice's journey through Wonderland by claiming the story is just one big acid trip. While it is fantastical and full of whimsy, the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is much more political and social commentary than it is an acid trip.

In sum, Alice, a little girl follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole. This leads her to a series of adventures that are hard to believe. For example, in one scene, Alice enters the rabbit's house and drinks a potion that causes her to grow so large, she sticks one hand out the chimney and a foot out the door. A cat with a Cheshire grin seems to float through the air because he can make parts of his body invisible at will. The story is dizzying and disorienting and makes almost no sense. 

I enjoyed reading the book but I'll be the first to admit that fully appreciating this work is going to require that I do much more extensive research. A brief survey of the literature on this work points to Carroll indulging in a style called English nonsense verse that became fairly popular in his time. Carroll holds some scathing opinions about the English school system based on this tale and that is about as far as I've gotten with my research. 

The edition that I read appeared to only contain the first part of the story (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) so I need to find the second half and read it (Through the Looking Glass) and continue to read more about how scholars have made sense (as much as one can with the genre) of the writing to feel like I truly "get" Carroll. I'm not yet a frenetic fangirl, but I am intrigued and will keep exploring. 

Recommended for: a reader who has time to dedicate to really learning about the political and social discourse happening in these stories.

Not recommended for: readers who want a story that makes sense or readers not accustomed to searching for clues in writing. Someone who hates poetry, for example, would probably hate this.

3 darts out of 5

Kwoka, B. (2009).  Literature, History, and Culture in the time of Victoria. Retrieved from

(I know I'm mixing citation styles here but I primarily use APA but started this blog in MLA and try to stay consistent. Forgive me?)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

112. "Storm Front" by Jim Butcher

Butcher, Jim. Storm Front. New York: Penguin, 2000.

322 pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

Harry Dresden is both a wizard and a private investigator. He takes a job with the local Chicago PD investigating a murder in which two people's hearts exploded out of their bodies. This was murder by magic and Dresden is set with the task of figuring out who could have the power to do such magic. 

The novel is a fun genre mashup of standard mystery novel formula meets urban fantasy. The pace keeps the reader interested and there is also enough detail provided to understand the world creation and magic system. Told from Dresden's first person perspective, the writing is both intimate and witty. A cast of characters is skillfully built to develop a series of additional novels. I was left wanting to learn more about the cast and to see which adventure Harry would be met with next. Overall, this was a quick, engaging read. It wasn't a literary masterpiece but it was an entertaining 322 pages. 

Recommended for: readers who enjoy a good urban fantasy suspense. Adult readers (some sexually explicit and violent themes I wouldn't recommend for children and teens).

Not Recommended for: Kids and teens or anyone wanting a book that has lyrical or masterful prose. Expect prose that is plot oriented and meant to entertain. 

3 darts out of 5

Friday, January 19, 2018

111. "White Oleander" by Janet Fitch

Fitch, Janet. White Oleander. New York: Little Brown and Company, 1999.

390 pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

Twelve year old Astrid's mother killed a man and now Astrid is in foster care. For Astricd, foster care is the exact nightmare that every child pictures. Trauma follows trauma. That is essentially the story. As I read, I wondered if perhaps Janet Fitch sat down and asked herself: in how many ways can I torture a teenage girl? White Oleander was created as her resounding answer.

Fitch's writing is lyrical in some ways, redundant in others. At times, her prose took my breath away. At others I rolled my eyes after the eleventh simile on a single page. Her greatest strength in this novel was character development. The characters were rich, deep, and clearly individuals. Sometimes you read a book and the characters all kind of blend together. That didn't happen in White Oleander. Each character had a unique way being in the world as is represented by Astrid's "museum" at the end of the novel. The book is not so much a story with a conflict and resolution, but more of a character map. For me, this is interesting and kept my attention. Perhaps it is my background in psychology--the Velcro loop for Fitch's hook. If you don't enjoy a deep dive into the mind of a character, or prefer novels that are plot driven, this isn't the book for you.

Overall, it is a commendable work for a debut novel.

4 darts out of 5

Sunday, January 7, 2018

110. "One for the Money" by Janet Evanovich

Evanovich, Janet. One for the Money. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.

320 pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

After getting laid off, Stephanie Plum takes a job as a bounty hunter working for her cousin, Vinnie. Her $10,000 FTA (failure to appear) is Joe Morelli, a police officer accused of shooting and killing an unarmed man. Stephanie and Joe have a history dating back as early as grade school but bringing him in isn't easy. Stephanie finds herself in the cross-hairs of a sadist boxer who enjoys abusing women and gets in a little over her head her first day on the job.

I liked that the crime solver (Stephanie) was something other than a police officer or forensic pathologist. I've read so many mystery series where this is the standard. It's rare to find someone outside these roles be the protagonist in a mystery series.

I liked that the characters were dynamic and interesting. Of particular interest to me were Stephanie, Ranger, and Grandma Mazur. I will also admit to liking the standard mystery novel format. I like the rhythm of the genre and figuring out whodunnit (which I did pretty easily with this novel).

Why, why, why does the mystery genre always have to include a story line about a sadistic man who abuses and assaults women in almost every novel? In One for the Money, Benito Ramirez is that man. The man who dos unspeakable things to women. The archetype of the criminal misogynist. Why is this constantly the trope? There are so many interesting things a writer can do with a mystery, so many different crimes to choose from. One of the reasons I like the recently deceased Sue Grafton is that her stories are outside the box of constant mysteries about assault on women. She writes about arson and burglary and other crimes. It takes some true grit and creativity to pull off a story that doesn't center around a misogynist. I had hoped that Evanovich would rise to this challenge and she failed miserably.

That being said, I did still enjoy the book enough to be curious about the next book in the series.

Readers who like a standard mystery novel.

Women sensitive to stories about sexual violence.

3 darts out of 5

Sunday, October 29, 2017

109. "Hunger" by Roxane Gay

Gay, Roxane. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. New York: Harper Collins, 2017.

304 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artangnan Love

SYNOPSIS: Hunger is about Gay's experience with her fat body. Fat is used here not as an expletive but merely a descriptive word like "tall," and "short" are descriptive words. Gay explains her experience with food and fatness that, for her, stem from being raped as a child and not dealing with the trauma in a healthy way.

WHAT I LIKED: Roxane is incredibly brave to put herself out there in a memoir. It is clear that this book outlines the most vulnerable parts of herself. This is something not many people can do, and I certainly applaud her for this.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I wanted to love this book. As a fat, disabled feminist myself, I REALLY wanted to love this book....but I didn't. I found the style to be unorganized, almost like a series of blog posts mushed together to form a book. Some of the themes also felt forced rather than occurring organically. I also feel like, maybe, she wasn't ready to write the book as she reacts VERY sensitively to any criticism of the work. Please note, I'm not criticizing her experience so much as her writing which was repetitive, clunky, and unorganized.

RECOMMEND FOR: I could see this being a great read for people with no experience reading memoirs. It could also be beneficial for people who don't mind the blog-style of chapters rather than unified work.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Honestly, if you want an honest, well-written look at living in a fat body, there are better memoirs out there.

3 starts out of 5

Saturday, August 12, 2017

108. The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins if Golan by John Flanagan

Flanagan, John. The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan. New York: Puffin Books, 2005.

SYNOPSIS: Orphans in this fantasy universe are made into apprentices when they reach a certain age. Will, the protagonist, is selected to be a Ranger's apprentice. Ranger's are, essentially, the CIA of the kingdom--specialty fighters trained in espionage. This book is part of a series and mostly focuses on setting up the characters and plot for the books to come.

WHAT I LIKED: This is a great adventure fantasy and is probably written for middle school aged readers. In middle school, I would have loved this book. The writing creates excellent tension and I wasn't ever pulled out of the story but was instead fully absorbed in the story. I liked the concept of the ranger and a ranger's role in a kingdom.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I didn't like that there were almost no female characters. It grew tiresome reading about male characters through about 90% of the book. A female ranger would be AMAZING. Instead, all the women and girls in the book had soft roles--diplomat, and cook. YUCK.

I also didn't like that the solution to bullying was to beat the bullies senseless rather than reporting bullying to the proper authorities. Also, yuck.

RECOMMEND FOR: This could appeal to a wide audience of you're ok with minimal female roles.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Readers who want to see women and girls taking part in the action.

2.5 darts out of 5

Saturday, August 5, 2017

107. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1985.

311 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: This first person narrative tells the story of Offred after the U.S. government has been overthrown by a group of religious zealots called the Sons of Jacob. In this dystopia, humans are struggling to reproduce so women who have successfully had children prior to the overthrow are forced to become "handmaids" used for breeding purposes. Each handmaid us assigned to a commander and is expected to birth his child. The story follows Offred and her experience with her commander and life in the new world order.

WHAT I LIKED: This is an important book to read. Atwood paints a harrowing picture of where we may end up if women become complacent and if Marshall law is enacted. The story is terrifying and I didn't enjoy it, but I don't think it is a book that is mean to be enjoyed. The book is warning much in the same way that Animal Farm is a warning. The writing is good--skilled, artful, absorbing.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: When I read a piece like this that goes beyond being a novel for entertainment's sake and becomes a piece of art, I want that art to provide me hope and some kind of solution to the problem it's attempting to tackle. That is why I love art--it helps me conceptualize new ways of approaching old problems. The Handmaid's Tale falls flat for me in this regard. There is no solution. There is no hope. There is no clear step that can be taken to get end the dystopia that Offred lives in. We don't even get the closure in the end when historians analyze how she escaped. They're answer was "we don't know. haha." We also don't know how the historians gained freedom to study this period in American history from the place of intellectual freedom in which they currently reside. They just do. They're just there. In this way, The Handmaid's Tale is the same as the hanging wall depicted in the story. It's warning, nothing more.

RECOMMEND FOR: Anyone who plans on watching the Hulu adaptation needs to read this. I don't plan to watch the series, but from what I've heard the Hulu series has some major differences from the original novel.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who may be triggered by sexual violence or hopeless dystopian themes.

4 darts out of 5