Saturday, January 31, 2015

91. "Cinder" by Marissa Meyer

Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2012.

390 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Linh Cinder is a cyborg. She can detach her cyborg ankle and it’s during the process of attaching a new ankle that she meets Prince Kai, the smoldering emperor-to-be of New Beijing. Kai must figure out a way to protect his kingdom and the rest of the earth from the evil Lunar Queen who has left her moon-based home to pay respects to the death of the emperor (Kai’s father). The emperor died from Letumosis, a plague infecting many people across the planet, including Peony, Cinder’s stepsister. It is up to Cinder to fix Kai’s android that contains important state secrets, and work with leading scientists to find a cure from Letumosis while attempting to avoid the stiff curfews and rules set by her unrelenting step mother. All in a day's work.

Cinder was a fun read, like, really fun. It is, in fact, one of the best young adult books I’ve read in a long time. It is also the first book I’ve read in a long while that I missed reading when I wasn’t reading it. I found myself wanting to read it any spare second of time I had. I loved the way Meyer skillfully injected several fairy tales into one futuristic sci-fi, fantasy novel. I picked up on elements of Anastasia, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Cinderella with Cinderella being the predominate fairy tale. I’m sure if I read it multiple times, I would find more fairy tales that I didn’t catch the first time. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of these tales eliciting emotions, but I found the characters to be wonderfully real and satisfying. Cinder is worth loving, her stepmother is worth loathing and Kai is worth rooting for.

Meyer did a great job creating Cinder’s world and all the gadgets therein. It’s sci-fi without being suffocated by the typical "alien invasion" theme. The plot was believable and it is easy to see Cinder’s world as a potential future for us all without having to suspend our disbelief much. Cinder was Meyer’s debut novel and I’m excited to see how she develops as a writer in her future novels. The next book in the Lunar Chronicles has been added to my reading list!

4 darts out of 5 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

90. "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay

DeRosnay, Tatiana. Sarah’s Key. New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 2007.

294 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

In Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay writes a fictional account of one of France’s most horrific moments in history. In July of 1942, more 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to the VĂ©lodrome d’Hiver, an indoor cycling arena. There they were housed in very poor conditions with very little food, water or sanitary facilities and then were shipped to concentration camps in Pithiviers and Beaue de la Roande, among others. Families were split apart and most of the babies and children were sent to camps separate from their families.

(The Velodrome d'Hiver. Image Source)

In Sarah’s Key, readers follow the story of Sarah, a young Jewish girl whose family was arrested in the Vel d’Hiv roundup. Rotating between 1940 and what I presume to be the 2000s, Tatiana de Rosnay introduces readers to Julia Jarmonde, a writer who is assigned the story of Vel d’Hiv at the magazine where she works. At the same time, Julia and her husband are working to renovate an apartment that has been in her husband’s family for a few generations. In doing her research, Julia discovers that a young girl named Sarah once lived in the apartment and the connection between Julia and Sarah’s stories becomes intricately bound.

There is simplicity in de Rosnay’s writing style that has lead some critics to give the book a fairly low rating. I don’t disagree with critics observations that the writing is simplistic and the relationships (particularly between Julia and her husband) are a bit forced. I gave this book five stars because Tatiana de Rosnay took a bold chance in writing this story.

France has a hard time with its World War II history. It is an incredibly touchy subject. I learned in my time living there for a short while in 2005, that it isn’t a subject you bring up without extreme caution and trepidation. As a result, in my experience (and also according to other sources), the French generally don’t talk about the Holocuast. It’s a very hush-hush subject. Tatiana de Rosnay is a French citizen who dared to break the silence about the more painful points of French history. Not only did she illustrate the horrors of Vel d’Hiv but she criticized the French for the silence on all things related to the Holocaust. This was brave. This is the kind of brave that leads writers to be forced to flee the country and seek asylum elsewhere. That’s why I gave this book five stars.

This book is FOR: people interested in the Holocaust or French history.
This book is NOT FOR: those who are sensitive to the subject of the Holocaust or who are expecting complex or artistic writing.

5 darts out of 5 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

89. "A is for Alibi" by Sue Grafton

Grafton, Sue. A is for Alibi. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1982.

308 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

A is for Alibi is the first book in the “alphabet series” of mystery novels written by Sue Grafton. The main character is Kinsey Milhone, a private detective living in Santa Teresa, a town that is a thinly veiled fictionalized Santa Barbara. Kinsey is approached by Nicki who has just finished her prison sentence for begin convicted of murdering her husband by poising him with oleander. Nicki wants her name cleared and hires Kinsey to do just that.

The pace of A is for Alibi was a bit plodding. Very little happened for quite a long time until the end when everything crashed together at once. While I can’t claim that this was a literary masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, I liked Kinsey just enough to be curious about reading the next book. One of my favorite mystery writers is Tess Gerritsen. I especially like her “Rizzoli and Isles” series, but her first book in the series was pretty terrible. I feel like it might be the same case with Grafton’s series. The first book was underwhelming, but I’m willing to give the next a try.

The one thing I did love about the book was the way in which readers really got an up-close-and-personal picture of Kinsey’s day-to-day life. I admit to having some voyeuristic tendencies, nothing freaky or weird, but I have always been insatiably curious about how people move through life from one day to the next. I’m not necessarily interested in extremes or scandals but I find people’s regular choices fascinating. What does this person wear and why? When do they eat breakfast? How much sleep do they get? How much time do they spend doing X, Y, Z? This book satisfied that voyeuristic curiosity a bit by taking readers through the minutiae of Kinsey’s day. We get to know what she eats, what she wears, how often she sleeps, how she spends her free time, etc. This would drive some readers absolutely nuts but I really liked it…because I’m odd.

Overall, this book gets a two rating, but as I said before, I’d give a lot of first books in a series a two rating, so I still have a lot of hope for this series.

2 darts out of 5

This book is FOR: people who are ok with slow moving mysteries.

This book is NOT FOR: people looking for fast-paced, suspenseful reading.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

88. "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

135 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

This review may be a trigger for those who have PTSD or related disorders as a result of religious fanaticism/fundamentalism.

In the introduction of Act One of The Crucible, Arthur Miller writes, “When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom” (7). This passage suggests that what happened in Salem during the witch trials is the enacting of an attitude that still crops up today. It’s the spark of panic that causes mass hysteria and paranoia. It’s the point at which we stop thinking for ourselves and just try to blend in to avoid persecution.

The Crucible is a dramatic depiction of the Salem Witch Trials. Broken up into four acts, The Crucible slowly builds in tension until the climatic and gut-dropping final scene. The Crucible was Miller's thirteenth published play and it examines the darker parts of human nature: fear, blame, and collective delusions. Literary theorists argue that the play is an allegory of McCarthyism. 

This paly is powerful not only for the way in which it brings history to life, but also for the uncomfortable feeling of knowing that something like this is possible and could happen again. I couldn’t help but think about some of the fundamentalist claims made in recent history and how those claims sounded a lot like the claims being made by the fanatics in The Crucible.

Similar to Animal Farm, The Crucible is an important piece of literature not just for its artistry but for its reminder to us that we should never forget the past, lest we end up repeating it.

5 darts out of 5

This play is FOR: people who like gritty, tense stories and historical fiction.

This play is NOT FOR: people who may have PTSD triggered by religious fundamentalism/fanaticism.