Friday, May 30, 2014

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Pocket, the Fool, is currently chained to a wall in a dungeon after being drugged by Antonio, Iago and Brabantio. Those three men are responsible for the death of Fool’s wife (well, kind of wife) Queen Cordelia. They are also trying to get rich off of another holy war that will benefit the banks in Venice. The only person constantly getting in the way of their plans is Pocket. But one of our nefarious trio ends up dead and Pocket escapes. He tries to not only save Venice but to avenge his wife. With the help of his simpleton, Drool, and a mermaid monster he tries to bring those responsible for the death of his wife to justice.
                If this story sounds foolish it’s because it is. Christopher Moore is an author with great comedic timing and wordplay. I’ve been a fan of his for a while and it’s because he can literally bring me to tears with laughter. The Serpent of Venice is actually a sequel to Fool, a novel about a Fool (go figure) and a play-off of Shakespeare’s King Lear. We follow Pocket in the story which is full of as much debauchery, word play and foolishness as the first book. Pocket is always entertaining, extremely sarcastic and witty. The debacles he manages to find himself in and eventually get himself out of are ridiculous and wholly unexpected. There were definitely moments that had me scratching my head and other moments where I was giggling hysterically.

                Unfortunately, I think I set my expectations really high with this novel and it didn’t live up to the hype I had in my head. While enjoyable and easy to read there were more moments that didn’t make sense in an attempt to be funny, than there were actually funny parts. I laughed a few times and smiled to myself a few times but this wasn’t a favorite of mine at all. This isn’t a book I would recommend to showcase Moore’s talent as a comedic writer. I would definitely recommend some of his earlier novels, like A Dirty Job, or Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff. I have to give this novel a 2 out of 5 stars as much as it pains me to do it. This just wasn’t packed with the laughs I have grown to expect and rely on from Moore.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Banned Books: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Holcomb, Kansas, on the morning of November 15, 1959, Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith murdered Herbert Clutter, his wife, Bonnie, his youngest daughter, Nancy and his only son, Kenyon. The two men, Dick and Perry, arrived at the Clutter residence, River Valley Farm, late on the night of November 14 on the verge of a big “score” where there would be no witnesses. They tied each member of the family’s hands and feet with Bonnie in her room on the second floor and Nancy in her own room on the second floor as well. Kenyon was found in the playroom in the home’s basement, while Herbert was found in the furnace room. Each member of the family was shot in the head with a shotgun. Herbert also had a slit throat. Their bodies were discovered hours later by members of their church congregation. The shock of their murders sent a ripple of fear and distrust through the town. Everyone wondered how such an upstanding member of the community and his family could be murdered in cold blood.
With this novel, Capote did an incredible job delivering the information and relaying what took place in Holcomb, Kansas that fateful night and the years after during not only the investigation but the inevitable trial and hanging. He examined, very thoroughly the lives of the Clutter family. Herbert, the loving father, devoted husband and respected, hardworking farmer. Bonnie, a once energetic woman, who now battled with bouts depression that would eventually lead her to withdrawing from the community. Nancy, a high school junior, extremely admired by all of her peers who had dreams of attending college. Kenyon, the last of the Clutter family, an energetic well respected young man. The lives taken all too soon with Herbert being the oldest at forty eight years old and Kenyon the youngest at fifteen. Lives taken by two men, recently released from jail, who were hoping to get a huge cash out from the Clutter family. Both delinquents in their own right who for different reasons ended up on the same path. A path ended by the hanging of the ropes around their necks.
In Cold Blood was a straight forward account of the murders that took place in 1959 and changed a county in Kansas. I was surprised by how detailed the information was provided in this novel. Capote used testimony, confessions, interviews and articles to accomplish a very in-depth account of what happened regarding all aspects of those involved in the Clutter family murders. There were instances throughout the novel where one can assume that Capote took liberty in divulging what may or not have happened, like private conversations between Dick and Perry, but based on the information provided regarding their character, everything stated was believable. The murder of the Clutter family was a horrifying ordeal that Capote was able to translate to page with all the anxious and terrifying detail he could honestly muster. I must say that there are moments, after I have finished reading a novel and I begin researching the reason why it was banned, that I become mildly amused. For instance, with this book I would assume that any reason for banning this book would come from the graphic details provided about the murder. Alas no, the reasons behind the banning of this book in Savannah, Ga in 2000 spawns from the sex, profanity and violence mentioned. Maybe it’s because Capote is an amazing writer, or maybe it’s because the murders were so horrific that I barely paid any attention to the sex mentioned or described. I definitely paid no attention to the profanity used throughout the novel because next to the text it seemed inconsequential. Mind you this was banned from an Advanced Placement English Class. A class where you would expect teenagers to want to be challenged. The ban was overruled a year later and rightfully so. Life consists of tragedy and this was an example of an unthinkable tragedy that did indeed happen and will forever affect the life and history of Holcomb, Kansas and the families affected. You can try to remove the information from schools but this non-fiction book simply relayed the facts of terrifying case.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Champion by Marie Lu

Champion by Marie Lu

If you have not read Legend and Prodigy, the two books preceding this is in the Legend Trilogy then I suggest you do so, because this will have spoilers galore and leave you confused. With that being said, Onward!

It’s been eight months since we last saw Day and June saying their goodbyes in Prodigy. Day is still lending his support to the new Elector, Anden, but has not spoken to June in months. Fighting between the Colonies and the Republic has stopped for now with hopes of a peace treaty between the two nations that now inhabit what was the United States of America. June is a Princeps-Elect, training in Colorado to compete for a high government position as next in command to the Elector. Day is living with his brother, Eden, in San Francisco. Eden is slowly recovering from the experiments he had undergone under the previous Elector, Anden’s father. Day is undergoing treatment for the headaches that are continuing to get worse due to the damage done to his brain when he was ten years old and being held by the Republic. Day has been avoiding going to Denver, the Capital of the Republic, choosing to support the cause from a distance. When he receives a transmission from June asking for his presence at an emergency banquet, he goes. The Republic needs Day’s help, again. The Colonies are threatening to end any discussion of peace because of a plague spreading through the Colonies that they believe is a direct result of biological warfare under the hands of the previous Elector. Unless provided with a cure they will attack the Republic. The only hope for the Republic is the child that survived the plague ravishing the Colonies, Day’s little brother, Eden.
                June and Day have come a long way since Legend. They have more depth, more passion, more strength, more power, more integrity. They have everything that has been lacking in this trilogy. It’s all here in this novel. Champion brings us to the pinnacle of disaster. It has all been leading up to this, not in the most gracious way, but I am grateful to be here. When we first met these characters they were flat, slightly motivated (there is no better way to say this) children. They had some integrity. They were mildly interesting. Now Day and June both have amazing arcs, extremely interesting storylines that intersect in the best way imaginable. Day and June are both fighting, not only for each other but for their lives, the lives of the ones they cherish and the Republic.

                I’m not going to lie. I struggled with whether or not to finish this series after reading Legend. It was good but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to dedicate myself to another dystopian series. I pushed forward to Prodigy which was better than Legend. It answered a lot of questions I had. It presented some better solutions, a different outlook on the situation and unexpected plot. But it was still missing that something that made me love it. Champion gave me more than anything I expected. There was not a dull moment in this novel. There was non-stop action, non-stop passion, great writing, and amazing insight into the surroundings, with loads of information about how this world came to be. I cannot stress how much Champion made the entire series worth reading. I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars and would recommend this entire series, simply because you have to start at the beginning to understand the end. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Banned Books: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Edna Pontellier is vacationing in the Grand Isle with her husband, Léonce, and two children, Raoul and Etiene. It is here that her family, and many other well to do families from New Orleans, spend their summers away from the city with the beach at their door. Edna is growing tired of that life. Tired of fully dedicating herself to her husband and sons. Tired of the gossip and the foolishness she constantly interacts with. The attention that she has been receiving from Robert Lebrun has opened her eyes to a passion and intensity she has never felt before. A passion that she didn’t believe existed. And yet, here it is, so plainly in front of her. That is until Robert abruptly leaves to Mexico, without so much as a clue of his plans to Edna privately beforehand. Shortly after his departure, the Pontellier family returns to their home in New Orleans and Edna’s perspective on life has changed. She is bored with her marriage and the duties of motherhood. She is tired of the spectacle that has become her social life. She wants to answer to no one but herself. She is awakened to the possibilities of what her life could be. Edna wants to make changes and be damned what anyone, including her husband and friends, may think. It is time for Edna to live and be the artist she wants to be.
                The Awakening is the story of a woman’s liberation. The idea of finding a fulfilling love has set Edna free. She didn’t marry Léonce for love but for security. After experiencing the type of passion she felt for Robert she is curious to what other passions may exist that she has never experienced. Edna is only twenty eight years old and her youth has been absorbed by her marriage and her children. She is not the best mother or wife and has been neglecting those duties for quite some time. More importantly she has been neglecting herself by floating through her existence without being truly happy. Edna wants to be free. She wants to be difficult. She wants to make decisions of no one’s accord but her own. Edna wants to be in complete control of her life and nothing is going to stop that anymore.
                Chopin created a novel all about female empowerment. She used the idea of love and passion to create a fire that would lead a woman to breaking the chains she created for herself, with the help of society. Chopin takes into account the cultural norms of the late 19th century and emphasizes how those factors of living accounted for the majority of Edna’s feeling of enclosure. Chopin attempted to define what marriage was like for women, especially those of wealthy families and how marriage affected ones social standing and success. The storyline was basic, easy to follow and empowering. I enjoyed this novel. There is no denying that this novel was well written, well thought out and uncomplicated. It discussed the fact that women have sexual desires without turning Edna into a villain and condemning her. Critics had quite a few issues with this novel when it was originally released in 1899. Negative reviews haunted Chopin because of the sexual nature of The Awakening. More recently, in 2006, this novel has been challenged in Illinois by a board member who wanted it removed based on her Christian values. In this day and age when the sexuality of women is no longer questioned and broadcast far and wide, the subtle nature of The Awakening is almost a relief. It isn’t gaudy or explicit but simply mentioned and acknowledge. This novel simply emphasizes that women can be sexual and that recognizing your sexual nature can be freeing. In my opinion it would be more worthwhile to remove some of the ridiculous images I see circulating on the internet and on then to ban or challenge a liberating piece of literature.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Prodigy by Marie Lu

Prodigy by Marie Lu

I am not one for spoilers so if you haven’t read the first book, Legend, from this series then I wouldn’t recommend reading further. Now onward to this review of Prodigy.

                Day and June have escaped from Los Angeles and are on the run to Las Vegas. There they are hoping to make contact with the Patriots, the secret organization fighting against the Republic. They successfully make contact with the Patriots and Razor, the Patriot leader. The Patriots have agreed to help but for a price: Day and June must help the Patriots assassinate the new Elector Primo, Anden. The old elector, Anden’s father, is dead and now is a prime time to strike if they want a revolution, if they want the Colonies to win, if they want to overthrow the Republic. June and Day agree to do their part if it ensures their safety. June is “captured” as part of the plan and Day begins working with the Patriots, shedding light on the fact that he is indeed alive even though all of the Republic propaganda claims he is dead. June makes her way into the confidence of Anden, by revealing his assassination plot, which is really a decoy planted for the Patriots. As she begins to listen to Anden and observe his relationship with the Senators, she realizes that all is not as it seems. Anden is not like his father and wants to make a change. He is unhappy with the Republic as it stands and needs help if he wants to completely revolutionize the way the government is run. Now June doesn’t know who to trust. Does she continue with the real assassination attempt? Does she try to save Anden’s life? Will she or Day survive either choice?
                Prodigy was an exciting follow up to Legend. It starts off right where Legend picks up, placing readers in the middle of Day and June’s journey. The tension is high, as well as the anxiety. Day and June’s dependency on each other is evident. Both characters are simply trying to survive and it takes a huge amount of courage, strength and trust. The action and suspense started to kick in as soon as contact was made with the Patriots. The questions also started coming as well. The pace picked up and almost as soon as the wheels started rolling, the two characters were separated, each on missions to the same goal. They both faced challenges, had to judge questionable characters and deal with uncomfortable, unsettling and somewhat hostile environments.

                I enjoyed Prodigy. There were moments that I found predictable but it was full of action and suspense. It definitely stepped up a notch in comparison to Legend. The characters were more developed and faced with different challenges that they managed to not be overwhelmed by. More information was provided regarding how the Republic and Colonies came to be which I found extremely interesting. I’m left, after reading this novel, unsure of where else she could bring these characters, which is somewhat exciting. If you enjoyed Legend I would definitely recommend reading this novel. I am giving this novel 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was definitely an improvement from the first book but it’s still missing that something, that’s making me love it! On to the next one. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Banned Books: Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence

               Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen are sisters living in the early 20th Century in England. Ursula teaches at a small school with the help of Gudrun who is also an artist. Both still live with their parents in the small town they were raised. Now in their twenties they both contemplate the idea of marriage and beginning a family. Ursula begins a relationship with Rupert Birkin, while Gudrun begins dating Gerald Crich. The story unfolds examining the differences not only between the siblings and their lifestyles but of their relationships and the men they are choosing to be with.
                Women in Love is an extremely endearing story of two sisters simply trying to figure out what steps to take next in their lives. Lawrence created amazing well rounded characters in, not only our heroines, but their male counterparts as well who have as much of a starring role as their ladies. Ursula believes in love and all of its ideals. Her relationship with Rupert seems in many ways to be a model of perfection. Gudrun, the younger of the siblings, has no whimsical idea of what relationships may be and struggles with her emotions in her relationship with Gerald. The friendship between Rupert and Gerald is also one that is thoroughly explored as well as the past relationships they have had with other women. This novel was a view of many different angles exploring the idea of love and what constitutes a successful relationship.
                Lawrence proved one thing beautifully in this novel: relationships and love are complicated. There is no simple way to quantify or express ones love. Love is complex and because of that all relationships can be complicated. Every relationship in this novel was complicated. The relationship between the siblings, the siblings partners, their partner’s relationship with each other, the relationships between everyone in their families were all explored and much more. I didn’t find any of this overwhelming while reading this novel. Lawrence had an obvious talent, with the third person narrative, and transitioning between characters while holding interest and keeping a steady pace. He also was very talented at turning the most innocent of moments into a moment of overt sexuality. It was subtle and yet effective and not overbearing. I enjoyed this novel and found its truthful complexity moving. Others found it obscene and it was actually seized in 1922. The novel was illegal in Britain at the time and there was an attempt to censor the book in the United States with the help of a Supreme Court judge. The attempt backfired and the novel became very popular in the U.S. because of all the publicity. Women in Love, because of the failed attempt at banning the book in the United States, is the perfect example of how trying to eradicate something simply heightens ones curiosity and makes one more eager to explore the new idea. Women in Love was not a danger to anyone but used as a tool to try and display control. Thankfully the attempt failed and the novel is still one praised today for its interpretation of life.  

Studies in Censorship: Women in Love Rick Russell

Friday, May 9, 2014

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Ursula Todd was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, blue, with no life in her body. Ursula Todd was born in the presence of a doctor who was able to cut the cord around her neck, saving the life of the baby already turning blue. Ursula died when the waves collapsed over her and her sister. Ursula was rescued on the beach by an artist who observed the two young girls in the water and was able to rescue the younger from a horrible fate. Countless births, countless deaths for Ursula. Ursula has no idea why she has these feelings of dread. She has no idea why she has memories of things that never happened. Dreams of a future she has yet to experience? From her birth in the winter of 1910 through her numerous deaths, Ursula experiences life and all the different roads one may take through history.
                Life After Life was an extremely engaging, original novel about Ursula Todd, an English girl born to a middle class family in England. She is the third child born to the Todd family and referred to as an inquisitive old soul. Therapy at one point was considered necessary by her parents, to find out why she was having these bouts of what they considered déjà vu. Certain unprovoked events that happened throughout Ursula's life also assisted in her parents decision to seek help. She couldn’t explain what she didn’t understand. She wasn’t trying to kill the maid when she pushed her down the stairs. Ursula just had a horrible feeling that if she left tragedy would fall on the family. Instances where she was filled with this overwhelming fear haunted her most of her life. How can one gain understanding in this situation? 

                Atkinson delivered with this novel. I heard great things about this novel before I finally gave in and decided to give it a go. I was not disappointed. The concept of someone continuously reliving their life was extremely interesting and I was very curious how it could be executed. Ursula dies and yet she lives. The circumstances that allow her to live change through each life experience. The ages and lifespans she experiences changes. The storylines were full of depth and continually changing to reflect the change in Ursula's life. How her life changes impacts everyone around her and changes the course of their history as well. This novel was all about how one life can impact others. How everyday decisions change the lives of many. The imagery used to describe her life was amazing and extremely vivid. I was instantly invested and intrigued by the story. There were a few things I wish had been done differently mostly because my curiosity definitely got the better of me and I wanted answers to all the questions I had. Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and give it 4 out of 5 stars. If you want to read an interesting novel with a historical element and original concept give Life After Life a try. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Banned Books: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Jean Louise Finch, or Scout, has been running around behind her older brother, Jem, for years in Macomb County, Alabama. Every summer, their friend Dill comes to town and the three run around visiting neighbors and trying to attract the attention of Boo Radley, a man who hasn’t left his house for years and who the kids are terrified of. Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus, has been attracting a lot of unwanted attention as of late for representing a young black man, Tom Robinson, whose accused of raping a younger white woman. Most of the town feels as if Atticus is disgracing his own by representing a colored man. Others feel the opposite, and though not as vocal, they find ways to show their support. It proves to be a rough time for the Finch family as they try and stand by their morals and support each other in a time when so many are fighting against them.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel that examines social inequality and racism in the south in the 1930’s. It also looks at cultural differences between women and men and what was expected at that time. Scout at a young age showed her propensity for being unladylike. She was her brother’s shadow and preferred to wear overalls instead of dresses and leave the house as she pleased. Her mother passed away when she was very young, leaving her with no memory of her mother. Atticus, Jem and their colored nurse, Calpurnia, raised Scout. Those three were sources of strength and comfort throughout her life. As Scout grew, her habits declined to change and her moral courage shaped around that of her father and brother. It was inspiring to watch Scouts spirit never waver even when she feared for the life of her family.
Lee wrote an extremely enjoyable, honest and disconcerting novel about life. I say disconcerting because you want to believe the best in people but sometimes there is nothing to admire. Seeing through the eyes of Scout, a child and our narrator, gives the story a sense of innocence and makes the injustices even more appalling. How do you explain to a child that a man’s skin color can damn him and cause prejudice against him? How can you justify hate to a child? It was interesting, to say the least, reading this novel and being able to enjoy the humor, laugh at the children’s behavior and be utterly disgusted by the way in which people were judged and condemned unrightfully. This was a beautifully written novel that calls into question what America was 90 years ago. It is thought provoking and heart wrenching. Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned and challenged numerous times since its release for reasons ranging from its use of language to causing racial divide, racial hatred and promoting white supremacy. The use of race as a device to expose human nature is obvious throughout the novel. The use of money to examine the idea of classes within society is also evident. I cannot stress how much ignoring a problem won’t make it go away. I cannot emphasize how ignoring the past only causes it to repeat itself. Novels like To Kill a Mockingbird that honestly showcases the pain of the past can’t be removed. Doing so only allows ignorance to prevail.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Legend by Marie Lu

Legend by Marie Lu

Day is a notorious criminal who has been living on the streets of Los Angeles for the past five years, after failing his trial at ten years old. Everyone takes their Trial at ten, those who pass are sent to different schools based on how well they scored. But those who fail are taken from their families and sent to labor camps. Or so everyone has been told. Day has escaped from a lab after test were conducted on him. Afraid to go back to his family he began living on the streets. June, on the other hand, is the only person to have scored a perfect 1500 on the Trial. She is a prodigy, set to graduate from Drake University and become an officer for the Republic at fifteen years old. Now she is on the hunt for Day after he is accused of killing her brother, Metias, a Captain in the Republic. Though she is successful in her search, information that she obtains from Day and clues that she uncovers while on the streets make her question the Republic. The plagues that ravish the different sectors no longer seem coincidental. The actions of her Commander force her to investigate the death of her brother and the foundation of the Republic.
                Legend is an interesting novel with an original plot line focused on two individuals with opposite upbringing, social standings and fate. Both June and Day are likeable characters whose lives have taken unpredictable turns. One is fighting to survive while the other is climbing the social and career ladders at incredible paces. When these two characters collide both are tested to their limits. Day begins to question the decisions he made when trying to protect his family. June questions her undying and unwavering support for a government that may be deceiving the majority of the population. One begins to search for the truth while the other is in the fight of his life.

                With Legend Lu created a dystopian novel that serves itself well as an introduction to a trilogy. I’m not sure whether or not that’s a good thing. I enjoyed this novel but it took me longer than I expected to be invested in the story. It wasn’t until near the end of the story, when more of the background of the Republic came into play that I started to really like this novel. It became obvious then that there were more layers to the Republic, their feud with the Colonies, and the “myth” of the United States that simply had not been breached. It peaked my interest. Before then I was simply waiting to see how June and Day’s relationship would play out. I plan on eventually finishing the series and I’m hoping the second novel will broach the topic more and explain the history of the Republic. If you enjoy dystopian young adult novels then I would suggest giving Legend a shot. I give it 3 out of 5 stars, simply because it took so long for it to begin to resonate with me. The characters were well developed and interesting but the world they lived in served as a background when it should have been a well-developed character itself.