You Read What? Book Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Publisher:  Penguin Group

  • Imprint: Viking Juvenile

Date Published:  January 7th 2014

Format: Paperback/Advanced Reader’s Copy

Source: From the publisher for an honest review

Synopsis:

For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

Number of Days It Took to Read: 1

Cover:

Impossible knife of memory

Nice cover and very relevant to the story

The Writing Score: 5 out of 5

Recommendation: Must Read

Memorable or Forgettable: Memorable

Rating:  5 out of 5

Review:

“Killing people is easier than it should be.” Dad put on his beret. “Staying alive is harder.”

This is my favourite quote from the book and quite possibly one that really captures it best. Right off the gate, I like to state that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn’t just limited to those who’ve served as soldiers and sent overseas into dangerous environments. Anyone can experience a traumatic event which means everyone has the potential to get PTSD but also not every soldier will have PTSD. With that said, I think this book is very relevant today given the military involved missions that America has engaged in the last decade or so and the many soldiers coming home from all kinds of traumatic experiences they’ve faced. I’m not a psychiatrist but as a reader I believe that Laurie Halse Anderson did a great job depicting not only the difficulties of a young person who’s facing a daily fear that her father may hurt himself (due to PTSD) but also the helplessness of that parent to do their job effectively because they can’t shake off the grip that past violence has on them. Hayley’s constant fear for her father may not be diagnosed as PTSD or would be as extreme as PTSD but it does create some kind of parallel between the constant fear that I’m sure soldiers like her father had while deployed.

This leads me to the topic of memory not only because of the title but also because memory seems to be a running theme in the book. We get glimpses of the memories that Hayley’s father had during his time overseas that tends to make him depressed, moody, angry or self medicate through drugs and alcohol. There is a ritual of forgetting or pushing aside when he drinks till he’s blacked out or getting high. Hayley does a similar ritual where she seems to have blocked out memories from before she went off driving around in her father’s truck at age 11/12. There’s an active form of forgetting that later becomes an unconscious forgetting where she no longer remembers the act itself. There’s also the changing the narrative of memories in order to cope which we see with Hayley in regards to Trish. Memories have the power to hurt us but they also have the ability to grow us if we think of it in terms of the cliche: Those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it.

Hayley’s past (or memory repression) and her father’s past affects her present. It affects the relationship she has with Finn as well as her good friend Gracie. It affects her schooling and communication with others. It also prevents her from thinking about a future for herself because she is so worried about the well being for her father. Her fear seeps into every facet of her life and manifests in interesting places like the mall which we don’t notice as anything other than a place of entertainment and necessity.

The most interesting thing about the book is Hayley’s binary world view that is different from our own. She sees people as Zombies or Freaks. Freaks seen as the positive while Zombies are a negative. I saw Freaks as the more desirable trait because Hayley states we are all Freaks when we are born. We have faults, feel a degree/moments of unhappiness and generally don’t have a smooth ride in life. Freaks are desirable because they don’t hide these things which Hayley views as universal which I too believe as well. Zombies, however, plaster on this facade of happiness and everything being great which is for the rest world to see despite how they feel internally. This is interesting because to a degree Hayley is in fact a Zombie when she doesn’t disclose her home situation and is not showing her true self to the world.

Halse Anderson writes beautifully and offers moments of Hayley’s father’s own point of view which gives the reader a greater insight into the situation. I loved Finn and had fallen for him as a character quietly and effortlessly. Hayley is a strong character and someone who I felt I wanted to protect as I tried offering unsolicited advice to the page. I do believe this is a wonderful book for teens but just as great for adults as well.

A. A. Omer

The opinions expressed here are mine and readers are welcome to disagree. In fact, I encourage it! I never believed in putting particular books or authors on some sort of universal pedestal but you’re free to put it on your individualized pedestal because I most certainly will.

You Read What? Book Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly

Author: Sharon Biggs Waller

Publisher:  Penguin Canada

  • Imprint: Viking Juvenile

Date Published:  January 23rd 2014

Format: Paperback/Advance Reader’s Copy

Source: From the publisher for an honest review

Synopsis:

Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

Number of Days It Took to Read: 5

Cover:

a mad, wicked folly

I think this is an OK cover but I expected a lot more risk artistically given the main character’s passion for art. I just expected something memorable and worthy of the subject matter/themes. 

The Writing Score: 3 out of 5

Recommendation: Great book for teens to get a look into feminism at its beginnings

Memorable or Forgettable: Memorable

Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Review:

I recently interviewed the author of this book as part of a blog tour on writing, suffragettes, 1909 and horses among other things. It was fun. It was also a great way to introduce a debut author of fiction to other readers.

A Mad, Wicked Folly is an interesting book in my eyes because the story and themes want me to give it a 4 out of 5 but the execution holds me back a bit. I love Vicki. I think she’s realistic in pursuit of her passion (art) which can be easily described as narrow at first. When you want something so bad, you don’t want to do things that could jeopardize it or think about the institutional boundaries in place that prevent certain people from achieving it. You care about you being able to do it because it’s what drives you in life. What I’ve enjoyed most about this book is that it brings to the forefront the institutional boundaries placed against women in various aspects of society including the art school featured. Vicki is bold and brave within the context of art as she poses nude during her art class in France but the same can’t be said within the context of love and women’s rights. I purposefully didn’t place family in there because Vicki is not only bold in that aspect but also strategic. She chooses to not fight them on her engagement to Edmund in order to be able to apply and attend art school. Vicki is responding to the limitations of her station as a woman in 1909 and she does so with fire and calculation.

She’s smart. She’s someone we’d all love to be but she’s also who many of us are. Love could threaten her dreams and the very limited spots offered to women at art school isn’t something she wants to acknowledge because it could mean making (or not making) a stand. A stand that could cost her like those before her. She redeems herself in many ways in this novel and you’re captivated whenever she’s talking about artsy things like how to look at or approach a nude model and even the difference between nudity and nakedness. This is something Biggs Waller excels at.

I think this novel is a great introduction to feminism for teens. Although it is a particular brand of feminism since it deals with mostly Caucasian, straight and middle class/aristocratic women’s point of view. technically speaking, there was a lot of “telling” but not too much that I was turn off from reading the book. I do think that by dialing back on the telling and doing a lot more “showing”, this book could easily be a 5 out of 5. I also don’t think the descriptors at the beginning of each chapter (Date and Location)  is necessary to the story since I’ve only ever looked at it in the first 2 Chapters.

You go into this book with love in mind but Biggs Waller balances the believable  romance with Vicki as an individual as well as the women’s rights movement. I really do expect a lot of great things from this author.

A. A. Omer

The opinions expressed here are mine and readers are welcome to disagree. In fact, I encourage it! I never believed in putting particular books or authors on some sort of universal pedestal but you’re free to put it on your individualized pedestal because I most certainly will.

You Read What? Book Review: The Dream Thieves

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

Date Published:  September 17th 2013

Format: Hardcover

Source: From the publisher for an honest review

Synopsis:

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same.

Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life.

Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

Number of Days It Took to Read: 1 and 1/2

Cover: 

The Dream Thieves

Gorgeous cover. Love the paint effect.

The Writing Score: 5 out of 5

Recommendation: Must Read

Memorable or Forgettable: Memorable

Rating:  5 out of 5

Review:

Yes Yes YES. I love this book sooooo much and I really just want to gush incoherently for the rest of this review but that wouldn’t be fair to those reading it. So enjoy the coherent review:

After I had finished and fallen head over heels in love with The Raven Boys, I couldn’t imagine how this story could possibly have a decent sequel let alone four books. This series was my first from the author, Maggie Stiefvater, and I realized that she was doing something amazing with it: she’s telling a story. There isn’t any real urgency the way you would come to expect with the dystopians floating around or the action-pack adventures in the Young Adult genre. Every other chapter isn’t plagued with “will they or won’t they”. You do have that nagging question of when Glendower will be revealed to us and those very small cliffhangers like the one at the end of Raven Boys where Ronan professes that Chainsaw was dreamt up but those just tend to drift off into the background. Instead, you want to hear more about the characters that inhabit this world. Blue and The Raven Boys. All participating in Gansey’s quest to find a slumbering King but for different reasons. 

I enjoyed this book because you have a cast of teenagers with a host of unique issues that they must deal with both within the realm of the real and mystical. If Stiefvater isn’t writing about love and it’s consequences then she’s writing about privilege, obsession, morality, life, death, identity and destiny. Escaping into a world is great but if the people that you’re sharing this world with aren’t authentic then it makes the experience fun but without the bone deep camaraderie that certain books evoke from you, it’s just one of the many summer reading flings.

I like to call this book the book of Ronan because despite the multiple points of views given, it’s very much a story that fleshes out his tough exterior and showcases one of the best character trajectories that I’ve seen in some time. This book came to me at a time when reading for fun was becoming increasingly difficult and my reading passport was looking pretty empty. So if I could say one thing about it, I’d say thank you for given me that love again for the 36 hours it took me to read it.

A. A. Omer

The opinions expressed here are mine and readers are welcome to disagree. In fact, I encourage it! I never believed in putting particular books or authors on some sort of universal pedestal but you’re free to put it on your individualized pedestal because I most certainly will.

You Read What? Book Review: Vicious

Author: V. E. Schwab

Publisher:  Macmillan

  • Imprint:  Tor

Date Published:  September 24th, 2013

Format: Paperback. ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy)

Source: From the publisher for an honest review (More specifically, grabbed it at the BookExpo of America 2013)

Synopsis:

A masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.

Number of Days It Took to Read: 1

Cover: 

vicious

I love this cover. Looks even better in person and Victo Ngai is a genius.

The Writing Score: 5 out of 5

Recommendation: Must Read

Memorable or Forgettable: Memorable

Rating:  5 out of 5

Review:

 

I got this book at BEA (BookExpo of America) this past May and waited an hour (or was it two?) in line to have the lovely V.E. Schwab sign it (I also got her to pose with my Batman plushie which felt fitting given the theme of the book). I read it. I loved it.

 

No.

 

Love feels so…limiting. It feels mundane. It feels too abstract when this particular love was how I felt right after seeing The Avengers and The Dark Knight. It’s the same feeling I get whenever I listen to The Avengers by Alan Silvestri (The Avengers movie’s main theme). I get blurry eyed, salty droplets run down my face and this oddly warm ball of…hot fudge? erupts from my belly and into my chest (not actual hot fudge because that would be gross. Figurative hot fudge). I love superheroes and everything related that I’ve read so much on them through novels, comics, short stories, academic papers etc.

 

They’re my kryptonite.

 

Being so versed in the superhero genre means more work for the authors to impress me. This is not said from an egotistical standpoint but from someone who’s read so much from a particular genre that patterns form and so does the number of eye rolls. I like my superheroes and want them to be respected but I also expect them to be challenged in new ways. In Vicious, we have a story that isn’t about superheroes. It’s a story that challenges what we know about heroes and the super powered. I could say this was a story about supervillains but that’s also not entirely true and it would be far too simple.

 

Are you a villain when you do something bad in general or are you still one when you do something bad to bad people? What happens when doing the right thing happens to align with what you wanted to do for your own interests? Are you a hero then? A villain?

 

Vicious makes it’s home in the grey and manages to tug, and not drag, the superhero/villian genre along with it since the very concept of superheroes is very grey as well (see post on Superhero vs Vigilante). Let’s get past the fact that we have a well written story that’s both engaging and has made great use of it’s structure in regards to the ordering of time. This story has two great female supporting characters who have a great complex relationship with one another. The main protagonists make us doubt our belief in good and evil or, at the very least, in finding a “good” character designated in the story. There are none. At least not for the entire book and maybe not in the ideal sense of good or right.

 

Vicious is an outstanding book because it’s taken the extraordinary and made it something within our reach without diminishing the fantastical, high flying element. It’s avoided making the mistake of turning the “relatable”, in a world of the super powered, into the mundane and everyday. These individuals have superpowers. There’s no way this’ll ever be “realistic” and that’s the trap that most Hollywood types fall into. The realism and relatability happens with the character development. Who they are as people as opposed to their physical abilities or what is “possible” in the limiting sense within the external world. WHAT WILL THEY DO ONCE THEY HAVE THIS POWER? That’s the central question of the book and a question readers should as of themselves if put into a similar situation.

 

I can honestly say that this is one of the best books of 2013 in my very humble opinion and it’s out today for your consumption. So check it out and form your own views on good, evil and their very grey edges.

A. A. Omer

The opinions expressed here are mine and readers are welcome to disagree. In fact, I encourage it! I never believed in putting particular books or authors on some sort of universal pedestal but you’re free to put it on your individualized pedestal because I most certainly will.

[New in Review] Y

Author: Marjorie Celona

Publisher: Penguin Canada

Date Published:  June 25th 2013 (first published August 1st 2012)

Format: Trade Paperback.

Source: From the publisher for an honest review

Synopsis:

My life begins at the Y.

So begins the story of Shannon, a newborn baby dumped at the doors of the YMCA. She is found moments later by a man who catches a mere glimpse of her troubled mother as she disappears from view. All three lives are forever changed by the single decision. Bounced between foster homes, Shannon endures neglect and abuse but then finds stability and love in the home of Miranda, a kind single mother who refuses to let anything ever go to waste. But as Shannon grows, so do the questions inside her. Where is she from? Who is her true family? Why would they abandon her on the day she was born? The answers lie in the heartbreaking tale of Yula, Shannon’s mother, a girl herself and one with a desperate fate. Eventually the two stories converge to shape an unforgettable story of family, identity and inheritance. Written with rare beauty, wisdom, and intimacy, Y is a novel that asks “why?” even as it reveals that the answer isn’t always clear and that it may not always matter

Number of Days It Took to Read: 2

Cover: 

13326677

Pretty cool cover, I think it really captures the theme of mystery, identity and abandonment in the book.

The Writing Score: 3 out of 5

Recommendation: Must Read

Memorable or Forgettable: Memorable

Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Review:

I’ve read many works of fiction that feature adoption but this one definitely stands out as being different from the rest, different in a mostly good way. The story is told from the perspective of “Shannon” who is abandoned as a baby on the steps of a YMCA. “Shannon” goes through various homes and names before she joins Miranda’s family. Even then she finds herself unsettled and the question of her birth mother looms over her like a dark cloud that won’t go away as she is continuously reminded by her sister and many other people from her adoptive family that Miranda is not her birth mother. This in itself is a very sad thing for a child to hear again and again. Still even before that one could really seen how being abandoned by her mother had a negative impact on her life. No matter how patient or kind Miranda is to “Shannon”, “Shannon” cannot seem to trust her completely nor be satisfied with what she has. She instead finds herself feeling lost and wandering, and even runs away at one point in the book.

What I liked about this book was that all the characters no matter how major or minor where not one dimensional. Even the most flawed and cruel characters were given a chance to gain at least some of the reader’s sympathy for their situation. And while the first person narration in this book was a bit difficult to get used to for this specific book, I found the writing in this book to be consistently strong. The descriptions of the people and settings felt very authentic and the whole novel was a very gritty look at adoption, and foster families. Even the ending , without spoiling too much maintains the very real feeling of the novel, and the idea that life isn’t perfect and sometimes even knowing the answers to all your questions won’t solve all your problems in life. Finally though this book was about a girl trying to find her mother, I found that the best written relationship in this book was the one between Shannon and Vaughan, the man who found her as a baby on the steps of the Y. This was the one relationship that felt very stable and natural which turned out to be a good thing for Shannon who has led a life that has had many ups and downs. Anyways I’d recommend this book if you want a satisfying read about a young girl just trying to find her family and her place in the world.

Linh

The opinions expressed in this review are my own; I did not receive any compensation in exchange for this review. I am currently accepting young adult fiction and adult fiction books that have a crossover appeal to young adults for review. If you have any questions or would like for me to review your book feel free to email me at lxlnguyen21@yahoo.ca.