Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I finally read The Alchemist

The Alchemist, Paul Coellho
I finally read this -- months ago -- but I neglected to post!  I've been meaning to read The Alchemist for years.  When I was a high school English teacher, one of my colleagues used it for a novel study (while I was using Ender's Game), and while she would gush, 90% of her students groaned about it during form-time.  I think only one or two of the boys had positive things to say about it (it was an all-boys private school).  This didn't put me off -- I was curious -- but as a young teacher, I hadn't yet rediscovered reading for pleasure; I was doing my best to stay ahead with all the texts I was teaching.  Because someone I care about was reading it, it brought it back to my attention, and promoted it on my "To Read" list.  I enjoyed the parts that reminded me of A Monster Calls (it did this in its mentor tone, in parts), and where its allegory resembled Life of Pi.  Sadly, too often the mentoring and allegory devolved into heavy-handed philosophy.  The tangents, too, could go overboard.  It's a shame, because I think there's redeeming content here.  Overall: I'm glad I know what people are talking about, this is a much-discussed book.  It's not one of my favourites.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Does My Head Look Big in This?


Does My Head Look Big in This? Randa Abdel-Fattah
I listened to the audiobook for this one too.  I thoroughly enjoyed considering a teen navigating challenges I never had.  The narrative centres on Amal's decision to wear the hijab "full-time" while traversing the usual challenges of high school.  Though I was sad to find other aspects of Amal's quest for liberation very confining (her preoccupation with make-up and clothing, for example), this was her story and appearances are a big deal for many.  It just felt like an odd juxtaposition to take a stand to express one's true self without shame...yet worry about outfits...but I began to understand the complexity of that; wanting to adopt an expression of one's faith whilst still buying into the construct of presenting one's self as attractive, however you might do that.  It was definitely interesting, and sparked lively "discussions" between me and Haki while I was reading.  Amal wasn't one of my favourite heroines, but I enjoyed getting to know her.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Existentialism from Ness

More Than This, Patrick Ness
I listened to this as an audiobook (rarely my preference and not in this case either) over a week and a half while completing chores.  It's compelling.  The mystery-build is reminiscent of The Subtle Knife and The Maze Runner, but features more explicit and graphic content than both.  Tonally, it reminds me of A Short Stay in Hell (Steven L. Peck) and The Messenger (Markus Zusak).  So many comparisons, I know!  I wouldn't say the work is derivative, but comparative works were in my mind almost constantly while reading it (including The Matrix).  I also mentally compared it to other works I've read by Ness.  I liked it more than Release, but less than the Chaos Walking Trilogy and A Monster Calls.  If I had to pinpoint why it wasn't my favourite, it probably has to do with taking on too much.  More Than This tackles a lot of confronting questions and themes simultaneously.  All receive fair treatment, but none are given the sumptuous depth I know Ness is capable of.   This one is for mature readers (16+, maybe), and contains coarse language, sensual scenes, violence, abuse, trauma-I-won't-specify-so-as-not-to-spoil, suicide, various accounts of death, teens coming out to parents, bullying and more.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Scythe Sequel

Thunderhead, Neal Shusterman
Scythe was a smashing opener for this series.  When I finished it, I thrust copies into the hands of members of my book club because I needed to talk about it.  I wasn't sure I'd ever want to read it a second time (it was brutal!), but discuss. I. must.

I am thrilled to report: Thunderhead consolidates all of the series' strengths and minimises the elements that kept Scythe off my re-read list;
  • For those lamenting this statement, rest assured -- book two matches book one in brutality, but with less gratuity and shock value.  The body count is comparable, but overall, I found the sequel much more palatable.
  • Like Scythe, Thunderhead is well plotted and paced.  Even the chapter interludes are interesting.  All of the narrative voices are engaging and worthy (and there are new characters you'll spend time with).
  • Though the scythedom receives further treatment, the sequel zooms out to capture a bigger political, geographical and social picture.  I relished further exploration of Shusterman's latest utopia.
  • It helps that the villain is grade A. 
  • The li'l nugget-allusions are amusing and only occasionally distracting.  The Patron Historic names, for example, get a little silly for a bit there.  Most of the easter eggs are cute and garnered a smile from me. Quoting a popular children's book in a distant future for example? Cute.
  • This world and story continue to be cinematically appealing.  I'm watching the adaptation's production status with interest.
  • The covers deserve their own bullet for their brilliance.  Boom.
  • Advisory Notes: Sex is referenced in multiple relationships but not graphically described.  Some swearing, not a lot, and not of the worst kind.  In case you missed it: it's violent and morally dubious things are goin' on throughout. 
Overall: If you enjoyed Scythe, you will not at all be disappointed by Thunderhead.  If you read my review of Scythe and thought twice about diving in -- worried you might not have the stomach for the series -- well, it may not be such a sickening ride the whole way.  When weighed alongside other YA trilogies I've reviewed in recent years, this stands as a powerhouse, and one I'm likely to remember and recommend (to the right readers) for years to come.  If you're still circling your decision on this, if I had to, I'd say this is how Brave New World might have turned out had it been penned by Suzanne Collins.  Does that help you decide?  It's a dystopian with the tagline "Thou Shalt Kill" -- let your gut be your guide. 

Review copy received from Walker.

Orson Scott Card's Women of Genesis: Rachel & Leah

Rachel and Leah: Women of Genesis, Orson Scott Card
Of the three of these I've read, the first (Sarah), remains my favourite.  This continues in the tradition of painting incredibly intelligent women in great depth -- I've read nothing quite like them, in that way.  These invite me to appreciate the complexity of individual perspectives more than any other work of fiction has done, that I can think of.  It caused my heart to ache over dynamics within this family.  The character arc is NOT concluded within the volume...consider yourself warned (it's a sore point).

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