Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: Palo Alto by James Franco

Palo Alto by James Franco
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: October 7, 2010
Page Count: 196
Keywords: short stories, misfit teenagers, delinquents, violence
Goodreads & Amazon

Set in the town of Palo Alto, James Franco's story collection of the same name follows a group of teenagers through the trials and pains of making it through high school. Each of them are struck by tragedy and face the injustice of life. Some of them are just bored, and some are trying to find out how their bodies work. All of them have different journeys, but they are all trying to navigate their adolescence the best way they know how.
Funny how new facts pop up and make you doubt that there's any goodness in life. Everyone pretends to be normal and be your friend, but underneath, everyone is living some other life you don't know about, and if only we had a camera on us at all times, we could go watch each other's tapes and find out what each of us was really like. But then you'd have to watch girls go poo and boys trying to go down on themselves.
When I was taking my first fiction writing class in college, a couple of my classmates and I started playing an unofficial game. We had learned that an older woman in the class was easily disturbed, and when some of our stories got too gruesome or bloody, she would quietly stand up and walk out of the classroom until it was over. It became a game to see who could get her to walk out, so each week we showed up with the most over-the-top, senselessly violent stories to see who could succeed. Looking back, it was kind of mean, but also an important exercise for us young writers. Self-censorship is something that plagues a ton of fresh writers, and pushing ourselves to write the grossest things we could kind of set the bar for our possibilities. I think of this first foray into fiction writing, because many of the stories in Palo Alto read the same way our trying stories did. There is a lot of shocking violence and disturbing actions, but little to no purpose. Also, I've never trigger warning'd a book before, but Palo Alto needs one, especially for the story Chinatown in Three Parts. As can be told by my anecdote up top, it does not take much to offend me. This story almost put Palo Alto on the DNF list for me. In it, a boy befriends Pam, a new student to his school who is half-Vietnamese. He decides he wants to have sex with her, and sly's his way into having sex with her. Then he brings her to his friends, and they all have their turn at her. Then she brings him to a restaurant, so his chef friend can have his turn at her, too, and he can get free food. Despite her correcting him that she is half Vietnamese, he and his friends take to calling her 'Chinatown' and when they have their way with her, they call it, "going down to Chinatown." The cherry on top of the cake comes when the boy and his friend Seth get arrested and questioned by the police. They are later released and laugh about their charges, and literally face zero consequence. Uh, what? I was actually nauseous while reading this story, told in three parts, and felt so terrible for Pam. If Franco wanted to write a story like that, there should have been some sort of consequence, some sort of lesson. But instead, he perpetuates the idea that because 'Chinatown never said she didn't want to' it was okay for him to pimp her out. And then he acts surprised when she doesn't want to hang out with him anymore. Okay, Franco, okay.
When A.J. came back, there was nothing to say. And nothing to do because he was holding the bottle. I was feeling okay; I'd had enough vodka. This was the way the night had cashed in. Choices had been made and things happened, and here we were. It was sad and funny. My life was made of this. Stuff like this.
Palo Alto follows the same group of characters, and some of them are mentioned several times. It was hard to remember if the Tom in one story was the Tom in the next story, because there is really no defining characteristics. All the boys are alcoholic racists. All the girls are fat sluts. All the adult men are pedophiles who touch little boys and rape little girls. It was honestly hard to tell the characters apart, and nothing unique distinguished them from one another. There are several car crashes in different stories. What this collection of stories lacked was distinguishing characteristics, and lessons. If you write about two instances of people being hit by cars, each story should tell me something different. Unfortunately, that just never happens. In the first story of the book, Halloween, a boy on probation is driving home drunk from a Halloween party. He is speeding, and runs over a woman. Of course, he keeps driving. He's never caught! And in fact, over time, whenever he drives past the spot, he starts to forget as the years past. He doesn't dwell on the woman he hits and kills, and there's no lesson to be learned. In the story right after Halloween, Lockheed, a girl falls in love with a boy at a party simply because he is giving her the time of day. Then he starts fighting with an older man outside, a car comes out of no where, hits him, kills him, and then speeds away. Again, no one is caught. The story ends shortly after, so I'm not sure how it affects the girl who was supposedly in love with him. Instead of creating a complex drama between two characters, an overly dramatic occurrence happens and cuts the time short, and for what? These characters lacked distinction, and the drama of the stories relied too heavily on shock value to make an impact.
Barry had done it with her, the girl I loved, and it had meant nothing to him; Tanya would die and no one would care; and there were billions of bodies alive on earth and they would all be buried and ground into dirt; and Picasso was a master at age sixteen and I was a perfect shit.
So why wasn't this book given one star? Even though the stories lacked real substance for me, and violence seemed purposeless and for shock value only, I think that writing these stories will be building blocks for Franco's writing career, much like trying to make an old lady leave my Fiction 1 class was for me. I also wonder if this book was organized chronologically from when they were written by Franco, because two of the stories, I Could Kill Someone and April In Three Parts are featured near the end of the book, and start to really get to the root of these characters lives. I think April appeared in earlier stories, but it wasn't until April In Three Parts that I really remembered who she was. The boys start to get put in their place. We start to learn more about what makes them tick, and what causes them to act in the ways that they do. I started to sympathize with them more. Franco was really peeling back the layers from the shocking actions, and getting to the core of why they were happening.

James Franco is obviously a well-read and well-educated individual, and maybe part of it is the fact that this is very well known information brought to us by his celebrity. Maybe knowing he has an Ivy League education and an MFA in Creative Writing and that he has adapted several well-known pieces of classic literature that I was expecting more than shock value as a crutch, and characters that were hard to remember. But the stories near the end give us a glimmer of the potential that Franco has to be a great writer like those he admires.
Have you read this one? Thoughts on shock value in stories & when it is appropriate? 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bout of Books Read-A-Thon Wrap Up!

For the past week, I participated in the Bout of Books Read-A-Thon. I've never done one of these before, after years of hearing about them, plus it was one of my bookish resolutions for the year to participate in a read-a-thon.

The Verdict: Uh, HOW HAVE I NOT PARTICIPATED BEFORE? I connected with so many other book bloggers, in a way that I haven't before. I'm constantly reading other blogs and commenting, but following the #boutofbooks hashtag really just took it to another level to fully connect with other bloggers, root people on, and participate in reading sprints together.

Total Books Read: 3!
1. Shut Out by Kody Keplinger: I started this one the day before the read-a-thon started, but finished the majority of it on Day 1. I will have a review coming soon!
2. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen : I was incredibly charmed by Maya's story. A review for this one will definitely be coming soon, too!
3. This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl & Family : I probably won't review this story, because how am I going to review a celebration of a girl who died too soon's life? I've mentioned before (I think) that I'm a thyroid cancer survivor. I related to chunks of Esther's story: being unable to go to school, losing friends, feeling useless and exhausted all of the time. This book is a collection of her journal entries, essays by friends about their relationship with Esther, CaringBridge updates, YouTube video transcriptions, and photos. Her story gets you into the head of a young person with cancer, validates the value of online friendships, and displays what a strong-headed person she was, even though her body was too weak. Have tissues ready if you choose to read this one.

Total Pages Read: 926!!! So proud of myself :') 56 of those pages were from me starting to read Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin last night.

Challenges: I participated in a couple of challenges, though I didn't do them every day.
First challenge was hosted by Bout of Books, and we had to introduce ourselves with a picture & the books we were hoping to read!

The only book I read in that pile was 'Popular.' Shows how much of a mood reader I am :)

Second Challenge was If You Like X, Try Y hosted by The Book Barbies. Here were my recommendations:

The third challenge I participated in was a Book Pairing hosted by My Overstuffed Shelves, in which we paired books we've read or were reading with things it reminded us of.

The last challenge I participated in was a Book Rainbow hosted by Neon Yeti Reads. This was maybe one of my favorite challenges!

Woo-wee, I feel bad for my twitter followers who weren't participating in Bout of Books because just about every tweet this week was related to it! Whether it was rooting other readers on, hosting and participating in reading sprints, connecting with other bloggers, and THE CHATS: every tweet was ended with #boutofbooks. Let's go back to the chats. They were beyond fun. I participated in the first one last Monday morning, and the one on Wednesday evening. It was another fun opportunity to connect with other bloggers, enthuse about wine, and talk about our favorite books. Even though the chats moved so fast, it was still so fun and the hour for each chat passed by so quickly!

If you are participated in the next Bout of Books Read-a-Thon, it will be taking place August 18th-24th. I will definitely be participating again next time. For more details, of course check out the Bout of Books blog. I'm so grateful for all of the fellow bloggers I got to connect with, and I can't wait for the next one!

Did you participate? How did you do?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Review: The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk

The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Page Count: 212
Keywords: Poland, female friendships, murder
Goodreads & Amazon

Anna Baran is twelve when she visits Poland for the first time since she and her parents immigrated to Brooklyn as a girl. She spends her childhood never quite feeling like she can fit in, but when she goes to her small town of Kielce, she has found her home. She loves the smell of the kielbasa, the boys that help her with her luggage, and she brushes off the children that chide her for only being American. During that trip to Poland, she meets the vulgar, boy-crazy Justyna, and the self-conscious Kamila. The girls form a fast friendship, and create a strong bond that follows them through the years to their complicated adulthoods in different places. As they get older, they get together less and less often, but when Justyna's husband is murdered, it is just the event to unwind the tangles of their lives, and bring them back together.
The last twenty-four hours have brought a bloodbath upon the Strawicz home. They have brought the inevitable, but Justyna can't see that now. All she can see is that overnight, she has become someone who will be whispered about. From now on, people will whisper that she's too sad, or not sad enough. They'll whisper accusations and apologies. And surely they'll whisper if she ever finds another man, but who the fuck in this town will want to date an unemployed widow with a kid, anyway?
I don't think I've ever read a book set in Poland, or that revolves so tightly around Polish character, and that was a main selling point to me when it came to deciding whether or not to pick up The Lullaby of Polish Girls. My father's side of the family is 100% Polish, and I always loved the idea of my grandparent's arguing or having secret conversations in Polish so my dad and his siblings couldn't understand. And, of course, who doesn't love some pierogi, stuffed cabbage, and dill pickle soup? The Lullaby of Polish Girls definitely takes us to Poland. Anna sees Kielce as a magical place in the summer, even though it's a town so rough the citizen's are called 'switchblades.' There's a quaintness to the town that is well illustrated by the gossiping neighbors, and the simple landmarks, such as a rug-beating structure, that hold a magnitude of memories. There is a lot of the very complicated Polish language scattered throughout the book, and a lot of it can be translated through context clues. Dominczyk also includes a little Polish 101 pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book which helped greatly. I also downloaded the iTranslate app, which was a HUGE help for the phrases that popped up here and there without context.
This is Anna's third consecutive summer in Poland, not counting those first three days back in 1989, and the summers can't arrive fast enough. The rest of the year, Anna writes letters, sends care packages, and makes frequent trips to Brooklyn's Polish neighborhood, Greenpoint, just to fill up on whiffs of kielbasa at butcher shops. Every day, she gets home from school and checks the mailbox. Kamila writes the most, about once a week, and reading her dispatches is like subscribing to a personalized Kielce Daily News. Sometimes it still surprises Anna that life goes on after she boards the plane in late August, that seasons change, that school happens, and that there are holidays. She can't picture her friends in scarves and mittens, trudging through the snow. She can't picture leaves falling from the trees, or spring blossoms. To her Poland is summer and nothing else. 
The characters in this book were so beautiful, and I couldn't get enough of their daily lives and relationship. The narration jumps from girl to girl with each chapter, spanning from their childhood to adulthood. Anna immigrates to New York City with her parents when she is a little girl. After a trip to Poland when she is twelve, she spends every summer she can there. An incident on a summer camping trip, though, shrinks Anna's desire to visit as frequently as she does, and falls off the Kielce map for several years. She grows up to be a budding movie star in New York City, with a failing relationship to her boyfriend of nearly a decade. Kamila has always been the most loyal to Anna, as their mother's were also best friends growing up and they were born weeks apart. The constant scrutinizing from her traditional mother has bred an intense level of self-consciousness within her, and she's constantly dieting and changing her face to be beautiful. She flees to Detroit to live with her family when she discovers an unlikely affair within her own marriage. And then there's Justyna, the forever-vulgar one in the trio who was the first to have sex. She is also the first to become a mother, and it is the murder of her husband that causes ripples all the way to Detroit and New York City. Each of these characters are so ripe and full of stories. I also appreciated how even though we see their growth into adulthood, and we believe they are growing up, they haven't neglected certain tics or qualities that was displayed in them as young girls. They were each so different, but not too different that we couldn't see why they remained friends.
"My nochal. Right." She wonders what her father will think next time he sees her. She is getting rid of his nose, his genetic stamp. All her life Kamila has dreamed of transformation, of physical metamorphosis, because beauty was not just skin deep; it burrowed underneath tissue and muscle. Kamila liked her personality just fine, thought of herself as insightful and enterprising; but ever since Maciek Toboszycki told her she was ugly, calling her brzydula in front of the whole fourth grade, Kamila has wanted to erase her face and start over. And now, she is going to do just that. She thinks about the picture she has had tucked in her wallet for weeks now--a close-up of Michelle Pfiefer's tiny, button-sized nose. When she nervously showed it to Norbert last week, he smiled. "Well, I'm not a miracle worker, Kamila, but I'll try."
Each character handles the hardships in their lives differently, and sometimes in a way that made me want to shake them. Slight Spoilers Ahead: Kamila is staying in Detroit with her parents after running away from her husband when she makes an unlikely discovery. Justyna witnesses something damaging to Anna, but keeps her lips sealed the whole time. Each of these scenarios begged for some sort of confrontation, and I really wanted these things to come to a head. There were even many moments when something could have been said, especially between Justyna and Anna. I really wanted an explosion between Kamila and her husband, and I really wanted a moment of solidarity between Justyna and Anna. As much as I wanted these moments, it wouldn't have been fully true to these characters. Kamila's low self-esteem and years of dedication to her husband would not allow her to become unsavory. And Justyna simply isn't the type of girl who is going to be soft. She's a tough-as-nails bitch with a shred of enough compassion to let her friends in.
"I'm okay, Anna. I'm okay." Anna nods and closes her eyes, tucks her head in the crook of Justyna's shoulder. Justyna smiles. This is the kind of night she had hoped for. And maybe the light of day would bring a bit of regret with it, regret at how wasted they got, and how disrespectful they had been, to both the living and the dead. Or maybe they'd continue in the only way they knew how; at once shielding their pain and sharing it, brutally, in revelatory spasms, but always with a wan smile and a wink.
Given the murder that brings them all together, a murder-mysteryish aspect was expected. There were thrilling moments that revolved around the murder and it's aftermath, but the event itself is spelled out pretty clearly, at least to Justyna and her sister Elwira. Throughout The Lullaby of Polish Girls, there are a lot of big, dramatic moments that pepper each of the girl's lives, and because of the time jumps within the book, we learn a lot of these things pretty early on. This caused me to expect one last BIG thing to happen at the climax of the novel for the three girls, but that thing never happened. As much as I was hoping for it, the rich characterization of the girls, and the drama of their lives, was enough to keep me hooked and loving this novel.

The Lullaby of Polish Girls had some of the best characters I have read recently. We get to watch them grow, form a bond with them, and even as they morph into adults, they stay true to their character. I was hooked on the drama of Anna, Justyna, and Kamila's lives, and I was wound up in the threads that kept them tied together. This is a crazy impressive debut novel from Dominczyk, and I am super looking forward to reading any work she puts out in the future.

Have you read this? Do you know of any other great books revolving around Poland?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon Goals & Updates

Bout of Books
So the whole point of this read-a-thon is to simply read more than you usually do. Your only competition is yourself. I've been reading much slower than usual lately, so my average finished books per week isn't as impressive as some other bloggers around here. This isn't even always because I'm reading longer books, or savoring them more; I'm just not dedicating a solid amount of time to reading. Too many distractions! I've been way too engrossed by beauty tutorials on YouTube, embarrassing Facebook games, and Instagram. For the week of this read-a-thon, I'm hoping to kick some of these distractions, and inject more reading into my daily life again.

Time Dedicated to Reading:

  • My commute to and from work! I have to take a bus to a train to get to work, and then a train to a bus to get home. In total, this is usually a 35-45 minute commute. Lately I've been using that as a 45 minute social media spree, but this week: READING TIME. 
  • When my boyfriend's work time intersects with my free time. My dude & I live together and it can be super hard to read when he's home. Usually when he's working and I'm stuck at home, I fall into that YouTube pit, so yeah. Now reading. 
My Goals: 
  • Read two books. This doesn't seem like a lot, but for me, as it's been, it is! 
  • Participate in at least two of the challenges. 
  • Participate in the first two Twitter chats. Perfectly they work around my work schedule. Unfortunately, I'll be slinging doughnuts for the last one.
  • Delete my Facebook app for the week.
Books To Read: 
I'm very much a mood reader, so I'm not going to make a big ol' TBR list or anything. But I should probably read a couple of those books I got from the library

If you are participating, what are some of your goals for the week?

Monday, 5/12
Books Read Today: 
  Completed: 1 - Shut Out by Kody Keplinger
  In-Progress: 1 - Popular by Maya Van Wagenen
Challenge: If You Like X, Try Y hosted by The Bookish Barbies

Total Books Read: 1
Total Pages Read: 239

Tuesday, 5/13
Books Read Today: 
  Completed: 0
  In-Progress: Popular by Maya Van Wagenen still!
Challenge: I failed at doing any challenges today!
Total Books Read: 1
Total Pages Read: 353

Wednesday, 5/14
Books Read Today: 
  Completed: 1, Popular by Maya Van Wagenen! So charming :) 
  In-Progress: This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl & Family
Challenge: Book Pairing hosted by My Overstuffed Shelves

Total Books Read: 2 
Total Pages Read: 495

Thursday, 5/15
Books Read Today: 
  Completed: 0
  In-Progress: 1
Challenge: I failed at doing challenges today! :( 
Total Books Read: 2
Total Pages Read: 595

Friday, 5/16
Books Read Today: 
  Completed: 0
  In-Progress: 1, This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl & Family
Challenge: Rainbow of Books hosted by Neon Yeti Reads!

My boyfriend even helped me pick out the best choices for the rainbow! Total Books Read: 2
Total Pages Read: 663

Saturday 5/17
Books Read Today: 
Total Books Read: 
Total Pages Read: 

Sunday 5/18
Books Read Today: 
Total Books Read: 
Total Pages Read:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon 10.0!

Bout of Books
Yahoo! Remember that thing I said in my new years resolutions post back in December about wanting to participate in a readathon of some sort? The time is now! For the past couple of years, I've watched the Bout of Books Read-a-Thon pass me by, but not this year. After seeing many posts about it, I've officially decided to sign up for the first time! If you are unfamiliar with what this read-a-thon is about, take it from them:
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 12th and runs through Sunday, May 18th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 10 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team
I've heard a lot of awesome things about this big week of reading, so I'm excited to join in on the fun. Tomorrow, I'll be posting about some of my goals for this read-a-thon so say tuned for that.

Are you participating this year? Any advice for a newbie?

Get Ready For: We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children's)
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Page Count: 208
Key Words: sisterhood, student-teacher relationship, secrets, drama, tough subject
Goodreads & Amazon

Nell has always looked up to her older sister Layla. She even used to call herself Nellaya when she was little, because as far as she was concerned, there was nothing besides an eighteen-month age gap that stood between them. When their parents divorced the year that Nell started kindergarden, the bond she had with Layla intensified even further. She was always the one to lean on. Beautiful. Perfect. Everything that Nell wanted to be. It finally comes time for Nell to join her sister at the high school, and she's excited for all of the possibilities that wait for her: going to upperclassmen parties as a freshman, playing on the soccer team, and generally spending more time with Layla. But then her sister starts to withdraw from Nell and their family. She randomly disappears and is secretive about where she's been, and Layla never keeps secrets from Nell. That's when the rumors about Layla and Mr. B--the ultra-cool art teacher who everyone loves--start. People are seeing them together. Alone. Nell is suddenly faced with the fact that her sister may not be as perfect as she had always thought she was. She also knows that what is happening is very wrong, and there is nothing she can do about it.
**I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for review. This in no way swayed or influenced my opinion on the book. Promise! Quotes in this review may also be reflected differently in the final copy of the book.**
What divides us is clear to the world around us but has always been murky to me.
Nellaya. The family joke. One of the only things the four of us can still laugh about together.
But is it funny?
Or do I laugh because that's what you taught me to do? 
There is something about student-teacher relationships in novel that screams 'Lifetime Movie!' to me, and I am always sucked right in. I love Lifetime movies. So when I came across this on Netgalley, I knew I had to try and get it. The official synopsis of this book, though, ruins the major surprise. This was slightly annoying to me, because we are told right away on the jacket that Nell discovers this secret relationship between her older sister and a teacher. Going into the book knowing this, I had assumed that this reveal would come pretty close to the start of the book and we would work our way through this discovery and it's outcome. Nope. We go through about half the book before Nell reveals for sure that her sister is involved with her teacher. This isn't fully the authors fault, but man. This has officially become a pet peeve: don't reveal the surprise in the summary and then make me wait HALF A BOOK to get to it. Granted, the journey up to that point is a rocky one. Nell narrates We Are the Goldens as a second person address to her sister Layla. We follow Nell through her infatuation with her perfect sister Layla, and the cracks and hints to when she starts seeing Mr. B starts to shine through.
The syllabus surprised me. We'd be reading books that I knew had things like sex and drugs and bad language, and that was when it first hit me that I was in high school. There would be freedom. There would be choices. There would be blurred boundaries. You know this because you're over halfway done here, but I'm wondering now if it's a mistake, if maybe we shouldn't be expected to find our own way, or put away childish things. Maybe we still need someone to hold our hand. 
The narration of this novel was one that I don't believe I've ever read in a novel. I mentioned above that Nell narrates the story in second person, with 'you' being her sister, Layla. Second person narration can be really effective, and I've used it before myself in my published short story, but I think there needs to be a real purpose. Unfortunately, I didn't see that purpose here. There were definitely some hiccups in Nell's narration, mostly because some things she states to her sister is stuff that her sister would definitely know, such as the style of her room, or her own mannerisms, or how they view their parents, but it is just put on the page for us readers to get a glimpse at the girl that Nell is talking to. This narration style also cuts our understanding of the story in half. Especially with this complex issue of her sister having an inappropriate relationship with a teacher, we never get to see Layla's side. We only see her weird behavior and blissful naiveté through the eyes of Nell, and honestly I would've been more interesting in hearing Layla's side of this story.
See, we aren't your average siblings. Those books don't know that I am me and you are you, and yet, we should be near each other.
And maybe, just maybe, if Mom and Dad hadn't listened to those books and held me back, if I'd started at City Day the year before, a freshman to your sophomore, if I'd been nearer, then none of this ever would have happened. 
There are a lot of interesting relationship things happening in this book. Some were brilliant, some left me scratching my head. The main relationship in this book was, of course, Nell and Layla. I thought that the sisterly bond was portrayed very well, even though sometimes I thought that Nell's infatuation with her sister bordered on unhealthy. Despite that, I totally understood the idea of wanting to protect your sister and cover for her, and the unmistakable signs that prove something is 'off' with them. Nell also has her best friend, Felix. I loved him as a character. He was Nell's platonic best friend who could pick up on her moods just as well as Nell could pick up on Layla's. He did have a character development issue, though, where at the beginning of the book he 'shines' for Layla and has an epic crush on her, but almost immediately after that, it is never mentioned again. I really liked that Nell had someone else in her corner outside of her sister, though, and their bond was also strong and almost more enjoyable to read about. Then, there are the Creed brothers. Perhaps the most confusing relationship in this book. The Creed brother's were the Golden's handsome next door neighbors. One died of a potential drug-induced accident, and the other died nine months later. These brothers appear as 'ghosts' and act as an inner-consciousness for Layla as she battles with how to react to her sister's relationship. This was ultra confusing to me because outside of visiting the Creed family's home for Christmas every year, Nell did not seem to have a relationship with these brothers at all. At least not one that was strong enough for her to envision them as ghosts that talk to her and help her out.
You stopped and turned to face me, and it gave me a sudden feeling of vertigo, like you might tip forward and I'd tip back and we'd both go tumbling down the hill.
"Nell. Don't you know how great your body is? You have a fantastic body. And you're beautiful. You need to know that."
How'd everything turn so serious? I thought we were joking.
"Look," you said, starting up the hill again more slowly. "I don't want you getting insecure or filled with doubt about yourself. Boys have a way of doing that to girls. Of making them feel like they're not good enough. Maybe it's not even the boys, maybe it's the other girls, I don't know. It's just that...all this messed-up stuff happens in high school and you have to stay out of it, or rise above it somehow."
One of the biggest things for me in We Are the Goldens was the lack of conflict and consequence. Because of the narration of this story, we read a lot of Nell's internal conflict with her struggle over Layla's relationship, but there is not a whole lot of consequence in this book. Especially for this type of story, where a young girl is in an illegal affair with her teacher, some sort of consequence is practically begged for.  SPOILERS AHEAD!!However, we don't get any of that. In stories like this, we want to see a resolution, and the ending of this short novel was so abrupt that it left me grasping for straws to put together the outcome for myself. END OF SPOILERS!

We Are the Goldens had an enticing story line that definitely delivered in terms of sisterly relationships and internal struggle. Readers really go through the motions with Nell as she discovers her sister's affair, and grapples with how to tackle the situation. Nell also had a really great best friend, and I couldn't help but be hooked in by the drama of this story. However, the second person narrator was distracting to me, because I was reading details that I couldn't help but think that Layla would already know. I was also disappointed by the lack of external conflict and consequence for the characters in this story.
BIG thank you to the publisher for letting me experience this book early!

Are you guys excited for this one? Has it been added to your TBR?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Stacking the Shelves: Library Trip!

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews where we share books bought or borrowed into our collection!

I can't be the only person in the world who craves a library trip. I live very close to my neighborhood library, but it is a smaller branch with a limited selection. After going so many times, I feel like I can name every book that's there! I haven't been to the Harold Washington Library in ages, and had truly been dying to go there. It's almost overwhelming trying to find books there, but the selection is millions times better than my neighborhood branch. Here are the books I lugged home with me...

1. The Raising by Laura Kasischke : This one I had never heard of before, but randomly found it while browsing the stacks. It sounds like a win. A blonde, beautiful sorority sister is killed in a car accident, and her boyfriend who was riding with her was suspiciously unharmed. As the one year anniversary of her death rolls around, the town becomes obsessed with her death again, and rumor has it that she is back.

2. Penelope by Rebecca Harrington : This book has been on my TBR list for forever and it's bright pink cover is hard to miss. Penelope also seems to be a girl after my own heart--she is awkward, can't tell when people are joking, and isn't good at reading others. Oh, and she's just started her first year at Harvard. Awkward characters + ivy league = something I can be interested in.

3. Palo Alto by James Franco : For some reason, my brother and I have been talking about James Franco a lot lately. He's an odd personality, for sure, and his instagram account lately has been full of pictures with him and the cast of the Palo Alto movie that is coming out soon. I'm intrigued by this short story collection...even though the Goodreads reviews are less than favorable.

4. The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan : As we get closer to summer (even though the weather doesn't reflect this at all) I am drawn to more lighthearted reads. An accident ends Anna's career at a chocolate factory, but creates a new beginning as she is offered the opportunity of a lifetime to work in one of Paris' elite chocolate shops.

5. The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle : Heather at Bookables talked about this book and loved it, and it's been on my TBR ever since. A couple, who looks perfect on the outside, is rocked when their 17 year old daughter announces she is having an affair with her 30 year old married teacher. When they go to trial, they are shocked when she stands by her teacher's side, instead of with her parents.

6. Ten Things I've Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler : I saw this on the new releases shelf and it sounds like something that'll make me cry fa sho. After traveling abroad, a woman catches the news late that her father is dying, and she arrives only just in time to say good bye.

7. The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk : This story about three best friends follows them through growing up in a small Polish town where the citizens are called 'the switchblades,' to immigration to the United States, and a murder that brings them all together again. I'm currently reading this, and I'm loving reading the Polish language, and how there is a different voice for each girl even though there is a third person narrator.

8. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson : I've been excited to read this since it came out! A girl has been traveling from place to place with her father for the past 5 years as he tries to escape from the demons that have been tagging along with him since he left Iraq. When they return to her hometown, she is worried that his PTSD will come back worse than before.

9. Burn for Burn by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian : I don't know too much about this one except that it's a story of three girls, and they're out for revenge. Which sounds dope, obviously.

10. Shut Out by Kody Keplinger : I read The DUFF by Keplinger last year and really enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to reading this one!

What have you added to your shelves this week?

Review: Vulcan's Hammer by Philip K Dick

Vulcan's Hammer by Philip K. Dick
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication Date: This edition was published October 23, 2012. Originally published in 1960.
Page Count:  163
Keywords: Sci-fi, alternative government, dystopia, technology
Goodreads & Amazon

After a series of atomic World Wars in the twentieth century, all of the governments on the planet banded together to create a single, world-ruling entity to ensure world peace. To further their efforts in world peace, they leave all of their important decision making to Vulcan 3, a super-computer that takes the information fed to it, and makes logical decisions based on it. Despite Unity's efforts at perfect peace, there is resistance from the Healers, a group that refuses to continue living under a computer's rule, and they will go through great lengths to tear it apart.
"You know that Vulcan 3 has given no statement in over fifteen months," Barris said.
"Maybe it doesn't know what to say." Taubmann opened the door to the hall; his police bodyguard swarmed alertly around him. "I can tell you one thing, though. The Healers are after one thing and one thing only; everything else is talk--all this stuff about their wanting to destroy society and wreck civilization. That's good enough for the commercial news analysts, but we know that actually--"
"What are they really after?" Barris interrupted.
"They want to smash Vulcan 3. They want to strew its parts over the countryside. All this today, Pitt's death, the rest--they're trying to reach Vulcan 3."
 Sometimes, when I can't decide what to read, I make my boyfriend pick. He's not as overwhelmed by my shelves of unread books as I am. So the other night, when I was surrounded by stacks of books new and old and completely unsure of what I was in the mood to read, I had him pick for me. He got Vulcan's Hammer for me a couple of Christmas' ago, when I was in the process of working on a sci-fi/dystopian novel. Philip K. Dick is known for being one of the most innovative sci-fi writers of all time, so it seemed like a good fit. The other night, this became his pick for me, and I was a little nervous. Sci-fi is soooo not the genre I typically read, but I would've felt a little bad for turning down his pick ;) I was surprised. In some good ways, and in some bad ways. Like my review of Joyland, I'm going to break it down in a similar way.

What to love...

  • One of my favorite things about reading sci-fi/dystopian novels is seeing how the author envisions our future. The funniest part to me was when a teacher says to her class, "what does the year 1992 bring to mind?" And the answer is the conclusion of the first atomic world war. Maybe it's because I don't read this genre a lot, but I was super intrigued by the idea of a single world government, and a computer as the head ruler. 
  • There were a couple of surprises! Vulcan's Hammer was slightly predictable, but there were enough surprises strewn in along the way that kept me on my toes. 
  • The action and technology. Though the Healers have a peaceful sounding name, they can wreak havoc. So can Unity. And Vulcan 3. There were a lot of really engaging action sequences that had me hooked. Plus, what is a sci-fi book without sweet technology? From Unity's official weapon, the pencil beam, to ships that carry travelers from NYC to Africa and back within a couple of hours, to Vulcan's hammers, there was a ton of new inventions that were pretty awesome. 
What a basic flaw in the Unity structure, he thought bitterly. Only one man is in a position to deal with the computer, so that one man can cut us off completely; he can sever the world from Vulcan 3. Like some high priest who stands between man and god, Barris amused. It's obviously wrong. But what can we do? What can I do? I may be supreme authority in this region, but Dill is still my superior; he can remove me any time he wants. True it would be a complex and difficult procedure to remove a Director against his will, but it has been done several times. And if I go and accuse him of--
Of what?He's doing something, Barris realized, but there's no way I can make out what it is. 
What's not so cool...
  • There were a couple of surprises! Yup, this was mentioned in my things to love, too. Some surprises, though, were WTF?! inducing. It is rumored that Dick was on a drug binge when he wrote Vulcan's Hammer and several others, and I can see where this could be true. A lot of random surprises happen. There's a paternity shocker (I guess we'll call it that). There are a couple of huge death's that should've been made a big deal, but were brushed off with a short, "He's dead." 
  • The descriptions are very minimalist. I mentioned above that there are ships that can take a traveler from NYC to Africa and back within hours. I didn't get this realization until 3/4's of the way through, though, so every time a 'ship' was mentioned, I was like, "damn, they're ruled by a computer but they're still traveling by ship?!" Even for Vulcan 3, I have an idea of what this master computer looks like, but nothing is concrete. 
  • Some things just didn't make sense? Jason Dill, who is the MAIN leader and directly corresponds with Vulcan 3, more or less adopts Marion Fields, the daughter of the man who started The Healer movement. Dill takes her from her school, where to my understanding, she was an orphan who had not seen her father in years? Yet she has an extreme depth of knowledge of this movement, and is constantly asked about how she remains in contact with her father. The Healer movement was also in resistance to this computer ruler, yet had no plans of action for when they were able to actually overthrow the computer. 
  • Spoilers ahead in this bullet point: For being a supercomputer that holds so much power over the world, makes important decisions, can BUILD ITSELF, and creates powerful weapons, it seemed very easily defeated. In an almost anti-climactic way. I was actually surprised by how quickly Vulcan 3's downfall happened. 
As far as Vulcan 3 is concerned, we are objects, not people.
A machine knows nothing about people. 
I loved the imaginative take on what Dick envisioned our future to look like, and was engaged by the action within Vulcan's Hammer. There were just a little too many random surprises, and some parts just didn't make sense. I also couldn't get a full grasp on this society with the minimalist descriptions.