Sunday, October 9, 2011

"From every bitter thing, after all, something hardy will surely grow. From every difficulty, the seed that’s sewn is that much stronger."

Blackbird House – Alice Hoffman

238 pages

Genre:  Magical Realism; Historical Fiction; Contemporary

Summary:  Told in a series of short stories, Blackbird House chronicles the lives of families and individuals who lived in a small farmhouse on Cape Cod over the course of many years.

Review:  This book didn’t grab my attention from the very beginning, so I ended up setting it aside for quite a few weeks.  Today I decided to give it another go, was completely hooked, and eagerly devoured the rest of it in one sitting.

Blackbird House is a wonderful tale that combines magic, romance, grief, and heartache into one beautiful, literary package.  The language throughout is quite lyrical, and the stories within will stick with me for quite some time. 

I don’t normally enjoy reading short stories all that much, but with this book, it worked perfectly and wouldn’t have been as good had it been told in a different way.  The reader wasn’t able to follow the characters throughout the course of their lives, but rather, just when they were connected to the house, and that was enough.  The white blackbird’s constant reappearance, as well as the repetition of the number 24, left the reader with the ominous knowledge that bad things were to come, and even though one knew they were coming, one still wanted to see what would happen next.

The characters themselves were incredibly well done, which is quite a feat since the reader didn’t have much time to get to know them.  Hoffman got right to the character inner cores and exposed it to the readers, and it was, in turn, rather heartbreaking when things ended badly for them.

While it was a rather short book, Blackbird House packed a punch and was an exceptionally worthy effort.  If you enjoy literary fiction that looks at the same place over an extended period of time, definitely give this book a try.  I can’t wait to read more by Alice Hoffman.

Rating: 4/5

Read-alikes:  Garden Spells – Sarah Addison Allen; The Mercy of Thin Air – Ronlyn Domingue

“They can't expect anyone to actually pay for a shirt that says, 'I (picture of an elephant) the San Diego Zoo.' What does that even mean?”

Fat Vampire – Adam Rex

324 pages

Genre:  YA; Paranormal; Humor

Summary:  On the whole, Doug is a pretty average teenager:  he struggles with weight issues, doesn’t have the highest self-esteem, and gets picked on by his peers.  There is one big exception to this, though:  he’s also a vampire.  As if dealing with bloodlust isn’t bad enough, Doug didn’t even get the perks that usually go along with vampire lore, namely being indescribably attractive and incredibly strong.  Things begin to change in Doug’s life, however, when he receives a mysterious invitation to join someone he’s never met for dinner.  At around the same time, strange things begin to happen in Doug’s life that may expose who he truly is.  Will Doug be able to keep his secret, or will he be forced to deal with torment from a society that doesn’t understand him?

Review:  I had high hopes for Fat Vampire.  Since the paranormal genre is so popular in YA literature at the moment, having a hero who wasn’t perfect sounded absolutely fabulous.   Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Fat Vampire started out quite well, and the beginning of the book was incredibly funny and authentically captured the teenage voice.  As the book progressed, however, Doug seemed to become more of an afterthought in his own story, and other characters melodramas were brought to the forefront.  There also wasn’t a whole lot of explanation in regards to some of the events, and in many instances, these events seemed a bit contrived.

I wasn’t particularly fond of any of the characters, and I found Doug’s personality to be especially repellant.  Sejal had potential, but she was so focused on “the Google” that it made it difficult to feel attached to her.  None of the character seemed very believable to me, and ultimately, they all fell flat.

While I didn’t particularly care for Fat Vampire, the pacing worked really well and the plot moved along nicely.  The humor within would appeal to teenagers, especially reluctant readers, and fans of the paranormal genre may enjoy this book.

Rating:  2/5

Read-alikes:  Eighth Grade Bites – Heather Brewer, City of Bones – Cassandra Clare, The Last Apprentice – Joseph Delaney, Cirque du Freak series – Darren Shan

"A real life doesn’t mean getting what you want; the achievement, the privilege, too, is knowing what you love. But getting what you love? Having what you love, love you back? Oh, my friend, it’s a miracle: your one tiny life’s head-on collision with divinity.”

Love Walked In – Marisa de los Santos

307 pages

Genre:  Contemporary; Romance; Literature

Summary:  Love Walked In is a dual narrative told from the perspective of Cornelia, a twenty-something barista who isn’t quite sure what she wants to do with her life, and Clare, an eleven-year-old whose familial situation forces her to grow up fast.  On a seemingly average day, Cornelia is toiling away at the coffee shop when Martin, a handsome man a few years her senior, wanders in and turns her world upside-down.  Meanwhile, Clare, neglected and eventually abandoned by her unstable mother, is searching for her absentee father, wanders into an unassuming coffee shop, and gets much more than she bargained for.  Will Clare and Cornelia find what they’re looking for, or will they find that they want something different altogether?

Review:  Love Walked In was a charming, sweet tale that was full of twists and turns.

This book was a little bit disjointed for me.  At Love Walked In’s onset, I was absolutely hooked and loathe to put it down.  I loved Cornelia’s quirks and temperament, and could relate to her right away.  Additionally, many of the instances in the beginning of the book were quite funny, and I truly enjoyed reading about them.  Clare was also easy to love, and I spent the entirety of the book hoping things would work out the way in which she wanted them to.  Her situation absolutely broke my heart.

Towards the latter third of Love Walked In, however, my feelings began to change a little bit.  The beginning was mostly spent getting to know the characters, so I was a bit surprised at how rushed the events felt towards the end.  Yes, there was quite a bit of ground to cover, but everything happened so quickly that it was hard to keep up.

Nonetheless, Love Walked In was quite enjoyable and moved along at a nice pace.  All of the characters were really well-developed, and the fact that they had flaws made them very believable.  I was never a big fan of Martin, but still enjoyed reading about him (he just seemed too perfect), so when his flaws began to present themselves as Cornelia’s blinders were taken off, it made me feel kind of vindicated.  I also really liked Teo, who was an incredibly sweet character, and I was hoping things would work out exactly how they did by the book’s end in regard to his circumstances.

Love Walked In was a fun romp that will take you on an emotional journey through the lives of various characters.  If you’re looking for a well-written book packed with romance and friendship, I definitely recommend it.

Rating:  3/5

Read-AlikeThe Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

“Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system. That way you'd be able to find whatever you were looking for.”

Wonderstruck – Brian Selznick

639 pages

Genre:  Juvenile; Historical Fiction; Mystery; Sequential Art

Summary:  Wonderstruck unfolds through the eyes of two distinct characters:  Ben, a young boy growing up in 1970s Minnesota, whose story is told in words; and Rose, a young girl living in New Jersey during the 1920s, whose story is told in pictures. 

Ben’s mom has just passed away in a tragic accident, and Ben has to come to terms with life without her.  After her death, he begins to wonder about the father he has never met and works to piece together clues to figure out who he is.  Meanwhile, Rose is obsessed with an actress who lives in New York City, and at the onset of the story, it is easy to see how much she longs to escape into a world that she believes is better suited for her.  Will Ben and Rose ever find what they’re looking for?

Review:  Wonderstruck was my first foray into Selznick’s body of work, and it definitely won’t be my last.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the fact that it was a dual narrative.  While this form doesn’t work for every book, it worked exceptionally well in Wonderstruck.  I loved piecing together the clues about Ben’s life through words, and it was equally enjoyable to learn more about Rose through pictures.  The text was quite well-written, the pictures were absolutely breathtaking, and I found myself completely absorbed in both.  Throughout the story, I wondered when and if the texts were ever going to coincide, and when they did, it really surprised me in a wonderful way.  This book engaged me and kept me guessing until the very last page.

As I just mentioned, the pictures are fabulous.  The images Selznick created were extremely lifelike and beautiful, and I found myself lingering over them for quite some time to ensure that I absorbed all of the nuances.  Rose’s story really didn’t need any written explanation because of the sequential art, and I really liked that none was included.

Another interesting facet of this book centered around deafness.  I haven’t often encountered deaf characters in my literary wanderings, and to have two deaf main characters was really interesting.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a book that combines mystery, adventure, beautiful artwork, and historical fiction, definitely give Wonderstruck a try.

Rating:  4.5/5

Other Books by Brian Selznick:  The Invention of Hugo Cabret, The Houdini Box, The Boy of a Thousand Faces, The Robot King