The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman | Book Review

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman follows an unnamed narrator as he recalls strange/terrifying events from his childhood involving a young girl named Lettie Hempstock and her family.

Gaiman’s book is definitely different. It’s one of those books where things just kind of happen. The fantastical elements all come with little explanation. However, the book hints at some lore behind what’s going on (but there’s never really any detailed explanation, everything is vague. It is a short book after all).

I don’t think this is a problem for the novel since it ends up working. The story is still very captivating with all its strangeness. I thought the dynamic between the narrator and Lettie was very well done.

There’s a villain named Ursula Monkton that has some prominence in the story but she isn’t the only obstacle the narrator face. I thought she had the potential to be a great villain but the book doesn’t really do much with her by the end. So, that’s a slight flaw but I will say other elements make up for it. I thought the imagery was good, for example.

I can’t say this book is for everyone. Like I said, things just kind of happen. There’s many references to other worlds, creatures, etc. but nothing that goes into detail. I found that a bit frustrating but I think the book was meant to have a fairy tale type feel.

Even though I thought Gaiman’s book was a nice little read…it still feels like there’s something missing by the end. Almost like it doesn’t reach its full potential. That’s why I can’t see myself putting it on a favorite list or anything. Still, it’s a nice read. 3.5/5

 

 

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Panic by Lauren Oliver | Book Review

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So, the most recent book I’ve read is Panic by Lauren Oliver. Oliver is one of my favorite authors and hasn’t disappointed me yet (except for, maybe, the third Delirium book.) Here I’ll breakdown what works in the book and what doesn’t.  (slightly spoiler-ish)

Idea/Creativity: When I first read the synopsis for this book I wasn’t so impressed – it sounded like it would be another Hunger Games rip off. Luckily, it turned out not to be. Panic is about girl in a crummy town that gets in on a local tradition among high schoolers. That tradition is a game called Panic which basically involves doing a series of dangerous stunts. The prize is a large sum of money. The main character, Heather, plays the game as her personal life is in turmoil. There’s also romantic tension between her and her friend Bishop along the way. A selected group of judges oversee the competition and their identities are kept fiercely secret.  This is the jist of the novel.

The idea isn’t bad. It may not be a Hunger Games rip-off but it’s not particularly original.  If I had to rate on creativity alone I can’t say I would rate all that highly. However, this doesn’t mean the book is bad – plenty of unoriginal books are still fun to read. I feel that the author does well with the premise although the basic idea feels like it’s been done before.

Story Flow: This is a pretty fast read. Much of the story revolves around the game, of course. But the characters still have a lot of personal conflict the story focuses (However, the threat of the game and when the next event will be always looms over their head) on. So I would say there’s never really a dull moment in the story since there’s always something significant going on. It also constantly switches between characters Dodge and Heather’s point of view and this helps the story move fast.

Characters: The main characters are Heather and Dodge, whose POVs the book is told from (mainly third-person limited). Dodge has revenge on his mind since his sister was paralyzed in the game during the final challenge. Heather wants to escape the town of Carp and give a better life to her sister, Lily. Both of them are good main characters. They’re flawed with good intentions, and I thought they would have made a better relationship dynamic than Heather and Bishop did.

The other important characters are Natalie and Bishop, Heather’s two best friends. Out of the main cast, Natalie is the worst. She was extremely annoying. Heather deserved a better best friend and Dodge deserved a better love interest. As for Bishop, he’s not as bad but he is boring. The relationship between him and Heather fell completely flat, in my opinion.

Main characters aside, the side characters are one of the biggest flaws of the book. There’s supposed to be other people in the game but we learn almost nothing about them – they’re essentially like nameless entities. There’s a character named Ray (that Dodge has bone to pick with) who lasts to the very end but we never get to know much about him – he’s completely one-dimensional like all the others outside of the main ones. Even Dodge and Heather’s sisters lack any true depth.

There is a kind woman named Anne who befriends Heather but she didn’t have much development either. Her main characteristic is that she has a farm. And there’s a couple tigers on that farm.

Setting: The story takes place in a town called Carp. It’s a boring, soul crushing place. In fact, one of the claims in the book is that Panic got started because the teens simply had nothing to do. There’s also a lot going behind closed doors with drugs and such (as seen through Heather’s home life). I thought the setting was well done. It really captured the dread that crappy small towns can carry.

Ending: Heather gets a pretty good ending but Dodge’s was a bit disappointing and there wasn’t much closure when it came to him. However, the narrative clearly favors Heather more so she’s the one that ended up finishing the final challenge. Which the story shows with some cool imagery involving a tiger. Even though Dodge deserved a better ending, I think the book had a decent end regardless.

Final Thoughts: Panic is a good book. It may not do anything new and has its flaws but it’s a good book. Following Heather and Dodge is fun and intense to read about. Some of the challenges are cool but I mostly like how the game is incorporated into the sadness of the main characters.

Due to how much I enjoyed the book overall, I will give it a solid 4.5/5.

Where are you going, Where have you been by Joyce Carol Oates | Short Story Analysis

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Connie is your typical attractive teenage girl – she likes going out with friends and flirting with boys. She’s annoyed with her family, especially her mother who’s constantly criticizing her. Her flirting is mostly innocent fun until she’s confronted by a strange older man named Arnold Friend at her home.

Some may view this story as a cautionary tale -a young woman ends up being punished for venturing into adult sexuality. And although her fate after leaving with Arnold is undescribed, all the clues in the story make it clear it will be something horrible (rape/murder). Another way some view the story is that Connie is a hero – she went with Arnold because he was threatening her family and she wanted to keep them safe.

However, I think there’s much more to it than that. Arnold could be something more sinister than a creepy guy. Look at how far he takes his façade – stuffing his boots to look taller, the sunglasses, possibly wearing a wig and such. A more simple explanation would be that he’s hiding his age and wants to seem young and cool to teenage girls.

But there’s also a possibly that Arnold has supernatural origins, possibly a demon. First off his name ‘Arnold Friend” seems artificial. Along with his appearance it’s like he’s trying to imitate a human being rather than being one naturally.  At one point when Connie observes his appearance and demeanor more the narrative states, “But all these things did not come together.” Meaning that he seems very unnatural.

The way  he seems to entrance Connie also indicates he’s not wholly human. He uses his persuasion to get Connie to come with him, rather than physical (which would have been the last resort). He’s confident in his power of persuasion and snaps at his friend Ellie when he suggests taking other measures.

While the supernatural theory could be wrong, I do think Arnold is basically meant to embody the ultimate predator. He disguises himself to lure in victims and he knows to entrance them.

“And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her. They were maybe ten feet apart.
After his had fell back to his side the X was still in the air almost visible.”

Here is where it shows that Connie’s fate is sealed. She has been “X’d” out and the predator will succeed by the end. Arnold shows how evil can appear suddenly and in the most unlikely of places. Connie was just an average teenage girl, but meeting Arnold has forced her to confront the terrible aspects of the world which Arnold embodies.

 

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp | Book Review

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Jane-Emily is a short Young Adult horror/ghost novel about a little girl named Jane who goes to spend a summer at her grandmother’s house with her Aunt Louisa, whose also the narrator of the story. A girl named Emily who died at a young age previously lived in the house and unlike Jane she was a selfish, spoiled girl. Emily still lingers in the house and Jane can feel her, Emily also has some terrible plans for the girl.

This book was apparently out of print for awhile and now it’s back due to popular demand. Well I wasn’t alive when it was popular and I heard about it through recommendation. I thought the premise sounded cool and I love ghost stories when their done right. Was Jane-Emily done right? Kind of but overall I was a bit disappointed.

The build up was good, but the ending it built up to was disappointing. It ended way too quickly for me, I just didn’t feel satisfied. Still, it’s far from a terrible book I wasn’t bored while reading and there were some good scenes. The characters were decent even though I can’t say they were that memorable or anything. Emily was pretty interesting and the best times were learning more and more about her.

So in the end I wish it would of just wrapped things up better. 3/5

A Work of Artifice by Marge Piercy | Poetry Analysis

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The meaning of Piercy’s poem is simple. It uses metaphor to show how the female gender role can confine women and stop them from reaching their full potential.

“The bonsai tree / in the attractive pot / could have grown eighty feet tall” A bonsai tree can grow to be quite large. But when it’s in the pot it can only grow so big, especially when it’s branches and leaves are being trimmed away at.

This is also true for many women throughout history who were regulated to domestic life. They were kept in a nice, pretty house but it kept them from growing. “Growing” mainly means it kept them from expanding their knowledge and succeeding in the outside world.

The women may have been well-taken care of, but much like the bonsai tree, they couldn’t grow beyond what the “Gardener” allowed.

Again, the bonsai tree gets to live in a pretty pot and the woman gets a pretty house. Because of this many would tell them they are lucky as seen with this line: “how lucky, little tree, / to have a pot to grow in.” But this isn’t true because they aren’t able to choose their own path.

I think the poem is saying that there should be a matter of choice. But instead, women were trained from the very beginning to be confined the home.  In order for them to expand their minds and intellect they need the opportunity to succeed outside of that.

This is why there is a mention of the “Crippled brain,” by limiting the options the brain can only know domestic skills. The poem is showing that women have the potential to go beyond that, and they should have the right to do so.

 

Before I Fall (2017) | Movie Review

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Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is one of my favorite books. The plot follows Samantha a girl in a group of mean girls who experiences an accident. She soon finds herself repeating the same day over and over again, this is because there’s something she has to fix.

I was excited to learn that the film was being made into a movie. I always thought it would make a very good film. And….it did! The movie was a very good adaptation. It stays pretty loyal to the source material (there are still changes, of course.)

However, I’ll avoid doing too many book comparisons and look at the movie as a separate entity. The main girls in the film – Samantha, Lindsey, Elodie and Ally are your typical popular teenage girls. Their focus is on social lives, boys, parties, etc. However, they have a mean streak (Lindsey, in particular) and much of that is directed at an outcast girl named Juliet, a former friend of Lindsey’s. Samantha isn’t really  mean just a passive witness of meanness at first.

I saw a reviewer say that the girls were too unlikeable and unrealistically nasty. And I didn’t see it, I’ve seen girl- on-girl bullying that was much worse in high school. So, I think that reviewer is really naïve and may have missed the point. The girls are realistic, for the most part, and their level of cruelty isn’t uncommon to see in real life – far from it.

The girls eventually go to a party which leads to an intense scene when Juliet shows up uninvited. After the party, there’s an accident. There’s a bright light and soon Samantha wakes up in her bed. But she’s experiencing the same day all over again. And she will keep repeating the day until she finds out what she has to fix. This unravels a whole mystery and Samantha’s emotions go on a whirlwind.

Watching Samantha go through this strange phenomenon is interesting. I didn’t feel the film got boring when it kept making her go through the same thing. Her going through all the stages of grief was well-presented.

My only issue with the film is that they could have done more with Juliet. She’s the key to Samantha’s situation and I felt they could have done more with her background. In the book, much more is learned about her. In the movie, however, they made it seem like her falling out with Lindsey was what drove her over the edge when there’s much more to her story.

When Samantha finally learns what she has to fix and does so near the end, I felt the movie kind of amped up the cheesiness as well. That could have been toned down.

But other than that Before I Fall is a great film and good adaptations to one of my favorite books.

4/5

 

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia | Book Review

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One Crazy Summer is a middle grade book that tells the story of the three Gaither sisters Delphine, Vonetta and Fern. In the late 60s during the summer they go to Oakland to visit their mother, Cecile who had previously abandoned them. She’s very unwelcoming to them, viewing them as a distraction from her work. They eventually go to a Black Panther camp. The book is told from the older sister, Delphine’s point of view who has to take care of her younger sisters.

When I was suggested One Crazy Summer, it sounded like something that I would definitely enjoy reading. So I was very happy to get my hands on a copy. I was also impressed by the medals on the cover. And they are definitely deserved, the Gaither girls story is a great read.

I don’t know much about the black panthers so I can’t say how accurate everything is. But the thing is, at least in my opinion, the book doesn’t go into that much detail about the subject. This is one of the books flaws but it’s nothing major.

As for the characters, they were good overall. It was a great experience being in Delphine’s head. Fern was very cute and funny, Vonetta on the other was pretty forgettable. As for Cecile, she was horrible throughout most of the book and I didn’t completely get her, even when everything ended.

So One Crazy Summer has a few flaws but altogether it’s a great book, and I could see kids finding it entertaining (it’s perfect to use for schools) as well as adults.  4/5