Thursday, May 31, 2012

Snap Reviews

Confession Time: Most of the books I read, I don't review on this blog. Unless I feel a book is unique is some way or I have something unique to say about it, I don't feel the need to review it. Or, at least, I can't get myself to finish the review. You have no idea how many partially finished reviews exist in the garbage can of this blog. And I feel stupid and silly about that.

Apology Time: Because I've been failing you as a reviewer for so long, and I've missed out on reviewing so many lovely books in these last few months, I thought I'd share some quick thoughts on each.

A Match Made High School by Kristin Walker (synopsis)


Kristin Walker's books seem to be cursed with silly titles and even sillier covers, but if you can see past that, you'll be able to enjoy this intelligent, romantic read. 

Really and truly, I feel this book is a great example of what the young adult romance genre has to offer. It has the requisite romance, but it's not as predictable as the synopsis would suggest. On top of that, it also has an interesting exploration of marriage and relationships from a teenage perspective. Sure, the premise is all little silly, but, to me at least, also a little intriguing. For me, this book was a quick, smart, enjoyable read. 

7 Clues to Winning You by Kristin Walker (synopsis)


Yes, I was so charmed by Match that I immediately went out and bought Clues (what can I say? I'm a binge reader). On the whole, I think Match is a more complete book, but I still think Clues has a fair amount to offer. 

Blythe is not the easiest protagonist to like. She's very snobby. But I like'd that the novel addressed class in some way, when most novels shy away from such issues. I also quite enjoyed the scavenger hunt and her relationship with Luke. I thought they were a really, really sweet couple (for anyone who has read the book, I really enjoyed the stuff inside and outside the principal's office at the end). I thought her relationship with her parents was also quiet interesting. As someone who is currently being forced to sell her house, I very much related to Blythe's sadness about leaving her childhood home. 

And I loved Miss Franny and Miss Eulaili, of course (again, for those who've read it: the scene where they buy the magazine? Hilarious!).

The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen (synopsis)


I was hesitant to pick up this book. On one hand, it had a cute, unique cover and a fair amount of buzz around the blogosphere. On the other hand, I had really and truly tried to get through Jensen's previous novel, Falling in Love with English Boys, and I just couldn't. But when I saw it in the bookstore, I let myself forget that. I just couldn't resist. 

Ultimately, for me, Fine Art was a good, but not great read. I loved Ella's relationship with Edward Willing. I thought that was original, and I really loved a character who had a unique passion like that. I also liked her relationship with Alex, as well as her friends. I also enjoyed her family quite a lot. I love characters with big families, especially noisy, funny, real families like Ella's. At no point did I fall in love with this book, but I wouldn't turn anyone off reading it. 

For Keeps by Natasha Friend (synopsis)


This one was such a good read. Enjoyable and relatable and relaxing. I can't exactly say why, but it felt kind of like a bubble bath to me. 

I liked so many things about this book. I loved Josie's relationship with her mother, Kate. It was sweet and  very Gilmore Girls-esque, in the very best way. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I loved how Josie's romance with Matt was not the main part of the story, but rather a subplot. I also loved how they started dating at the beginning of the book, rather than the end, because I got to see their relationship develop. That's is so freaking rare in YA and I loved it so much. Josie's best friend Liv was great too; I especially enjoyed the fights they had, and the process of Josie's figuring out why Live was acting like she did. That seemed very true to life to me and mature to me. 

I read a review that warned people not to read this book if they're only looking for romance. I want to reiterate that. This book has romance in it, but it's very much secondary to all the stuff with Josie's mom and dad. But all that stuff is so good, you should pick up this book anyways. 

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern (synopsis)


A certain blogger has raved and raved about Halpern's books forever. And while I still haven't read Get Well Soon, I thought I'd give this one a try. 

I found this book to be unique and cute. I was more than a little irritated by the slow progression of the plot--the freaking premise (or, at least, the one described on the back of the book) doesn't even begin until a hundred pages into a this two hundred and fifty-odd page book. Also, Jessie's friends at the beginning were awful people and annoying characters. But Jessie's brother was cool. And her new friends were kind of awesome. And I just adored all the Dungeons and Dragons stuff. I wish I was cool enough (or had enough imagination) to play this game. And the romantic moments born out of those friends and that game are quite excellent. For me, the book certainly improved as it went along. I enjoyed how it showed the end of a friendship, something I have experienced myself, and, like Jessie, found quite painful. However, I was never fully on board with what I found to be the overly didactic exploration of geek/nerdom. But, all together, a good book. 

Question Time: Do you other bloggers ever feel like me? Like every post has to be perfect? And every review has be long and insightful and unique? And how do you deal with this feeling? What is your solution? 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey


E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is unappealing and repetitive. It numbed my mind through boredom, not through sexiness.


The novel stars soon to be college graduate Anastasia Steele, who becomes involved with the very rich, very handsome, very charming, and very controlling Christian Grey. Mr. Grey soon makes it known that he not looking for a normal relationship, but rather sexual relations involving rules, punishments, and an array of pain inflicting instruments. He draws up a contract outlining what he wants from Ana, binding her as the submissive to his dominant. From then on, the novel tracks Ana’s acceptance of her sexual desire and submissiveness.

Fifty Shades of Grey is billed as an erotic romance, suggesting that it is meant to be exciting and enticing, expecting its reader to be as sexually allured by Christian as Ana herself is. Personally, I only found Christian abhorrent, abusive, and thoroughly unsexy. However, I believe it is a matter of personal taste, and as such, I believe a reader’s enjoyment of the novel will depend largely on that reader’s personal sexuality.

For women, I think their enjoyment of the novel will also be decided by their definition of female equality. In the novel, Christian attempts to mould Ana into the perfect submissive partner by controlling what she eats, how she dresses, and even what car she drives. As Ana consents to this treatment, the reader must ask herself: does feminism mean being treated as an equal or being given the right to choose how one is treated? Personally, I did not disapprove of Ana’s choice, as I believe feminism should be about the right to choose above all else. It still made me incredibly uncomfortable, however, when Christian demeaned and manipulated Ana; she may have personally consented to being treated in such a way, but I do not consent to my gender being treated so poorly. Part of me wants to assume this is true of women at large; however, Fifty Shades of Grey has been a New York Times #1 Bestseller for nine weeks, so this cannot be true.

Perhaps the bigger issue for me, however, was the monotony in the novel. On every level, James’ work is repetitive, be it the clich├ęd phrasing of the prose, the tired character descriptions, the overworked metaphors, or the endless number of sex scenes. James feels the need to constantly remind the reader that Christian Grey has gray eyes, as if the moral ambiguity of the character is not already spelled out enough by the novel’s title. Ana often references the Greek myth of Icarus: at first, I found it interesting; by the fifth time it is mentioned, I wanted to throw the book across the room. More than anything, I was bored to tears by the never-ending sex scenes. At first, they were vaguely appealing; by the end, I was nearly asleep.

At its heart, I believe the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy presents an intriguing, unique romance. However, for me, it would be torture to try to get through another thousand-odd pages of Christian torturing Ana; for you, however, it might be a lot more alluring and positively mind numbing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

TV Review: Glee Season 3 Finale

I loved the first season of Glee. Like, I was obsessive about it. Then, it fell off a cliff. Or, the charms of Ryan Murphy no longer charmed me in the same way. Sue Sylvester stopped being funny and started being annoying. Kurt stopped being amazing and started to become whiny. By this point, at the end of the third season, I have all but written off the show. I follow it, through reviews and word of mouth, but I barely ever watch. But, then, last night, I was bored, and I heard the finale was on, and, well, you know. And the thing is, it wasn't actually terrible. I would dare to say it was actually good. For a number of reasons:

1. They didn't completely screw up the Rachel/Finn thing


I've never, ever been a Finchel fan. Well, who am I kidding, I've never even been a Finn fan. Going into the episode heard that they were freaking ENGAGED in HIGH SCHOOL, I was sure it was just going to blow up, or descend deeper and deeper into the crazy, illogical world of Gleedom. However, I was wrong. Instead of getting a ridiculous teen wedding, we got a heartfelt, rational goodbye. For the first time, I actually saw some redeeming qualities in Finn Hudson. I thought his whole speech in the car was amazing. In that moment, with those words, I truly believed he loved her. Just as they were breaking up, I finally began rooting for them as a couple; stupid, I know.

Usually, characters on this show make stupid, nonsensical decisions. Last night, however, Rachel was only making immature decisions. She was scared of losing Finn, and having her heartbroken for the first time. She was terrified of facing New York on her own. So, she made the silly plan to defer NYADA. Usually, I would want to throw things at the TV for such stupid decision making. However, this one time, I could see where Rachel was coming from. I knew it was the wrong decision, of course, but, for once, the show showed me why that was the logical decision for Rachel's character.

I have been actively rooting for Finchel to break up since whenever they got together (beginning of season two? Maybe?). But that was just so I wouldn't have to suffer through the sight of them on screen anymore. In last night's episode, I still wanted them to break up. But watching the break up actually happen was surprisingly sad and sweet; I applaud the episode for being so emotionally effective.

2. Kurt was awesome



I've always thought Kurt was a fairly awesome character; when he got together with Blaine, his awesomeness increased 1000%. This, coupled with his friendship with Rachel, made him a great character to watch in last night's finale.

I loved the early Kurt/Blaine scene. I really do hope they stay together. What can I say: I'm a fangirl. As such, I knew I would savour every glance, every word, every kiss between them. And I did. Ryan Murphy hasn't screwed that one up. Yet. He has also been surprisingly great about the Kurt/Rachel relationship, no more so than in their scenes last night. I just adored the envelope opening scene. I love how this show deals with the theme of broken dreams; I am really glad they made graduation such a central focus of this season. In that room, with Kurt and Finn and Rachel, my heart just broke. It wasn't an overdramatic moment, in the way that so many Glee moments are. Instead, it was subtle and realistic and just so sad. Cory Monteith, Lea Michele, and Chris Colfer were all amazing in that scene.

3. The songs were actually good

I know! I can't believe it! Do you know how long its been since I've watched a full song on Glee? I usually listen to the first bit, then want to scream, and skip to the next scene. But this time, I actually enjoyed the songs. That hasn't happened since the first half of the first season! I just can't believe it!

Perhaps most shocking of all: Matthew Morisson actually put on a good performance! Who knew he had it in him?!?


I know, I'm being very sarcastic. I'm sorry. I just never thought that would be a redeeming part of the show, ever again. But last night, I enjoyed Mr. Shue's song, and the senior/junior and junior/senior songs. That alone is a reason to write a post about this episode.

And then, I can't forget Burt's dance. I just about died. It was AMAZING. I loved it for so many reasons. It was the perfect present for Kurt. It was such a great moment for their relationship. It was such a nice moment for the show, where it rewarded longterm fans. I remember the Single Ladies dance from season one. I loved it then. Last night, I was so happy to see it return. A truly great scene.


I'm choosing to gloss over the less great moments from last night's episode (I still hate Quinn, for example, but we don't need to talk about that). For now, I am very happy with the show. I may even watch the season premiere in September, which is big for me, seeing as I haven't watched two consecutive Glee episodes since spring of 2011.

Finale Rating: 4/5 Stars (okay, still a relative scale. This is Glee after all. Let's not go comparing this to Parks and Rec or something. Let's stay sane.)

I am an English Ontarian

I originally decided to go to school in Quebec because I wanted to experience a new culture and a new language. I believed university should be about experiencing new things, and I thought Quebec would allow me to do that. I thought it would be great.

I was right and I was wrong. 

I was wrong because I ignored the fact that new experiences are not always fun experiences. I wanted to experience something new and challenge myself. I never really considered that "challenging myself"may not be so fun or easy; I never guessed that a new language and a new culture would make me feel so different, so alienated. I never could have imagined how much I would learn, both about myself and about others. 


In high school, most my friends came from similar backgrounds as me. Middle class. Educated parents. Usually white, English native speakers. Here in Quebec, though, things are different. I am different. I stick out. 

Here, a lot of people learned English as their second language, after French. I am a minority as a native English speaker. I have begun to refer to myself this way--"native English speaker". I never did that before. Everyone I knew spoke English. It wasn't something unique about me. It wasn't part of my identity. 

This year, though, it has become a part of me. A part of how I describe myself and think of myself. Not only has it become a way I identify myself, but it has also become a part of myself I have to defend. My closest friends here are all native French speakers, who learned English in their teens. A lot of the time, they'll speak French when they're with me, forgetting that I can't really understand them. Time and time again I've had to explain that I don't understand, that I feel left out. I've had to ask them to switch to English. I've had to listen to them tell French jokes that I don't get; I've heard them discuss French grammar, French idioms, French culture. Suddenly, this year, French has become like some big secret that I'm not a part of. Suddenly, being English is something different, something alienating. Suddenly, it's a whole new part of my identity I have to accept and understand and stand up for.


Suddenly, I've also become an "out of province student". I am now a "Torontonian" and an "Ontarian". All new phrases and terms for me. And again, all new ways I can be attacked. 

In comparison to Ontario, Quebec is a very hostile environment, at least in my opinion. Here, some people hate you the moment you open your mouth, just because of the language you speak. Here, some people dislike you because of where you're from, as if being from Ontario is a bad thing. Here, being a Canadian is not always a good thing. 

I am proud to be Canadian. I don't think it's necessarily superior to any other country, but I am proud to call it my country. It is the place I want to live for the rest of my life, the place I want to raise my children one day. 

As a Canadian, I have always felt like something of a minority. I am surrounded by American culture all day. On the world stage, Canada just isn't all that important. As a Canadian, I'm used to being an after thought, a quick dismissal. But here, in Quebec, being a Canadian is not something to be ignored, but rather debated. Here, they don't play O Canada everyday. Here, they don't celebrate Canada Day. Here, a lot of people want to separate from the country. Here, it sometimes feels awful to be Canadian. 

The thing that I often forget about Canada is that few people are truly Canadian. Unless you're actually First Nations, you are not native to this country. Toronto has been known as the city of multiculturalism; Canada has always been the country of immigrants. From a historical perspective, we are a relatively new country, having only been founded in 1867. Before then and since then, we've been a divided country: French vs. English, Upper vs. Lower Canada, Maritimes vs. Central Canada vs. Prairies, Provinces vs. Territories. When you grow up in the centre of the country, like I did, it's easy to forget these divides. Ontario has been the core the country since its inauguration; it's easy to be unaware of the lines that separate us from other provinces.

Ontario is the geographic middle of Canada; it is home to the bulk of the countries' people. It is multicultural, sure, but it is also almost wholly English speaking and English cultured. Newfoundland, however, only joined Canada sixty years ago. Quebec has been fighting to be heard in this country for centuries. Before this year, before living in Quebec, I never knew what type of provincial pride that kind of history could inspire.

Someone actually did a study asking Canadians to rank how they identify themselves: by their city, by their province, or by their country. In Quebec, most people ranked their province first. In Ontario, most people ranked their province last. I too would rank Ontario in third place in such a survey, at least until this year.

This year, though, has changed identity more than a little bit: I am now an Native English Speaker, and I am, forevermore, an Ontarian. I thought, that, by moving to Quebec, I would learn about a new culture and a new language, which I did. However, I think I may have learned the most about myself and what it means for me to be a Canadian.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: Me, Evolution, and Other Freaks of Nature

Book: Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande 



Summary: Mena told a secret, a secret which got her church sued, enraged her friends, and deeply disappointed her parents. Now, as Mena starts high school, she feels completely alone. When she begins to become friends with lab partner Casey, she must try to reconcile her desire to make friends with her desire to please her parents and follow her God. Her beliefs are only tested further as her science teacher begins the unit on evolution. Suddenly, Mena is caught up in a battle between evolutionists and creationists, between Christians and atheists, between church and state, and between her own desires and her own beliefs.

Review:

I want to teach this book one day. I want to share it with high school students. I want them to debate the same things that Mena had to debate. I want them, Christian or atheist or other, to be able to experience a different perspective that is presented in such a honest, balanced, and age appropriate way. 

Normally, I don't like reading about protagonists who are significantly younger than me. Mena, at fourteen, at first seemed much too young for my enjoyment. However, the issues presented in the book were so interesting, and the voice was so engaging, it didn't matter what age the main character was. Mena truly sounded fourteen, which I actually liked. She had the worries and wonders of our a girl her age. She was experiencing a separation from her parents for the first time. She was experiencing her first romance, her first taste of independence. I felt Brande captured all of these experiences wonderfully, in a pitch perfect voice. Ultimately, I loved Mena, and I thought fourteen was an interesting and important age to approach this topic from. 

As an atheist, I found it very refreshing to read about religion in such a truthful, open, and respectful way. Brande doesn't preach; in fact, I'm not certain Brande is religious at all. All I know is that God is real to Mena, and after following her for nearly three hundred pages, I truly respect and understand her view. Mena loves God, worships God, but also doubts God. Mena considers different viewpoints, and then draws her own conclusions, which I really respect. When Mena is taught about evolution, she turns to the bible, and finds a way to reconcile facts with faith. At fourteen, Mena is uncertain and vulnerable; through the novel, her character arc brings her to a place where is confident in what she believes, who she is, and what she stands for. As a fourteen year old protagonist, she is experiencing her first doubts about religion, friends, family, and selfhood; what I truly appreciate about the novel is that it presents all of these topics in a non-judgemental, imperfect light, respecting the readers views and justifying Mena's actions.

I want to teach this novel because of all those issues. But I think it belongs in the classroom because it's not just an "issue book". It has romance, great romance. Casey is a very smart and very sweet boy, and his relationship with Mena unfolds in a somewhat untraditional way, veering off the beat-for-beat path that so many romances follow these days. It also has family and friend drama that anyone could relate to. In Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature, Robin Brande crafts a novel that teenagers will find enjoyable, relatable, but also thought provoking. In this, Brande proves that science can be successfully mixed with social drama, and that religion can be served with a side of romance; in doing so, she respects both the opinions and beliefs of the individual and the intelligence and insight of every teenage reader who deserves to experience such a brilliant novel.

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