Friday, December 28, 2012
Looking for Alaska by John Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Let's get one thing straight. I like John Green a lot, but I cannot recommend that anyone read his books out of publication order. Reading The Fault in Our Stars before Looking for Alaska is like going to The Louvre and then going to a random elementary school art exhibit. You'll people "Oh, it was so good." But you'll be lying, and secretly you'll be disappointed.
In order, I first persevered through the aimless and oddball intellectualism and over-philosophizing of An Abundance of Katherines. Then I somewhat endured through the awkward wandering over-philosophizing and somewhat preachiness of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Then I died a thousand beautiful deaths of love with the hilariously heartbreaking over-philosophizing of The Fault in Our Stars. And sadly, I plummeted into the half-scavenger hunt/half-roadtrip, over-philosophizing and terribly lackluster ending of Paper Towns. And to cap it all off, I sludged painfully through the weird and unexplainably awkward and inappropriate and just downright unpleasantness and, of course, over-philosophizing of Looking for Alaska.
Writing Technique: ★★★1/2 Not as good as TFIOS. I think I've established that John Green prefers a kind of self-aggrandizing overly philosophical narrative style that at first is endearing but, after five novels, starts to feel...flat.
Character Development: ★★ Miles (aka Pudge) was not that interesting to me. Ever. He goes to boarding school experience a "Great Perhaps" (as per his obsession with famous last words) and instead falls for a girl who is not right for him and-in my opinion-isn't worth it. And then he doesn't do much else. He think a lot about this girl and conducts a grand investigation, plays and elaborate prank, and writes a paper about life and death and last words that really left me...tepid.
Plot/Story Development: ★★★ I will say I was frustrated and intrigued immediately of this concept of "Before"... desperate to know what we were counting down to. And for the entire Before section, I thought, "This book is pointless. There is nothing happening. I'm not particularly interested in any of these people or any of these things and I really just wish this book was over so I can read other books and hit 80 books in a year." But when I got to the The Moment- I felt somewhat satisfied. It is a long build up to something that is very important and finally it gives the novel a real crisis. I was shocked when I got there. I briefly suffered the full gamut of emotions. But ultimately not devastated. (Not like TFIOS in the LEAST.)
Message/Theme: ★★★ Oh geez... life, death, pain, suffering, living a life worthwhile, finding adventure, love, friendship, family, being a rebel, those born with everything verses those who must work for everything, substance abuse, suicide, depression, joy, hope, and every other Philosophy 101 topic.
Audiobook Performance: ★★★ It was okay. Not overly impressive. Jeff Woodman read Miles alright and everyone else with a rather obnoxious and occasionally repulsive Southern accent. And his reading of Alaska...ugh. It did not endear me to her AT ALL.
Rating: R for a proliferation of swearing, sexual humor, (horribly awkward) sexual content, underage drinking, smoking, and other things I can't remember.
Overall: ★★★ at best. If you must read this, read it before TFIOS so as not to be disappointed.
Recommend: TFIOS. Obviously.
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Thursday, December 13, 2012
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Writing Technique: ★★★1/2 I enjoyed Cashore's writing style a lot. Direct. Clear. Visual. Nothing about it was overly poetic or fluffy. But she descriptions never left me confused - and that's always the danger with books containing a lot of fight scenes and establishing a different world. Her characters and settings and plot devices worked great for me. I was very sucked in.
Character Development: ★★★ Hmm, well, both Katsa and Po change as they develop the fullness of their "graces." And Po has a huge challenge to overcome personally in the end that I found realistic, heartbreaking, and inspiring. But Katsa for me is the hardest to pin, because she's kind of selfish, and that never really goes away. Early in the book, she is frustrated by her lack of freedom, by having to follow her king's every cruel command, so she is wildly averse to marriage because she doesn't want to belong to anyone. And even though her relationship with Po changes (spoiler alert???), she still isn't willing to be wholly his. She tacks conditions onto their relationship - like what if she wants to leave, what if she can't stand being tied down, etc...? And to me, love is not true love if it isn't willing to sacrifice for the other person, if it thinks one day it will change or fade. I think the author is trying to portray Katsa as a strong, admirable heroine who stands up for herself and is her own person. But I don't agree with the anti-marriage, casual-sex-relationship message being proclaimed here.
Plot/Story Development: ★★★★ I love a story with lots of action. This one begins that way. (It definitely gets shelved in the BA girls/BA boys categories.) But the plot is layered. It's not just about Katsa's progression toward freedom from King Randa, but it's also about the mystery of Po's grandfather's kidnapping and how that relates to a huge conspiracy. I was actually surprised by the breadth of the plot here. I found the endless chapters of trekking through the frozen mountains tiresome. But ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised with the concrete storyline here--start to finish.
Message/Theme: ★★★★1/2 The corrupting influence of power, independence/freewill, murder, mercy, friendship, family, love, marriage, sex, secrets of protection v. lies of manipulation, fighting for oneself, fighting for those who can't fight for themselves, endurance, using one's gifts/talents in service of others...and probably more.
Audiobook Performance: ★★★★ This was my first experience with a Full Cast Audio book. (To be fair, there aren't very many out there.) And it was very interesting. A far more dramatic listen than a normal audiobook. I found it well cast and decently acted. There was a flair for the over-dramatic. But all in all, it was a good experience. It's somewhat disappointing that the sequels are not also Full Cast Audios. I'd prefer the consistency. For that I'll probably read a physical copy, rather than listen to it.
Rating: PG-13 for a proliferation of graphic violence and casual sex.
Overall: ★★★★ Good fantasy tale. Entertaining. I'd give it a shot if you enjoy medieval-esque settings, people with magical-ish powers, fun if not committed romance, and an interesting adventure.
Recommend: If you liked this book/series, check out Maria Snyder's Study Series. (Poison Study is my favorite.)
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