Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm Soooooooo Psyched!

Going Ape

Ape House, the new novel by Sara Gruen, is actually two stories revolving around the bonobo apes which are a part of the Great Ape Language Lab. Dr. Isabel Duncan has dedicated her life to her apes, which she considers family; John Thigpen is a struggling reporter assigned to write a story about them. When an explosion destroys the Lab and Isabel is gravely injured, the worst calamity that can happen does: the apes are sold to a man whose sole objective is to create a reality television show based on their lives and antics. Isabel's recovery becomes as much about retrieving her "family" as about physical healing; John, while battling his own career, finds himself caught up in the resulting media circus as he investigates just how the apes were acquired for Ape House.

There's a lot going on in Ape House, and it's usually inter-connected. Isabel's fiance, Peter, is a shady character from the start, and his actions only get murkier as the story unfolds. John's wife Amanda, also a writer, succumbs to the pressure of Hollywood's superficiality when she moves alone to L.A. to pursue her career. John's integrity is questioned; Isabel's life falls apart. Things degenerate and the apes very survival becomes unknown. And perhaps upon reflection, this is the biggest issue I have with Ape House: focus. Are we most worried about the apes, Isabel's recovery, John's marriage or his career?

Ape House is engaging, fun, and well written, and I really enjoyed the characterizations, even if a couple (Ivanka? Celia?) were over the top. John and Isabel are both entirely believable, if terribly gullible. It's a fast read and the bad guys are never really in question. The ending, however, is very rushed, with a couple of plots (Isabel's love life; John's jail stay) glossed over irritatingly. The true stars of the story, however, are the apes themselves. Gruen's research is impeccable and she's a master at writing animals. I just would like her to stick with a theme and play it out to its ultimate conclusion without throwing in the kitchen sink along the way. Still, I'm rounding up from 3.5 stars for overall enjoyment and my delight in the bonobo apes.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Iron Daughter

Still not sure precisely what the title The Iron Daughter refers to since the main character is the daughter of the Summer King, not the Iron King (and the Iron Court is the "bad guy") but whatever. This is still a fun series, well written and page turning. I'm looking forward to the next in the series, but until then, here is my review for your perusal.

In this sequel to The Iron King, Meghan Chase, daughter of King Oberon of the Summer Court, is being held by Queen Mab of the Winter Court. Ash, prince of the Winter Court and the love of her life, is distant and cold (in more than one sense of the word) and she doesn't know if fellow faery friend Puck is recovering after his brush with death. In this uncertain, lonely world, Meghan witnesses the exchange of the Sceptre of the Seasons between the Courts, and when the Sceptre goes missing, the Courts are pitted against each other, putting Meghan and Ash even more in the middle than usual. Add in some Iron faeries, a bunch of mythical creatures, and yes, Silicon Valley, and you've got The Iron Daughter.

With the characters loosely based on A Midsummer Night's Dream, there's a whole lot of action and deception going on in this book; Meghan's still desperately in love with Ash, but Ash is doing the noble thing by trying to remain aloof. The two are thrown together, however, by the need to retrieve the Sceptre from the Iron Court and of course they can hardly fight their attraction. With Puck's admission to Meghan that he loves her, the Summer Princess finds herself torn between the two, both of whom she loves in different ways. But will any of it even matter if the a war between the Summer and Winter Courts cannot be thwarted?

Ms. Kagawa's writing is fun and action-filled, and while the story is naturally fairly predictable, it doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the tug-of-war between the Courts and Meghan and her loves. With the addition of some odd quirks, Meghan's beginning to realize that she's not just a Princess of the Summer Court but a force to be reckoned with, and she's going to have to make some serious decisions. The mooning over Ash does get a bit old at times, but such is young love that it's entirely believable. There's lots of blood and gore and a pretty big cliffhanger ending that has me already looking up the release date of the next in the series. It's not high literature but it is good, exciting fun which more than fulfills its purpose. Bring on the next!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Good Daughters

Next up...a Vine review from the fantabulous Joyce Maynard. I suspect she could write the phone book and I'd be enthralled.

Born on the same day, Dana Dickerson and Ruth Plank actually seem to have very little in common. Dana's parents, Val and George, are free spirits who move their family frequently and cannot seem to hold on to anything; Ruth's parents are the latest in many generations of Planks who have farmed the same land in New Hampshire for over 200 years. Dissimilar in looks and temperament, the only reason the two remain in any sort of contact as they grow up is that Ruth's mother maintains a yearly trip to visit the Dickersons wherever they might be living, almost as though it's a sacred pact that only she knows about. The one good thing about these trips is the opportunity for Ruth to see Dana's brother Ray, a boy she maintains a crush on throughout the years.

Told in chapters that alternate between the lives of the girls as they grow up, Maynard foreshadows the major plot point along the way so often that it's easy to see what tragedies will unfold as the stories play out. Ruth's an artist who doesn't fit in with her four older sisters and who feels distance from her mother; Dana is a lesbian with a kinship for all things agricultural. As their lives march on through the 60s and into the 70s, both experience love and loss as they come to the awareness that sometimes what makes a good daughter is not what we are but what we do.

Maynard's writing is always a joy to behold, and The Good Daughters is no exception. Relatively short at under 300 pages, the inter-connectedness of the lives of these two young women play out against bigger cultural events and smaller familial actions. While I would have liked for there not to have been so many obvious hints at what the twist would be, it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of Maynard's gift of words and her ability to bring life to her characters. Scenes of emotional loss so deep that it physically hurt brought tears to my eyes and yet this is not a book without hope and understanding. Maynard has a rare talent and The Good Daughters is yet another example of her complex layering. As long as she's writing, I'll continue reading.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Well, I'm back! Actually, I've been reading and reviewing, but mostly for HNS in the past month. This is the first book (purchased through Amazon) that I've been able to post a review on my blog for in a while, and it's a doozy! I'm noticing the polarizing reviews over on the big A; amazing how some people get so bent when a book/trilogy doesn't end precisely as they'd planned for it to. Don't these people realize THEY don't own the characters, no matter how much they love them? Guess not, judging from some of  the poor reviews Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins has received (though I am pleased that it's not been totally panned, unlike Breaking Dawn). Anyway, FWIW, I'm posting my own review below.

It took me nearly a week to read Mockingjay. Not that it's an overly long book, or so dull I couldn't stay with it, but because I wanted to luxuriate inside its pages for as long as possible. And once I did finish, I felt an overwhelming sadness to leave Katniss and her world behind, though much satisfaction at how it all played out. Maybe it wasn't precisely as I'd pictured, but it certainly felt right after fighting alongside Katniss through two Hunger Games and the start of a revolution.

Just to sum up Mockingjay's major points: We pick up the story as Katniss has awoken in District 13, lifted out of the arena by Haymitch and Co., leaving Peeta behind to face the devastation wrought when the arena exploded. Katniss, frail in both body and spirit, must come to terms with her unwilling abandonment of Peeta and the new life she must face as the symbol of the fight against the Capitol. Known as the Mockingjay, she now has the power to rouse the other Districts, yet she continually finds herself at odds with those around here and always aware of how Peeta must be suffering because of her deeds. Along the way, Katniss must also come to terms with her feelings for Gale and the loss of lives that can be laid at her feet. It's almost more than she can handle.

I loved every page of Mockingjay, though this Katniss is somewhat removed from her earlier incarnations. However, I found that in itself realistic: just how much can a teenager be expected to endure before she shuts down or cracks? Katniss is still, at heart, the Katniss we've known and loved, yet she walks a thin line between doing what's right and knowingly placing herself and others in danger. And when it comes down to it, she's still no good at following rules or even listening to authority.

It's exceedingly hard for an author to end a beloved series in the way everyone hoped because we all have our visions for how we'd like to see it end. However, Ms. Collins takes us into unexpected territory with Katniss; we see a softer, fragile girl who once again rises to the occasion against all odds. I confess to shedding a few tears when the major loss came to Katniss, though other losses were almost as devastating. My most minor quibble is the amount of time Katniss spends unconscious and recovering, but I can forgive the author that because I came away with a feeling of resolution that felt...well, just felt right. Along the way, I came across moving scenes that made my heart wrench and fevered chases that made it race, and I ultimately feel as though Katniss and her world were done justice. Highly, highly recommended for those with an open mind to all possibilities.