Review: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

7514925Blurb: Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .

Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.

Peter is unlike anyone she’s ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she’s always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.

With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Peaches comes a magical and bewitching story of the romance between a fearless heroine and the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

Review: God, I am such a sucker. Give me an excellent ending and I will add at least one star to any rating. While reading Tiger Lily, I was merely whelmed. But then the final chapters slapped me in the face and made me cry and I’m like okay okay I’ve totally forgotten everything that was whelming since now I am overwhelmed! Just stop making me cry please! Please?

What didn’t impress me was the narration. Although a daring choice, Tinker Bell narrating a story that belonged entirely to Tiger Lily held me at a distance. Tiger Lily’s feelings get lost as they’re processed through another character. This story is very much about the slightest changes in her feelings, and much of these changes are difficult to observe from Tink’s perspective. So for the first half of the novel, I didn’t believe or care about the love story of Peter and Tiger Lily. They fell in love so fast but I wasn’t sure why or how or even when.

There is also too much exposition. The first third of the book was lollygagging, plain and simple. It takes way too long for Tiger Lily to meet Peter and then it takes way too long for Wendy to arrive in Neverland. Of course, if you’ve read original Peter Pan, you will be awaiting these developments, and the amount of time it takes for them to happen will test your patience.

I did appreciate how Anderson tweaked the tale to recount a much darker story about the effects of colonialism tempered by a bittersweet story of first love. Peter Pan is a story about time, a story about how time marches forward always. Always. In this retelling, the Englanders have arrived and push the native tribes of Neverland to adopt their culture. The effects are tragic. Yet the Neverlanders can only watch as the times change around them in a land that once was static. This story finds a lovely parallel with the love story of Tiger Lily and Peter. Both the Neverlanders and Tiger Lily learn that a moment exists only once. They learn that the evanescence of time can be catastrophic, and we see this lesson unroll on a societal level and on an individual level.

That mélange of faults and strengths made Tiger Lily a fine but ultimately mediocre read. But then, much like in the source material Peter Pan, the finale is a tour de force. There is so much beautiful writing in the final chapters. The words drip with suffering. The fate of Neverland, Tiger Lily, Peter—the fate of every character—forces you to stare directly into the harshness and inevitability of time. It will hurt your heart.

Every kind of love, it seems, is the only one. It doesn’t happen twice.

4 out of 5 stars

Advertisements

Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

8706185Blurb: Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled–and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination in the manner of novels like Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, this is potentially a breakout book for an author whose genius has already been hailed by peers like Kelly Link, Sarah Weinman, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Review: To decide whether or not to read this book, answer this question: do you want to read about a 15 year old girl reading science fiction?

In my case, the answer is no. Even if I did adore classic SF from the mid-20th century, I don’t think I would have liked this book. It’s a diary format, covering a year of a young Welsh girl’s life at a drab English boarding school. Mori’s recovering from trauma—her sister is dead and her mom is evil and the reason for these facts has something to do with fairies but it’s all very vague. Her recovery is helped by reading gobs and gobs of SF, which she discusses in her journals.

It’s certainly very realistic. Journaling this way seems like something a precocious 15 year old girl would do, existence of fairies or not. But realistic doesn’t always make for enjoyable reading. The bits I was interested in were glossed over, probably because Mori used her diary as a therapeutic outlet to avoid retelling her exciting but troublesome magical problems. As a reader of the diary, however, I feel gypped after slogging through pages of expository writing on SF books only to gain a rare unexplained mention of magic/death/evil. The actual exciting events are told in the past tense without pizazz or, even worse, they’re not recounted at all, merely tantalizingly alluded to.

The most interesting part of Among Others concerns the verisimilitude of it all. The common reading seems to be 1. magic exists 2. all these supernatural events did truly occur. But the diary format allows Mori to edit. Who knows how factual her account really is? Mori draws some odd conclusions about seemingly innocuous things, and I’m tempted to read the book as the babblings of a lunatic girl pushed toward the fantastical after being punished by the realistic.

2 out of 5 stars

Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

13497818Blurb: A BIG NOVEL ABOUT A SMALL TOWN …

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils … Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

Five Things to Tell Yourself Before Starting The Casual Vacancy

1. It is not Harry Potter.
2. It is not Harry Potter.
3. It is not Harry Potter.
4. It is quite excellent.
5. It is not Harry Potter.

The Casual Vacancy is all about the characters. Such wonderful, devastating characters. There are probably 20 plus important characters in the novel and the remarkable thing? It is not only names that differentiate them; each person is distinct. Few authors can properly characterize a cast of three, and J.K. Rowling just characterized every inhabitant in the entire town of Pagford. The characters are all dissimilar and distinguished by various motivations, histories, and personalities. And yet, they’re all tragically alike—consumed by the same anxieties and searching for same validation. The characters are so believably human that you can’t easily lionize and sympathize with them but you unquestionably do since they are so real. Do you root for them all or do you pity them all?

It’s an ambiguous narrative. In fact, JKR’s style reminded me of Balzac’s trademark style: realistic with characters that are neither good nor evil but simply human. Obviously, that’s a large departure from the Harry Potter series where the fight between good and evil, Harry and Voldemort, is established from page one. But this Balzacien style suits her. It’s almost as if JKR goes, “So here is this town, there is a death, here are the citizens, let us watch what happens.” Her detached narrator merely notes the happenings of these peoples’ lives for the sake of public record.

Despite the extreme realism, the story still progresses in shocking ways. I had to stop reading occasionally—especially in the final 100 pages or so where the tightening and intertwining strings that connect the citizens of Pagford snap—because I was so surprised by what just happened. Most people who disliked the book complain about the lack of plot, but trust me, there is a plot here; it’s just more subtle than defeating a Dark Lord.

The Casual Vacancy was unfairly panned upon its release. Yes, it’s nothing like Harry Potter but that’s why it’s fantastic. It’s about how we see people and we think we know them but we don’t. It’s about how people see us and think they know us and they don’t. As much as we love Harry, we all know how escapist his story was, right? The true horrors reside here, in our world.

4 out of 5 stars

Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

16101128Blurb: The Passage meets Ender’s Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Review:

Do you know why we will win this war? Why we cannot lose? Because we know how you think. We’ve been watching you for six thousand years. When the pyramids rose in the Egyptian desert, we were watching you. When Caesar burned the library at Alexandria, we were watching you. When you crucified that first-century Jewish peasant, we were watching. When Columbus set foot in the New World…when you fought a war to free millions of your fellow humans from bondage…when you learned how to split the atom…when you first ventured beyond your atmosphere…What were we doing?

Why, Mr. Alien, you were watching us and twiddling your symbolic alien mustache of course! Yet that six thousand years of creeping on humanity doesn’t seem to have done you much good. Since your plan to kill the Earthlings and take possession of the planet (if that even IS your plan—unfortunately, Rick Yancey has left your intentions vague), well, that plan kind of sucked.

Yancey’s alien species has decided to destroy humanity in waves—1st wave, 2nd wave, 3rd wave, 4th wave. Almost 7 billion humans, dead. Now it’s the 5th wave, a wave that will challenge what it means to be human. Here’s my question, though: if the aliens are oh-so-smart thanks to millions of years of evolution and as evinced by their fancy mothership, why are they killing humanity in waves? Why are they reverting to methods that allow plucky teenagers to fight back? Why can’t they simply exterminate all humans in a single blow?

…I don’t know if there are any answers to those questions, so my first issue with The 5th Wave is a basic logic fail. Sorry, but I do not accept these premises!

Considering the 7 billion death toll, the aliens are deadly, but to me, they were never scary. It’s quite remarkable, really: How can a species kill 7 billion creatures and not be scary? By definition, shouldn’t aliens be ALIEN? Unrecognizable and terrifying? Yet these aliens seem so stupidly human. Their technology is similar—you got the drones, bombs, microchips, and guns—which again raises the question: these are our intellectual superiors? The pinnacle of the universe’s chain of being? Not buying it. And then their psychology is similar to humans’. Why are these non-human creatures getting bogged down by humanity? Humanity is just that—humanity. And these guys aren’t Homo sapiens. Why can’t they be truly frightening creatures that care nothing about us and act nothing like us? If these aliens are so similar to humans, I don’t even understand why they’re bothering to exterminate us. I’m sure we could find some room on Antarctica for our weird yet strangely human galactic cousins. So…logic fail number two! Aliens should be alien.

I wanted—and needed—more information about the goals of the aliens (I should note that the book rarely describes them as aliens but as “Others”). To distinguish them from humans, I needed more backstory. All I have is questions: why are they on Earth? Just to colonize? What events on their original planet led to their arrival? But we don’t have these answers, so the aliens are mostly vacuous characters. Not horrifying, not sympathetic, not anything.

Before I even encountered the aliens and the numerous logical concerns they raised, however, I had to slog through the beginning. For a book about the apocalypse, it’s not terribly exciting. In fact, it wasn’t until the final third or so that I became enraptured with the story and let go into the pure action. The writing is partly to blame for this. The writing can be too internal and focused on the minutiae of the characters’ thoughts. There are constant Go Humanity! pep talks where the story essentially stops for a page or two as a character epiphanizes and finds his or her apocalyptic gall. Some of them are rather charming—“I had it all wrong. Before I found you, I thought the only way to hold on was to find something to live for. It isn’t. To hold on, you have to find something you’re willing to die for.”—others are distracting.

Even when the plot did kick up a gear, I remained mostly skeptical. I was never surprised and predicted all plot “twists.” And although I enjoyed the ending much more than the rest of the book due to its nonstop action, I found the climax to be too perfect. Everything comes to fruition too carefully, too obviously by design.

I realize that the first part of this review is mostly composed of questions. Questions of logic, of whys and hows. But the questions I’m asking after closing the books are character questions—“How will the gang survive after everything that happened? What’s going to happen to them next???” Those questions show that I care. I care about these characters and I want to continue reading about their struggles. And I guess, logic fails and all, that’s enough. Maybe…

2 out of 5 stars

Review: Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan

11354710 Underground Time

Author: Delphine de Vigan

Blurb: Every day, Mathilde takes the Metro to her job at a large multinational, where she has felt miserable and isolated ever since getting on the wrong side of her bullying boss. Every day, Thibault, a paramedic, drives where his dispatcher directs him, fighting traffic to attend to disasters. For many of the people he rushes to treat, he represents the only human connection in their day. Mathilde and Thibault are just two figures being pushed and shoved in a lonesome, crowded city. But what might happen if these two souls, traveling their separate paths, could meet?

Review: This is life in the 21st century: Wake up and hear the noises of the city around you. Heave your body into a train car, squeezing every last inch of yourself into a vacancy. Physically contact several people during your commute; feel utterly alone. Sit at your desk and consider your work. Encounter numerous people throughout the day; connect with none of them. Push your body into the train again; stand mere centimeters from several other human beings. Return home, exhausted by your solitude, miserable from your loneliness. This is life today.

Mathilde and Thibault are professionals in Paris, a city many consider to be the most magical and beautiful in the world, but they both ache from the city’s harshness. In beautiful yet disjointed passages, de Vigan describes the day of both Mathilde and Thibault. Unsatisfied with their jobs, they wander, alone, throughout the city.

Reading about loneliness is both comforting yet boring. It’s reassuring to realize people have suffered from the same feelings as you, but overall, ennui isn’t terribly interesting. That’s why Underground Time wasn’t a spectacular read for me. Nevertheless, it moves quickly and the emotions it evokes are worth more than the less than exciting plot.

This is a very French novel. Things are depicted as they are rather than how we wish them to be. It’s also a very 21st century novel. Gone are novels detailing epic fights or webs of intrigue; nowadays we have these languorous, psychological works, a trend I could come to support if I can learn to spell languorous and psychology can be made more interesting.

The best part of reading this novel is determining what, if anything, de Vigan blames for Mathilde and Thibault’s smothering solitude. Personally, I think we are at fault. We can blame the city, urban life, and business culture. We can say the city divides people, separates them until they have no one to turn to. But there are several instances throughout the novel where Thibault or Mathilde could have struck up a relationship or merely a conversation with someone else. But they don’t. The city is absolute.

3 out of 5 stars.

Favorite Quotation:
“His life is in this incessant toing and froing, these exhausted days, these stairways, these lifts, these doors which close behind him. His life is at the heart of the city. And the city, with its noise, covers the complaints and the murmurs, hides its poverty, displays its dustbins and its wealth, and ceaselessly increases its speed.”

Discussing urban solitude and business malaise is popular right now. I recently watched Medianeras, an Argentinian film concerned with the same questions as Underground Time. I have the same criticisms of the film as I do the book: meaningful but ultimately flat because of the uninteresting subject matter.