Book Review: The People in the Trees: A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara (4.5/5)

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I’ve also been putting off this review for a while….

The People in the Trees is an anthropological thriller infused with adventure, discovery, science, the ethics of science and — most of all — deeply stirring moral questions. In 1950, anthropologist Paul Tallent calls for a young doctor to accompany him on his expedition to the isolated island Ivu’ivu. The med school sends the student at the bottom of the class, Norton Perina — brilliant, lazy, ambitious and arrogant. Little do they know, this expedition will change Perina’s life and touch the world.

While on the expedition, Tallent, Perina and Esme — the assistant Perina detests — discover immortal life amongst the island people. Perina selfishly smuggles back a turtle he suspects of containing the ingredients for immortality and soon wins the Nobel Prize for discovering Selene Syndrome.

But immortality is not all it seems… And it is as quickly lost as it’s found. The concept of immortality is very interesting. And it’s been talked of a lot in recent years; it’s builds on the theory of telomeres being the key to cancer and aging. In the meantime, Perina’s personal life collides with his professional identity. Is a great man still a great man even if he is not good?

The People in the Trees is absolutely shattering. It twists your emotions, plays on your sympathy for the main character, Perina. In the end, I just think Perina was such a broken person — with possibly sociopathic tendencies. It’s really a sad story for all involved, especially the children Perina adopted.

The message I’m taking from the book is: life is not just about the material things. Life is not about who lives the longest. Life is not always about what’s on the surface. There’s things underneath, there’s deep things. Life is about emotional fulfillment, growing into your potential. Perina was very wrong about so many things…but one thing I’ve got to point out (without ruining the story) is how he provided for his children. Sure, he rescued them from a third world society. Sure, he fed and clothed and paid for their college educations. But that’s not enough to raise a child. Perina never thought about his children’s emotional wellbeing and fulfillment. He placed things quite low on Maslow’s hierarchy. Mostly, he didn’t think about what he could do for his children. He only thought about what they could do for him. What emotional hole they could fill in his empty and unfulfilled life.

As an added bonus, Yanagihara’s writing style flows beautifully. No other author could have described the landscapes of Ivu’Ivu quite as well. Yanagihara is a master of the writing style. Every word, every phrase, every sentence…just feels so beautiful, so delicate.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Visit my blog for more reviews of up and coming books: https://rememberingwonderland.wordpress.com

Book Review: Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga by Teddy Steinkellner (3.5/5)

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I have been putting off reviewing this book for two months now…for no particular reason. It’s time I post this review!

Trash Can Days features a multiple-first-person-POV writing style. The entries include diary excerpts, online chats and emails. I imagine they may have different fonts in the actual novel that will illustrate this scattered storytelling style quite well!

There are four main characters in Trash Can Days: eighth grader Hannah, her seventh grader brother Jake, their friend Danny and seventh grader Dorothy Wu. Each of them struggle with unique problems — thus, the beauty of the multiple POV’s. You can only understand these problems if you see them from each middle schooler’s eyes. Popular Hannah struggles with friendships and boyfriends. Jake finds Danny drifting apart from him. Danny feels torn between his Mexican identity and being Jake’s friend.

And then there’s Dorothy Wu. Oh, Dorothy. If there’s one character in every book that you must love, it’s Dorothy. She’s weird, lonely, brilliant and admirable. She’s not afraid to be herself. And that’s something you can’t say about every 12-year-old Asian-American girl, pressured by society, parents and peers. I greatly admire Teddy Steinkellner’s ability to infuse such personality into the character of Dorothy. In fact, I think the reason I enjoyed the book was for Dorothy’s moments!

That being said, Trash Can Days was not phenomenal. It has moments of emotion and catharsis for each of the four main characters, but the story feels disjointed at times and the ending doesn’t seem quite as fulfilling as one might expect. There’s also violence and language in this book. It wouldn’t be suitable for elementary school children. But the social situations, peer pressure, bullying and social outcasting (of Dorothy Wu) is, sadly, a somewhat realistic portrayal of what my middle school was like.

Trash Can Days’ target audience is a bit vague. It’s definitely not YA…Yes, it’s still middle grade. Personally, I will probably not be re-reading Trash Can Days, though I did screenshot some of Dorothy Wu’s funniest words. (I’m reading this on Kindle on my phone.) And I wouldn’t recommend this to the children in my life (who are all elementary-school-aged). In conclusion, I think middle schoolers and high schoolers would find Trash Can Days enjoyable.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Read more of my book reviews here on my blog: Remembering Wonderland! 

Book Review: World on a String by Larry Phifer (4/5)

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World on a String is a feel-good, rhyming picture book. I can imagine toddlers would very much enjoy the sing-songy feel of the words. There is a certain appeal in the rhyming scheme. The storyline of World on a String is simplistic, but there is an expansive underlying message about looking at the world — and loss — in a different way.

Remember when you had a balloon on a string? And it was like your whole world because it was so colorful and free? But it also instilled some kind of fear in you…it could fly away at any moment. And needless to say, you accidentally let go and watched it disappeared into the blue, blue net of the sky. You realized that the sky represented some place you couldn’t go to, some place out of your reach. Even your all-powerful superhero parents didn’t have the ability to bring back your world on a string.

It was then that you felt the consuming edges of loss. Things could be taken from you. You could lose whole worlds, whole feelings that could never be replaced.

I do have a soft spot for picture books, and I was very much disappointed when I couldn’t see the pictures in this galley. I can’t judge very well, because I couldn’t see the illustrations — that’s the main point of a picture book: the interplay between the artist and the writer!

So it’s a 4/5.

But I’m sure I would have found this a charming story as a toddler. It’s nothing amazing and astounding; it’s actually one of the “safe” books. It won’t challenge ideas or plant unconventional ideas in budding minds. But charming.

***eBook provided by Netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review

Book Review: Cobweb Bride: Book One By Vera Nazarian (4.5/5)

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“He came to them in the heart of winter, asking for his Cobweb Bride. He arrived everywhere, all at once. In one singular moment, he was seen, heard, felt, remembered. Some inhaled his decaying scent. Others bitterly tasted him. And everyone recognized Death in one way or another, just before the world was suspended.” ~ Cobweb Bride, Chapter 1

Isn’t that one of the most beautifully written openings ever? As soon as I read it, I was enchanted. I hoped then, that I might be in the hands of a master storyteller…

A retelling of the myth of Persephone, Cobweb Bride is set in an alternate, mildly magical Renaissance Europe — I read about some site considering it “steampunk,” but it doesn’t quite give off that steampunk vibe for me. IT feels like dark fantasy, bare to the bloodless bone. Wild and imaginative and different.

The setup is this: Death ceases to exist. Yes, people stop dying! In the deathly cold of winter, everyone and everything can no longer die (until Death receives his Cobweb Bride). Beheaded knights rise up and continue to battle. The murdered Infanta, heir to the throne  survives her assassination. And Percy’s grandmother lies on her deathbed, suspended in a torturous and painful state. Of course, there are terrible implications…What if one particular Duke desires immortality, for instance?

Middle daughter Percy, whose real name is Persephone, comes off as an immediately likable character. Sandwiched between “her mother’s two favorites,” Percy believes she can never be as good as her beautiful older sister and lively younger sister. She’s clumsy, homely and can’t seen to say or do the right things. I felt so much empathy for Percy; her character development is the main highlight of the book.

The kingdom proclaims that one daughter of marriageable age from each family must journey North to become a potential Cobweb Bride. No one is really sure what Death wants, but girls start pouring into the Northern forests. Being the least loved in her family, Percy, of course, decides it must be her.

The pros:

  • Percy’s character and development
  • the Infanta’s character (she’s truly kind, even after death…in fact, one might say she starts living after death)
  • other characters
  • it’s a retelling!
  • dark fantasy
  • beautiful, poetic writing
  • wonderful world-building
  • the mystery surrounding Death
  • romantic lines are not annoying — they’re very different, actually, since both lines involve death

Cons

  • some may think the beginning feels slow (this is for character development room)
  • balance of plot feels skewed (probably since it’s a trilogy. I’m becoming less fond of trilogies and more admiring of stand-alones)
  • some of the storylines aren’t that interesting (there are many storylines), and I felt emotionally invested in only two: Percy’s and the Infanta’s
  • the writing style, gorgeous as it is, becomes unedited and perhaps too gaudy towards the middle and end (obviously not a liberal editor there)
  • the words “perfect” and “beautiful” were used too often
  • we can’t judge till the end of the trilogy…

It’s not a perfect book, but 4.5 stars because I’m a sucker for dark fantasy and beautiful writing. I will definitely read the 2nd and 3rd books.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Chapter Review: Unhinged — Chapter Sampler By A.G. Howard

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Unhinged, the sequel to Howard’s first novel Splintered, is coming out in January 2014. Splintered is a dark retelling of Alice in Wonderland. I previously got an advance copy of Splintered to review for Creative Kids — and I liked it. Didn’t quite make my favorite’s shelf for various reasons…writing style, themes, plot distribution, the existence of a love triangle…but still, nice YA fare.

Unhinged’s 1st chapter starts off with Alyssa being taken into the netherworld (where she goes when she’s dreaming or unconscious, I believe) by Morpheus. Morpheus…how do I explain Morpheus? He’s an awesome character…possibly one of the best. I usually hate the dark mysterious love interest, but Howard pulls it off really well for some reason…. Morpheus is just a master character. And he IS the caterpillar. The whole scheme is a macabre, delightfully terrifying Wonderland! I would never miss that.

I enjoyed the first chapter and will definitely be on the lookout for Unhinged once it comes out.

***e-sampler provided by Netgalley

Book Review: Abandon Book 3: Awaken by Meg Cabot (1/5)

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I will begin by stating that I’m not a paranormal romance fan. I actually kind of detest it. But I made an exception for this book because 1) I had reviewed the first book, Abandon, three years ago and found it okay. I haven’t read the second book, if it’s worth mentioning. 2) The series is a retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone 3) I’ve got a soft spot for Meg Cabot, since she’s the author of the Princess Diaries (though I didn’t read the book until I was older, the movie was every 6-year-old’s dream, wasn’t it?).

Awaken continues the story of Pierce Oliveria, a rich girl with a supposedly soft heart. Our modern Persephone is passionately in love with the ruler of the Underworld – the totally dark and mysterious John Hayden. However, tragedy happens when a classmate murders her cousin Alex and the Furies bring trouble to the Underworld. Most of the plot was jumbled, messy and predictable – I felt like the stakes weren’t really set up.

Cabot desperately tries to portray Pierce as a likeable character. She writes the book in first person perspective and wants the voice of an excitable teenage girl to make the reader feel familiar and closer to the story. But instead of feeling acquainted, I just felt annoyed. Annoyed by the voice. Annoyed by the plot. Annoyed by the relationship between Pierce and John. Annoyed by the portrayal of John as the stereotypical “bad boy” tamed by the “good girl” Pierce. Yes, the whole romance is irritating.

I think I might have liked the story if it was written differently…well, if it was completely different. My main problem with the story was how fake Pierce’s personality and voice seemed to me. Pierce’s POV is supposed to be that of a 17-year-old who’s the queen of the Underworld and mature enough to be in love with a king who’s spiritually 200 years old. To me, another 17-year-old, Pierce’s narration and thoughts feel too simplistic. There’s little depth to themes, action scenes, emotions and world building (I’m so curious about the Underworld; I want to know more – the Underworld is not just the love interest, John!) It’s almost like the voice would have been appropriate for a middle grade or chapter book. But then it couldn’t be for younger kids, because the romance is annoyingly passionate and unrealistic.

Everything I’ve written in this review is purely my own honest opinion. Some teenage girls might very much enjoy the premise and voice of Awaken.  I don’t know if it would be considered a good book or not. Maybe it’s actually a very good book. But it just wasn’t the story for me. 1/5

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review