Sunday, February 21, 2010

Micah is the girl who cries wolf in Justine Larbalestier's LIAR

So, I'll admit it.  I only heard about Liar because of its cover controversy and I decided to throw some of my money at the corrected cover.  So if Bloomsbury just pulled some devious publicity stunt, it worked on me.

But it doesn't matter, because this book is awesome and I'd buy it again in a heart beat.

Micah is a modern unreliable narrator and its hard not to fall inlove with her, even while questioning everything she tells us.  Micah's boyfriend is found murdered and the suspense builds as Micah jumps around, decribing events both before, and after his death.

Justine Larbalestier has created a psychological thriller that had me turning pages in search of the next piece of the puzzle.  I kept fitting the pieces together, trying to make sense of it all, only to find out that some of the pieces weren't there at all.

Micah tells us straight off the bat.  She's a liar.  But this time, she's going to come clean, honestly.  For a while she had her whole school convinced that she was a boy.  So we know she's a liar, and that she's good at it.  We know we should be skeptical about everything she tells us, and yet...

Through all her lies, it's so transparent that Micah just wants to be loved.  Her yearning makes her so likable, so realistic, that I wanted to believe everything she told me.  Even when she recants, admits she slipped up and told us a lie, I wasn't angry, I just wanted to hear more.  The beauty of this story is that the more bizarre Micah's stories become, the more I believe them.

Larbalestier brilliantly plays off her readers.  I mean, I'm reading fiction, I'm prepared to suspend disbelief.  When this book sits on the same shelf as books about vampires, magical adventures with mad-cow disease, and faeries, why wouldn't I believe everything Micah tells me?

OK, I got to stop myself here.  I might have already said too much.  I'm going to read this book a second time, in search of the truth.  It's a great book, you should definitely read it, honestly.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A taste of middle-child-syndrome with CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

OK Junkies, confession time: my first couple of years teaching were so awful that I had to break up the school year with little things to look forward to.  I'd count the weeks/days/hours until each holiday.  Oh what, you think that sounds normal?  I'm not finished.  In addition to counting down to holidays, I'd also count down the days and weeks until other moments of joy.  I would know at any given day, how many months until the next Harry Potter book came out, or how many weeks until the next Lemony Snicket installment, or even how many weeks until the next Harry Potter movie was released (in theaters and on DVD).   I told you, I'm an addict.

Well, in an attempt to ease some of my bitterness at having to work on Presidents' Day, I've decided to reinstate the countdown.

As of today, there are exactly:

But Junkies, let's back up a second.  Before we can get all giddy about the third installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, we need to talk about Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games.


You know that family member who yells at the TV during a sports game, or worse, the news?  Yeah, that was me while reading this book.
"No!  We can't go back into the arena.  Come on, Katniss, escape, revolt, go light stuff on fire with Gale. No!"  and "The watch!  Katniss, you saw the watch-with the bird, hello? Doh!" 

Suzanne Collins has created a great character with Katniss Everdeen.  Katniss is passionate and courageous.  She acts on instinct, but she can also be a little naiive.  None of these are great qualities for planning a secret revolution.  So Catching Fire is full of behind the scenes planning that Katniss is not aware of.  Unfortunately, because she's the first-person narrator, this means that the reader is also unaware of it. 

We get a few clues that Katniss doesn't understand the significance of, which can be a tad frustrating.  But, the thing is, Junkies, even though I shouted at the book and rolled my eyes a few times at Katniss's obliviousness, Collins knows what she's doing.

While The Hunger Games was full of physical suspense--is she going to die?  who is she going to kill?  Can she save Peeta?
Catching Fire is all about emotional suspense--what will she do?  When will she figure it out?  Who does she love?  Why won't Haymitch throw her a bone?

The middle book in any trilogy is tricky.  It struggles to compete with the excitement and originality of the first book, yet it has to continually build up to the climactic events to come in the third book.  It's like the middle-child-syndrome.  Or, I like to think of it as The Empire Strikes Back syndrome.  And like The Empire Strikes Back, in Catching Fire we spend a little too much time in the snow waiting for something to happen.

But in some ways, Catching Fire did surpass The Hunger Games.  Suzanne Collins is a genius at crafting characters and Haymitch and Cinna come alive in the sequel.  And we thought we knew Katniss and Peeta in the first book, but the second book really lets us see who they are, what they live for, and what they're willing to die for.

I do wish we got to know Gale a little more in this second book, though.  Because really, if we're going to have a love triangle, I need to know WHY Katniss loves Gale.  So as of right now, I'm in camp Peeta all the way, baby.

So, although I don't think it lived up to the awesomenes of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire is still a badass book and I can't wait until Mockingjay is in my hands 27 weeks from now.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Violet and Sunny Baudelaire kick ass and take names in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events

I'm not gonna lie.  I was totally inspired to write this post by this recent interview with Daniel Handler by Le R. I've been a long time fan of these horrible books by a mysterious man in good looking hats.  It was only a matter of time before I subjected you to the horrors that are the lives of Violet and Sunny, the heroines who comprise two-thirds of the Baudelaire orphans.

I'm not going to even attempt to summarize all thirteen books in this dreadul series, and really, what would be the point?  Half of what makes these books so amazing is the idiosyncratic voice of Lemony Snicket.  Narrator, Author, character, detective, and heart-broken lover, Mr. Snicket tells a story the way no one else can.  Sure, you'll find A Series of Unfortunate Events in the children's section of the bookstore, but Mr. Snicket's humor is meant for a mature mind.  At times, I was apalled with myself for how much I laughed while reading such a tragic story.

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are at the beach one day when an incompetent Mr. Poe arrives to tell them that their home has burned down, killing their parents inside.  The Baudelaire orphans then move in with Count Olaf who does horrible things to them, like make them cook dinner, lock them in cages, and attempt to marry Violet.  For thirteen books these siblings are plagued by incompetent caregivers, evil kidnappers, grammar enthusiasts, circus performers, and several unfortunate events.

The Baudelaire's escape danger and survive tragedy only by their own cunning.  Violet ties her hair up in a ribbon and invents things. Sunny has incredibly strong teeth for biting and eventually learns to cook.

With each villain thwarted, and each unpleasant circumstance escaped, the Baudelaire's grow.  Violet goes from a timid girl to a strong young woman who experiences her first kiss along the side of a treacherous mountain on her way to the hidden headquarters for a secret organization.  Sunny grows from a non-verbal baby with the tendency to bite, into a little girl with culinary aspirations.

I love the secrecy and clues in these books.  I also love how--true to life--the kids are smarter than the adults.  No one is there to save these kids but themselves.  Despite all the horrible things that happen to them and all the opportunities they have to go to the dark side, these kids see the potential for wrong-doing within themselves and decide to keep doing what is right, no matter how difficult it is.

If you have yet to experience A Series of Unfortunate Events, I highly reccomend you put The Bad Beginning on the top of your to-read list.

I'll be waiting for Daniel Handler's pirate book.