March 30, 2010

Precious based on Push, A Novel by Sapphire

Date Started: March 29, 2010
Date Finished: March 20, 2010

Summary: Precious has been abused by her family and now has a second chance to make a life for herself by attending an alternative school. As she grows and learns, she learns to love herself and forgive the people who have wronged her in life.

Likes: Precious is a complex novel that explores various themes about healing and forgiveness, but Precious' situation itself is terrible to read. She is being raped by her father, molested by her mother. She has been pregnant twice by her father (these aren't spoilers, it's laid out pretty clear on the first page.). I don't like these aspects, but I respect the way that they are handled. The story is raw and honest, which I enjoy. The spelling is misspelled and gives the story a more authentic feel.

Dislikes: I don't like the situation that Precious is in. It was as if ever bad thing in life has been piled on her shoulders. She's black, she's fat, she's illiterate, she's been raped, molested, has two children, one of which has Down Syndrome, and things seem to get worse as the story progresses. The writing is good, the story is compelling, but sometimes it's just a little bit too depressing and overwhelming.

Overall: I saw the movie before I read the book. (I saw the movie three times, but not on purpose the movie theater guy told us the wrong theater so we tried to catch it from the beginning). I like the book as a separate entity from the movie, because they were both good. I see the movie as a re-imagining that was inspired by the book, but doesn't follow it exactly. I like that the book included the other girls stories and explored the friendships between Precious and the people she meets at her alternative school.

March 25, 2010

Attempting to be a little more Awesome

I've been wanting to do more with this blog for a long time. I've been reading some blogs that are just crazy, outrageous, TMI, yet interesting. Some people have platforms like "I'm only going to read books by XYZ author" or "I'm a published author and I'm going to blog about how to be as cool as me" or the always entertaining "I'm a very opinionated person and I'm going to blog about all the things that piss me off". Then you have people like me. The most boring people in the world.

I like to read, but I don't have a particular type of story or type of author I like to read. I read the stories that sound interesting. Most of these would include YA novels because they are quickly paced and tend to have fresher writing in my opinion. I'm trying to be a bit more proactive in choosing authors of color, but at the end of the day, the story has to be good.

I like to write, but I don't ever finish anything that I try to write. I've been working seriously on IAR for 3 years (8 years if you want to get technical) and I still have nothing to show for it other than a really nice website that I partially coded myself. None of my ideas are ever seen to fruition because I can't get rid of that inner editor. I can never get myself to write the first draft, something always prevents me for pushing the story forward and I have no clue what it is. 

I don't blog about the few interesting things that happen to me because I rarely go out. I like staying at home, locked in my room with a bag of pita chips, roasted garlic hummus, and a can of root beer, reading books with the TV on mute in the background. When I do go out, nothing out of the ordinary happens. I don't really party and if I do, I don't really do anything at the parties worth blogging about (although there was this one time in Orange County...). I drink, but I rarely get drunk.  I don't do drugs intentionally and never been in the position to do them unintentionally.

I don't really rant about people or things because too afraid to offend people if I name them, in case they do read this blog. I could definitely rant about work but I'm afraid that I'll get fired if I say something negative in a public space no matter how vague I am. I actually like my job(s).

I don't have a boyfriend, I'm too self-absorbed, selfish, and too lazy to put in the effort into maintaining a relationship while I'm juggling work and school. The guys I'm attracted to (which is few) seem to be just as self-absorbed as me. It can be done, but it's not worth the hassle and the drama. So since I don't have a boyfriend, I don't go out and have casual sex. Hell, I'm proud to admit that I'm still a virgin. I don't have the time or the energy to engage in that kind of lifestyle at this point in life. My reasons are selfish. I need security and commitment because I'll be damned if I have to take care of a kid by myself. The child's already at a disadvantage having me for a mother, so I need to get my shit together before I can even think about having kids or getting into a relationship for that matter. I owe who ever I'm with at least that much.

I don't have much of opinion about anything. I'm not for or against a lot of things. Most of the stuff that people are fighting for, I really don't care about. Everything has a lot of gray area for me, like abortion or gay marriage or those controversial subjects.

I still want to do more with this blog though. I want to get more vocal about the gray areas that I see. I want to talk about race, sexuality, writing, reading, work, crazy situations that I get into, random musings, bits and pieces about works in progress, worldbuilding, and everything inbetween. I'm not going to put them all on different blogs, frankly because I don't think I have enough to say about either of these subjects to fill up an entire blog. I guess I shouldn't worry about offending people. There's a lot of people who are wrong on the internet and there are a hell of a lot of people who write offensive things. I won't be doing this on purpose, but I do realize that some of my opinions don't fit with the mainstream, but that's okay.

I want to challenge myself to write something, be a little bit more raw in my blog. I tend to use discretion when I speak what's on my mind, so I'm not going to set out to hurt someone's feelings. I'm not going to hold back as much as I usually do. It's not that I'm dishonest or making up shit just to put in my blog or one of those people who only does things just to brag about them in their facebook status. I'm just going to be a little less formal and PC and a little more true to myself and how I feel without worrying about people's feelings.

So starting in April, I'm going to kick off the blog with a post about my spring break in Las Vegas. I'm going to talk about race, writing, sexuality, my views on things in society, and push myself to be more outgoing in the future. I'm still going to be reading and writing book reviews. Check it out.

March 24, 2010

Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

Date Started: March 20
Date Finished: March 24

Summary: Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget have been friends since before birth. Now during their first summer apart, they find a magical pair of pants that fit them all perfectly. They pass the pants around and chronicle their lives while they are apart.

Likes: I like the different events that happen in the story. Bridget is reunited with Eric and they both own up to what happened between them in the first book. Tibby starts to get cozy with Brian, the dork from the first book. Carmen finds a man at the hospital and Lena starts to get over her heartbreak with Kostos and learns to stand up for herself. The characters are growing up and maturing. This book seems like the outcome of the events that happened the summer before. The girls are a lot stronger than they were in the first two books in the series.

Dislikes: I didn't really like this book as much as I did the first because their wasn't as much tension. On the flip side of their maturity, things seem to coast pretty smoothly for the girls in this book because they are a lot wiser. This book felt like it was building up to something bigger, like their college years which is something I'm looking forward to. I wish that the story would talk a little bit more about their lives at school instead of just their summers. Some of the plot points where wrapped up too neatly and I feel like this was the weakest book of the series.

Overall: I'm really looking forward to the last book because it is a bit more relevant to me now that the girls are starting college. I can finally relate to them a bit more than I could in the other books. Now that I'm a little older, I can see the progression of their maturity, which might have been something I would not have noticed if I had finished this series in high school. I can look back at these books with a certain amount of clarity now that I've gone through some of the same events. I need to take a break from the last book in the series because the stories are all starting to bleed together.

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

Date Started: March 16
Date Finished: March 19

Summary: Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget have been friends since before birth. Now during their first summer apart, they find a magical pair of pants that fit them all perfectly. They pass the pants around and chronicle their lives while they are apart.

Likes: This is a cute story. I know I would have loved this series if I had continued reading it in high school. At this point in time, I only like it, not love it.  There are parts in the story where I can relate with the girls and their struggle to continue their friendship. I like to analyze which character I am and which characters my friends are. It's interesting to see the pants travel around to the different girls. I don't believe the pants are magical, but after a while they play a backseat to the girls lives. Sometimes I forget that the pants are a integral player in this story, which for me, is actually okay. The story is not about the pants and the girls aren't always wearing the pants when things happen to them and sometimes it's not always good things that happen to them when they wear the pants.

Dislikes: It seems like most of the girls get their validation from guys. It's a little bit annoying, but I suppose it is realistic. The head hoping gets a little annoying at times because there's no structure to it. I don't remember what happened in this book too much, it sort of bleeds into the others.

Overall: I started reading this series in high school and I never got around to finishing it. I probably would have loved this series if I had continued reading it in high school. I enjoy reading them now, but it's for nostalgic reason and really nothing more. I'm curious to read the fourth one after the girls have their first year in college to see if their experiences are similar to the struggles that my friends and I had after trying to reconnect. I wish someone would write a story similar to this about college students...I guess I have to be the one to do it. Lol.

Note: I read the first book of this series back in either 10th or 11th grade before I knew what a blog was and before I started keeping a record of the books that I read. 

March 16, 2010

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson


Date Started: March 15, 2010
Date Finished: March 15, 2010

Summary: Elisha "Ellie" Eisen is Jewish and Jeremiah "Miah" Roselind is Black. Their love was love at first sight, but the stigma of Blacks and Whites dating outside of their respective races are frowned upon, especially in the prep school environment and upper class New York.

Likes: The writing was the best part of the novel in my opinion. The themes, however heavy handed they seemed, were well written and concise. When Miah described why he felt uncomfortable in his own skin, I found myself nodding in agreement. I feel like the characters were fully rounded for the small bits of them that we did see. None of the characters seemed to come off as carcicatures or stereotypes. This is where the story does not fall flat. The plot is a little thin, but the characters make the story come alive. This is the typical boy meets girl situation, but the story makes a commentary about contemporary racism and how more subtle and destructive it can be.

Dislikes: The theme was extremely heavy handed in my opinion. I understood that Ellie was White/Jewish and Miah was Black, but that was all that the story was about. All their interactions together are summarized and while the scenes that we do get of them together are sweet, I don't feel like there was enough of those moments. I feel like this story could have benefited from clarifying what happened with Jeremiah at the end, and get into the characters feelings about the situation. The ending action was so sudden that I had to read it about three times to figure out what happened. I didn't feel like the ending was satisfying because, I hate to say, it felt like a cop out in some ways. I know that ending is alluding to the greater society, but I think the novel stopped at a pivotal point in the story and missed an opportunity to show whether Ellie's family accepted Miah's blackness or rejected it. At the end, they didn't really have much of a choice in the matter.  (There's a sequel to the story, so ignore this point)  I also felt that this story might have have made more of an impression with me if I were younger. I feel that they were sheltered and naive, which isn't a problem, but given their individual experiences, they didn't seem to act their age.

Overall: I liked the novel for it's beautiful writing. It's a simple story, almost a little too simple for my tastes. I didn't hate the novel, but I didn't exactly love it either. It was good. I think I might have loved this story if I were younger. I feel that I'm a bit too old for this story, but it's a good story either way.

March 12, 2010

Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice

This review is going to be a bit different than my usual reviews. I started reading this book Mar 11 and finished Mar 12

Dear Ms. Carleen Brice,

Have you been secretly spying on me somehow? It's like you saw me walking to class and saw, let me make a story about a college student who deflects creating relationships in life by burying her head in books and subsequently burns out constantly (like last week after midterms and work). You must have saw me with my head covering, hair hiding hat and decided that you'll create a character who tears her hair when she gets stressed. I don't know how you could tell that I was a virgin from the way I was dressed (I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a 21 year old virgin either.). Maybe you're a fortune teller and you were telling me "Najela, if you don't get your act together, you could be 25 and a loser working at a record store. But if you do get it together, you might meet the man of your dreams in said record store. Sure he won't be Oliver Toliver or a Desmond, but you'll get there someday baby."

Of course you changed some details. You made my mom a drunk and gave me a little sister. Shay and I share a love of science (I hate math though), a busted car, and logical reasons for the things we do. Sometimes we hold a grudge that's hard to let go, but your novel lets me know what happens when you forgive and understand. Life doesn't end perfectly when you forgive, but it's just one less burden you have to worry about. You don't have to do what's expected of you. You can do what's best for you, regardless of what people think. When I was doubting my decision to follow my dreams. Your story reminded me that I'm doing the right thing. Your story is realistic and doesn't glorify the act of forgiveness, but rather presents it as something that needs to be done, but sometimes people don't change because you forgive them. Your environment might not change. But you change and that's all that matters. Like I said, burdens are lifted from your shoulders and you can move on. That's what's important. I enjoyed that realistic aspect of the story.

I never thought I could identify with a character that was exactly like me but lived under a different set of circumstances. I could be Shay and Shay could be me despite our different experiences, we still had the same personality and would handle things the same way.

You must have been following me when I went to look for a new place to live and saw me looking at the backyard, wondering what I could do with all the space. Plant a garden and start something new. Like Nona. I wanted to keep a God box somewhere, maybe not outside but somewhere. I want to plant orange mint and make tea. Thank you for the recipes at the end.

There wasn't much that I disliked about this novel. Maybe Ivy? Because she reminds me of so many girls that I've come across in life. But you made that girl sympathetic. You made her human, something I failed to do in real life when coming across with people that are exactly like Ivy. You even made Nona seem like a human being and not a caricature of a recovering alcoholic. You even did it through a first person narrator who had every right to be mad at her mother. Yet, I found myself taking Nona's side as well. It's very rare that a novel can present both sides of such a serious argument without the first person being overly judgmental.

Carleen, you're my Nina Simone. I look forward to reading your other books.


March 10, 2010

Naughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Date Started: March 6
Date Finished:
March 8

Persephone "Sephy" Hadley is a Cross and Callum McGregor is a naught. In this world, Crosses are the dark skinned ruling class and the naughts are the light skinned lower class that are being oppressed by the crosses

The best thing about this novel is what is underneath the surface of the actual story. On the cover of the book it states that the story is a thriller. In some ways, it is a thriller dealing with the struggle of overthrowing a government from the ground up. Most of all, it's a love story, even though the story is written in a way that makes the relationship aspect take a backseat, even though it is the main thrust of the story. The concept of the story takes that "What if..." idea to a whole new level. It is obvious that the racial angle of this story is it's selling point, but the story couldn't work if you flipped the races. If Sephy was white, I don't think I would be inclined to see what she has to say about race and skin color. If Callum was Black, it would be too like real life. As a person of color, I have to experience what Callum was going through on a systematic level, maybe not the extreme that was in the novel, but I still had to deal with injustices. Sephy had her heart in the right place, but it was easy to see that she just wasn't aware of how dangerous her friendship with Callum was.

The author takes the issues of race and casts them in a different light. She didn't really judge on who was right and who was wrong. She allowed the reader to come to their own conclusion. It is amazing how the author was able to capture the complex feelings of institutionalized racism from both sides from an objective standpoint.

The story itself was simple. A bit like Romeo and Juliet. I still would have picked this story up had it been marketed as a romance, but thankfully it wasn't because it was deeper than that. The story was a little slow paced, but the author does a wonderful job of setting up the character's backstories, their relationships with each other, and their motivation. She does it without the relationship being overly sentimental or over taking the story. 

It takes some time to get used to the actual writing. There's nothing wrong with it from a readers standpoint other than the characters are a little overly chatty at times (given it's a first person, that's too be expected a bit)As a writer, the story breaks all the "rules" as far as punctuation and using "Said" as one of your only tags. It doesn't detract from the story in either way, just the writer in me saying "I thought you couldn't do that." Maybe the British do it differently, lol.

This was a great book if one can look beyond the surface of what's actually there. The story in and of itself is great, amazing even. The plot is straightforward. To fully enjoy the novel, it's interesting to see the context in which the novel was created. Maybe it's because I'm a person of color, I might read it differently than someone who hasn't experienced the stuff that Callum experienced during the course of the novel.

Is it Naughts or Noughts? I'm not sure. I'm just going to put Naughts, because that's what my edition has written.

March 7, 2010

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Date Started: March 5, 2010
Date Finished: March 7, 2010

Summary: Valerie started the Hate List as a way to deal with the struggles of being bullied and harassed. Together with her boyfriend, Nick, they would add more people to the list, sometimes people would be on the list more than once. Then one day, May 2, Nick took it too far and shot some of the people on the list, killing some innocent bystanders in the process as well as injuring the students of Garvin High School, whether directly or indirectly. Valerie has to pick up the piece of her fractured life and move on.

Likes: The emotions in this novel are so complex. At points in the novel, you feel bad for the people that Nick killed and when you learn more about them, sometimes you think they deserved it. There are times you are frustrated with Valerie because she is so selfish at times, and other times you wish that people would understand what she is going through because not only did she create the list, but her boyfriend killed those people, then turned the gun on himself. This story is not about comparing hurts and wounds caused by the shootings, but the complex emotions that followed and all the warning signs that people didn't seem to catch until after the fact (obviously).

Coming from a person that constantly got bullied in middle school, I can understand where Valerie was coming from. It was hard for me to see her as being selfish, but I could understand where the characters were coming from. Teenagers are extreme and sometimes we say things like "I'm going to kill her" without meaning it literally. However, you never know who may be listening or who might take it literally. It was hard to sympathize with the bullies that were killed, until we get to the end of the book when Valerie wonders about their parents and the people they left behind and wonders if their parents saw them the way she did or if they even knew how bad they mistreated the shooter.

Dislikes: I wanted more of Nick. He seemed like an archetype of the "ticking timebomb" but I couldn't figure out why he was so mad. Maybe he was just one of those people who could never be happy. I also wanted to know more about Jeremy, who was someone that Valerie didn't like, but Nick hung out with. Valerie's parents were annoying, especially the father who I wanted to just be written out of the book. It does compound Valerie's feelings of isolation, but her father was just an asshole who didn't take responsibility for his actions. When you read about the father, you can see where Valerie learned the behavior from. The ending was a little strange. I'm not sure if things got "resolved" or whether the ending was "satisfying", but it may be the only way to end a novel without getting corny. 

Overall: Great novel. It was interesting to read about students in that situation because I could never imagine what I would do. I'm glad I never had to find out when I was in high school, though we did have our share of problems, nothing was as big as a school shooting.

March 3, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Date Started: March 1
Date Finished: March 2

Summary: The Hunger Games is a seventy four year old tradition where twenty four children between the ages of 12-18 are selected from their districts to go to the Capitol and fight to the death. The Games are televised live and everyone is forced to watch them. Sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen is drawn into the games when her twelve year old sister, Prim, is chosen to participate. Katniss volunteers in her sister's place. Along with a boy named Peeta, she is forced to participate in the brutal games and unintentionally starts a revolution.

Likes: Katniss is such a kick ass character. She's smart, witty, resourceful, and she's a fighter. The worldbuilding is great and it is interesting to read about a dystopian America that has been split into districts that produce certain things. Katniss's hunts and bargains and takes care of her family after her father dies in a mining accident. The story resembles the primal killing instinct stories such as Battle Royale (which I have yet to read) and Lord of the Flies, yet the story is taken to a whole new level by having people watch and enjoy the children picking each other off one by one. The Hunger Games gets a little political as Katniss reminds the reader that the Capitol uses the Games as a way to remind the other districts of their power.

One of the other things I enjoyed about this novel is that it doesn't hold back. People--kids especially-- get killed, maimed, and bloody and the author doesn't spare any of the details. Collins tells enough about the scene without getting overly gory and I feel that it's age appropriate. The writing is clear and concise, Katniss's is a great positive female character that has a fresh voice as well. 

Dislikes: The names are weird, but it proves to me that as long as your names share a common theme it could be acceptable. In this case the characters were named after plants, flowers, and foods. I think it's acceptable in a fantasy, but it was a little strange.

Overall: Believe all the hype, this book is good. I can't wait to read Catching Fire (Which I will get as soon as I pay off my library fines) and Mockingjay which comes out this summer, I think.


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