Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wonder | by: R.J. Palacio

People have been raving about R.J. Palacio's contemporary novel Wonder for a few years now. Sometimes it's categorized as young adult, but sometimes it's categorized as middle grade since the main character is in the fifth grade. It's enjoyed across either age group, and I'm sure even beyond because Wonder is a bit of a wonder.

August (Auggie) has a face that's very different than everyone else's. He's had correctional surgeries to improve upon his genetic misfortunes, but he's still what many would call "deformed." Since he's had so many complicated health issues between surgeries for most of his life, he's been home schooled - until now. He knows that fifth grade will be a struggle looking so different than everyone else, that not everyone will treat him well. But fortunately, he's in for some pleasant surprises amid some periods of strife.

It would be easy to anticipate Wonder being a little depressing, but as I said with Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World, it ends up being quite lighthearted and serious all at once - hence, any age group will love it. Several moments made me smile, but quite a few had me damn near crying in public as I read. 

I became quite attached to the characters and plowed through the pages quickly, no matter who was narrating. I actually didn't expect multiple narrators at first; I just assumed that Wonder would only be Auggie's story. But Palacio shows us how he affected other people as well, including his protective older sister, his sister's boyfriend, and his friends. There are multiple sides to every story, everyone feels something different, and all these feelings seem so real and valid. Palacio didn't really make any of them perfect or evil - rather, she showed how complicated situations can be. Even though he only gets one section, I really loved the way Justin's section was written. It seems to show that there's moe than what meets the eye: At a quick glance, Justin apparently doesn't understand punctuation, but the words themselves are gorgeous.

As for the other characters? Of course, our protagonist Auggie is quite loveable and easy to sympathize with as he discovers the large spectrum of humanity in his fifth grade year. Summer always put a smile on my face as she consistently decides to choose her friendship with Auggie over all pressures, and Olivia is always sticking up for Auggie - oftentimes in rather blunt ways, which I found touching. These characters really care about one another; they warmed my heart.

I suppose that's Wonder in a nuthsell: Heartwarming. Sure, some moments will put a smile on readers' faces, others will spark sympathy, but altogether, I found this book rather touching. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Songs I Wish Were Books

Time for Top Ten Tuesday, an awesome meme held at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, the music-lover portion of the book blogging community is in for a treat as this Tuesday is reserved for books and music!

Top Ten Songs I Wish Were Books

"World Princess Part II" - Grimes
This song is like a modern epic. It's my personal favorite from Grimes' latest album Art Angels. The whole thing sounds like a cute yet serious video game, so that aspect in itself would be interesting to see translated into words. But a large part of the reason I love this song is that it's so empowering - I want to see our kickass World Princess in action in story format. I want to be further inspired by her and further moved by her demise at the end of the song: "My eyes are feeling heavy, my feet are moving slow..."

"Mountains" - Radical Face
This song would be contemporary beauty. Well, let me rephrase: It would technically be historical beauty because all the songs on this album are part of Radical Face's Family Tree series of albums, and "Mountains" is from the first one, The Roots. This song sounds so perfect, and the lyrics are so moving: It's about a boy who's lost his mother and believes she is still watching him. It'd be a tear-jerker; it'd be delicate and gritty all at the same time.

"What the Water Gave Me" - Florence + the Machine
"What the Water Gave Me" sounds like a lazy summer day that progresses into something bigger and crazier. Once again, we might have a contemporary - or not, because for one thing, it references Virginia Woolf's death, and for another thing, Florence's connection is borderline mystical and fairylike. Maybe historical fiction about Virginia Woolf's death... plus mystical water stuff? Sounds like an A+ novel to me.

"Design Your Universe" - Epica
Now this one is EPIC. (And I honestly didn't even mean for that pun to happen.) "Design Your Universe" is a nine-minute symphonic metal masterpiece that reminds me of magic and battle scenes. Since the song itself is about quantum physics and how humans have more control over our world and universe than we realize, this could easily be a science fiction novel about the power of the human mind.

"Brooklyn Baby" - Lana Del Rey
This one would be a great summer-time contemporary with a sassy protagonist. I mean, look at these lyrics: "Yeah my boyfriend's pretty cool / But he's not as cool as me / 'Cause I'm a Brooklyn baby." I want to read about this hipster and her boyfriend, and I want to be sucked into story that mimics the chill feel of this song.

"Army of Dolls" - Delain
"Army of Dolls" could go a couple different ways. This awesome symphonic metal track deals with body issues and the pressure women face to look perfect in a world that only glamorizes the thin: "Army of dolls stole your reflection / Army of dolls stole all your perfect imperfections." But, if someone really wanted to, this story could become very Twilight Zone-ish (and let's be real, some of the truest and most genius statements about beauty and perception have come from Twilight Zone episodes).

"Turn Loose the Mermaids" - Nightwish
To be honest, a lot of Nightwish songs could have made this list, but "Turn Loose the Mermaids" is easily one of my favorite Nightwish songs of all time because of its folky feel. More than any of the other tracks, I want to be stuck in a story-world that feels like this one. Nostalgia with a bit of fantasy? Yes, please.

"The Dance" - Within Temptation
The creepiest of creepy songs! A work of genius that lends itself so well to being a novel as it actually does tell a story in a more traditional way than most songs. This book would be about awakening the dead - it could be a bunch of them. And it would be from one dead person's point of view, of course, with lyrics like this: "I hear a laugh / It awoke my soul." The beauty and the beast vocal contrast can be epitomized in a beauty and the beast-type story. Good God, it would be beautiful.

"The Cross" - Within Temptation
The story this song tells has always intrigued me, and while I cannot for the life of me find the source (as I read this shortly after the album "The Cross" comes from - The Heart of Everything - was released in 2007) I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that the song was written about conflicts with the band. I'm not necessarily sure if I'd like to see the exact story in a book, but I'm definitely interested in seeing this deep conflict show through in some story or another: "I'm still wondering why I'm still calling your name, my dear."

"Imaginary" - Evanescence
I realize that this song's premise isn't exactly one of those novelty ideas - drifting into a dreamworld to escape reality has been done in different forms before. But I want to experience this specific song in a specific book form. The overall feel is quite epic, and a writer could easily create a world of paper flowers and candy clouds that only really exists in the protagonist's head. Sounds like a good plan to me.

As always, let me know what you think of my selections if you know any of them and feel free to leave your Top Ten Tuesday link in the comments!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Winter | by: Marissa Meyer

*It's probably not a good idea to read this review if you have not read Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress just in case of spoilers.

The end of 2015 was both exciting and sad in the bookish world since Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series reached its conclusion. This action-packed science fiction spin on Sailor Moon and fairytales is easily one of my favorite series of all time; I adored and devoured each book, and I expected this new installation to have a similar effect. So, did Winter meet those high expectations?

HECK YES IT DID. Even though it's over 800 pages, I couldn't put Winter down! The plot reached an all-time enormity and complexity as Cinder and her allies attempt to dethrone the malicious Lunar Queen Levana. Everyone is putting their lives at risk as they sneak onto the Moon and tell Lunar citizens of their plan. It's full of some intense moments - even more intense than the previous books in the series!

And of course, these characters are perfect. The girls are so badass! They all feel so real, and they're so funny as they interact - some are basically polar opposites in some senses, so that always makes things interesting. In my reviews of the previous books of the series, I've fangirled over basically all of the characters as they were followed more closely, and I still love all of them. Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Iko, Kai, Wolf, Thorne... and of course the ships are just so cute in their own unique ways! Where all the characters end up by the final pages could not have been more satisfying.

But even though Winter is the last book in the series, we get to spend time with some characters who weren't as prominent before. Now Princess Winter is on their revolutionary team, and her love interest Jacin takes on a more prominent role as he strives to protect her from both Queen Levana and herself. I love them just as much as the rest of the allies. Winter embodies the idea of Snow White being pure and innocent in both old forms (her connection to animals, her indisputable beauty) and new forms (she isn't white - her skin is actually quite dark - and she refuses to use her Lunar gift because she values the truth over her own health). I love that Marissa Meyer created a character whose flaws enhance her beauty: Winter may be crazy, but she's harmless and sweet, and she may have scars on her face, but not even scars could make such a lovely person less pretty. Even though Winter's mental health is suffering, she makes herself quite useful as a revolutionary. She's not weak.

One ongoing theme in this series is that it's not so much about beauty or lack thereof, it's about how you use what you've got, it's about the heart and its intentions, and Meyer really drives this point home in Winter. Overall, I think this conclusion is basically perfect. Everything is wrapped up quite nicely... It's difficult not to spoil anything, and I feel like I'm not saying much in this review, but honestly, what more can I say? It was fantastic. I had so much fun reading each and every Lunar Chronicles book, so even though Winter wraps things up nicely, I'm a little sad to say goodbye. Someday, I'll have to reread these lovely books.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Classics: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

When I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall at the end of 2014 it became quite clear to me that even though Anne Brontë is often the least-remembered of the well-known literary family, she's a wonderful writer with important things to say. Agnes Grey, the first of her two novels, left me with the same opinion. While it certainly provides a hefty dose of social commentary, Agnes Grey was not nearly as controversial as Tenant and is the least dark out of all the Brontë novels I've read (which is all of them except Charlotte's Shirley and The Professor). That is not to say, however, that this novel does not touch on any emotional turmoil - it does, but it's not as intense.

This book depicts what life was like for governesses in the Victorian era. They had troubles within their work, they were in an awkward place on the social pyramid, and let's not forget the financial circumstances that led them to such work. It wasn't the easiest of situations to endure; it would have been no fun at all and my bigass mouth would have been fired. Agnes' employers were idiots; my jaw actually dropped at some of the illogical statements they were spewing. However... I have to admit there were some funny moments to read about while they would have been nightmarish to live. Some of the children she had to work with made the novel feel like a Victorian-era Supernanny episode full of screaming and  unruliness, although there were some downright disturbing moments of animal cruelty that were certainly not amusing in any sense. It seems Anne was not only advocating to improve human circumstances - she also deeply cared for animals. I like how Agnes is able to accurately judge a man's character based on how he treats nonhumans, from birds to dogs.

As Agnes was trying to teach teenagers, she didn't have to deal with such unruliness, but she had to deal with other forms of BS nonetheless. I always say that the Brontë sisters are good at making me feel feelings, and I must say I felt Agnes' loneliness in these parts. I felt her love for Mr. Weston... Funny how a book written about a hundred and fifty years ago can depict a  heavy crush better than most contemporary work. Her relationship with Mr. Weston warmed my heart despite there only being brief moments with him.

In a way, Agnes Grey is the most Austen-like out of all the Brontë novels I've encountered as it is not so controversial and crazy, but of course, it is mixed with the wilder style of Brontë writing, so full of emotions and more critical statements made of society. In fact, I'd recommend this to anyone who is a beginner in the world of Victorian literature as the plot moves along more quickly than other books of this era, plus it's somewhat short.

Of course, Anne is more of a realist than any of the Brontë family members while her sisters romanticized their stories, but she is not without charms by any means. Her stories are enjoyable, no matter how large- or small-scale the plot. I love that she's always making a statement in both Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: In Agnes Grey, she makes a firm statement that never really caused drama, but in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall she scared the Victorians out of their wits. Her purposes for writing are clear, and her execution is always on-point, like that of her siblings. I read in the appendix that accompanies all of Anne's work (which was written by her older sister Charlotte after her death) that Anne was apparently profoundly affected by the wrongs she saw in her life, and hence she wrote about them. She dared to say things even Charlotte was afraid to say... for that alone, she will always have my respect.