Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Title: The Truth About Forever
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Penguin
Date Published: May 11th, 2004

Description (from the author): Macy’s summer stretches before her, carefully planned and outlined. She will spend her days sitting at the library information desk. She will spend her evenings studying for the SATs. Spare time will be used to help her obsessive mother prepare for the big opening of the townhouse section of her luxury development. But Macy’s plans don’t anticipate a surprising and chaotic job with Wish Catering, a motley crew of new friends, or … Wes. Tattooed, artistic, anything-but-expected Wes. He doesn’t fit Macy’s life at all–so why does she feel so comfortable with him? So … happy? What is it about him that makes her let down her guard and finally talk about how much she misses her father, who died before her eyes the year before? Sarah Dessen delivers a page-turning novel that carries readers on a roller coaster of denial, grief, comfort, and love as we watch a broken but resilient girl pick up the pieces of her life and fit them back together.

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

As I inch further and further away from academics and into the real world of publishing, editing, and all things books, I decided it was in my best interest to expand my horizons and delve into genres that I have little experience in reading. Though I've been on quite the YA kick recently, I had read only one or two YA romances and decided I should explore them a bit more. At the suggestion of my girlfriend, I decided to read Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever, and, once again, her suggestion was terrific.

Before starting, I was expecting a light and fairly quick-moving read, but I was surprised by the richness and depth of the story. The book started off a bit slow, focusing primarily on developing Macy, a character I found incredibly empathetic and real. Macy struggles with loss, control, and the need for perfection throughout the book, and Dessen's strong character building allowed for me to very quickly identify with Macy. The novel's focus on loss and grief was beautifully intertwined with the budding romance between Macy and Wes, as well and Macy's relationship with her mother. Nearly every character struggled with loss and moving on, creating a much heavier read than I was expecting. Still, the novel ended beautifully, seemingly linking Macy's self-discovery with the improving relationship with her mother, as well as the start of a new relationship with Wes.

Indeed, Wes appears to operate as Hope in the novel, and many of the obstacles holding Macy back are cleared away when she finally realizes the way they feel about each other. This, of course, culminates in a beautiful kiss at the end of the book, and Macy's recognition of who she really is.

Yet, the book's slow buildup to the much anticipated kiss left me feeling a bit unbalanced when the novel ended just a few pages later. Despite the strong characterization of Macy, I felt like Wes was underdeveloped, a fact that seemed to take away from the satisfaction of the ending. Many of the book's best scenes were the interactions between Macy and Wes, and I certainly wanted to see greater development with their relationship, especially following the kiss.

Still, Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever was a pleasure to read and certainly impacted one of my upcoming readings. While I would have loved to see more development between Macy and Wes, the novel's excellent treatment of loss and grief combined brilliantly with the romance and made for one of my favorite reads this year.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay
Author: J.K Rowling
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Date Published: November 18th, 2016

Intro and Summary: A quick and fun read, Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay adds to the current, and expansive, Harry Potter universe. Set in 1920's New York City, the screenplay, released the day after the film's premier, follows Newt Scamander, a magizoologist who makes a brief stop in the United States. While there, some of Scamander's fantastic beasts escape, causing trouble and creating friendships in the Big Apple.

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

Review: I have long been an avid fan of the Harry Potter series (#Ravenclaw), and the books played an important part in my development as a reader. In fact, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first book I recall reading (other than picture books), and I was not allowed to see the movie until I finished reading it. I still remember rocking my bright blue Harry Potter pajamas featuring young Daniel Radcliffe and Hedwig as my grandpa drove us to the theater -- I finished the final chapter as we pulled into the parking lot. That said, I was excited to finally find the time for Rowling's first foray into screen writing. I read this without first seeing the movie, so this review will focus primarily on the text itself.

I had never read a screenplay before reading this, but it read very similarly to a play, and I cannot help but to think of The Cursed Child. Of course this is a screenplay, and it was written for the silver screen, though I think this created problems for both characterization and pacing. Textually speaking, there was a distinct lack of character depth, and I walked away from this reading slightly disappointed, especially because these characters have so much potential. Still, after watching the movie, much of the development and empathy for the characters was developed onscreen -- the text definitely benefited from the wonderful film. I'm excited to see where these characters go in the series. The pacing was also problematic for me, as the world and plot lacked development, and the story got too big too quickly. The story's magic and imagination helped overcome these developmental issues, however.

While I consider myself a Harry Potter nerd, I knew very little (if anything) about Gellert Grindelwald heading into the reading. Because the screen play starts with a sharp focus on Grindelwald, I was expecting him to be more involved in the plot, but he seems to be dismissed as soon Newt enters -- it's not until the very end that Graves is revealed to be Grindelwald. Again, the lack of character development (especially Grindelwald's) and depth overall proved to be disappointing.

That said, I still found the screenplay to be a joy to read. The 1920's NYC setting is absolutely fun, and provides a whole new world for Rowling to build. Newt's case of fantastic beasts provides the series with outstanding promise, and I am excited for more magical and imaginative creatures in the future.

Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Screenplay may have been improved if written as a novel, but it's still a fun incursion into the fantastic Harry Potter universe. Give it a read and check out the movie if you haven't already.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: The Fifteenth Minute by Sarina Bowen

Title: The Fifteenth Minute
Author: Sarina Bowen
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Date Published: October 13th, 2015

Intro and Summary: Perhaps the most pleasurable book I've read so far this year, Sarina Bowen's The Fifteenth Minute proved to be a good choice as my first summer read. The fifth book in the Bowen's Ivy League series, The Fifteenth Minute follows a pair of college students: Lianne, a famous actress trying to blend in as a normal college student, and DJ, a hot (wait for it) DJ for Harkness' hockey team. Both want nothing but to be with one another, but a dark secret threatens to end DJ's college career and their budding relationship.

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

Review: My girlfriend recently took a class on romance novels, and after talking with her about the different books she read over the past few months, we decided to read one together to kick off the summer. In fact, The Fifteenth Minute was my first foray into the romance genre, and I have a feeling it certainly will not be my last.

Both Lianne and DJ were both realistic and empathetic characters. Within a few pages of the novel, I not only had a good feel for the characters, but I was invested in their stories. I'm sure part of my connection to the characters, Lianne in particular, stems from the subtle allusion to the Harry Potter series (which, frankly, I'm unsure if I'll ever be unable to not fanboy over), but the both the dialogue and awkwardness of their relationship felt authentic and matched up with my own view of college life and relationships.

I think there is also something to be said about the way Bowen also flips stereotypes, especially in a romance. DJ is short, especially in comparison with his tall, athletic roommates, and in this way he does not fit the typical ideal masculinity (if there really is such a thing). On the flip side, Lianne isn't just a beautiful and rich Hollywood actress; she attempts to conceal her identity behind a baseball cap and struggles with her own physical appearance and what to wear when seeing DJ. More, Lianne is also a crazy good hacker and video game player (characteristics typically ascribed to male characters) allowing her to act as both nerd and Hollywood actress. Ultimately, both Lianne and DJ are complex characters, and their layered identities make the novel a delight to read.

Of course as a romance, the novel was abound in sexy times, and they were certainly all of the hot. Most notable about these scenes, however, was the persistent need/desire for consent. This emphasis on consent partly stems from DJ's troubled legal case, but his continued push for explicit consent made this reader happy, especially considering the rapey nature of many romance novels, at least historically.

Although this is the final novel in Bowen's The Ivy League series, The Fifteenth Minute certainly works well as a standalone. While the secondary characters have their own arcs and stories earlier in the series, it is not necessary to know their full histories in order to enjoy them as characters, though I'm sure reading the entire series would have made for an even richer reading.

Overall, The Fifteenth Minute was quite fun and has pushed me to explore the romance genre some more.

Rating5/5 Stars

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Book Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“’It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.’
‘It is the time I have wasted for my rose—’ said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.”
I sat down a couple of days ago and decided to spend some time with a small, adorable book called The Little Prince. It’s one that I’ve heard about many a time but just never made the time to get my hands on and read. After seeing an ad for Netflix’s take on the book, I decided to finally make it a priority to read. And oh boy. I was in for a treat. 
Like much of the children’s lit I’ve read, The Little Prince was absolutely magical. The Little Prince, as he’s referred to, is one of the sweetest characters I’ve ever read, and his adventures involve innocent encounters with weird adults that make trenchant observations on the human condition. 
A moral parable in the largest sense, The Little Prince also features enchanting illustrations that only serve to enhance the beautiful images created by Saint-Exupéry. I cannot get enough of the charming blue consuming the cover. 
A talking fox. An arrogant flower. A shifty snake. A lost pilot. The characters in this short story are absolutely delightful to read, and though their connections aren’t immediately apparent, their friendship with the Little Prince ultimately ties them all together. Friendship acts as one of the central themes, and although the Little Prince makes tons of friends throughout, I’m still left feeling that loneliness and sadness awaits us all. Yet, the Little Prince preservers, and I think that’s what lies at the heart of this little book.

A must-read for every reader, and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. 
5/5 Stars