Monday, August 31, 2015

Review of In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Basic plot: (from goodreads) In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: The thing that surprised me the most about this book was the way the airplane crashes were written.  Reports of plane crashes make for serious reading, and while Blume doesn't shy away from the impact they had on the community, it is by no means a dim and grim book. (Should it have been? I wasn't sure.)

Memories from reading: This was an all-weekend read as I was in the middle of moving - lots of sitting at the kitchen/dining room table and on the deck (when I got desperate for some sun).

Best Bits: I loved the voice that Blume used while telling the individual stories and that of the community of Elizabeth, NJ.  It made me understand why so many women and girls (and boys and men!) love her books.  If I had been more exposed to her books as a kid, I think I would have loved them too.  The characters were beautifully written.  It was just right - the voice of a friend, not too old, not too young, very relatable.  In this context, however, in a book marketed towards adults, I felt it was a bit odd.  At certain points it did feel like the book was written for children and a little simplistic - but the material was very dark, and at other times quite mature.  I wasn't sure if the actual experience felt like an episode from The Twilight Zone, but reading about it definitely felt that way to me.  Overall, I would say it was beautifully written but unusual.

Teeth-gnashing: I was definitely not a fan of Natalie.  I think that her storyline, while important, wasn't addressed in depth and felt a bit tired as a result.  I would also have loved to have heard more from Miri as an adult.

Favorite character(s): Uncle Henry.

Weapon of Choice: Hardcover, borrowed from a friend.

Other titles by this author: Too many to list them all!
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Then Again, Maybe I Won't

Have you read In the Unlikely Event? What did you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This is a first! I don't think I've posted a negative review on Small Hour Books before, but here it is.  I read The Magicians while moving, when I stayed with family for a week and had down time.  I'd read nothing but terrific reviews, was glad I had a copy I could borrow, and dug right in.  Unfortunately, it did not live up to any expectations.

Basic plot: [from goodreads] Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn't real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn't bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin's yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they'd imagined.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: Dim and grim for many (many) chapters.  Similar to re-living high school.

Memories from reading: I read this one a lot at the kitchen table.

Teeth-gnashing: One of the most confusing and frustrating things about this book was that there seemed to be almost no plot.  I'm a plot-driven reader (especially with fiction and fantasy books), and this one did not pick up until over 240 pages in.

There were long, long passages about very smart teenagers and their magical school, but for some reason, the descriptions seemed to only scrape the surface.  I was disappointed by the lack of detail.  It made magic sound dull, not exciting, and most certainly not unique - which would have been fine if that was where the author was going thematically, but the book seemed stuck somehow.  Teachers were described briefly, but given great weight in certain parts (and I had to flip back because...who were they again?) and the five years of school dragged.  By the time they graduated, I didn't want to "hang out" with them anymore, so to speak.  The conversations they were having were cliché, dull, and ones I'd heard (and lived through) before.

I thought that maybe the book would have been better if it had been split up.  More attention could have been given to the school experience and developing the characters, and then another book could have moved on to graduation and adventures.


By the time they were having any adventures - in the last hundred pages of the book - the most interesting character was killed off, sacrificing herself for her cheating, dull, insipid boyfriend, also the protagonist of the novel.  At that point, I thought: You GOTTA be kidding me, Mr. Grossman.  I slogged through this book to get HERE?

It seemed to borrow a lot from many popular children's fantasy novels (The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter especially) but in my view failed where they succeeded.  While magic does not need to be all lightness and fun, there should be some depth to it.

Weapon of Choice: Paperback, borrowed while visiting family.

Other titles by this author:
The Magician King
The Magician's Land

Have you read The Magicians or other books in the series? What did you think?

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

We're back! Boxes have been mostly unpacked, pictures have been hung, and life is beginning to get back to normal.  I've been to my new local library and am excited about finding new places and books to read.  

Here's what I've been reading over the last few weeks in limbo, and what I'm reading right now:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman.  Man, what a book.  I love fantasy, especially fantasy series, heard SO many good things - I think I only saw terrific reviews wherever I looked - and it just sort of flopped for me.  At over 400 pages, it was hard to get through.  I've got a review coming up with more about why.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.  This is the book I picked up after reading The Magicians, and it flew for me.  Also a bit dark, and I keep waiting for something terrible to happen (ha!) but I'm really liking all of the characters, the time period, the ambiance, the descriptions of the weather, everything.  I'm about a third of the way through.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume.  I was never a Judy Blume reader as a kid, so I went in without any expectations.  So far, it seems very strange - and by that I mean I don't really know what genre it is.  It reads like a YA book, which is really well done, and then there are pieces that are very heavy and adult and don't quite fit in the YA style I think she's writing.  I like it, but it's weird.  Anybody else have mixed feelings? I'm about halfway through.

And that's it! Thanks for hanging in there with me during the move, and I'm looking forward to getting back into blogging.  I'll be posting once a week, most likely on Mondays (for these kinds of posts) or Tuesdays (for reviews).

Happy August! What are you reading?