Friday, February 22, 2013

Book review: Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

The tragic story of the complex bond between two migrant laborers in Central California. They are George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant ranch hands who dream of one day owning a small farm. George acts as a father figure to Lennie, who is a very large, simple-minded man, calming him and helping to rein in his immense physical strength.

I never read this book in high school, which seems to be uncommon. But it was one of Pat's favorites from high school, so I decided to check it out. 

Pat says it was his favorite because he liked the characters -- and I agree, they are really likeable. I think listening to the audio made Lennie even more endearing. The relationship between the two is never quite clear -- we know that George knew Lennie's aunt. For a long time I was sure we'd find out they were related, but we never seem to.

I didn't read the description of the book until I was over halfway through with it. By that time, the growing sense of dread I had while reading had already informed me that this would be a tragic story. And thank goodness it's a short book because I was going crazy thinking about what might happen.

Steinbeck writes in a simple way -- in fact, this book was written particularly so that it could be turned into a play with no major changes, and you can tell. But I liked the style.

One thing I didn't particularly enjoy was the portrayal of women. I've heard that Steinbeck is not generally kind to women in his books, and you can tell. Curly's wife is never given a name -- she is always "Curly's wife." She's seen as a tramp and as causing trouble. And also there's the old-school perspective that women having any interest in men makes them dirty. The only other female characters, briefly mentioned, are Lennie's nagging aunt and prostitutes.

I ended up giving it four stars, mostly because I couldn't stop reading and couldn't stop thinking about it.

Have any of you read Of Mice and Men? What did you think? Please be careful of spoilers in the comments!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book review: Shine

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.

Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.

Shine deals with some very serious subjects: hate crimes, sexual abuse, substance abuse and more. Although it is a Young Adult novel, I can't recommend it to younger audiences without stressing the need for some conversations to happen. If my little sister decides to read it -- which I'm not saying you shouldn't, Anna, if you're reading -- I would recommend my mom check in with her now and then. Because Shine gets a little dark.

Cat is an awesome character. She has spent the last few years hiding her personality, her life, from people who once were her friends. But when her former BFF Patrick is attacked, Cat comes out of hiding and decides to find the culprit, risking her own safety in the process.

A lot of books seem to lack character development -- they skate by on awesome plots alone. This is not one of those books. I love when Cat realizes she can be fierce, she can stand up for herself. And I love that the way she views everyone around her shifts through the course of the book.

This book has really dynamic, powerful characters. I think it will stick with me for a while. There are some light moments here and there, but overall it is a very dark book. Know that going in.

There's also, obviously, a really strong hook in the plot. Cat is on a mission. I figured out the shocker before I was supposed to, I think. But I still read constantly to find out how it would all go down.

I gave it four stars. And I'll be thinking about it a lot for a long time.

Also, I really enjoyed the audio version of this one. It was read really well. Good one for any fellow audio-ers out there. :)

Have any of you read Shine? What did you think? Be careful of spoilers in the comments, please. :)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book review: Ironman

Ironman by Chris Crutcher

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday

Bo has been at war with his father for as long as he can remember. The rage he feels gives him the energy as a triathlete to press his body to the limit, but it also translates into angry outbursts toward his teachers.

Now dangerously close to expulsion from school, Bo has been assigned to Anger Management sessions with the school "truants." With an eclectic mix of hard-edged students, Bo may finally have to deal with his long-brewing hatred for his father -- before it eats away at him completely.

I, historically, LOVE Christ Crutcher. I highly recommend his novels Whale Talk and Deadline.

I didn't love this one, though.

Crutcher is and/or was a teacher and a child and family therapist, so he has LOADS of experience. His books typically deal with "issues" without becoming an "issue book." Whale Talk, for example, includes storylines about racism and domestic violence. But it isn't about either of those things.

Ironman focuses on Bo's relationship with his father, among other subjects. One of the reasons I think I didn't like Ironman as much is that it strays to the other side of that line -- it's almost too much of an issue book. It felt like Crutcher was trying to impart lessons on his audience rather than letting the character's development speak for itself.

The format of the book was also a little tricky. It was told in two perspectives. The first, which I loved, was when Bo was writing letters to Larry King. These really showed Bo's development and allowed the reader to get to know Bo.

The other perspective was a third person, omnipresent (is that the right word?) narration. These parts weren't so great for me. It was nice to see things happen and it helped move the story along, but that's where it felt like we were being taught. It was also frustrating to be taken from Bo's perspective, because the third person sections didn't show his development at all, and sometimes I felt like Bo's personality changed between the two perspectives.

Ironman is one of Crutcher's earlier books -- it was first published in 1995, I believe. This is obvious not only in the letters to Larry King, but also in the way certain subjects are handled. I think, if he were to return to this storyline, Crutcher would write some plotlines differently now, simply because of the ways the world has changed.

The saving grace of this book for me was what I always love about Crutcher's books -- he writes some awesome characters. They make this book worth reading. Unfortunately, the characters in this book really shine in the last few chapters. But man. They're as good as Crutcher's characters usually are.

I ended up giving Ironman two stars, though it had three before I changed my mind. I loved the characters, but the rest was just a let down compared to others of Crutcher's books.

Have any of you read a book by Chris Crutcher? I'd love to hear what you thought!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book review: The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

I loved this book.

I loved this book in a way that made me drop it into conversations whenever I could, in a way that made me randomly call my little sister one night and tell her to put it on hold Now.

I loved this book in a way that made me wish I had it in physical form instead of audiobook so I could read it faster and read it constantly.

Puck is spunky and wonderful and ends up in the races because it's all she can think to do. She throws the idea into conversation like throwing a gauntlet, thinking it will halt a future she doesn't want to come true. And then the circumstances snowball, and there's no way out. Puck will have to ride in the incredibly deadly Scorpio races.

There's an undercurrent of womens' rights in this book which (as a child of the 90s, when the Spice Girls made yelling "girl power" popular, and as a child of hippy-ish parents who never faced any different limitations or expectations for being a girl) I loved. It's there, but it's not overwhelming. It's not an issue book. Just a book with a female main character who challenges the limitations others would place on her. Which is awesome.

Sean is good, too. He's quiet and careful, not the typical main male lead in so many novels. He has his own motivations for wanting to win the races, and they're a big deal, too. And you grow to love both characters and you get scared because there's no way both can win.

And I loved Finn, Puck's little brother. And George. And really everyone. There are so many dynamic, quirky characters in this book to fall in love with.

There is adventure and risk and romance and sadness and a bit of violence though it's not too graphic. I was scared for the characters a lot of times. Which means it was really great writing.

love love love.

It was only at the end of the audiobook that I realized the author had also written another book I'd tried to read -- and I say tried because I got so annoyed with the writing of a character in one chapter that I promptly quit reading even though I was over halfway through the book. I was so angry with that book I called my mom and ranted about how this character had suddenly changed and it made no sense and it made me angry and I could write it better.

I loved The Scorpio Races so much I'd be willing to give that book another go.

Have any of you read The Scorpio Races? I'd love to hear what you thought!


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