Thursday, December 31, 2009

In Which Trai Shows Her Work

Since it's New Year's Eve and all, I figured I'd post the list of books I read in the past year. I keep track of the numbers for no reason at all, mostly just out of sheer curiosity. I topped the previous year's number of 37 (small number as I was busy with school and such) by 19 books; I'm happy! My goal is to get more time to read each ensuing year, so let's see what 2010 will bring! :)

(I haven't reviewed some of the books on this list after Guernsey, my first review, either because I read it for college or because I didn't wish to review it due to uncertain feelings.)

The List:

1) Revolutionary Road- Richard Yates
2) Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand- Carrie Vaughn
3) God-Shaped Hole- Tiffanie DeBartolo
4) The Notebook- Nicholas Sparks
5) Watchmen- Alan Moore
6) The Truth About Forever- Sarah Dessen
7) The Joy Luck Club- Amy Tan
8) March- Geraldine Brooks
9) Dedication- Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
10) Year of Wonders- Geraldine Brooks
11) Love is a Mix Tape- Rob Sheffield
12) A Streetcar Named Desire- Tennessee Williams
13) Jane Austen in Scarsdale- Paula Marantz Cohen
14) The English Patient- Michael Ondaatje
15) Gone With the Wind- Margaret Mitchell
16) Dead Until Dark- Charlaine Harris
17) Living Dead in Dallas- Charlaine Harris
18) Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict- Laurie Viera Rigler
19) The Time Traveler’s Wife- Audrey Niffenegger
20) Kitty Raises Hell- Carrie Vaughn
21) Audrey, Wait!- Robin Benway
22) Holly Would Dream- Karen Quinn
23) Two Guys Read Jane Austen- Steve Chandler and Terrence Hill
24) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies- Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
25) Colonel Brandon’s Diary- Amanda Grange
26) Breakfast at Tiffany’s- Truman Capote
27) Old School- Tobias Wolff
28) Head Games- Christopher Golden
29) Club Dead- Charlaine Harris
30) No Humans Involved- Kelley Armstrong
31) The Summoning- Kelley Armstrong
32) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society- Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
33) Agnes Grey- Anne Bronte
34) The Awakening- Kelley Armstrong
35) Joy in the Morning- Betty Smith
36) The Erasers- Alain Robbe-Grillet
37) On the Origin of PCs- Rich Burlew
38) Proof- David Auburn
39) One Tree Hill: The Beginning- Jenny Markas
40) The Book of Job- Stephen Mitchell
41) Aura- Carlos Fuentes
42) Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne- John Keats
43) Pedro Paramo- Juan Rulfo
44) Darkly Dreaming Dexter- Jeff Lindsay
45) Dear John- Nicholas Sparks
46) City of Glass- Paul Auster, Paul Karasik, and David Mazzucchelli
47) Dearly Devoted Dexter- Jeff Lindsay
48) Push- Sapphire
49) The Road- Cormac McCarthy
50) Dexter in the Dark- Jeff Lindsay
51) Reasons to Be Pretty- Neil LaBute
52) Testimony- Anita Shreve
53) The Pregnancy Test- Susan Gable
54) A Kid to the Rescue- Susan Gable
55) Kitty’s House of Horrors- Carrie Vaughn
56) The Last Song- Nicholas Sparks

Have a happy New Year, all! See you in 2010!

- Trai

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Last Song'

The Book: The Last Song

The Author: Nicholas Sparks

How I Found It: I was intrigued by the plot when I read the blurb upon its publication, and the trailer for the movie looked interesting.

The Review: Things I Should Never Think: "Surely, one of Nicholas Sparks' books won't make me cry like Dear John did again!"

Yep, I was wrong.

This book was written with the upcoming Miley Cyrus movie in mind-- Sparks wrote the screenplay and then the novel to go along with it. I beg anyone who is turned off by the Miley Cyrus aspect to give it a chance-- I didn't like the idea, either, but I'm really glad I gave the book a shot.

The Last Song is a story about Veronica "Ronnie" Miller, a seventeen-year-old New York girl with a lot of anger at the book's start. Her mother is driving her and her brother, Jonah, to their father's for the summer. For the past three years, since her parents' divorce, Ronnie has refused to speak to her father, Steve, believing he is responsible for everything that happened between her parents.

Kim, Ronnie's mother, explains to Steve that there was trouble back in New York-- Ronnie was caught shoplifting, and she worries for Ronnie's future as well as the trouble she might cause Steve. Steve assuages her fears and, once she leaves, begins to bond again with Jonah while Ronnie attempts to ignore them both.

While she stays away, she goes to a beach volleyball game and has soda spilled onto her (by accident) by a guy she will later know as Will. Another soda-soaking leads to her meeting Blaze, a girl her own age, and Blaze's controlling boyfriend Marcus.

The summer passes as Ronnie begins to learn about herself and others. She gets to know Will better as they bond over a nest of loggerhead turtles, and even finds herself falling in love. As things become clearer about Will, his family, and even Blaze and Marcus, Ronnie has to contend with disapproval, heartbreak, and her growing connection to her previously estranged father.

I really did enjoy the book, though it was a little difficult for me to believe Sparks' voice as a teenage girl sometimes. The dialogue often sounded just a little too polished, and I couldn't picture some of it coming from a teenager's mouth. I've been told many times that one of the most authentic parts of my own writing is the dialogue, so I'm usually sensitive to when it seems off. I think here was one of those cases-- Sparks was a little too far removed from being a teenager to write the dialogue convincingly, but he got the mindset down pretty well.

Besides that small criticism, the book was very emotional and I cared about the characters. I ended up keeping the box of tissues by me towards the end. I find myself wondering how, exactly, this might turn out as a Disney movie-- there is very serious stuff in here, including near-fatal burns and terminal illness, and a lot of the passages surrounding the illness were difficult to read (hence all the crying). I hope the movie does the subjects justice; it could be a great drama if it turns out well on screen.

I recommend the book to fans of Sparks' previous stories or to people who are looking for a place to start with his works. I think other teenagers could enjoy it as well, if only for the love story that seems to fit a lot of teenage relationships, especially summer romances. But hang onto the tissues; you'll need them.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Kitty's House of Horrors'

Big warning: this is the seventh book in a series, and my review will spoil (some major) things from the earlier six. If you have any plans to read the series, start with Kitty and the Midnight Hour and do not read this review any further.

The Book: Kitty's House of Horrors (seventh in the Kitty Norville series)

The Author: Carrie Vaughn

How I Found It: I've been a dedicated, adoring fan of the series since the very first book debuted in November 2005.

The Review: My rule: when a new Kitty book comes out, I inhale it. There have been times when I've gotten distracted and have had to set aside the book for a month or two, but inevitably, when I come back to it, I inhale it. Kitty books have traveled with me through freshman Italian class, a road trip to Virginia and Rhode Island, a trip to London, college orientation, and now winter break of my freshman year at college. They've been there for me since my freshman year of high school, and for that reason I love them dearly.

To say a bit about the series: Kitty Norville is a young, twentysomething (I did the math once-- I think by now she's about twenty-six to twenty-nine?) werewolf radio DJ who inadvertently starts the first call-in advice show for supernatural creatures. This show brings her in contact with two of the major characters in the series: Cormac Bennet, a bounty hunter, and Ben O'Farrell, Cormac's lawyer and an eventual werewolf who becomes romantically involved with Kitty, and later becomes her husband.

From the beginning of the series to now, Kitty has evolved from a submissive wolf to a dominant alpha female with her own pack and a husband who serves alongside her as alpha male. The vampires of the series have slowly came into focus as figures who exist to perform powerplays, locked in something called "The Long Game" that appears to be about consolidating political power. All Kitty knows is to stay the hell away.

At the beginning of the novel, Kitty is drawn into a contract with a reality TV show based around keeping supernaturals in a house for two weeks, with the promise that it will bring good publicity to her show. Kitty reluctantly agrees, suspicious, but comforted once she learns that some of her friends from previous adventures will be there.

Vaughn does indeed bring out the cavalry for this one: readers of the series will recognize Jeffrey Miles (Washington), Ariel (Takes a Holiday), Tina, and Odysseus (both from Raises Hell, with Odysseus also from the previous book, Dead Man's Hand), among some new characters. This, along with Vaughn finally expounding on the homo sapiens pinipedia mention at the end of Midnight Hour, made me adore the sheer amount of world-building Vaughn has done over the years.

Once Kitty has settled into the house and gotten familiar with her housemates, she and the others begin to sense that not all is right. Their suspicions are confirmed as an unexplained death occurs, followed by another, more clearly deliberate one. As those still alive are left without power and without any means of contact to the outside world, Kitty and the rest are left to wonder who is causing these deaths-- and what they can do to stop it.

Out of all the seven Kitty books, I have to say that this is the scariest and most emotional one of them all. At first, the deaths were sad, but I could mostly see that Vaughn was killing off red-shirts who had only been introduced to the book for this reason. Vaughn, surprisingly, simply didn't stick to the pattern of killing off only those the readers wouldn't miss. Familiar characters are just as likely to die as the new ones, and even when the new ones died, I was still hit emotionally. I found myself tearing up three times-- I cared about these characters. I've said it before, I'll say it again-- if Kitty were real, she'd be my best friend; I can relate to her easily, and it's partly because of this that I felt so strongly for the characters. Kitty cared and so did I.

As the series has evolved, the books have gotten better and better-- my previous favorite was Silver Bullet, but I think this one has topped them all. I loved the further exploration of Odysseus Grant's character, and I especially liked the new addition, the vampire Anastasia. Carrie Vaughn is doing a good job at building up alliances for Kitty, and part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was seeing just how Kitty managed away from her normal support system, when she has no clear idea of who she can trust.

I highly recommend this book and the entire series to anyone who wants a strong heroine who can manage well on her own, and whose narrative voice is easy to relate to. The books in the series are: Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Kitty Goes to Washington, Kitty Takes a Holiday, Kitty and the Silver Bullet, Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, and Kitty Raises Hell.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Which Trai Wonders About a Cover Art Coup

On Sunday, I was wandering through Barnes & Noble, having gone to pick up the newest Kitty Norville book by the wonderful Carrie Vaughn (review up soon, hopefully). As I was walking past the new paperbacks rack, I was stunned to see a reprint of a Jane Austen-related book that's gotten dreadful reviews. The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, written by Coleen McCullough of The Thornbirds fame, has been slammed by Janeites on all quarters since its release earlier this year.

As I looked at the book, I noticed to my shock how similar it was to the poster art for the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie (the one with Keira Knightley). I went home and made a comparison image, sending it to the wonderful website Austenblog, which I've been reading for about two or three years now. Mags, the Editrix, very kindly posted the image with my story.

I was surprised to see the similarities between the cover art and the poster, and I'd noticed this before as well-- on two different romance novels I found while browsing the Internet, except in that case, the exact same stock photo was used! I'll give links to my comparison images.

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet as compared to the Pride & Prejudice movie poster: here.

Expecting the Doctor's Baby as compared to Father by Choice: here.

I feel as though the only thing I can say is, what's up with that? I guess I understand the reasoning: for the romance novels, it could be because Harlequin had the stock photo/drawing and just used it for books with a similar theme. For the P&P sequel, they might have wanted to draw in readers like me who would recognize the image as similar to the P&P poster and therefore take it as authentic.

Both instances smack slightly as lazy to me, but far be it from me to tick off the publishing companies who are nice enough to provide me with reading material. Either way, I'm steering clear of Mary Bennet, but I thought I'd throw the issue out there. The cover artists aren't pulling a fast one on me!

- Trai

Thursday, December 24, 2009

In Which Trai Wishes Everyone Happy Holidays!

Another heads up-- it's Christmas Eve and I wanted to honor that! I celebrate Hanukkah, too, but I figured it'd be a catch-all holiday announcement and no one could fault me for not being in the holiday spirit!

So I did my Christmas Eve tradition of watching Love Actually and I'm off to a family celebration. Happy holidays from Tutor Girl!

- Trai

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'A Kid to the Rescue'

Hello, all! I had to take a reading break from Up in the Air (reading it over such scattered periods of time is confusing!), but I'll get back to it as soon as I can. In the meantime, some light reading was done to destress from finals.

The Book: A Kid to the Rescue

The Author: Susan Gable

How I Found It: Read one of Gable's earlier books and was sent a copy by Susan Gable herself, who was very nice!

The Review: Wow, did I really like this book a lot! I think I'm a sucker for any story with a cute kid (honestly, I think I suck, period, with kids in real life, but I will "aww" at any cute representation of them. Go figure). Anyway, I like stories with young kids, especially quiet ones-- I've written one of these kids myself and his character is really close to my heart, so I think that might explain why.

Shannon Vanderhoff has taken in her traumatized nephew, Ryan, after he has witnessed his mother's murder at the hands of his father. It is suggested that she bring her nephew to an art therapist, Greg Hawkins, who does good work empowering children who need it. Ryan has stopped speaking and Shannon wishes to help him, but is wary that letting a comic-book artist heal her son might lead to violence.

She finally allows Greg to help Ryan, and starts to see some changes as Ryan becomes happier and Greg gives her tips on how to connect to him. Shannon won't do this easily, as events in her past have led her to believe that letting go is best and personal attachments are fleeting. But she might be starting to fall for Greg.

As the trial for Ryan's father looms and a custody battle comes into play, one of Greg's many siblings, a lawyer, advises him to stay away from Shannon until the court cases are over. But it is increasingly difficult for Greg to stay away from the people he's grown so attached to, and he finds himself falling in love with both Shannon and Ryan.

I really enjoyed the emotional range of this book-- I laughed aloud a couple times, I cried, and I even found myself saying, "But that's not FAIR!" at a few points as I became outraged on behalf of the characters. The chemistry between Greg and Shannon was well-done and I could see where their attraction came from.

I also felt that Ryan was really well-written. I always find kids are difficult to write, particularly how they talk and behave, and this must've been no exception. I felt that Ryan being traumatized was handled very well and depicted accurately, and gave a lot of credit to real-life professionals like Greg that have to work with sad stories like this every day.

The secondary characters, consisting mostly of Greg's large family, gave me a good laugh, too. Greg's rapport with his brothers Finn and Hayden was very believable, and Hayden's lines gave me the most laughs. That family dynamic was realistic and really gave a sense of the big family and the love they had for each other.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book a lot, and I'm looking forward to other stories about this family and the other men within. Highly recommended to fans of romance or family dramas-- this one's got both in spades.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In Which Trai Issues A Heads-Up

Hey, all! Just wanted to post a brief heads-up-- I'm a college student who's in the middle of finals right now, so my reviewing will probably be on a break until the middle of next week. After that, though, my reviewing may well go into overdrive as I'm expecting plenty of time to read and to finish my still-cooking NaNoWriMo novel!

Currently, I'm reading Up in the Air by Walter Kirn in anticipation of the upcoming movie (it's supposedly a loose adaptation, but I like to be prepared!), so expect that to be the next review once I have time to finish. I'm also dying to see the movie of The Lovely Bones, which I reread this summer, so expect a possible movie review when I get the chance to trek out there and see it!

I'll be taking a whole lot of books home from college with me-- not sure if I'll get around to all of them, but I'll try to get through as many as I can. I'll have three by the very nice Susan Gable, who kindly responded to my review of The Pregnancy Test by addressing my concerns and critiques, and sending me a signed copy of her book A Kid to the Rescue, so a big thanks to Susan! I also have two of her previous books, The Baby Plan and The Mommy Plan, on the way. I think I'll start reading more romance-- a whole lot of them look like fun, and I love family stories (wasn't able to find very many until I started looking at romances, either!).

Other books I'll be bringing home that I've been meaning to get around to: Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, the next few Otherworld books by Kelley Armstrong, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and a variety of other books from a mix of other genres I want to dig into.

So until my next review, have a happy Hanukkah if you celebrate, and good luck with the weather wherever you may be!

- Trai

Saturday, December 5, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Pregnancy Test'

The Book: The Pregnancy Test

The Author: Susan Gable

How I Found It: Kay Hooper had an essay on her website a while back by Susan Gable and the title of the book sounded interesting.

The Review: All right, all right, so I tend to be of the "don't knock it 'til you've tried it" variety and I'm 18 and by this age, a girl should probably read at least one trashy romance. I assumed most Harlequins were trashy.

That being said, while this book wasn't nearly as trashy as I thought one of these things would be, I do have a lot of criticism, mainly with characterization and length. I also haven't read the prequel to this, The Mommy Plan, although I probably will in the near future.

The plot: Sloan Thompson has just moved to Pennsylvania with his two daughters, Brook, fifteen, and Ashley, who's probably around eight-ish. The move is mostly for Brook's benefit, as she'd been hanging out with a bad crowd back home and Sloan wants to set her straight.

He is a single dad whose wife died when the girls were young, and his next-door neighbor is Jenna Quinn, a single, free-spirited woman who refuses to date men with children. She feels that she doesn't have enough responsibility in her to be a parent, so kids are a deal-breaker.

However, Jenna starts to bond with Brook when she offers her a job at her jewelry store, and Sloan starts getting closer to Jenna as well. Before they know it, they're in a "dessert first" (friends with benefits) relationship, while Brook dates a senior at the high school.

Things become complicated when both Brook and Jenna become pregnant, leading to a spate of tough decisions for the two of them and Sloan. For Sloan, it's facing being a father again and a grandfather at the same time. For Brook, it's wondering if she, at fifteen, can give her baby the life she wants her to have. And for Jenna, it's wondering if she even wants to have kids at all.

My criticisms will be a bit spoiler-y, so if you don't want the book spoiled, I'd probably steer clear, but honestly, you can probably guess what'll happen anyway.

First off: the length. I know that romance manuscripts are barely longer than the current state of my NaNo novel (with about a third to go, the word count stands at 52,878, and romance novels are usually around 55,000, according to Wikipedia). I know that a certain amount of that time has to go to building the characters and such. But when a book is called The Pregnancy Test, I'd expect the pregnancy part to come in sooner than halfway through the book?

Secondly, it felt kind of uneven-- for a man dealing with his girlfriend's pregnancy and his daughter's, Brook's was pretty brushed over, as was her relationship with her boyfriend before and after. I know the main story was Sloan and Jenna's, but it really would have been nice to see more details of how her pregnancy affected her emotionally as a teenager.

Third, characterization. Um. Sloan just started to bug me at some points; his "do the right thing" motto just led to so many inconsistencies. Brook asks him if he would make her have an abortion or marry the father, and he says no. However, when it comes to Jenna, he all but wants to force her to carry the pregnancy to term, and wants to marry her. It just bugged me so much that he literally was trying to cajole and coerce her into keeping the baby. I mean, her body, her choice, Mister?

Also, I know people had problems with Brook's decision in the end as to giving her baby up for adoption. I actually didn't-- maybe it's because I'm a teenager, too, but I didn't think it was selfish of her. I felt she did the right thing by her baby.

There was also remarkably little about the pregnancies in the actual book. Beyond Jenna's issues with hyperemesis gravidarum, the symptoms, appointments, etc. are really skimmed in order to cram everything into the page limit, I thought. Huge chunks of time are skipped over in order to get to the deliveries. I also would have liked to see more of the adoption process that Brook went through.

It was a good way to pass the time, but the book could have benefited greatly from being longer, and for a slight reworking of Sloan's character, I felt. It was weaker than I expected it to be, but the author's other books look pretty interesting, and I might give some of them a shot.

Recommended to romance fans or people who enjoy family dramas.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Testimony: A Novel'

The Book: Testimony: A Novel

The Author: Anita Shreve

How I Found It: The concepts of some of Shreve's other books have really intrigued me and I have a few more, but this is the first one I've actually read.

The Review: "A single action can cause a life to veer off into a direction it was never meant to go."

This statement, thought by one of the characters towards the end of Testimony, encapsulates the idea at the heart of the novel-- the effect of a single reckless action on a group of people. The first paragraph of the novel alludes to this action tarnishing the academic reputation of a private school, destroying two marriages, ruining the futures of three students involved, and finally resulting in a death.

The action is question is a sex tape involving three basketball players at the school and a freshman girl. Since the boys are all eighteen or older, the sexual acts are considered assault. The novel follows the slow unfolding of what led to the creation of the tape, and the events before or after the headmaster views it and the news begins to spread.

Because of this, Testimony is not quite plot-driven. It is more of a character study than a story with a plot, exploring the effect of the tape on the people involved and the bystanders. I think I remember reading that there's something like twenty different perspectives involved, as the story switches narrators every few pages, and I won't disagree. Since I like working with switching narrators myself, I liked the technique, though I didn't like the use of the second-person in some of the chapters.

I liked the technique more once I read that Shreve was inspired to use it after seeing The Laramie Project, one of my all-time favorite plays (read it for English last year and acted in it earlier this year). That play is a beautiful, entirely true, and heartbreaking examination of a town's grief after the brutal death of Matthew Shepard in 1999, and it is easy to see where Shreve got the idea for this book from that play. Shreve also examines the town of Avery after the scandal-- how reporters invade, how people profit, how marriages fall apart, how townspeople move away.

It also brings up the questions of teen drinking and the double standard against the privileged. Mike, the headmaster, thinks early in the book of how the sex tape would never have made the news if it was found at a public school rather than a private one, and this is probably true. The same with the drinking-- as a public high school graduate, I can confirm that there is most definitely drinking going on, and it is not treated nearly as seriously by parents and administration as it should be.

Though I really enjoyed how Shreve told the story, I have to admit that it wasn't all that original. I guessed early on who the death would be, and I was right. The revelation of the person who taped the incident wasn't all that revealing, either-- the discussion questions treat this as a big twist, when really the character is such a minor figure that I found myself asking, "... who?"

Though it wasn't original, I could forgive the flaws, as it was a compelling story. I'd actually like to see a movie of this one, as the movie for The Laramie Project was beautifully done by HBO and I feel that this one could be done in a similar manner.

One warning-- the opening of the book is fairly graphic in its depiction of what is on the tape. After that, it isn't much, but it should be mentioned. Also, the depictions of the women in the story aren't really the kindest, and it's implied that the girl in the sex tape was not a victim at all but just a girl seeking attention after having neglectful parents.

Overall, recommended highly to people who are interested in reading a story from shifting viewpoints, to parents of teens who want a better look at what their children could be facing, or teens like myself who want a compelling story.

Monday, November 30, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Reasons to Be Pretty: A Play'

The Book: Reasons to Be Pretty: A Play

The Author: Neil LaBute

How I Found It: Was assigned a scene between Greg and Steph in my acting class and was intrigued.

The Review: After reading the scene I was given for my class, I had high expectations for this play-- I could really relate to the feelings Steph espoused to Greg, and it looked like an awesome play.

Now that I've read it, I'm not quite sure how I feel. It was good, but not all that enlightening or original. It felt much more cinematical than a play should have-- the scene in the food court, especially, I could picture happening on a sitcom.

The play concerns four people in their twenties: Greg, Kent, Steph, and Carly. We open on a fight between Greg and Steph, a vicious one: Steph has been told by Carly, her friend, about a remark Greg, her longtime boyfriend, made to Kent, Carly's husband, about how she is "regular" compared to another girl. Greg tries to explain what he meant, but Steph won't have it-- she's convinced he meant it as an insult, and maybe he did.

The remark leads to the dissolution of their relationship, and Steph and Greg have numerous confrontations, including an amusing one where she lists all the things she doesn't like about him. The play proceeds to show Greg's life after Steph left him, as he deals with Kent and Carly. Each of the four characters gets a soliloquy where they tell the audience their thoughts on things.

This was one of the problems I had with the play: when in conversation with each other, the characters speak perfectly normally, just like regular humans do. During the soliloquys, however, they become inexplicably elegant. A character that seems dumb as a rock in conversation suddenly spouts these brilliant insights, and it seemed really jarring to me. If there's one thing I hate in works of fiction, it's inconsistencies in characterization.

The play was also really vulgar-- a lot of swear words and scatological humor thrown around for really no reason, other than apparently wanting to be authentic to the sound of twentysomethings today. I mean, I'm not bothered by it, as I'm close to being a twentysomething myself and, yes, I can have a mouth on me when I want to (and when I'm writing), but it didn't need to be quite so excessive.

Overall, I give it a marginal recommendation to readers of plays. I'm interested in more of LaBute's work (specifically In The Company of Men and The Shape of Things) but I hope I'll be more impressed than I was with this one.

In Which Trai Reviews 'Dexter in the Dark'

The Book: Dexter in the Dark (third in the Dexter Morgan series)

The Author: Jeff Lindsay

How I Found It: Fan of the other two books in the series; see below.

The Review: This book is notorious for taking the Dexter series down a bit of an odd road, something I believe Lindsay tried to remedy in the fourth book, Dexter by Design. The details I will divulge below can be found in most any review on Amazon, but they might spoil the book for you. You've been warned.

All right, so. That being said. Yes, this book does take the series in a bit of an odd direction, and I'm not sure why Lindsay felt it was necessary. I was bugged by the fact that he felt he had to take it in that direction to make it interesting, but I'm a little more tolerant of the plot element than the normal reader, so I took it with a grain of salt. More on this later.

Anyway, we're onto Book Three and our Dex is into some sticky business. He is engaged to Rita, his "disguise", as part of a misunderstanding that occurred in the second book, though he is willing to get married as part of his disguise. He has realized that Cody and Astor, Rita's children, have sociopathic tendencies like his own, and has promised to instruct them in the morality code taught to him by his cop foster father in order to justify his kills. And he finds himself investigating a series of brutal murders on a college campus.

Bodies are found charred and headless on the university campus, with ceramic bull's heads replacing their own. Dexter is baffled, but disturbed when his Dark Passenger, his name for his murderous urges and the side of him that understands other killers, suddenly deserts him. Dexter is disturbed to find himself next to useless without his passenger, and tries desperately to get it back, manage his wedding, and rein in his fiancee's kids before they give in to their own murderous urges.

Now: the plot twist that so annoyed many. (Beyond here be spoilers, matey!)

Okay, so Lindsay chose to explain Dexter's Dark Passenger by claiming it is a fragment of the ancient god Moloch that has lodged itself into Dexter, rather than being part of Dexter himself and his mental construct. No, the Passenger is a supernatural being that urges Dexter to kill for the hell of it.

The supernatural part, I can deal with, sort of. I'm a big fan of The X-Files and I hang out with the Winchester boys on Thursday nights (Supernatural, for anyone not in the know). What I do have issues with is how Lindsay felt the need to even bring in a supernatural explanation for Dex's state.

Apparently working with a plain vanilla sociopath wasn't intriguing enough for Lindsay, which is a little bit sad, considering it was for the readers, judging by the backlash. I didn't hate the supernatural element, but I can't really say I loved it, either. Dexter turned into a spineless wimp without the Passenger, and I wanted my Dex back.

Other criticisms: Good God with the Rita hatred, already. I mean, he loves the kids, but can he at least talk about her in his head without criticizing her? I think my feminist half was angry at how worthless he found her. My feminist half did applaud Deborah, and Astor wanting to be like her was so cute, but still.

Also, the subplot with Astor and Cody was just a little bit odd. I understand that they'd have sociopathic tendencies after their father's abuse, but it seems like only Cody has them and that Astor is just following along (she still clearly shows emotion; Cody does not). I think I like what the TV show allegedly does better than this representation-- cutting the sociopathic subplot and focusing solely on how Dexter cares for the kids.

Overall, I felt the plot was good, but that certain elements could have been cut (the Moloch business), etc. The concept of Dex without his Passenger was interesting, but the idea that the Passenger was a separate entity outside of Dex was... not. I mostly agreed with the online reviews I had read: the Moloch plot was bad news. I wouldn't say skip the book entirely like most of them advise (I'm just a completist freak), but see how far you get reading and judge for yourself.

Not as strong as the previous two books, but recommended for fans and for people who like mysteries and suspense stories.

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Road'

Seriously, I suck at this. I read Push by Sapphire, the basis for the movie Precious, in the last few weeks, but I'm not sure I want to review it with all the movie hype and my own mixed feelings about it (although I am eager to see the movie). Instead, I will work on my backlog of three reviews! (This is going to get worse every month, mark my words.)

The Book: The Road

The Author: Cormac McCarthy

How I Found It: It was being made into a movie with Viggo Mortensen. Let me repeat that more slowly: Viggo. Freaking. Mortensen. (Yes, I'm aware he's old enough to be my father.)

The Review: So I've never really been a fan of the whole Oprah thing and I haven't followed her book club, but I will admit that I've read this one and White Oleander and I think she (or her staff, whatever) has made some good choices. I do have a couple more of them on my TBR pile, I believe.

Anyway, yes, I was drawn to The Road when I learned the aforementioned Viggo Freaking Mortensen would be playing the main role, the Father. My initial reading of the book got sidetracked, but I read the large majority of the book the night before and the day of seeing the movie (literally crying in the parking lot about twenty minutes before seeing the movie).

The Road is not a very long book, but it is very powerful. It describes a future in which an unspecified apocalyptic event has left most of humanity, or what is left of it, struggling to survive. The book is the story of a man, abandoned by his wife, and his son attempting to "go South" in the search of an inhabitable area.

They walk along the road for miles and miles, constantly running into danger. Thieves could steal their few possessions; they could be killed by bandits; they could run into cannibals. They cannot get wet, or they risk dying in the cold. And always, the father does all he can to defend his son.

There were bits of this book that really, truly got to me, and I'm not sure of why, for some of them. I cried when the father tells his son stories of life on Earth before the apocalypse, and then realizes that his son, born just after the catastrophe, knows nothing at all of the things he describes. I was severely unnerved by an encounter with a thief who steals all the possessions the man and boy have, whom the man leaves, naked and with nothing, on the road, after the boy begs him not to kill him. As mentioned before, I was crying at the end.

This is not an easy book to read-- stylistically, it is, but in terms of the images it presents, it is hard to swallow. A world where there is absolutely nothing but ash and depraved humanity is not a world we would like to imagine.

The movie did a very good job of staying faithful to the book-- since I read most of it very close to seeing the movie, it was easy to tell what bits they'd plucked directly from it. Some scenes were shifted around, sometimes for no discernible reason, but I could understand the need to break up the monotony a viewer would likely complain of if the long traveling sections from the novel were kept in.

The acting was top-notch-- Viggo did a wonderful job portraying the father, and I might just jump on the Oscar-nom bandwagon. Kodi Smitt-McPhee was great as the son, more impressive than I would have expected from a kid.

The book is not very long and can easily be read within a day. I recommend it for fans of post-apocalyptic stories or anyone who wants a story about how much a father will do for his son.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Dearly Devoted Dexter'

The Book: Dearly Devoted Dexter (second in the Dexter Morgan series)

The Author: Jeff Lindsay

How I Found It: By reading the first book. I think I'm turning into a Dexter fangirl. Eek!

The Review: 'Kay, first off, can I say how much I loveeee the cover for this book? At least, the cover for my edition, which is pictured here. Squint at it! It's a man, our Dex, knocking on a door holding a bouquet of roses... and a fillet knife. Oh, Dexter.

Yep, our boy's a serial killer who kills serial killers, or people who do bad things to kids, because Dexter loves kids. But when he's not indulging his dark side, he has to indulge his domestic side, in order to not rouse suspicion-- hence his "disguise," girlfriend Rita and her two kids, Astor and Cody.

That is why I love the cover so much-- it represents the dichotomy between dark/domestic Dexter perfectly, plus it's creepy as hell. Why I'm getting wrapped up in cover art, I have no idea. Anyway, onwards and upwards!

When we join Dexter in the beginning, we think he's hunting down his newest victim-- but no, he's playing a game of Kick the Can with Rita's kids, and why? Because his sergeant is on to him, and Dexter is aware that any move he makes under Doakes' nose will lead to him being discovered, something Dexter can't bear. So he has to abandon Dark Dexter and become the Dearly Devoted Dexter of the title, putting on the illusion for Doakes that he is a "family" man rather than something else entirely.

Problems arise when a man is found with literally every bit of him that can be cut off, cut off-- eyelids, tongue, lips, limbs, everything. Most of the police force is sickened, but Dexter's internal radar goes off. He'd like to find this monster, if only Doakes wasn't inconveniencing him. Or if the FBI wasn't.

Because Special Agent Kyle Chutsky has been sent in to deal with the problem, and he's entangled himself with Dexter's darling sister Deborah, who knows what exactly Dexter does as a hobby after the events of the first book.

Not only does Dexter have to deal with his sister depending on him to solve the case, there's also ramifications when his relationship with Rita becomes complicated by a misunderstanding that leaves Dexter at a loss.

A lot of people found this book superior to the first one, mostly because they had problems with the ending of Darkly Dreaming-- that didn't bother me, really; after the English course I'm in and the mysteries we read there, nothing fazes me anymore.

I disagreed with the majority-- while I did like the book a whole lot, I felt this one was slightly less superior to the first book. Since the identity of the killer and his motives are revealed early on in the book, I felt that the suspense was really lacking, and I found it so, so difficult to buy in to Deborah's attachment to Chutsky. She was with him for, what, a weekend and then they were like lovebirds? I was just as confused as Dexter on that front, frankly. I started wondering if Lindsay had to leave stuff on the chopping block at that point.

Also, the killer wasn't actually a killer, which was kind of... is annoying the right word? He was a sadistic bastard, yeah, and it wasn't like the people he was attacking were left with anything resembling a good life, but still. It just kind of bugged me. Although the final reveal of his strategy with the killings was... mind-blowing. What he does to them as he dismembers them is like the height of all sadism, but I thought it was brilliant.

Again, I'm starting to wonder just why I like this series so much. It's kinda disturbing.

The other thing that gave me some problems was the way Dexter talked about Rita in his head. He really cares for Astor and Cody, but he just persists to look at Rita as a means to an end. I know he doesn't feel emotions, but some semblance of caring for her would be nice. I felt like Rita deserved better than him at most points.

Anyway, while I felt bits of the book were lacking, I still really enjoyed it. I know not to read the books so close together, though-- the character exposition on people like Rita, Vince, etc. literally felt copy-and-pasted from the first book. It's usually how it goes with series, but it bothered me a bit here because there was almost no change in diction, nothing. At least try to find ways to vary your character descriptions, yeah?

Recommended to someone who loved the first book or the show (which I'm going to start watching soon; thank God for DVDs). Also recommended to someone who wants a unique perspective or who wants to test their ability to sympathize with an unconventional narrator.

In Which Trai Reviews 'Dear John'

Yet again, two delayed reviews.

The Book: Dear John

The Author: Nicholas Sparks

How I Found It: Saw it in a lot of bargain-book piles and thought the premise sounded good. Movie trailer reminded me I had it sitting in my TBR pile.

The Review: I read The Notebook earlier this year mostly because I wanted to know what the hype was about, and because I was curious about the movie, since I really like Rachel McAdams.

So I read it. And it was "ehh." You could tell it was a first novel-- I know it was supposed to be the story of Noah and Allie and nothing else, but seriously, Lon and Allie's mother felt like freaking wallpaper. They had no purpose other than to scream, "WE ARE HERE TO PROVIDE CONFLICT IN THE PLOT!"

Also, as I've said before, I felt the movie wasn't all that great and poorly acted. I don't understand the praise for all the dramatic scenes-- it just seemed melodramatic, period, to me.

Anyway, enough bitching about how this isn't going to be a glowing "I LOVED THE NOTEBOOK NICHOLAS SPARKS IS GOD" review.

That being said, I really liked Dear John a whole lot. It was depressing as hell, but it packed more of an emotional punch than The Notebook did, at least for me. I cared more about John than I did about Noah, and had the mixed feelings for Savannah that Sparks probably intended, or at least I hope he did. I still think he has issues with secondary characters-- Tim can join Lon as "secondary love interest wallpaper"-- but again, it's basically a two-person story and I could forgive it.

The story: John Tyree was a rebel who decided his life was going nowhere and joined the Army to get himself straightened out. His relationship with his father, whose world revolves around coin collecting, had become strained, and he felt he had few other options.

The Army is good for him-- he quits his bad habits and finds that he is good with the jobs the Army requires him to do. When he returns home for a brief leave, it is to a world his reformed self no longer belongs in.

He first meets Savannah Lynn Curtis when her purse with all her money falls into the ocean at the beach, and he rescues it for her. They strike up a friendship built on conversations and surfing lessons, and the relationship quickly grows into love.

They're about as opposite can be, but John promises to marry Savannah once his tour is over. Savannah promises to stay faithful, but as John's tour is about to end, 9/11 tears apart the world and John re-enlists. Savannah supports his decision with mixed feelings, and eventually sends him the "Dear John" letter with the devastating news she has found someone else, leaving John lost. Adrift from his father and with the love of his life gone, where else does he have to turn but the Army?

There's more to the story, but it's too much to get into here. The plot sounds cliche, but Sparks did things with it I wasn't expecting, especially the resolution between the sort of triangle formed between John, Savannah, and her husband (no spoilers here). Maybe it felt like hand-waving, but it was nicely done and I hadn't been expecting it.

The subplot with John's father was also touching and sad, and it made me cry more than The Notebook (the book; the movie didn't make me cry at all) did. I suppose at this stage of my life it's easier for me to connect to something involving a parent than a longtime spouse. Whatever the case, it was nicely handled and I liked seeing how John gradually learned to accept his father for what he was.

Watching the trailer, I see what looks like differences between the novel and the movie, and I'm hoping they don't take the Hollywood route like they did with The Notebook, punching up the drama and everything, and I'm worried they'll change the ending. Whatever the case, I think I'll like to see how they do it.

I did have a gripe with the book that bothers me whenever I encounter it. Can't a character choose to be a virgin/wait for the right person without some kind of sex-related trauma in his/her past? It bugs the hell out of me that Sparks took that route.

I really did think the book was emotional, well-done, and had two strong, well-drawn lead characters, and I'm at least curious to see the movie version. Liking this one so much led me to purchase The Lucky One, Sparks' other book with a sort of military theme, and I'll read that one sometime soon.

Recommended to someone looking for romantic fiction with a bit of emotional release involved.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter'

And now for something completely different...

The Book: Darkly Dreaming Dexter (first in the Dexter Morgan series)

The Author: Jeff Lindsay

How I Found It: Was intrigued by the premise of a moral serial killer. No Showtime, so I couldn't watch the show, but decided to read the books.

The Review: Wow. Wowowowowowowowowwwwww.

I can't remember being this freaking blown away or surprised by a book in such a long time. I'm not a mystery kind of girl-- I don't know why, I just never really got into them. I do enjoy Kay Hooper's Bishop/SCU series, and I've been meaning to read more Sherlock Holmes, but dear God did this book grab me by the hair and refuse to let me go.

Since the show's been around since 2006 and the books since 2004, you probably know some semblance of the plot, but let me 'splain, as Inigo Montoya would say. At the age of three, Dexter was taken in by Harry Morgan, a cop on the Miami police force, after a traumatic event Dexter cannot remember. When Dexter begins to show signs of sociopathy in his early teens, Harry teaches him to control his urges, driven by Dexter's mental "Dark Passenger," and channel them constructively: by killing those who deserve it, usually other serial killers, and especially the ones who kill children.

The book would start questionably for some: Dexter hides in the back of a priest's car, half-strangles him with piano wire, and forces him to drive to an abandoned house. You'd think a priest would be an unlikely serial killer, until we see he's killed seven children. Dexter gives him his just desserts, takes a drop of his blood to put on a microscope slide, and then goes on his merry way once he disposes of the body and the car.

Things get complicated when Dexter, a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami PD with a foster sister who's working Vice but wants desperately to get into Homicide, learns that another serial killer is terrorizing the area. A serial killer who does not share his moral code-- but does share Dexter's unique style, which he actually does better than Dexter himself. Dexter is torn between his desire to 'play' the killer's twisted game and his "loyalty" to his foster sister in her efforts to stop the killer and get her transfer to Homicide.

I won't say anything more, but I can't say enough about how much I loved this book. I'm actually a bit disturbed by enjoying a book about and narrated by a sociopath, but at least I don't feel guilty after seeing how many others have before me. I definitely have to tip my hat to Jeff Lindsay, who must've done a hell of a writing job in order to get us to like a serial killer. (Although I think I'm a pushover; I felt for Eric Stoltz during the Grey's Anatomy serial killer arc, and I think my mom started to question my sanity.)

The book was surprisingly original-- a really interesting take on the Rear Window/Disturbia-esque device of the serial-killer-next-door, except here we're supposed to be rooting for the serial killer. It's hard not to. Dexter is witty, does a pretty passable job at imitating human emotions, and kills the people we want to see die.

The one thing I could have done without, though I know it's necessary, was the constant motif of "politics" in the police force-- the proper things to do and not do, as Dexter constantly reminds his sister, Deborah. It got a little tiring after a while, I will admit, and it was a little strange that Dexter was always, always smarter than everyone else. The device of LaGuerta being a completely and utterly incompetent cop was stretched just a little bit too far in the end.

However, those small quibbles don't take away from one of the most original books I've read in recent years. I ran out and got Dearly Devoted Dexter before I even finished, because I knew I wouldn't regret it.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter is very, very, very highly recommended to anyone who's tired of cookie-cutter plots and characters, and anyone who enjoys dark comedy.

My next review, I'm not sure of. For something completely different from this, I might go with Dear John by Nicholas Sparks, since seeing the movie trailer reminded me I have the book sitting on my TBR pile. Until next time, dear readers!

In Which Trai Reviews 'Bright Star'

Reading many, many books for my English class here has backed up my reviewing time, as has my embarkation into the magical world of NaNoWriMo. Without further ado, two reviews for my pretty much non-existent followers!

The Book: Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne

The Author: John Keats

How I Found It: Saw the movie, had vague memories of analyzing "La belle dame sans merci", and decided to use Keats for a poetry presentation.

The Review: I am nothing if not a romantic. Seriously, it's pathetic how bad it is. (Though I will admit the movie of The Notebook didn't make me cry-- much as I love Rachel McAdams, it was poorly acted and written. The book did make me cry once, because Alzheimer's is just depressing.) Anyway, love stories are my thing.

Admittedly, I have no clue about Bright Star until I saw a banner advertising it on IMDb. My first reaction was "Pretty costumes! Period piece! Must go!" (Yes, that is my thought process.) I noticed it was about John Keats-- the lives of writers in a movie means it is also a must-see in my book, even if I know barely anything about them.

So I went, and I loved it. It was a beautiful movie, and hearing Ben Whishaw recite "La belle dame sans merci" with Abbie Cornish made me go, "I remember that one!" So I ordered the book and started reading.

Half of the book is Keats' love letters to Fanny Brawne, the girl he loved for three years until his tragic death at twenty-five of tuberculosis. The second half is the poems he wrote during the time he was with Brawne.

Admittedly, a lot of poetry goes over my head. I've tried writing it and most of what I have written in that respect is crap. I did enjoy the poems, but I definitely need to have Sparknotes or something-- the language and imagery is a bit difficult to decipher, at least for me. My mom and I just don't get poetry. However, the poems I could understand were very beautiful :)

The real standout for me in this collection were the love letters to Fanny. One of my favorite books, Possession by A.S. Byatt, involves two poets involved in an affair, and when the man is on his deathbed, he requests his wife burn his personal papers so that posterity never roots through his belongings in search of intimate information after his death, as was done to Dickens. In a similar manner, Fanny Brawne had the letters she wrote to Keats destroyed, though late in life she revealed the letters Keats had written to her.

I can't express how beautiful I thought the letters were. As tough to understand as his poetry might have been, the letters really spoke to me and I could understand them perfectly. Keats describes missing and loving Fanny in terms any of us can understand: "As far as they regard myself I can despise all events: but I cannot cease to love you" (Letter VI). There were about a million passages I loved and wished I could share with somebody. It might sound cliched, but Keats was a passionate man, and it really shows here. The letters were just amazing expressions of his love; it was really a shame he died so young, without a chance to marry her.

I now sound like a pathetic romantic, so I will end my review here. I recommend the book to anyone with a romantic heart, anyone who's interested in poetry from the time period, or anyone who's interested in Keats himself and hasn't yet seen the letters.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'One Tree Hill: The Beginning'

The Book: One Tree Hill: The Beginning

The Author: Jenny Markas

How I Found It: We've been through the whole "I love One Tree Hill as a guilty pleasure thing" already, yes? Good. Stop laughing.

The Review: All right, all right, so every once in a while I need a Brain Drain to clear my head. Midterms have passed and I just read the terribly upsetting Proof. This was short, quick, and fun, and after spending a bit exploring Babysitters Club Snark Fest, reading something way below my age level seemed like an appealing way to kill a few hours.

The last time I read a book based on a TV show would probably have to be tenth grade-ish. I loved Roswell and, before and after watching all three seasons, read both the books the TV show was based on and a large part of the ones written after (the three in the Loose Ends series, and five out of the eight books in the post-series ones). I freely admit that being a freshman in college makes me pathetic for reading books like this one, but whatever.

Okay. So. Rule #1 of TV novelizations is that they can be great, they can be out-of-character when it comes to the show, or the writer could just have no idea what the show's about in the first place. I think this one has a little bit of everything. Let me count the ways.

Part One of the book takes place in the summer between sophomore and junior years for the core five-- Nathan, golden boy son of Dan Scott, a former basketball player who also has another son Lucas, had illegitimately by his high school girlfriend Karen, who's crushed on by Dan's older brother Keith. Lucas' best friend is Haley, the one whose nickname I stole and who waitresses at Karen's cafe; Nathan's girlfriend is Peyton, an artist who lost her mom at an early age and as a result is Dark and Twisty; and Peyton's best friend since childhood is the ditzy (at first) Brooke, a rich girl who's pretty much the town bicycle at the show's start. Part Two is a prose version of the show's pilot, not the original content of the first half.

I'll summarize the original content half-- Lucas and Nathan both play basketball, Lucas by himself on the river court and Nathan whilst exercising in the off-season. Nathan and Peyton are together, at first in their more romantic phase and then where the show picks up, when they're having issues. (The more romantic phase part was actually cute to see, as Nathan does show Peyton in season four that there was a point where he really was into her.) Haley is working a minimum wage job at a local hot dog stand, and Brooke is involved with a college guy named Rusty.

There were definitely some parts of the book that made it clear the author hadn't seen enough of the show to really know the characters, and parts that made it obvious that OTH canon has been established over a long, long time (since 2003). Some things, like the whole subplot of Skills having an abusive stepdad and coming to live with Lucas, are invalidated by the fourth-season episodes that show Skills as having two very happily married parents. However, this novelization was written during the show's second season, so none of that was established yet.

However, some parts had glaringly obvious out-of-character errors. First off, Jake is mentioned twice-- once during the basketball game and once as part of the little bus joyride from the pilot. Where he's the one pouring the beers. Okay, I can deal with him not being mentioned much-- he didn't really become part of the show until mid-season one, and this is supposed to be the first episode. But mid-season one, which had already passed when this was written, establishes Jake as a responsible single teenage father who does not participate in this behavior! They even say in maybe the first five minutes of the pilot that he wasn't part of the bus thing, and it wasn't because his parents paid the cops off or anything! *steps down off soapbox*

Second, I had some issues with the way Brooke was portrayed. Brooke's a polarizing character-- you either love her or hate her. It's a little bit of both for me, depending on which season we're in. Anyway, I could deal with the author portraying her as drunk most of the time, as Brooke was supposed to be a huge party girl, at least in the beginning. But boy crazy as Brooke was, I don't think there's any way she would have gotten involved with an abusive boyfriend (Rusty). Brooke is the one who gave the otherwise-responsible Haley a lecture in season three when Haley and Nathan very unwisely had unprotected sex (that in all likelihood led to the conception of their son). I know some people paint her in an unflattering light, but I'd at least give the girl credit enough that she'd know when to get out of something like that. (Though Peyton attacking the guy after the hitting was definitely true to form.) Also, the part where Mouth held her after Rusty hit her at the carnival? Mouth was supposed to have a crush on her, but I don't think that would've happened.

Third, the party scene definitely showed the writer hadn't paid much attention. A couple reviewers have pointed out that Lucas and Haley only see Nathan's place at a party for the first time in early season one, specifically 1x06. So them going to a party at Nathan's house was wrong, as was Lucas (allegedly) talking to/getting near Peyton at the party. But the least believable part was Dan calling Keith and Whitey to break up the party before the cops came-- no way in hell would Whitey hide the evidence of underage drinking, he who condemns the players for the bus incident later on. And no way in hell would Keith help!

Okay, this is becoming a tiny bit of a rant. Anyway, parts of it were good, but some parts were glaring instances of Did Not Do The Research. Also, the way the characters were portrayed in the original half was at odds sometimes with the way they acted in the half taken from the pilot. (Also, Brooke wasn't even in the pilot, so the couple parts where they mentioned her as part of the action were inaccurate.)

It was good, but it could have been better had one of the actual writers of the show taken the reigns. Parts were cutesy, parts were "... ummm..." Recommended to fans of the show who don't mind a couple inaccuracies here and there (I did enjoy it despite the flaws, and it only took me about two hours or so to read). It's good for those of us who sorta miss the old days now that Lucas and Peyton were Put On a Bus (or, more specifically, Put In The Comet).

Friday, October 16, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Proof: A Play'

The Book: Proof: A Play

The Author: David Auburn

How I Found It: Knew vaguely of the movie, but was assigned a scene to perform in acting class as the character Catherine that made me cry when I acted it in front of the class.

The Review: To start off: I am not good with math. Numbers bug me, math escapes me, and this inability to do math makes me suck at science. The closest I will ever get to being a math or science geek is watching The Big Bang Theory every Monday.

I think that was what initially drove me away from the movie of the play-- all I knew was that the main character was a daughter of a famous mathematician and no siree Bob was I spending more time with math than I had to.

However, I'm glad I shied away from seeing the movie when I was fourteen or so-- I don't know if I would have liked it then, and that would have deprived me of the beautiful, beautiful experience of reading this play.

The play has only four characters and a very minimal set: the entirety of the action takes place on the back porch of an old house at varying times. The four characters are Robert, a brilliant but bipolar mathematician who passes away before the play begins; Catherine, his youngest daughter everyone believes may have inherited his disorder; Claire, her older sister who wants Catherine to come live with her just in case she is unstable; and Hal, a former student of Robert's who wishes to look through the 103 notebooks Robert left behind.

When the play starts, Catherine is shaken by what could be a dream or hallucination of her dead father, something the hallucination Robert warns could be a sign of bipolar disorder. Hal wakes her to tell her he's done looking through Robert's workspace, but that he believes there could be something important in the notebooks. Catherine accuses him of wishing to pass off her father's work as his own, but Hal vehemently denies the claims and even tries hitting on her. Things escalate until Catherine finds that Hal did take a notebook-- but the one in which Robert wrote about her during a lucid period. (Trust me, this is only the first scene in the play that made me cry.)

The play is so much more than the first scene, but I don't want to give anything away. I haven't read very many plays, but I think that this one has become my favorite-- even surpassing The Laramie Project, a beautiful work I still believe everyone should read. Laramie drew me to tears three times; Proof did at least five. The two flashback scenes in particular are absolutely heartbreaking. My mother felt worst for Catherine throughout the movie, but for me it was Robert, who wants desperately to believe he is lucid and working in the flashbacks, but instead learns the opposite.

This play had me at hello; from the moment I read the scene in acting class, I was dying to read the rest. I read it this afternoon in probably less than an hour or so; I know I'm going to read it many times after this. Don't let the math scare you; it's not as much a part of the play as you'd think. I agree with a reviewer who said that this play is for anybody who has ever been passionate about something-- for me, it's my writing, and I could perfectly understand the emotions of the characters. This is not a play about math; it is a play about human interactions, and it is a play about love.

I recommend this wholeheartedly to anyone who wants to read a gorgeous, perfectly done play (it even won the Pulitzer). And to anyone who needs a good cry.

Friday, October 2, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'On the Origin of PCs'

The Book: On the Origin of PCs

The Author (And Illustrator): Rich Burlew

How I Found It: Carrie Vaughn plugged the online strip in a blog entry. I spent the entire weekend glued to the archives. I've been caught up since the summer and ordered this book-exclusive prequel.

The Review: I don't play Dungeons and Dragons, but I do enjoy epic fantasy stories a whole lot, and I'm game for parodies of the things I love. I started reading the comic as a way to kill time, but I soon found myself absorbed in how it took on the cliches of epic stories and roleplaying games.

The basics of OOTS is that it follows the exploits of six adventurers, The Order of the Stick, on their quest to defeat Xykon, a "lich". The Order consists of Roy, a Fighter with an MBA, whose father's Blood Oath is what leads to the quest to destroy Xykon in the first place; Haley, a Rogue who acts as the second-in-command; Elan, an annoyingly peppy and slightly dimwitted Bard; Durkon, a Dwarf Cleric who's been with Roy the longest of all and is convinced trees are out to destroy us all; Vaarsuvius, an androgynous Elf obsessed with arcane power; and Belkar, a Halfling Ranger who's pretty much psychotic.

They're a ragtag bunch, but they're wildly funny. Burlew made this book to explain their backstory, and though it's short, he does a great job of keeping the backstory true to the characters. We learn how Haley abandoned the thieves' guild, how Roy came to take his father's challenge of defeating Xykon, why Durkon left the Dwarven lands, just why Belkar joined the Order, how dense Elan could truly be, and how Vaarsuvius was still ranting away prior to joining the Order.

My only complaints about the book are that I wish it was longer, and that I'm STILL waiting on an explanation of why Haley and Vaarsuvius are so close.

Anyway, if you're a fan of the series, it's definitely worth a read, even though I'm late to the OOTS bandwagon and most have read it already. But if you've never read the comic, I have to agree with Mr. Burlew and say read the online strip first-- Origin of PCs will be so much funnier when you know the little jokes, such as an ink blot covering Vaarsuvius' answer about his gender. ('He' is just an arbitrarily assigned pronoun-- what I believe V is. Word of God states that just like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world will never know.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Joy in the Morning'

The Book: Joy in the Morning

The Author: Betty Smith

How I Found It: Probably through looking up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and seeing it was one of the author's other works.

The Review: A lot of the time, I like stories about the little things. I like books a lot of people would consider boring. Stories about people just living their lives are of great interest to me, and I believe I've already stated I'm kind of a romantic.

I read that Joy in the Morning was a cute story about a couple's first year of marriage in the 1920s, and thought it sounded interesting. I've read that it is usually found lacking when read after A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, so I decided to read it first. After doing so, I'm really eager to read Tree.

The story follows Carl and Annie Brown. They are both from Brooklyn; Carl is about two years older. They have been dating for a few years when Annie decides to travel from Brooklyn to the Midwest, where Carl attends law school, to marry him on her eighteenth birthday. This impulsive decision is not looked upon kindly: Carl's mother cuts him off; Annie's mother constantly rubs it in how Annie has hurt her. Both imply that Carl has been forced into the situation by a possible pregnancy, an insinuation which hurts Annie.

But Annie is indomitable, determined not to let anyone get her down, and so she and Carl embark on married life with their love and little money to support them. Carl struggles through school and work; Annie finds that her large amounts of reading make her well-suited to be a writer, especially a playwright. They face many hardships and unexpected obstacles, but they always manage to stay strong and together in the face of these conflicts.

I loved, loved, loved this little story. It put a smile on my face through a very long bus ride, and I laughed a good couple times. I could definitely relate to Annie's love of books and her desire to be a writer. What I liked most was that this story really was about getting married young. It didn't fall into the normal pitfalls-- Carl was not an abusive jerk; they do stay together; and even if Carl is smarter than Annie, he is very patient with her and helps her understand things she does not. He treated her just the way a good husband should have, and I was pleased to see the author did not just throw in cheap drama the way many young-married-couple stories do today.

I will have to read Tree Grows in Brooklyn just to see if the author can capture my heart a second time; I'm pretty sure Joy has become a favorite of mine. To anyone who likes stories about life, or about enduring love, this is a great one.

Friday, September 25, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Awakening'

Second review I meant to post... This book not to be confused with Kate Chopin's The Awakening (also a very good book).

The Book: The Awakening (Book #2 in the DARKEST POWERS series)

The Author: Kelley Armstrong, author of the dark fantasy series WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD

How I Found It: Read the first novel, The Summoning, to which this is a sequel. Before that, I've been a fan of her work since I was fourteen (eighteen now).

The Review: As mentioned above, I started reading Kelley Armstrong's books when I was fourteen years old-- perhaps a little young for the content, but in my defense, I started with Haunted, the least sexually explicit of the Otherworld books. (Yes, my mother knew what I was reading and gave me permission... she apparently read worse at that age.)

Since around 2007, I became a lapsed fan of the Otherworld series; with the advent of the seventh book, No Humans Involved, the series went hardcover. Besides my adversity to hardcovers (I just don't like them), they're very expensive, so I waited for the paperbacks. I got NHI when it came out in paperback, but didn't get around to reading it. On the eve of my departure for college, I noticed Kelley's first YA effort, The Summoning, on a Border's display table and bought it on impulse, bringing that and NHI with me to college.

Earlier this month, I pulled a NHI/Summoning double feature, reading them back-to-back. I wasn't sure how Armstrong's universe would translate to YA, but I was pleasantly surprised. I don't know how many people who read her YA are familiar with the Otherworld books, but for me, it was slightly suspense-killing since I knew the "surprise" of what each person was.

Regardless, I got pretty sucked into the story, and I was very glad to read The Awakening to see where it went. Armstrong writes YA just as convincingly as she writes adult books, and Chloe is a very likeable narrator.

Chloe is also a budding filmmaker, meaning she is what TV Tropes would call genre savvy. That is, she knows all the pitfalls of the normal heroine in movies and books, lampshades them, and avoids them as much as she can. This makes her a smart and fun narrator to stick with-- since she avoids the normal conventions, it's great to see what she'll do next.

Granted, the plot and characters of the first two books of the trilogy aren't too original. I figured out a good many things before the characters did; certain tropes are pretty old hat. But at the same time, cliche as some characters may have been, they were characterized very well, and I enjoyed spending time with them. I thought Armstrong's use of Simon's drawings as coded messages was particularly original-- a ghost, a Terminator, and a lightning bolt translates to "Chloe, I'll be back, Simon." It was a cute touch I really enjoyed.

The first book was about the secrets of Lyle House, what the characters were, and how to get out. This second book was mostly about the search for Simon and Derek's dad and the setbacks along the way. Again, not terribly original, but it is Armstrong's gift that she can make even the most unoriginal plot great fun to read about.

Otherworld fans might miss the familiar faces-- I'm waiting for Jaime to pop up and mentor Chloe-- but once you get past that, these are quick, engaging YA reads that are much, much better than the Twilight junk floating around. Want your kid/friend/partner to read good fantasy? Tell them to read this.

In Which Trai Reviews 'Agnes Grey'

Trai is a complete loser who doesn't update even when she has the time. Belatedly, the first review I neglected to give!

The Book: Agnes Grey

The Author: Anne Bronte

How I Found It: Read about Anne being the forgotten/ignored Bronte sister and decided to read her books (Tenant of Wildfell Hall is on the TBR pile).

The Review: Poor, poor Anne Bronte. I feel like she's gotten an unfair reputation as the forgotten sister, which leads to conclusions that she's not as good a writer as her sisters Charlotte and Emily. I refute this unfortunate preconception. In fact, now having read a book by each Bronte sister, Anne has earned my respect more fully than Charlotte or Emily.

Agnes Grey is based partially on Anne's experiences as a governess. Allegedly, her charges were so unruly that she tied them to a table leg for the space to write, which led to her firing. Being a governess was an awkward position-- above a servant, but below the people being served.

It is this awkwardness that is depicted in Agnes Grey. Agnes' family's financial difficulties lead to Agnes telling her family she will seek work as a governess. Her family, believing she was almost too delicate for the outside world, has sheltered her all her life, and try actively to dissuade her from becoming a governess. But Anne is determined, and obtains a job working with the Bloomfields.

With the Bloomfields and later the Murrays, Agnes is treated terribly. She is reprimanded for being unable to control her impossible charges, for not being able to teach those unwilling to learn. Through it all, the only thing that gets Agnes through is her sense of (rightly) being above her employers spiritually and mentally.

As with Jane Eyre, there is romance involved in the story, but it is not as big a figure as it is in Jane Eyre. If I recall, my copy of Eyre was around 565 pages; Agnes Grey came in at 198. It was a simpler story, but that does not diminish its quality. Agnes Grey was a sort of 19th-century Nanny Diaries (yes, I like it, shut up). The romance is secondary to Agnes' daily life as a governess struggling to cope with the indignities of her work. But never fear, a happy ending is in store.

Though Anne was the most religious of the sisters and religion certainly played a part here, I felt it really wasn't as overt as it was in Jane Eyre, where it sometimes became tedious. Agnes Grey is also definitely more realistic than, say, Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. There's no "hey, my wife burned down my manor and I'm blind so let's get married!" or "marry your first cousin and all will be well" resolution to this one. A simple resolution to a simple, well-drawn story.

Highly recommended to those who wish to read the work of the less-famous sister of Charlotte and Emily, or anyone who just wants to read a good, lesser-known classic.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Guensey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society'

The Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

How I Found It: My high school librarian mentioned it during a book club meeting and it stuck in my mind.

The Review: I will start off by saying that PaperbackSwap is one of the best inventions ever, ever known to man. In short, you trade your books with club members in order to obtain their books and have them sent to you.

I've been a member for two years and have mainly sent off books from my childhood that, while I enjoyed, I could no longer get use out of. I really liked seeing where my books were going-- I've even sent some to Alaska and Hawaii. And I've really enjoyed the thanks I get from the people who get them, especially when I'm told their daughter will love the book, etc.

I suppose it is appropriate that I obtained my copy of Guernsey through PaperbackSwap, as the plot of the novel begins in 1946 when a Guernsey man writes to a woman whose used book he owns. His name is Dawsey and hers is Juliet; the book is by Charles Lamb. Dawsey does not know Juliet, but on finding her address in the front of her book, he writes to her asking if she can direct him to Charles Lamb's other writings. He also (tantalizingly, to Juliet and the reader) mentions the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Juliet marvels at how her beloved copy of the book wound up in just the right hands, something I have often done when I send out my own books to their new homes. I love sending books I loved out to people who will enjoy them, too. For me, the journey usually ends with a thanks from the recipient. For Juliet, she is brought into the lives of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

They are a very distinct bunch of characters and I am delighted that Shaffer (the primary writer of the book; her niece, Barrows, took over when Shaffer became ill and passed away) could create characters with such unique voices. I've read many a book where each character sounds exactly the same. But no, these characters are like old friends whose personalities you know as well as your own. I was a little bit in love with every character.

I laughed a lot and also cried. The subject matter, often dealing with World War II and the German occupation of Guernsey, is not an easy one to write about, never mind in a book that has so much levity. But it was pulled off well and I was very pleased with its portraits of strong women. Though Juliet is the narrator, the heart of the book is the story of Elizabeth, the woman who came up with the lie that eventually became the Society.

I enjoyed how each author connected to a character (Isola and her Bronte fascination was funniest). I was surprised Austen didn't get mentioned until late in the game, but when she did, it was funny enough that it paid off. A book about reading is hard to do, I think-- after all, what if the reader doesn't like yours?-- but this one came off so well. If ever the Jane Austen Book Club and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society were to fight over me for membership, I'm not sure which I would join.

Very highly recommended to anyone who loves to read. A quick, funny, but also sad read about some fascinating characters and the books they love.

Monday, September 7, 2009

In Which Trai Describes Herself At Length

Hi all!

I've just decided to start a blog based on one of my favorite activities-- reading. It's just what I do. I also love to write fiction and dark fantasy in addition to book reviews. I like sharing my thoughts about the books I read, and I also enjoy reading other people's blogging about their reading experiences. So maybe I should start one of my own.

My name around the Interwebs is Trai. It's what my friends call me and what you can call me, too. I've also adopted the moniker of Tutor Girl around the internet.

Why Tutor Girl?

Last summer, a friend of mine dragged me into a little show called One Tree Hill. At first I found a character named Haley kind of annoying. But time passed and I came to realize something-- Haley is scarily like me. She's a good student who's passionate about English and about tutoring, so much so that Brooke, another character, nicknames her "Tutor Girl." Haley later becomes an English teacher.

I'm not going to be a teacher-- I'm drawn more towards editing-- and I'm not yet a tutor, though I'm hoping to become a writing tutor here at my college next year. But in the meantime, I adopted Haley's nickname as my own. I even have it on a sweatshirt. Because I'm antisocial and do not wish to show a picture of myself, the picture I have in my user profile is of Haley/Bethany Joy Galeotti.

What do I read?

Since I'm starting a reading blog, you're probably wondering what the heck I read anyway.

To start this off right away: I hate Twilight with a burning passion. In fact, probably every book I may review in the future that involves vampires will include a list of Reasons Said Vampire Is Better Than Edward. From my standpoint, Edward is abusive and Bella is the least empowering heroine I could ever imagine.

Yes, I have read the book, but only because I was forced to. I have not read any of the sequels.

Anyway. *steps down from soapbox* When I was in third grade, I got into Harry Potter and subsequently into other fantasy series, such as Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials. When I was in eighth grade, Kelley Armstrong's Haunted introduced me to dark/urban fantasy, which I avidly followed for a couple years. I lapsed into a fiction phase for about two years, only following one dark fantasy author (the wonderful, wonderful Carrie Vaughn), but I have recently started to follow my old favorite dark fantasy series again, while staying in keeping with fiction.

My two favorite authors of yesteryear are Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott, and my two favorite contemporary authors are Tiffanie deBartolo and the aforementioned Carrie Vaughn (author of the Kitty Norville series).

You will probably be reading lots of reviews of fiction. I really enjoy love stories, though I'm not really into "romance" novels. Books relating to my favorite authors are always fun reads-- I have a couple books lined up that fictionalize Jane Austen's life, as well as sequels to Jane Austen's novels. (Jane Austen's pretty much going to be a fixture here.)

Since I've gotten back into urban fantasy, expect reviews of Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, and any other authors I might find along the way.

I might review movies in comparison to their books. I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to faithfulness.

I think I've rambled on enough. My first review will probably be of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Read on,