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,