Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Battle of the Sexes: Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Shut OutThe battle of the sexes is a theme going back a long time in literature and in her sophomore novel Kody Keplinger draws on one of the classic examples: Aristophanes' Lysistrata.  In this Greek comedy, Lysistrata gathers together the women of the warring cities Athens and Sparta and convinces them to withhold sex from their husbands until a peace treaty is signed.  Keplinger transplants this situation from ancient Greece to high school in small town America, creating a funny romantic comedy that also takes a very honest look at the conflicting and confusing messages young women and men receive about sex today.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In My Mailbox #8

IMM is a fantastic meme in which bloggers list the books that they received over the last week via mail/bookstore/library.  It's hosted by the lovely Story Siren over at her awesome blog and you can go here to get more info about joining in!

The books in this week's In My Mailbox actually came in mail a couple weeks ago.  I signed up to get a bunch of ARCs at the Little Brown booth at ALA Annual in June and somewhat forgot about it.  Then a box full of beautiful ARCs showed at my doorstep and here are a few of them!
Hope everyone has a lovely book-filled week! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Love In A Controlled Climate: Matched and Crossed by Ally Condie

Sometime I wish my life were more predictable.  For example when I wasn't sure if my grad school plans were going to work out or if I'd get a job after graduation, the appeal of a more securely planned future definitely appealed to me.  Predictability is comforting for us; at times, having our lives planned out for us based on science and research sounds great.  The plethora of dating websites promising better romantic partnerships based on proven matching systems illustrates the appeal of this general idea. 

But where does this comforting predictability cross the line into a sinister disappearance of individual choice? 

Monday, August 8, 2011

From Page to Screen: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

So here is my first try at a new occasional feature for this blog: short discussions comparing and analyzing books and their movie adaptations.  When I go to see a film based on a book that I read and enjoyed, I am nearly always full of apprehension.  As this blog might illustrate, I feel pretty passionately about novels I love.  So I tend to be somewhat, well, picky and judgmental about the film adaptations of these books.  

As my long-suffering friends could tell you, I have a long history of dissatisfaction with the Harry Potter movies, both as films and as adaptations of the books.  So I entered the movie theatre this past fall with pretty low expectations for Deathly Hallows, Part 1.  However, I was pleasantly surprised; overall, the movie captured the tone of the book as well as the bulk of the actual plot.  So this July I actually the most excited I've been for a Harry Potter in quite a while.  I checked the DVD of Part 1 out of the library to watch in preparation and relistened to several of the last few chapters on my trusty audiobook version of HP7.

For the first half hour or so, I was not disappointed.  The Gringotts scenes and escape via dragon were great: exciting and dangerous while also touching on the sudden moral questions facing Harry, Ron, and Hermione in their pursuit of the Horcruxes.  But then our heroes arrived back at Hogwarts and the film deviates from the book in ways that gave me pause.

When I go to watch a movie adaptation of a novel, I expect a certain number of alterations or cuts; the mediums are very different and so the way a story is told will be different in each.  The kind of changes from book to movie that I take issue with are those that alter the tone or characters significantly or that overly simplify or complicate plot points.  Deathly Hallows, Part 2 makes a few of just these kind of alterations.  

The first issue I had with this adaptation was the portrayal of the current situation at Hogwarts and of the reaction of the Hogwarts community to an oncoming external attack.  In the novel, we learn that Hogwarts has become a kind of prison for wizarding children; parents are being kept in check by the threat of harm to their children and in turn the children are kept in check by harsh rules and punishments that amount to torture.  Neville, Ginny, and Luna have been heading a resistance amongst the students, which has been whittled down as members (such as Ginny and Luna) disappear and punishments have gotten progressively more sadistic.  When the trio returns, Neville has been forced to guide the resistance further underground and literally into hiding within the walls of the castle.  The Room of Requirement has become a combination clubhouse, secret headquarters, and refuge; the rebellious students are living there, off the grid.  In the film, the Room appears just as described in the book with the house banners and hammocks.  However, five minutes after showing their hideaway, the film flashes to a scene in the Great Hall, where all the supposedly exiled students are gathered with the general student populace.  If they are still openly participating in school events, why does it appear that they are living in the Room?  But it is the contents of this particular meeting that bothered me most.  In the novel, when McGonagall learns from Harry that Voldemort is on his way to Hogwarts, she immediately implements a plan--a plan whose basics look to have been in place for a long time.  In contrast, the film's portrayal shows the group to be far less organized--and far less fair.  During the large meeting scene in which Snape is kicked out by McGonagall, the Transfiguration professor also sends the Slytherins to the dungeons--a move that is, to me, utterly out of character.  

This small moment likely seems minor to most film viewers.  And most people probably think I'm crazy for being so perturbed by it.  However, I find this sort of change to be careless in the worst way: it implies certain things about that character and the defending army of teachers, students, and Order members that directly conflict with their portrayals in the book.  McGonagall is an admirable character because she works so hard to act fairly towards her students; she avoids favoritism and generally does not allow her politics or feelings affect her role as a teacher.  This little moment in the film conflicted completely with her character as portrayed for all seven volumes of the series.  Additionally, the underage students are never sent out; in the books it is made clear that the students who remain to fight in the battle are (mostly) over 17 years old and all are there voluntarily.  Again, a tiny error that bothers a picky viewer like me :) 

But I have to agree with the majority of other viewers: overall the film's last half was quite epic and thrilling.  I felt that the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort was a little drawn out and actually less dramatic that the way it was structured in the novel.  However, in general, I left the theatre generally pleased--but also with an increased urge to complete my re-listening to the audiobook of the original ;)  And to read some fan essays while jamming to some fabulous wizard rock.  After all, Harry Potter is only over when we fans say it's over, my friends. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book Bites: Keeping Reviews Short and Sweet

I can read fast, especially given extra chunks of free reading time.  However, I do not blog fast. I am still learning how to write up reviews and posts well and within a personal timeline; completing my master's degree in a year did not help matters.  This summer when my homework reading load was down but my work hours were up, I found that I could get back into my more normal pattern of reading at least one to three or more books a week (depending on the book's length and level of interest).  But I could not seem to make my blogging keep up with my reading.  

I thought of the one-minute book talk assignment I had done earlier this year in my children's resources class: could I do the same thing in a blog post and cover a few books all at once? Around the same time that this idea occurred to me, I noticed that the fabulous blogger and librarian GreenBeanTeenQueen had begun doing something similar, calling them 'Flash Reviews.'  So I was inspired by these two ideas to come up with my own new occasional blog feature: Book Bites.  Here's the first edition, a general hodgepodge of titles I read over the past few months.

Rapunzel's RevengeCalamity JackRapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack 
by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale 5/5 STARS

What happens when you combine a feisty heroine with super-powered hair and attitude, a well-meaning trickster, a classically cruel villain, and a magically enhanced Wild West? A rollicking and absolutely delightful adventure, that's what! I love fairytale reboots and this pair of companion graphic novels are now two of my all time favorites.  Shannon and Dean Hale create a fantastical world full of magic and adventure, brought to life by Nathan Hale's bright, active, and elegant illustrations.  Rapunzel and Jack are wonderful characters and I was thrilled to follow them on their personal quests for justice.

Suite Scarlett  Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
  4/5 STARS

Scarlett Martin's life sounds like quirky but popular movie: she grew up in the Hopewell Hotel in the center of NYC with her parents and three siblings, Spencer, Lola, and Marlene.  But so far, the summer of her fifteenth birthday is looking to be far from cinematic: the hotel is falling apart--and so are the Martins.  Between her siblings' problems, a bizarre new guest, and a gorgeous young actor, Scarlett's summer suddenly turns into a wild adventure full of enough drama, subterfuge, and romance to fill several Broadway plays. And like Scarlett, I was thrilled go along for the ride! A classic Maureen Johnson adventure: quirky and madcap with well-drawn characters and delightfully witty writing.     

My Invented Life My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman   
3.5/5 STARS

Sisters Eva and Roz have always been in competition but they have also always been incredibly close.  But out of nowhere, Eva cuts Roz out of her life and Roz cannot figure out why. So Roz, for whom all the world is truly a stage, is determined to discover the secrets her sister is keeping from her with a dramatic plot worthy of the Bard himself.  Bjorkman's debut novel takes its inspiration from Shakespeare's 'As You Like It,' one of my favorite plays, and it takes the vitality of that story and applies it to the twenty-first century's diverse world of love.  I'm always looking for novels that present a more flexible and fluid picture of sexuality and this one does so wonderfully.
How To Say Goodbye In Robot How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
 4.5/5 STARS

Bea AKA Robot Girl meets Jonah AKA Ghost Boy through the public school system's obsession with alphabetic order.  Despite Jonah's resistance, the two form a unique and deep friendship based on a shared affinity for late-night radio shows and an overwhelming sense of alienation.  As they alternatively heal and push each other away, Bea and Jonah develop a relationship that isn't quite a romance but is definitely full of love.  This story of the deep connection between two people searching for meaning in a confusing world is as lovely and quirky as its excellently drawn characters.  A beautiful book about the complex world of an intense, true friendship.