Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is an amazing writer with a special talent of adding a little magic to the everyday. It's what makes you identify with her stories and care about her characters, even when things take a slightly fantastic turn.

In The Probable Future, we're introduced to the Sparrow Family, a line of women who receive a unique gift upon their 13th birthday. This gift, a special ability, seems to suit the recipient well, yet often leads to trouble when integrated into the outside world.

This is especially true for Stella, the youngest Sparrow, who's able to see how some people will die. Her desire to save people, coupled with this gift gets her into trouble, puts her dad in jail, and sets in motion the entire book.

Forced to leave her home in Boston, Stella is taken back to her mom's home town and a grandmother she's never met. The matriarch, Elinor, knows when you're lying. Jenny, Stella's mom, experiences other people's dreams alongside them. All three women end up at Cake House, in Unity, Mass., a town built upon the horrible death of a Sparrow ancestor, who couldn't feel pain.

It's a broken town, symbolized by the ancient, dying tree in the center square. Full of people who don't have what they need most, the rejoining of the Sparrow women helps transform the town. Inhabitants learn that destiny isn't something set in stone, that you have to take control of your own future to change it, and that sometimes, a very clear prediction is wrong.

If I could have read this whole book through in a single sitting, I would have. I loved everything about it: the New England backdrop, the depth of history, the complexity of emotions. Each character learns something so valuable by the end of the story - you feel proud to have seen into a little bit of their lives. In true Hoffman fashion, those who feel lost find their way, even if the path curved in some unexpected directions.

Read this. Read lots of Hoffman.

Other Alice Hoffman books reviewed on this site:

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time - The Graphic Novel Adapted and Illustrated by Hope Larson

Let me just preface this review by saying A Wrinkle in Time was the quintessential book of my childhood. My mom would take me to the library on a regular basis in elementary school and I would only check out one of two, or both, books, and this was one of them. I have no idea how many times I've read it, but it opened the door into sci-fi and fantasy books for me and taught me that smart stories could be the most entertaining.

It was very appealing to me to see this story adapted into a graphic novel because I felt that it would bring the story to a whole other world of readers, namely my almost eight-year-old daughter, who prefers graphic novels to traditional novels at this stage. Of course, I had to read it first. I hope that one day she picks it up herself and falls as much in love with Meg and this story as I did (and then maybe wants to read the other three books related to the family.)

I found the art to be perfectly complimentary to the story. Pitting a simple, two-color design, against a story riddled with complex emotions, advanced physics, and the idea of time travel brought an added level of accessibility into the story that would have probably been beneficial to my childhood self the very first time I read the book. There is a lot of abstract thinking required to get through L'Engle books, so illustrations definitely help. I really enjoyed seeing the characters and experiencing their emotions through the pictures as well as through the text.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, I'm just going to tell you to read the book. It doesn't matter how old you are, this is an exciting and powerful story, rooted in family and devotion and the power of the personal connection. It honors people who are a little different, feel a little out of place in a unique and significant way, and it makes science and math accessible.

The only thing would drive me to suggest the full novel over the graphic version is how the ending plays out. Possibly due to the format of a graphic novel, the ending of the story felt less powerful reading it in this version. That could easily just be a result of my familiarity with the story overall, but, in my opinion, everything builds up a little higher in the novel. That isn't to say you get any less story in this version though, and the quickness of a graphic novel read is always nice, so really the choice of where to go to get into this story is up to you, but don't miss out and do more than just watch the movie.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

scrappy little nobody by Anna Kendrick

Disclaimer: Don't hate on my lack of title capitalization. The author didn't capitalize the book title, so neither am I.

Most likely, I'm drawn to Anna Kendrick because we're both snarky, smaller girls that don't necessarily follow convention. I always found that being a small, "cute" girl inevitably led people to assume I was a timid, quiet girl too, someone who would easily meld into the background. Not true! To create a more memorable presence for myself, and eventually to get the attention of boys, I got loud. I also developed the habit of saying whatever was most unexpected, so it was often something crude, definitely never anything cute. Seeing a kindred spirit in Kendrick, I had to check her essays out.

Now, that's an important point to make about this book. It's not a memoir, it's a collection of personal essays, which is not for everyone. While they flow in chronological order, they're only a select assortment of stories. Kendrick isn't giving you the whole picture, just bits and pieces from her childhood, her early career, the big move to LA, and her rise to celebrity. And, like the flow of time in her stories, Kendrick's writing matures as the book goes on and Kendrick becomes more insightful and more poignant. (You should really also be a Kendrick fan if you're going to take the time to get "know her.")

A great storyteller, the moments from her life Kendrick shares focus on the unconventional or not often talked about aspects of a common situation like first relationships or living on your own. She gives you insight into her life by avoiding the mundane and the stories we all have. She shares what makes her unique, and in doing so reveals her amazing desire to succeed at having an acting career - celebrity or not.

While a little self-deprecating at times, Kendrick is a wonderfully driven individual who uses humor and her natural lackadaisical approach to certain pieces of her life (like award shows) to entertain through her writing. While I disagree with the Elle quote on the book cover that her wit is "fearsome," I would say it's fearless.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Armada by Ernest Cline

Let me preface this by saying that I love authors who go retro in any way, especially since going retro these days means diving into 80's and early 90's culture, also known as my childhood. Ready Player One moved both forward and backward at the same time with it's combination of a dystopian future and a preference for the "old school," and Armada attempts to do the same by combing a love for traditional arcade video games with the possibility of a real space invasion.

The difference, though, between these two books is that Ready Player One takes you on journey that's a slow build. Armada happens fast, quickly jumping from an introduction to our main character, Zack Lightman, to an array of fast-moving action and dire situations. This means very few other characters beside Zack can build any momentum on their own. Everyone else in the book is tied to Zack - what they do for him or with him. What they say to Zack and what he sees of their actions crafts the entire story. With everything coming at you so fast from a singular perspective, some of the zing is definitely taken out of the story.

And it's such a fun story (but not a new one.) The idea that video games are really just simulators preparing the people of Earth to fight against insurmountable odds - how can it not be fun? Throw in an homage to old rock n' roll and traditional video arcades and you're putting people into nostalgia heaven. Watch out for the ending though. It's a little Spielberg-esque (everything wraps up a bit too neatly.)

All that being said, I think the best thing about this book is how the characters respond to making the wrong decisions. Guilt, denial, remorse - these emotions within the book feel very real and bring down the fantastical aspects of the plot, which I believe does the book good.

It's not going to be the best book you've ever read, and it won't meet your expectations if you think it's going be like Ready Player One, but it's an enjoyable adventure story that also has space travel in it, and a few unexpected surprises.

Also by Ernest Cline