Odd Shelf: Code Name Verity

Since I am poor, a lot of my reading occurs via library access. I currently have cards for two public libraries (technically three, if you count my hometown two hours away) and my university library. I HAVE WAITED TWO MONTHS ON THREE WAITLISTS TO READ THIS BOOK.

And I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

codenameverity

This is why, I’m telling you, word of mouth is still the most viable marketing strategy and the only way to truly succeed with word of mouth is to have a good book.

Let me explain. The book is set in WWII–and I do not care for war books. There are no speculative elements (le’sigh) and the primary relationship occurs between two best girl friends. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what usually suits my fancy. But I was told it was a good book–I heard the name buzzing constantly among my literary circles–so by darn, I read it.

And it was so great. A book can be about anything, and if it’s well written, I will love it.

My primary personal attachment is to one of the main characters, Verity, who I so deeply admired I wished she was real so she could be one of my heroes. I suppose she still can be. (How troubling is it, on a psychological standpoint, to have fictional heroes??)

A brief summary: Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and adds in details of her life as a war prisoner.

So–while it was very well researched, the war details were uninteresting to me, but the story held weight for the beauty of its characters. The formatting is clever, without being gimmicky. And sentences, some lovely, lovely sentences.

It receives my full recommendation, as does everything I bother to post here.

Odd Shelf: Ready Player One

I consider myself a mid-level geek. I like science fiction and fantasy and anime and Saturday morning cartoons. But in the hardcore realms of fandom, I would be considered an outsider. I only know what the show tells me, not additional trivia given by the probably-overweight-and-bearded creator. I will become emotionally involved watching The Return of the King, but I won’t dress up as an elf to go to the midnight showing.

But even on mid-level geekdom, I still enjoyed Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.

readyplayerone

It is, as Amazon says, “part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots.” Wade Watts—who is of course young, orphaned and destined for greatness!—lives in the slums of 2044. The OASIS is a giant virtual reality world, the new internet. James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS, dies and leaves an Easter Egg in the vast realm of the OASIS. Whoever finds it wins his multi-billion dollar estate.

So, what we have here is the typical quest, but because it’s set in a virtual world, basically anything is possible, without too much explanation. Hence, it can be jam-packed with pop culture. And is. More than once, I found myself skipping over entire pages of reference to get back to the action. But I do this with Tolkien too, skipping over the history of such-and-such forest so I can return to the storyline. Like I said—only a mid-level geek here.

But the story, outside of the pop culture, is still adventurous and fun. And I really liked Wade.

So—as someone who only caught 20% of the references, I still enjoyed it. If you know all the references, then you will loooove it. As Patrick Rothfuss says, “It’s completely frickin’ awesome. It pleased every geeky bone in my body. I felt like it was written just for me.”

Odd Shelf: Gone Girl

A few weeks ago, I was saddened, but not wholly surprised, to read the bestseller lists of 2012. Check out the list here.

Of course, Fifty Shades of Grey dominated the top four spots in adult fiction (and there’s technically only three books: smooth James, real smooth). Thrown into the lists were other well known names like Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, J.K. Rowling and Janet Evanovich.

It’s not my style to bash another writer–even if, for me personally, their writing caused me to weep a little for the literary world in general–but suffice it to say the bestselling lists rarely, rarely impress me. The point I’m getting at, is number five on the list, right under the Grey trilogy, was a little book called Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

8442457

Since I generally avoid top-selling looks, I was hesitant. But I’d heard very little about this new author and I was intrigued, especially after I heard Stephen King called her work “admirably nasty.”

Admirably nasty is just my style.

And I have to say–guys, I loved it.

It’s a mystery thriller, with the tagline “Marriage is a killer.” Gillian Flynn has said, “With Gone Girl, I wanted to [explore] what happens when two people intertwine their lives completely. I wanted to explore the geography of intimacy–and the devastation it can lead to. Marriage gone toxic.”

She succeeds quite brilliantly in her goal. Here’s a brief copy of a summary off her website, just to speed things along: On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.

So yes, it’s a mystery–it’s a thriller. But here’s the catch: the writing is really good, too. A lot of thrillers I read, they’re okay, sometimes pretty good. The clever plots and well-researched situations move things along. But rarely is a good, dark mystery intertwined with poetic, literary prose. In this book, it is. I was having moments of “I wish I had written that sentence” while reading it.

In the second part, a twist is revealed, and I remember staring at my book being like: “You duped me! I was completely fooled. Oh, Gillian Flynn, I do not trust you at all anymore.” The only way to find out is to read it, one page at a time. Her characters are truly psychopaths at times, and yet I resonated perfectly with some of the things they said.

It’s a good book.

It’s been a long time where I’ve gotten so caught up, I wanted to fling the book at the wall, scream and rage. It stays with you after you’re done “coiled and hissing,” as Stephen King says, “like a snake in a cave.”

Not for the first time, I’m a little late to the party. You can go read a hundred reviews exactly like mine. But I recommend it. If I did stars, which I don’t, I would give this one five.

Odd Shelf: I am the Messenger

As usual, I’m a little late to the gravy train.

This book was first recommended to me in . . . 2009, I believe. And I put it on the to-read list and never got around to it. Then The Book Thief came out (which is stellar . . . ) and I had to read that first, and well . . .

I’ve had the expectation of reading a good book and am finally getting around to it.

And I Am the Messenger, by Mark Zusak is good, folks.

messenger

Ed Kennedy is a 19-year-old cabdriver, who is, as he describes himself, nothing special (“I’m just another stupid human.”). But one day he gets a playing card in the mail (the ace of diamonds), with three addresses written on it. Each address leads him to a person he’s supposed to help.

  1. He must save a woman who is raped by her husband almost every night.
  2. He must comfort a lonely old lady.
  3. He must show a teenage girl how to take control of her life and become more confident

The rest of the book continues in this vein. There’s a poetry to Zusak’s writing and you’ll find yourself wanting to help people when you get done reading it.

Occasionally, his language gets a little overly figurative. I found myself saying, “Just say what you mean to say, Zusak.” But it’s not too distracting. The ending is not completely logical nor plausible, and somewhat abrupt, but I was forgiving because the story was in the journey, and Ed’s personal ending (how he grows) was what brought the real satisfaction, not how the cards came to be.

A fine example of championing the Every Man and putting meaning in little details. “It’s not a big thing, but I guess it’s true–big things are often just small things that are noticed.” Less of a page turner, but definitely impacting.

Odd Shelf: Pathfinder Series

After a long hiatus during the holiday break, Tuesday’s Odd Shelf returns. The Nightmare King is currently processing and should be up as soon as Amazon gives me the a-okay.

I read a lot of books over the break, but I’ve chosen to highlight two–the first two parts of a fantasy series by Orson Scott Card called Pathfinder and Ruins.


ruins pathfinder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a funny liking/disliking for Card’s books. Speaker for the Dead remains in my top five of all-time favorite books. I also love Enchanted and Homebody, and few other standalone works. The problem I occasionally run into with Orson Scott Card is the man is really, really smart, and simultaneously religious, political and philosophical–which sometimes means his narratives get deeper than my puny mortal understanding can comprehend and I toss the book aside with a slight headache.

The Pathfinder series walks this line beautifully well. For an introduction to this series, I direct you to the short, dramatic-music-included book trailer:

So, like a lot of Card’s younger protagonists Rigg is thirteen, but is about eighty times smarter than me (a twenty-four year old almost college grad). But whatever. I’m guessing Card was equally obnoxious and brilliant at that age.

You like Rigg for the same reason you like Ender. Smart, overly-qualified kid–who is pressured by a lot of responsibility he never signed up for. The reason I recommend these books on Odd Shelf is, for one, the world-building is brilliantly handled. The time-traveling science Card sets up is enough to make your brain melt out your ears, but by the end of the book, I understood. Sometimes information significant to the plot is first mentioned over halfway through the book. But that’s the way to do it, when you don’t want to overload readers with complicated science. Babysteps. Let them get used to the weirdness. It’s a great example of integrating a workable learning curve.

The other reason it’s worth studying is the same for nearly all of Card’s books. The characters are wonderfully multi-dimensional. You can hate and love them in the same chapter and that’s how real people are. Honest and dishonest at the same time. Full of courage and cowardice in equal parts. Card usually portrays the reality of humanity in a way I find refreshing.

Worth a read, my friends. But as a warning–if you’re not into fantasy and science fiction . . . read Homebody instead.

Tuesday’s Odd Shelf: Haddon and Stork

Since I didn’t do a book review last week, I’ll review two books that I’ve read recently–and they are, incidentally, about the same subject material, so that worked out nicely.

No one in my immediate family, nor in my circle of friends or their families, has autism, so I admit my knowledge of it is limited. All I know I learned from a very awesome writing teacher who has OCD whose son has autism–not in the extreme, except in his aversion to touch, like Christopher.

curious-incident-of-the-dog

 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Mark Haddon’s book is told from the perspective of a fifteen year old kid named Christopher, who lives with his dad. The neighbor’s dog is killed, and Christopher–who loves mystery novels, particularly Sherlock Holmes–decides to solve the mystery. Like I said, I don’t know a lot about autism, but this portrayal seemed pretty accurate. He hates the color yellow and is really good at math and science (sometimes, he gets distracted and goes into math equations or puzzles and I’m just like . . . dude, ow). But the mystery is but the superficial framework, a faint story line for the reader to follow, when what the novel really wants is for Christopher to be discovered, and his slightly heart-breaking family life. This is a quick read–Christopher’s one-track mind makes him something of a minimalist, like Hemingway. It’s thought-provoking at its best and entertaining at its worst.

 

 

marcelointherealworldMarcelo in the Real World

Marcelo Sandoval is not Christopher, and while both have different degrees of autistic tendencies, Marcelo functions in society with a vague idea that he is weird and different than everyone else.

Marcelo has an autism spectrum mental issue that doctors have been unable to identify.  Since first grade he has attended a special education school, but when he is seventeen his father tells him that he must work in his father’s law firm for the summer.  At the end of the summer, if he has succeeded “in the real world”, his father will permit him to choose whether to return to the special education school, or attend the regular high school for his senior year.

Fransisco X. Stork (and there is little that I do not love about this author’s name; I keep wondering, what does the X stand for? or does it stand for nothing, like, you can fill in the X with any number of catchy “wait-for-it” middle euphemisms?) is a good writer, and Marcelo’s autism is not so heavy handed as with The Curious Incident . . . and the novel has room to explore the definition of the “real world” and religion. I find it interesting that both stories explore the father-son relationship with an autistic child.

 

Both good books. Of the two, I liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time better, but still . . . I learned a lot, and enjoyed each book.

Tuesday’s Odd Shelf: Every Day

Well, eventually I might do another post on writing, but for now, I’m doing more reading than writing except for NaNoWriMo (which is not so much writing as inconsequential word vomit).

Every Day by David Levithan

This book has a pretty wicked premise. “A” is a genderless, bodiless being who wakes up in a new body every day. He has rules to keep himself detached and sane, but when he wakes up in Justin’s body and meets Justin’s girlfriend, he finds someone he wants to be with day in and day out.

 What I liked: Part of Levithan’s message is that love is not defined by physicality, but by something else, a spirit-to-spirit connection. A invades the bodies of those suffering from severe depression, obesity, gender identity confusion, and a variety of family situations. Even though these narratives stray from the storyline sometimes, they were interesting and entertaining to read. Also, Levithan is just a pretty writer, and by that I mean he uses light, lyrical prose that makes you want to underline things.

 What I didn’t like: The probability of A’s existence presents a lot of holes, none of which are addressed. In the beginning, the reader is asked to suspend disbelief, to merely accept the way this is, but as it turns out, nothing will be explained . . . ever. This gives the story the feel of a giant metaphor, whiiiich . . . eh. Thanksbutnothanks. Mostly Levithan avoids getting preachy, but those readers who believe love exists within certain gender restrictions are going to be made to feel like those opinions are wrong. Much of the book felt underdeveloped, sort of swallowed by this mammoth idea.

Should you read it? Definitely. Its flaws don’t overshadow its good points, and it brings up things every well-rounded reader should think about. In the end, love wins out, even if not in the way you expect. It gets four stars. Or like… 3.9 maybe.