|Publication year: 2012
Genre: Young Adult
Time and place: 2012 US/the pages of Jane Eyre
Narrated in: first-person
First sentence: “There was no possibility of taking a swim that day.”
Verdict: Hated it with a passion.
Emma’s life is going less than well. She and her step mother have nothing in common, the rich girls at the boarding school where she has a scholarship treat her bad, she has a crush on not one, but two unavailable guys…
A lighting strike relieves her of all her cares though, as she finds herself transported right between the pages of the book she was currently reading, Jane Eyre. Mrs. Fairfax and Adele think Emma is Jane, and after a while she herself starts believing it and even falls in love with Mr. Rochester. Her real life is calling, however, and…
Jane Eyre is my favorite book. I love the language, I love the story, and most of all I love the characters. Which is why this book annoyed me so: it managed to get both Jane and Edward wrong, painting the latter in such a bad light it left me shaking my head in disbelief. The least thing I expect from a ‘reteller’ is to be acquainted with the original story; this one certainly wasn’t.
Dear author, in case you ever read this,
Rochester had married Bertha because he was young, and she was beautiful, and he thought himself in love. Yes, his father had arranged this marriage because the bride was rich, but Edward was not told about the money part. After the wedding she has shown her true colors (“a nature the most gross, impure, depraved“) and life with her was hell; Edward even thought of a divorce, but he couldn’t since by this time the doctors (yes, author, he did consult doctors) have discovered that she was turning mad. Mad as her mother and her younger brother — because you see, author, madness ran in her family. Little by little the fact that he was now hopelessly tied to a lunatic drove Rochester to despair; he even wanted to kill himself. Only the idea of shutting her up in the attic (well cared for, as he couldn’t bring himself to harm her in the littlest way), while he could pose as an unattached man saved his life. And it is only at this stage (with her already mad for quite a while) that she brought her to Thornfield — there is no plausible way to think that the imprisonment was the cause of her insanity. Edward is not a perfect man, far from it, but he is not the monster that you make him seem.
As for Jane, you seem to think that she left Edward because she could not forgive him for what he’s done. But she loves him and she understands him, and I see her above such petty things as being unable to forgive. She loves him dearly and she fears that he will harm himself after she’s gone — and yet she does go, because she cannot abide to live with him and not be his bride. Such were the morals of the age, such were her principles, and she preferred tearing her heart out to breaking them (“I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?“). This choice that Jane has made is one of the reasons I respect her the most, and you, author, have torn it away from her without a thought.
You know, I think this book would have been many times better if there had been no connection with Jane Eyre. Standing on its own it might have been a cute story (perhaps with a few hidden parallels, like Gray trying to make Emma jealous, or her being able to feel when he was in danger, or whatever). As it is, there are quite a few problems with it that did not let me properly enjoy it even in the few moments when I could get over the part where Rochester was turned into a monster. Not to mention that I didn’t very well get what was the purpose of Emma’s foray into the pages of Jane Eyre: show spoiler
- Emma must be both quite unlucky and indestructible, as she is very near to dying no less than four times in the course of a few months. And after each of these adventures she ends up good as new in the space of a few weeks;
- She was also sort of too silly for my taste (I lost all the respect I had for her when she at one time says about her teacher, “How dare he condescend to me just because he was older and had seen more of the world?“, when the guy was giving her some advice — I get that she is supposed to be a teenager, and that is the way most teens think, but I really cannot admire a silly child);
- I think it’s very, very hard to do Jane Eyre justice in a YA book. The original is a piece of beautiful literature, and simplifying it means letting go of the very things that made it special. This book is no exception, it felt at times like a child’s attempt to make a copy of Gioconda.
- The most important challenge for the author I thought was the fact that Emma had to both know about the book and still be in the dark about what is to happen. At first this was quite well approached, as when Emma enters the book she has only read a part of it, not all (she has read long enough to know how things end up between her and Rochester, but no more). As Emma loses touch with her own reality and her non-Jane life, this could still have worked. She falls in love with R., she is heart broken when she sees Blanche, that sort of thing. Up to now, it all was believable enough. But then Emma goes back to her life and manages to finish the book. Not only that but when she returns between the pages she now has her full memories — when R. asks her where she has been she remembers that in the book Jane has been away to visit her sick aunt. A mere moment after that she gets upset that R. still plans to marry Blanche — so she remembered a tiny detail of the book but didn’t remember that a central theme is R.’s love for Jane and no other?
- Another challenge I think was the part where Gray — Emma’s love interest — had to have a terrifying secret of his own, to mirror Rochester’s. As in the previous case, I thought the author was very close to finding just the thing, but unfortunately she didn’t; I thought her choice was veering a bit towards the ridiculous as I couldn’t help thinking that no one in their right mind could actually blame Gray for what happened, and as such the secret lacked the strength it needed to make it count.
- in the sequel Emma will get into the pages of The Scarlett Letter, and I am almost considering picking it up because, while I absolutely love Jane Eyre and was personally offended by the changes made to it, about Scarlet Letter I could not care less. Sadly, the third book will have Emma into The Phantom of the Opera, which is also one of the books I love.
Thoughts on the title
Loved it + it’s the reason I picked up the book.
Thoughts on the ending
Happy ending, yay. Although considering I didn’t care too much about Emma it was no big deal.
Also, in my opinion the whole bit about the feminist essay about Bertha would not have been missed at all if it weren’t there.
Recommend it to?
YA lovers who wouldn’t mind having Jane Eyre butchered in front of their eyes.
Genre: Time Travel / Romance
Main characters: Kathleen “Kathy Lee” Finlay, Colonel Robert Christian Upton
Time and place: contemporary US
First sentence: “I buried Earl shortly after Valentine day.”
Verdict: Enjoyed it :)
At thirty-two, Kathy Lee’s marriage is in shambles. It’s time for her to take a deep breath and address the problem head-on. However, before moving away and asserting her independence, there is one more thing she has to do: sell the house she has inherited from her uncle, the house she is quite fond of but knows she will never use.
As she was planning to get ready the grounds for the potential buyers’ visits, she went to the shed to get a rake. There was something else in the shed but tools however: a man, strangely dressed and just as surprised to find himself there as she was. More so actually, since he is very convinced that it’s the autumn of 1777, and where did the wall he was just sitting on go?
An nice book that started out okay and got better as I read on.
I wasn’t fond of Kathy Lee for most of the book. I didn’t dislike her, she seemed nice enough, but she also seemed more like a placeholder for a person. I cannot pinpoint why I felt like that, because the author has been really thorough with her, giving her a family, back story, and even a cat. The feeling subsided in the second half of the book but in the first few pages Kathy seemed to exist simply because someone had to be there to meet and greet the colonel, and no more. She also seems a bit too selfless to be true, particularly at first, when she first meets Robert and she radically alters her own plans to include him, although he was a total stranger: “We’d simply stay here as long as it took to get the Colonel back, and if it took longer than we thought I’d tell Lila I had decided to keep the house after all. That I would live here. And then we’d set up camp — the children, me, and, um, oh hell, Uncle Robert. And hope to God that no one came to visit us.”
On the other hand Robert, the colonel, felt sort of opposite: a character I rapidly grew attached to, which is an interesting thing if we consider that we only see him through Kathy Lee’s eyes. The fact that he was a British soldier fighting the Americans-to-be was a particularly nice touch :) Sure, he does adapt to modern times and morals blazingly fast, but that is sort of a given in a TT book, else the protagonists could hardly understand one another. Furthermore, the trip to this century has addled his senses a bit, a thing that can also account for some of his flexibility. Overall he’s a nice guy, smart, handsome, and with a troubled past — all the quintessential traits of a romance hero — and yet he didn’t feel cliché.
One of the parts I liked most was the relationship between Kathy Lee and Lila, her mother. Lila is a historical romance writer five-times divorced, whose mental issues made her spend some time in a hospital while Kathy Lee grew up. As the latter puts it, “Until I went away to college I spent a good portion of my life never really understanding what was going on around me or what was going to happen next“. Even now the two are not very close, and Lila feels guilt for all the times in Kathy Lee’s childhoos that she was away. And yet all throughout the book it is obvious that Lila loves Kathy, and Kathy loves Lila despite it all. show spoiler
As for the main relationship, it started out a bit less that ideal, especially as for the first bit Kathy Lee acted like she was the mother and Robert her unruly child. However, as pages flew by and our hero and heroine grew used to each other, the relationship between them got cozier, making a romance between both desirable and believable.
The book revolves around the way Robert gets to adapt to his new environment, as well as his attempts to go back home. There is a bit of element of suspense, as there may be someone, an enemy, that is after him, but it is mostly hinted at than presented outright. I personally was far less interested in the ‘Robert adapting’ part than any of the rest.
What I liked most
The way Robert just had to explain the etymology of the names of the things he discovers in the present day. I didn’t realize there are so many things with Greek/Latin names surrounding us. Also, his infectious curiosity about how everything works, even convincing someone at one time to open up a lawn mower to show him what’s inside. I’ve seen the ‘man from the past discovers modern technology’ trope quite a few times until now (a thing that’s only natural, given my penchant for time travel-ly stuff) and I can say that this author has dealt with it very, very well.
What I liked least
A nitpick, but I couldn’t help feeling that there was no place for the parenthesis that appeared now and then (this may very well be the only book with parenthesis in it I’ve ever seen). Why yes, I know that I too am guilty of parenthesis overuse, but it feels a bit different to find them in a novel, especially as there were times there wasn’t an actual need for them. It made me feel like the book lacked an editor, which is a pity because other than this and a few typos here and there the book was rather okay written1.
Thoughts on the title
Quite generic, as I imagine it would fit more or less any time travel book out there. However, I must admit it was the thing that attracted me to the book (since I am such a fan of time travel stories and all) so it must be doing something right too.
Thoughts on the ending
Nicely done :)
Recommend it to?
Anyone in the mood for a light time travelling romance.
- ah, sad sad times, when we consider a few typos to be nothing bad. I cannot help remembering how, eons ago, even one typo in a book was quite a big deal :( [↩]
The daughter of seven neo-gladiators, Lyn is now eighteen and a minor celebrity of her time. Her mother, Allison, is very devoted to gladiator culture, and expects her to have a bright future as a gladiator wife. Lyn is not entirely certain this is what she really wants, so she takes her time, weighing her options. But then Lyn’s last father, Tommy, is killed in the arena, and the family’s situation changes overnight. What’s worse, cultural circumstances force Lyn to marry her father’s killer, or her family will be thrown into the streets. By now however she is certain she does not want to be a ‘glad wife’, so she makes the only choice that seems available to her: challenges her husband-to-be to a duel in the arena, to the death.
For some reason the title made me think of one of those books, Hunger Games-like, where a bunch of people are stranded in a situation where they are supposed to claw their way out, most likely stepping on their adversaries’ bodies in the process. Well, this book is not it. Our main character only spends a few pages at most in the actual arena, and unfortunately I didn’t find the rest of the story strong enough to make up for it.
It all started out like a good idea:
Joe Byers introduced neo-gladiator sport into American life to involve teenage boys in a new form of competition that would be exhilarating while releasing energy in a safe, clean way. He hoped there would be less need for war over time, especially for useless, savage wars like Vietnam.
As time passed, however, the balsa wood weapons the boys trained with became real ones; their matches became sport events broadcast on a national scale. Gladiator schools were formed; in time they were followed by a Gladiator Wives College (“where young women learn in two intensive years to be perfect Glad wives“). A Gladiator culture was formed, with its own set of rules. And somewhere along the way killing one’s opponent became not only accepted but the norm.
I didn’t actually get Lyn. I cannot put my finger on the why, but I could not relate to her, and I don’t think I liked her very much. It’s not like she was bad or anything, she just felt… bland. There was nothing about her that truly stood up, she was just there.
And then we have Lyn’s mother, who most of the time seems to be in various stages of depression, and as such I couldn’t relate to her either. And there’s Thad, Lyn’s autistic brother, who seemed like a plot device more than anything else — there had to be someone depending on Lyn’s choices, to force her on a certain path, and what better way to do that than ‘attaching’ a younger brother to her? And then, why not go for an extra touching factor and make him unable to ever fend for himself. But hey, why make him ordinary? Let’s make him an oracle, of all things. How in the world did Thad know the future, and why did we need a foreteller in the book anyway? That’s never explained. One more thing for me to wonder about I guess.
On the other hand, there is Uber. A born-in gladiator (meaning that his father was a gladiator too), and the current arena champion (which means he was the very best in his field at the time). He could have been such a great character. Too bad he borrows a little from Allison’s way of seeing the world, and as such he’s always dejected or something similar. A bit strange if one thinks about it, after all this was his moment and he had the world at his feet, but there it is. He felt like something carried away by a breeze; he goes where he’s expected to go and does what he’s expected to do, with hardly any initiatives of his own. And to think he had so much potential *sigh*
It felt like all the relationships in the book that had any potential at all were underdeveloped, while much fuss was made about those I cared nothing for. It’s like the author had a good idea somewhere — a love triangle between a girl, her (guy) best friend who’s loved her since forever, and a new guy that everyone pushes her towards, despite the fact that he is responsible for her family’s misery. Lyn could have oscillated a bit between the familiar and the new, between her duty as a daughter and the fact that Uber was in fact rather likable; Mark could have fought tooth and nail to keep her to himself; Uber could have been obsessed with leaving the country to get rid of the gladiator life, or… I don’t know, something, anything. As it is, everyone seems a little too mild. Mark loves Lyn but does nothing to keep her other than mildly telling her so. Uber mildly tells Lyn that he loves her and he wants to leave the country one day and that is that. He never takes a stand, he even fights her in the arena, and even hurts her a few times; how’s that for being in love? As for Lyn, she never knows what she’s feeling and she doesn’t care enough to find out. She may have feelings for Uber, but, like in everyone else’s case, they never go beyond mild. And… I likes books that are intense, I like to read about feeling that blow my mind, I can’t say I much care about mild *sigh, again*.
The book felt like there was a plot somewhere in there but it kept eluding me. I was quite interested to see how the relationship between Lyn and Uber will evolve, and whether the two of them will manage to beat the system, and how. These things however kept taking a backseat, as the focus kept being on other secondary characters — mostly Lyn’s mother and brother. There are pages after pages describing Lyn’s interactions with Thad, their routines, and I kept feeling they added nothing at all to the story. Ok, I got that Thad was very attached to Lyn and Lyn loved Thad in one of their first scenes together, I did not need any more of them as they seemed repetitive after a while. There are also many pages about Alison, and her reactions to various things. And yet none of those pages allowed me to grasp the essence of the character — or perhaps I did grasp it but kept thinking there must be more to her. But there are so very few pages about Uber, and how Lyn deals with the fact that he killed her current father (surprisingly enough, Allison made such a big deal of having lost her best husband but seems to have nothing but benign feelings for his killer). I kept wanting more, I kept looking forward to things getting to actually develop… but they never did.
What I liked most
The whole backstory of Glad culture (how it came to be, how it evolved to its current state) was quite well done, in my opinion. While on the whole I doubt that there are that many people willing to die in the arena to get the trend started at first, there is nothing in the author’s depiction of events that challenges my suspension of disbelief — it’s one of those improbable but not implausible things that I could actually see happen, should stars align in a certain way. And yeah, I thought that was cool :)
Also, a fun detail I enjoyed, also in the course of presenting the timeline, there’s this:
Then four things happened: Chuck Palahniuk, 9/11, the war in Iraq, and a self-help book selling in the millions called The Mystery. Drawing on the self-actualizing techniques of The Mystery, Caesar’s Inc., a holding company located in New York City (not to be mistaken with the Las Vegas group), recognized an opportunity.
A self-help book called The Mystery, get it? ;)
What I liked least
As much as I liked the backstory of it all, there were a couple elements I heartily disliked.
First, the premise of the book (that Uber had ‘captured’ Lyn’s dowry bracelet and in their culture this means they had to get married) seemed to me very contrived. Not only because I cannot imagine how such a custom ever came to be (who, male or female, would ever want to have such an important choice stripped from them?), but also because I find it a bit too silly on Lyn’s part to offer the thing that could imprison her for life so carelessly to someone else. Last but not least, the concept was insufficiently explored (no details were ever given about the bracelet — how did the tradition started? How/when did a girl get hers? etc), and so the whole thing felt like a gimmick to force the two main characters together. Yawn.
The second is more of a pet peeve and it has something to do with the Living machines. Leaving aside the fact that I don’t quite see how they got developed in the first place, in a society so similar to ours (gladiators aside, the pop culture is mostly the same; they even have Second Life and youtube), the ‘implementation details’ are a bit fuzzy to me. Let us assume that having a sentient copy of someone else is doable. But projecting a 360 degrees 3D image without a projector in sight (also, more than one such character walks from one place to another, from example Tommy appears outside and then comes into the house) is… well, not something I see happening in the next centuries. And then they eat!! How in the hell can a projected image physically interact with the physical world? Not in the least, why did the author felt the need to include this tidbit anyway? It’s not like it had any relevance to the rest of the story, yet it jolted me right out of the moment. Why yes, I work in tech, why do you ask? :)
Thoughts on the title
Well, there was a girl. And an arena. And even a girl in the arena for a short while. I imagine it can be called appropriate (although as previously stated it was rather misleading to me).
(also, can I pretty please complain about the cover? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful cover, and I love love love the girl’s hair. It’s only that in the book Lyn’s scalp was shaved)
Thoughts on the ending
Wow. It’s been ages since I read a book whose ending I simply did not understand. And to think people criticize the lack of fighting in Breaking Dawn. If there was a prize for most useless climax ever, well, this book would take it.
Recommend it to?
Young Adult & Dystopia fans I guess. While the book fell short for me in some ways, this doesn’t mean that a true fan of the genre cannot find it enjoyable. Or so I think :)
Main characters: Jake Epping/George Amberson
Time and place: 2011/1958-1963, US (a small part of the book takes place in Derry, Maine)
First sentence: “I have never been what you’d call a crying man.”
Verdict: Loved it :)
Meet Jake Epping, 35. An English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and recently divorced. He leads quite an ordinary, uneventful existence, until one day a phone call turns his life upside down.
“When you go down the steps, it’s always 11:58 A.M. on the morning of September ninth, 1958.”
Turns out time travel is in fact possible. Sure, it’s always in the same time and the same place, but it is quite a huge discovery nonetheless. It’s also a chance for Jake to put right things that once went wrong, starting with the day a demented father killed his wife and children, and ending with (why not) one of the biggest events in recent history, the JFK assassination.
However, the past does not easily accept to be changed. Each step away from the original timeline is a struggle — would Jake be able to win?
Oh, how I have waited for this book! Ever since I first read there was going to be a Stephen King book involving time travel and wanting to change history for the better I was totally hooked. And now that I have read it I can only say that it was every bit as good as I imagined it to be :)
Getting to see the life in 50s/60s-small-town-America through the eyes of a contemporary was quite a treat for me. I loved how, particularly at first, Jake kept comparing the old ways with his present-day ones, and usually it was the present that kept falling short. Life seems to have been a lot more peaceful half a century ago, complete with people that are (were) nicer and a lot more trusting. Some of the official IDs (the driving licence, if I remember correctly) didn’t even have photos!
One of my favorite scenes regarding past/present differences was when Jake went to a bank to make a deposit, and noticed how everything was done on paper. A thing that was only to be expected, since the PCs were still a long way off, and yet the mere idea struck me as novel in an it’s-so-obvious-why-didn’t-I-think-about-it-before kind of way. For some reason I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around a computerless bank (which only goes to show how used I got with having computers everywhere around me, since I cannot quite imagine a world without them).
Another notable difference between the then and now was that smoking seems to have been everyone’s favorite pastime back then. A thing that’s only natural, I guess, since no connection with cancer had yet been made, and all the papers were filled with ads portraying smoking as the coolest thing ever — and yet I, like Jake, found somewhat strange a world more often surrounded by blue smoke clouds than not, simply because it was so very different from the way things are now. I love books that make me think of things I have never thought of before, so this book was to me a winner from this point of view at the very least.
To be honest, Jake felt a bit Mary Sue-ish to me (or whatever the male counterpart of a Mary Sue is). He is supposed to be this ordinary teacher, but as the book unfolds it turns out there is nothing he cannot do, be it lindy hopping, killing people in cold blood, directing a successful play or writing what was quite likely to be a best-selling novel. His drive to do (what he considers) the right thing never falters, despite the fact that he knows the past will not allow to be changed without putting up a brutal fight. And, Mary Sue or not, I very much admired him for that. As I liked the way he always ended up teaching English, because this chance to help young minds expand was what he considered his vocation. I really do not have anything to reproach him, other than his being a tad too close to perfection :)
As a character, Lee Harvey Oswald was sort of a weaselly young man. There was no way in the world for the author to pull off making him sympathetic, and so he didn’t even try. The first time we ever meet Oswald is during an argument with his wife, Marina, whom he treats like dirt, and it all goes mostly downhill from there. And, of course, adding to that we have the fact that we only get to see him through Jake’s eyes, and Jake is not exactly an objective party (I am quite certain that Oswald would have been despicable enough even if he had the benefit of a not-so-subjective narrator, though). This however makes him feel more like a caricature (having some traits exaggerated while others are ignored) than a real human being — not that I am complaining in any way, the book is long enough as it is, plus the author didn’t have that much creative freedom in this case, as Oswald’s character has been documented over and over again. And yet, wouldn’t it have been even more interesting if the line drawn between good and bad had been at least a little blurry?
I should now say something about Sadie too. However, for most of the book I didn’t have that much interest in her. Sure, I loved to see the relationship between her and Jake develop (mostly because I liked him and so I wanted him to be happy), but other than that there was always something that felt to me a bit off about her, although try as I might I cannot quite put my finger on it. Perhaps she seemed to me overly-fragile and likely to break — I say that because somewhere in the last bunch of pages she starts acting sort of badass (she even threatens someone with a knife), and I actually liked her then, despite the fact that the said change did not seem all that plausible to me. Or who knows, perhaps I have just read her wrong, or did not pay her enough attention or something. Either way, we just did not click.
Jake however totally clicked with her :)
By now I have read quite a bunch of reviews, and mostly they all agree that the relationship between Jake and Sadie was one of the best things in the book. Ah, and it is indeed a nice relationship (particularly if we consider I enjoyed reading about it despite my less-than-lukewarm feelings for Sadie), but was I as impressed by it as some of the rest of the world? The answer is no, but this may well be my fault; after all, I started this book in order to read about time travel and affecting timelines and the likes, while a love story I could very well take or leave :)
I was very happy to discover that this is a very tame book, horror-wise, as there is almost no gore at all (at least by Mr. King’s standards), and there’s only a slight hint of evil lurking nearby — just enough of it to be deliciously creepy, no more. The vast majority of the plot revolves around Jake’s attempts to create a better future. At times this can turn out to be somewhat boring, as in order to take action Jake needs to stake out his ‘targets’ for a while, however for me there always was present an underlying sense of excitement: “will he be able to pull it off?” and “how will he be able to pull it off?”
What I liked most
The time travel! I am first and foremost a time travel buff, so how was I not to like it? :)
The history part of it! Seeing as I am also a history buff, I was bound to jump for joy seeing how I had an opportunity to learn more about a couple of people (JFK/LHO) that up until now I knew rather little about.
And then there’s of course the small details, such as I found it interesting how Al could afford to have the cheapest burgers around the area because he bought his meat from the past, at ’58 prices :) Although in his case it would have been a lot wiser if he had raised the prices a bit, methinks; as things were most people avoided Al’s establishment thinking that the meat in the burgers couldn’t possibly be actual beef given how cheap it was.
What I liked least
The time for nitpicking is upon us: at one time Jake is writing both a book and his memoirs, saying about the latter something like “these are the pages you are reading now”. But. But then he is forced to make a quick escape to the present day and he leaves the pages behind1 :) (and of course they get lost in the reset when he gets back in 1958)
Other than that, the one moment I found least enjoyable was the one when Jake sees a part of Sadie’s name (“DORIS DUN”), and it was the same as a part of the name of a woman whose husband has tried to kill her — so boom, all of a sudden Jake has this crazy idea that Sadie’s husband too will do the same thing. While I did get (and enjoyed) the parts regarding the past “harmonizing” with itself, this particular moment seemed to me to be pushing it a teensy tiny bit too far.
Thoughts on the ending
Unexpected and, as such, nothing short of brilliant :)
Recommend it to?
The Goodreads rating is 4.27, so if you have at least a passing interest in either Stephen King or time travel stories, I heartily encourage you to give it a try.
Written by the same author:
- I am actually hoping to be wrong about this one, it seems to me quite a big slip up if the author did indeed slip. [↩]
Genre: Utopia/Dystopia (I cannot decide)
Main characters: Jonas
Time and place: the far future
First sentence: “It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.”
Verdict: Four and a half stars.
Jonas is a eleven year old boy who lives in a society where everything is regulated. The quality of life is high, and if one would ask them the people there would say they do not lack anything.
As Jonas turns twelve, he is chosen to become a Receiver of Memory, the most honored role in their society, one that implies having access to all the memories of their forefathers. It is this way that Jonas gets to find out about how things once were, and realizes how not-so-utopic the society he lives in actually is.
I have no idea what I was expecting this book to be, but it took me completely by surprise. In a good way, of course. It’s one of those books that made me think, and I love those. I am quite looking forward to reading the sequels (although I understand that they are set in totally different worlds).
For me, the world building was the best part. It had elements that are unmistakably 1984-esque, such as the speakers in everyone’s homes, speakers that could not be turned off and that chastised children/people who did something untoward. And, of course, the feeling that someone, somewhere, is always watching.
There are also some main differences though, because this world is, at least on the surface, quite friendly to its inhabitants, or at least those of them that do obey the rules. Lying to one another is forbidden, and children are taught from an early age not to be rude with others. People’s path in life (their jobs, their marriages, their kids) is assigned to them by the Elders, but great care is taken for these choices to fit the individual they were imposed on (“Matching of Spouses was given such weighty consideration that sometimes an adult who applied to receive a spouse waited months or even years before a Match was approved and announced. All of the factors — disposition, energy level, intelligence, and interests — had to correspond and to interact perfectly“). There are also mandatory rituals that are supposed to relieve people of their daily stresses: the evening ‘telling of feelings’, when people shared their feelings with their ‘family unit’ and were helped to deal with them, and the morning sharing of dreams, which was pretty much the same.
Everything is very well regulated. A ‘family unit’ always has a mother, a father, one boy child, and one girl. There are precisely 50 babies born and entrusted to families every year. The children are all given names that are unique in the community (only when someone dies his or her name may be used again; unless the person did something particularly reprehensible so the name is forbidden to reuse), but they also have numbers, according to their age and the number they had on the list on the day they were ‘assigned’ to their families. And so on and so forth.
The obvious question that this raises is: would building a carefree life like that justify the loss of choice? The answer, in the context of the world in a book, is a resounding yes. And that is because those people (with the exception of Jonas later on) had no idea they were missing anything, as no one had ever told them there could be such a thing as free will. It takes one of us, people living under a different regime, to be horrified at the immensity of their loss. Although to be fair I do think that the idea of having someone always making the best decisions does have its merits for the society as a whole (a society where no one makes the wrong choices has no way to go but up, right?). However, from an individual point of view this would be nothing short of a catastrophe — we grow by learning from our mistakes, we gather strength by surpassing obstacles; it is this very growth that makes us who we are.
But I digress. Back to the book :)
This is a short book with plenty of world-building, so the characters are not developed beyond a few basic brush strokes. We don’t even know most of them’s names.
I liked Jonas a lot. I thought his transition from a child of his own society — taking things for granted, playing by the rules, and never thinking for himself beyond the basics — to the one who knew and understood things was quite believable and well done, albeit a bit short in pages (it did take about a year in ‘real-time’). I liked the way he found some answers to the questions no one ever thought of — such as what are animals (they used the word, but had no idea of its actual meaning), what the children’s plush toys represented (each ‘newchild’ was given a plush ‘comfort object’, with a strange name — hippo, elephant, bear — and shape), or what some of their games had their roots in. Even deprecated words, like ‘love’, become full of meaning for Jonas. The memories change him irrevocably, and for the better.
I feel like I should say something about the Giver too, but I only see him as a means to an end. Basically he is there to provide the information Jonas needs, we rarely if ever get any insights in his own mind. We know his task is very brave, taking on everyone’s memories and relieving them of their burden, but I do not know whether to read too much into that since it was a task imposed on him and not one he chose himself. I imagine him as an older version of Jonas, with the same courage and same willingness to do the right thing.
That is also an interesting part. People are no longer capable of love, or perhaps they have just discarded it as unnecessary. Since a ‘family unit’ is brought together by the authorities, they have no real blood ties and no actual attachment to one another, other than mere familiarity. Sure, parents are proud of their children’s achievements, but only because they reflect on themselves and their parenting style. Children are well cared for, but that is because this is the way things are supposed to be done. The parent-child interactions are stilted and formulaic, using pre-established sentences. A far cry from the way Jonas interacts with the Giver himself, asking all the questions he needs and being given answers, even when those answers are not easy ones.
The most obvious example of the general lack of feeling is Jonas’ family reaction to baby Gabriel: they took him in, because if he didn’t make it it would reflect badly on Jonas’ father performance as a Nurturer. They all took care of him for about a year, and yet they never bonded, they were absolutely indifferent when told they have to let Gabe go.
What I liked
My absolute favorite thing by far was the part related to colors.
I also liked the way the author has imagined the childhood stages of the people in that community.
First, there is the Ceremony for the Ones:
Each December, all the newchildren born in the previous year turned One. One at a time — there were always fifty in each year’s group, if none had been released — they had been brought to the stage by the Nurturers who had cared for them since birth. Some were already walking, wobbly on their unsteady legs; others were no more than a few days old, wrapped in blankets, held by their Nurturers.
There is a similar ceremony for each age up to twelve, marking the passing from one particular stage to another.
For example, when one became a Seven one was allowed (requested actually) to wear a front buttoned jacket for the first time.
Fours, Fives, and Sixes all wore jackets that fastened down the back so that they would have to help each other dress and would learn interdependence. The front-buttoned jacket was the first sign of independence, the first very visible symbol of growing up.
At Eight, one got another jacket, “with smaller buttons and, for the first time, pockets, indicating that she was mature enough now to keep track of her own small belongings“. At Nine, each kid got a bike (the only means of transportation allowed), “the powerful emblem of moving gradually out into the community, away from the pro-tective family unit“. At Ten their hair was shortened, and at Eleven they got new clothes again, “different undergarments for the females, whose bodies were beginning to change; and longer trousers for the males, with a specially shaped pocket for the small calculator that they would use this year in school“. The last important step was becoming Twelve, when one was assigned to their future job. After that, people usually no longer kept track of their age.
I think nothing makes more obvious the Sameness of everything than the idea of these stages. Everyone wore the same clothes, everyone wore their hair the same way, and so forth. I find it quite an original idea and I salute the author’s imagination for thinking about it.
What I did not like
Not a fault of the book’s per se but I was confused to find out that there still was snow and animals still existed in that world. Seeing that no one knew about them other than the Giver, I would have expected them to be long gone/extinct. And they weren’t even that far away, since Jonas only had to travel a few days to find them. Although now that I think about it, this too — the fact that people had no idea of the things in their vicinity — could be a sign of how isolated, closed, and self-sufficient the community was.
Thoughts on the title
“The Giver” is one of the central characters of the book, so the title is very apt. I also like how it comes with a touch of mystery — I used to try to imagine what exactly is that the giver in the book is giving. I never had a satisfactory theory about that, but even if I did I don’t think I would have guessed in a million years what the actual answer is :)
Thoughts on the ending
I can’t stop thinking about it.
Recommend it to?
Anyone. It is an interesting read and also quite short (I read it in a single sitting).
“By the time Tansy was twelve, she had worlds without number enfolded in her heart. And each one of them was built with the scaffolding of her father’s voice. She couldn’t read without hearing him narrate the story in her mind.”
By the time Tansy turned thirteen, her parents got a divorce and her father moved away. Tansy, always a Daddy’s girl, feels that he has abandoned her, like she no longer mattered. When Tansy’s sister gets a part in a Broadway play, their mother has to go on tour with her, and Tansy is sent to live with her father and his new family. She still feels unimportant to him though. She starts dating a boy her Dad disapproves, just to show him that she couldn’t care less about his opinion either :)
But things go awry one evening and Tansy ends up at the police station. She tries to play tough, but she is a good girl at heart so she is easily tricked into divulging the guilt of her boyfriend and his gang. The next days are a difficult time for Tansy, who feels both hopeless and pathetic. There is a huge surprise in store for her though: her level of patheticness was so high it earned her a fairy godmother, complete with a set of three wishes to be fulfilled!
Alas, Chrysanthemum Everstar, the fairy, is but an amateur one, the kind that did not pay much attention in school. Tansy’s wishes end up taking her on a wild ride, including Robin Hood, King John, Rumpelstitskin, and… Hudson, the local police chief’s son. The only way to get back to a normal life is for Tansy to figure out the moral to her own story — will she be able to?
After reading and liking My Fair Godmother so much, it was absolutely obvious that this will be the next book I pick up. Now, however, I am not sure it was such a good idea. Thing is, I have found the first book absolutely charming not in the least because of the novelty of it all; while the wishes-gone-horribly-wrong theme is hardly novel, I do not remember when was the last time I encountered it, so I enjoyed everything and its freshness. In this context, the second book, which is based mostly on the same ideas, felt somewhat recycled and unoriginal in comparison. A pity, since it was a cute book, and I think I would have liked it a lot more had I read it first (although not as much as I liked My Fair Godmother, mind you, there are no patronizing dwarves here :) ).
The setting Tansy ends up swept in is a combination between fact and fiction: we’re talking about 1199′s England, the time of King John and Robin Hood, and somehow also the age where Rumpelstitskin made his deal with the miller’s daughter. It’s a time of fairies, and wizards (the king himself has an official one of his own), and other magical creatures; people are used to them and see nothing out of the ordinary in having them around. Rumor has it that the fairies are evil and care about their own interests alone, so mortals usually know better than to deal with them; however now and then someone is desperate enough to ask them for something, and so a new fairytale is born :)
The thing that I noticed being mentioned the most in reviews of the previous book was that people were happy that the main character doesn’t do well in school; apparently having a straight A student as a main character is somewhat of a cliche. The author must have noticed that too, so she pushes the envelope a bit farther this time: the reason Tansy does not do particularly well in school is that she wants to spite her father, who was a librarian, a book lover, and the one who taught her to enjoy books. It’s actually fun to watch Tansy trying to be a rebel, as deep down she is the goody-two-shoes type :) Luckily, shortly after the book opens, she realizes that the path she’s on leads her nowhere, so she’ll have to think of a new strategy to win her father’s heart. She doesn’t seem to have heard the song about money not being able to buy love, so that ends up being her main wish: to be able to turn everything she wants into gold. I liked the way the author has laid out Tansy’s motivations, managing to allow her to have such a wish without seeming greedy. The thing about Tansy is that, unlike Savannah (who among other things has tried to slay an ogre on her own), she is more damsel-in-distress-y, having people rescue her and take care of her more often than not. Which isn’t to say I did not like her — she’s brave, and kind, and willing to sacrifice things for what she thinks is right.
As for Hudson, I did not feel anything for him for most of the book. I actually spent about half the pages trying to put my finger on the reason why Hudson didn’t particularly work for me (unlike Tristan, whom I found interesting even at the times when I wasn’t sure whether I liked him or not). The closest I could come to an explanation is that Hudson is the distant type, and, as we see things through Tansy’s eyes, we don’t get to know enough about him to become emotionally invested in his adventures. Case in point: he becomes a lot more sympathetic near the end, as he gets closer to Tansy (and she gets to know him better). Coincidence? I think not. :)
Moving on to Chrissy, I was somewhat confused by her behaviour in this book. While in the first one she has been behaving somewhat erratically, yet managed to keep things balanced enough for me to still find her sympathetic despite her lack of logic, in this book she crosses the threshold into downright strange and sometimes silly. While the hint that she may have had a master plan all along is still there, this time I could not buy it, as things were too far out of control at times for her to pretend otherwise. At least I found amusing the way she had to get a job as a tooth fairy in order to feed her shopping addiction :)
I wonder whether there’s ever gonna be a sequel (she still hasn’t been admitted into university, so she is bound to have at least one other extra project :) ), and if so where will the story take her (and us) next.
All I can say here is that the relationship between the two main characters started out in quite an original way :) Sure, it was somewhat obvious they will end up together ever since they first met, but the thing that actually brought them together was a complete surprise:
Something I liked
I thought the way that Tansy was able to solve her problem with Rumpelstitskin was quite cool, in an imaginatively-plausible kind of way.
Also, I was amused to note that this book answered one of the questions I asked in my previous review (“how do fairies decide which mortal to choose as godson or goddaughter?”). In Chrissy’s own words: “I needed an extra-credit project, and your life qualified according to the pathetic-o-meter.” :)
A quote about King John’s delight on being offered golden thread spools:
He stopped at several of the spools, admiring them like they were works of art. “Resplendent! Prodigious!”
He knelt down in front of one and stroked it. “We shall name this one Theobald, and he shall sit at the foot of our bed.”
Haverton made note of it on a scroll he carried. “I’ll have the guards take it there at once, sire.”
King John moved onto another spool, patting it lightly. “And this one we shall name Helewise because she is beauteous. Splendiferous.”
Something I did not like
There were a few things that I did not like, but all of them are rather small so mentioning them would feel like nitpicking :)
Thoughts on the title
Ah, I even liked the title of the other book better than this one’s :)
Although, to make this title justice, Chrissy does act somewhat out of whack in this book, which I imagine qualifies her for being considered “unfair”. So at least it’s an accurate title if nothing else :)
Thoughts on the ending
The ending was by far the best moment of the whole book’s. Loved it loved it loved it :)
Recommend it to?
Anyone who wants to enjoy a light but not overly light read. This is a second book in a series, but the only connection between this and the previous book is the presence of Chrysanthemum, so you don’t need to know anything about the first book in order to enjoy this one.
This book is a sequel to:
My Fair Godmother
The prom is approaching and Savannah, recently dumped by her boyfriend, has no one to go with. Which is why, approached by a fairy saying she’ll grant her three wishes, Savannah thinks aloud about how nice it would be if her life would have a prince to take her to a ball, you know, just like in a fairytale.
Next thing she knows, she’s Cinderella. Eight months before the ball. And the fairy, Chrysanthemum, is nowhere to be seen.
I loved this! The writing style (I would have quoted half the book if it were possible), the ideas, the characters, the world building, everything. I would never have thought I would like so much a book about an airheaded high-schooler who doesn’t care much about books, but I did! I am so looking forward to the sequel :)
Somewhere outside our world there is a school of Fairy Godmothers, where teenage fairies are studying various topics meant to help them in their future career. The criteria that makes a fairy become a particular someone’s godmother were not expounded upon; suffice it to say that a fairy is assigned a person, and they have to grant that person three wishes (because that’s how the story goes, right?) :)
Getting to live in a world where a fairy can poof into one’s existence at any moment, offering to grant three wishes, is bound to lead to some interesting adventures — as is the case with this book. Now, while fairies (and leprechauns, and computer gremlins) do exist and take their Godmothering responsibilities very seriously, their assignments are spread around in time and space, so very few people know about them at a given moment.
This is the case in Pampovilla too, actually. While there is plenty of magic there, complete with knights and ogres and dragons to be vanquished, most of the atmosphere is classical Middle Age-y, with folks going around their business, most of them knowing about the magic and the likes from stories only, not having direct contact with it. This made the characters transition from their own world to Pampovilla as seamless as possible in the circumstances, especially as even Savannah knew enough about the fairytales she found herself in to know what to expect.
The main reason I liked this book so much are the characters, whom I found likable and relatable, despite the difference in age and, well, everything else.
The book starts out focusing on Jane, the straight A student and the serious one (“The way the teachers loved her, they could have erected a statue in her honor. They would entitle it The Student the Rest of You Should Have Been“). And also, as was somewhat to be expected, the one in love with a guy that doesn’t even know she exists.
And then the POV switches to Savannah, the beautiful, airheaded sister, the one who thinks high school exists merely as an opportunity to socialize, preferably with cute guys. I did not know what to make of her at first but, somewhat to my surprise, she turned out to be a very likable character. I was happy to see that, despite her lack of interest in school-related stuff, Savannah never acts dumb, or ditsy. She is smart, brave, kind, and never takes the easiest way out just because it’s the easiest; she always tries to do the right thing, and I can never resist that :)
The fun part is that the fair godmother, Chrisantemum (Chrissy from now on), is very much of a teenage girl herself: good looking, loves flirting and pretty clothes, and is able to spend countless hours shopping at the mall with her friends. Alas, these activities keep her too occupied to actually pay attention to her charge, which is how Savannah ends up in all sorts of situations in the first place. Chrissy is, in a way, too much of a teenager for my taste, and, while it was fun meeting her and all, I am not sure I would have liked interacting with her for a longer period of time (alas, I may be too old and grumpy to get her). To be fair, her lack of patience regarding other people may be related less with her being a teenager and more with her being a fairy, and as such thinking herself way above humans (her paper about her assignment is named “How I Used Magic to Grant Wishes, Make Mortals Happy, and Rescue Them from Their Dreary Lives” :) ). However, when all is said and done I cannot say I did not like her; quite the opposite actually, I am looking forward to reading the next book she stars in.
As for Tristan, I think it was a very good idea to have him spend a few months in the Middle Ages before meeting the narrator/reader again. He must have taken it quite hard at first, but after a while he ends up adjusting very well to the day and age he finds himself in. I very much liked his resourcefulness, how he managed to find a way to earn his bread (by telling stories — according to him people turned out to be great fans of Battlestar Galactica :) ), and how he has formulated a plan to get out of his predicament. A difficult plan too, but he doesn’t waste any time complaining about what he cannot change, he just does his best with whatever tools he has at hand. And to think that in his own land he was a rather shy teenager :)
The book starts out in Jane’s POV, so we get to see the way her relationship with her sister’s then boyfriend has begun and evolved from a sympathetic standpoint. Which was quite a nice touch, in my opinion. Jane’s situation is not easy, but she is indeed a far better match for the guy she’s been interested in all year (far before he met her sister) than Savannah is. And deep, deep down Savannah herself knows it, although she is disappointed and heartbroken and lacking a date to the most important social event in the near future. I liked the relationship between the two sisters, although it’s not much dwelt upon. I liked how each of them cared and worried for the other, despite there being a world of difference between them and despite the recent event that has pushed them apart.
As for Savannah and the guy she’ll end up with (I’m not saying who that is :) ), I liked the way their relationship develops. Sure, he has been interested in her all along, and yet she never noticed him until very recently. Drawn to him by a sense of duty, little by little she starts noticing him as a person, the way he looks, the jokes he makes, the way he acts. Just the kind of relationship I like seeing in books :)
About a decade ago there was a movie called Bedazzled, with Brendan Fraser starring as a guy who’s granted seven wishes by the devil. However, each and every time he makes a wish, the devil (Elizabeth Hurley) takes it literally, making each wish’s fulfillment something to get rid of rather than something good. It’s one of my favorite comedies, and it is the one this book reminded me of over and over again. :)
What I liked
My favorite part was when Savannah found herself in the middle of Snow White story, and everyone was treating her condescendingly because it seems that the original Snow White wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Apparently, she is the one who has nicknamed the seven dwarves Grumpy and Doc and Dopey and the rest, because she couldn’t keep track of their actual names.
On the whole I found the dwarves’ reactions to her to be laugh-out-loud funny, and I am really sorry I cannot quote that whole part here :) They are all quite fond of her, and try to humor her as much as possible (e.g. they all still wear the misshapen caps Snow White has made them when she learned to knit), and yet somehow that always turns out to be quite hard to do (even now, as Savannah has replaced Snow White, because although she is smart enough she still knows too little about the new environment to act like a person who truly belongs).
I cannot help but quoting a part, although I am not sure how much it works outside context:
[...] I thought of the perfect way to learn the dwarfs’ names. I’d just call out a name and see which
dwarf answered me. It would be easy. Ha — and they thought I wasn’t smart.
“Dopey?” I asked.
“Of course you’re not,” the one in the brown cap said. “You’re just not used to cooking yet.” He went to the cupboard, took out a stack of bowls and spoons, and handed them out.
A dwarf in a blue cap went to the soup pot and stirred it. He kept poking the spoon through it as though
searching for something, then sighed, disappointed.
“Well, bring over your bowls and we’ll say grace.”
The gray-capped dwarf looked into the pot. “Aye, it needs praying.”
“Sleepy?” I called out.
“I am now,” the gray-capped dwarf said. “Think I’ll turn in for the night instead of eating.”
I tried one more time, searching the dwarfs’ faces.
“Don’t be a pessimist,” The brown-capped dwarf said and handed me a bowl. “No one’s gotten sick from eat-
ing your food for days now.”
Fun bits aside, I liked how the author has managed to strike a balance between a clear, readable writing style and beautiful prose. Consider this quote for example:
Guys can smell desperation. It triggers an instinct in them to run far and fast so they aren’t around when a woman starts peeling apart her heart. They know she’ll ask for help in putting it back together the right way — intact and beating correctly — and they dread the thought of puzzling over layers that they can’t understand, let alone rebuild. They’d rather just not get blood on their hands. But sharks are different. They smell the blood of desperation and circle in. They whisper into a girl’s ear, “I’ll make it better. I’ll make you forget all about your pain.” Sharks do this by eating your heart, but they never mention this beforehand. That is the thing about sharks.
It makes me want to go out and find some other book of the author’s, to get to enjoy her writing some more.
What I did not like
Five stars = there’s nothing I want to complain about, I have liked everything well enough.
Which is definitely the case here. :)
Thoughts on the title
The title is the thing that has first piqued my interest in this book. Its explanation is funny in itself: Chrissy is a fair godmother because her grades are only fair, not good. And, according to Savannah, it shows :)
Thoughts on the ending
I cannot help but wonder whether Chrissy knew all along how things will eventually unfold (that everything will end well and everyone will benefit from the experience) or she was just lucky enough to have things work out in the end. I am leaning towards the former, although Chrissy does seem enough of an airhead most of the time to make the latter very plausible too.
The moral of the story is “nothing worth having comes easy”; in Chrissy’s own words:
“Did you think wishes were like kittens, that all they were going to do was purr and cuddle with you?” She shook her head benevolently. “Those type of wishes have no power. The only wishes that will ever change you are the kind that may, at any moment, eat you whole.But in the end, they are the only wishes that matter.”
Recommend it to?
Anyone who doesn’t really and truly hate YA. And who knows, you might like it even so (I myself am not crazy about some of today’s YA tropes, and this book managed to steer clear of all of them; and did I mention it’s fun? :) )
Part of the same series:
My Unfair Godmother