Review: The Help

This month’s Eclectic Reader book was The Help by Kathryn Stockett (more info on the Eclectic Reader Challenge under the “Challenge” tab).  Since I don’t usually read historical fiction, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself immediately drawn into the story.  Everything, from the characters to the conflict, was beautifully done.

A short synopsis:  Aibileen is a black maid raising her seventeenth white child, a child whose mother shows no love towards her own daughter.  Aibileen’s friend, Minny, has a hard time holding onto a job, but manages to get one working for a young woman who has more going on in her house than she lets on.  Meanwhile, Skeeter is a white woman just home from college who wants more than anything to be a journalist.  Together, these three women start working on a tell-all book that will show what life is really like for black women in Mississippi.

Now, to say it was beautifully done is not to say the subject matter is beautiful.  The conditions and trials these women had to go through were in some cases downright horrifying.  I cannot even imagine being as awful as some of the white women portrayed in the book, though I know that if I had grown up during that time period I may very well have turned out that way.

Some of the things in this book baffled me.  On one hand, the maids are trusted and even needed to raise the children of white families.  And yet, throughout the book the main protagonist insists that “they” have different diseases than white people, that “they” should have separate bathrooms, that “they” cannot be trusted with polishing the family silver for fear of stealing it.  I can’t comprehend what sort of strange worldview would lead to these contradictory beliefs.

Moving on from the atrocities in this book…I thought the characters were wonderfully done.  I couldn’t pick a favorite if you asked me.  Aibileen, with her mothering nature?  Minny, the one who’s always got a sarcastic comment ready?  Or Skeeter, the curious and ambitious woman trying to eke out a new life for herself?  All of them were incredibly believable and I cared for them all during the course of the novel.  The prose was lovely as well.

Of course, the main bit of The Help is about civil rights.  It’s about people who have been kept quiet for so long finally speaking out and being heard, no matter the consequences.  But more than that, the thing that struck me, especially toward the end of the novel, is that this book is about freedom.

All of the protagonists, in one way or another, find personal freedom: freedom from people, from places, from situations.  They find ways to reinvent themselves, to carve their own paths, to let no one dictate for them what they will do with their lives.  That, I think, is the point of the novel: behind every big movement or decision is a need for freedom and change.

I can’t get over how just wonderfully done this novel was.  Everything flowed perfectly, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time reading it.  This, I think, is a book that everyone needs to read, for several reasons.  Certainly the subject matter is something that cannot and should not be ignored, and that holds priority over any other reason to read it.  But in addition to that, people should read it just because it is a great book.  Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Well, I guess that’s all I have to say on the matter.  I’m hoping to watch the film adaptation of this book sometime soon.  We’ll see how it holds up to the print version.

Happy reading.

Review: 1984

This month I read 1984 by George Orwell for the Eclectic Reader Challenge, and let me tell you, it was some heavy reading.  I’m sure much of the ideological and political commentary went straight over my head, but I think I understood enough of it to at least give you a rough review.  Do understand that I cannot fully speak my mind about this book without spoilers.  Be warned.

Also, I do really hate to cut off posts like this, and I know I’ve been doing it a lot lately, but this is a super long post so I’m going to go ahead and do it. Continue reading

Review: The Scorpio Races

Readers, today’s review is the February installment of the Eclectic Reader Challenge.*  This month I read The Scorpio Races, a fantasy novel by Maggie Stiefvater.  This was a book I’ve been waiting to buy since October, and I’ve been even more anxious to finish it since I discovered it had been honored with a Printz award.

A short synopsis: the waters around the island of Thisby are home to carnivorous, amphibious and often homicidal water horses that come ashore every October.  Every year, the bravest of the islanders manage to capture some of the water horses and ride them in the annual Scorpio Races, which are a very dangerous and popular affair.  There are two main characters in this novel: Puck Connolly, who is the first girl ever to ride in the Scorpio Races (for various personal reasons); and Sean Kendrick, who has won the Races four times and is basically the water-horse-whisperer of Thisby.  This is about their interactions together and their individual struggles as they prepare for the deadly Races.

Maggie Stiefvater is the author of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, so I had high expectations for this latest stand-alone novel.  And it’s true that I really enjoyed it.  I liked the excitement of the horse racing (I used to be quite the horse enthusiast), and I really liked the character of Sean.  This book is extremely character-driven, and he (along with his cohort) is perfect for the job.  He’s the steady-and-silent type, and that was done beautifully in this novel, but his real charm comes through when you see his more vulnerable side.  I also was intrigued by his relationship with Corr, his water horse.  He can’t trust the beast, but he loves Corr all the same.

Puck, though, is a different matter.  Throughout the novel I found her to be almost unbearably stubborn, and I never really understood her pretense for riding in the first place.  What happens is Puck’s older brother, Gabe (they’re orphans, by the way), is planning to leave Thisby for the mainland.  As soon as she hears the news, she announces that she’ll be in the Races, concluding that if she wins Gabe will magically decide to stay.  This seemed just ridiculous to me, which is probably the reason I was wary of her for the rest of the book.

Needless to say, I much preferred the scenes with Sean in them.

The secondary characters were all right, though.  The good guys were interesting and funny and clever, notably the American horse dealer George Holly and Puck’s little brother, Finn.  The bad guys, on the other hand, were irredeemably so.  I found myself despising the cool and collected I-own-this-island-and-I-like-playing-games-with-the-people-on-it Benjamin Malvern and his malicious I’m-not-good-with-horses-so-it’s-someone-else’s-fault son, Mutt.  All told, well played by Mrs. Stiefvater.  She managed to keep things fresh with the antagonists, which can be a hard thing to do.

"The Horses of Roan", a painting of water horses by Maggie Stiefvater herself.

Now, on with the book overall, not just the characters.  As for where the plot is concerned, I had no qualms with it.  It had enough going on to keep me interested.  It’s where everything comes together that I thought this book fell a little flat.  Maybe it’s because with this author I’m comparing it too much to her incredible werewolf trilogy, but while I liked this book, I wasn’t jump-up-and-down enthusiastic about it.  I can’t really put my finger on it, because it was good, sure, but not good enough to make me love it like I’ve loved her other books.

Perhaps this is just because I’m coming fresh off a reread of TFiOS, which was just as AMAZING the second time around.

Rating: 3/5 stars, but do keep in mind I’m a harsh critic generally.  You should see some of the papers I peer-edit in school.

Well, I suppose that about does it for this episode.  I’m already started on 1984.  I might get that one done before March, actually, which means I’ll be breaking my vow with the one-book-a-month thing, but, really, none of you care, do you?  It’s 1984!

Happy reading.

*For more information, please see the tab above called “The Challenge”.

Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Wow.  That’s the first time I’ve ever written a review and put “Review” in the title.  This is an historic moment.

Okay.  Moment over.  On with the review.

I finished the first book in the Eclectic Reader Challenge (more information under the “The Challenge” tab) in a shockingly short amount of time.  Granted, this is the first full book I’ve read since the Great LOTR Debacle (Omnitopia Dawn doesn’t count, as I had already gotten started on it beforehand), so it’ll probably take some time for me to get used to Normal Reading Speed once more.

Then again, it was a pretty short book, all told.  Only about 143 pages.  Those pages were pretty small type and pretty big pages, but still.

Don’t think this meant the book was lacking in anything, because it wasn’t.  I was expecting it to be funny, but I wasn’t expecting this quality of humor.  It got to the point where I was making a friend read certain passages because they were just too darn hilarious to pass up.  Highlights included Marvin the Paranoid Android (although I didn’t really get the Paranoid part, as he’s more clinically depressed than anything else) and Eddie the computer.  Although, really, the whole thing was great fun to read.

Aside from the humor, though, I didn’t expect the book to be so satirical.  Irony and sheer wit pervaded the book from the very first page. It contained a surprising amount of commentary on human nature (mostly the more absurd things we do) and society.  The book also sometimes breaks from the main narrative to reveal an interesting tidbit or other from the actual Guide.

One of the novel’s main themes (if I can call it that) is the phenomenon of extraordinary (and meaningless, according to the author) coincidences happening when they are extremely improbable.  Improbability actually factors a lot into the humor and the plot of the story, and here’s where the science-fiction portion of it all comes in.  There’s one scene in particular where the power of improbability is causing all sorts of strange and wonderful things to happen to our main characters, and the reader just has to go along with it.  There’s no making sense of it all, but somehow I could still follow along, and that, to me, is a mark of extremely good writing.

Speaking of the main characters, just one thing I wanted to point out here: there are four (not counting Marvin) main passengers on the Heart of Gold (which is their spaceship): the humans Trillian and Arthur Dent, and the residents of Betelgeuse Five, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect.  I simply wanted to point out that aside from Zaphod being in possession of two heads and three arms, both of these otherworldly individuals are humanoid.  Now, I realize that Ford had to blend in with the humans, and that from a writing standpoint Adams probably wanted us as readers to be able to relate to these characters better than if they were, say, Hoovooloos (which are superintelligent shades of the color blue), but it just seems a little strange to me that two aliens should be so human in appearance, when the author literally had an entire galaxy’s worth of imagined species to choose from.  This also happens, presumably, with the old man on Magrathea, because the narrator doesn’t note anything strange about his own appearance.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it does help to relate to the characters and lends more to the action if I don’t have to keep worrying about how a certain character’s movements and whatnot “look” in my head.  I simply thought it was interesting.

And another thing: the plot was spectacularly paced.  One subplot led straight into another seamlessly.  Even the different books of the trilogy read straight into each other.  When I finished the last page, I was ready to just dive immediately into the first page of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  Brilliantly plotted, overall.

And, well, I suppose those are my thoughts on this particular novel.  If we’re rating this…3.5 out of 5 stars.  It would be a four, but I did think the characters were a bit flat.  Either they had oversimplified personalities or really they had no distinct personality at all, and the fact that this was written mostly just to be funny can’t change my opinion that something is lacking.  Maybe Adams flushes them out a little in subsequent books, but I feel this should have been done within the first novel.

This concludes this month’s review.  Next month I will be reviewing a different book, of a different genre, with different pictures.  In the interim, I just finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and just started on Scott Westerfeld’s Goliath this weekend.

Side note: John Green’s novel was incredible.

Happy reading.

(Eclectic Reader) Challenge Accepted

Readers, today’s post comes to you in three parts.

Part One: The Challenge

Becky from over at Blogs-of-a-Bookaholic posted a while ago about the Eclectic Reader Challenge 2012, and as that year draws ever nearer it’s time I officially announced my undertaking of it.  Go here to see the page where the Challenge originated.  Essentially, those who take on this challenge must be willing to go outside their literary comfort zones and read at least one book from each of the following genres:

  1. Literary Fiction
  2. Crime/Mystery Fiction
  3. Romantic Fiction
  4. Historical Fiction
  5. Young Adult
  6. Fantasy
  7. Science Fiction
  8. Non Fiction
  9. Horror
  10. Thriller /Suspense
  11. Classic
  12. Your favorite genre

…and all by December 31, 2012, or December 21 if I want to be eligible for a prize at the end of it.  It sounds quite interesting, and I can’t wait to see what books I read because of this.  The only thing I’m a bit worried about is writing a decent review for each book.  You may have noticed that I don’t write reviews here normally.  That’s because I’m really awful at it.  Oh well!  Time to learn!

I’ll be following Becky’s example and creating a tab at the top of the Novel Journeys page to track my progress throughout the year, so stay tuned for that!

Part Two: The Award

I’d like to thank Kirsten over at Kirsten Writes! for giving me the Don’t Read This Blog at Work Award.  Here are the rules of this particular award:

  1. You may nominate no more than three bloggers, each of whom must have made you laugh out loud with at least one post.
  2. Those who receive the nominations may consider themselves as having received the award, and they must post a gushing acceptance speech thanking the person who nominated them, and perhaps thanking any companion animals they may blog about.
  3. Those who receive the award may, but need not, pass on the award, but will not themselves be eligible again until they have published at least ten more posts.

So, here goes said gushing acceptance speech:

“I’d like to thank Kirsten for giving me this prestigious award.  I’m bursting with happiness and gratitude that you think I’m funny enough to deserve this.  I’m not often humor-oriented here, but when I do post something that’s supposed to be funny it’s nice to know that other people like it and are laughing and not just me.  Anyway, Kirsten, thank you.  So much.  I’m glad you enjoy the ol’ blog.  I just…” *holding back tears* “I’m just so happy!  Thank you!  Thank you!”  *bows and scurries to sit down*

There!  That’s enough gushing for one day, yes?

Exactly.  Now, the rules say that I’m not required to pass on this award, and so I’m not going to.  Don’t think this is because there aren’t any wonderful and humorous blogs out there, because there are.

That Liebster award was only a short while ago, at any rate.  If you want to look at some blogs that I like and that deserve attention, please refer to that post.

Part Three: The Song

Time for a Hunger Games update!  Yesterday I discovered this amazing song, which is the first song we have from the official movie soundtrack, was released only Thursday, and which, within 24 hours, TOPPED THE SINGLES CHART ON ITUNES, and is still at the top as far as I know.  Without further ado:

I would love to get your reactions, readers.  What do you think of the song (not to mention the fact that Taylor Swift is on the soundtrack)?  Most importantly, where can you imagine this being fit in during the film?  For me, it definitely goes with Rue’s death, or rather, shortly thereafter.  Some, though, seem to think it’s for the cave scenes with Katniss and Peeta, and I’ll admit that’s a possibility (but I don’t believe it myself).

And that’s all I have for you today, readers.  In light of what tomorrow is, I’ll be posting next on Monday instead.

Merry Christmas and happy reading.