Sunday, 12 July 2015

June Reads

Hmm, last month I said I'd focus on reading fun books in June! But obviously my reading moods aren't that predictable. And even if I have a silly plan like that I don't hesitate to change it and read whatever I feel like reading, so... :D Let's see how fun June was anyway.

Maresi: The Red Abbey Chronicles  
Maria Turtschaninoff


Maresi is the Finlandia Junior winner of 2014. So, no, I wasn't even expecting this to be what you'd call a ”fun” book, because let's face it, the biggest award winners never are. However, it was definitely not as dark or angsty as I expected. The general tone of the book is actually pretty positive, it's hopeful, even empowering and never actually fully reaches the horror the beginning seems to promise. I'm having a hard time deciding whether this is actually a good or a bad thing for the book. I mean, I'm forever for happy endings, so the less the dark promises are kept the happier I'll be, but it's obviously not like that with everyone. I can imagine many people feeling betrayed by the beginning. (Although, critics don't seem to have much complaints either, so how about I just rest my case and be happy with happiness.)

Other than that, I wasn't really as impressed with this book as I'd hoped. It wasn't bad but it never stood out to me in any particularly good way either. Sure, it explored a wide variety of themes teenagers face in their life in this day and age and the historical-esque, fantasy-esque setting of the book but... that's pretty much it. And basically the reason I'm skeptical about many award winners. It's just so often that critics favour books with controversal themes (through safely conservative lenses) even if that's all the book is, when the themes are just that; a convient collection of topics and don't grow organically from the characters.

Sadly, this seemed to be exactly the case with Maresi. The characters, their relationships, their personal histories... all felt plotted to tell a story that illustrates the themes of matriarchy/patriarchy, religion/faith/practise, violence/abuse/trauma, education/poverty etc. All of these were raised as almost annoyingly discreed questions in the book and since it was combined with a plot copied and pasted straight from The Coming-Of-Age Story or something, it kind of left me feeling pretty much nothing. It just feels too calculated and crafted to evoke strong emotions.

Even the characters are like that. Like the author completely internalized the theory of creating characters and then followed that knowledge flawlessly with every one of them but forgot that the characters are supposed to come from the author's intuition and not from the page of a writer's manual. The Girl Who Loves To Read And Study and The Scared Abused Girl both fill their archetypal roles completely and have just the right amount of detailed, individual characteristics to also make them believable human beings in theory. The point is, you're not supposed to feel like that's the case when you're reading about the characters. The creation process shouldn't be left on the page like a math equation for the reader to see and go like ”Oh, these are the building blocks of this character because they make the most convenient stage for the themes the writer wanted to include.”

This book has been written like the perfect school essey, the A+ in mind. Everything has been written ”Just The Right Way”. I don't know how else to put it.

However, I quite liked reading the book anyway. On the surface, it's written very beautifully. The choice of words, how the scenes are carried to another and how the characters are described is what ultimately saves this book for me. There are moments in the narration when I was able to forget how crafted everyone seemed and just listen to the voice of the narrator.

The setting and many details about the society the characters lived in were interesting too. At times, they seemed to promise that the plot would go much further too, and it's a shame it just fell short in the end. There was definitely a good basis for the world building and I would like to spend more time in the book's world. Apparently there's going to be two more, so I'll be interested to see if the story improves.

This was an easy and quick read, and even entertaining at times, it just seems like the author was trying too hard to balance imagination, creativity and some external standard.

Rebel Belle  
Rachel Hawkins

Well this was a fun read! Which is a great surprise since it's a bit outside my comfort zone. But I was in exactly the right mood for this one. It's as funny and silly as I was expecting but in other ways it exceeded my expectations.

The main character is refreshing, since I'm kind of sick of seeing her "kind" of girls playing the role of antagonist in high school comedies, (some shy bookish girl making everyone see how vain they are in the end). :D No, girls who dress well, get good grades and care about their place in the society are not necessarily vain. Harper is a great character, and I'm so happy the story doesn't downplay the meaning of her accomplishments/what she finds important.

The cast of supporting characters was also unexpectedly good, for many reasons not usually seen in a high school comedy:

1. They all had a very distinct personality (way too often all the supporting girls and guys sound exactly the same but that was not the case here!)
2. The best friend was an actual person who's relationship with the heroine was important on its own! (way too often the best friend is just a fairy god mother who helps the heroine get the guy)
3. The way the heroine and the love interested flirted through picking on each other was actually believable (I can't almost believe I'm saying this.)
4. THE ENDING!!! That was such and awesome turn of events!! How often do you see that?
...or just in general how nobody stopped to matter to the heroine after she got the guy! (But there is one specific... group coming together in the end which makes it greater.)

There are some cons too though:

1. Some not so believable scenes and actions
2. Some events where sort of downplayed in order to get forward (the characters didn't seem to care as much as would've been natural)
3. The middle of the book was a little boring, not much happened
4. In general I think this book is a bit too nonchalant about all the dark topics it deals with... I mean, I get that it's supposed to be lighthearted but at times I still wished it would've been a bit more serious about some things.

Btw, the cover is just perfect. Just wow.

If you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Percy Jackson or that kind of light, low fantasy (this is way lighter than them though) and are looking for something fun and romantic this is probably the book for you.

Kuroko no Basket  
Fujimaki Tadatoshi

I finally finished reading this manga. (Well, finally means I think it took more than a week for me to read it.) I definitely love sports manga/anime with ridiculous, borderline magical abilities and exposition so detailed you'd think the readers are blind, but I'm not sure if I've ever been so immersed in one before (ok, maybe Kaleido Star).

I actually started watching the anime first, almost by accident. I had a friend over and she started to talk about it with my roommate. I knew she was watching some basketball anime but she hadn't asked me to watch it with her, even though we usually watch everything together, because she knew how much I hated basketball. xD (Allthough I had liked basketball manga before. You know I don't hate watching/reading about it, I just hate participating. ^^' But I guess she just didn't think about it and I didn't pay too much attention because I figured she just wanted to watch something alone. :D) When they talked about it, it started to sound really interesting and suddenly they wanted to watch it from the beginning and that was that. I was totally hooked.

But the anime was still on-going when I reached the newest episodes, so of course I couldn't take it and I just had to start reading the manga. I don't think there was more than maybe 5 episodes left when I got to the end of the manga, but I'm the kind who always wants to finish the original work first anyway.

Gee, it appears I still have troubles reviewing this. I'm probably going to be hang-overing it for the rest of the year. (This is why I tried to read it slowly.) Argh, I'm still having dreams about it.

Maybe I'll just accept it for now that this is the kind of series I rate five stars and ignore whatever flaws it may have because I'm completely biased. And happy with it.

The Secret in Belfast  
Charity Bishop

This was a very intriguing and enjoyable read. I was really impressed by the way the real historical figures didn't stand out from the fictional characters! Sometimes when reading historical fiction, they are too obviously "crafted" and show that the author just couldn't make them "original" characters, which I think is really important. If you're going to write fiction about people you'll never write exactly like they were anyway, just go all the way and make them your own characters! With the Secret in Belfast I think that was done perfectly well.

The story was facinating and really surprized me quite a few times, which is always welcome and generally doesn't happen often enough. A couple of times I had this rare blind feeling I honestly had no idea where to story was going and that was refreshing! In general I was never expecting "the next obvious plot point" and that made me able to fully enjoy the present all the time while reading.

I also love these subtle crossovers with the author's other books, where you know that the world is the same where the characters from another book are living but you can never be sure if the books will cross paths and then it's just so great when it happens! xD It lifts my spirits every time and here that was done perfectly too.

Also, if you're reading about a historical event that you
know won't end well and you're still so immersed in the story that you find yourself hoping a miracle would happen and the ending would be different, and then the tragedy hits you like it's the first time you've heard the story, even when it's one of the most well known in history... the author has definitely done their job well. I was more devastated over this book's Titanic than a Hollywood Titanic ever. <: D

I don't really have too much critic for this book. There was a while before half way through the book, I think, where I was feeling like the plot was missing a bit and the story was about separate scenes... which of course came together in the end, but there was this kind of "Wait, what is this story about, again?" -moment. Not very long, though.

A couple of times Richard gave off this feeling that you should've read another book about him before to be fully on track. Maybe, like as if the author was too aware of every detail in his past and had to squeeze them in a bit? That's just the feeling I got, but it was definitely nothing major, over all, Richard was a very genuine and sympathetic protagonist, definitely one of, if not the most memorable character.

The Watcher in the Shadows  
Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This book was only quite good, which is a dissapointment since it's a Carlos Ruiz Zafon book. (One of my favourite writers.) I can't point out exactly why but the characters seemed rather shallow all the way through.

However, I liked the fact that there was no obvious protagonist, I really like that kind of books... It's the most natural style of writing for myself too, and it clearly seem to be the minority.

The story didn't feel very interesting untill half way through and the impact of the events didn't really hit me at any point, and it should have. I mean, a lot of tragic things did happen.

The book seemed to be a little bit about everything but not enough about anything. Not enough about the mystery, not enough about the relationships, not enough about the grand scheme of things, not enough about the characters' pasts... and so on. Everything had just somewhat interesting bits, I was never fully immersed into any of them.

Except one moment! The Angel's Game crossover! When Andreas Corelli from the author's later work was mentioned, of course I was totally hooked for a second. But he was never mentioned again. His mystery really bugs me overall. I hope that some day I'll learn more about him. Is he really just this character that Zafon throws in when he needs something to happen that doesn't actually happen anyway? I just hope there's more to him than that. (Because I read him so differently in the Angel's Game. ^^')

At the end of the book I was pretty satisfied though, because I wasn't expecting the ending to be as happy as it was. (I know there's tragedy too, but still...) But it didn't feel extremely important since I wasn't as hooked as I've been with Zafon's other characters... it was just... nice enough I guess.

Boy Meets Boy  
David Levithan

Perfect! This is the kind of YA contemporary I want to read. It's neither of the things I have a low tolerance for: Not overly depressingly hopeless but also doesn't gloss over heavy subjects like they're a joke.

I hear most of the critique for the book saying that it's not realistic, but I don't see it that way at all. On the contrary, it is way more realistic than most high school contemporary novels: the ones where the characters simply don't make internal sense, the themes don't make internal sense, etc. The setting doesn't have to be something that exists in our day and age for the story to be realistic. The story only needs to be realistic in the context of the book.

I mean, for me the book is realistic if the characters seem to behave realistically in the given circumstances, not in relation to our circumstances. It's not the surface that matters but the foundation.

I'm not going to analyze the heck out of this book, because the bottom line is that it made me happy. Really happy. I wish it would happen more often that I run into a book that is just able to make me so happy that I don't care about anything else. It probably makes me ignore its flaws (for the second time this month! Yay!) but I don't even care.

That's the kind of story that I want to write too. Sure, it's nice to hear that someone thought my style is beautiful, or that my suspence is intriguing or my plot original and twists unexpected. But it's still nothing in comparison if someone were to tell me my story just made them so happy they forgot everything else.

I guess this book was just really, really inspirational in so many ways.

As Black as Ebony  
Salla Simukka

I wish I would've loved this book, and I wish I could've given it more than three stars.

I still loved Lumikki, but somehow, the writing seemed lazy to me this time. The other characters weren't as fully fleshed out as in the previous books. Most of them seemed nothing more than distractions to deceive the reader. All of them were given too obviously suspicious traits and behaviour that in the end, was indeed only that. Only to hide the real culprit, not something that really rose from the characters. They didn't feel like anything but tools. It really bothers me when EVERYONE is acting suspicious solely for the plot.

I was expecting at least some suprise along the way but that wasn't there either. All we got was basically a more thorough explanation of what we already knew about Lumikki and her past. The book really didn't manage to have that same psychological depth the others did. The whole thing seemed shallow to me.

The plot started off as fast-paced and interesting, at some point I was hooked, and expected a lot more from the resolution. After half way through the book it started to get one-dimensional and didn't seem to go anywhere.

I still managed to enjoy this well enough while reading. Lumikki is really a great protagonist. But if I didn't know her from the previous books I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to connect to her character through this book.

Yeah, basically my rating is a compromise, because I was invested in the story, for more than three star's worth because the rest of the series is so great, but this book's individual merit isn't really even three stars in my opinion.

A bit of a letdown. It's probably a good thing I didn't read it right after the first two books. That way it would've made me really upset. <: D

The Bad Beginning  
Lemony Snicket

I actually haven't read this series before. I saw the movie about a year ago, I think, and absolutely fell in love with the atmosphere, so the movie probably worked its way into my reading but I don't really care, I just really enjoyed reading this. I was in the mood for a steampunk-ish fairy tale so of course this series came to my mind. It's a childhood favourite for so many people it seems weird I never read it. But maybe it wasn't so big in Finland?

I really loved the narrative, it was so funny and gentle despite stating all the time how the story wasn't. Some children's books make me wonder if the writer has ever met children or if they've just completely forgotten how it was to be a child but certainly not this one. I think the best children's books are definitely the ones that can be equally enjoyable to adults. And if an adult reader feels like the writer is looking down on the reader's ability to understand things, children are most likely going to feel like that too. But this book was perfect! The explanative parts felt simply considerate.

What I really appreaciate about this book is that it doesn't gloss over, well, ”unfortunate events”, sadness, horror or even tabus. It just keeps the narration at a distance where the reader has the control over how close they want to get. And the children are always portrayed in an empowering way, no matter how bad things get.

The only thing that I wasn't so sure about was how much the narration emphasized how badly the story was going to end. I mean, when it told the reader to go read something else if they wanted to read happy stories, I knew that as a kid, I actually would've put the book down. And I know it would've been a shame if I had. I would've gotten too scared to read it, even though the ending wasn't actually as miserable as the narration made it sound.

Oh, and the art. It's. Just. Amazing. I love the illustrations so much I have no words for it. The style is simply magical.

So, um, sure, I had a pretty fun reading month but it was only in Rebel Belle that the ”fun” was why I liked the book so... how about I won't set silly themes for myself anymore. :D (Although I may have read all summer's worth of YA now. ^^')

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