BONUS BOOK: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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“I could picture a squabble of ghosts ripping through piles of newspapers. Pointing at a name on the page. See, there I am. I told you I lived. I told you I was.”

Genre: Suspense, Mystery, Thriller, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims – a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story – and survive this homecoming.”

Review: As my first Gillian Flynn novel, I had pretty high expectations for Sharp Objects, based on the widespread critical acclaim garnered by Gone Girl. And at the book’s conclusion, I found myself agreeing with Stephen King’s analysis: Sharp Objects is an “admirably nasty piece of work.” It was impossible to put this book down; in fact, I found myself frantically turning pages and finished Sharp Objects in under three hours. The plot was spellbinding, and I spent a majority of the book trying to figure out, for myself, who the murderer was (disclaimer: I guessed wrong). Flynn clearly has immense skill as a writer and was able to completely draw me into the plot and characters. My only complaint is that the actual reveal and discussion of who the murderer is only takes up a handful of pages at the very end of the book. Perhaps it’s a testament to Flynn’s writing prowess, but I wasn’t ready for Sharp Objects to end. I wanted more details on the hows and whys of the murders. Altogether, Sharp Objects was a really tremendous debut novel.

Rating:

Four_Star

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

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“‘Devil’s Snare, Devil’s Snare… What did Professor Sprout say? It likes the dark and the damp -‘ ‘So light a fire!’ Harry choked. ‘Yes – of course – but there’s no wood!’ Hermione cried, wringing her hands. ‘HAVE YOU GONE MAD?’ Ron bellowed. ‘ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?'”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley – a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry – and anyone who reads about him – will find unforgettable.”

Review: In my entire 23 years of life, there is no single book that I have read more times than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While I have read all of the other books in the Harry Potter series many, many times, the first book, by virtue of being the first, remains my all-time most-read. I love Harry Potter. I love EVERY SINGLE THING about Harry Potter. I wrote myself a Hogwarts acceptance letter and stuffed it into my own Christmas stocking when I was 11 years old. I almost cried when I got to visit “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Orlando. A quick perusal through my room will turn up the following items: golden Snitch , Gryffindor scarf, Marauder’s Map mug, Time Turner key-chain. I am saving up to buy a $35 Marauder’s Map replica (i.e., I’m willing to spend $35 on a large piece of paper because of its role in the Harry Potter series). I practically learned to read because of Harry Potter. Many years ago, our family had an evening ritual: everyone would pile into my parent’s bed and my mom and dad would read a chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to my brother and I. But when they both got sick at the same time and our evening readings were indefinitely suspended, I finished the book myself. I tell you all of this so that you have the necessary background to understand my next statement: there will never be a book I love as much as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I would not be the person I am today without this series. Ten stars to Gryffindor, and haters be damned!

Reason for Ban/Challenge: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, along with the rest of the Harry Potter series, has faced opposition from several religious groups. The primary accusation is that the novel glorifies witchcraft. Other complaints are that the series is too dark and that the books set bad examples. To the people who would like to see this series banned, I would direct them to one of the book’s most famous quotes. For as Dumbledore said:

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living and, above all, those who live without [being able to read Harry Potter because bigots and people with large sticks up their a**es ban and challenge the series] love.”

I may have embellished a *little*.

Rating:

Five_Star

Bonus: Edited cover from the Buzzfeed article titled “19 Banned Books if They Were Made Appropriate” (http://www.buzzfeed.com/juliapugachevsky/banned-books-if-they-were-g-rated#.oh3oNwL0b).

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BONUS BOOK: City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments, Book 3) by Cassandra Clare

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“And even if she hoped it might be, even if she hoped she might someday be persuaded by time or reason or gradual attrition not to feel this way anymore, it didn’t matter.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “To save her mother’s life, Clary travels to the City of Glass, the ancestral home of the Shadowhunters – never mind that by doing so she is breaking the Law, which could mean death. Even worse, Jace does not want her there, and Simon has been thrown in prison by Shadowhunters who are deeply suspicious of a vampire who can withstand sunlight. Luckily, Clary finds an ally in the mysterious Sebastian, who holds a strange attraction for her. As Valentine musters a demon army, can Downworlders and Shadowhunters put aside their ancient hatred and work together? And can Clary harness her newfound powers to help save them all – whatever the cost?”

Review: City of Glass managed to keep up the strong pace set in City of Ashes (the second book in the Mortal Instruments series). I think this was my favorite book so far, given that the characters finally traveled to the much-discussed Alicante (a sort of Shadowhunter-birthright trip, if you will). While I had hoped that more Shadowhunter history and lore would be intertwined with this trip to Alicante, there was still plenty of conflict and mystery to keep me engaged. Based on the other two Mortal Instruments books that I have read so far, Cassandra Clare’s third novel had some predictable flaws. SPOILER ALERT: For example, when Sebastian kills Max Lightwood (younger sibling to Alec and Isabelle), Clare is so reluctant to include ANY graphic content that his murder is hardly explained. She doesn’t get an authentic  reaction from her readers because, honestly, no one really cares about Max. He’s mentioned only a handful of times throughout the second and third book, and all I really know about him is that he wears glasses, likes to read Manga, and gets excluded from many discussions because he is young. Once again, City of Glass was hindered by poor supplementary character development. Overall, however, I enjoyed this latest installment in the series and was happy to finally see the Clary/Jace sibling issue resolved (SPOILER ALERT: As I guessed, they are not actually brother and sister. As for the explanation behind this discovery, you’ll have to read the books yourself to find out).

Rating:

Four_Star

BONUS BOOK: City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, Book 2) by Cassandra Clare

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“She thought of the satisfaction it would have brought Magnus to say the words out loud, to acknowledge what the truth was, and the fact that he hadn’t said them – had let Alec go on lying and pretending – because that was what Alec wanted, and Magnus cared about Alec enough to give him that.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? Clary would love to spend more time with her best friend, Simon. But the Shadowhunters won’t let her go – especially her handsome, infuriating newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil – and also her father. When the second of the Mortal Instruments is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor suspects Jace. Could Jace really be willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?”

Review: After reading City of Ashes, the second book in the six-part Mortal Instruments series, I am happy to say that this novel was definitely an improvement when compared to its predecessor, City of Bones (see review here: https://bannedbookbrigade.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/bonus-book-city-of-bones-the-mortal-instruments-book-1-by-cassandra-clare/). City of Ashes not only benefited from improved character development and additional elaborate twists, but it also managed to progress the plot without feeling too rushed (unlike City of Bones). While there are still areas that definitely need improvement (ex. the reasoning behind certain character DECISIONS is never addressed or explained), City of Ashes made me glad that I decided to stick with this series. I’m a big fan of the legend and lore in the Shadowhunter world and, despite little prior interest in books concerning angels/demons (although I’ve always been a fan of werewolves, vampires, and faeries), I can now say that I’m officially hooked. Touché, Cassandra Clare.

Rating:

Four_Star

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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“Yes you are, celestial light, you are my choice, my last and my best choice.”

Genre: Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran: the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life and the toll repressive regimes exact on the individual spirit. Marjane’s child’s-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible littler girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.”

Review: The book manages to be, in equal measure, humorous and gravely serious. For example, one plot point introduced early on is Satrapi’s juvenile approach to religion and God.  The quotes below demonstrate the range of emotions experienced by the young narrator (and, consequently, by the reader):

“It was funny to see how much Marx and God looked like each other. Though Marx’s hair was a bit curlier.”

As a young child, Satrapi dreamed of becoming a prophet when she grew up. But in the face of growing political turmoil and the devastation of war, she lost some of her childhood idealism while gaining commendable adult spunk and spirit.

“One can forgive but one should never forget.”

As one of only a handful of graphic novels I’ve ever read, I found that the black-and-white comic strip format of Persepolis lent some much-needed imagery to the story. Given that Iran and the Islamic Revolution are rarely discussed from a human perspective in the United States, I found that Satrapi’s story was rendered much more complete and understandable through illustration. This is definitely a book that I will read again, and made me want to learn more about Iranian life during those tumultuous years.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: In 2014, Persepolis was the second most commonly challenged book in America, according to a report by the American Library Association. Arguments found in official challenge/ban reports for this book claim that the book contains graphic language and images, is not suitable for the targeted age group, references gambling, uses offensive language, and is altogether politically, racially, and socially offensive. While several of these complaints are true to an extent (gambling is referenced and graphic situations do occur), Persepolis offers a much-needed first-person view into Iranian life during the Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq. The Westernized understanding of Iran is typically extremely skewed, and this misunderstanding and misinterpretation likely starts at a very young age. Persepolis, with its approachable graphic novel format and likable main character, is an easy read that actually provides the reader with a better context and understanding of Iranian history. If the text and images are graphic, then it is only because Iran has a graphic history. This is not a new discovery. The book counters these graphic situations with heartfelt, humorous, and endearing moments. Satrapi’s eloquent retelling of her childhood demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit in front of unimaginable loss and suffering. She is able to tell her story while also restoring humanity to a country that has been often been vilified.

Rating:

Four_Star

 

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

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“I tried on the summer sun, Felt good. Nice and warm – knew it would. Tried the grass beneath bare feet, Felt neat. Finally, finally felt well dressed, Nature’s clothes just fit me best.”

Genre: Poetry

Book Jacket Synopsis: Last night while I lay thinking here, Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear, And pranced and partied all night long, And sang their same old Whatif song: Whatif I flunk that test? Whatif green hair grows on my chest? Whatif nobody likes me? Whatif a bolt of lightening strikes me? Here in the attic of Shel Silverstein you will find Backward Bill, Sour Face Ann, the Meehoo with an Exactlywhat, and the Polar Bear in the Frigidaire. You will talk with the Broiled Face, and find out what happens when Somebody steals your knees, you get caught by the Quick-Digesting Gink, a Mountain snores, and They Put a Brassiere on a Camel. From the creator of the classic Where the Sidewalk Ends, here is a wondrous new collection of poems and drawings.”

Review: In my opinion, Shel Silverstein can do no wrong. His poems are just too fun. I also think that many kids hold an early aversion to poetry, and that his illustrated books do an excellent job of showing those kids that poems can be silly, imaginative, and expressive. His poetry collections certainly had that effect on me; I remember writing my own poem (entitled “Why Am I Asking Why?”) in elementary school that took direct inspiration from Silverstein’s “Whatif” poem. And while my young work almost certainly broke some sort of intellectual property/plagiarism barrier, it was the first time that I actually had fun writing poetry for a school assignment. All of his illustrated poetry collections (A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up) give me a whimsical sense of childhood nostalgia. More than that, they are actually even more fun to read as an adult because I have a better understanding of innuendos and puns than I did when I first read his books.

“How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it.

How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it.

How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em.

How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.”

Reason for Ban/Challenge: Attempts have been made to ban A Light in the Attic because some believe that it encourages disobedience (particularly the poem entitled “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes”), mentions supernatural themes (demons, devils, and ghosts), and describes death (as in “Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony,” where Abigail promptly dies after her parents refuse to buy her a pony). However, I would argue that Silverstein’s lighthearted way of addressing weird, funny, sad, and scary issues likely helps children face their own issues with a little more optimism and humor. Altogether, there is nothing sinister about this poetry collection; on the contrary, it is good-humored and wholesome.

Rating:

Five_Star

BONUS BOOK: City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, Book 1) by Cassandra Clare

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“And then she drew Jace standing on the roof, looking down at the ten-story drop below. Not afraid, but as if the fall challenged him-as if there were no empty space he could not fill with his belief in his own invincibility.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “When Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder – much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with odd markings. This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons and keeping the odd werewolves and vampires in line. It’s also her first meeting with gorgeous, golden-haired Jace. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in an ordinary mundane like Clary? And how did she suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…”

Review: I’ve heard about the Mortal Instruments series multiple times over the past few years, but I didn’t get around to investigating more thoroughly until one of my bookstore coworkers recommended it. In a one sentence summary, I found that the series holds potential but that the first book got off to a rather weak start. As far as potential is concerned, Cassandra Clare (pseudonym for Judith Rumelt, a Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings fan fiction writer turned novelist) has definitely created a multifaceted, interesting world where demons, angels, werewolves, faeries, and vampires all have a place. Her ideas are, for the most part, very unique, and City of Bones was unlike any other teen fantasy/adventure books I have read in the past. However, I felt like the characters almost always failed to have “appropriate” reactions to the many outrageous things that happened to them. SPOILER ALERT: For example, when Clary finds out that Jace is actually her brother (signs point to this not being true, but the first book certainly wants its readers to believe that it’s a real possibility), she is somehow able to very quickly get over the fact that she is immensely attracted to and has kissed said brother, and instead tries to be a “supportive sister” as Jace deals with the news. It was weird. I’m also not a huge fan of the fact that Cassandra CLARE chose to name her heroine CLARY; it seems a little bizarre and pretentious to me. Overall, this first book in the six-part series did not dissuade me from reading book two, but it also did not necessarily meet my expectations, given the high press and praise this series has received in the past. We’ll see what the second book holds!

Rating:

Three_Star