Saturday, June 30, 2018

How to Be Famous - Caitlin Moran

Title: How to Be Famous
Author: Caitlin Moran
Publisher: HarperCollins, July 3, 2018, (Hardcover) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 337 pages
Genre: Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: June 21, 2018
Finished: June 29, 2018

From the back cover:

Johanna Morrigan (aka Dolly Wilde) has it all: she is nineteen, lives in her own flat in London, and writes for the coolest music magazine in Britain. Her star is rising, just not quickly enough for her liking.

Then, John Kite, Johanna's unrequited love, has an album go to number one. Suddenly John exists on another plane of reality: that of the famouses, a world of rabid fans and VIP access. Johanna lacks the traditional trappings of fame (famous parents, mind-scorching hotness, exotic sandals, etc.), so she does the only thing a self-respecting Lady Sex Adventurer can do. She starts a magazine column critiquing the lives and follies of the famouses around her. But as Johanna skyrockets to fame herself, she begins to realize that with celebrity comes sacrifice, and hers may mean giving up the one person she was determined to keep.

For anyone who has been a girl or known one, who has admired fame or judged it, How to Be Famous is a big-hearted, hilarious tale of fame and fortune - and all they entail.

I've been familiar with Moran's work for several years now, so when I was contacted by the publisher asking me if I wanted a copy of her newest book, I enthusiastically said yes. How to Be Famous is a sequel of sorts to her previous novel, How to Build a Girl, which you don't need to have read to enjoy this newest instalment - I haven't, but I can assure you, I will be rectifying that shortly.

How to Be Famous takes place in London circa 1994-1995 and follows the life of Johanna Morrigan, a nineteen-year-old living the life most teenagers would die for. She lives on her own, writes for a music magazine, and gets to interview famous people for a living (oh, 1994, when someone could actually live independently and have a job in the entertainment industry in their late teens). Johanna's life isn't perfect though. She is becoming increasingly aware of the sexism inherent in the male-dominated industry she works for; and her unrequited love, John Kite, rockets to stardom, leaving her further behind. She decides to win John Kite's heart the way she does best: by writing.

Moran does a wonderful job of capturing the spirit that was the mid-90s, and reminding us that even though we're looking at these events more than 20 years in the future, the problems Johanna faces are, not surprisingly, quite contemporary and relatable. There's a definite feminist vibe to the book (as with all of Moran's works), but everything is conveyed so well through Johanna's experiences to the point where you have such empathy for the character that you would literally punch Jerry Sharp in the face if he suddenly appeared in corporeal form before you.

Moran also writes with an amazing sense of humour. I began reading this book while proctoring exams, and it was a serious struggle to not burst out laughing while my poor students were trying to concentrate. So I thank the author for not only writing a wonderful book, but for rescuing me from the complete boredom that is proctoring exams. Not only is Johanna's narration deliciously funny, the character of Suzanne is absolutely hysterical. Heck, all of the characters are, but Suzanne is a particular treat for readers.

Moran's writing is not only funny, she has a gift for metaphor as well. I have several passages that are particular favourites, but this one is probably the least spoiler-y: "At this point, John's life was like a zoo on fire. Animals running everywhere. If I kissed him here, then, that kiss would just be just one more confused penguin, lost in a crowd of panicking zebras, and lions trying to eat eagles. I didn't want to be a sidelined penguin. I wanted to be the whole Ark."

A deliciously funny romp amidst the backdrop of the British music scene of the mid-1990s with a feminist twist. Give this a go, you won't be disappointed.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the punk/grunge look on the kids in the image, and the hot pink and yellow colour scheme is just immensely appealing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Shape of Water - Guillermo Del Toro and Daniel Kraus

Title: The Shape of Water
Author: Guillermo Del Toro and Daniel Kraus
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 314 pages
Genre: Adult; Fantasy
Started: June 18, 2018
Finished: June 20, 2018

From the inside cover:

It is 1962, and Elisa Esposito - mute her whole life, orphaned as a child - is struggling with her humdrum existence as a janitor working the graveyard shift at Baltimore's Occam Aerospace Research Centre . Were it not for Zelda, a protective coworker, and Giles, her loving neighbour, she doesn't know how she'd make it through the day.

Then, one fateful night, she sees something she was never meant to see, the Center's most sensitive asset ever: an amphibious man, captured in the Amazon, to be studied for Cold War advancements. The creature is terrifying but also magnificent, capable of language and of understanding emotions...and Elisa can't keep away. Using sign language, the two learn to communicate. Soon, affection turns into love, and the creature becomes Elisa's sole reason to live.

But outside forces are pressing in, Richard Strickland, the obsessed soldier who tracked the asset through the Amazon, wants nothing more than to dissect it before the Russians get a chance to steal it. Elisa has no choice but to risk everything to save her beloved. With the help of Zelda and Giles, Elisa hatches a plan to break out the creature. But Strickland is onto them. And the Russians are, indeed, coming.

Developed from the ground up as a bold two-tiered release - one story interpreted by two artists in the independent mediums of literature and film - The Shape of Water is unlike anything you've ever read or seen.

I adored the film when it came out at the end of last year, so picking up the novelization of it was a given.

If you've already seen the film, there's not much else to tell you since you already know the story. What I like best about the novel is that it's written in third person omniscient, we get to see into the minds of practically every single character, including the creature, Strickland, and even Strickland's wife. These viewpoints in particular were the most intriguing to me, I love hearing from the antagonist's point of view, and having his wife's story included was a nice bonus, she's surprisingly a pretty fleshed out character. There were only a couple segments written from the creature's point of view, but they were stunningly profound despite their simplicity in language.

If you enjoyed the film you have to read the novel, it complements the film nicely and gives a greater breadth of dimension to the story and characters.

Thoughts on the cover:
I think the cover image was one version of the movie poster, if I remember correctly. It's a nice image, so it works.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Publisher: Flatiron Books, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Started: June 11, 2018
Finished: June 18, 2018

From the inside cover:

Seventeen-year-old Alice Proserpine and her mother have spent most of Alice's life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice's grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away - by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind:

"Stay away from the Hazel Wood."

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother's cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with her classmate and fairy-tale superfan Ellery Finch, who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To find her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood and then into the world where her grandmother's tales began - and where she might discover why her own story went so wrong.

I wanted to like this, I really did. The plot summary reads like the kind of dark fairy tale I would normally devour, hence why I picked it up.

The first half of the book is slow, granted, but was interesting enough. Alice and her mother live a nomadic lifestyle due to an uncanny amount of bad luck that follows in their wake. When they receive notice that Althea, Ella's mother and famous author, has died at the Hazel Wood, Ella believes that they can finally move on with their lives and settle down somewhere. But when Ella is taken from their Brooklyn home, Alice teams up with Ellery to discover her family's history and the reasons behind her mother's disappearance. And that's where it all falls apart.

Alice is a difficult character to empathize with and give a damn about what happens to her. I was curious about her backstory, but not invested in her as a character. Once the road trip to the Hazel Wood is underway, I lost interest, honestly. Finch is a bit of a stereotype rather than a fleshed out character, so that annoyed me. That, and the plot doesn't make much sense at a certain point, I was just confused for the last half of the book.

Worth a try if you like dark fairy tale-type stories, but beware that my issues with the book were shared by other readers as well.

Thoughts on the cover:
So pretty, I love the black with gold effects.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Archival Quality - Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz

Title: Archival Quality
Author: Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz
Publisher: Oni Press, 2018 (Paperback)
Length: 280 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Adult, Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Realistic Fiction, Mystery
Started: May 26, 2018
Finished: May 26, 2018

From the inside cover:

The Logan Museum is a mysterious old building practically covered in skulls, and also the new workplace of Celeste "Cel" Walden, a librarian who was let go from her previous job after a mental breakdown. But Cel is desperate to feel useful, and Abayomi Abiola, the Logan Museum's chief curator, is desperate to hire an archivist.

Cel soon realizes the job is unlike any other she's had. There's an apartment onsite she's required to live in, she only works in the middle of the night, and she definitely gets the impression that there's more to the museum than Abayomi and her new boss, Holly Park, are letting on.

And then strange things start happening. Odd noises. Objects moving. Vivid, terrifying dreams of a young woman Cel's never met, but feels strangely drawn to. A woman who for some reason needs Cel's help.

As Cel attempts to learn more about her, she begins losing time, misplacing things, passing out - there's no denying the job is becoming dangerous. But Cel can't let go of the woman in her dreams. Who is she? Why is she so fixated on Cel? And does Cel have the power to save her when she's still trying to save herself?

This just sounded really unique when I came across it, and after reading it, I can say that this was definitely an intriguing choice.

Cel makes for an engaging character due to her mental health struggles, and the addition of the supernatural elements adds a unique and appealing twist to the story. It really does make you question whether Cel is actually seeing the ghost and the weird events or if it's just a reflection of her life after her breakdown. The backdrop of the museum as an asylum in the past also gives a nice little reflective piece on how our understanding of mental health has changed in just the past few decades, let alone the past 100 years.

I also really appreciated the examination of Cel's insistence that she do everything on her own without help, and how she has to come to terms with the idea that she needs to reach out to her support network and actually accept the help of others if she really wants to get better. The cast of characters is small, but nicely diverse across many aspects, so that gets bonus points as well.

This is definitely a must-read, if not for the portrayal of mental health issues, then for the creative story. 

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the shiny gold that the title font is done in, it makes for a nice touch.