Saturday, August 7, 2010

Review of The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst

The Swimming Pool Library is mostly driven by its characters and their relationships with one another, and the narrator, Will, in particular.  I was immediately charmed by Will, despite the fact that he was selfish, narcissistic, and a deadbeat, and I am a sucker for any character that I find charismatic.  His commentary on his world of hedonism is humorous. I think it takes skill on the writer's part to endear readers to a character with such deplorable traits.  It's fun to explore imperfection in humanity. I can also relate more to flawed characters, so it's easier for me to root for them.  Will's friend James points out some of these unattractive characteristics, and pokes fun at Will for them, which makes him an engaging character as well.  Both Will and James are gay and have an intimate friendship, but neither one is truly romantically or sexually interested in the other, which I found fascinating.  There is sexual tension between them which is made evident by their teasing repertoire with one another, yet there seems to be a divide between them that prevents romantic feelings from blossoming.  Charles Nantwich is another intriguing character.  He remains a mystery throughout the novel, and provides the reader with constant questions about his motives and past.  Thus, he makes the story readable. However, some of these questions are not fully explained, which is frustrating.  The several humorous incidents and conversations that occur in the novel also contribute to The Swimming Pool Library's readability.  Some  involve Will and the guys he picks up, and there is a funny conversation between Will and his very young nephew about homosexuality. 
Despite my enjoyment of the novel, I was bothered by inconsistencies in the treatment of the gay man.  A puzzling, problematic issue in the novel is that though Hollinghurst celebrates homosexuality throughout the book, he also condemns the gay experience as being grimy and superficial. Will chooses his partners based exclusively on their physical appearance, and his copulations with them are usually as devoid of romance as skid marks on the driveway.  He also refuses to commit to a monogamous relationship.  Furthermore, Hollinghurst vindicates Will's practice as being part of the normal gay lifestyle, which suggests that most gay men do not have healthy, romantic monogamous relationships, which I'm sure is false. 
The mystery, humor, and charismatic characters in The Swimming Pool Library make me anxious to read more of Hollinghurst's work. 
Rating: B

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review of Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Marked is a bit different from other vampire books that I've been getting into lately in that it gives a biological explanation for the creation of vampires rather than a supernatural one. Zoey, the teenage protagonist, is naturally selected to become a vampire when another vampire "marks" her as one. Her body must then adapt to the vampire genetics that are somehow instilled in her upon her marking. The teenagers who are not able to adjust to being a vampire die. (Correct me if this is wrong, but this is as much as I understood about it.) Thus, the Casts employ Darwin in this novel, which is intriguing. Even more interesting is the fact that though the book is sort of scientific, there is plenty of the supernatural mixed in with it. The students at the House of Night, the vampire school that Zoey attends after she is instilled with vampire blood, engage in pagan rituals and worship a goddess named Nix.
Marked is mainly a story of survival, and learning to rise to your destiny. Zoey must compete with another vampire girl named Aphrodite for survival and acceptance at the House of Night. Aphrodite, though she is the antagonist of the story, is simply fighting for her own survival against Zoey much in the same way, though she uses cruelty and fear as weapons while Zoey uses her friends which she earns through compassion and kindness. Thus, Zoey represents the noble morals that the story is advocating.
Marked is one of the most moral vampire stories that I have read. Zoey is always in the right, unlike other fictional vampires who struggle with right and wrong. Though, she does struggle with the new blood lust that she develops upon becoming a vampire. Zoey also is forced to deal with discovering her identity, and whether she should side with the wicked Aphrodite and her cronies, the Daughters of the Dark, or to be loyal to her dorky friends who oppose their tyranny.
Because of its morality and theme of discovering identity, Marked is great for middle school and high school readers. The novel also has a correct message about sex and alchohol consumption for teenagers that is touched upon in a way that does not alienate them. Rather than lecturing teenagers on the dangers of sex and booze, the book simply gives reasons why they are not as glamorous or cool as they seem.
Despite the fact that Marked reaches out to teenagers in this way, they may feel distanced from the book because the dialogue condescends to them. The speech of the teenage characters is written in a way that makes them seem intellectually inferior to adults, which is problematic.
The ending of Marked trapped me in the House of Night series' spell, and I will definitely be back for more.
Rating: B

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review of The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson, is even better than the first book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The Girl Who Played With Fire is full of suspense and action. I read it compulsively because it kept me hooked, while the first one had a lot of slow parts. The villains are even more sinister than in the first, and the reader learns more about the enigmatic heroine, Lisbeth Salander. Though Lisbeth fits in to a character archetype of females especially prevalent in crime fiction that dates all the way back to Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare, and is not a unique character in many ways, she is appealing. She is strong, intelligent and independent. She rejects society because society has rejected her. She doesn't trust anyone because everyone has betrayed her. As a result, she's easy to relate to and sympathize with in this book. However, the other characters like Mikael Blomkvist aren't as developed in The Girl Who Played With Fire as they were in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, so they become less important to the reader. The novel overall doesn't suffer for this, though since Lisbeth is so fascinating. Also, The Girl Who Played With Fire taught me things about Swedish culture and history that I never knew before, like the fact that mace is illegal there and that there was a Swedish prime minister who was shot like Kennedy. These details immersed me further into Mikael and Lisbeth's world and gave the economy of the story credibility. However, there were many incidents that occurred that didn't seem plausible, so that poked a few holes in the economy of the story.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is an intense crime thriller that kept me on my toes and made me eager to read the next installment in the series.
Next I'll be reading Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On True Blood Season 3 Episode 5

I've decided to post about True Blood once a week. I love all the characters and the dialogue, and am thoroughly emotionally invested. I've also been reading Charlaine Harris's novels, and I love both the book and the television series. Season 3 hasn't been as good as the previous seasons of True Blood so far. There has been too much sex and not enough character development. I love good sex scenes as much as the next person if they have a purpose in the show, but in the case of True Blood season 3, the sex has been gratuitous and served no purpose other than to make the show "edgier". Instead of wasting time with these pointless scenes, the show should focus more on Sookie's sadness at the loss of Bill and her determination to get him back. These emotions have been only been glossed over. The witty dialogue full of social criticism that was present in the first and second seasons has been absent this season so far. Lafayette was the best part of the show for the first three episodes of the third season, and I was beginning to think that I would stop watching after the fourth season, but I think it's getting better so I may continue watching longer. However, the other actors have continued to do a good job with the material that they're given, so I give the show kudos for that. In the fifth episode, we learn more about Eric's past and his devotion to Pam. The suspense of the show is beginning to build again. However, there were two main things that bothered me about this most recent episode. One being the relationship between Franklin and Tara. It's creepy and sort of reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, (though I guess all the relationships between humans and vampires in the series are somewhat similar to Beauty and the Beast). There is just nothing interesting or sweet about it like their is in Bill and Sookie or Eric and Sookie's relationship. Another thing tha bothered me was the fight scene between Russell and the werewolves and Alcide, Bill and Sookie. It just looked weird. Though, the new development in Sookie's powers is cool and definitely piques my interest enough to keep me watching.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Dream You Never Wake Up From: An Inception Review

Edgar Allan Poe said; "Is all we see or seem but a dream within a dream?" Christopher Nolan's film Inception raises the same question. The film blurs the line between dreams and reality so that it becomes difficult for the audience, as well as the characters, to distinguish between the two. Like real life, the dreamer has the ability to construct their own dreams. Also, in many scenes, Nolan re-created some visual aspects of my dreams, so I felt that it was entirely possible that there could actually have been others inside my subconscious just like the characters in the movie are, so even the fictional events of the movie seemed like they could have really happened in my suspension of disbelief, if that makes sense. These visuals were aesthetically stunning as well as eerily familiar.
However, the story itself is unique and unfamiliar. Nolan's dialogue poses existential questions and is emotional like a drama, yet it also contains fantastic action sequences that keep the audience watching despite whatever confusion they might have during the film. Only rarely do action movies contain the level of emotionality that Inception reaches. Leonardo Di Caprio effectively brings the emotion of his character to the surface, and is at his best here. Cillian Murphy is also surprisingly believable and holds his own with the rest of the terrific cast. Inception is so enthralling and complex that it will keep audiences up all night thinking about it, if they aren't already dreaming.
Rating: A

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Villains Rock: A Despicable Me Review

When watching Disney movies as a young adult, I was always fascinated more by the villains than the heroes. The antics of arch-nemeses were always hilarious, and there is just something delicious about a character who takes pride in their vices and doesn't prescribe to virtues that society attempts to impress upon them. I was excited when I saw trailers for Despicable Me, because I loved the idea of a movie entirely about a villain. It was refreshing. Despicable Me is unique because Gru, the evil protagonist of the movie, is a dynamic character who defies the conventions of the traditional cartoon villain with his curly moustache and black cape. He has dreams of going to the moon and longs for love from his mother, which allowed me to sympathize with him on a different level. Gru also deals with problems that regular citizens do. He has to go to the bank for a loan. Why, if he's such a hardened criminal, he doesn't just rob a bank, I don't know, but that's what he does. He gains the heart that normally villains lack, thanks to the three girls he comes across.
His interactions with the girls are funny and heartwarming, like the instance in which he has to take them to dance practice and pinky-promise to go to their recital. His interactions with his cohort, Dr. Nefario, and his rival, Vector, are also a riot. The combination of humor and warmth make Despicable Me a great family entertainment.

Overall Rating: B

Saturday, February 28, 2009

We all live in a yellow submarine.

Okay since I don't have the time or feel like writing full reviews of the books I've read since my last post, I'm just going to give a mini-review.

Book #2
Title: Light Before Day
Author: Christopher Rice
# of pages: 467
Year Published: 2005
Rating: A or 5 out of 5

Book #3

Title: The Liars' Club

Author: Mary Karr

# of pages: 320

Year Published: 1995

Rating: C or 3 out of 5

Book # 4

Title: The Lilies of the Field

Author: William E. Barrett

#of pages: 127

Year Published: 1962

Rating: 4 out of 5 or B


Title: Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood

Author: Fatima Mernissi

# of pages: 242

Year Published: 1994

Rating: 4 out of 5 or B