Monday, February 10, 2014

Arty -- My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

Look who's finally getting around to appearing again! Sorry, I had an influx of homework and suddenly all I was reading was stuff that you can't really review on a "fluffy stuff you read to feel good" sort of review blog. Also, look for the review of January this Wednesday, because I am slime who can't keep a deadline.

Anyway! Let's talk about happy things, such as books that make me laugh out loud. My Most Excellent Year is one such book.

In it, we have Anthony Keller, aka Tony C, aka T.C., aka Tick, a crusader for baseball rights and the love of the new girl in town; Augie Hwong, obsessed with and knowledgable about all things related to classic movies and musicals; Alejandra Perez, the above-mentioned new girl in town who also happens to be the daughter of a UN ambassador, a crusader for social justice, and a closet singer/dancer. Throw in a small deaf child named Hucky with a serious addiction to Mary Poppins, budding romance between kids and adults alike, and enough baseball and cinema references to choke a Wookie, and you have My Most Excellent Year.

Firstly, the writing is excellent. Like John Green, there tends to be one overall tone for the characters, without much deviation in terms of character voice; unlike John Green (I'm so sorry), Kluger manages to pull it off. Maybe it's because the subject matter is more lighthearted than JG tends to go for. Anyway, with such smooth, natural writing, it's kind of a given that it'll succeed at the emotional/comedic points it attempts. And it does, for the most part (no novel is perfect).

The characters were, on the whole, loads of fun. T.C. starts out as a pretty flat, clichĂ© character, but by the time the novel ended, he'd uncovered his secret stash of complexity and emotion and won my heart, succeeding where most characters like him don't (his mother is dead, he's chasing after a girl who doesn't like him, et cetera et cetera). AlĂ©, on the other hand, never really got much affection from me. Maybe it's because I know/have experienced people like her in real life and it's never been fun (people who can make a social issue out of a tissue box). She got more bearable towards the end, and she did have her moments of fun, but overall, she was probably my least favorite character (along with Wei, Augie's mom, who had the same problem).

The characters who really stole the show, though, were Augie and Hucky. Augie, unlike T.C., spouted off trivia I could appreciate - old classic movie trivia. Some of his references I got ("The Cub Room. Where the elite meet.") and some of them reminded me of movies I have to watch soon. His whole thing (all of the characters in this book have a thing) was practically perfect in every way; he managed to be obsessive and a little neurotic without being overbearing, and, indeed, typically being adorable. I would have appreciated more substance in his relationship with Andy, and after a certain point I didn't want them to end up together as much as I had before, but the whole relationship was handled in a sensitive and yet hilarious way, so I don't have much to complain about.

(And I can't say anything about Augie without saying something about his All About Eve addiction. Just wait until you get to the part where he retells the Tooth Fairy story. If he were straight, I would have married him on the spot.)

There's also Hucky, the six-year-old child living in a home for deaf children. I was skeptical of Hucky at first - little kids with disabilities usually end up getting used as emotional props - but he was actually a really adorable character. He's testy, obsessed with Mary Poppins (how many times can I use the word 'obsessed' in one review?), and he helps T.C. cheat at informal baseball games. What more can you say?

The story is rambling, in a good way. There's no real point to the plot, though there are some longterm goals set by the story. And in the end, they're all met. There's a beautiful sense of closure that a lot of 'genreless' novels like these don't have. And that makes a huge difference. Putting down a book with a smile on your face - priceless.

So if you're in the mood for some fun, light-hearted rambles through Boston with a handful of quirky ninth-graders (and a six-year-old with an attitude) (and some hilarious and extraordinarily human parents) (and an older brother who will surprise you) (and a dog named Nehi) (and a lot of references to All About Eve), then I'd definitely recommend My Most Excellent Year.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Persy -- The Highlander's Touch by Karen Marie Moning

Here's the thing, Karen Marie Moning: you write a story in which time travel plays a significant part, and I'm GONNA be harsh.

This is actually the third book in Karen Marie Moning's historical romance Highlander series, but you don't have to read them in order, so don't worry about spoilers for other books. However, if you don't know the standard plot to a romance novel and/or don't mind discovering one or two minor plot surprises, you might not want to read this review.

Lisa Stone is working two jobs, struggling to support her cancer-ridden mother. Her father died long ago, and now she's all Catherine, her mother, has. She works as a night maid for a museum, and one night she happens upon a mysterious artifact and... well, touches it. She is instantly transported back in time to the Scottish highlands... where she comes face to face with Circenn Brodie, a deadly man who is a stickler for rules. But will his unquenchable love for Lisa cause him to break . . . every . . . single . . . rule?

Sorry, I get super dramatic when I review romance novels. Dunno why.

Let's start way back in the Prologue. Circenn curses a flask so that once it is touched it will be transported back to him, effectively returning the lost flask. Unfortunately, it will also return whoever touches the flask. Adam gets pissy and makes Circen swear to kill the bearer of the flask to protect all the secrets, or whatever. After a lot of arguing, Circenn makes the oath. But here's the thing: Circenn swears to kill the MAN who touches the flask. MAN. MALE. Guess who brings the flask? Right. A woman. I totally expected this to be the loophole. And it would've worked SO WELL because Adam knew who would pick up the flask, and Adam didn't actually want her dead, and even if Circenn forgot he said man, Adam could've been all, "Remember, you swore to kill the MAN. AHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA."

But that's not what happened. Oh well.

Moving on. I don't see what the big deal is about Circenn being immortal. I mean, yeah, I get not wanting to curse anyone else with immortality, but still. Do you have any idea how much trouble would've been saved by him just spilling the beans? "Oh, Lisa, your mother is going to die alone in the future? WAIT, I'm IMMORTAL. I promise to seek her out and take care of her. Heck, I'll even throw my sexy bod into the equation."

But that solution never occurred to anyone. Whatever.

Moving on. Perhaps this is a small detail, but it seriously bugs me. The longer Lisa spends in the past, the more upset she gets because every day she spends there is a day her mother is alone. But... she's not on another planet. She's in the past. So if she were to find some sort of way to time travel... she could just travel back to the moment she left.

But maybe I'm just being nitpicky about time travel.

But now that we're on the subject, the ending. Oh. my. gosh. the. ending. Romance novels are notorious for magical, happily ever afters, but THIS? SERIOUSLY? You are taking it TOO FAR, here! You can't just DO THAT.

There are also some absolutely random parts that I don't understand. There's the stereotypical best friend Ruby, who gets left behind in the modern day world. She has a total of two scenes, and afterwards she's sometimes referenced but never more than to explain away bits of knowledge or clothing that Lisa possesses. There is never any sign that Lisa misses her best friend. But this isn't a major issue.

What strikes me as REALLY odd is the redhead who snubs Duncan. I mean, what the crap? She and her brother hint at some malicious intent and there's the insinuation that they're even lying about their names. Moning goes into such detail about her appearance and the scene seems so dadgummed important... and then she disappears completely. Maybe it's a reference to another book in the series? I don't know. But it's just plain weird.

And my final irritation... the first time Circenn sees her in her undies, she says that he caught her in the one fancy pair of underpants she happens to own: a set of lacy lavender lingerie. The ONE pair she owns. But then at the very end, she rushes to get dressed and we find out later that she is now wearing a set of lacy PINK lingerie. What.

Oh wait. Of course. Of COURSE she'd have more lacy lingerie, because THEY CHANGED THE EFFING FUTURE. Naturally, that would result in her having more pairs of flirty underpants.

All that aside... I mean, the characters weren't bad. I guess. I didn't think the book was too awful until I started writing a review of it. Let's be honest, this isn't much of a review... more like a rant. But I can't think of anything so awe-inspiringly brilliant that it would make up for all of my little pet peeves that showed up in the book. I swear, when I was actually reading it, it wasn't awful.

But she messed with time travel. How can you expect me to not be harsh?


You might like this if you: just really like historical romances; like time travel, but don't like it when it's complicated; have an afternoon to kill and don't want anything serious; or if you work as a night maid in a museum and wonder what would happen if you inspected all the artifacts yourself. That's right, bad stuff would happen. Don't do it.