Review: The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

The Language InsidePublished: May 14, 2013 by Delacorte
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 528

Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls home.  But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with her grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.

Emma feels out of place in the United States, begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan.  At her grandmother’s urging, she volunteers at a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems.  There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees.  Weekly visits to the care center, Zena’s poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return early to Japan.

I originally picked up The Language Inside because I thought the cover was gorgeous, then I turned it over and saw it was about a girl who was raised in Japan returning to America for the first time since she was a baby, and became intrigued. I was also pleasantly surprised to find it was written in verse. I haven’t really read any other books like it, so I thought I’d give it a shot, and ultimately, it was a fun experiment for myself and I thought it worked fairly well. Thompson’s imagery is really lyrical and beautiful at times, and it definitely pulled me in in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’m neither big on poetry nor on dance, and those are two topics that are discussed pretty heavily in this book, and I liked that Thompson was able to pull me in despite all that, and that is probably due at least in part to the fact that the book is written in verse.

I will admit there were some areas where I wished the book had been written in prose – there were some parts, particularly those discussing Cambodian culture, where I wanted more background or explanation, and I’m not sure that telling the story as verse really allowed for that. There were also some… I guess more “mundane” scenes where I wanted a little more sense of place, but due to the format, each scene is relatively short, so again, not sure something like that would have made a lot of sense, even if I wanted it. That said, those feelings (of wanting more of a sense of place and wishing the book had been written in prose) weren’t constant by any means.

While I was familiar with several aspects of Japanese culture that are discussed in this book, I learned a lot about Japanese dance and Cambodia. I liked that the book educated the reader in parts without necessarily making it feel weird. It felt natural to me, since Emma was learning at the same time. The only thing I wished had been a little more clear were some of the pronunciations – Emma goes into them quite a bit early on, and then it drops off almost entirely, so I wasn’t sure if I was pronouncing the Cambodian words and names correctly.

I really enjoyed the relationships between the characters – Emma’s relationship with her mother felt pretty authentic, and I liked her interactions with Samnang as well. It was interesting seeing the three cultures (American, Cambodian, and Japanese) through Emma’s eyes.

The book made me cry quite a few times, particularly when Emma talks about the Tohoku earthquake. The Language Inside takes place in September of that year, so the events are fresh in Emma’s mind and the passages dealing with the aftermath are particularly heartbreaking. I felt those were some of the strongest aspects of the story. While the grand majority of the book takes place in Massachusetts, the quake and tsunami are often in the back of Emma’s mind, and I thought that her feelings of helplessness – between not being in Japan to help her friends rebuild their lives and feeling lost when it comes to her mother’s cancer treatment and her family’s future – were handled really well in this book.

I will admit, I don’t know any teenager personally who feels about poetry the way that Emma does, so some of her explanations about poetry, imagery, and meaning felt a bit forced at times, and there were some areas where I felt writing the book in verse worked beautifully and others where I felt it lacked something, but overall I really liked this. I’m glad I picked it up and I’m looking forward to eventually reading Thompson’s other books!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Review: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)Published: February 2, 1999 by Bantam
Format: Kindle Edition
Pages: 760

This review is for the second book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire.

A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky.  And from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns.  Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war.  It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night.  Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside.  Against a backdrop of incest and fratercide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel… and the coldest hearts.  For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.

lolol I originally started this in January 2012, restarted it in March 2013, and finally finished it tonight.

I haven’t watched the TV show at all (not planning on watching any of it until I have read the books), so I’m not coming from that point of view with this review.

So after the unstoppable rollercoaster that was the second half of A Game of Thrones (I read the last 50% over the course of a couple of days), A Clash of Kings was a bit of a disappointment in the beginning. It was back to a very slow buildup, and it continued with some of the issues I had with the first book, namely that I found the constant changes in POV to be extremely frustrating. Over the course of this book, though, I kind of came to terms with it, because typically by the end of each section, I was like, NO, I WANT TO GO BACK TO THAT PERSON, STOP, DON’T CHANGE POVS :( so while there were a few times where I was basically crying NO, WHY A JON CHAPTER, I was usually able to make myself get over it pretty quickly and read on through, and was usually excited to get back to that character ASAP (and it didn’t happen with just Jon’s, that was just one particular example, haha), so it definitely kept me reading. The book definitely picked up pace around halfway through and I had a really hard time putting it down, even if I did stray to other books often earlier on in my reading.

While I was originally frustrated with the new characters because I wanted to go back to the old ones that I already knew and whose stories I was already invested in, I ended up really liking at least one of the new additions (Davos!), and those that I couldn’t really find exactly likable were still interesting for their own reasons. I’m both looking forward to and dreading new additions in the next book, haha.

I was kind of torn on how to rate the book, since the beginning was frustrating and slow for me, but later on it was SO HARD to stop and it was all I could think about if I had to put the book down for work or anything else.

I didn’t see a lot of the twists and turns coming in this book, though I was able to go back and see some of the foreshadowing, and I loved that. I’m so excited to continue on with A Storm of Swordsonce I can get my hands on a copy. I’m on the waitlist for it at the library right now and I have another library book to finish in the meantime, but the wait is going to be torture!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Review: John Dreamer by Elise Celine

John DreamerPublished: February 12, 2014 by AuthorBuzz
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 203

Andy wasn’t usually sure about much, but she was absolutely certain this was the weirdest day of her life as she stood stranded in the middle of a great white room with six strangers.  Well, they were mostly strangers.  She could have sworn she’d seen the guy with the green eyes before, and maybe that was why he kept staring at her.

When a man calling himself the Guardian appeared and said they had come to make their deepest dreams come true, they embark on an adventure none of them ever imagined, and the consequences of their actions would change them forever.

I was pulled in to John Dreamer by the gorgeous cover and the book’s description. I thought it sounded really unique and interesting, so I decided to give it a shot, and while there were some things I liked, there was a lot I didn’t like, too.

I really liked the premise of the story (though I couldn’t take the Guardian seriously), and I liked the concept of the “Great White Room” and the chairs showing aspects of each character’s personality. I also thought the last quarter of the book was pretty interesting – for some reason it stood out to me a lot more than the previous 3/4 of the book did. The narrator swap 3/4 of the way through the book really threw me for a loop, but I found I liked the narrator’s voice a lot better than Andy’s – it felt more distinct and real to me. I felt it slipped back into Andy’s voice a couple of times, but still found it to be a lot more engaging than her sections.

I really enjoyed the photography in the book and thought that for the most part it really added something to each chapter. It was really pretty and surreal and I think it fit the book’s tone and setting really well. The formatting was a bit awkward in my edition, but I think it would make a really gorgeous combination in a print edition.

There was some language that was really lyrical, beautiful, and engaging, and other parts that fell really flat for me. Toward the end of the book, it improved, though there were still some melodramatic-sounding lines that gave me pause.

The book introduces its seven characters quickly as subjects in the Guardian’s dream world, and unfortunately, all seven of them are introduced in the first 10%. While Roy, Matty, Linda, Olivia, and Marcus were all given pretty specific personality quirks that helped separate them from each other, I felt really overwhelmed that they were all introduced within a couple of pages of one another. Considering how the story plays out, I can see why this was done, but I still wished it had been executed a little differently.

I especially felt like we never really got to know Andy, and she’s the first-person narrator of the story, so I didn’t feel like that should have happened. I felt like I knew next to nothing about her for the grand majority of the book, other than her name and the fact that she liked John, and I didn’t even know WHY she liked John other than that he was good-looking, so that didn’t do much for me. Andy doesn’t really speak her mind or tell the reader (or anyone else) anything about herself, and seems to constantly avoid any situation that would actually develop her character. I felt like we knew the supporting characters better than we ever got to know Andy or John.

I also felt like these character had really toxic friendships, or at least had the bar set really low for what they’d describe as a “friend.” Andy keeps referring to the other characters as her friends, but I never really got the impression that they were, aside from her constantly using that word to describe her relationship with them.

One other issue I had, though this might not be a major problem for other readers, was partially caused by the setting of the Great White Room. As I mentioned, I liked the concept, but in practice, it didn’t really work for me. I had a hard time keeping track of where characters were in relation to each other and what they were doing, so I never really had a sense of place and very rarely had an idea of what was going on physically in those scenes. I would get confused because I would think that two characters were close together, or feel it was implied that they were, but then one of them would walk over to the other one, and I found stuff like that to be really disorienting.

I liked the book’s message and I think it’s an important one for a teen audience, but the main character development and execution left something to be desired.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Review: The Camelot Code by Mari Mancusi

The Camelot CodePublished: April 16, 2014 by NLA Digital LLC
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 295

All fourteen-year-old gamer girl Sophie Sawyer wants to do is defeat Morgan le Fay in her favorite Arthurian videogame.  She has no idea the secret code sent via text message is actually a magical spell that will send her back in time to meet up with a real life King Arthur instead.

Of course, Arthur’s not king yet – he hasn’t pulled the sword from the stone – and he has no idea of his illustrious destiny.  And when a twist of fate sends him forward in time – to modern-day high school – history is suddenly in jeopardy.  Even more so when Arthur Googles himself and realizes what lies in store for him if he returns to his own time – and decides he’d rather try out for the football team instead.

Now Sophie and her best friend Stuart find themselves in a race against time – forced to use their 21st century wits to keep history on track, battle a real-life version of their favorite videogame villain, and get the once and future king back where he belongs.  Or the world, as they know it, may no longer exist.

I worked toward a medieval studies minor in college, so I’m fairly familiar with the story of King Arthur, though I haven’t read those stories in quite some time. That said, The Camelot Code was a nice trip back into that world, and gave me a bit of a refresher on the legend, too.

I thought this was a fun novel, though I’m not sure I would personally describe it as YA – it read more like a middle grade novel to me – but I still enjoyed the story quite a bit. It was humorous in parts, and ridiculous in others, but not in a bad way. It also has a pretty large cast of characters, and while some of them could be a bit stereotypical, some of them also broke away from those stereotypes fairly cleanly, and I liked that. It was amusing in the right parts, and I enjoyed the MMO aspect, though I think several of the terms might go over the head of someone who wasn’t familiar with them, since the terms weren’t really explained that I can recall.

The dialogue felt a bit stilted at times, but over the course of the book, it improved. I did find a few things a bit awkward – I thought the culture shock for both characters from the past and from the present would be a bit more pronounced, and they all seemed to get over it fairly quickly, and I also found it a bit odd that everyone just assumed that because Arthur and Guinevere were from England, they wouldn’t really be acquainted with a lot of modern things. That was definitely strange and not very realistic, haha, but those issues aside, there was a lot to have fun with here. The nod to Medieval Times definitely made me smile, having been there a few times myself, once fairly recently.

Overall this was a pretty fun book, and while it read a bit younger than I was expecting and I had a few issues with how things were handled, it was an enjoyable read, especially for someone familiar with the legends of King Arthur. I didn’t realize it wasn’t the first in its series, so I might check that out at some point!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: 3 out of 5 stars