Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Review: The Bees

Title: The Bees
Author: Laline Paull
Release Date: 2015
Genre: fiction, biology...I'm really not sure what to call this one
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: adult fiction
Age Group: 18+
Awards: Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction (Shortlisted)


Flora 717 is born into her hive just as every other Flora is born--she climbs out of a cell, shakes herself dry, and is ready to work. Just like all the other bees.
Except Flora is, well a Flora. That means she's at the bottom of the bee-list. She's a cleaner of the hive. But a Sage decides to try an experiment and moves Flora up to the nursery where the young bee learns to tend to the babies.
That was a big mistake.
Flora gets smart. She learns how to blend in with any of her sisters, the Sage (priestesses), the foragers, and butting heads with the Teasel. Plus, she befriends a Drone, the most disgusting and self-absorbed member of the hive.
Yes, Flora is dangerously resourceful--and she's a mutant. But one day her ability to move from class to class becomes a real threat. One day, she falls in love with motherhood.
And one day, she realizes something horrible: the Queen is sick.

Word of Warning
  • This book is incredibly brutal. Bees and wasps are torn apart and murdered in various ways. Spiders prey upon the bees and suck their lives from them. It's the brutal reality of the animal world like we've never seen it before. The violence is not glorified, and is treated appropriately, but can be disturbing.
  • The Drones. They're disgusting and self-centered and just, yuck. Their sole desire is to mate with a Queen (and once they do so, they die). We get a rather stark description of this processes. It's detailed and graphic but strangely non-sexual. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the way the material is treated is more factual and scientific than anything else. It's weird and disturbing to remove romance and anything beautiful from that kind if intimacy. I think that's what bothered me most about this discussion. I realize these are animals, so of course you have to remove that, but I hadn't realized how messed up it sounds.
  • The Sisters' (bees) religion kept reminding me over and over of a Pagan/misunderstanding of Catholicism mashup. I never could pin down if the author was trying to mock Catholicism or not. The Sisters have ranks, priestesses, a library with books in it that they revere, and a Queen Mother that they worship above all else. They gather for Devotion once a day and their prayers sometimes sound similar to the Hail Mary prayer. It was really disconcerting.
My Thoughts

Wow. Having grown up enchanted by creepy crawlies and other creatures, I knew pretty much all the factual information in this book. But there is a huge difference between knowing the facts and seeing them in action. I'd never really thought of these facts in the form of a story--at least, not realistically.

Life in the hive is confusing and full of blind followers. It's brutal. It's disgusting.

But it's the life of a bee.

And I honestly enjoyed this book. I found it hard to put down. The writing style was haunting and the story was stunning.

Wow. That's just about all I have to say about this one.

And yes, that may be a purposeful paraphrase of Mr. Slinger in Kevin Henkes' Lily and the Purple Plastic Purse. Because I do enjoy a good picture book, and I have my childhood favorites that I will never forget. Like The Poky Little Puppy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann and Annie Barrows
Release Date: 2008
Genre: historical fiction, letters, romance, British literature, WWII
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: adult fiction
Age Group: 16+

Juliet is a young writer in London trying to get back on her feet after the war. Her house was bombed and she is living in a little apartment. While a truly successful writer during the war, she doesn't want to write about those things in that style anymore. It was trivial and careless, a much-needed distraction for her readers at the time. But now she wants to write about something better.
And she's having a horrible time finding something to write about. Eventually, she gets in touch (quite accidentally) with the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a group of people in Guernsey whose survival stories from the war are unfortunately common, and yet unique in that they are their own people. She greatly enjoys her correspondence with the Literary Society and eventually goes to visit, thinking maybe at long last she has found the subject for her book, if only she can find the proper structure.

All written in the form of letters.

Word of Warning
  • There is mention that one of the characters is homosexual. This is glossed over for the most part.
  • Children born out of wedlock.
  • Kisses. One of my favorite parts of the novel is when one letter-writer confesses that she caught two people kissing in the parking lot with loosely closed lips. It's my favorite because this is proposed as a huge scandal. There's just something very beautiful and innocent and right about that, and it's something it's been along time since I saw.
  • People suffered during the war, which we knew. They had barely enough to eat and constantly lived in fear. While not graphic, and not at all depressing, there is no shying away from the facts.
  • One woman is sent to Ravensbruck where she died. We get small glimpses into this life. Mentions of beatings, solitary confinement, a woman freezing to death, and dog attacks (though the dog attack part is skimmed over quickly).
  • Orphans. Death. Bombings (mentioned, as this is after the war so they are no longer happening).

My Thoughts
This is a gem of a novel. Its composition being entirely of letters was particularly interesting for me as a reader. It was a very unique and wonderful way to approach the story. Letters are sent to an editor, a best friend, the people of Guernsey, a suitor, secretaries, and many other characters. Most of them center around Juliet and are more often than not sent to or from her.

It's a fascinating little story, actually. Gripping, but not in the way that has you sitting on the edge of your seat. It's a sort of comfortable grip, as though you have something sweet to return to at the end of the day before bed.
But this is about World War II, you might remind me. That was a horrible time. It's not a "fascinating little story" that is sweet.
But it was. It was gentle, did not shy away from reality, and had a beautiful glimmer about it all the same. In no way did I feel that it had neglected the horrors of the war. I honestly think it was more touching than those horror stories of the terrible things that happened (though those have their place as well).

Wonderfully done, Shaffer and Barrows. Well-crafted. Structure, wording, the characters--it all worked together to create a gem that I will keep on my bookshelf forever.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

TV Show Review: The (Green) Arrow

Title: The (Green) Arrow
Author: DC Comics
Release Date: 2012 (season 4 showing now)
Genre: action, adventure, superheroes, science fiction
My Rating: **
Official Rating: TV-14 (probably PG-13)
Age Group: 16+ or 18+

Oliver Queen and his father died on a yacht trip years ago, a rich teen cut down in his prime. Well, then there was Sara Lance, Oliver's girlfriend's sister, who snuck aboard at the last moment at Oliver's urging. But that's complicated.
So they died.
And then Oliver appears again, apparently not dead after all. And what happens with billionaires who disappear for a long time? They continue their playboy lives by day, and by night they turn into epic bad-guy-beating heroes who have crazy combat skills. Far be it for Oliver to do anything but live up to our expectations. Of course, he forms a team around himself, mostly consisting of cute tech genius Felicity Smoak but suplimented by friend John Diggle, former army man.
And while others come and go, ultimately it's up to these three to save the world of Starling City from the rather messed up crime lords.

Word of Warning
Please note that while I am not reviewing specific episodes (for the most part), I am commenting on trends the show carries. I will also do my best to comment on any problems that really stand out, even if they were only in one episode.
  • Comic book violence. Can get pretty graphic. People die a lot, to the point where you're numb against it.
  • Torture. Sometimes this is done by the bad guys, sometimes by Oliver.
  • Oliver is a playboy. Like, a lot. We get passionate kissing scenes and more than once a trip to the bedroom is implied. The only scene I can remember where we actually saw the characters in bed is in season 3 and is discrete as to what is shown, but there is no doubt what is going on.
  • Evil mentors. Deception. Dark themes (death, killing, manipulation, torture, etc).
  • Injuries. Blood, broken bones, etc. While painful, Oliver is somewhat superhuman in that he can take injuries pretty well (usually).
  • Drinking to the point of getting drunk.
  • There is a whole cult thing (the League of Shadows, I believe) where the people are very cruel. They have a Lazarus Pit which brings people back to life, but when they come back they're usually pretty messed up and go kind of crazy (having what is called a "bloodlust").
This list looks a lot shorter than that of The Flash, but there are a few reasons for that:
  1. This show has so many problems it's hard to be as specific as I was with the other show.
  2. I don't watch this one as closely or carefully as I do The Flash, partially because I don't like how its dark themes affect my thinking (not that I would do any of these things, just that it skews my view of the world).
  3. It's so dark there is no end to the problems.
  4. There are a lot more seasons here to deal with.

My Thoughts
I remember describing this show to Stacy when I first discovered it. I tried to give her the intro shpeel, but eventually, since it was identical to Batman, I reached for something else. How about Oliver's character and his relationships? Five minutes in and I had lost count of the girls I'd mentioned. And while Bruce Wayne is in love with Rachel but pretending with the girls he plays, it's super hard to figure out what Oliver is doing. The one thing we know is that he's in love with Felicity (spoiler alert really isn't necessary since this is so obvious), and she's in love with him.
So of course that never actually works out for them.

Oliver's problems with girls, as well as his inner darkness, it all just hits me the wrong way. Sure, I've enjoyed the series, since I usually enjoy a DC or Marvel story, but the enjoyment is usually in the moment and mixed with so much frustration and darkness that when I step back and actually think about it, I wonder why I watch in the first place.

It's dark, very dark, and just keeps getting darker. Oliver is no hero, just as Batman and Katniss aren't heroes. Oliver does try, but not hard enough.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

TV Show Review: The Flash

Title: The Flash
Author: DC Comics
Release Date: 2014
Genre: action, adventure, superheroes, science fiction
My Rating: *****
Stacy's Rating: *****
Official Rating: TV-PG (I propose a PG-13 rating)
Age Group: 14+

Harrison Wells built a particle accelerator because, well, he's brilliant.
And Barry Allen's role model.
But let's back up. Barry Allen is an orphan adopted by a police detective after his father apparently murdered his mother (Barry believes differently). The 10 year old whose mother died is now in his twenties and working as a forensic scientist--a very good forensic scientist who, in his spare time, still tries to prove his father innocent.
Alright. Forward now.
Wells' big scientific thing explodes. That same night, Barry is hit by lightening and goes into a coma. Nine months later, he wakes up with abs and the ability to run super super fast.
But he also discovers his first love (who he never actually approached on the topic) is dating someone else and apparently does not return his affections.
It keeps going! Barry discovers other people have been changed by that explosion too and now they have powers. Unfortunately, he's having a really hard time finding anyone who doesn't want to use their powers to do evil.
It's a known fact that selfish people get more selfish when big sci-fi explosions happen. And nice people like Barry?
They become superheroes.

Word of Warning
Please note that while I am not reviewing specific episodes (for the most part), I am commenting on trends the show carries. I will also do my best to comment on any problems that really stand out, even if they were only in one episode.
All these problems are very spread out over two seasons. I would like to point out that the second season is more violent, a little darker (though really, you can't be the happy go lucky  hero in a city with a vortex to another world with super villains for every long), and more intense. Not so much that I need to change the rating from season 1 to 2.

  • Comic book violence. Relatively non-graphic. Few deaths. When they do die, it's generally very heartbreaking.
  •  Dead parents. Both Barry and Iris have death mothers.
  • Injuries. Blood, broken bones, etc. While painful, these clear up pretty quickly (super fast healing and all that).
  • There's a running joke that Barry can't get drunk, and this seems to be a disappointment to everyone.
  • Very mild swearing. So much so that Stacy had to remind me it was there.
  • One character often makes rather veiled inappropriate comments. One or two are more obvious than the rest.
  • Kisses here and there.
  • A mother is kicked out of her house and daughter's life due to a drug problem that puts the daughter in danger more than once. This is all in the past and is only verbally related.
  • At a low point, Barry breaks a bad guy out of jail, threatens him, and then leaves him to be caught and sentenced more harshly than before.
  • A man shoots himself to save the city. Heroic, but still suicide.
  • Barry watches his mother die in a horrible tear-inducing scene.
  • Barry's romantic relationship gets a little too physical in two episodes. Passionate kissing and, in one scene, both characters lose their shirts while kissing passionately on the couch. This is ended rather abruptly (but by chance, not because someone was actually thinking).
  • A female character gets very drunk and undresses down to her underwear in front of a male character. While this is awful (and her "did you take a peek at my goods?" comment is worse), this is also one of my favorite scenes because the male character does everything right.
  • It's implied that a woman and her fiance are living together.
  • A few really big violent moments: a man's head is smashed against a wall and a huge blood smear is left (season 2); people's heads get blown of by implanted bombs, we see only the stumps (season 2); an innocent girl blows up off screen after dying (season 1).

My Thoughts
If there's one thing I do when life gets crazy and I'm super busy with homework and work, it's to watch The Flash. While I may be a few days ahead of Stacy, she's usually right on my trail.
Do remember we're both full time students. I have two jobs, Stacy has one really big one. And we have various other things going on in our lives.
So when we say this is a really good show, and we make sure to stay up to date on it, you should know that it is, in fact, fantastic.

DC seems to have a dark brooding side (think Batman and Arrow) and a lighter side (think Superman). Well, the Flash falls on this lighter side. This isn't to say that horrible things are made small, or that good moral points are not made. The opposite, in fact. They're there, they're just not shrouded by all the other messy things.

Stacy says: Watch it. It's awesome. Also, it's addicting. So expect to lose half your life to Netflix. But you won't regret it.

I agree.