Friday, April 27, 2012

Tattoo by Dale Rio & Eva Bianchini

The urge to assert oneself goes hand in hand with a desire to challenge social norms and values, and to advocate different ways of experiencing feeling, and displaying one's body.

I picked up Tattoo from one of my library shelves because I'm a huge fan of tattooing. Art has always been fascinating to me and I have wanted a tattoo since I was a kid.  The idea of expressing oneself through permanent body art has a distinct appeal to me.

Tattoo is a collaboration by Dale Rio and Eva Bianchini about, you guessed it, tattoos. It is essentially a history of the art form, revealing the origins of the tattoo and what it meant to each culture it came in contact with.

The book goes on to explain and give examples of each of the most popular tattoo styles (such as blackwork and new school tattooing), how it's done, and finishes off with some helpful reminders for those considering getting a tattoo.

All in all, it was a light and easy read filled with pictures of some pretty fantastic tattoo work. I would definitely suggest this to anyone who is intending to acquire a tattoo, or to anyone who is simply curious about the art and how it originated and became to successful industry it is today.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

It is significant to note that most early examples of tattooing are on women, which shows a distinct mind-shift through history, as until recently tattooing had become associated with men. In short, tattooing may once have been the sole preserve of females. The women of today who are being tattooed with as much confidence as men are simply reclaiming their heritage.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories

Here's the answer: learning to fit in, learning to get along, ignoring it, and being the better person don't work.
Asking victims to save themselves doesn't work. People need to intervene.

Funny story: Somehow I managed to buy the unedited proof of this book. I don't know how I, or the salesperson, didn't notice the big red square on the side that said "Unedited Proof: Not for Sale." It wasn't until I was partway through the book that I noticed it. I'm not sure how different it was from the one that ended up getting printed, but I only found one typo. That was the only "problem" I saw with the book in its entirety.

Back to the book review: In case you couldn't tell by the title, Dear Bully is an anthology of experiences. It's a collection of the stories of 70 authors who were, in some shape or form, bullied. The purpose is to bring awareness to the situation that is still perpetuated in the lives of many teenagers and children. The purpose is to reveal just how dangerous, and damaging, bullying can be.

This book really touched me. Seeing the perspective of the kids who dealt with such incredible amounts of torment on a daily basis was eye-opening.

Speaking as a girl who was at the bottom of the food chain in school for a few years, I know what it's like first-hand to be rejected. I know what it's like to have someone's words or actions impact you for years after the initial event. I was never downright bullied, but I got pretty close. At the same time, I treated a few others badly. I didn't bully, but I sure didn't treat them the way they ought to have been treated. I may never know what impact I had on their lives.

The point of this book was to talk about bullying from the perspective of those who were bullied, those who were too scared to speak up, those who did speak up and changed someone's life. People don't realize the impact of the things they do. People don't realize that one word, one rejection, can change someone's life.

I adored this book. Every story was heartfelt. Every experience brought new light to what bullying is and how we can stop it. It's definitely a recommended read for all ages. Parents should be reading this so they can teach their children to be better. Teachers should read it so they can keep an eye out for this sort of behavior. Teenagers should read this so they can discover how the way they're treating that other person is affecting them; and so those who are bullied can discover how to fight back.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Schools, parents, and educational endeavors  should encourage people not just to empathize but to discover and celebrate the weirdness in others and in ourselves. We need not just to think but to live outside the box. Weirdness is good. It keeps things interesting.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Few of us now have seen the stars as folk saw them then -- our cities and towns cast too much light into the night -- but, from the village of Wall, the stars were laid out like worlds or like ideas, uncountable as the trees in a forest of the leaves on a tree.

I had heard of Neil Gaiman before reading Stardust. I had heard him touted as a great novelist and author, yet I had never read one of his books. So when I went to the library a few days ago, I decided to browse through what they had and I found this gem.

Now, I had seen the movie by the same title in late 2011. A friend of mine had said it was great, so I bought it and watched it with my family. I was the only one who enjoyed it. I love anything with a fairytale/mystical aspect and the creativity it took to create such a world as Faerie appealed to me immensely. It certainly wasn't my favorite movie, but I enjoyed it. Thus, when I was looking through the collection of Neil Gaiman books at my local library, I selected this one. If I enjoyed the movie, I figured, I would probably enjoy the book much more.

It never ceases to amaze me how much better a book can be than the movie adapted from it. I know that it is a basically universal fact that the book is always better than the movie -- with exceptions few and far between -- but for some reason I still underestimate the fact time and time again. (I'll do my best not to draw too much attention to the fact that the movie deviates so far from the original work that it is almost hard to see the similarities.)

Stardust was, quite simply put, a pleasure to read. Not only is Mr. Gaiman quite excellent when it comes to crafting an entirely unforeseen and beautiful new world, but his word-smithing capabilities are profound. There were more than a few times that I had to go back and reread certain passages purely because of the sheer beauty of his words.

That being said, something must be said for the plot. The story itself is about a boy named Tristran Thorn, an inhabitant in the fairly boring town of Wall, which lies on the edge of where our world connects with that of a magical one by the name of Faerie. In an effort to win the heart of the girl he adores, Tristran crosses the boundary that separates our world and theirs in search of a fallen star to bring back. But things in Faerie aren't always as they seem and Tristran never expected the star to be a living, breathing woman. To make matters even more complicated, he is not the only one in search of the fallen star and their intentions may not prove so noble as his own.

Rating: ~★★★★★~

Everything I ever thought about myself -- who I am, what I am -- was a lie. Or sort of. You have no idea how astonishingly liberating that feels.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Skate by Michael Harmon

Fighting the system was fine, he said, but fighting it the right way was key.

Michael Harmon has, to date, written three novels. I have read each of these novels precisely in the opposite order in which he wrote them. That was entirely unintentional, but that was they way it worked out.

In having said that, I have enjoyed each of his novels equally. Mr. Harmon knows how to speak from the perspective of a teenager who feels different from the world around him and like everyone has turned against him. Each of his heroes (or -- in the case of his third novel, Brutal -- heroine) gives the reader a clear view of what it's like to be ostracized for being different and how there is always a way for that very person to rise above it all and be the hero of their own story.

Skate chronicles the story of Ian McDermott, a teenager whose home life is already hard enough when the certain members of the school faculty decide to turn against him. Ian is known for having a propensity to talk back and speak his mind. He's no stranger to conflict because he has earned tough skin in his short, yet challenging, life.

But one day, he takes it too far and his entire world seems to come crashing down around him. The only option he feels he has is to run away with his younger brother in an effort to find their father, hoping he might have a way to right the wrongs that have been committed by and against them.

Skate is one of those books where the characters are real. Everything about it makes you feel like this could easily happen. This could easily be you or someone you know. Mr. Harmon's poignant writing about the woes of a broken and damaged society hits right where it ought. It's a good read and one that will get you thinking. I'm definitely a fan.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

"Because something terribly wrong happened here, and it's not all your fault. I'm not giving up on this. Or you."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

"My father always said that you shouldn't make an agreement unless you know exactly what you're going to get out of it," I said.

In All These Things I've Done, Gabrielle Zevin presents a strong female lead named Anya Balanchine. Anya is a sixteen year-old mafia daughter who has the weight of the world on her shoulders. When she was just a young girl, she and her younger sister (Natty) witnessed the murder of their father not long after the hit meant for him took the life of their mother and mentally damaged their older brother (Leo).

Now their guardian, their elderly grandmother, is dying and Anya runs the household. Leo is nineteen, but considered to mentally be about the age of eight. Natty is only twelve, but far more clever than most her age.

It's then that a new boy arrives at school. Son of the DA, Win Delacroix is handsome and sweet. Not to mention, he is immediately taken with Anya. Problem is, she doesn't have time for him or his romantic feelings right now. But that's not her only concern. It's not long after a public confrontation with her ex that he winds up in the hospital from poisoning and all eyes are looking to her as the one who did it. And now Mr. Delacroix is putting pressure on her to keep away from his son. Only, now she's beginning to think that Win may be the one for her after all.

Set in New York in the year 2082, All These Things I've Done is an interesting take on the way things are run now and how they may be in the future. It's another coming-of-age book, but one that has a vastly different feel to it that I found myself really enjoying. Anya is a thoroughly likable, yet jaded character that you'll find yourself rooting for throughout the entire story.

All These Things I've Done is the first book in a series entitled "Birthright". The sequel is set to be released in Autumn 2012. I'll definitely be hitting the bookstore as soon is it's out. This is not a series I want to miss.

Rating: ★★★★☆

He agreed. "It's sad when you think about it, but also kind of beautiful."

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way. 

Set before the civil war, when some states condoned slavery and others didn't, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain has been deemed a highly controversial book since it was first published; mainly due to Twain's use of the word "nigger" throughout the text -- a highly derogatory and offensive word often used then (and, sadly, sometimes now) to refer to blacks or African-Americans. 

But Twain doesn't use the word frivolously and, if one reads the book and looks to the themes portrayed throughout, we see how he discourages the condescending nature used at such a time in our nation's history.

As well as being known for it's controversial nature, this book is also known for being quite a literary achievement. In fact, Ernest Hemingway once referred to it in saying that, "All modern literature stems from this one book." While I'm not sure if this is entirely true, I found myself enjoying this tale immensely, as well as enjoying the writing style Mr. Twain employs throughout.

Narrated by Huck Finn, a boy originally introduced in another book by Mark Twain (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), the story written the way a young boy who had only completed so much schooling would have written it. Huck writes things the way he sees them and his work is filled with spelling errors that belie his limited access to a dictionary. Each dialect is written exactly how it sounds and gives the reader an excellent view of the action, as if the reader was standing beside him as each part of the story went down.

Huck himself is the son of a drunkard who rarely comes into town and, when he does, only manages to manipulate and hurt his son. He's a no-good father who would rather see to his own gain than the well-being of his child. As a result, he ends up kidnapping Huck and keeping him locked up in their home. Though he feeds and cares for him at times, he can also be volatile and dangerous. When Huck's had enough he breaks out, fakes his murder, and runs away.

It's then that Huck meets up with Jim, a slave that the boy knows well. Jim had caught wind that he was going to be sold down South, away from his wife and children, and ran off before he would let anyone take him. He planned to escape to freedom, get a job, and buy back his family. Huck, eager for company, joins him and together they make their way to freedom. But the journey won't be an easy one. They're bound for plenty of trouble and, in Huck's case, there's a lot of growing up to do.

Overall, this was a lovely book that I really enjoyed reading. I don't think it deserves to be banned and those that have objections to it should look beyond face value. Often, authors have good reason to include controversial material and those reasons should be thoroughly considered before people dismiss the work altogether. When we make informed decisions, we can learn things we never could have without stepping out of our comfort zones.

Rating: ★★★★☆

"Pooty soon I'll be a-shout'n' for joy, en I'll say, it's all on accounts o' Huck; I's a free man, en I couldn't ever ben free ef it hadn' ben for Huck; Huck done it. Jim won't ever forgit you, Huck; you's de bes' fren' Jim's ever had; en you's de ONLY fren' ole Jim's got now."