Monday, 30 January 2012

Daniel Pennac - The Scapegoat

Title: The Scapegoat (Malaussène serie, book 1)
Original title: Au bonheur des ogres (La Saga Malaussène, tome 1)
Author: Daniel Pennac
Pub. year: 1985
Pages: 256
Editor: Harvill Press

Summary: His title is Quality Controller, but Benjamin's function at The Store is scapegoat for the rage of the customers. So sweet is his nature, so pathetic and eloquent his contrition, that most indignant victims withdraw their complaints. But there is also the matter of the bombs that keep exploding not far from where Benjamin is standing. Naturally, he becomes the prime suspect, even as he and his journalist girlfriend, Julie, have begun to unearth an even deeper mystery, a sinister and sordid conspiracy whose unraveling wilt expose yet one more seam in the dark heart behind the beguiling veneer of contemporary Paris.

So, now that the John Green's special is over, let's talk about a French book!

I present to you the first book of the Malaussène serie. Definitely my favorite saga outside genres like fantasy, science fiction, ... The French title is clearly inspired by another French book from Emile Zola: Au bonheur des dames (which you could translate by The Ladies' Paradise), probably because both of them are mostly located in department stores. For the rest, it's pretty different, and much funnier.

Both complex and endearing, each character has his own personnality, and that is one of the most appealing things of this series. They're funny, eccentric, surprising and make you spend a really good moment with them. Especially, Benjamin Malaussene, whose bad luck led him to endorse his scapegoat role. Unfortunately for him, it's partly what makes this book so funny.
Moreover, he isn't the scapegoat only at work. He his one in his whole life. And his mother has the habit of falling in love, having a kid and letting him to Benjamin while she goes away with another man. Again and again. So he has to take care of his five half-siblings.

Daniel Pennac has this gift that makes me enjoy almost everything he writes. He has the ability to write about things that seem pretty incredible without being too caricatural and ruining the whole story.

Anyway, if THE Quentin Blake—who illustrates Roald Dahl stories—agreed to draw Pennac's Rights of the Readers, from his eponymous book, it surely shows the incredible talent of this writer, doesn't it?

EDIT 18/10/2013: A movie is now available in French theatres, based on this book!

Monday, 23 January 2012

John Green - The Fault in Our Stars

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Pub. year: 2012
Pages: 336
Editor: Dutton Juvenile

Summary: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Lyra's review:
So. John Green again, as announced! The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) is out since January, the 10th, and I couldn't wait to read it! Why would I?

So here we are, after turning the last page. I'm still not sure about the word to use to talk about this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and think, and feel, and smile. I had to take a break an hour or two in the middle of the story to stop myself from reading it in one go, because I needed to think about what I was feeling. I felt heart broken. I wanted hugs from my friends. I had just this sentence in my mind: Why, John Green, why are you so good with words? And a couple of hours later, I took the book and made myself comfy to finish it. Another couple of hours later, I was crying. Like, really. And later again I closed the book with a limp in my throat, very confused about the state of my feelings.

TFIOS is a smart, funny, sad, poetic, and so many other adjectives, book. John Green depicts as always clever and funny teenagers, or should I say nerdtastic ones. And he doesn't just take a sad subject and make people cry. He also makes them laugh, and think, and doesn't just bring pity on characters. I like how Hazel and Gus (and Isaac) see things. Their illness makes them think a lot about death and its side effects. But they don't mourn about it. Of course, sometimes they ramble about how it pisses them off, but most of the time, they deal with it quietly, or make fun of it.
I love how this book fights clichés about dying people and dead people. Like the way everybody suddendly loves you because you're dead and they can attract attention by the loss of a dear friend. Or the way that dying people are seen by the others. I can't say to much because I don't want to spoil it to you, but I appreciated to read a book with kids who have cancer that is not a cancer book.

You probably get it by then, but this book left a strong impression on me. I'm probably gonna think about it for a while, and it certainly did change how I see some things. I really enjoyed this reading, even if it broke my heart in a very different kind of way, and I definitely recommend you to read it too.

Lily's review:
Hey, I'm here too! Funnily (unexpectedly would be more accurate), I also had time to read this book—it took a day and half that should have been used for other purposes, but sometimes we don't have a choice, reading takes over and that is it. So, I read this book, but not because I was dying to (no pun intended): I knew already it wouldn't be my sort of book. See, I don't do Sad Stories. I don't do Heavy Drama. So, logically, I don't do Kids With Cancer books. But John Green being who he is, and Lyra being the persuasive/menacing friend she is, I read it. And I read it fast, if that tells you something.

I think it's fair to say this book is about its characters before being about its story. They're not so many, and taking aside the usual worrying but great parents (they're not usually great, in fact, but those ones are, and it's worth mentionning), the usual important-but-not-so-much friends (that includes Isaac, who made my day while reading thanks to his funny reactions), only two remains: Hazel and Augustus.

I know I'm vain, but those names, really? Oh, well. Hazel, being the story teller and all that, applies to the usual treatment: being great but a bit too much, too much of her, too much of the bad that comes with the good in everyone. And she has cancer and kind of hates it, though she often talks about it in a funny way. Somehow, I have to give it to her that she's very alive (still no pun intended) and that makes her quite a good character. Augustus is... well, I loved Augustus at the begining, even though he's really too much—too tall, too beautfiul, too sweet, too romantic, too impossible—(something Hazel and Nerdfighters apparently disagree with, but I don't have the privilege to know them enough to really figure it out), and then all goes wrong somewhere. I feel like I've been kind of cheated by the ending, I admit.

I said I don't like Sad Stories (really, I'm not kidding there) and this one starts as a funny story, where you feel slightly guilty to make fun of cancer kids, and it ends as it should end, and leaves you as it should leave you, quite overwhelmed indeed. I don't do crying, but if I did, I'd have a cup of my own tears laying around. However, I do laughing, and I had enough chuckles to make me say that this book is great, greatly written by a very good author who knows how to say what he wants to say, and make people feel what he wants them to feel, and keep feeling it for a long time afterwards.

But I am rebel deep down, and I don't do Sad Story, so I don't think I'll read it again. I learned things, fancy words, fancy poems, I learned about life and death, even thought there was so much of it that I'll never remember everything, but that's alright. This story left a tiny scar in me, and it's better than nothing.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Monday, 16 January 2012

John Green & David Levithan - Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Authors: John Green and David Levithan
Pub. year: 2010
Pages: 304
Editor: Dutton books

Summary: One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Funny how you can't rely on our "next read" image sometimes - it's because lately, we've wanted to organize a little surprise for you. As you might (or should) now, John Green latest book called TFIOS by anyone who's desperatly expecting it has just come out. So I'm afraid we need a little time to read it before reviewing it. In the meantime, let's make this a John Green Special! Last week was Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns came already last August, and today... let's hear a bit about Will Grayson!

Who are Will Grayson? I say "are" because they are two: the one who has this crazy gay friend obsessed with musicals, who doesn't want to get involved in anything, who's kind of in love with a girl but kind of not. Then there's the gloomy one living with his mom, friendless apart from this strange girl he hangs out with, totally in love with this mysterious internet guy that he hasn't met yet. And someday, they meet, they share their wrongs and rights, and somehow try to make it better for both of them.

Sounds like a happy story, isn't it? It's a pretty strange story, first because being written by four hands doesn't make it easy, then because most of it isn't so happy (it's pretty dramatic even), and ultimately because I hate the fact that Levithan's Will writes with no capital letters at all. I know, he explains why, and he's right and it's awesome, but it drove me crazy. Especially when two guys are called "will" and "will" is also a very common word, and I had to read some sentences twice for my brain to register. Poor brain of mine.

It's bad to play favorites but we all do: Levithan's gloomy Will was definitely my favorite. I had a bit more trouble to like the other Will, who always plays so detached and sometimes selfish and other times quite a pain in the ass, while gloomy Will was just so depressed and angry and passionate—I always prefer those. Ah, and he's gay, that's always a plus for me. But still, I quite like them both; the one who really got on my nerves was Tiny Cooper.

Sometimes I wonder if this story shouldn't have been called "Tiny Cooper, Tiny Cooper". Only one of him but he's a handful, and he's there always, talking, moving, singing, obsessed with this high school musical about Tiny Cooper that comes again and again and again. I think you got my point: I don't like musicals. And though the story was great and the ending quite touching, I was bothered by this musical that was all over it.
But wether you like musicals or not, I think you should definitely try it. It's a fun, original, sweet and touching story, kind of magic sometimes, and there's definitely talent in there!

(Hear John Green talking about it, reading the beginning, and telling you why this book is also enjoyable for cats)

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

John Green - Looking for Alaska

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Pub. year: 2005
Pages: 263
Editor: HarperCollins

Summary: "In the dark beside me, she smelled of sweat and sunshine and vanilla, and on that thin-mooned night I could see little more than her silhouette, but even in the dark, I could see her eyes - fierce emeralds. And not just beautiful, but hot too."
Alaska Young. Gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, screwed up - and utterly fascinating. Miles Halter couldn't not be more in love with her. But when tragedy strikes, Miles discovers the value and the pain of living and loving unconditionnaly.
Nothing will ever be the same.

I wasn't in a hurry to read this book because I heard it was really similar to Paper Towns. I didn't want to spoil my reading by reading it shortly after.
But to be honest, if obviously there are some similar points in the plot, they are to me completely different books. They don't deal with the same kind of stuff, the reflexions are different and I wasn't bored at any moment.

What I like with John Green books is that there always is an incursion of things you don't particularly know about, and he gives us the opportunity to learn about new writers by integrating them in his stories. It fits him really well, and in a really smart way.

I also very much enjoyed the deepness of the characters. Miles, Alaska, The Colonel, Takumi, Lara, the Old Man... even the Eagle. They're not just random characters with no background, they are very different from one another, moving and enjoyable. Characters are probably the thing that matters the most to me in books, because the whole story is built around them. They carry it.

In the end, I think I chose the perfect moment in my life to read it because of what was going on around me when I did it (about a month ago). It moved me and made me think about a lot of stuff (like it did for Paper Towns, but a lot more).

As you probably have guessed by now, John Green's books are not just random teenage books for teenagers. They are smart, funny, they make you think, they make you laugh, and sometimes cry. They are really good books for teenagers but adults too. So give it a try, if you haven't already!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Gregory Maguire - Wicked

Title: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wicked Years, book 1)
Author: Gregory Maguire
Pub. year: 1995
Pages: 407
Editor: HarperCollins

Summary: When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story.
But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious witch?
Where did she come from?
How did she become so wicked?
And what is the true nature of evil?

I saw the Musical Wicked last summer and fell in love with it. So when I heard about the book it came from, I wanted to read it really badly. Luckily, a friend offered it to me as a gift for my birthday, and I read it as soon as I could.

Unfortunately, it was not as entertaining and moving as the Musical for me. Even if I liked to learn about Elphaba's life a little bit more, I was often bored while reading. And the characters were quite different. It was hard for me to appreciate some of them like I did in the Musical. I know I shouldn't compare while reading a book, but it was too different and really less enjoyable for me.

In this book, we follow Elphaba from birth during her journey. We discover a lot more about her life, and why she does what she does, but I had trouble liking her. I didn't find her moving, even if her personality was complex and unstable. I felt like I was watching everything from behind a veil so I didn't truely entered the story.

I was a bit pissed with the author when each time I started to find a part entertaining, he jumped a few years later, losing my attention again and again.

I didn't hate that book, but I didn't like it either. Even the political issues that were raised in the Musical are boring and not as well exploited here. At least I laughed a bit at some replicas.

As a result, I don't feel really enthousiastic about this reading, and quite disappointed...

Quote :
"'I shall pray for you soul,' promised Nessarose.
'I shall wait for your shoes,' Elphie answered.