Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Hive

9780316234795_p0_v1_s260x420You will laugh.  You will cry, but it will be because you are laughing so hard.  And then you’ll realize just how awesome this book is.  Gill Hornby’s debut novel is, to put it quite simply, an absolute delight.

In her acknowledgments, Hornby notes the influential works of Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes and Queen Bee Moms and King Pin Dads.  Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes was the inspiration for the hit movie Mean Girls, and focused largely on girls’ friendships and conflicts.  It’s easy to see how greatly Wiseman’s research on female relationships influenced The Hive, but that doesn’t mean this is just a retelling of Mean Girls all grown up in England.  It’s much more interesting than that.  After all, grown up women, and moms in particular, have more tricks up their sleeves than teenage girls do.

It’s the start of another school year at St. Ambrose. While the children are busy in the classroom, their mothers are learning sharper lessons. Lessons in friendship. Lessons in betrayal. Lessons in the laws of community, the transience of power…and how to get invited to lunch.

So the book is essentially divided between several women, some of whom are just wonderful and others who are horrific (BEA).  Personally, I’m a big fan of Rachel (her husband has just left her for an intern and now she’s trying to figure out how to “coparent” successfully) and especially Georgie (who I have come to think of as a young Mrs. Weasley – she’s in a very happy relationship with lots of children and a spot-on attitude about punctuation and the use of the verb “juggle”).  Other moms include Heather (the one desperate to be accepted by the “cool moms”), Jo (the one with the complicated marriage), Bubba (who reminds me of an actress that I can’t place right now, but I imagine her as big, loud, and absolutely obnoxious – in the best possible way), and, of course, Queen Bea (who is pure evil).

The novel follows a school year at St. Ambrose and from the beginning, the division of and within chapters is priceless.  Everything starts on a day that’s somehow important (first day of school, day of the car boot sale, etc.) and then follows it through the timetable of a school day (drop-off, lunch, pick-up).  It’s such a brilliant way to divide a busy schedule of the school year into the most condensed calendar possible while still maintaining the thrilling intrigue of each (im)perfectly planned event.

Another thing I loved about this book – Mr. Tom Orchard.  He’s the new headmaster, has a mysterious (and possibly celebrity-littered) past, and happens to be very, very single.  Of course the mums are going to lock horns over who gets to try for him, but you know for whom you’re rooting, and I freely admit that I was yelling at the book within the first 100 pages about what I wanted to happen.  And I must say that I am very, very pleased with that particular storyline’s ending.

I do want to note that there are a few spots in The Hive that aren’t light and fluffy.  There’s a suicide, a cancer scare, and some language, but it’s all played out very nicely and appropriately.  Not once did I feel that this book was heading toward The Casual Vacancy territory (dark, suicidal, cursing far too much) nor did I think I had wasted my money on a completely pointless fluff piece (like a cheap romance).  The suicide, for instance, is very disturbing, especially because of its impact on the children, but it is handled delicately and honestly – the characters allow themselves to be angry, adrift, or emotional wrecks.  And the language – it’s not excessive, so when one of the moms cracks and starts spewing some well-chosen expletives, it makes everything even funnier.

Hornby’s writing style is probably what pushed me over the top and made me sure that I loved this book.  Her descriptions are fantastic, and the sheer genius of some character-developing moments… wow.  To give you a taste, here’s one description of Rachel’s interaction with her mother:

Needless to say, her mother was a devout observer of the opposite persuasion – practically the patron saint of the popping in, and the “Go on then,” and the “Just a quick cup.”  It was this sort of profound religious conflict, indeed, that had given relations between them that piquant Arab/Israeli-with-a-twist-of-Northern-Ireland flavor they had been so enjoying these past few months.

And then there’s Georgie’s reaction to messy grammar and messier verb choice:

“Shocking punctuation, as usual – it was A Lunch for Mum apostrophe S.”  Her fury was mounting.  “And the emoticons.  Littered with the buggers.  Smiley faces, party blowers, the works.”  She flicked her ash onto the grass verge.  “One couldn’t be seen dead after that, of course.”

[…]

The corruption of the verb to juggle was one of her hates, poor punctuation another.  But this was a top-of-the-pops pet hate – grown women describing other grown women as best friends.  Mutton employing the semantics of lamb.

(Did I mention I really love Georgie?)

I really don’t know what else I can say to persuade you to read this – it’s funny, it’s sharp, and it’s possibly the most fun I’ve had all year.  Some reviews that I’ve read say that it’s full of stereotypes and that it’s cliched, but I feel like that’s kind of the point.  Cliches and stereotypes develop based on truth, and when you read about some of these mothers, you can’t help but realize that you know them in your own life.

Don’t put this down as some wildly philosophical book, nor as a complete waste of time – it’s a wonderfully light novel with some deeply thoughtful moments, but mostly, it’s just a hell of a good time.

If, like me, you’re curious about the author, check out this interview.  Otherwise, I’d recommend looking for a copy of The Hive at your local bookstore.  Seriously, you’ll love it.

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The Bone Season

Let’s get the apology out of the way: I’m sorry it’s been exactly one month (okay, give or take) since my last review.  My excuse is that I’ve been working and doing schoolwork and… well, you get the idea.  So unless you want to read my review of Paradise Lost (lots of Hell, lots of sin, lots of Satan screwing over the human race) or A Farewell to Arms (see this clip of Silver Linings Playbook, although I will say it’s obvious Pat has never read any Hemingway if he’s complaining about a depressing ending…), I’d just accept that I’ve been on a long hiatus and am now back with a new read!  And on that note…

So here’s the thing: I don’t know if I like this book or not.  And now you’re probably thinking, “You give us a paragraph long explanation of why you haven’t reviewed something, then you get to the review part, and then you tell us you don’t know what you think of it?  What’s wrong with you, weirdo blog girl?”  To be fair, I’d think that, too, if I were you.  But I’m not, so I don’t.  Instead, I’m trying to wrap my mind around this novel.

The Bone Season is a new(ish) release from debut author Samantha Shannon.  Let me take this opportunity to congratulate her on 13636400publishing and to emphasize that no, I’m no insanely jealous that she’s my age and got a ridiculous book deal and is probably laughing all the way to the bank.  And maybe this is part of my issue with reading this – I want her to succeed.  So much so, I forced myself to keep reading even when I thought it was the weirdest/most incomprehensible book I’ve read in a long time.  And that includes Mrs. Dalloway.

Here’s the basic gist (although I can’t say that I really am going to do it justice): British history changed when Edward VII was declared Jack the Ripper and the aether (????) opened and the Rephaim came through the rift and took over the world…?  And now clairvoyance is a no-no, so people like our narrator (Paige Mahoney) are doing their best to hide their talents.  But then Paige is taken to the lost city of Oxford where the Rephs live/train humans/I really don’t know what they do other than lurk to be part of the Bone Season.

Are you lost yet?  Because this is why it took me about 250 pages to really want to read to the end.  And in a 450 page book, that’s not particularly promising.

I’m not warning you off this completely – I think there’s definitely potential, especially since it’s supposed to be a 7 book series (I have a sneaking suspicion that the books are going to follow interactions with – or even the actual characters of – the Seven Seals) but I can’t get into this world.

Maybe part of this issue is also because I’ve been rereading Harry Potter and I’ve been sucked, once more, into the wonder Rowling created.  Her world, which did not alter our own drastically, was much more relatable than Shannon’s, but that doesn’t mean Shannon’s is inferior.  I respect her creativity very much, but I’m so, so confused.

And here’s the other thing: I’m so over love triangles.  Of all kinds.  I don’t care if it’s because it’s unrequited or because the girl is a total b***h or because they’re angsty teenagers who can’t figure out the difference between love and lust.  I just hate love triangles.  Now, the love triangle in this was not what I expected (the human one plays a minor role), but this time there were pretty much two love triangles.  It’s like my worst nightmare, squared.  The second love triangle is the one that you totally see coming if you have any concept of how novels with romantic elements work: girl meets guy who’s involved with other girl, she hates him at first, but then she comes to love him.  Oh, and he’s loved her pretty much the whole time.  And they’re willing to sacrifice lots for each other after they realize they really do trust each other.

I’m sorry, but it’s just like every other book ever written ever.

Also, if you know Greco-Roman mythology, you should pretty much get the Cupid/Psyche myth allusions off the bat.  The Adonis/Aphrodite stuff later was kind of surprising, but in a world where there are creatures from the aether who may or may not be incarnations of death (???) or maybe spirits trapped in truly toxic relationships… well, anything goes.

Okay, sorry, I got off track.  Other than love triangles, what was it that confused me?  Oh, right.

Everything.

Let me reiterate: I want Shannon to succeed.  I think this has great potential.  And somehow, I imagine I’ll get suckered into reading the next one because I want to see what happens in the non-human/human love triangle (I know where I’d take it, but I want to see if that’s the way she’s going to take it).  But I still don’t know what happened in the book.

Why are people rebelling?  And what’s the difference in all the factions of weirdos/normals/Reph-I-think-they’re-really-speaking-dementors?  Like, I need a total chart system to get all this straight.  If you think Lord of the Rings is tough to keep track of, holy mackerel.  This one will throw your head into a gold medal dive into the deep end.

There are also elements of historical events, but I don’t get how it affects the aforementioned factions.

And let me repeat: for the first 250 pages, I had no idea what was going on.  At page 409, when the romance that’s been simmering finally boils over, I really wanted to finish.  And as soon as the Warden (the Reph that takes care of Paige) enters the picture, I knew he was… well, let’s just say that if you saw Snape’s storyline coming (and I proudly state that I predicted probably 90% of that by Order of the Phoenix) you know this guy is going to be in the same kind of boat.  So you keep reading to make sure he’s really what you think he is.

Oooh, I just realized that the whole Warden/Paige situation that’s weird and complicated is very similar to the Suze/Jesse storyline of Meg Cabot’s The Mediator series (which I totally recommend).

I’ve seriously lost my place in my thoughts, so I’m just going to wrap this up.  Out of five stars, I’d give The Bone Season a solid 3.  On the high side.  I’m going to read the next one (probably) and after a while (over halfway) I kind of almost cared.  And let me tell you, the romance at page 409 is, like, worth it.  Because nothing really happens, but the tension is ridiculous.  And then you don’t understand anything that’s happening again.

So ultimately, here it is: give Shannon a shot.  She’s a budding writer, she’s going to develop, and there are moments of really great reading.  Just don’t try to analyze/understand too intensely – you’ll only be more confused.

The book’s website and IndieBound are, as always, great sources of information.

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