Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg

This review was written by: H and B
Received: ARC from the Publisher
Publication Date of Book: September 8, 2015
Pages: 256 (Hardcover)
Stars: 4.5/5

 "Everyone’s a geek in some way or other. Everyone’s an outsider.” 
~Jesse Eisenberg

Official Summary:
Taking its title from a group of stories that begin the book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups moves from contemporary L.A. to the dorm rooms of an American college to ancient Pompeii, throwing the reader into a universe of social misfits, re-imagined scenes from history, and ridiculous overreactions.  In one piece, a tense email exchange between a young man and his girlfriend is taken over by the man's sister, who is obsessed with the the Bosnian genocide; in another, a college freshman forced to live with a roommate is stunned when one of her ramen packets goes missing (She didn't have "one" of my ramens.  She had a chicken ramen); in another piece, Alexander Graham Bell has teething problems with his invention (I'be been calling Mabel all day, she doesn't pick up!  Yes, of course I dialed the right number - 2!) 

United by Eisenberg's gift of humor and character, and grouped into chapters that each open with an illustration by award-winning cartoonist Jean Jullien, the witty pieces collected in Bream Gives Me Hiccups explore the various insanities of the modern world, and mark the arrival of a fantastically funny, self-ironic, and original voice.

Our Thoughts:
This book was an ingenious combination of satire, hilarity, and life lessons. From the viewpoint of an innocent nine-year-old to that of a mad man obsessed with killing his ex-fiancé, this widely amusing and attention-grabbing book has everything any person with a sense of humor could ask for. Jesse Eisenberg successfully makes any circumstance that would normally be completely and utterly embarrassing or mortifying into the type of situation that anyone can laugh at, regardless of where you are at in life.

While my sister and I were reading this book, we both found different parts to be our favorites. My favorite was the first story Bream Gives Me Hiccups, Restaurant Reviews from a Privileged Nine-Year-Old. The child in this story has such depth to his thoughts that one would assume he was much older than only nine. It was very easy to believe that this is how children think. The little boy saw both the ups and downs of life and accepted them as truth, all while looking beyond for something more, something lurking just below the surface of life itself. This story is an example of how Eisenberg is not only a gifted comedic presence, but also someone who has the talent to go beyond laughs and really make a person question both themselves and the world around them. To put it more simply, he is a touching writer who implements heart, laughing the whole way. Not to mention, Eisenberg is a very relatable author, appearing to have lived through at least a handful of the experiences written about in his book. I (H) also found My Roommate Stole My Ramen, Letters from a Frustrated Freshman to be very amusing, given the fact that I had a roommate similar to the one the main character writes about (of course without the nickname and the craziness of the girl writing the letters but still, I found that part to be very relevant to my own life).

My sister’s (B) favorite story was Separation Anxiety Sleepaway Camp because of the confusion surrounding the story that finally made sense in the last portion, causing her to go back and reread it four more times (even our mother found it drop-dead hilarious). Trust me, this is one that you need to read, especially when you are having a bad day. Two other favorites were My Little Sister Texts Me with Her Problems and My Nephew Has Some Questions. Both of these stories are ones that can be revisited several times, without the laughs ever ending.

What really makes this book diverse is the different mediums used by Eisenberg. Not only is it written in short story format, but also in text form, which allows for an almost play-write feel. Plus, the footnotes were awesome (a little frustrating to read, but it only added to the amusement we felt during that particular story). Not only is Eisenberg a great actor who we both love to watch, but he has proven himself to be more than that. Admittedly we were hesitant to read this book, but we can proudly say that Jesse Eisenberg has seriously proven us wrong and for that we are grateful. If you have not seen any of his movies or did not even know he was an actor (shame on you! ☺), you will definitely be a fan by the end of Bream Gives Me Hiccups.

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The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

This review was written by: H
Received: ARC from Publisher
Publication Date of Book: May 2015
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
Stars: 3.25/5

“Little islands are all large prisons; one cannot look at the sea without wishing for the wings of a swallow.” 
~Richard Francis Burton

The oceans have risen and there is barely enough land for even a handful of the population to live on. As a result, most people live on ships while religious and military fanatics live on land. Land is very expensive and only sold to those willing to give up their claims to the sea. The book follows the story of two young women. The first is named North. She has grown up as part of a traveling circus. Her job is to take part in the bear act every time this ragged group of individuals docks on another island. She does not understand the land people and their mysterious ways of life, as the sea is all she has ever known. As the fiancĂ© to the captain’s son, she is expected to live on land once they are married, which is something she absolutely refuses to do, even though the captain threatens the life of her bear and herself if she does not comply.

The second main protagonist is Callanish, who committed a crime when she was much younger, leading to her eventual job as a gracekeeper. Gracekeepers are responsible for burying all the dead at sea. She is haunted by what she did, and seeks to redeem herself in the eyes of her mother for being who she is and for what she did, for Callanish was born with webbed feet and hands. These abnormalities needed to be covered up her entire life in order to prevent her mother from publicly experiencing the shame and truth that Callanish was not her father’s child, but that of another, more mysterious “man.”

Will Callanish be able to redeem herself in her mother’s eyes, or will she be forced to accept her role as gracekeeper and live the rest of her days in solitude on her own island? Will North be forced to give up her bear, the only remaining family she has, or will she able to find freedom on the wide-open seas?

My Thoughts 
This was one of the weirdest books I have ever read, but in a good kind of way. It was actually quite beautifully written, with amazing descriptions that allowed me to visibly see in my mind’s eye what was going on, especially concerning the strange, dystopian world that these two characters live in. I found the religious fanatics to be especially disturbing, as they supposedly buried a child alive who was born with webbed fingers. These peculiar individuals also worship trees, as they are one of the oldest and most stagnant things left in the world. This is one of the main reasons that I marked this book with such a low rating. If I could have avoided this portion of the story, I would have enjoyed the book much more, but I understand why the author included such imagery in order to show just how messed up the world had become. Reading this book, I was very curious as to what exactly Callanish did in order to be forced into the position of gracekeeper, but it was never explicitly stated. I was quite annoyed by this, especially after I got to the end of the book and it was only alluded to.

Overall, I thought that this book was very thought provoking and positively interesting. It was much more depressing than I had originally anticipated, but I was glad that most things worked out in the end, especially concerning North, who was an extremely strong female lead. For a debut novel, this is very original and well written, even though I did not particularly love it. The atmosphere of the novel was dark, with the two main characters being the beacons of hope that most other characters relied on. I found the “mermen” to be an interesting element, especially concerning how wonderfully it connected both North and Callanish. I would recommend this book to those who love dystopian or post-apocalyptic stories with heart, specifically those who enjoy reading novels that make them think.

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