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The Ninja Reader

High-brow or downright pretentious, good PNR or sparkly vampires, I don't care about the premise so long as it entertains me.

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Bullying: The Social Destruction of Self
Laura Martocci
Queens of All the Earth - Hannah Sternberg I always marvel at the way life seems to throw books at me which somehow relate to my personal experiences. Kind of like having my own master Yoda as a sounding board. Coicidence is not something I rely on often, and I take these experiences as they come.Queens of All the Earth is a short, sweet novel about two sisters who depart on a trip to Spain. Our main character, Olivia, has suffered a nervous breakdown on the day she was due to leave for university, and the trip to Barcelona was meant to help her loosen up and get over her trauma. She and her sister end up in a youth hostel and meet with many strange characters: Marc, who is waiting to take orders, journalist Lenny, a preacher, Mr. Brown, and his son Greg, with whom Olivia feels an instant connection.Right off the bat, I have to say that I loved the atmosphere in this book. Hannah Sternberg plunges the reader easily into the spirit of the things, and her descriptions of Barcelona are really top notch. Though I have never been to Spain, I could imagine it all: the blend of Arabic and European in the architecture, the narrow streets, the stands and the dusky shops, the beggars in front of the church and the cool Mediterranean. It was a really viscereal experience, and I wanted to like the way it reported a simple story and enhanced it with these sensory details. Unfortunately, I didn't like the book as much as I wanted to. First of, the writing put me off - there's a lot of telling, not showing, every little gesture the heroes make is recorded, adverbs used as dialogue tags. The sentence structure was such it made me pause and go back several times before I made sense of it. Also, this book is told from an omniscent third person point of view, which is all well and good, but it switches focus from between characters so fast at times it gets confusing. Of course, as the book progresses, I stopped noticing the writing and focused more on the story. But here lies the second reason why I had trouble enjoying this book: there is no story.Let me just say, I feel Olivia's pain. I went through something similar when I went off to college and I still have moments where I wish I could become a child again and live without care. I'm sure that this is something all of us can relate to: opening your eyes one day and thinking "When did nineteen years just pass? Did I really spend all this time worrying about this? Do I really want this major? Where do I go from now?". Facing all these new challenges, no longer a child but not quite an adult, can be a jarring experience (I almost broke down when picking up a towel, for crying out loud!). But this is also the reason why I find Olivia so hard to relate to. Even when it was difficult, I told myself that this was the way things go and kept rolling with it. Olivia did not, and it annoyed me because this is not a thing I would do, and I certainly don't have any sympathy for people who whine and angst instead of making an effort.Does that make me a horrible person? Maybe it does. This is a coming of age story, after all. It wouldnt' have annoyed me so much, though, if we'd actually seen how Olivia came of age - that was the whole point of the exercise. But no, we don't see that. Throughout the book, we see these characters talk and go to places, but there is never any real confrontation, never any real conflict. And after a whole book of Olivia running from things, her sudden growth struck me as contrived and unrealistic. Love interest Greg was almost as bad, although his awkwardness was a little more relatable. In fact, out of all the characters, I liked Mr. Brown the best, most of all because he was treated like dirt by everyone for, gasp, being nice. My favorite character by a long shot.The other characters were fine, if two-dimensional. There were hints made about their pasts and how they came to be who they are, but nothing is elaborated on, or if it is, it's done in the last third of the book. All in all, it was a sweet, simple story, but one which doesn't have much to say for itself. Would I discourage you from reading it? No, on the contrary. It explores the theme of growing up and our natural fear of change, which is something you can relate to even if you're no longer a teenager on the verge of adulthood. The novel was, apparently, inspired by E. M. Foster's A Room With a View and I intend to read that very soon, along with E. E. Cummings. I recognized my fears in Olivia, but I would have liked to see her conquer them.Note: A copy of this book was provided to me via NetGalley for review purposes.