Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Plot: Aislinn has always seen faeries. Her grandmother taught her to never let the faeries know of her power, and up until now, Aislinn kept her secret safe. Then Keenan came along. Keenan is the faerie Summer King, and he's been searching for his Summer Queen for centuries. Until he finds the right girl and reaches his full power, the Winter Queen will rule the world. Keenan thinks Aislinn is the one, but she doesn't fall in love with him immediately like all the other girls had, before they were discarded, not being the true Summer Queen. Aislinn's best friend, Seth, is determined to stand in the way of the Summer King, and sparks will fly.

Comments: A rather complicated plot (my apologies for the extensive summary), but it's given to you gradually, so it's manageable. I love the theme and idea of the story, and the characters contrast and fill out the story nicely.  I do like the character Aislinn for her stubbornness and refusal to fall in love with what she knows isn't human - she knows firsthand how cruel and treacherous faeries are - but it's annoying how spineless she is. She isn't going to accept Keenan because of his gorgeous looks but she's falling apart in Seth's arms every day and night, telling him that she's scared and doesn't think she can do it. I hate how dependent Aislinn was upon the man in her life. I just wish she could have been more confident, or at least be able to hold in her sobs every now and again.

I liked Seth because he was understanding, nice, and protective (there's nothing wrong with him supporting Aislinn as long as she supports herself, too). He was eager to help and to be proactive, and I think Aislinn was lucky to have him. Keenan, on the other hand, was arrogant, self-obsessed, and completely confident in his abilities to have any girl come running when he snaps his fingers. I felt a fierce glee when he was so confused and bewildered at Aislinn's apparent immunity to his charms. No girl had ever turned him down before, which made him spoiled. He thought he had a right to take any girl he wanted - he had many times before, and when they turned out to be just another mortal and not his Summer Queen, it of course wasn't his fault that they suffered terribly and lost their mortality. What a jerk.

I thought the ending was good, a nice way to wrap things up and tie up all the loose ends. I was hoping for a sequel continuing the story of Aislinn and Seth, but so far I've only seen that any sequels out are about different characters. I find that disappointing, and I probably won't read the other books. I dislike reading stories where the main characters from a previous book are no longer the main characters.

Rating: I rate this book an eight out of ten.

Titanic: The Long Night by Diane Hoh

Plot: This is a story of two young women from completely different circumstances aboard the famous Titanic on her maiden voyage. Katie is Irish, with flaming red hair contrasting with her sweet temper. Her parents saved money for a long time to get her on this ship to America, where she hopes to become a singer. Elizabeth is traveling with her wealthy and controlling parents, and is determined to spend the entire trip convincing her mother and father that she will not marry the man they chose, and she wishes to go to college in America. Both women fall in love and share that tragic night at sea as the Titanic proves it is not truly "unsinkable".

Comments: I liked the writing in this book, and a few of the main characters. Katie was my favorite, partly because she was one of the third class passengers and therefore more of an underdog, and partly because she was independent and clever. I didn't like Elizabeth as much because she threw tantrums (or at least pouted and sulked) and wasn't very proactive. She tried convincing her parents that she would never marry Alan, a man they picked for her and whom she didn't even like, but when they wouldn't listen, she would immediately pick a fight. Instead of remaining cool and collected, Elizabeth would only prove to her parents that she was yet a spoiled child, unable to care for herself. I understand that she had no money and couldn't think of a way to go to college without her parents' support, but I didn't admire the way she tried to win them over.

I thought Katie was rather slow to pick up on what Paddy was mentioning; Paddy, a ladies' man and heartbreaker, liked Katie, but he thought she belonged to his older brother, Brian. He was continually hinting about it, but Katie just didn't get it (she liked Paddy back). That got a bit annoying after a while.

I was amazed at how much of the book was devoted to the night the Titanic sank. Yes, the title is about that historical night, but it still surprised me. It certainly took a long time for the ship to sink. I was also surprised at how many passengers - especially the first class - didn't believe the ship was sinking or were conveniently blocking the truth out of their minds. Though I suppose it wouldn't have done much good otherwise, since there were nowhere near enough lifeboats. That fact always saddens me; to think that so many people that lost their lives that night could have been saved, if only the Titanic had the correct amount of lifeboats. The builders claimed it was unsinkable, and it was certainly an impressive ship, and apparently no one had the caution to prepare for the worst.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten. It was a good story, nice historical fiction, and I wonder how it compares to the truth, like with the descriptions of the ship, crew, and conditions for the different classes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Plot: Holden Caulfield is not your typical teenage boy. He doesn't have many friends, hates school and is flunking all his classes but English, and thinks almost everyone is a "phony". He's criticizing and sarcastic, but while he claims he can hardly stand being around his classmates, Holden seems desperate for attention and company. Striking out on his own, Holden has an adventure that creates a story of rebellion, sexuality, and self-acceptance - or self-rejection.

First Line: "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

Comments: This book was assigned for reading in my English class, and I was a bit apprehensive when I began reading. I'd heard only negative comments from my classmates and friends - no one I talked to had a good word to say about the book or Holden, except for a couple of my teachers. But when I was a few pages in, I realized that, contrary to popular opinion, I was actually enjoying the story. Surprising? I think part of the reason none of my friends liked Catcher in the Rye was because it was a book they were required to read for the eternally hated  homework. Maybe if they'd given the book a chance and a clean slate, they would have enjoyed it more.

I really loved Holden. He was such a complex and intriguing character. He was constantly complaining and criticizing, but while I can see how that could be annoying, it rather endeared him to me. I could tell that behind his cynicism and disdain for other people, Holden wished he could be like those people, wanted to be accepted and loved. But instead everyone thought he was strange and a little insane. Holden was, in my opinion, a true underdog, and I felt sorry for him. He thought very differently from other people, and I laughed out loud at his witty mutterings and ideas. I was really touched by the way he talked about his younger brother who had passed away. Holden was always mentioning Allie, and I could tell how much he missed him. Holden was also very dedicated to his younger sister Phoebe, and it turns out that he depends on her very much.

In the end, Holden Caulfield is just another confused teenager trying to find what life holds for him, and who he is. I have pity and sympathy for him, and empathy as well. I also have a lot of respect for Holden, and when the title of the book was finally explained in one of the last chapters, I realized how fiercely I wished his life could have been better. He's just misunderstood. And aren't we all?

Rating: I rate this book a ten out of ten. (I've never done that before!) To truly understand how I feel about this book, you would need to read the lines between the lines and actually listen to what Holden is trying to say. I hope you find this story as heartfelt and funny and wise and beautiful and depressing and inspiring as I did.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Note: There are two posts for this book. I posted one a while back after reading the book, then posted this one after reading it recently for school.

Plot: a coming of age story from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old boy growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation. Junior looks around him and decides he doesn't want to be like everyone else; he doesn't want to give up all hope and live on the "rez" all his life, dirt poor and pathetically alcoholic. His parents tell him white people are the ones with the most hope, but Junior is determined to make it in the world despite his race.

Comments: this is a book commonly assigned for reading in high school, and I can understand why. It's a poetic and eye-opening story about life on a (relatively) modern day Indian reservation (yes, those still exist) and the efforts of a young Indian boy as he struggles against racism, poverty, and a depressing environment. The main character, Junior, is funny and painfully honest as he tells his story. He's just an average kid with major obstacles. Somehow it's easy to relate to him, even though his experiences are so different from most of the readers'.

His story is kind of depressing, but that makes it all the more important to hear. This book sends good messages to lots of different kinds of people, and I think anyone could learn something from reading this. There were tear-jerkingly sad parts and gut-wrenchingly hilarious ones, so I recommend you brace yourself. I also prefer reading it all at once, and it's a short book and easy to read, so that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Rating: I give this book an eight out of ten. It's very simple, but when you're telling the truth, simple is the best way to go.

The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter

Plot: a teenage girl named Elnora dreams of going to high school in the city. However, her strict and stingy mother barely allows her to go, and refuses her the money she needs to buy books, supplies, and clothes. Elnora decides to sell moths and butterflies to pay for her tuition and such, and the more self-dependent she becomes, the more her mother sinks into bitterness for Elnora's birth and deep remorse for her husband's early death.

Comments: I really liked the character Elnora. She's a sweet, bright girl and loves all things in nature, and especially in her swamp, the Limberlost. She's kind and motherly and doesn't like making other people feel bad. I did think she was a little overenthusiastic, especially in thanking people and in explaining things. I found that the dialogue was rather stilted and almost as if it were written as a script. Several times one person's long-winded speech extended across two pages, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I skipped over most of those. The detailed explanations were also tediously long, but I have never had much patience for settings. The writing was skilled, however; it was very eloquent and delicate. I liked the way the author used words.

I disliked the mother at first (I believe you are supposed to), but I grew to like her toward the end. However, I found her dramatic change in personality quite unbelievable. After almost two decades, I don't think she could have improved so easily. In any case, I'm glad that Elnora had her as a mother, because they had some good times. I didn't understand why the forbidden romantic interest, Phillip, loved a selfish, attention-grabbing girl named Edith. It made me think he was too stupid and dim to deserve a selfless girl like Elnora. But I guess she loved him too, so there's that. But I didn't like how Elnora led Phillip on a wild goose chase and nearly killed him in doing so. I thought that bit was very selfish and stupidly done. Oh, well. I guess it was a nice, if a rather "happily-ever-after" ending.

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten.

Kay Scarpetta Series by Patricia D. Cornwell

The books in the series I've read so far, in published order: Postmortem, Body of Evidence, All That Remains, Cruel and Unusual.

Plot: Kay Scarpetta is the medical chief examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, a sharp-minded, professional woman. Though some acquaintances think her distant and heartless, Kay is actually a caring, mothering person - however, in her job, it often pays to keep a blank face and a cool head. As chief medical examiner, Kay performs autopsies (a form of investigative surgery on dead bodies) in an attempt to learn everything about the unfortunate person, from cause of death to stomach contents to health problems. Most of the bodies in the books are horrifically maimed in some way, adding to the drama and increasing the urgency of Kay's work.

Comments: I've noticed several common themes in the few murder mysteries I have read. One, the ones I read (though this is probably by choice) all have female main characters, and were all written by female authors. The main character is some kind of forensic or scientific expert rather than a detective or supervisor, and they often have someone dependent on them - either a daughter from a previous marriage (which they all seem to have had) or a niece, a friend, etc. They are professional and good at what they do, but there are always sexist, annoying men that antagonize them. They get into a relationship with a good-looking, protective, law-enforcement man of some kind, and try to keep it secret from everyone. At some point, the relationship deteriorates as the main character suspects them of unfaithfulness (or just disinterest). Then, without fail, the female main character falls into deadly danger and is rescued at the last minute by some male-figure, generally the one they'd had a relationship with. And that's the general idea of most mystery novels I've read. Why is it that the woman can't be the detective? And why does she always have to be rescued by a man? It's almost enough to put me off mystery novels. Almost.

This series is pretty good so far. I believe it goes on for a while. I don't particularly love Kay Scarpetta (which is unfortunate, her being the main character), mostly because she smokes and drinks and has a short temper. Also, I sometimes feel that she is rather cold and often paranoid. Altogether, I don't really like her as a person. The cases are okay, but I feel that the gory details try to make up for lack of detailed and complex mystery. Cornwell definitely likes describing the blood and exactly how many stab wounds and when they finally died, etc. I don't really mind it, but I know some people want a mystery novel rather than a horror film.

Another thing is that the writing is a little old-fashioned. The books I've read came out in the early 90's, but I still can't get over my feeling that everything is too scripted. I don't know anyone that talks as precisely and formally as these people - even when talking to friends or family, they use fancy words and just sound like they're in court testifying. It gets annoying. Finally, I'm continuously feeling that I've skipped a book or three. Time goes by so quickly in these books that it gets confusing. Spoiler alert!!! When I read Cruel and Unusual, I found out by vague comments that Mark, a man she had been in a relationship with, had died in a bombing, apparently somewhere between Cruel and Unusual and the previous book, All That Remains. I don't appreciate the way Patricia Cornwell skips important things and decides to mention them later on when she feels like it.

You may wonder why, if I don't seem to like these books very much, I keep reading them. Well, I don't know. I guess I just love murder mysteries, and I like the Detective Marino whom Kay works with. Who knows?

Rating: I rate this series so far a six and a half out of ten.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

This is one of the Discworld books focused on the city Ankh-Morpork's Watch, AKA police-men/women/dwarves/trolls/undead/etc. Feet of Clay takes place after Men at Arms (see post), but I'm not sure exactly when it occurs. There might be a book or two between them.

Plot: Carrot Ironfoundersson is back and this time he's Captain of the Night Watch! Along with his sweetheart Sergeant Angua and rest of the Watch, Carrot is working on another confusing case. A couple of old men have died gruesome deaths from unusual weapons, seemingly unrelated. The only idea they have is that it's got something to do with the golems - huge, "unalive" beings made of clay, created for the sole purpose of labor. Golems apparently are not capable of thinking or feeling, and can only obey the "words in their head". So why are they disobeying, and why does Carrot feel a strange sense of emotion coming from those emotionless red eyes?

Comments: This is a great story, and though it's light-hearted and a fun and easy read, it resembles a social justice (or injustice) novel. The golems are treated like heartless, emotionless robots because that's what they were built to be. Supposedly, they cannot feel pain, both physical or mental, and they are not capable of disobeying their masters. But before abusing them, working them around the clock, and treating them as slaves, wouldn't it be a good idea to be sure they cannot feel? I mean, a golem is unstoppable. It would win a fight against a troll no problem, because it can't be hurt or knocked unconscious and it has incredible strength. And if suddenly you find out that the golem you've been mistreating this whole time resents you and is going to get revenge, you'd probably wished you'd never bought it.

Anyway, though I didn't consider it as hilariously funny as Men at Arms, this book was laugh-out-loud funny and I couldn't put it down. It's rather more of a thriller and mystery, and it'll keep you guessing. I liked the new characters, such as Dorfl the golem, and Constable Visit (his full name, translated, is Visit-the-Infidel-with-Explanatory-Pamphlets). They both added a lot to the story. I really felt for Dorfl especially.

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten. Fun read!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Insomnia by Stephen King

Plot: when elderly Ralph Roberts loses his wife after a long battle with a deadly illness, he doesn't know what to do with his life. Soon he begins to have trouble sleeping. It starts slowly, but after a while he isn't managing to sleep more than a few hours every night. Strange things start happening in his small town, but apparently he is the only one who can see them. Is Ralph going crazy or is a deadly storm brewing above the unsuspecting townspeoples' heads?

Comments: this book is really long (slightly over 700 pages) and it's not exactly an easy read. It took me a long time to go through it, and sometimes I had to take mini breaks to read something fun and light-hearted. This book is just kind of creepy, and it drags a little long.

Ralph was a nice character. He seemed like your average innocent old man, taking daily walks and sitting on benches in the park. Then he started losing sleep, and after a while he began to see auras. He definitely thought he was going crazy, and for a while, that's what it seemed like. Then the book got even stranger. Little bald doctors, balloon strings attached to everyone's heads...definitely a weird storyline. I didn't really like how Lois, Ralph's friend and sweetheart, was kind of helpless. Sure, she went along for the adventure, but she really didn't do all that much, and it was annoying how she had to depend on Ralph. I guess it's partly because the book's about fifteen years old, and the two main characters are old and therefore old-fashioned. But still. I hate damsels in distress.

Though the writing is great and at time the story was gripping and engaging, it was a little too long and a little too incredible to believe. I understand that it's not written as a biography or historical account, but even fantasy has its limits, in my mind. It was like King just randomly chose details out of a hat and strung them all together. I was rather skeptical that he actually thought up and decided to use some of the ideas. Anyway, read it if you want, but I warn you that it's long, it's graphic, and it's kind of repetitive.

Rating: I rate this book a five and a half out of ten.

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

Plot: set in the strange city of Ankh-Morpork, Discworld, this book focuses on a human that thinks he's a dwarf (well, he was adopted by them), Cpl. Carrot Ironfoundersson, and the captain of the Night Watch, Samuel Vimes, who is soon retiring, albeit reluctantly. When a newly invented, deadly weapon is stolen from the Assassin's Guild, the Night Watch face a challenge like never before; find the murderer and the weapon before anyone else is killed and prevent the so-called "gonne" from falling into the wrong hands ever again.

Comments: I love Terry Pratchett novels! They're so light-hearted and humorous. Pratchett excels at satirical humor, and there's something to laugh at on every page. The characters in this book were amazing. Cpl. Carrot is honest and simple - though not stupid - and he's adorably awkward around female Watch"man", Angua. After all, he is only seventeen years old, though his height and powerful build might throw you off (he's 6' 6" and yet still thought he was a dwarf until his 4' adopted parents finally told him). Carrot's very charismatic, and though he's almost always in a good mood, smiling and polite, if he gets ticked off, even trolls back away slowly.

Cpl. Nobby was a delightfully corrupt character, and Colon was rather transparent. There have been earlier books about Cpt. Vimes, so this book didn't explain his character very well. This caused me to lose interest in him, which is unfortunate, because half the time the story was about him. Angua was a good character, because though she was pretty and supposedly only became a Watchman to represent a "minority" group, she was strong, brave, and kick-butt, too. Cuddy the dwarf and Detritus the troll were paired up as Watchmen partners, and dwarves and trolls have had a feud for the longest time. They don't get along well, but after a while they start to grow on each other. Soon they could be considered good friends, and their friendship and partnership is heartwarming and sweet.

The plot was...strange, as most Discworld stories go. Though everything made sense, in a way, it's all rather complicated and twisted. However, it's definitely a fun read and I'm going to continue reading about Ankh-Morpork's City Watch in Feet of Clay. Oh, one more thing: I love how Death speaks and acts in these books. He doesn't have a huge role in this story, but he has a few hilarious conversations with the deceased.

Rating: I rate this book an eight out of ten. Great read!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Plot: when the Hogfather (the Ankh-Morpork version of Santa Claus, Jolly Ol' Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, etc.) vanishes mysteriously, Death steps in to fill the role. Though he is not the most jolly - for lack of a better word - being, Death begins to enjoy handing out presents, flying around the city, and, in general, being the Hogfather. Then Death's granddaughter Susan gets dragged into the situation and has to figure out what happened to the true Hogfather and how to get him back. Good luck.

Comments: I would consider this to be one of Terry Pratchett's best stories. The Hogfather is hilarious, absurd, and also rather touching. Pratchett excels at satirical humor, and apparently enjoys poking fun at the human existence (which, if you stop to think about it, has some very funny aspects). This book made me laugh so many times, I lost count! I love Pratchett's sharp wit and one-liners that make you say "What?" and reread the past few sentences to fully understand the concept.

My favorite character is definitely Death. He's so adorably clueless and oblivious, but you can tell that his heart (metaphorically, of course) is in the right place. Susan reprimands him like he's a child, and in some ways, he is. Pratchett created Death spectacularly, and I guarantee you'll love him. He fits right into the abstract, random plot. I must warn you that this book basically doesn't have a point, and though it has a start and ending, I wouldn't exactly say it has a beginning or conclusion. You'll see what I mean. But the story is so charmingly awkward that it all works in the end.

The only thing I didn't really like was Susan's character. She wasn't really the nicest person, so reading about her wasn't very fun. The circumstances were still hilarious, and she was definitely a strong character, but maybe a little more human next time?

Rating: I rate this book a nine out of ten. It was awesome. :)

Trace Evidence by Elizabeth Becka

Plot: forensic trace expert Evelyn James has seen many things in her life, but this is one of the worst. A young girl has been meticulously murdered; her feet are encased in a bucket full of concrete, chains wrap around her body, and she was found at the bottom of a freezing river. The investigation soon realizes there is a serial killer on the loose, and he will stop at nothing to get his revenge.

Comments: This is a great thriller novel! Suspenseful, dangerous, dark. I've always loved reading murder mysterious, even though I tend to see murderers in the shadows for days afterward. Trace Evidence has a great plot and an interesting way of killing off the victims. Normally I would think of a murderer as an insane, violent person, but the killer in this story is cold-hearted and calculating, which is even more frightening. It feels so real.

I liked the character Evelyn James, because she's not helpless, and she wants to solve this mystery even though it's dangerous for her to be asking questions. One thing I didn't appreciate about this book: it's kind of textbook.

SPOILER ALERT: I'm about to sum up the whole plot. Ending included. Just warning you.

Female officer of some sort gets involved in a dangerous case and acts all gung-ho, tries to solve it by herself and gets in trouble, at which point the handsome guy that has fallen in love with her swoops in all desperate and protective, saves her butt, and they all live happily ever after. Why can't the woman just solve the case without getting herself captured/cornered by the killer, and without falling in love with a man, or at least without needing said man to rescue her from certain death. It's just getting annoying. Am I the only one?

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten. Great story, if a little predictable.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill

Plot: spunky young woman Bug is doing okay in life; she has an apartment that she barely manages to pay for, a job as a maniac driver for a pizzeria, and she is still in possession of her soul. This all quickly changes when Bug meets Beal, a demonic (literally) car repossessing agent, who demands her vintage Cadillac passed down from her grandfather. Oh, and he wants her soul, too. Joining teams with Pesto, the cute boy at the car wash, Bug sets out to beat the Devil and get her life back.

Comments: This book in one word: sassy. I loved Bug! She has the biggest attitude I have ever seen, and she has absolutely no tolerance for anyone else's attitudes. Constantly talking smack and threatening to beat people's [butts*], she don't take lip from no one. I had never before heard the slur "coyote", but it's used a lot in this book. Bug won't allow anyone to walk away intact after calling her that, and I love that she stands up for herself like that. She doesn't need rescuing, and I appreciate the strong female character. The only thing I didn't like was that though Bug was tough and self-sufficient, she would scream a lot and act helpless and wimpy. It was like there were two different Bugs, and it got annoying.

The impersonation of the Devil was interesting, and I think Mr. Gill pulled it off very well. Slick and cultured, Lucifer felt to me like the real deal. The warring between the demons was funny, a sibling-like rivalry. The whole plot was funny, really. There were a lot of weird things thrown in, things that must have taken some thought to come up with. For example, why a pizza delivery girl? And how did he come up with names like Pesto and Vinnie (Bug's boss) - and Bug, for that matter. I'm not entirely sure where this is taking place (not paying attention to setting details always comes back and bites me), so maybe some of the things are part of the culture there. In any case, it's a fun read and I definitely recommend it!

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dance of the Assassins by Herve Jubert

Book one in the Devil's Dances trilogy

Plot: When clairvoyant witch Roberta Morgenstern is paired up with newbie Clement Martineau - whose parents are very influential - to solve a puzzling murder case in a life-sized, live-in museum of 1800's London, she doesn't think it'll go too well. And she turns out to be right. Jack the Ripper has come back to life with all the authenticity of the old city, and he turns out to be embarrassingly elusive for modern day's best detectives and intelligent technology.

Comments: Most of the way through this book I kept wondering if I had missed the first book in the series and had somehow gotten ahold of the second. I'm pretty sure I checked out the right one, but it was a little confusing. It seemed like there were a lot of casual references to things I should have already known about, because nothing got very much explanation. I have a feeling that there are other books about Roberta, but if so, I found no mention of them in my ritual examination of the book (check cover for book number, inside jackets for mentions of previous books, etc.).

The story itself was pretty good, if slightly lacking in transitions. I must confess I didn't particularly like Roberta, but I really liked Clement - and since Roberta is the main character, aren't you supposed to like her..? Anyway, Clement was adorably awkward and young, while Roberta was rather cranky and self-pampering. They worked well together, but I think it helped that they never seemed to have to do much work. It was like they strolled through all the danger, and even when they got in trouble, nothing really bad ever happened. It just felt rather tame.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten. It was an okay story.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Plot: "My name is Kvothe. I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me." An excerpt from the book.

Comments: I absolutely loved this book! It's the first book in a series, and I believe it's also Patrick Rothfuss' first published book (congratulations!). This is a great example of true fiction. It's got adventure, mystery, magic, love, and an amazing voice. Kvothe (pronounced almost like "quoth") himself narrates the story, and I must say, I love the way he thinks and talks. The characters in this book are amazing; they all feel very real and 3D, with little details summing up entire personalities. I got caught up in Kvothe's feud with a priggish, rich - and unfortunately for Kvothe, cunning - student at the University, and was intrigued with the woman that has caught Kvothe's attention. This book completely ensnared me. However, I got mad at Kvothe when he was doing/was about to do something stupid. He could be rather pig-headed sometimes.

I learned to set aside my expectations and to just let the book lead me where it was going. The plot is too complex to guess correctly. I liked how it switched back and forth from the young Kvothe to the older Kvothe telling the story. It added a bit of a cliffhanger, where I would be wondering what would happen next to young Kvothe and the story would suddenly switch to older Kvothe - and then something would happen to older Kvothe and I would forget about younger Kvothe...Like I said earlier; complex. The only reason I ever put it down was that it is a good-sized book, and I had too many things going on to read it in one day.

One thing I disliked was the lack of strong female characters. Few women attend the famed University, and several main female characters rely on men (often Kvothe) to be saved. I hope the characters evolve in the next  book, or I'll start being fairly annoyed.

Rating: I rate this book an eight and a half out of ten. Outstanding!

Read the second book in The Kingkiller Chronicles, The Wise Man's Fear.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Nightmare Academy by Frank Peretti

Book two in the Veritas Project series. Click here for book one.

Plot: This time the Springfields are investigating the mystery of a runaway teenager who was found - but was completely out of his mind. The only thing he says is "Nightmare Academy..." Over and over again. What is this Nightmare Academy, and how could it have changed this young man from a civil, smart student (if slightly rebellious) to a babbling, senseless child?

Comments: The second book in the Veritas Project series doesn't quite live up to the first one (see Hangman's Curse), but I liked this book anyway. It's a completely different kind of mystery, which I was glad to see. The setting is extremely different from the first book, and so is the plot. This story was slightly more far-fetched and dangerous than Hangman's Curse. More is at stake, and there seems to be less chance for redemption.

I was kind of annoyed by the characters in this story. The teenagers were stupid, superficial, and resembled wild animals. No rules, no morals, and no conscious thought. I guess it was kind of the point, but as the plot went on, I got pretty exasperated. Everything changed in the end, but it was a little difficult to read through the idiotic whims of the teenagers.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten. It was an okay story.

Hangman's Curse by Frank Peretti

Book one in the Veritas Project series. Click here for book two.

Plot: "The story centers around an apparently supernatural case taken by a family of investigators who make up the Veritas Project. About ten years after the suicidal hanging of Abel Frye, a high school student unable to cope with the pressures of bullying, jocks from the school's football team begin to lose their sanity after seeing what they believe to be Abel's ghost, which is rumored to be under the control of a group of witches out for revenge." Copied from Wikipedia. (I find it hard to summarize plots...)

Comments: this was an interesting story, very mysterious (I seem to be using that word a lot lately) and thought-provoking. It was an entertaining fiction novel, with well-described characters. I liked how Elijah, one of the main characters, becomes friends with an outcast. I appreciated the way he treated everyone like a human being instead of acting like the average teenage guy. I had a few theories as to the real reason why the football team was going insane, but of course, none of them turned out to be correct.

One thing I didn't like about this book was the way it was written. The main characters, both high school kids, didn't seem like normal teenagers. They were definitely mature, which I realize was on purpose, but the way they talked and acted felt off. It was the same with all the other teenagers - none of them acted like the teenagers I know. Also, the high school had actual cliques: the math kids sat here, the jocks sat there, the skaters sat over that way. As far as I know, no high school actually has groups like that. I know mine doesn't! Friends sit together in little groups, sure, but we aren't all divided as obviously as they were in Hangman's Curse. I don't think Frank Peretti did his research very well. Next time I suggest he gives his manuscript to a teenager to read and ask what they think of his high school.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten. Very entertaining.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Plot: when the elderly curator of a famous Parisian museum is found dead in a gallery, covered in symbols drawn with his own blood, a twisted, mysterious adventure begins for Robert Langdon, well-known American symbologist. The beautiful cryptologist Sophie Neveu joins him in the search for answers as the clues lead them closer to the best-kept secret in the history of man - and further into danger.

Comments: I had wanted to read this for a long time, and I finally checked it out of the library. At first the story was exciting and intriguing, everything a good mystery should be. The plot was wild and slightly far-fetched, but that's fine in moderation. Robert Langdon fit the bill perfectly, a bewildered, awkward man, and Sophie Neveu was confident, yet cautious. The other characters rounded out the story nicely.

However, as the story continued, I started getting a little bored. Though the clues were always different and they led in different directions, I felt like the story was repeating itself. It became more than just far-fetched; perhaps closer to ridiculously unbelievable. I did finish the book, but by the end, I was practically anxious for it to be over. The twists and turns piled up, one on top of the other, and it got to be rather annoying and predictable. The plot was good and the idea was great, but really, it was just too much drama. Like a soap opera in written form, with less relationships and more secret codes.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten.

Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates

Plot: a young Chinese girl moves with her mother to Canada, where her father is already running his own restaurant. She begins to learn English and how to live like a white person, and soon Canada is more home to her than the memories of a distant hometown, which are fading day by day. When her older brother comes to work at the restaurant, things start changing. Her family begins to fall apart, no matter how she tries to keep it together.

Comments: I thought the young girl, Su-Jen - Annie - was very cute and had little life experience. I felt sorry for her as her life began to change. She viewed the world with innocence, and I hated that she had to grow up and see that not everything is good. I also didn't like her mother very much. Paying little attention to Su-Jen and even less to her husband, she wasn't exactly the nicest person I've ever met. And when Su-Jen's brother came to town, everything got worse. Lee Kung was not willing to be the dutiful Chinese son his father had expected him to be. Arguing with his father and forming an alliance with his bitter mother, Lee Kung was the beginning of the end.

Su-Jen survives many hard things; racism, loss of friends and family, and life in general. This is her sad story. Delicately written with elegance and beauty, but not covering up the not-so-beautiful things in life. Not a light read, but not exactly deep, either.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten.

Fools Rush In by Bill Carter

Plot: Bill Carter, as a young man, sneaks into the middle of a war in Bosnia: the city of Sarajevo. He is living in the center of a war zone, dodging bullets and bombs, barely managing to find food and water. Making friends and interviewing natives, Carter learns not only how to survive, but how to live, and shares his experience with the world. The story of Sarajevo is one every person must know.

Comments: I can't tell you I disliked the characters or that the plot needed more work. I can't tell you the writing was horrible or that the organization could have been better. First, because none of that is true, but second, because this is a true story, and I can't evaluate real people or events. Could I tell you I didn't like the ending, if every word of the ending is true? No, I couldn't. I don't know what I can tell you about this book.

I will say that the story is sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartwrenching. It brought tears to my eyes, and it made me laugh. The people of Sarajevo really knew how to live, maybe more so than anyone living in a peaceful country. I loved reading about the sisters who faced death everyday, running down a street lined with snipers, and about the man who loved to paint and play soccer. Bill Carter distributed food and supplies to people everywhere, and in return, they told him their story. I am grateful for the look into their lives, and you will be, too.

Rating: Just read it.

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard

Plot: It's the year 1818, Paris, France. When a perplexing murder case led by the mysterious and feared Vidocq leads to a young, timid medical student named Hector Carpentier, it morphs into a search for the "dead" dauphin Louis-Charles, son of the late Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI.

Comments: I plucked this book at random off the library shelf, and am I glad I did! At first I wasn't sure: it seemed like it might be tedious, maybe a little too...educated? I really just wanted a nice, entertaining fiction novel. Turns out, that's exactly what this is. This story is extremely interesting and I had to force myself to put it down from time to time to actually get some work done. It twists and turns in unexpected ways and was slightly confusing - mostly because I didn't try very hard at memorizing the names, titles, and relations of people that ended up reappearing later in the story, to my surprise (I would flip back and skim pages, trying to find out who so-and-so was and what they were doing back in the plot).

I immediately liked the main character, Hector, because of his awkwardness and innocence. As the story progressed, I appreciated how he slowly morphed into a more confident, self-suffient human being. Vidocq was an interesting character; he was quirky, astonishingly clever, and rather terrifying. He and Hector made a good team at balancing out the story. Together they made me laugh, wonder, and unsuccessfully attempt to guess the ending. A great mystery, intruiging and mystifying.

Rating: I rate this book an eight out of ten. I loved it!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane by Polly Horvath

Plot: when cousins Meline and Jocelyn are suddenly orphaned by a tragic train wreck in Zimbabwe, they are both sent to live with their rich and quirky uncle where he lives on a island. Frankly, he doesn't know what to do with them, so the two girls don't exactly thrive. This is their story of mourning, family ties, and denial.

Comments: this is definitely not an ordinary book. It switches viewpoints, which is sometimes confusing, but only because I never look at the title (which clearly states the chapter's viewpoint). I thought it started kind of slowly, with a lot of background information and flashbacks. It started getting a little bit tedious. I guess with this story, the plot never really started. It's like the whole book I was wondering to myself when the book was going to actually start. It kind of wanders and ambles and never really gets anywhere. At the end of the book, I felt surprised. How can a story end without ever beginning?

It's hard to say whether or not I liked the characters. At first I thought I would like Meline, because she was more of a regular girl than Jocelyn, the prim, proper young lady. The uncle was endearingly absentminded, but very queer. But as the story progressed (or didn't), the plot was distorted and everything was like a mad caper down a spinning hallway. Everyone was going crazy and I had a hard time reading. It was all very confusing.

Rating: I rate this book a five and a half out of ten. It was too confusing and didn't make any sense, in a bad way (sometimes it's a good thing).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer

From book one to book four, the titles are as follows: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.

Plot: Bella, a regular teenage girl, falls in love with a vampire named Edward. She thinks he's perfect, but he's worried that he's dangerous to be around. These are stories about love, sacrifice, guilt, and jealousy.

Comments: The first time I read these books (rather long after they had been discovered and became popular), I really liked the first book, I kind of liked the second and third books, and I really liked the fourth book. However, upon rereading them recently, I thought the first book was okay, I really didn't like the second and third books, and the fourth book was still pretty good. All in all, the series was mediocre, definitely aimed at teenage girls rather than the judges for the Pulitzer Prize.

The plot and the idea are both great, and I like the way the stories twist and turn. There are so many different characters you need to remember, all very different and easy to imagine (though after seeing so many movie trailers for the first three movies, all I see are the actors' faces, which really annoys me). I liked Bella the first time I read these books. She's practical, clumsy, slightly self-doubting; nothing special, or so she thinks. Edward is incredibly handsome, talented, protective - and immortal - and he is completely in love with Bella. I really liked that he didn't fall in love with a popular girl, like a stereotypical blond, thin cheerleader.

However, when I reread the books, I found parts where Bella just annoyed me. She allowed Edward to make decisions for her and wouldn't or couldn't hold a grudge against him for any period of time, even if he did something really irritating. I would be yelling at her in my head to "stand up for yourself, don't just let him push you around! Who cares how pretty he is, you aren't his property!" Sometimes I didn't understand why they were in love - or even that they were in love; a lot of the time it didn't show. I also didn't like the Bella cried a lot and was kind of a wimp.

This is definitely a light-read, because it's almost like a fairy-tale, even though it's set in modern day. It's sappy and reminds me of a soap opera in book form. Ye be warned.

Rating: I rate the whole series a five out of ten. The writing is okay, if repetitive, the idea is good, if a little unbelievable, but the characters are just irritating. Although maybe you aren't supposed to like them.

Notes From the Teenage Underground by Simmone Howell

Plot: three girls decide to make an "underground" film as their summer project. But when the unofficial group leader Lo, and pretty, boy-crazy Mira start to take over, Gem, sensitive and lacking in self-confidence, feels left out. As Lo and Mira's friendship grows, Gem meets her long-lost father and tries to catch the eye of her crush.

Comments: this book was a pretty good read. I liked Gem's character because she was practical and clear-headed. I thought her crush on her co-worker was cute, but not when she resorted to extra measures to attract his attention. I didn't understand why she was friends with Lo and Mira, however. Mira was the dim-witted giggling type, and was only interested in boys, boys, and more boys. Lo was controlling and a self-proclaimed queen of everyone, and was never contributing anything to her "friendship" with Gem. I guess Gem was, in a way, desperate to have friends.

I liked the sound of the film Gem ends up making, but it's pretty hard to imagine. I thought it fit the definition of "underground"; different, thought-provoking, and maybe slightly rebellious. Gem's character developed well, and I liked her a lot better towards the end than in the beginning. She changed into a self-dependant, strong young woman. Still a little hesitant and self-doubting, but much better than before.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger

Plot: Sam doesn't know much about her Indian heritage, and she'd never really thought about it. But one day, a man in a turban shows up at her house claiming to be her uncle. Suddenly Sam realizes what she's been missing. She wants to learn about the Sikh religion, meet her grandparents - the only problem is her mother, who is determined to keep Sam away from her ancestry.

Comments: I enjoyed this book. I learned about the Sikh religion (which, I'm afraid, I'd never heard of before) and about Indian culture. I couldn't relate very well to the book, but I thought it was very well-written, and I really liked Sam (her real name is Samar). Sam's unique, protective, and loyal, and she made the story really interesting. It was fun to tag along as she entered a new part of her life. This story takes place soon after 9/11, which makes racism and prejudice dominant parts of the book. Even though I wasn't the one being racist, I felt ashamed and embarrassed for those who were. This book reminded me not to judge anyone by their looks, and that's something everyone needs to remember.

Rating: I rate this book a six and a half out of ten. It was a good read. Not exactly light-hearted, but not deep and profound either. Somewhere in between.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Slam by Nick Hornby

Plot: teenager Sam is an ordinary guy: he's okay in school, he loves to skate (that's skateboard, FYI)... But then he meets Alicia, a gorgeous girl who ends up becoming his girlfriend. Everything's great until Alicia gets pregnant. She refuses to have an abortion, but Sam doesn't feel ready to be a father. He turns to his idol, Tony Hawk, for help, but talking to a poster doesn't yield much advice. What now?

Comments: This book was okay. I liked it at first, the way Sam narrated the whole thing, because I liked his way of talking. Casual, with slang and opinions; it sounded like a teenage boy. I liked Sam and the relationship he had with his young mom (she had become pregnant as a teenager). I didn't like Alicia, because she was really rude to Sam in the beginning, but she got better, and I thought it would be a pretty good book. But then the book started to fast-forward to the future and it got confusing and slightly boring.

I felt like Nick Hornby was trying to advertise abstinence to teenagers, or at least safer habits. I wanted to read a story, not a lecture about teenage relationships and the consequences of early pregnancies. I did finish reading the book, but I skimmed a lot as it got more boring.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten. I understand that teenage pregnancies are a serious topic, but I'm rating a book, not a health class lesson.

Suck It Up by Brian Meehl

Plot: a young vampire is chosen to reveal the existance of the ancient race to humans. The public loves him, but he doesn't like the attention and wishes he'd never agreed to it. He meets a teenage girl different from any he's known: she's rude, snappy, and independent, but somehow they become friends. And then...more than friends?

Comments: Personally, I'm sick of the new vampire craze. Tons of new books, TV shows, whatever. But I gave this book a chance, and I loved it! The main character was so innocent and teenager-awkward and sweet! I really liked him, and the teenage girl he meets. I love their interaction, because it is so like real teenagers - I say "real" because one of them is a vampire, forever a teenager.

The plot is completely different from anything I've ever read - and it's not a romance, so don't think it's another Twilight or something (by Stephenie Meyer). This book made me laugh, which I take as a very good sign. I definitely recommend it. It's light-hearted and fun!

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten.

Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman

Plot: a teenage girl's story of growing up and surviving among boring and cruel peers.

Comments: I didn't like this book very much. I thought it was interesting when I started reading it because the main character, Andromeda, is different from other people and doesn't care what they think. But as I continued reading, it got kind of boring. Andromeda liked tarrot cards and such, and she would go on and on about what a card meant and different stories about the people on the cards. It got to the point that a page would be about her life, and then two pages would be her considering and pondering mystical legends and deep meanings. It was incredibly boring and annoying, so I stopped reading it.

Rating: I rate this book a five out of ten. Too boring for my taste.

Chasing the Bear by Robert B. Parker

A Young Spenser Novel

Plot: in this book, you learn about how the private detective Spenser was as a teenager. Even then, he was independent, quick-thinking, and protective.

Comments: this book probably wouldn't be all that great if you hadn't already read several Spenser novels and liked them a lot, like I have. By itself, I don't know if it's that great of a story, but I liked learning about the childhood of one of my favorite book characters. It was fun to compare the young Spenser to the older Spenser, because they were so much alike. I liked reading about his father and uncles who raised him, and the lessons they taught him.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten.

Burn Notice: The Fix by Tod Goldberg

Note: this is based off the TV series Burn Notice by Matt Nix.

Plot: ex-spy Michael Westen has been living under surveillance in his hometown, Miami, ever since someone burned him. His friend, an ex-navy seal, asks him to help a friend out, which of course leads to a huge undercover mission for which Michael isn't even getting paid. To top it off, an old acquaintance shows up and threatens Michael, basically with death. Another average day in the life of Michael Westen.

Comments: I really like the show, so when I found this book, I was curious as to how similar the two would turn out. I hadn't actually seen this particular episode (I'm assuming this story was based off a real episode), but I thought the characters were portrayed accurately. Though most of the details went over my head (like the details about real estate, money laundering, etc.), because they were a little too detailed for my taste. (Detailed details. I guess that should be a given.) I skimmed through some of the long conversations about real estate and such, but besides all that, I thought the book was pretty good.

I liked the way Tod Goldberg wrote Michael's thoughts and made him so ingenius and meticulous. I thought it fit the TV show character very well. He's not exactly macho, but he's got a kind of power that makes him extremely formidable, and he knows it (and likes it). It's funny how he acts out different people and how no one guesses he's acting. He's that convincing. It makes for a good story. I also like his kind of humor, because it fits the "spy" kind of character (in my mind) and makes the story a little lighter.

Rating: I rate this book a six and a half out of ten.

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult

Plot: a young girl has a serious medical condition called OI (osteogenesis imperfecta), also called the "brittle bone" disease. Willow's bones can - and do - break when she rolls over in her sleep, when she slips on a napkin, when she sneezes. Her mother's life is centered around Willow, and this becomes a problem as Willow's older sister feels invisible and Willow's father disagrees with the proposed lawsuit to get more money for Willow.

Comments: this is an amazing story about family, sacrifice, and doing what you think is right. It reminds me of My Sister's Keeper, also by Jodi Picoult, because both stories are about families struggling to stay together despite disagreements, and both families center around an ill family member. Handle With Care is a hard book to read. The story is almost painful, and the writing makes you feel what the characters are feeling.

I loved the character Amelia, and though my life is nothing like hers, I somehow relate to her and understand her pain. I also felt sorry for her, because her mother never paid her any attention. Throughout this story, my dislike for Charlotte, the mother, steadily grew to the point that I was disgusted with her. In a way, she is the antagonist in the story. I couldn't believe someone could act the way she did. It was almost despicable. I do think this book is worth reading, however annoying it is to read about the mother. I liked the father, Sean, and I liked Willow, too. None of this was her fault, and she was so sweet and innocent. I finished reading the story hoping for Willow's sake that it would have a happy ending.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten. A good read, but not exactly an uplifting one.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Plot: When a widow named Mrs. Ferrars commits suicide and the wealthy Roger Ackroyd is murdered soon afterward, the small English village of King's Abbot is even more full of gossip than usual. The murder is a complete mystery to the incompetent local police. Fortunately, though, the famous detective Hercule Poirot has just moved into King's Abbot and agrees to take on the case, with the narrator, Dr. Sheppard, as his unofficial companion.

Comments: I really liked this book - it was interesting, mysterious (of course, it is a mystery), and very intriguing. It was recommended by my friend Erika: she told me how much she liked it, but that her favorite character ended up being the murderer. She also said that it's a surprise ending - a "big twist", she called it. I was sure that my favorite character wouldn't be the murderer, but it turned out that she had sized me up right and predicted that my favorite would be the same as hers. Comment once you read the book and let me know if your favorite character was the murderer! (However, ye be warned: I may not post spoilers!)

The writing style in this story is very simple. The desciptions were like rough sketches; general, but easy to understand. I liked that though it is a mystery, the descriptions didn't go on and on and on. There was definitely a lot of reviewing of the murder, however, and that got a little old. I began to get annoyed with the detective, because he would bring up trivial details (or so you thought) and then wouldn't say what importance they had. He seemed to enjoy enfuriating his companion (and myself) with his locked lips. He was a good character to have in the story, because it spiced it up a little.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten. A good read, though at first I hated the ending - after all, how can I enjoy a mystery where it turns out my favorite character is the murderer? But I thought about it for a while and finally agreed that it was a perfectly good ending, and I resigned myself to that fact, however disappointed I was.

The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan

Book six in the Ranger's Apprentice series. Click here for books one through five.

Plot: Ranger Will is preparing to rescue his friend Alyss from the castle of Macindaw and the traitorous clutches of the knight Keren and his troops. He will need to employ the help of stranded Skandians, a "sorcerer" named Malcolm, and his good friend Horace, the Knight of the Oak Leaf. However, when Will discovers that Keren has made a deal with a neighboring country's military, the rescue suddenly becomes an all-out attack on the castle, and the odds of surviving are not very good...

Comments: I didn't end up rereading book five, like I'd said I would (see Ranger's Apprentice Series), but I really did like this book a lot better. I had mentioned problems with Will suddenly growing up from an apprentice to a ranger, and I still don't exactly appreciate that. However, I put aside my prejudices for this book, and I really enjoyed it. I like what John Flanagan has made the adult Will into - the same with Horace and Alyss. I was a little concerned that Alyss would be a classic damsel in distress, locked away in her tower, fluttering a handkerchief, but I was relieved to find that though Alyss could not escape by herself, neither did she sit twiddling her thumbs while waiting for her rescue. I really appreciated that (can't stand damsels in distress!).

I thought all the planning was well thought out and interesting, instead of just a boring bunch of battle tactics. The way Malcolm conducted the interrogation was fun (trust me, no one was hurt - I wouldn't consider that fun), and I liked the creativity. It showed just how superstitious people used to be. One thing I really like about the Ranger's Apprentice series is that the action scenes are always described with detail, but not overly so. I can clearly imagine the action, but I'm not overloaded with details to the extent that everything is playing out in slow motion. I found it interesting that even though Will is now a full-fledged ranger, he still makes a lot of mistakes. He's not as good at fighting as I figured he would be, though now that I think of it, no one's perfect, and I guess he just found a really good opponent.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten. Pretty good, fun read.

The Lighthouse Land by Adrian McKinty

Book 1 in the Lighthouse Trilogy

Plot: two boys find a magical device that transports them to another world. A girl from this strange place is convinced that they are the only ones who can save her city from raiders. Will they succeed?

Comments: at first, I really liked this book, especially the characters. The main character, Jamie, seemed really nice and sweet and not at all like an immature teenager. He was different, in a good way, and I liked him a lot. His new friend, Ramsay, is funny and spunky, and he's definitely different, too. I like how he sticks with Jamie and fights for him (even when he's only known him for a few hours). Jamie's mom doesn't feel very realistic, but she's not a main character, so I didn't mind much. I was kind of confused when Thaddeus, Jamie's old friend (I mean that Thaddeus is rather elderly, not that they've been friends forever), gave Jamie an expensive gift. It hadn't felt like they were THAT close...

I liked the plot, too, at first. It was creative and different and slightly magical, things I love about stories. But as the story continued (mostly toward the end), it got less exciting and less interesting. I finished the book, but only through loyalty to the beginning, and I won't be reading the second or third books. The end was slightly complicated, especially when Jamie kept changing his mind (again, trying not to give anything away). One moment he was dead set on one thing, absolutely positive of his decision, not letting anyone pursuade him otherwise. The next moment, Jamie's realized how wrong he was and changes his mind completely. It felt like the author had already decided on the ending and was trying to add some tension before the real ending showed itself. It felt very unrealistic.

Rating: I rate this book a six. Mostly good, but I didn't like the ending and won't be continuing with the trilogy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Secret Fiend by Shane Peacock

Book four in the Boy Sherlock Holmes series. Click here for book three.

Plot: Sherlock has resolved to put aside his detective skills until he is older, but this time he has choice; London is in Chaos and he is the only person who can discover the identity of a terrifying creature straight out of a popular novel.

Comments: Phew, this book was so much better than Vanishing Girl, book number three! If you read the post for Vanishing Girl, you'll see that I really didn't like it, and I wasn't very enthusiastic about reading the next book in the series. However, I definitely recommend that you read this series, and book four is worth reading book three.

Sherlock was very different in this novel. He was no longer obsessed with solving cases before the London police, and though he still hated Malevolent (more about that later), he wasn't trying to pry Irene away from the, well, malevolent young thief. It's been a while since I read the first two books, but I think Sherlock has become more like the boy in those books, rather than the one I disliked in the third. (Am I being confusing? Sorry.) I love the way Sherlock talks, so old-fashioned and proper. Yes, this is set in the late 1800's, so it's expected that the speech is different, but the way he speaks is unlike any of the other characters'. He has a definite way with words, an amazing capacity to notice, remember, and fit together minute details, and a huge sense of curiosity. This young Sherlock very closely resembles the older detective he is supposed to grow into, the adult Sherlock Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (which, I believe, is the intent).

I felt as if there was a lot of character change between the third book and the fourth book. For example, Malevolent, the young thief lord/gang boss, and the enemy of Sherlock. I don't want to give anything away, but in the fourth book, he seems to hate Sherlock more than ever before. Another example is Irene, the daughter of a wealthy man and once the friend of Sherlock. In the third book (or was it the second?), Irene and Sherlock's friendship pretty much evaporates, but they kind of make up in the fourth book. I'm not exactly pleased with this, because though at first she was a favorite character, I quickly began to dislike her (see Vanishing Girl post), mostly because she chose Malevolent over Sherlock. Also, in this book I learn more about Sherlock's master, the eccentric apothecary Sigerson Bell. I love this character! He is so strange and knows so many things, and he is a good friend of Sherlock. Since Sherlock hardly ever sees his father anymore, Bell has kind of filled in, and he obviously cares for the boy. He's such a lovable old man.

Rating: I rate this book an eight out of ten. Definitely recommended, but watch out for the surprise ending!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Vanishing Girl by Shane Peacock

Book three in the Boy Sherlock Holmes series. Click here for book four.

Plot: the young Sherlock Holmes is back, and his third case is the most confusing yet. The daughter of one of the most powerful men in the city has been kidnapped - and there is no ransom note! No trace of the girl has been left behind, but Sherlock believes he can find her before the police, or his archenemy, Malevolent, and his band of ruffians.

Comments: when I first started reading this series - did I post the second and third books? No, I guess I haven't. The first book is called Eye of the Crow and the second is called Death in the Air. Both were good, better than this one. I think I like Death in the Air best. Anyway, when I first started reading this series, Sherlock was an innocent, curious boy. A little odd, but a good boy. Now, by the third book, I don't like him anymore. He's rather obsessed with showing up the police and Malevolent, to the point that it gets boring. There's a girl, a well-off girl named Irene, that he met in the first book. At first, I liked her too, but I hated her in this book! She was once a good friend of Sherlock's, but now she has chosen to side with Malevolent, a scheming criminal - and yet Sherlock still wants to get her back, even though she uses him to get what she wants. She used to be innocent, too, and now she's a conniving brat.

The story was original, but I didn't particularly enjoy it, mostly because I have no affection for the characters anymore. I'm afraid that's all I can think of right now. The first two books were good, so I do recommend you read those. At the end of this book, Sherlock seemed to go through a change, and I think he'll be better in the next book. I haven't read the fourth book yet, but I'm planning on it, and I'll let you know if it's worth it to read the third book.

Rating: I rate this book a five and a half out of ten. Barely worth it.

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Plot: Eon, a candidate to become the powerful sorcerer Rat Dragoneye, has a secret: he is actually a teenage girl masquerading as a young boy. When the unthinkable happens, Eona is plunged into a world of formality and politics and must struggle to keep her true identity secret, or face the worst imaginable consequences.

Comments: I really enjoyed reading this book! I love fantasies like this. The dragons resemble the zodiac and the setting is somewhat Asian - and I must admit I am obsessed with dragons and Asian culture, so this story was a perfect fit! At first, I didn't like Eona that much; she was a bit of a whiner and a little wimpy, unable to do anything without someone guiding her every move. But she soon began voicing her own opinions and proved herself a sharp and strong-willed young woman, which I always admire in characters.

It's hard to say who my favorite character in this book was. Obviously I liked Eona (more and more as the book progressed), but I also felt attached to Lady Dela and her bodyguard (I've forgotten his name, which makes me feel bad, but I can't find it anywhere on the internet and I already returned the book). Lady Dela is a woman with a man's body, and a very supportive character to Eona. I love how clever she is, and how well she plays the political games in the palace. Lady Dela's bodyguard is a physically powerful and protective man, and he proves to be a kind-hearted person - though when he needs to be, he can turn into a cold-hearted killer. I didn't appreciate how he acted towards Eona when he learned her secret, even though he had trusted her and felt betrayed. The character I didn't like was Ido, the antagonist. Yes, I know you aren't supposed to like the antagonist, but I mean I didn't like the way he was portrayed. Ido felt like a generic villian, like a copy out of a mold; he wasn't very original. I think Alison Goodman could have spent more time creating him.

I also think the author could have spent less time describing everything. Personally, I like to use my imagination a little bit, so when every little detail is laid out for me, I get bored trawling through it all, so I tend to skip. I must admit that I skipped quite a lot in this book - sometimes whole pages - and I don't feel guilty about it, either. I'm not about to read a book that's uninteresting, so I'll skip the boring parts to get to the interesting parts. I think that because this story isn't set in the modern world, the author felt the need to explain what everything was like, but I still believe that less is more in some cases. Sometimes simplicity is a blessing. Another thing: Eona had way too much doubt in herself. It got to the point that I was waiting for her to have another panic attack, another self-guilt session. Frankly, it was annoying.

Rating: I rate this book a six and a half out of ten. Great story - the parts that I actually read, at least.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

This is a true story.

Plot: In 1933, an emaciated Greg Mortenson, after a failed attempt on climbing K2, stumbled across a poor Pakistani village where he slowly regained his health. Before he left, Mortenson promised the village that he would return to build them a school. This book is about his adventures and how he came to establish the Central Asia Institute, a non-profit that has, at last count, built fifty-five schools in impoverished countries.

First Line: "Greg Mortenson was lost."

Comments: This book held an amazing story, one that needs to be shared with everyone. Greg Mortenson is an incredible person who has accomplished many great things. He has sacrificed much and completely immerses himself in the act of giving to others. Not only is this story inspiring and mind-blowing, but it teaches good lessons, too. I learned a lot about other cultures, and I was surprised at a lot of the cultural differences I came across. Mortenson was able to look past all the differences and saw children that needed education, a future, and most of all, hope. I hope to do something as great and selfless as he has.

I recommend this book for all ages. However, it's not written to please the reader; some may find the writing style boring or dry. I think you should read this book not for the enjoyment of reading but to hear the story the pages tell. Another thing: it's not like a written documentary - this book made me laugh and made me think, and reading this opened my eyes to unconditional love and emotion.

Rating: I'm afraid I can't rate this book, because it would be like rating a life story - after all, that's kind of what it is. All I can say is that I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Darkest Powers Trilogy by Kelley Armstrong

The three books in this trilogy are The Awakening, The Summoning, and The Reckoning, in order from first to last.

Plot: when ordinary Chloe Saunders discovers she can see ghosts and is sent to a mental home by the unbelieving hospital staff, she begins an adventure in which she will communicate with dead people, run from cruel, powerful scientists with guns, and turn into someone she could never have imagined.

First Line: "Mommy forgot to warn the new babysitter about the basement."

Comments: I loved this series! I couldn't put any of the books down. Unfortunately, I didn't have all three books at once, so I couldn't immediately continue reading (if you're a fast reader like me, I recommend that you have all three books in your possession before you start reading them). The plots in these books drew me in and captivated me. I devoured the Darkest Powers Trilogy, and I really hope there will be more!

The characters were amazing. I could imagine all of them really well (not necessarily physically, but I've never been good at that anyway), and they were definitely easy to relate to. The main characters were all so different; each has their own personality and qualities, and they are very well defined. I love Chloe and feel like I can relate to her - except for the enviable super power, of course. I admire how she doesn't let people coddle her and how independent she is. Simon is sweet and amiable, and I can imagine him as the popular guy, but personally, I perfer Derek. Derek is...complicated. I'm afraid I can't relate to him much - although I'm not sure that you're meant to. Liz is loyal and cute, and I really felt for her. Tori is rather rude and self-centered, but she goes through changes like everyone else throughout this story.

I'm amazed at the complexity and creativity of these stories. They are works of art! My favorite was the last book, The Reckoning. I didn't think the first book, The Awakening, started very quickly. In fact, the end of the first book felt almost like the beginning of the real story to me, which is partly why I was so eager to read the next book, The Summoning. Don't get me wrong - it's not like the first book was boring. No, definitely not! It was interesting and engrossing - it's just that I felt like the real adventure began more towards the end.

I absolutely recommend all three of these books! The only thing is that these novels are meant to be for teens, and there is some more mature stuff in them. However, it's nothing graphic - I'd recommend them for maybe 12 year-olds and up.

Rating: I rate this trilogy a ten out of ten!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst

Plot: "Bulgaria, 1934. A young man is murdered by the local fascists. His brother, Khristo Stoianev, is recruited into the NKVD, the Soviet secret intelligence service, and sent to Spain to serve in its civil war. Warned that he is about to become a victim of Stalin’s purges, Khristo flees to Paris. Night Soldiers masterfully re-creates the European world of 1934–45: the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for Eastern Europe, the last desperate gaiety of the beau monde in 1937 Paris, and guerrilla operations with the French underground in 1944. Night Soldiers is a scrupulously researched panoramic novel, a work on a grand scale."

Comments: I copied the above description of the book from Google Books. At first I felt kind of guilty for not writing my own, but I could not think of a single sentence to write. I read the entire book from the first page to the last, and I couldn't write a sentence describing it. That certainly says something, mainly that most of the book went over my head (like The Chosen by Chaim Potok). Well, not exactly over my head, though it was written in a very sophisticated style. No, mostly I was just confused, overwhelmed, and detached from the story.

First off, here were a lot of names of people and places, of all different nationalities, which made everyone extremely confusing (I've always had problems with names). Next, the story would jump from place to place and from time to time; I would be reading about a meeting between two people, and then I would suddenly be reading about a sabotage mission - with different people. Seemingly random people would be introduced into the story and I would read for a while about them, the whole time wondering: "Where's the main character? What happened to him?" Eventually he would show up, but time would have passed and I wouldn't know what had happened. Last, the whole book felt like it was written with facts. It says on the front cover "A Novel", but it was written more like a history book or biography. I felt sympathy for some people, but I never really got attached to any. Was that on purpose? I have no idea.

I feel bad about complaining this whole time. I've heard good reviews about Alan Furst, and this is the only book written by him that I've read so far, but I'm not really impressed. Kind of disappointed, actually. I guess his style of writing just doesn't suit me. I'm going to try some more of his books, so keep checking in. Oh, and I wasn't trying to prevent you from reading this book. I guess that's what it sounds like. If you read this book and love it, feel free to comment on this post and complain to me or argue or just give the book some compliments. I'll most likely publish it (the only reasons why I wouldn't are if your spelling/grammar is absolutely horrible and if you're being completely rude).

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Zorro by Isabel Allende

Plot: Ever heard of Zorro, the dashing, mysterious man that defeats his enemies with cunning and expert fencing, then vanishes back into the night? This is the story of his childhood, and how Diego de la Vega came to be known as Zorro.

Comments: I loved this book! It was a great adventure, with daring rescues and breathless battles...and it wasn't totally sexist, either. (You know those stories with the dashing Prince Charming who saves the beautiful Damsel in Distress from the evil dragon/count/father/whatever? Well, this story wasn't like those. That's good, because I hate those kinds of stories, as you can tell.) It felt very old-fashioned; the way people spoke, the formality of everything, and, obviously, the years it is set in. Isabel Allende seems to have done her homework, because it all feels very real - even the style of writing feels rather old-fashioned, the way scenes or settings are described, and the slightly omniscient narration.

I definitely loved the plot. There were a lot of different stories interconnected within this book, cleverly woven together so that it was all very smooth and continuous. The ideas were as creative as any I've ever seen (which is certainly saying something) and the characters were very well-formed. I could imagine the characters doing the things I read about, and things I didn't read about. In my opinion, the best character is someone that feels realistic enough for you to imagine them living a regular life (or, if not regular, then just living outside of the story). I loved the amazing bond that Diego and Bernardo share. I was glad that their ancestral differences had no impact on their friendship.

This story will make you hold your breath and make you laugh. The adventures are captivating and spectacularly written, and anyone with an imagination will have the greatest time reading and dreaming. One thing, though: some people may consider it a little bit boring. It is written in a matter-of-fact sort of way, as if it's a biography rather than a novel, and that style is not always the most entertaining. I suggest you keep with it! I did, and I'm thoroughly happy with that use of my time.

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a quarter out of ten.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

Plot: This is a true autobiographical story. Ishmael Beah was twelve when he fled the rebel attacks on his home in Sierra Leone, and he was thirteen when a government camp handed him an AK-47 and turned him into a soldier. This story tells of the war-torn land he was forced to wander to survive and his experiences as a child soldier in a bloody, merciless war.

First Line: "There were all kinds of stories told about the war that made it sound as if it were happening in a faraway and different land."

Comments: This book taught me a lot. I couldn't stand reading about these things, but neither could I put the book down and try to forget I ever picked it up. I couldn't believe this kind of thing had happened - and still is. According to the website (alongwaygone.com), there may be as many as 300,000 child soldiers in the world as of now. That's 300,000 children forced to kill and conquer, forced to use weapons; 300,000 children who have lost their childhood. This is a story that needs to be heard.

Reading this book, I felt empty and unemotional. My mind couldn't process the horrible things Ishmael Beah experienced, the things that no one, young or old, should ever have to go through. I just didn't know what to feel. Ishmael Beah describes everything in a matter of fact kind of way, bluntly and without trying to soften the blow. I feel almost as if I were there, except that there is no way anyone could ever imagine or understand; how could I feel as if I was standing right next to Ishmael while he watched that house burn down, how could I feel as if I was crouching next to him when he killed his first man, how could I? I feel guilty that I ever considered I was feeling empathy - only sympathy, horror, and a determination to end this.

Rating: I can't rate this book. There's no way. I strongly recommend that you read it, but beware: the truth hurts.

Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull

Book 2 in the Fablehaven series

Plot: Kendra and Seth are back at Fablehaven, and this time the stakes are higher. Their grandma and grandpa have called in reinforcements; the house is crowded with the addition of a brawny potions expert, a beautiful magical-creature trapper, and a sexist magical-relic collector. The Society of the Evening Star is getting stronger, and Kendra and Seth need all the help they can get to protect Fablehaven and everything it stands for.

Comments: I liked this book better than Fablehaven (the first book - see Fablehaven post). I think part of the reason is because I understood Kendra better in this story and felt like I knew her better. The plot was good and original. The problem with a lot of book series is that they start to repeat themselves or get a little too predictable, and though this is only the second book, I don't think we have anything to worry about for the Fablehaven series. Everything was completely different - even the characters from the last book had changed a little, from the beginning of Fablehaven 1 to the beginning of this book, Fablehaven 2.

I liked the new characters in this book. It's always good to introduce new people, because to not repeat yourself, you need a new setting (sometimes), a new plot, and new characters. I'm glad they didn't overpower the main characters, but they still were present and made a good impact on the story. There's a subtle reminder in this story that you can't judge a book by its cover; for example, while Tanu, the potions master, is built big and well-muscled, he's kind, fair, and soft-spoken. I always like it when authors weave messages like that in – even if they don't realize it!

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten. I need to go check out the third book!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Plot: a journalist by the name of Juliet Ashton receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet unknowingly begins an adventure that will take her across oceans, awaken memories of World War II, and find a new family.

Comments: I absolutely loved this book! The whole story is told in the form of letters (well, almost all of it) being written from different people to different people. You would think that would create a detached sense of the story, make it feel less real, but I think that only enhanced your views of the characters; stories were told from different perspectives, making the story more interesting, and everyone had a different writing style, which showed their different personalities. I love how all the characters are so amazing different from each other and yet can find the one thing in common that will bring them together.

I fell in love with the characters. For once I didn't try to imagine what they looked like - I guess I didn't feel like I needed to know, since reading letters written by a character would help me get to know them better than seeing their face. Juliet was so independent and stubborn, and her letters were always written in a curious, perky kind of way. Dawsey was sweet and caring, but quiet, almost the strong-and-silent type. But not quite.

The ending was perfect! I won't give it away (though I think when you read it – you will read it, right? Anyway, I think you'll see it coming from miles away), but personally, I think it was the best possible way it could end. Down to the wording, it was perfect. By the way, I'm not talking about the last page, though that ending was also perfect. It's more focusing on Juliet and...someone. I couldn't stop smiling as I read those last few pages, and I had this feeling of utter peace and contentment...(and I'm only slightly exaggerating!)

Rating: I rate this book an eight out of ten. The best book I've read in a long time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer

Book 6 in the Artemis Fowl series (If you haven't read up to the 5th book, skip the plot and go straight to the comments.)

Plot: Artemis is pretty much adapted to the new twins in the household and it looks like he's going to have a pretty normal life from here on - at least, as normal as anything can be with a genius involved. But when his mother contracts a strange and deadly disease, Artemis must once more team up with LEP elf Holly Short to travel back in time. Here Artemis faces his worst enemy...a 10-year-old Artemis.

Comments: I love the Artemis Fowl series! I've never posted anything about it before, so I will now. It's basically about a young, rich boy genius named Artemis Fowl. At first, he's completely unlike any regular boy; cold, arrogant, condescending, everything you’d expect from the perfect villain. And who’s to say he isn’t the bad guy? But then he meets Holly Short, an officer in the Lower Elements Police, the military of all things magical. Holly’s an elf, the first female recon officer in LEP history, and she doesn’t put up with Artemis. In the first book, Holly and Artemis are enemies. So read the series! The books are awesome!

Anyway, back to The Time Paradox. I think this is my favorite book out of the series, mostly because of the character development. It was pretty confusing – at least, bits in the ending were. For one thing, I can’t remember who Imogen Book is. Apparently she was mentioned in The Lost Colony (Book 5), but I don’t recall that, although I haven’t read The Lost Colony in a while. And all that time traveling stuff got a little muddled.

I love Holly and Artemis! They’re such good friends (even if they don’t know it) and I love the new addition. Just read it. You’ll know what I’m talking about. I was waiting for that to happen, and it finally did. I love it! It didn’t work out well, but I’m sure it will. Now I have to wait for the next book!

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half. The series is rated a seven and a half. You've got to read them! Especially this one.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Note: there are two posts for this book. This is the first post, and I posted another a while later after reading it for school.

Plot: a young Indian boy living on a reservation decides to transfer to a school outside of the "rez", almost completely filled with white kids. In doing so, he loses his best - and only - friend, makes everyone on the rez hate him (except his grandma), and creates a future for himself brighter than anything he would have found at home.

Comments: This book was hilarious! Written from the point of view of a witty fourteen-year-old, it had me giggling the whole time. (Though the whole fourteen-year-old boy part has its downs, too; it's somewhat inappropriate at parts. Nothing too bad, but it's certainly interesting...) Sherman Alexie did a great job writing this book! It's funny, clever, eye-opening, and has a good life lesson, all at the same time.

I loved the way the characters were described. The descriptions would include good and bad sides of people, which was very informative and helpful, and very life-like, too. I mean, personally, I don't exactly view the world through rose-colored glasses. No way. I notice the bad sides of people for sure, but I also notice the good sides. The author balanced the descriptions well, because no one is all bad or all good. I felt very much a part of this story, partly because I could imagine everyone. The sketches helped a lot!

The plot is definitely original, and the creativity is excellent. I had a lot of fun reading this book, so it completely qualifies as light-hearted reading – mostly. (Isn't that a perfect contradiction? Completely but mostly. Hah.) I mean, it's very much like life, so it's not all smiles and rainbows and marshmallows, you know? But I felt good when I finished reading, so I would call it light-hearted, and I recommend reading this story all at once (there's a lot of pictures, so it isn't as long as it looks) and on a sunny afternoon or lazy morning. But definitely read it!

Rating: I rate this book a seven and one-fourth out of ten. Great story!

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Note: this is a retelling of the traditional story, Beauty and the Beast. (A retelling, not a parody.)

Plot: Beauty has never liked her nickname; she firmly believes that she is very plain. And she is - at least, compared to her sisters Grace and Hope. When her rich self-made father loses all his money due to terrible luck on a voyage, Beauty and her family must move to a small town far away from the city. Beauty feels like something is missing in her life, until she meets the Beast...

Comments: I liked this book a lot, especially since Beauty was such a down-to-earth person. I hate the whole concept of damsels in distress (or at least, I don't like girls that wait around for someone to save them), and Beauty is clever, a little - okay, a lot - stubborn, and sensible. If you like to read about handsome princes protecting beautiful, helpless princesses, this book may not be for you.

Beauty and the Beast (Disney) was one of my favorite movies growing up, and while this story had almost no similarities, it was creative and interesting to see the story a different way. It's definitely original, and I like the way the author portrayed the Beast. The characters were all well-described, yet everyone seemed far away, even Beauty. I never really connected with any characters, or even felt like they were there. I could imagine them as characters in the story, but they felt insubstantial and two-dimensional. It was the same with the Beast; I could imagine him, his voice, and a few scenes from the book - but that's mostly my imagination. I was very interested in the story and read almost without interruption, but I still never really felt involved.

Another thing I felt weird about was the ending. SPOILER ALERT! I am about the talk about the ending (though if you've seen the movie or read a book about it, you can guess - like I said, retelling and not parody. Same essence, different details.)! Anyway, when Beauty tells the Beast that she loves him and wants to marry him, the only thought going through my head was: "When did that happen?" I finished reading the book and just sat there for a little bit, wondering if I had missed some chapters. The whole book was like that, actually. My teacher always says "Show, don't tell!" It felt like I was being told what had happened instead of experiencing what had happened. It was like one minute she meets the Beast, the next he's her friend, the next she's all like "I love you!" Okay, I'm probably blowing this out of proportion. But still. It was disorientating and not written for a reader, more for a listener.

Rating: I rate this book a six. Great idea, but it could have been written better.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

Note: Technically the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, which I tried to read, but it didn't really grab me. So I didn't finish. I suggest you go ahead and read House of Many Ways whether or not you have read Howl's Moving Castle, because it wasn't confusing at all - hardly related. (Or the Castle in the Air which I just found accidentally. That apparently has little relation to Howl's Moving Castle anyway.)

Plot: Charmain Baker is volunteered by her domineering aunt - despite her mother's feeble protests that it isn't "respectable", a highly valued trait in her family - to look after Charmain's Great-Uncle William's house while he's away. Charmain is relieved and excited to be on her own for a little while, but is shocked when she discovers Great-Uncle William was expecting her to work! Having lived a sheltered life, Charmain has no clue how to do anything besides read a book, so how will she cope with a dirty house - especially one that magically bends space and time?

Comments: I loved this book! Very light-hearted reading, just what I needed at the time. It's fun and creative and adventurous and amusing - everything a good fantasy story should have. The characters were definitely easy to imagine – always a good thing – and they were as different as any number of people can be. I didn’t like the way Charmain refused to do anything, but that got better in time, and she was creative and easy to relate to, so that kept me interested. Peter (you’ll meet him) was funny and cute (not as in looks – there aren’t any illustrations) and hilariously clumsy, but he was also practical and hard-working. I loved Twinkle (you’ll meet him, too), but I was kind of annoyed with Charmain for not figuring it out sooner.

It’s always so frustrating when it’s so obvious to you, the reader, what’s going on, but the main character doesn’t figure it out until the very end, and the whole time you’re screaming at them: OPEN YOUR EYES! SEE WHAT IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! Okay, well, that’s what I’m screaming. In my head, of course. Wouldn’t want to freak out everyone else in the room. (Although their faces might be worth it.)

Anyway, the plot is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever read, and everything is incredibly original. There are new creatures, new abilities, new everything. It’s all well organized and hardly confusing at all (there’s always a little confusion in stories with mysteries), and the style of writing is easy to understand and satisfying.

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten. Great read!

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Plot: Two teenage Jewish boys living in America in the 1940's form a friendship, even though they have different religions with different viewpoints and ideas. Together, they manage to grow in a somewhat claustrophobic environment, supporting one another through rough patches.

Comments: It took me forever to write those two sentences about The Chosen. It’s such a difficult story to describe. The author, Chaim Potok, I can’t imagine what was going through his head when he wrote it. Is it based on a story from his life? Did he dream it all up? However this story was written, it was written well. The way Chaim Potok writes is simple – though not easy – and I was able to make my through the whole book without much trouble. Unfortunately, I’m afraid most of the story went way over my head.

For one reason, I am not Jewish and I don’t know much about the religion, so all of the religious discussions were confusing for me and I couldn’t follow along very well. For another reason, the characters in the story were all so intelligent that any of the discussions not related to religion also went over my head. So I basically understood the things like at the beginning of the story when they are playing baseball, and towards the end of the story, when they go to college. I liked the characters and I appreciated the bits of plot I could process, but mostly I felt like a 1st grader reading a college textbook, so muddled and confusing everything was.

I definitely recommend this book for those that think they can manage it. It has good lessons weaved into the story, and it was absolutely an interesting and well-written story. But it’s not light-hearted reading and it isn’t easy to read, either – however fast I read through it (and I didn’t), if you actually understood the things Potok was writing about, you would get a lot out of The Chosen.

Rating: I can’t decide how to rate this, so I suggest you try reading it and decide this one for yourself.