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 (, 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.