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.