Friday, December 30, 2011

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini

The books in the Inheritance Cycle series are Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance.

Plot: A teenage boy named Eragon struggles to stay alive in a dangerous world with his young dragon Saphira. As the only surviving dragon Rider, this inexperienced boy faces deadly challenges and terrible enemies. Together with his beloved Saphira, Eragon meets dwarves, elves, and the Varden, an army dedicated to overthrowing the tyrant King Galbatorix. Fighting against all the odds, Eragon and Saphira continue down a treacherous road ultimately leading toward the impossibly powerful king.

Comments: The story weaved through the pages of these four fat books is incredibly complex and captivating. Each character breathes with such convincing life that you may lose yourself in their world, caught in the elaborate web of stories. There is fast-paced, heart-pounding action as well as poignant moments of love and loss. Many realities are entwined with the fictional events, and lessons are taught surreptitiously.

However, the complexity of these books works against the overall enjoyment as well. The sheer enormity of subplots and characters and places overwhelms the reader. The words in the ancient language, used in magic, are nigh impossible to pronounce and therefore must be skipped over when reading. Similarly, the names of places and characters contain too many apostrophes and other symbols to be easily understood. This is very annoying. On several occasions seemingly random events occurred which left me confused and wondering at the significance. These books were complicated to an extreme. I found myself ignoring most descriptions of battles and inventions simply because I could not follow what the author meant.

I loved the story in these books. That Eragon was not perfect helped me appreciate the story even more, though I still felt he was becoming a god far above anyone else. After a while, I learned to enjoy the story and ignore the complicated details that only slowed down my reading and comprehension. Furthermore, the plot was fairly predictable in its largest elements and I did not feel emotionally attached to any of the characters. Finally, Paolini ended the series with about one hundred pages of wrapping up loose ends, an anticlimatic finish to a dramatic book. I was rather disappointed with the ending; it left me unsatisfied.

Overall, the Inheritance Cycle was a fair series of books, but perhaps too long and not enjoyable enough to be worth reading in its entirety.

Rating: I rate the Inheritance Cycle a six out of ten.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Strongbow Saga by Judson Roberts

Plot: Halfdan used to be a slave but was unexpectedly granted freedom by his dying father, a viking chieftain. Suddenly Halfdan is thrust into a completely different world. His new brother teaches him how to fight as a viking warrior, and Halfdan gains the deadly skills which will later keep him alive. When unthinkable tragedy strikes, Halfdan embarks upon a journey of war and adventure with only one emotion in his heart - vengeance.

Comments: I have read the first three books in this series and can't wait to continue with the next installment. The Strongbow Saga cradles an amazing story of a compassionate viking warrior striving to honor his family. Halfdan is fearless, cunning, and an entirely lovable character. I feel sad for him, but a child who was forced to grow up too quickly. I also must respect him as a formidable warrior and one who never backs down. His youth is evident at times and may create amusing situations which embarrass Halfdan to no end. New friends among the vikings love to tease Halfdan, adding humor and a light-hearted sense.

Halfdan's romance was unsurprising and perhaps too predictable. It was, however, sweet in its innocence. Every great adventure needs a bit of love, right? Of course not. But the romance certainly fit well into this particular story. Through the eyes of the girl, I was able to see different elements in Halfdan more clearly. His honor and virtue redeem the vengeance that drives him, in my eyes. I find myself cheering for Halfdan, and I can't wait to read more about his adventures.

Rating: I rate the first three books in The Strongbow Saga as a nine out of ten.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Plot: Daniel Sempere reads his first Julian Carax novel as a young boy, only to discover that a mysterious man has been seeking out all of Carax's books and destroying them. In attempting to protect Carax's works, Daniel finds himself on a journey where he discovers love and uncovers the truth of Julian Carax's past.

Comments: Truly a dramatic, intriguing novel, The Shadow of the Wind is complexly twisted and entwined upon itself, stories within stories building on one another. The truth hides under many layers of lies. You will be shocked with silent awe for the mastermind of an author who created such a complicated story.

However, I thought the first half of the book mediocre. Not quite three hundred pages took me a couple weeks of effort and disinterest to read. The second half was a gripping page turner. These other not quite three hundred pages I read all in one night. What a contrast! I was incredibly surprised that night when I realized I'd read through a whole chapter without putting the book down, and from there on the story only became better. The plot thickened, lies were revealed, and the truth began to leap out in small, critical chunks like bullets riddling my metaphorical body. It was amazing.

I loved the characters in The Shadow of the Wind. David somehow did not appear to have much of a character though most of the novel was from his point of view. He felt insubstantial, less than human to me. Despite this, the cast interacted splendidly together in engrossing manners. I particularly loved Fermin, as I believe you are meant to do. He is loyal, witty, spectacularly sexual, and a hilarious aspect to the story.

The Shadow of the Wind was an interesting story. I loved the second half, and believe that it is worth slogging through the first half.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Plot: Celie has always done as she is told, raised as a poor, abused African-American. However, meeting her husband's strong, independent lover turns her view of the world inside out. With the help of her new friend, Celie slowly learns to live, laugh and love.

Comments: The Color Purple is devastatingly heartrending, unflinchingly realistic and an amazing story. Reading about all the violence Celie bore and accepted is challenging to do without gaining respect and pity for her, in addition to contempt for her attackers. I don't want to believe that this kind of abuse happened at that time and is still ongoing now. I loved watching Celie discover her own strength and the power to rebel against acceptance of abuse.

Another challenging aspect was the way in which the book was written. Everything is in the form of a letter or diary entry, most commonly from Celie, who writes the way everyone speaks - that is, in a vernacular English somewhat difficult to understand initially. Also, Celie doesn't use quotation marks which makes dialogue mix confusingly with blocking and narration.

This is a story about a young woman who eventually finds her sense of self after decades of searching. The Color Purple teaches lessons about self-respect, family, different perspectives of God, and believing in yourself, among other concepts. The story also portrays the lives of African-Americans in the early 1900's and the struggles of women to be considered equal.

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Plot: Tita and Pedro are madly in love, but Tita, as the youngest daughter, is bound by family tradition to spend her life taking care of her mother. Pedro marries Tita's sister in order to stay close to Tita and their forbidden romance continues. Throughout the story, Tita uses her cooking to express her tangled emotions.

Comments: This story was unlike any I've ever read. A persevering romance despite seemingly insurmountable odds, Tita and Pedro's story is astounding in its complexity and unexpected twists. Like Water for Chocolate was, however, more focused on sex than I had anticipated. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing novel using recipes and food as a theme to help invoke certain emotions. As for the characters, poor Tita had a harsh life and I felt sorry for her, but I didn't see much evidence of Pedro's love for Tita.

Occasionally the events were confusingly anachronistic, and sometimes characters involved in scenes had never been introduced, causing yet more confusion. Despite this, the story is simple to read and comprehend, yet not so easy to understand. Unless you have experienced the feelings these characters have, it can be difficult to empathize and understand their actions, as it was for me. In addition, Like Water for Chocolate unexpectedly included elements I would describe as magic, supernatural, or just unrealistic. Though these elements meshed well with the dreaminess of the story, I feel as if they were somewhat cheesy and forced. They reduced the dignity of the novel in my eyes. The ending especially made me roll my eyes.

Overall, Like Water for Chocolate was a good story about Tita and Pedro, young lovers forbidden to marry.

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Adapted to a Novel by Charles Osborne

This is a short novel based on the play The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. This novel retains famous lines and the theme and plot of the play, but is smoother to read and has more imagery than a script of the play.

Plot: Two young men, Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing, both change their names to Ernest in order to win the love of two young women. This of course causes great confusion and hilarious mix-ups, all of which serves to poke fun at the upper class English in this light-hearted satire.

Comments: The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the funniest books I've ever read! It is not at all a deep, thoughtful story but rather an extremely superficial one which helps you forget your troubles for a few hours. I love the way this book made fun of the extremes to which the high class English will go for the sake of being proper. The characters are immediately recognizable for what kind of person they are - I assume this is because it is essential in a play. The young women in this story were very superficial, but then, so were the young men. All in all, this was a very funny short book and I most certainly recommend it to pass the time for a while.

Rating: I rate this story a nine out of ten.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Paper Towns by John Green

Plot: Quentin has always loved Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar though she's been his neighbor since early childhood. Margo is everything Quentin is not: confident, cool, popular and not afraid to break the rules. When Margo shows up late one night at Quentin's window with a mysterious request, Quentin hopes their friendly relationship will evolve into something deeper. However, the deeper he is drawn into the adventure of his life, the more Quentin realizes that the real Margo is someone unknown to him.

Comments: Reading this book was like riding a roller coaster. At points I was cracking up; other times I skipped several pages. I both disliked and loved this book, which is very confusing. Parts of this story were very funny, touching and sweet. The road trip, besides feeling unrealistic, was fun and a great adventure. On the other hand, the descriptions of Quentin walking around the subdivisions or hanging out in the strip mall were incredibly long-winded and overly dramatic to the point that I skipped over pages. Also, several of the characters were rather annoying.

At first I thought Margo was pretty cool because she wasn't afraid to be weird and different. This changed by the end of the book, when I decided that Margo is actually kind of a bitch, pardon my language. She was ungrateful to her "friends" and selfish. I also really liked Quentin at the beginning of the book because he wasn't one of the "popular" kids, yet he was popular and comfortable with himself. However, his obsession with Margo was extremely annoying. He gave up everything for her and pursued her doggedly, but not in a cute way: rather, in a foolish, why-would-you-do-that way. Maybe these characters are realistic teenagers, but I certainly hope not.

In conclusion, this story was both good and bad. Sorry, but I have very conflicting feelings about Paper Towns. I'm not sure if I recommend it or not.

Rating: Six out of ten, give or take.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Plot: Nine-year-old Finnikin's world shatters when his kingdom's beloved king, queen, and royal heirs are brutally slaughtered and an impostor seizes control. Ten years later, a girl named Evanjalin claims that a prince yet lives. Hoping to take back his kingdom, Finnikin embarks upon a journey that will test his faith in Evanjalin and in himself.

Comments: This book had an amazing story. The plot was creative and the action was gripping: I definitely enjoyed reading Finnikin of the Rock. With hauntingly vivid imagery, this story is not a happy one. However, it is certainly an entertaining, suspenseful story. I loved several characters, especially the killer Perri who is also extremely protective of the helpless.

Unfortunately, I had problems with the two main characters, Finnikin and Evanjalin. Excluding his exceptional military and political skills, Finnikin was a stereotypical nineteen-year-old guy: impatient, rude, sexist and uncaring. He did not understand why Evanjalin was upset when he slept with a prostitute and treated her badly. Evanjalin also had a exceptional skill, but otherwise she was a burden to everyone, running off and making bad decisions. She constantly berated Finnikin and did not apologize for the things she did to hurt him. They were both stubborn and in general not nice people. I must admit, I really did not like either. I do not believe the author was intending for the readers to dislike the main characters.

Another problem I had with this book was the overwhelming number of surrounding countries and their relationships with Finnikin's kingdom. It was very confusing and difficult to keep track of which were allies and which enemies.

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

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Plot: Toru Okada is a very ordinary man living with his wife Kumiko in Tokyo until their cat runs away, soon followed by Kumiko. In this story, Toru meets many bizarre allies in his desperate search for his wife, such as a scarred war veteran, a morbid teenage girl and a psychic prostitute. By trying to find Kumiko, Toru discovers parts of himself he never knew existed.

Comments: This was a very strange book. The characters were certainly creatively random and mismatched - yet they fit together in this puzzle of a story. Because of the back-and-forth narratives, confusing concepts and intriguing ideas, even now I cannot quite decide how I feel about the book in its entirety. This book is not straightforward or obvious and seems to meander its way from beginning to end.

Though I admire the character Toru Okada for his deep love for Kumiko and his persistence in searching for her, I'm not certain that I ever really liked him. Toru lacked initiative and the urge to do something, anything, both qualities which I regard highly. He appeared to be content taking naps on his couch and pondering day after day. This soon became boring and slightly annoying.

Truthfully, I found quite a bit of the book rather boring. Already a long story with over six hundred pages, I was hindered in my progress through the book by overly descriptive sections that took pages and which many times caused me to stop reading. In addition to this, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was very vague and confusing in its concepts. All the psychology and mind-power felt forced, as if Murakami was trying very hard to create a dreamy, mysterious world where truth and illusion mingle poetically. It didn't work for me.

In conclusion, I have decided that I didn't really like the book after all. Even understanding the intention of subtlety, I gleaned no significant message from the story. Occasionally a narrative would be interesting, even captivating, but in general I found difficulty concentrating on the pages. Overall, this was not a book I particularly enjoyed reading.

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

Friday, October 14, 2011

One Second After by William R. Forstchen

Plot: America has been sent back to the Dark Ages by an Electromagnetic Pulse: no electricity, no cars and no communication. One man's town struggles to survive with little food or water and too many refugees pouring in. John Matherson must organize rations, dole out punishment for crimes and attempt to solve each and every  one of the problems that together threaten to wipe out the whole nation.

Comments: This book scared me. What if a country actually attacks us with EMPs and we are sent back to medieval times? Would it be as bad as in this book? Worse? Terrible things happened in the pages of this book that still haunt my thoughts. This book brings up many questions - given a similar disastrous situation, would humans react with supposedly long-buried survival instincts, looting and rioting and killing each other in a primal, frantic panic? That is a question I'm not sure I want to know the answer to.

Somehow this book was also rather touching. A few characters really stole my heart, courageous and determined as they were. One scene that really affected me occurred immediately following a horrifyingly violent battle. Those college students desperately trying to save each other and coming face to face with the realities of war, of dead friends and loved ones, feeling their own helplessness as they realize they cannot save everyone. It was devastating. I wish no one ever had to feel that way but I'm fiercely glad that this book bluntly reminds us of the consequences of war.

This book had interesting organizational systems and complicated political maneuvers, but most of all it was terrifyingly realistic. I was afraid to put it down. One Second After is certainly very gripping. I absolutely recommend it, but not as light reading.

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

Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver

Plot: When her father dies, fourteen-year-old Mary Call does her stubborn best to take care of her brother and sisters. She refuses to allow the family to be separated into foster homes, instead discovering creative ways to make and save money. Even so, they barely scrape by and trouble after trouble piles up for Mary Call as bitter winter nears.

Comments: This was alike to an adventure novel with a tint of sadness. Mary Call is a beautifully strong and independent young woman and I enjoyed the sharp-tongued retorts she directed towards a stingy man named Kiser. I also appreciated Mary Call's devotion to education and her understanding of its importance. Mary Call wanted her family to be respectable and she worked hard to maintain order and a sense of pride. Her brother and sisters did not understand this at first but eventually accepted Mary Call's rigid standards of living.

There were a lot of detailed descriptions in this story but I'm afraid I skipped over quite a bit of that. I have no patience for pages of scenery. But I could tell that the mountains on which they were living were very beautiful and could imagine the serenity of nature's beauty contrasting sharply with Mary Call and her struggling family. The ending was rather abrupt and felt very strange, not at all like a conclusion. It left something to be desired. However, after having read the story I felt I had learned a bit about determination, sticking together no matter what and always finding a way out.

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

Plot: Fifteen year old Maya grew up in a small town - as in a population of maybe two hundred. The town was built for the workers in a top secret research facility, such as Maya's parents. When a reporter begins to snoop around, everyone figures she's just another corporate spy. And when the big-city bad boy starts taking an interest in Maya, she figures he's looking for something more than, say, holding hands. But what if things aren't what they seem to be?

Comments: This book was spectacular! Gripping and intriguing, but also light-hearted, fun and sweet. I loved the main character Maya - but felt like I was reading a fictional story about myself! We have the same name (spelled the same way) and same age and we're both competitive and very stubborn. The similarities end there, however. Turns out there's something extra-special about Maya. A strange feeling keeps rushing through her mind and overwhelming her senses, confusing her and making her question the truth about her past.

I liked the relationship between Maya and her best friend Daniel, and appreciate that the author didn't follow the generic best friends to couple scenario. The bad boy, Rafe, was effectively mysterious and many-faceted. I also thought he was sweet. Spoiler alert! I'm about to mention something later in the book. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don't want to know. However much I approved of Rafe and his relationship with Maya, I didn't like the truth, that he'd changed his wooing tactics for Maya and chased her like all the other girls, just to check her for a birthmark. It stung, and though Maya was hurt by it, I hated how easily she let it go. She even let him kiss her again, and I wanted to slap her and not him. I mean, really? Rafe admitted outright that he was chasing her so he could check for a birthmark, and that he'd turned sweeter when he realized Maya didn't go for the bad boy thing. And yet, from her actions, Maya seems to be more or less okay with it. I really hated that part. Hopefully she stands up to him more in the next book.

Rating: I rate this book an eight out of ten. I'll be reading the rest of the series.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama

Plot: A young Chinese girl named Pei grows up as a silk worker in the early 1900's. She spends her days laboring in the factory and what free time she has in the boarding house with the other silk girls. But China is changing, and the silk workers begin dream of freedom. Together the women fight for their rights and discover their own strength and power.

Comments: This is an amazing, powerful story of women struggling to make their way in a harsh world. I learned a lot about China and the silk industries from the point of view of the underpaid, overworked employees. The girls were all such different characters despite their outward uniformity and they grew into beautiful young women, each with a different story to tell. I loved Pei the best, a sweet, curious girl who flourishes into a strong individual despite her hardships - perhaps because of them.

The story is written with a clear picture of stark reality, including both the simple beauty of the earth and new experiences and the challenging, cruel aspects of life. I wished for a happy ending for each and every silk girl, but true to history and reality, there were often unhappy endings. This story inspires you to stand up for your beliefs and your rights, to gather the power of a group of commited people, and to recognize your own strength as an individual and your power of choice.

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

This Won't Hurt A Bit by Timothy Sheard

Plot: When a hospital laundry worker is wrongly accused of murdering a surgical resident, Lenny Moss, custodian, takes it upon himself to find the real killer. Along with other maintenance workers, Lenny manages to gather clues without attracting attention - the only advantage to being an "invisible" employee. But Lenny's invisibility begins to wear off as he gets closer to the truth...

Comments: The story in this book is great! It's very creative and almost satirical, poking fun at arrogant doctors while real people do the dirty work. The network of maintenance workers are fun and have very different personalities, but they all share a common instinct to stick together and fight for the underdog. The intrigue and mystery work well and keep the reader interested.

Unfortunately, that said, I have to admit that the writing is absolutely horrible. Terrible. Atrocious. Horrifyingly amateur, and from an author who has apparently published over 100 articles, plays, and short stories. I caught grammar and punctuation mistakes left and right; using the wrong "your", too many apostrophes, confusion with paragraphs, and so on. In addition to the obvious mistakes, the author would switch to a new paragraph when really he should have started a new chapter, or at least skipped several lines. Starting a new paragraph, I would only eventually realize that the entire scene had changed, including time, setting, and characters. This book was very confusing. Oftentimes I couldn't tell who was speaking when. All in all, the idea for the story was great. But the writing was plain bad.

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Perfect Neighbor by Nora Roberts

Plot: When cute and perky Cybil Campbell welcomed her new across-the-hall neighbor with a plateful of homemade cookies, she didn't realize what she was getting into. Preston McQuinn is unfriendly and calculatingly rude, but also an amazing writer and musician - not to mention unbelievably sexy. Irresistibly drawn to each other, Cybil and Preston struggle between the confinements of a relationship and free-spirited personalities.

Comments: This is a fun, light-hearted romance novel for a bit of cheery reading. However, this book is certainly not appropriate for younger readers as the relationship gets rather steamy, in a graphic sort of way. It can be a guilty pleasure for some, but I wouldn't recommend you read this book if you get embarrassed easily. If not, go for it! This isn't your typical trashy romance novel; written by Nora Roberts, it has some class. It's actually a very cute story as romance stories go, with believable characters and a not completely predictable plot. It was a fun read and I enjoyed it.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex

Book seven in the Artemis Fowl series. Click here for book six. Unfortunately, I have not reviewed earlier books.

Plot: Artemis Fowl, now a fifteen-year-old genius, is growing up, but he's still the merciless criminal mastermind he's always been. This time, Artemis is unleashing his terrible skills upon a plan to... save the polar bears? That's right. When gold-stealing, fairy-abducting, cool and collected Artemis Fowl presents his grand idea to a handful of skeptical elves, Holly Short is the first to notice that something is wrong. Artemis is anxious, obsessive, and willing to devote his impressive fortune to an environmental cause - entirely unlike him. As one of his only friends, Holly does her best to save Artemis from what appears to be his deadliest enemy: himself.

Comments: This book is amazing. I couldn't put it down and wound up finishing the whole thing in one day. Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex is somehow different from all the other books in the series (read a short summary of the series here). This book is more complex and urgent. Artemis is fighting a dangerous battle that no one, not even his bodyguard Butler, can fight for him. He is afraid, confused, and rather lonely. This book is also about the oddly strong bonds between unconventional friendships. Artemis's small group of friends truly care about him and show their support and concern in this book especially.

As always, this Artemis Fowl novel is a spectacular adventure of somehow realistic fantasy with plenty of complicated science thrown into the mix. The characters are, by now, well-known and understood, and they feel pleasantly familiar. However, this book shows new sides to Artemis - primarily the side effects from his magical disease, which includes paranoia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety. However, this time we see a weak, helpless side of Artemis that is so unlike his usual determined self. I grew even more attached to Artemis as I watched him struggle through his difficulties and I wished I could help him myself. There's a message somewhere in this book.

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

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Plot: As a bastard child, Ruth Anne "Bone" Boatwright is forced to grow up without either her real father or a good one. Bone's young mother marries the violent Daddy Glen and provides no protection from his abuse. Constantly shuttling from house to house as Daddy Glen is fired from job after job, Bone learns to live without a home or a safe place. Her drunkenly raucous, equally poor relatives teach her the good and bad sides of life as Bone tries to discover herself and her place in the world.

Comments: This is most certainly not light-hearted reading. It's challenging to read about every obstacle in Bone's daily life, such as missing dinner due to lack of food in the cupboards or receiving yet another undeserved beating from the terrifying Daddy Glen. Bone remains strong through it all, though even she recognizes that she steadily grows more bitter and hateful with each traumatizing episode. She tells the story with simple, poignant emotion. Though not the main character, Bone's mother, Anney, provides some thought to the story. The way she allows her husband to hurt her young daughter is questionable, to say the least, and the decisions she makes cause the reader to discover their own instinctive values and choices.

The plot wanders and weaves its way through important events in Bone's childhood and random memories that add color to the black-and-white photo that is her story. Bone's infamous family play large parts in the book, some more than others. Her grandma is mostly featured for "told-you-so"'s and forceful advice, while Aunt Raylene is absent through the majority of the book but plays an invaluable role in Bone's life towards the end. And Bone's three drunk, violent, but somehow lovable uncles manage to love Bone more than Daddy Glen ever could, giving her presents, treating her like family, and protecting her the only way they know how - by getting bloody revenge on anyone who hurts her, including Daddy Glen. The Boatwright family is complicated, always fighting, and very odd, and yet somehow they all stick together and it works. This provides a sharp contrast to Bone's immediate family, where nothing works despite a great deal of effort.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Plot: A fictional story of the world war against the highly dangerous zombies that suddenly infect their way across the globe. In a long series of interviews with survivors, warriors, doctors, and various military persons, a broad, vivid picture is painted of the horrors and disasters throughout the desperate struggle.

Comments: If you manage to suspend your disbelief enough to ignore the whole zombie aspect of the book, this is an incredibly realistic work of art. There are so many different points of view, from big-picture generals to third-world victims, and each individual character is portrayed colorfully through their own words and stories. Using a wide variety of viewpoints allows the reader to see the contrasting problems and better understand the impact of the zombies upon the world as a whole. Again, excluding the zombie portion, this book is very well laid out, very practical and straight-forward, and a touching piece of "history" from the eyes of those living in it.

I generally skipped the short introductions for each interviewee, as I gradually came to anticipate their dry, boring facts and uninteresting notes. Also, some accounts weren't very exciting, but that can be blamed upon the fact that I prefer recounts of the zombie attacks rather than of people sitting in a room, planning. One confusing part of reading the book was near the end of the book when the author (or interviewer, however you want to think of it) returned to several people who had been interviewed much earlier in the book. However, this time there were no introductions, merely names, of which there had been plenty throughout the story, so it was challenging attempting to remember who these reappearing characters were. The interviews were placed seemingly randomly side by side, though grouped in vague chronological order.

Rating: I rate this book a nine of out ten. Very enjoyable; both gripping and intriguing, horrifying and fascinating.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The New Centurions by Joseph Wambaugh

Plot: Told from the perspective of three young men, this story begins in a police academy and winds through the lives of new policemen in the early 1960's. Serge, Roy, and Gus individually encounter racism, sexism and alcoholism, attempt to discover their personal reasons for fighting crime, and struggle with life in and outside the job.

Comments: The New Centurions is a realistic tale of the struggles of young policemen in the 60's, and it is not to be considered light-hearted reading. The language is certainly sophisticated and slightly old-fashioned, as the novel was published in the 1971, but the content is also rather dark. After all, the policemen work in areas with desperately high crime rates and face the most terrible aspects of humanity. Therefore it follows that these young men change as they grow older and more experienced. This book marks the evolution in personality and character of these three policemen as influenced by the world around them.

It's interesting to see the stories through the eyes of each policeman. Though told in the third-person, the reader has access to the thoughts and emotions of each character, and the differences between the three are intriguing. I loved watching the men change, though it was challenging to see them developing darker sides of themselves, having quickly grown attached to them. Through the violence and choices in the riot towards the end of the book, the reader really finds an understanding of each man, just as the men find an understanding of themselves. Though there isn't a solid plot or storyline, this story gives the reader a good look into the lives of three policemen.

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

Books of The Dresden Files in order: Storm FrontFool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, Blood Rites, Dead Beat, Proven Guilty, White Night, Small Favor, Turn Coat, Changes, and Ghost Story (series to be continued).

Plot: Harry Dresden is the only name listed under "Wizard" in the Chicago phone book. He protects the innocent and ignorant from dangerous supernatural beings, works as a private investigator, and refuses to back down from anything. Harry is notorious for being a smart ass in front of the most horrifying monsters in existence, but his sarcastic wit isn't enough to save him from evil. The odds are always stacked against him.

First Line: "I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual."

Comments: Jim Butcher draws you in and captivates you in one of the best series I've ever read. Harry Dresden is a delightfully intriguing character, both very admirable and lovable. He's your average underdog "good guy", always striving to do what is truly right despite dangers, temptations, and his best interests. I love the way Harry spits in the face of evil and - quite often - his own looming death. He defies beings much more powerful than him with witty jokes, not-so-witty jokes, and merely by refusing to back down. Another endearing aspect of Harry is his total lack of understanding in regards to women: he tends to have relationship problems. Harry has always struck me as a very lonely soul in that despite the few friends he's managed to keep over the years, in the end Harry has to fight alone and come home to a more or less empty home. As the books progress, Harry makes more enemies, sacrifices more of himself to protect others, and slowly becomes more bitter, world-weary, and dark.

These books will make you laugh and make you cry. You will be glued to the pages and transported directly into the action. The Dresden Files will amuse you, make you think, and inspire you to be as great as Harry Dresden himself. Read this series or miss out on one of the best works of fiction ever written.

Rating: I give this series a 10 out of 10. Definitely one of the best I've ever read.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Some Like It Hot-Buttered by Jeffrey Cohen

Plot: The man didn't laugh at the Blind Man scene in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. That's when Elliot Freed, owner of the struggling Comedy Tonight move theater, started thinking something was wrong. He was dead right. Keyword being "dead". One investigation later, the police discover that the man had been killed by poisoned popcorn. Elliot hops on his bike to find the killer, hoping a murder won't hurt his meager ticket sales and bringing humor to the somber atmosphere of the ongoing investigation.

First Line: "The guy in row S, seat 18, was dead, all right."

Comments: This is the funniest murder mystery I have ever read. Elliot Freed uses sarcasm, dry humor, one-liners - anything he can do to make you laugh. And he does. This is a giggle-out-loud book all the way. Even at suspenseful moments, Elliot's witty narration diffuses the tension. That certainly annoys several of the deadpan, serious police officers, but though they attempt to shoo Elliot away, he insists on persevering. Elliot is definitely an interesting character.

I loved the detailed, easily imaginable characters in this story. Sophie, the theater's cashier, while perhaps an excessively stereotypical teenage girl, is simple and one-dimensional but an important piece of the story. Chief Dutton is the law looming overhead but has a friendly, reasonable personality that contradicts common perceptions and adds yet more intrigue to the twists of the plot. And Elliot himself is simply spectacular.

I fervently hope there are (or will be) more Elliot Freed novels, though I suppose the chances of a movie theater owner encountering yet another murder are a little slim. This book was hilarious and complex.

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

Dust City by Robert Paul Weston

Plot: Remember the big, bad wolf who killed Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother? He had a son. Years after his father's incarceration, Henry struggles under the heavy weight of prejudice that his father's crimes have placed on his shoulders. But when he receives several long-lost letters from his father, Henry is thrust into a dangerous world of drugs and deadly secrets. He must choose to either walk his father's path or find his own.

Comments: This book is very creative; from the perspective of the big, bad wolf's son, it includes interspecies interaction and "racism", a social hierarchy based on the separation of plebeians and patricians, and the likelihood of a boy to follow in his criminal father's footsteps.

A problem I came across while reading this book was my ability to suspend disbelief. I was very confused for the first couple chapters, unsure as to whether Henry was really a wolf, and if so, how he can have fingers, walk upright, and be the same size as a raven. Perhaps the author could have been more explicit than subtle? He did attempt to weave the explanation into the story, but it should have been clear from more or less the beginning.

Henry was an intriguing character. I felt as if he had a tired soul. He was a regular teenage boy, meaning he had a crush on a pretty girl (and of course they end up together) and didn't have many goals for the future. If he hadn't read those letters from his father, he probably would have spent the rest of his life doing absolutely nothing of importance. This makes his story crucial, because not only is he attempting to save the world as he knows it, but this will decide how he will live the rest of his life.

All in all, it was an enjoyable story. Very light-hearted reading, even if there is violence and a drug theme. Some of the dialogue didn't feel natural and the story line was a little predictable, but the characters and the general concept of the plot were new and refreshing.

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Book two in the Dresden Files. Click here for book one.

Plot: Chicago wizard Harry Dresden is back for another life-threatening, magical mystery packed with plenty of suspicion, bad relationships, and...werewolves? Harry must struggle to uncover the mastermind - and motive - behind periodic gruesome murders while at the same time attempting to salvage his working relationship with Special Investigations officer Murphy. It may prove too much to juggle in this dangerous game of human and metamorphosing canine.

Comments: The friend who recommended this series to me claimed that the books just get better as the series continues. I was rather skeptical - I've read many series that sort of peter out, and, after all, book one would be a hard book to top anyway. But I was wrong. So very wrong.

Fool Moon is - if possible - even better than Storm Front, which is to say, Fool Moon is an incredibly entertaining story. I still love the character Harry Dresden for all of his awkwardness and misfortune, and also for his steely determination and natural instinct to protect everyone. I must admit that I don't particularly like the character Karrin Murphy even though Harry respects and loves her greatly as a colleague. In his narrations Harry has recalled good times with Karrin, but in the first two books of the series, she spends most of the time not trusting him, bossing him around, and in Fool Moon, trying to arrest him. I understand that she's a police officer and has a duty to the law, but the way she acts is prejudiced and practically traitorous. It's like she was looking for evidence to point to Harry as the suspect, already believing that he was the murderer.

I liked the new characters in this story. I have a feeling that each book in the series will introduce a new cast peppered with characters to hate, characters to love, and some odd balls throw in just to spice things up. One of my favorites was Tera West, a mysterious, lupine woman intent on saving her fiance no matter what it takes - and who has absolutely no problem with public nudity. Just putting that out there. I must say that betwixt all the treacherous political maneuvering, hunting for illegal magic users, and near-death experiences, Harry has certainly managed to find time in these past two books for a bit of risque business with women. Well, if I recall correctly she was the same woman in both books, but I'm just pointing out that this type of adult fantasy generally includes some romance to cater to a different part of the crowd. Not that it takes away from the quality of the book - if anything, the tangled emotions add flavor and suspense to the story.

Rating: I rate this book a ten out of ten. Read Storm Front, and then read this book.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Shifter by Janice Hardy

Plot: In a world filled with magical healers, Nya has an unusual power: instead of just healing pain, she can shift pain from one person to another. This puts her in a dangerous position and Nya is forced into hiding. But when healer apprentices begin to disappear, including Nya's younger sister, she must unravel the mystery and save the apprentices - no matter what the cost.

Comments: This book was great! It was creative, well-explained, and very touching. I love Nya's stubborn personality and protectiveness for her sister. Nya made this story lively and the problems personal. She wouldn't give up, and I admire that greatly. From the very first chapter, I loved Nya, and Danello, the cute boy who helps her on this precarious journey. It was interesting how Soek was introduced as a kind-of love rival for Nya, but I'm not entirely sure where he "went" at the end of the book. There was no further mention of him, which was confusing. But I liked how Danello was jealous because it proved how much he liked Nya.

The politics were a little complicated in this book, which got in the way of the story. Some parts regarding the Duke and the Luminary and others were rather hard to follow, and though I was able to continue reading the story, it became slightly more difficult to read because of this. I feel as if the author also could have been more clear on the issues between the two different races in this book. I was confused as to how one knows what race you are (it had nothing to do with skin color - just hair color, apparently), and...the whole thing was not well explained. I also don't understand why they hate each other and disliked the prejudice Nya had against the more powerful, wealthier race.

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Plot: When the Great God Om appears to lowly temple novice Brutha as a turtle, it takes a while to convince the rather slow Brutha that it's really Him. After all, Om has only ever appeared as a huge bull, or a swan - impressive, god-like forms. But Om is reluctant to tell Brutha that He, the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Om, is in fact stuck in turtle-form. So He strings Brutha along on a dangerous journey, but little does he expect that obedient god-fearing Brutha is beginning to think for himself.

Comments: When I began reading Small Gods, I expected another of Terry Pratchett's hilariously witty, light-hearted fantasy novels. So I was completely thrown off balance when it turned out to be a lot deeper and more philosophical than any Pratchett story I've ever read. Small Gods isn't just the story of Om and Brutha; it's also a powerful message about morality, religion, and what is truly right. The story started very slowly, and even once the physical journey began the plot pace was rather sluggish. But I was interested, and once I shook off any remaining expectations, I really got into the book.

I love the way Brutha changed in this story. It started when he began to hesitate before obeying orders, and to question the judgement of his superiors. By the end of the book, Brutha openly defies Om several times - but by now, Om has been influenced by His experiences with Brutha, and He changes too. Instead of his original goal of obtaining as many followers as possible, Om's newly grown conscience causes him to shift paths. His big decision towards the end of the book made me smile, and it was inspiring, too. This is definitely a great story showing the enormous changes in two different characters based on each other.

The politics and long philosophical/scientific debates and explanations were a bit tedious for me. Perhaps that component depends on your personal taste, but it was slightly dry in my opinion. As always, I love the way Death was portrayed in this book as a character, and though his part wasn't all that large in this particular story, it had a poetic ring to it. It's nice to feel like you know Death. The desert with black sand was a great image, and I like the idea that judgement lies at the end of the desert.

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Book One in The Dresden Files. Click here for book two.

Excerpt from book (sign on office door):

"Harry Dresden - Wizard
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. 
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, 
Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment."

Plot: Harry Dresden is a wizard by trade living in the busy city of Chicago. To put it nicely, most people are rather skeptical as to the existence of magic, and therefore as to the stability of Harry's mental health. He doesn't really mind, but business is rather slow, barely managing with the occasional checks from the police department where he is sometimes called in as a "psychic consultant". But when a grisly murder is committed using black magic and Harry is blamed, he realizes that a bit of drama isn't all it's cracked up to be. As the mysterious murderer continues, it's up to Harry to uncover their identity and put an end to the horrifying deaths.

Comments: I absolutely loved this book! The mystery sucked me in, and I couldn't put it down. Harry is a well-formed character, easy to imagine and impossible not to love. He's awkward yet confident, simple, clever, and a sweetheart. I can visualize his tall figure striding down the street, coat whipping around his thin frame. The descriptions in the book clearly painted pictures in my mind, without being overly detailed. I felt very much involved in the story, like I was watching it all happen from the sidelines. It's fun, being able to imagine Harry's face when Susan tricks him into agreeing to a date, or being a silent spectator cheering Harry on when he faces the murderer once and for all. Harry's character infuses the story with amazing life and spirit.

The murders are rather grisly (as afore mentioned), and the descriptions are certainly vivid. There's definitely a mature theme in this story - Harry has some interesting moments with women, too - though nothing too drastic. I wouldn't recommend this for a middle schooler, but for high school students, this book is great. I'd also like to point out that Storm Front would be a great book for adult readers as well. The writing is sophisticated and the concept and theme slightly dark and definitely mature, but if you aren't a fantasy fan, perhaps this isn't the book for you. However, the magic isn't exaggerated in this book - it requires specific steps, energy, and focus; you can't just point a wand and say a couple words. I like that some effort is necessary to use magic in this book, because it makes it seem all that much more realistic.

Rating: I rate this book a ten out of ten. Go read it. And then read Fool Moon, book two.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Plot: A young boy is stranded in the middle of nowhere after his plane crashes. Alone, far from civilization, and not exactly an expert on wilderness survival tactics, Brian must fight to survive.

Comments: This book came very highly recommended, and I'm glad I decided to read Hatchet. Though the reading level is low - maybe sixth grade - the story is great! If you like survival stories, this book is very descriptive and detailed as to how exactly Brian builds a camp, makes tools, etc. However, I'm not a very outdoorsy kind of person, and I didn't get bored with all the technical talk. The simple, concise explanations and tips almost made me believe I could survive in the wilderness!

I found it interesting how Brian's life at home was woven in with his story of survival. Bit by bit, you begin to learn about what he's left behind and understand the problems he had back home. I like the way you get to know Brian's life better, with skill and creativity, rather than a blunt paragraph or two towards the beginning of the book. In addition to the flow of the story, this element added a bit of suspense to the plot.

My favorite thing about this book is that it seems realistic. Brian has a lot of challenges to face while attempting to survive in the wilderness, such as shelter, fire, and, perhaps most importantly, food. It's not easy. There are no shortcuts for him. He doesn't have a handy backpack with matches, a tent, and freeze-dried food. This story Brian's determination and perseverance inspires me to persevere in my own life, though in a completely different way. Hatchet is a strong, well-written story, and I definitely recommend it myself.

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Plot: A young boy named Ender is taken to Battle School, where he learns to hate "buggers", aliens that attacked humans generations before, and, more importantly, how to fight them. However, Ender is isolated from the other boys as part of a complicated scheme to mold him into the ultimate war commander. He suffers from loneliness, extreme pressure and responsibility, and physical and mental overload. How far will the military go in their efforts to manipulate him into an efficient, unstoppable killing machine?

Comments: It took me a long time to read this book. Much longer than I'd anticipated. Oh, it's just another fantasy book, won't take me but a moment. That was definitely wrong. This book is very difficult to read. Not only is it an intriguing story like nothing I've ever read before, but it's also a powerful tale colored with manipulation, strategics, and child geniuses and soldiers alike. Ender's separation from his family and cruel experiences under military control fill me with pure pity, and I want to apologize to him for all the things he was forced to sacrifice, just to fight a war. I love the friends Ender makes because they make him feel happier, and I hate the immense pressure the military piles on and on until I'm sure Ender will break. You definitely have to take sides in this book.

This book has a good message about violence and humanity. Throughout the story, Ender struggles with understanding who he is and distinguishing himself from his merciless, cruel brother. He doesn't want to kill, doesn't want to be violent at all, but he is never given a choice. Manipulated and influenced heavily, I feel like Ender has no identity by the end of the book - he is only a shell filled with what they want him to be. I wonder who could live with themselves knowing they were destroying a young boy's soul and ruining his life. Yet another lesson, in this elaborately entwined story.

The plot was incredibly interesting and captivating, though the setting stayed rather the same for most of the time. There was quite a bit of confusion, however, while reading this story. Because it's set in the future, with extremely advanced technology and concepts, I wish the author had explained it all a little better, rather than amass everything together and hope you eventually understand. For example, the desks are apparently some kind of electronic computer that can do a seemingly infinite number of useful things. However, I imagined regular wooden desks through the first half of the book, which made several things rather confusing. Also, all the detailed explanations on movement and strategy in the zero gravity rooms were often hard to follow or imagine, having never experienced zero gravity before.

Overall, I think this was a great story. Engaging plot, detailed characters, and important messages. My way of thinking has been changed by reading this book.

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

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sky Realm by Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson

Book Three in the Crystal Doors series. Click here for book two and click here for book one.

Plot: Cousins Gwen and Vic continue their adventures with their friends Tiaret, Sharif, and Lyssandra in the strange, magical land Elantya. This time the five friends must travel to a flying city and prevent the evil immortal Azric from taking control. Together they fight, but enemies are everywhere...

Comments: I don't really like the writing in these books. Though the main characters are children, barely teenagers, they speak formally and unrealistically. It all seems very scripted and unnatural. I don't think the authors very well portrayed the teenagers.

I like the general idea of the plot, but it's pretty predictable. The good guys beat the bad guys, and everything's perfect again. I did like the character development of Sharif. He's my favorite character, and I like reading about him. However, it seems like he was a focus in both books two and three, so I'm wondering what happened with the other four main characters. Do they each get a book, too? Anyway, Sharif was basically the highlight of this book. The rest of it was okay.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten. Not very good.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Timeline by Michael Crichton

Plot: When Kate, Chris, and Andre are researching the old ruins of a medieval village, they try hard to recreate everything in their minds: the buildings, the people, the speech. But the three friends' research doesn't compare to what they experience when they are sent back in time 600 years. They find plenty of death, politics, and occasions when they must run for their lives. Will their studies allow them to survive this bloody, dangerous era?

Comments: This book started very slowly. It was rather confusing when I looked back after a few chapters, because the story started with several characters all included in a strange medical mystery, but they were soon cast aside to make room for a whole new set of characters. It's all very well to provide background, and obviously the first character introduced is not necessarily the most important, but it took me a while to realize that I needed to be paying attention to the new characters. All the time I'd been thinking the story would switch back to the first set of characters. Once I'd sorted all that out, I liked the characters, especially Chris, for his awkwardness and the way he changed throughout the story.

I wonder how much research the author himself did while writing this story. All the descriptions of the people, buildings, clothes, and speech in the 1300's were very interesting, and seemed to be accurate to me. However, I have little knowledge of this era, so I rather hope I haven't formed some ignorant idea in my head from this story that will later prove completely inaccurate. The brutal killing in this story was shocking at times. Knights seemed to think nothing of slicing off a poor victim's head, even if it was just for fun. I must warn you that this story can get a little gory at times, but it's not a bloodbath. It just seems accurate to the era; power was gained by physical force. I'm glad the main characters weren't totally nonchalant about all the death, because then I wouldn't have really liked them. The characters seemed very real, and acted in a way I think anyone would have, given a similar situation.

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten. Good adventure novel, with some science and history (and gore) mixed in.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Plot: Commander Vimes was chasing a sadistic murderer across the rooftops of Ankh-Morpork one second, and the next he was lying naked in the middle of the road. Vimes soon discovers that he was transported back in time, to an Ankh-Morpork decades younger than the one he'd just come from. In the midst of shaping up the unfamiliar Watch and trying to find his way home, Vimes somehow finds time to teach a thing or two to a wet-behind-the-ears Watchman - a young Samuel Vimes.

Comments: Once again, this book was hilarious and witty. Yet another great book by Terry Pratchett! I liked the characters a lot in this book. I connected with them very well, and I was sad to see them go. I wonder if there will be more books back in Vimes' younger days...

One thing that was strange with this book was that the "war" didn't seem very real. It all felt rather detached, or far away, like that big essay due in a couple weeks. I was always rather surprised when there was fighting and live action because I hadn't quite realized that things were actually happening. Also, the whole time traveling concept was confusing. Obviously it's not supposed to be completely clear, but the explanations only distracted me from the story. The monk-like characters weren't very well described, so they didn't feel like real people, adding to the confusion during time travel explanations.

I liked reading about the young Sam Vimes and how the old Sam Vimes dealt with all the problems. I definitely felt like I knew Vimes a lot better by the end of this story. One thing I never quite understood was the lilac. You eventually find out what it represents, but I'm not sure that the event really deserved all their dedication and memories. They were so serious about it, but it didn't really seem all that terrible to me. Maybe I'm just unfeeling.

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

The Hunger Games Series by Susanne Collins

The Hunger Games series: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay.

Plot: Katniss Everdeen is your average commoner struggling to survive in the harsh reality of bitter poverty. She supports her family by hunting illegally, and life is manageable - until the Hunger Games change everything.

Comments: As you learn in The Hunger Games, the first book, the Capitol is a controlling, tyrannical government, and they like to show the commoners who's boss. This is how the Hunger Games started; every year, twelve children are chosen randomly, put together in a huge arena, and forced to fight each other to the death. This is the Capitol's sickening way of proving their power. One year, Katniss was chosen as one of the contestants, and this book is about her horrifying ordeal and sudden immersion in dangerous political games. She eventually outsmarts the Capitol to win the Hunger Games, but in doing so, she draws the attention of many powerful figures, both potential allies and enemies. I really liked The Hunger Games, because Katniss is such a strong, self-dependent character, and because the story was very well told.

Catching Fire, the second book, is about Katniss being recalled to a Hunger Game made up of previous winners. It's rather confusing - Katniss doesn't know what's going on, but people keep saying cryptic things and acting strangely, so you know something big is happening. It felt very much like a repeat of the first book, especially because there wasn't much of a plot beyond everybody being almost killed in the arena. I didn't really like this book.

Finally, the long awaited Mockingjay. Because I hadn't enjoyed Catching Fire, I had to push myself to finish the trilogy, but I had hopes that it would end on a high note. Unfortunately, the third book proved to be my least favorite of the three. Though other ratings I have heard from other people were rather good, I really disliked this book. It was confusing - not mysterious; confusing - and felt way too dramatic and tense. The plot had twists and turns in that something newly devastating happened every chapter, like the author was trying to pile on thrill after thrill to make it more interesting. Also, Katniss was constantly having mental problems, and there was a lot of stress over deciding between her long-time best friend Gale or her fellow Hunger Games competitor Peeta. Also, by the end, it just felt like everyone was dying off to try and keep the story alive. I didn't like any part of this book, but I finished it. Katniss was annoying, the plot was twisted and overly-dramatic, and it just wasn't a good read.

Rating: I rate this series a six out of ten. The first book was great, and very promising, but the second and third books weren't nearly as enjoyable.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Plot: Told from the point of view of a philosophical dog, Enzo tells his life story as the best friend of a race car driver named Denny. Enzo has a very human soul, but was born into a body that walks on four legs and lacks such things as a speech-enabled tongue and opposable thumbs. It is his belief that the dog is the final step in reincarnation before humans, and Enzo is certain that when he dies this time, he will be born again as a human. He is ready.

Comments: I really loved the character Enzo. He is intelligent, thoughtful, and very human-like, however much a dog he is. It touched me how understanding Enzo was with the humans in his life. He understood the feelings of Denny's wife when  no one else did, and he did his best to protect his family, Denny especially. When Denny is forced to fight for custody of his young daughter, Enzo supports him and will not let Denny give up, even after years go by. I loved Enzo's dedication to his beloved master, Denny.

There were several characters in the story that I really disliked, though I believe that was the intent. For example, Denny's parents-in-law were absolutely horrible and treated both him and Enzo like filth. And the girl that tried to trick her way in Denny's heart was also despicable, but I felt a little sorry for her, because she really just wanted love. She was confused and hurt, but she also still rather deserved it. Anyway, from the dog's perspective, I noticed how terrible humans can be. It's curious how Enzo personally witnessed all these bad sides of humans, the cruelty and the unfairness, and yet he still believes that one must go through many reincarnations before they are ready to become a human. It's the final level, he thinks. And Enzo believes that he's ready to be human. I can't help but think that Enzo is too kind, too loyal and selfless to be a human in his next life. But it's his dream.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten. A good story, but a little slow.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Book 1 in the Infernal Devices series, companion series to The Mortal Instruments series

Plot: A girl named Tessa travels alone to meet her brother in London, but is instead taken prisoner by two terrifying necromancers. Tessa's captors unlock a strange power in her, forcing her to refine this unfamiliar, magical skill, while Tessa prays for her brother to find her. Eventually rescued by a talented group dedicated to fighting the forces of evil, Tessa must choose between the comfortably normal life she had always lead and the disturbingly abnormal, dangerous life her companions introduce to her.

Comments: The plot to this story is well thought out and engaging, and I really enjoyed reading this book. Though I'm still not entirely clear about who the Nephilim are (the group that rescued Tessa) or what the creatures that they fight are, I was able to skip over some details and focus on the bigger picture. The definitions of demon and such were a bit vague, is all.

The characters in this book were certainly interesting and diverse. Jessamine was spoiled and narcissistic, Charlotte was motherly and old beyond her years - when someone mentioned her actual age, I wasn't sure I'd read it right! Henry was endearingly absent-minded, and Jem was supportive and sweet. I didn't like Will, Tessa's main rescuer. He was rude and cruel to Tessa, not to mention being a prig to everyone else, too. I hated that Tessa felt attracted to him just because he was - according to Tessa - amazingly beautiful. I did not like Tessa very much. She was timid and weak, and she was always talking about where a woman's place is and what a woman should and should not do. I do need to point out that this is set in the late 1800's and Tessa was raised to be a respectable young lady, but she was exasperatingly reliant on everyone else to save her. A true damsel in distress. She did grow braver, which I like, but over all I feel Tessa was rather a stick in the mud crybaby. Perhaps I'm being cruel, just like Will. That may very well be, but I personally prefer a bit of backbone in my heroines.

This story was written well, and the plot was captivating. It was an exciting adventure, fast-paced, but with style and poise. I appreciate that the details were descriptive without being dragged on, and I could use a little imagination. I definitely had fun reading this book, and I can't wait until September when the sequel comes out - that's the problem with reading new releases!

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten. It's difficult to like a story when the main character gets on your nerves.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A la Carte by Tanita Davis

Plot: High school student Elaine "Lainey" Seifert wants the same things any teenager would: an end to trigonometry and physics, her mom to stop nagging her, her own cooking show...Wait, what? That's right. Lainey dreams of being America's first famous African-American female chef. Tall order? Maybe. Between trig homework and helping out at her mother's restaurant, Lainey barely has time to make friends, but she manages to practice cooking whenever possible.

Comments: I liked the way this book was written, and I especially loved the recipes in between chapters. I think it's a great touch, and every recipe connects with food in the story. I even copied down a few to try out later. Lainey's "voice" is definitely present in the recipes, as throughout the whole book. Though she's not exactly Miss Social, she has a kind of "page presence" that dominates the story. Unfortunately, the confidence she gives off while cooking doesn't apply to all the other parts of her life. I didn't like how easily Sim, her so-called best friend, could - and did - push her around. It pissed me off how he used her so casually, and it annoyed me how she let him. I understand that they used to be real tight, but when he all of a sudden says he's sorry and wants a favor or two or four, Lainey lets him right back into her life like he never left.

I also have problems with how Lainey's so mean to Topher, a boy in her class. It seems to me like he's really nice to her, sweet and thoughtful - and cute, but that's beside the point - but all Lainey ever does is avoid him or be rude to him. She ignores his friendly attempts at conversation and is openly hostile. Why? All other evidence indicates that Lainey is a caring, compassionate girl, so why Topher? It just doesn't make sense. The drama between the two certainly creates a nice bit of drama towards the end of the story, but it feels like the author had Lainey be rude just so they could clash later. It feels wrong.

I really like Lainey's creativity in her cooking and her ambition and determination to become a celebrity chef, as she calls it. There are a lot of cool details of the restaurant kitchen (what happens behind the swinging doors) and the food. The descriptions of ingredients and dishes added a bit of spice to the story and made it more interesting. It was funny how Lainey's mom was always bringing home food and how food was their comfort. I'm glad that the author talked about Lainey being overweight because it wouldn't have made me personally feel good about myself if Lainey was able to eat a bunch of yummy food all the time and be skinny. It's like watching the slender, pretty actresses on Gilmore Girls pigging out on Chinese and pizza and ice cream every day. Anyway, back to the mom. I didn't like her. She wasn't very supportive or trusting in Lainey, and she didn't seem like a very good mom. But then, Lainey made some stupid choices.

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

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

Plot: After her father is killed in a random shooting, Davey, her mother, and younger brother Jason all move to live with relatives in New Mexico. Struggling to accept her father's death, Davey's relationship with her grieving mother deteriorates as she feels suffocated under her relatives' constricting lifestyle. She meets a boy called Wolf and he begins the healing process by making her laugh.

Comments: I thought this was a great story, but I didn't like several large parts. The plot is believable and sounds very real. As a teenager, Davey already has enough stress in her life, and her father's death starts a snowball effect. She hates New Jersey - or more accurately, she hates living with her aunt and uncle. They think everything is dangerous, and this starts getting on my nerves, too! Her aunt is especially controlling, and Davey thinks she's trying to make Davey her own daughter; convincing them to stay in New Jersey for longer, enrolling Davey in the local high school, making decisions for Davey's mother. Davey is frustrated and feels like no one will listen to her.

When she meets Wolf, I think her reaction is a little weird. Admittedly a girl would probably be defensive and scared if she were approached at the bottom of a deserted canyon by a strange boy, but she seems to be overreacting. I suppose I wouldn't know. I like Wolf, but I wonder why he didn't tell her his real name. And "Wolf" seems a little childish. I like that he listens to Davey and makes her laugh and talks to her. Davey gets a little too dependent on him, though, and she seems slightly desperate as she counts down the days (approximately) until she can see him. I didn't like Davey's friend Jane. She seemed like a nice girl, but then she turned out to be an alcoholic, claiming she could stop whenever she wanted. Davey tried to help her, but for some reason Jane didn't want to be helped, and that was annoying. Maybe that sort of thing happens all the time.

I hate how Davey's mother just folds in on herself and stops taking care of her children. It's despicable the way she allows other people to make decisions for her and take care of her. I understand that she needed time to grieve and to recover, but she was a horrible parent at that time, and Davey suffered for it. Especially when she starts dating. If her mother was well enough to date again, isn't it about time she starts looking after her kids and maybe seeing if they are okay? If she'd been a better mom, she would have realized how bad "parents" the aunt and uncle were to Davey. At one point during an argument, Davey's uncle smacks her across the face. I find that unforgivable. Davey shuns him and ignores his feeble apology, but I don't understand why she didn't tell anyone. She starts talking to a councilor and even then doesn't mention it! That really irked me. I couldn't accept that she just pretended it never happened. I wish she had stood up against him by telling someone what had happened.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten. It's a good story about grief and moving to a new, unfamiliar place, but I didn't think the writing was very good, nor did I think the main character, Davey, was portrayed well as a teenage girl.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jingo by Terry Pratchett

A book in the Ankh-Morpork Watch section of the Discworld series.

Plot: When the city of Ankh-Morpork and the great nation Klatch are preparing to go to war against each other, Commander Vimes of the Watch knows he has to do something. Along with Captain Carrot, Sergeant Detritus, and pretty much every single watchman/woman/dwarf/troll/undead in the whole city, Vimes travels across the sea to Klatch, hoping to find a way to keep the peace.

Comments: Once again, Terry Pratchett has written a complex story made up of seemingly random characters and events that will keep you laughing out loud throughout the entire book. His witty remarks and odd tangents contribute an ambling style to the writing, and it appears as if he has carefully considered every word to fit perfectly. This story was different from other Watchmen stories I've read because it had quite a bit of politics mixed in, or at least in this story Vimes actually paid attention to the politics. It was interesting, but also a little repetitive at times, when Vimes was going over the attempted assassination mystery again and again; he was trying to figure out who wanted the Prince dead and who they wanted him to think wanted the Prince dead and why they wanted him to think that and how they would get him to think what they wanted him to think. I apologize for the confusing run-on sentence, but it imitated the style of writing when Vimes was thinking.

There was some good character development of Corporal Nobby and Sergeant Colon, and I felt rather attached to Nobby. I don't really like Colon, but then, I suppose you aren't necessarily supposed to. I guess I felt sorry for Nobby. He's probably a good person somewhere deep, deep inside. There wasn't much focus on Carrot or Angua in this book, which disappointed me because I loved Carrot in the past few books. I did grow to like Vimes better, and I like his loyalty, moral compass, and most of all his willingness to disobey direct orders (and sometimes, laws) if he believes its what is best for the city. I don't like how Lord Vetinari, the head of the city, is always keeping Vimes in the dark and relies on Vimes acting as he predicts. I like Lord Vetinari because of his cleverness and obvious skill in keeping the city alive and working, but it's just annoying how he manipulates Vimes. I think the Commander deserves better.

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