Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

Plot: Manjiro is a young boy living during the mid 1800's in isolationist Japan. After his small fishing boat runs aground a deserted island after a powerful storm, Manjiro is rescued by fearsome American demons. Now he must choose between the culture and traditions he has been taught and the new world of America.

Comments: Though an interesting idea with the potential for a very good story, I didn't think Heart of a Samurai was a very exciting read. Manjiro didn't make a very three-dimensional character: I rarely felt any real emotion from him and so he was empty and uninteresting. I believe he's meant to be lovable, but I really didn't care about him at all.

The story itself was rather boring. None of the characters were terribly exciting or easy to relate to, which in turn made each adventure unimportant. There was nothing keeping my attention caught. I did like the small integration of Japanese words with the English, as well as Japanese traditions.

All in all, I really didn't enjoy this book. There was nothing memorable about it.

Rating: I rate Heart of a Samurai a five out of ten.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Book one in the Ashes Trilogy. Book two, Shadows, will be out in September 2012.

Plot: Alex is hiking alone in the woods, trying to escape the malignant monster lodged in her brain, when suddenly the world ends. An EMP has exploded overhead: all technology is destroyed and the ones who survived the blast start to go crazy. She fights to survive with her new family of an eight-year-old girl and a young soldier.

Comments: Ashes was amazing! I loved the premise of the book as well as Alex herself. I felt Alex was a strong female character because though she was sometimes overwhelmed by the challenges in her new life, she persevered and would not give up. The little girl was pretty annoying. That was meant to be a part of her character, but I just didn't like reading about her, honestly. The soldier seemed too perfect. He could do anything, which was pretty exasperating, especially when Alex began to rely on him.

The people going crazy actually gave me nightmares. That might just be me, but I certainly don't recommend this book to anyone younger than high school age. They're meant to be terrifying, so I guess mission accomplished. The people in the shielded town of Rule also gave off an odd sense. I felt uneasy when Alex was in Rule, and I didn't like her sudden romance with another boy. I thought that was unrealistic and I didn't want Alex to like him.

The story was exciting and intriguing, a constant adventure. The uncertainty is almost tangible and the tones of fear and raw survival instincts are always in the background.

Rating: I rate Ashes a nine out of ten.

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

Plot: Ever since a traumatizing experience years ago when he was eight, Mike has not spoken a single word. As his life unfolds with twists and turns, he remains silent in happiness, in fear, and in determination. Mike narrates his many-faceted story of coming-of-age and getting involved in a darker world, from which he can never escape.

Comments: I could not put this book down! The Lock Artist is absolutely captivating. Mike is a character who is difficult to understand because of the secrets in his past, but he endears himself to the reader easily. You can't help but cheer for him even when the situation looks hopeless.

Each chapter switches to a different time in Mike's life, which is confusing. Eventually it morphs into two or three distinct periods and is easier to follow, but initially it was dizzying. The dates listed at the beginning of each chapter meant nothing to me, so I never knew how old he was or what was happening until I read through the first page or so.

I thought Mike's relationship with the girl was a little unrealistic. The way they communicated through comics was very cute, though. I appreciated that Mike had more than the one particular talent: rather than just his very important skill (read the book to find out, though it should be a little obvious from the title), Mike was also a highly gifted artist in drawing. I thought that rounded out his character more.

All the characters felt very real. While I wouldn't say I was attached to them, they fit well into the plot and together created an actual story.

Rating: I rate The Lock Artist a nine out of ten. Good read.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

After Hamelin by Bill Richardson

Plot: The night before her eleventh birthday, young Penelope is struck deaf. This curse becomes a gift when Penelope is safe from the Piper's enchanting music, while all the other children in Hamelin are stolen away. She must embark on a journey to rescue her friends through the dangerous world of Dreaming.

Comments: I remember enjoying this book much more when I was years younger. I believe this is a great story for young readers, perhaps eleven themselves like Penelope, but it isn't meant for sophisticated reading. The simplistic, predictable way in which the story is written can be boring and uninteresting for higher level readers.

Trying to think of After Hamelin through a young person's point of view, this was a good story. The old tale of the Piper and his magic pipes luring children away from their parents was expanded upon very well with extra details and characters. The contrast between Penelope as a young girl and as an old woman narrating the story was fun to read. However, I felt closer to the old Penelope than I did the young, main character Penelope.

After Hamelin was written using easy words and concepts and should be an exciting story for young readers. I recommend it for late elementary school or early middle school students.

Rating: I rate After Hamelin a seven out of ten for young readers.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Plot: In a desperate attempt to save her family, willful Kate enters the deadliest horse race in the world. These otherworldly horses have a taste for meat, which is where the deadly comes in. Meanwhile, four year race champion Sean's life is turned inside out when he meets Kate and is inspired by her determination.

Comments: I loved this book! The Scorpio Races was clever, exciting, and an intriguing mix of everyday worries and the fantastical. The story captivated me through the final page.

I always love a strong female character, and I believe Kate was a wonderful example of this. She had her faults and was in no way perfect, but her passion and righteousness set me to internal cheering. Her obstinance and pride were hilarious and realistic. The way she interacted with other characters showed her growth throughout the book as she discovered self-confidence.

It was fun watching Kate and Sean together as well, however obvious that outcome was. Some parts of the story were fairly predictable, but perhaps that's the beauty of this book: the comforting familiarity of knowing what will happen next. Certainly I wasn't bored by the plot, which had its fair share of twists and turns.

The concept of these wildly beautiful horses creates an atmosphere of wistful longing and the untamed, furious power of nature. Loving the horses is like loving the ocean from which they come, courting danger and death at all times. This story makes you wish you could understand what it feels like to ride a horse so spirited and terrible, to feel the thrum of this disastrous race running through your veins, and to love and fear the ever present ocean.

Rating: I rate The Scorpio Races a nine out of ten. A wonderful story.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Plot: Two girls, Taisan with unnatural powers and Kaede without, are sent by the king on a dangerous journey to meet the Fairy Queen. As they begin to rely on each other, they also begin to fall in love.

Comments: I didn't particularly like this book and only finished it because I was extremely bored. Because the summary on the inside book jacket explained that the girls fall in love, that crucial part of the story was ruined. From the beginning I knew they would fall in love, so their tentative feelings and confused internal monologues were a waste. There was absolutely no mystery and so there was nothing to keep my attention or interest. In addition, Malinda Lo did not do a very good job with the age-old "show, don't tell" guideline: the narrator blatantly stated that they were falling in love rather than showing how it was happening.

I found it interesting that the main characters falling in love were both girls because I have never read a romance novel that wasn't a man and a woman. However, I was disappointed in this love story. Hopefully I can find better romance stories with girl-girl or boy-boy. Taisin and Kaede were also rather disappointing characters. They had no depth and no purpose beyond falling in love. Everything they did was predictable.

The plot itself was also highly predictable, as well as anti-climatic. The whole book seemed to lead up to one event, which failed to perform for more than a couple of pages. A final adventure was crammed into the last few pages as if written last minute. The writing of this book was a big disappointment.

Rating: I rate this book a five out of ten. Not worth reading.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Laika by Nick Abadzis

Plot: This graphic novel is based on the true story of a dog sent to outer space in the Russian rocket Sputnik II. Nick Abadzis added fictional details as well as beautiful drawings to blend several perspectives of the story. Laika and the humans in her life will capture your heart.

First Line: "I am a man of destiny... I will not die."

Comments: I loved this graphic novel. I don't read many, but the wonderful story held my rapt attention through the last page. Initially the drawings of the people seemed unusual to me, but I came to appreciate the raw emotions portrayed through simple lines. The story itself was sweet, adventurous, and a heartbreaking reality check. I learned about the dog Laika through the people surrounding her and the lives that she touched. Not only did I care for Laika, but also for the human characters, especially the dog handler Yelena. Watching Yelena struggle between her duty to her country and her love for Laika was painful, yet clear and truthful. Laika is a truly beautiful story.

Rating: I rate this graphic novel a ten out of ten.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Up the Capitol Steps by Barbara Roberts

Plot: Up the Capitol Steps: A Woman's March to the Governorship is Barbara Roberts' memoir as Oregon's first and only woman governor. In this book, she recalls the long, political journey from her childhood to the hard-won position of governor. This is a story of a strong woman who made a difference in her state and in views toward women in politics.

Comments: First, I will emphasize that this is not an autobiography. While Roberts does write about her life and her experiences, she focuses on the events that led her to her political career. I must admit that I am not supremely interested in politics. Because of this, many parts of the book were slightly dull. Now, due to Roberts' skillful writing, I strongly believe that anyone with an interest in politics or history would find this very interesting. I simply lean toward less technical books.

It was difficult for me to read this book because of the complex descriptions of bills, organizations and politicians. In the end I only read half of the good-sized book because I felt most of the story was over. The second half occurs when Roberts has gained governorship and is detailing accomplishments and events in that political sector. Once again, I think this book could be very interesting; it is merely my own lack of interest in political technicalities and history that caused me to be less than enraptured.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten. Roberts' voice throughout the stories is fun and engaging.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Zahir by Paulo Coelho

Plot: After his wife leaves him unexpectedly, an unnamed man goes in search of her and in the process finds himself.

Comments: I didn't really like this book.

First, it was a sexist book. Women were not treated as equals to men in this story and neither did they expect or strive for equality. The messages I received from this book were about the inferiority of women to men. This is somewhat of a sore spot for me, but I don't think sexism in any book is a good thing.

Another problem was that the main character narrations could go off on long, philosophical tangents at any moment. Vaguely throwing out words and ideas and hoping it sounded deep and thoughtful was my impression of what Coelho was doing - or rather, what he had the main character doing. I skipped many a page that was filled with ramblings about love and life.

The next issue I had with this book is the unannounced, anachronistic flashbacks completely made up of dialogue by unknown persons. I never knew who was talking to whom or when this conversation was occuring. This discussions were also very vague and philosophical.

I did not enjoy reading The Zahir for several reasons, the best of which is that the book just didn't interest me at all.

Rating: I rate The Zahir a five out of ten.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Plot: Follow amibitious Estaban Trueba's journey from young adulthood to grandfatherhood, Clairvoyant Clara's life living with unseen spirits, and young Alba's battle against tyranny and tradition. This is a magical realism story about three generations of a closely connected family living in cycles of sexism toward women and set roles for social classes.

Comments: I analyzed this book for a class, which tends to lessen my enjoyment of the book. However, I think that without the requirement for the class I would not have finished the book at all. The House of the Spirits is Isabel Allende's first book and displays her style of magical realism, where magic is entwined with reality in subtle, almost believable ways. Personally, magical realism is not my favorite genre.

Esteban was an enormously sexist character, as well as believing strongly that the lower class citizens should stay in their inferior place. Despite all that made me despise him in the beginning of the book, I grew to sort of like his character at the very end. I did feel guilty for forgiving him of his horrible acts against women. There's an emphasis on abuse of women physically, mentally, and socially in The House of the Spirits, which I believe is meant to advocate equality.

I didn't connect with many characters for very long, which translated into a lack of empathy. The story didn't interest me very much. The political unrest didn't seize my attention and neither did the hidden messages in every action, word, and symbol. It was a good storyline, but I wasn't very impressed with the book.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten. It wasn't a great book.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Plot: The first book in the popular series A Song of Ice and Fire, this novel encompasses many complex stories and perspectives woven together in a history of a conflicted world. A Game of Thrones is written with dramatic themes such as war, betrayal, and scandal.

Comments: I'd been given a multitude of recommendations to read A Game of Thrones by the time I finally acquired a copy. Initially, I was unimpressed with the book. The plot felt slow-moving and not entirely interesting, and the characters were introduced too quickly to really connect with, among other issues. I grew to appreciate the story more as I continued to read, but I never loved the book.

One thing I really disliked about A Game of Thrones is the total sexism against women. The book is set in a time of knights, maidens, and tradition; Martin may be modeling the setting after a period of time in Earth's history, complete with gender inequality. However, I don't understand why it's necessary to include the sexism. Women in this book rarely had any power and were for the most part not taken seriously. It chafed me every time a man made a sexist comment or a woman obeyed a man without question. Of course there were also the many prostitutes. Why the sexism?

Another problem I had with this book was the overwhelming barrage of names. There are seemingly hundreds of characters, each with three variations of their name (first name only, last name, title). Minor characters were often not introduced, yet the reader was apparently expected to memorize their names for further reference. The names of places were the same way. There were just too many names and complicated relationships. It really took away from my enjoyment of the story.

The story was extremely complex and unpredictable, which was one of the best parts of the book. I never knew what was going to happen next. In addition, there were several characters whom I grew to enjoy reading about: Tyrion, for example, added hilariously sarcastic wit to the dramatic, tense atmosphere. The many different perspectives from all sides of the conflicts made for an interesting compiled read.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten. While the plot is interesting in its compexity and twists, the confusion from the names and the annoyance from the sexism caused me to overall not enjoy A Game of Thrones very much

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Plot: Young Kvothe's adventures continue in the second book of The Kingkiller Chronicles (read my review of the first book, The Name of the Wind). His relationship with Denna grows complicated as his relationship with the University grows strained. Kvothe travels far away and learns many things about combat, reality, and himself. Meanwhile, problems are piling up. The conflict rises steadily to the promise of a spectacular climax.

Comments: I recommend rereading The Name of the Wind before reading The Wise Man's Fear, as there are many details and names to remember. However, Patrick Rothfuss does a good job of keeping the plot complex without making it confusing. That's not to say this book doesn't leave you with a lot of questions.

I love watching Kvothe grow into a young man, though I don't particularly like some of his more annoying attitudes. He is as pigheaded as ever, but now he has more power at his fingertips and more enemies lurking behind his back. Kvothe is not a perfect person; this is a good reminder that no one is. Once again, I'm struck by how Rothfuss has created characters who are all imperfect and therefore realistic. I also was much more satisfied with the strong women in this book than the first book.

The words grip you like real hands: they shake you senseless, spinning you around and around before setting you gently back on the ground. That's what it feels like reading The Wise Man's Fear. It's challenging to stop reading for even a moment. The story seizes your attention and takes you on a wild ride that includes science-fiction, romance, and philosophy. This book is a very exciting, engaging, and witty read.

Rating: I rate The Wise Man's Fear as a nine out of ten! I can't wait until the third and final book.