March 5th, 2011

HP Kels writing

Books 11-15 of 2011: Percy Jackson, S.E. Hinton, Diana Wynne Jones, young adult, fantasy

 11. The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book Five) (381 pages) Kronus' forces are massing for the final attack on Mount Olympus (The Empire State Building). Will Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and the other demigods be able to overcome the in-fighting and mysterious prophecies and save both Olympus and all of Western Civilization? The fantastic young adult series concludes with the exciting, page-turning action, refreshing and original humor, and, most importantly, the clever reworking/reimagining of Greek mythology in the modern world, that made the series so fantastic and justifiably popular. (I cannot tell you the joy I have that an entire generation of children are growing up knowing the equivalent of a college course in Greek mythology.) A wonderful hero tale, with the spirit and universal meaning of classical literature, complete with clever twists, surprises, and themes (particularly the definitions of family, where abandoned children demand respect and acknowledgement from their godly parents). A brilliant conclusion to an original, clever, and entertaining series. Grade: A


12. The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (210 pages) Ten-year-old Kenny has a weird family: a mom from the south, a silly father, a sweet little sister, and a juvenile delinquent older brother, Byron. When Byron seems out of control, the Watsons pack up their car for a trip down south to their grandmother's house. But they are also on a crash-course with history and the tragic events of the Civil Rights movement. Greater historical themes take a back seat to the personal story of a close family, which is a bit refreshing, especially when the ending hits the readers, shocking them in its impact, just as it did in reality, fifty years ago. Characters are real and fully developed, absolutely loveable and hilarious. Might be a difficult read for younger students due to some of the obscurity/allegorical nature of the writing, as well as dated slang, but definitely a worthwhile and engaging young adult novel. Grade: A-


"He's not real life. None of these people are. They're all just the way they are because I turned their world into a theme park."
13. Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones (517 pages) Mr. Chesney's tourist tours of Derk's world wreck havoc and destruction as they turn it into a magical, fantastical theme park. This year, Derk is chosen to play the role of the Dark Lord that will be defeated by the tours. Derk's family of griffins and children, his charming country home, and even his wife, must all transform into the essence of evil. But will Derk succeed in playing the Dark Lord, or in vanquishing Mr. Chesney's destructive powers? Clever, hilarious, and deeply refreshing fantasy satire, showing both the humanity of fantasy and the ridiculousness of formulaic fantasy novels, is typical of the brilliant Diana Wynne Jones. This book is just pure magic. Beautifully imaginative, full of a very real, very human, and very charming cast of characters, Jones' novel is once again some of the most brilliant, clever, and original writing of the genre. Though it might be tedious for young readers (little action and lots of time dealing with preparations), and though not on par with Howl's Moving Castle or Deep Secret, Dark Lord of Derkholm, as all Diana Wynne Jones books, is simply genius. Grade: A-


14. The Golden Goblet by Eliose Jarvis McGraw (248 pages) Taking place ancient Egypt, this young adult novel concerns a young boy, Ranofer, who longs to be a goldsmith. His older half-brother is a tomb robber. This incredibly slow-moving, predictable, and clumsily written (far-advanced vocabulary for the age group, and full of dated language), is mind-numbingly boring, with flat, two-dimensional characters and a standard, uninteresting, predictable, didactic plot. An incredibly weak historical novel for young readers that has little to offer them, particularly in our contemporary literate world that produces so much brilliant, engaging, and deep young adult literature that even rivals adult literature. Grade: D


 15. Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton (122 pages) Rusty-James desperately looks up to his cool, older brother, Motorcycle Boy. But, no matter how tough he acts, no matter how many fights he gets into, he doesn't ever seem to obtain Motorcycle Boy's charm, grace, or adoration. Hinton weaves a deeply complex look into the psychology of a troubled young man. In fact, this is probably her most complex novel, and definitely one for older readers, not necessarily because of the material, but because of the intensity and density of the material. Rusty-James is far from a likeable character, but he--and his voice--are fascinating and engaging, even heart-wrenching. Grade: A-

2011 Page Total: 3585

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Books #14 - 19

14) Textual Healing by Eric Smith (General Fiction/Humor, 280 pages)
Disclaimer: I received a free review copy from the author.

This is a really good book in search of a copy editor. I very much liked the book - it was quirky, fun, kept me engaged, not predictable at all, and Eric Smith had a great voice in his writing. So it was a bit disheartening to be periodically thrown out of the story by a missing comma, or a "through" instead of "threw." However, minor quibble. I acknowledge that I am overly anal when it comes to things of a grammar nature, so I deal with it and move on.

Textual Healing has a plot straight out of a screwball romantic comedy, only I don't think even Hollywood could have come up with some of the supporting characters here. It is the story of a once-famous author who is suffering from one-hit-wonderdom. And then his life falls apart. His long-time girlfriend leaves him, his best-selling book is collecting dust in the clearance section (way way WAY discounted), his used bookstore is sinking about as fast as the Titanic, and he gets tricked into joining a support group for lapsed writers. But then, enters a girl (there's always a girl, isn't there?), Hannah, who doesn't run away screaming from the weirdness in his life - such as the flower-shop-owning, haiku-spouting ninja; or the apartment-destroying sugar glider. (Intrigued yet?) I won't say more because it will spoil the plot.

Was this book perfect? No. I wasn't hipster enough to fully enjoy all the references to hipstery things, so I probably missed out on something there. The writing was also a little rough around the edges and could have used another couple rounds of editing and some tough love "Dude, lay off the pop culture references. You'll only date the story later."

I am glad I read it, though. And I've now killed any desire I might have ever had to own sugar gliders. Not that I had much - two rabbits and a cat are destructive enough as it is. 3.5/5

15) Ever By My Side: A Memoir in Eight Acts Pets by Dr. Nick Trout (Memoirs, 320 pages)
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

I have Nick Trout's first book on my TBR list, though I haven't read it yet. This is his third memoir, focusing on how the pets of his family influenced not only his career decision to become a veterinarian, but how his relationships with the animals, and his observations of others' (especially his father) informed his philosophy of animal-human interaction and relationships. This book made me really reflect on my own connection to my pets. A really well-written, engaging book that is both bittersweet as animals leave Trout's life, but also hopeful as it explores all that or pets add to our lives. 3.5/5

16) Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt (Historical Fiction, 256 pages)
Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy from the publisher.

This was a bit of an odd book, but in a good way. Whenever someone asked what the book was about, I had to think a bit trying to come up with something a bit more coherent than "the personification of Winston Churchill's depression." I never did, actually. But as I read the book in under two days, I probably didn't have enough time to truly formulate my thoughts. It took me a long while to fully comprehend that this wasn't a book about a dog, or the lodger from hell, or even Winston Churchill. This is a book about depression and how it comes onto people and how they either overcome it or live with it -- or not. I wish the cover blurb was a bit less circumspect about that aspect as it would have greatly improved my reading of the book. I may have to give this another go in a few months and see if it improves with a second reading; I suspect it might. 3.5/5

17) Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales by Tamora Pierce (Fantasy/Short Stories, 369 pages)
This was a nice collection of short stories. I liked the stories at the beginning much more than those at the end, and could have honestly done without "Huntress" or "Testing", which had different feels than the rest of the stories and were, in my opinion, much weaker.
The contains eleven stories in total, of which 7 take place in the same world as her Tortall books - though oddly enough, none of them are located in Tortall proper. All of the Tortall stories were a delight, and I loved seeing and revisting some favorite characters again, if only briefly.
Fans of Pierce will love this collection. Those who have not yet discovered her would do well to pick it up. 4/5

18) Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter by Paula Reed (Historical Fiction, 321 pages)
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

The first and last time I read The Scarlet Letter was the summer before junior year of high school. It, along with a list of other books, was assigned summer reading for AP English. I didn't much care for it, and didn't think much about after I was done and the assignment turned in. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect when I started Hester. I contemplated re-reading The Scarlet Letter first but dismissed the thought based on bad associations of forced summer reading journals. After reading Hester, I am reconsidering. Reed takes a well-known classic book and adds more depth to the characters, giving them more purpose, more plot, and more life. It was interesting having flashes of Hawthorne's book coming back to me as I read.

Towards the end of Hawthorne's novel, Hester takes her daughter and leaves for England. Time passes and she eventually returns alone to New England and settles back down into her old cottage. Reed's book tackles the gigantic question of what happened in between. She invents a backstory for Hester, a loving childhood friend who takes her and Pearl in, and expands upon the insight the red "A" gifted Hester so that she can see a person's guilt and sin. Her friend is married to a member of Oliver Cromwell's circle, and Hester soon finds herself compelled to use her sight on Cromwell's behalf and embroiled into the politics of the Roundheads and the Royalists.

I really liked the book. I didn't expect to and I did. There is loads of political intrigue, lots of introspective self-reflection on Hester's part, history, and even a spot of romance or two. And character growth by the truckload. Reed brought Hester alive in a way that Hawthorne never did for me. 4/5

19) The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (Young Adult Fantasy, 400 pages)
I'm not very familiar with The Goose Girl story, though I did read it. Obviously, the story didn't stick with me because I didn't remember much other than the princess was forced to change places with her maid. Hale's retelling brought the entire tale to life in a very engaging way. I loved it, and will be reading the rest of the series because I want to find out what happens to all the characters! 4/5

Books 1 - 10.

1. Pollan - In Defence Of Food
This gave me plenty of new ideas, and maybe the root to where I'll form my permanent eating plan. Or something like that. :)

2. Sartre - Nausea (Finnish translation)(re-read)
Reading it again gave me a completely different view from what I ended up feeling about it the last time. I guess I was awed the first time, now I mainly just shook my head. Didn't like it as much as before but still was interesting enough.

3. Gaiman & Pratchett - Good Omens (re-read)
Still just as amusing as before. :)

4. Woolf - The Waves
A bit challenging, but image-rich and making you think about the flow of your own life, too.

5. Pohl - Gateway
I like it well enough, it had a lot interesting things going on. *shrug* :)

6. Norris - The Cloister Walk
This game me some new ideas to think, especially on virgin martyrs and why they shouldn't be dismissed.

7. Schlosser - Fast Food Nation:What The All-American Meal Is Doing To The World
Quite revealing. I don't each much fast food myself, and if I do I already avoid some of the places mentioned here. We don't have them much up here anyway (we just don't go out and eat in these places in this country) so it's easier to avoid...

8. Thackrey - Gambling Secrets Of Nick The Greek (borrowed from my parents)
Definitely interesting to read, even if I didn't want to own it in the end.

9. O'Hagan - "I Lick My Cheese" & Other Notes From The Frontline Of Flat-Sharing
Amusing, quick read. Haven't done the flat-sharing thing and this doesn't really make me want to. It's still interesting to read what sort of messages can happen.

10. Traig - Devil In The Details:Scenes From An Obsessive Girlhood
Sometimes amusing, sometimes amusing, a lot of times making you glad to live in the present years and being healthy. A good read.
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Book 6

Book 6: "59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot" by Richard Wiseman

The next time you are trying to be creative in a meeting, gently lean forward and pull against the table. When the going gets tough, cross your arms to help perseverance in the face of failure, and if that doesn't work. lie down. If anyone accuses you of being lazy, quietly explain that you are employing your locus coeruleus in the war against rigid thinking.

This book was written by a scientist who decided to look into the scientific basis for the techniques recommended by the self-help industry.

There are some interesting findings from the cited scientific studies, and a lot of the techniques mentioned in this book really do seem to provide a big reward for not too much effort. I really should try some of the techniques from the chapter on happiness, as it seems as though it is easy to increase your happiness even though a large proportion of how happy you are is innate.

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I borrowed this book from the library to read for a book club, but I have already bought my own copy for future reference. The subjects covered are so wide-ranging that you may well be able to donate all your other self-help books to a charity shop and never buy another one.
Mansfield Park

Book #9: Maurice

MauriceMaurice by E.M. Forster

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The film adaptation of this book is one of my favorite period pieces, second only to A Room With a View (I have a soft spot for E.M. Forster), but the book itself didn't draw me in as much as the film.

The story revolves around the titular Maurice Hall who realizes, while at Cambridge, that he is a homosexual. This is the time of Oscar Wilde and the beginning of public recognition and desperate fear of homosexuality. Forster himself struggled with being gay in a hateful society, and his experience comes through in Maurice's uncertainty and fear of himself.

There are moments of intimacy and passion in the slim novel, but they are couched behind sterile terms. The book was never published during Forster's lifetime (by his choice), and so I had hoped he would have been a bit more daring. Granted, writing about homosexuality in such a frank and non-judgmental voice was controversy enough.

In the end, I'm glad I read this novel, but may not return to it. I will, however, return to the film again and again.

View all my reviews
El Corazon

31. Confederates in the Attic...

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches From the Unfinished Civil War
by Tony Horwitz

Started: February 28, 2011
Finished: March 5, 2011

I first read this quasi-travel book about Horwitz' look into how the Civil War is remembered, celebrated and sometimes reviled in the modern South when it first came out in the late 90s. It holds up fantastically well. Horwitz is a great writer and reporter, able to spot the most interesting angle in any story. I'll probably read this again in a few years. 391 pages. Grade: A+
Total # of books read in 2011: 31
Total # of pages read in 2011: 7,951
Book Stacks

Book 8 of 50: On the Edge

Book 8 of 50

Title: On the Edge
Author: Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Fiction

Summary (from Andrews (Magic Bites) takes dysfunctional family stories to a new level in this engaging urban fantasy series opener. Rose Drayton and her two young brothers live in the woods between two worlds: the Broken (mundane smalltown Georgia) and the Weird (a world of strong magic and rigid social hierarchy). Those on the Edge between the two possess individual magical abilities. Rose has perfected her talent, a deadly white flash, and now the Weird's aristocrats envy her power. Is it a coincidence that vicious hounds invade to steal magic and destroy the Edgers just as Weird blueblood Declan Camarine demands that Rose become his bride? Though Rose rejects Declan's advances, the two must join forces to save her brothers and others on the Edge. Andrews has created a complex plot and convincing characters that will keep the pages turning.

Comments: I really enjoyed On the Edge. Lots of times, I don't enjoy urban fantasy, but I did like this. Probably because the main character lived on the edge of the normal world, not actually in it. I really liked the character of Rose, because she was tough, responsible, and no-nonsense, and I enjoyed their atypical romance. There wasn't a ton of world-building, but the book focused on "the edge", which is small. I felt like the reader gets a good snapshot of what the community is like, and what it is like to be out of the ordinary in a place like that. The book could have been longer, and it could have had more conflict, but it was good for a short read. It did just wrap up very quickly and neatly with a "happily ever after." The book is the beginning of a series about "the edge." From what I can tell, the next book deals with a character who was a secondary character in this book. I was really hoping for more about Rose and Declan, so I'm not rushing to pick this next one up, but probably will eventually. So if you are looking for a light urban fantasy read, you may want to pick this up.

(x-posted to cmmunchkin)