26. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld (360 pages) In the sequel to Uglies, Tally has finally become a pretty, and life is a big, bubbly party with other beautiful people, a fog of drinks and high-tech and costumes. But Tally begins to remember her life outside of this world, back in the wilderness, and her mind begins to clear. She begins to remember how ugly her world is. With her new boyfriend, Zane, she begins to fight back, and to fight to get back to the wilderness, finding herself in a truly ugly place of horrific violence. Meanwhile, her best friend, Shay, goes to some desperate measures to fight against the pretty world. The second book in the series is as strong as the first, though the writing style is deceptively simple (a good thing for weak young readers), as it captures the vapidity of Tally's "pretty" and shallow world brilliantly. The plot is exciting and dramatic, perfect for young readers, but it is the post-apocalyptic, allegorical message of a disturbingly shallow, controlling, beauty-obsessed world that makes this a gem of the young adult science fiction/fantasy genre. Refreshing, thought-provoking, and complex series that I highly recommend to any young person of our own beauty-obsessed world. Grade: A-
27. When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan (196 pages) After the first Astor established a dynasty of immense wealth, his children and grandchildren established a dynasty of immense, elegant hotels that catered to and created a pampered, bloated American aristocracy. A fascinating topic (well, at least to me, who is entranced by the Gilded Age), but the book is short on details or interesting anecdotes (though, maybe the Astors are really just that boring and unlikeable), is clumsily written, not engaging (though the topic is), flat and disinterested. I'd love to see this topic in capable and interested hands. Grade: B
28. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (377 pages) reread for teaching
29. Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn (330 pages) Five daughters of a celebrated medium find themselves on the Titanic, the famed and doomed ship.
A problem often run into by young adult novels and Titanic novels are that they become giant cameo-ridden info-dumps. This novel, as both a young adult novel and a Titanic novel, falls into this trap with abandon. Pretty much every person that existed in 1912 pops up in this book, from Harry Houdini to Nikola Tesla. Yes, sure, we all love Tesla, but this book is like a giant preachy love letter to him, and then he accidentally sinks the Titanic and kills everyone with his time machine. Um….ok then.
Don't get me wrong, the book is refreshing and creative, and definitely gets points for trying, for sort of portraying the complexities of the Gilded Age, but way too often it falls into the category of Mary Sue Time Traveler. It tries way too hard to do way too much. The characters are flat and uninteresting, and there isn't really a plot. Even what brought me to the book (the Titanic) was curiously absent for most of the book, and then it even skips over the sinking!
There are points where the book could have been poignant and clever (perhaps in the conflict between science and the spirit world, where those two meet in the Titanic), but too often, it is painfully laughable, shallow, empty, and full of obvious teaching moments, when it isn't also being completely historically inaccurate. At the end of the day, it totally fails to tell a good story or to tell it well. Grade: C+
"Stories are like spiders, with all they long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another, each to each."
"Impossible things happen. When they do happen, most people just deal with it."
"It is not hard to keep two thing in your head at the same time. Even a child could do it."
"Now, Anansi stories, they have wit and trickery and wisdom. Now, all over the world, all of the people, they aren't just thinking of hunting and being hunted anymore. Now they're starting to think their way out of problems…Some people think that the first tools were weapons, but that's all upside down. First of all, the people figure out the tools… they're starting to think about getting kissed and getting something for nothing by being smarter or funnier." "It's just a folk story…" "Does that change things? …The world may be the same, but the wallpaper's changed. Yes? People still have the same story, the one where they get born and they do stuff and they die, but now the story means something different to what it meant before."
30. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (400 pages)
(The last Neil Gaiman novel I had yet to read; in preparation for his Doctor Who episode)
Fat Charlie's embarrassing father dies, and suddenly his life-wrecking brother, Spider, crawls out of the woodwork, stealing Charlie's fiancé and getting him arrested. But that's just the beginning when Charlie realizes that his father was actually the trickster god Anansi, to whom all stories belong. Gaiman weaves a brilliant, deep and beautiful, moving and frightening tale where the gods exist right beside us, in every way possible. The stories, the truths, the truths of the stories, they are all still with us. Anansi Boys is exactly why Gaiman is one of my most beloved, favorite authors. Grade: A+
2011 Page Total: 7191