September 1st, 2012

book and cup

The Soul of Kindness blog host on Wordpress

I am hosting  the librarything reading of The Soul of Kindness over on my Wordpress book blog. Later today there will be a second post with a giveaway for readers in Europe. I would love for more people to get to know Elizabeth Taylor a most wonderful English writer and join in with this month's read.
witch muse, hallow muse

Book 112: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

UK Cover
Book 112: Hex Hall (Hex Hall #1).
Author: Rachel Hawkins, 2010.
Genre: YA. Mystery-Fantasy. Witches. Faerie. Shapeshifters. Vampires.
Other Details: Paperback. 327 pages.

As readers of the Harry Potter series know, underage witches and wizards face censure for using magic around muggles. This is also so in this delightful novel when its16-year old protagonist and narrator, Sophie Mercer, is tempted to use her developing powers on a love spell for a High School friend. When it goes very wrong Sophie is sent off to Hecate "Hex" Hall, a reform school for witches, shapeshifters and faeries. Sophie had come into her powers when she hit puberty and as she was raised by her non-witchy mother has grown up outside of the supernatural community (here referred to as Prodigium). Her powers have come from her father's side of the family though she's never actually met her Dad only had contact through post and phone.

At Hex Hall Sophie pretty soon makes enemies of a group of popular witches, develops a crush on a gorgeous but unavailable warlock, and gets on the wrong side of a strict teacher. Her only friend is her room mate Jenna , who is the most hated person on campus being Hex Hall's only vampire student. Jenna is also the main suspect in a series of attacks on fellow students. Naturally Sophie is drawn into this mystery.

US Cover
I'd bought this book some time ago attracted by its cover art, which reminded me of posters for 'The Craft'. Of course, at Hex Hall all the students are supernatural beings rather than being a group of witches among normal folk.

I found it a fun read with a fair amount of both dark and light moments. The plot ended up taking some quite surprising and interesting directions that certainly encouraged me to obtain the next two in the series. It proved a great selection for a read-a-thon as it was a very engaging read with I zipped through. Having liked the UK cover, I have to say that I prefer the US one, with its reflective pool theme that has been continued throughout the series. The UK covers for Books 2 & 3 proved very generic.

Books 61 and 62

61. A is For Alibi, by Sue Grafton. Mom got me hooked on this series on our trips to Savannah and D.C. She likes listening to books on CD on her road trips. This was the first of a long series. The intrepid hero Kinsey Milhone is a former police officer who is now working as a private detective. Most of her cases have been pretty routine, until Nikki Fife, who was just released from prison for killing her husband, approaches her about trying to find the real killer and clearing her name. Kinsey's a fun character, very practical and has good instincts, but she has a lot of quirks that border on neurotic. The world in which she lives is very well-defined and easily pictured. The story is well-paced and the ending was very surprising. Only quibble was one of her first dealings in the story with Lt. Con Dolan. She asks him for records on the murder case, which he reluctantly gives to her, saying he's really not supposed to do that. But the records he gives her would have been open under the Sunshine Laws, with anyone wanting or needing to have access to them able to review them. I do call this a minor quibble though, because this type of response is not atypical in police departments.

62. Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them, by David Anderegg. This was a very good book in many ways. One, it supports what I've said for years: The United States has NEVER taken education very seriously. He goes more into why, and just how pervasive it is. He draws on some interesting anecdotes and arrives at some intriguing solutions. The premise is that America's anti-intellectualism is not only impeding the academic process of individuals, but impeding the country's progress as a whole. No argument from me here on that point. He points out how subversive -- and how accepted-- our ridiculing nerds, geeks and others who don't quite fall on that bell curve of life is, including society's over-pathologizing said individuals. He makes a strong case for why this mindset needs to change if we want to graduate more educated individuals -- which won't be an easy challenge in a country that has always admired the "rugged individual" and, as Anderegg puts it, people of action, as opposed to those who are "merely" scholars who have never gotten their hands dirty. And I agree about the power of words and associations: cold, hard rigid "facts" - what math and science depend on -- can be seen as inflexible and not-fun, not cool. Or, as the author put it (this cracked me up) to "harrrd!"
This book is not perfect, although most of the flaws are minor. One, he tries to make a case in the Bush/Gore 2000 presidential election that Gore lost because he was an intellectual, a "nerd" who espoused his knowledge at any opportunity, while Bush was more the friendly, joking "everyman" who seemed more comfortable in his own skin. This race was razor close, and Gore actually won the popular vote (by a slim margain), so this conclusion seems a stretch, at best. Two, he compares the rankings of the test scores of students in the United States, versus other developed countries, and, predictably, America's results are rather dismal. Now, I'm NOT saying there isn't room for improvement, and there's nothing we can't learn from other countries. Far from it. We really need to implement year-round schooling among many other changes, and give education the attention it really deserves. However, I really hate the comparisons with other countries because it is not comparing apples with apples. One, the United States makes an effort to educate- and test- every student. This does not happen in other countries. Two, education here is free and public (with private options available). That is not the case with all countries; I recall talking with an exchange student from South Africa once, who said tuition to a typical school in her country was about a year's wages for the typical laborer. In short, these other countries are testing their best and most affluent populations. I recall reading some time ago that if you broke down the test and only looked at the top 10-20 percent or so of students in the U.S. compared to the top 10-20 percent of students in other countries, the United States does a lot better in the rankings (not sure this is still true; this was back in the late 90s I believe). Also, I recall Anderegg making a comment about how the "jocks" and the very pretty students don't have trouble with being teased and stereotyped. That's just not true. Dumb Jock? Ditzy Blonde? The "beautiful people" have their advantages, probably more than the more average souls. But they can be discriminated against as well. No one is immune from "labels."

Currently reading: Metamaus, by Art Spiegelman

#21 Terry Goodkind "The First Confessor' 3/5

I must confess, I have grown addicted to the 'Sword of Truth' series. And so, even though the last book ('The Omen Mathine') did not impress me all that much, I was hoping the new one would bring the old magic back.

It didn't quite work. The storyline was ok, and I loved Magda and the rest of the cast. But (again) I've really missed Darken Rahl a good interesting villain. Also, the sentence 'his/her smile ghosted away' was rather overused, even if it is a nice expression.

And, finally, i've found the solution to the puzzle of Barraccus's to be rather surprising and hardly acceptable.