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A Reader of Fictions: December 2010

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Favorite Things - Julie Andrews

The Top Ten of 2010

Lots of bloggers are doing their top 10 lists to sum up the year. There are a lot of ways to define the list. I keep mine nice and simple: just the ten best books that I read this year. Publication date doesn't matter, nor does the book's popularity during this year. Beginning with the tenth best book:

10. Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

9. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan

8. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
7. Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman

6. The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers

5. The Painted Boy by Charles de Lint
4. Dragonfly by Julia Golding

3. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
2. Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
1. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Anyone else want to share their favorite books of 2010?


Where Do the Children Play? - Cat Stevens

The Limit

Kristen Landon
Genre: young adult/children's, adventure
Pages: 291
Publisher: Aladdin

Brief Summary:
In Landon's version of America's future, the government has created an agency to deal with the rampant debt: the FDRA (Federal Debt Rehabilitation Agency). The FDRA offers four options to anyone who goes over their credit limit. Matt, 13-years-old, is shocked when his family goes over the limit at the grocery store. He is even more upset when the FDRA comes for him; FDO 169 Option D has been selected for his family. This means that Matt has to go to a workhouse and work off his family's debt. Luckily for Matt, he's super intelligent, which means he gets to live on the plush top floor. Everything wouldn't be so bad, except that his email won't work, so he can't communicate with his parents or sisters. Curious about what's happening, Matt hacks into the computer system and finds some worrying information.

I picked up this book because I thought it was a dystopia. But it's not really. I definitely have some reservations about this society's systems, but they definitely don't qualify as dystopia levels of horror. The only worrying aspect mentioned besides the workhouses for kids (who get younger and younger as the novel progresses) was that old people, when unable to care for themselves anymore, are forced in to homes. When this happens, all of their stuff, except for a few trinkets to serve as memorabilia, is sold off to pay for the costs of the old folk's home, which I'm sure is super nice.

I do wonder what happens when single people or married individuals without progeny go over their limit. They can't send a kid, so I guess they use the other three options, but that seems sort of uneven and unfair. For the most part though, the future seems pretty believable, although child labor laws might prevent it. Maybe not though, since the kids only work a couple hours each day, spending the rest of the work day on school work. The children at the workhouses actually get a better education than those in the schools, because they have personal tutoring tailored to their abilities.

As mentioned above, this is not a dystopia really. More of an adventure/thriller for children. I almost expected the story to end with "It would have worked, if it weren't for you meddling kids," accompanied by a fist shake. Landon's book is engaging and presents and interesting futuristic America, but definitely aimed at older children/younger teens.

"Well I think it's fine, building jumbo planes.
Or taking a ride on a cosmic train.
Switch on summer from a slot machine.
Yes, get what you want to if you want, 'cause you can get anything.

I know we've come a long way,
We're changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?"

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Monday, December 27, 2010

The Ice Is Getting Thinner - Death Cab for Cutie

Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
Genre: historical fiction
Pages: 352
Publisher: Philomel
ARC Obtained From: Penguin booth at ALA 2010

Brief Summary:

Lina loves her family dearly, her mom dad and little brother, Jonas. She is also a talented artist and looks forward to a special course of study over the summer. Unfortunately, she lives in Lithuania in 1941, so her seemingly bright future will not come to pass. Instead, her family will be carted to Siberia in a cold, crowded train car to work on a collective farm. While slightly better than life (such as it is) in a Soviet prison, their forced labor still leaves individuals with a very low chance of survival.

I was a history major at Hanover College, where I took a course on the Soviet Union and wrote my I.S. on some of Solzhenitsyn's works. The World War II time period is among my favorite historical eras, so I was very excited to discover what Between Shades of Gray was about, as I had no idea when I picked it up.

This is a book that has been a long time coming. The atrocities of Nazi Germany are well known, mostly because they are so well-covered in popular culture. I have found that few people actually know much of anything about what Stalin wrought in his own country and the neighboring ones gobble up to be a part of the USSR. Sepetys' may be the first to cover this topic for a teenage audience. Hopefully more will follow.

The story certainly calls to mind the Holocaust stories that preceded it, but Sepetys does a good job of pointing out the differences between the enslavement/incarceration in Germany and in the Soviet Union. Between Shades of Gray is not an uplifting book, although it is intended to inspire its reader to consider the nature of good and evil. The epilogue, which I am of two minds about, clearly states the author's mission for the book, which is a good one, but is perhaps a bit too forceful when stated directly.

My only concern is whether Between Shades of Gray is dark enough. I read Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago in its entirety, so I have a decent understanding of the Soviet prisons. However, Lina is not in one of the prisons and I know less about the camps like she lives in. Lina's family seems overall to be spectacularly lucky. One illustration of this: Lina, in a very stupid move, draws pictures of pretty much everything that happens to her family and hides them, and not very cleverly. Somehow, though, she does not get caught. I kept expecting her to, as so many people went down for such things in the Soviet Union.

I do not intend this as a definitive criticism, solely as a question to consider, and I would be interested in hearing the opinions of others. My only real basis for comparison is Solzhenitsyn, who was writing for adults and to show the Soviet system at its worst. Whether it is a bit lighter than reality or not, Sepetys has written a wonderful and crucial book for teens.

Look for Between Shades of Gray in stores this March! This is one you shouldn't miss.

"We're not the same, dear, as we used to be.
The seasons have changed and so have we.

There was little we could say, and even less we could do

To stop the ice from getting thinner under me and you.

We bury our love in the wintry grave

A lump in the snow was all that remained.

But we stayed by its side as the days turned to weeks

And the ice kept getting thinner with every word that we'd speak.

And when spring arrived

We were taken by surprise when the floes under our feet bled into the sea

And nothing was left for you and me."

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Walk Through the Fire from Once More with Feeling

Winter's Passage
Iron Fey, Book 1.5

Julie Kagawa
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Pages: e-book exclusive
Publisher: Harlequin

Before you start feeling super impressed at how quickly I read Winter's Passage, let me explain that it is a novella, consisting of only about sixty pages. This novella describes Ash and Meghan's journey to the winter court, Tir Na Nog.

Along the way, they face a challenge, a mysterious hunter, chasing them for some unknown reason. Frankly though, this conflict was completely predictable and lacked thrill. Mostly, this novella seems to have been written so that Ash and Meghan can trade some disgustingly sappy dialogue before he has to go all ice prince on her ass in front of his mom.

I also found a few silly errors that were either just ridiculous or contradicted something in the previous book. For example, she clambers onto a horse and then watches Ash jump up with grace. She is astounded and thinks that it looks as though "he'd done it a thousand times." Really? I'm completely dumbfounded that a fairy who has been alive for who knows how many centuries in a world where iron does not exist would have climbed onto a horse a thousand times. I'm shocked because it would be so many more. Oy. Meghan also, in the description of Grimalkin, thinks that he will do "nothing for free." Except he led her out of the Nevernever for free at the end of the first book. That's just sloppy.

Mostly though, this book was a brief summary of the first book with a bit of new content that lacks plot.

"I think this line is mostly filler"

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Strange Snow - Simon Boswell

The Iron King
Iron Fey, Book 1

Julie Kagawa
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Pages: 368

Brief Summary:
Meghan Chase really wants to be one of the popular kids and date the hottest guy in school, much to the chagrin of her best friend Robbie. Her chances are ruined when some weird computer hack insults the hot guy while she is tutoring him in technology. On her birthday though, he is happy to see her and invites her to eat lunch with him. Maybe, she thinks, this will be the best birthday ever. Or not. It is all a big prank and life could not possibly get worse...Or not. Turns out that when she gets home her brother Ethan is gone, replaced with a terrifying changeling. Oh yeah, and faeries are real and her best friend is actually Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow) and she has to enter the Nevernever (the faerie land) and save her brother. Now there is a birthday she'll never forget.

The opening of The Iron King definitely worried me. It didn't look good. Meghan struck me as a bit stupid, her family as neglectful jerks and the school drama as obnoxious. Thankfully, this lasts only so long and, once the plot takes off, the book becomes much more interesting.

I know that these YA fantasy romances are everywhere these days (I read a lot of them). Their quality definitely varies from absolutely atrocious to fantastically good. Based solely on this book (not on the following books in the series, which I have not yet read), I would place The Iron King among the upper half of this genre of books. There were some moments that made me eyeroll, but, overall, Kagawa created a world that's largely convincing and a story that moves along at a good pace.

What was good about The Iron King?
  1. The References- William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream was a huge influence for this story. Since that is one of my favorite plays (and movies), I have to give Kagawa props for that (at least since she did it well enough). She also uses the term "otaku," which is a reference to nerds in Japan.
  2. Meghan Chase comes across as a realistic girl. She is weak, skeptical, clever, awkward, strong and annoying at various points in the story. While she frequently needs to be saved by her companions, she also gets stuff done herself when she needs to.
  3. The story falls a familiar fantasy quest plot, which is comforting in its way. Meghan sets off on a quest (to save her brother), acquires companions (Puck, Ash, Grimalkin, etc.), loses companions along the way, and must ultimately resolve her quest alone.
  4. Grimalkin- I love this cait sith (fairy cat?). Despite his powers and the fact that he's a fairy, he's mostly just a cat. And it's fantastic.
  5. The Pack Rats- They're just so cute.
There are some less good parts too, but the good outweighed the bad. It will be interesting to see how the story develops in the next books, which I will be reading over the next month.

And now, in case you're not sold already, check out this sweet book trailer:

P.S. Speaking of strange snow, there is a dusting of snow in Atlanta this morning...Crazers!

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Crumb by Crumb - Rufus Wainwright

Fever Crumb
The Hungry City Chronicles Prequel, Book 1

Author: Philip Reeve
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 325

Brief Summary:

Fever Crumb is not an ordinary sixteen year old girl. For one thing, she is an engineer, the only female one in London. She is also an orphan, raised by the engineers (thus her status). She focuses on rationality first, wasting no time on sense, sensibility or sexy boys. Which is probably good, since she is bald and her eyes are two different colors (which is seen as a really bad thing in this futuristic London). Her first job as an engineer forces her to face life, in all of its chaos and disorder. Fever learns that there are some situations it is hard to approach reasonably and she starts to wonder just who Fever Crumb is.

Fever Crumb is a prequel to Reeve's Hungry City series, of which I have read the first book. Although Fever Crumb is well written and quite clever, I did not enjoy it nearly as much as I did Mortal Engines. The problem for me was that Fever is exceedingly difficult to relate to, which, admittedly, is as intended. Still, her own calm kept me from getting drawn into the story and really feeling for her predicament. This was one of those books where I simply didn't care how everything ended up, even when Fever was in serious danger. However, I did appreciate Fever's struggle to remain rational and emotionless in the face of whatever came her way (Yay! Spock reference!).

The best parts (for me) were the nifty references thrown into the future world Reeve has created. Early on, there is a mention of religious nuts worshiping their lord, Hari Potter. Now there is a religion I could really get behind. Haha. The British city of Battersea is spelled B@ersea. Little goodies like this are so delightful. They also force you to pay attention so that no hilarious little jokes pass you by.

And, though this may not be a huge plus for everyone, Philip Reeve is delightfully British. Check out this interview with him (also note the fantastic bookshelves behind him, which sport Catching Fire and HP!) He is adorable!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you're all celebrating the holiday with good friends and family (and hopefully some good books)!

"Suddenly I'm not myself
Behind the facade is a lonely fountain"

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Out in the Country - Three Dog Night

Trickster's Girl
Raven Duet, Book 1

Author: Hilari Bell
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 288
ARC Acquired From:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via Net Galley

Brief Summary:
Since Kelsa's dad passed away from cancer, she has felt a bit hopeless. She has trouble connecting to her mother and is, unsurprisingly, quite sad. Out of the blue, a guy approaches her, who appears to be a teen, and asks her to go on a quest to steal a medicine man's pouch from a museum and heal the ley lines in the northern U.S. and Canada with it. Kelsa, quite logically, is freaked out and says in no uncertain terms that she wants no part of this business. He keeps showing up everywhere she goes though and shows her how he can turn into a bird, a raven. His name, as much as he has one, is Raven. His persistence pays off and she agrees to help him save the ley lines, because she hopes that that will halt the tree plague and maybe lessen occurrences of cancer.

Trickster's Girl
is not like the average young adult fantasy. For one thing, there's no romance. The whole book is very focused on the quest and on saving the environment. Although Raven is hot, he is demonstrably not human.

Similarly, Kelsa does not constantly rely on him to save her. She is no Bella Swan, constantly tripping and needing to be carried. He saves her sometimes, but there are even more times where she saves herself or she saves him. I really loved that aspect of Trickster's Girl. Kelsa doesn't kick ass; she's a normal girl, but she can take care of herself. She makes a lot of the big decisions and reacts maturely to most of the situations in which she finds herself. Kelsa is, despite the running away from home to troop around a couple countries with a supernatural guy she barely knows, a fairly good role model.

The best part for me was the view into the future Bell has created here. The book is set a minimum of 85 years in the future, as Kelsa sees graffiti from 2094. America is, unsurprisingly, a bit different. There are some cool new technologies, like cars that hover a little bit off the ground and electric vehicles. On the converse side, there are numerous references to the damage to the environment done by humans, such as the bioplague wiping out the rainforest in South America. One really cool aspect is the description of how the new swear words developed, so watch for that. Also some dystopian elements, which I loved of course!

The quest itself is a neat idea, what with the environmental impact and all of that. Still, the way she healed the ley line was so incredibly lame. She would toss a pinch of dust and recite an incantation/ode to some element of nature: glaciers, trees, animals, etc. This does pay homage to the medicine man and perhaps resemble an Indian ritual of some sort (I confess that I do not know), but, either way, the incantations are super stupid. They just don't seem earth-changing.

The writing of the book was quite good, except for the aforementioned incantations and Bell's repetitiveness with regards to Kelsa's opinions of Raven. A sequel is in the works, currently titled Traitor's Son, for which I will be on the lookout.

"Before the breathin' air is gone
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime
Out where the rivers like to run
I stand alone and take back somethin' worth rememberin'

Whenever I feel them closing in on me
Or need a bit of room to move
When life becomes too fast, I find relief at last
Out in the country"

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Hate Everyone - Get Set Go

Life, the Universe and Everything
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Book 3

Author: Douglas Adams
Genre: science fiction, humor
Pages: 240

Douglas Adams is an example of someone who achieved something so wholly awesome with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that its really hard for anything he does afterward to be quite as good. The second book was not too bad, but I must pronounce myself quite disappointed in the third installment. While it still had some of the characteristic humor, which makes Douglas Adams so fabulous, the really good jokes were a bit further and farther between.

The plot, such as there was, seemed incredibly slapdash and weak. And often didn't make sense, even unto itself. I kept having to force myself not to skim read, as many of the sections were so boredom-inducing as to make this tempting. How sad is that? Many of the chapters seemed not to connect to the main plot at all. The last chapter especially.

Nevertheless, this book does have a really great line, one that I stumbled across years ago in my search for wonderful quotes: "He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife." That quote is made of so much win. Also delightful are a couple of recurring gags, like Arthur's mysteriously misappearing and reappearing bags. Or his unintentional repeated murders of one reincarnated soul. Or his courageous defeat of Thor. Seriously, the god Thor. Way to go, Arthur.

To conclude, lyrics from the title song, in honor of that spiteful immortal with nothing better to do than insult folk.

"All the people on the street, I hate you all
And the people that I meet, I hate you all
And the people that I know, I hate you all
And the people that I don't, I hate you all
Oh, I hate you all"

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love's Divine - Seal

The Diviner's Tale

Bradford Morrow
Genre: mystery
320 (though I read on my Kindle)
ARC Acquired From:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Cassandra, much like her ill-fated Trojan namesake, has visions of the future. She foresaw that something bad would happen to her brother Christopher and told him not to leave the house one evening; he did and he died. Grown now, with her own twin sons, Cass still struggles with the monster (her forevisions) and for acceptance from the community. She works as a diviner (or dowser), using some sort of magic to find water on people's properties. Although she has a good success rate, many people will not accept that she is anything but a fraud, and she really isn't sure herself. One day, while dowsing for water, she finds a hanged girl, calls for the police, and, when they arrive, there is no sign of the girl. This situation will require Cass to figure out whether she's crazy or powerful and to solve a mystery.

A lot of interesting and dramatic stuff happens in this book. Which is why it's amazing how incredibly boring it managed to be. I had to force myself through pretty much every page. The only characters I liked at all were the twins, as they felt the most like real people. I never related to Cass, who felt strangely withdrawn despite the story being told from her perspective. She felt more like a man than a woman too.

The book jumps around in time frequently. Although the different snatches of Cass' life are pertinent to the book's plot, they still don't always feel so at the time or really later. Perhaps the book just needed to be shorter, to relate a bit less of the past. A big part of the book centers around a mystery, the conclusion of which was surprising only in its sheer lack of surprise. Everything happens after many hints and with absolutely no plot twisting.

Morrow's writing conveys an understanding of language that is commendable and literary. However, he has strange diction, which left me cold and often incredulous. For example, Morrow describes a morning as having a "heavy mackerel sky." While this is a real phrase, which I know thanks to my handy dandy Kindle, it isn't one that many people are going to know. Call me stupid if you like, but whose first thought on reading that phrase isn't going to be of a sky filled with a school of mackerels or maybe just one really big fish. In general, I found his language kind of off-putting, sort of pompous and bland all at once.

The Diviner's Tale searches, but fails to locate the water to fill the well of the reader's interest.

"Then the rainstorm came, over me
And I felt my spirit break

I had lost all of my, belief you see

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Ghost Riders in the Sky - Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness

Reinhard Kleist
Genre: graphic novels, biography
Pages: 221

Although this biography of Johnny Cash is divided into three sections of years in Cash's life, the graphic novel jumps in time. These jumps can be a bit confusing at times, but, by the end, I was able to put it all together. One of the really neat things Kleist did was to sometimes do a story within a story, where he would go into the plot of the songs for a couple of pages. I thought that was really unique and clever.

Certainly this graphic novel leaves a lot out, but I think Kleist did a great job capturing what Johnny Cash was like. Of course, I haven't read anything about Johnny Cash before (I've only seen the movie Walk the Line). Still, based on all of the awards it raked in, I would imagine that it is true to the soul of the man.

The illustrations, while not my favorite type of art, fit the subject matter perfectly. Cash is a man of grizzled, rough features; of pain and darkness; of complexity. He could not be pictured in a pretty style; this gritty artwork does the job. The only place that I didn't think it worked was in the brief section on his childhood. Kleist does not seem to be able to draw youthful people; everyone in the book looked at least 35, and a hard-living 35 at that.

Now I really want to go listen to some more Johnny Cash songs, as I have very few (and mostly just the super popular ones that he probably got really sick of). It's amazing that he was able to recover from his addiction and escape the omnipresent darkness.

"As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil's herd, across these endless skies "

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shakin' All Over - The Who

Enchanted Ivy

Sarah Beth Durst
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 320 (but the print is tremendously huge)

Brief Summary:

Lily has wanted to attend Princeton all her life, since, on top of being a really good school, it is the alma mater of her beloved, a bit idol-worshipped grandfather. Although she's just a junior in high school, she is super thrilled to be invited along with him on his reunion, even though she's a bit worried that her mom is coming too. Her mom can be...embarrassing. Lily loves her mom, but she has these brain hiccups and with each one she seems to forget more of her life. Lily is a little prone to them too actually, but she hopes no one will find out about her secret. Nothing will stop her from getting into Princeton, especially not now that she has a chance at super early admission, if she passes a test from her grandfather's dining club: she has to find a key. Of course, there's no telling what secrets the key will unlock.

This review is going to be a short one, because I am quite sleepy. Just FYI.

I read Into the Wild, another of Sarah Beth Durst's books (not to be confused with Jon Krakauer's ode to being really stupid--aka cool--when hiking), in 2008. I wasn't super impressed (I didn't even read the sequel), but I still wanted to read this one and her other book, Ice. I love fantasy and fairy tales, which is her niche. Unfortunately, she still has yet to really engage me. This one was definitely preferable to Into the Wild, mostly because the protagonist is a bit older and easier for me to relate to. Also, the title is a pun, which you have to love. Enchanted Ivy, both because Princeton is an ivy league school with magic things running around and because there are some vines that are enchanted. Awesome.

There were three things that really kept me from connecting with Lily and the book:

1) Lily is too damn trusting. She never really suspects anyone until they openly admit that they are terrible people. She has a tendency to expect others to save her, which gets really frustrating. That's part of the growing she does in the progress of the novel, but it happens in such a way that I do not feel thrilled for her. Instead, I feel even more judgmental.

2) She manages to be a big flirt while claiming to be complete out of the league of the only two young males in the book. Cry moar. I mean, really.

3) Every time one of the characters touches her, she feels tingles. And it does get mentioned every single time. Except for that time where she sat behind him on a ride with her arms around him for a matter of minutes, so good consistency there. She attributes this tingly feeling not with her romantic feelings (certainly an improvement), but with the magic she senses within him. Well, that's great. Except that she has never noticed magic anywhere else through this same tingle, even in the other magical creatures she meets. What does this mean? Is Lily stupid or is all the powerful tingle of love?

Final verdict: just okay. A bit too cheesy and obvious to be particularly good, but interesting enough in spite of that to be readable.

"When you move in right up close to me
That's when I get the shakes all over me"

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Animal Song - Savage Garden

The Princess and the Snowbird
Princess, Book 3

Mette Ivie Harrison
fantasy, young adult, bildungsroman

Brief Summary:
In the same fantasy world where The Princess and the Hound and The Princess and the Bear took place, Harrison's latest focuses again on the divide between animals and humans. At one time, all animals, humans included, had aur-magic, a good life-giving magic, until humans began to turn it into tehr-magic, which they used to tame animals and set themselves above. Now there are even ways to remove both kinds of magic from humans, animals and plants altogether. Liva, daughter of the hound and the bear, has inherited a lot of aur-magic and a desire to save the world from the tehr-magic, along with the last of the snowbirds.

Even though I have read and enjoyed the previous books, I still found the marriage of the hound and the bear a bit...odd and unsettling. Still, they made better parents than any of the others in the book. Plus, Live got some super sweet powers out of the deal: she can turn into any animal. I so wish I could do that; it would be my childhood dreams come true!

This fantasy novel, much like de Lint's The Painted Boy, is much more about Liva's internal battles than her battle with evil. The final conflict concludes swiftly and anticlimactically, leaving another two chapters in a short book. The focus is on her coming to terms with her humanity. In some sense, the ending reminds me of Kristin Cashore's Graceling, of how dark it is and how everything isn't perfect.

As a consequence of that, the most interesting aspects of the novel were the philosophical. Mette Ivie Harrison's fantasy world clearly reflects the way humans destroy nature, poisoning it and taming it to meet human needs. Her world definitely appeals to me, with the animal languages and the different kinds of magic. What I love about this, although it's a bit preachy, is the message that humans are no better than animals. It has always been a major pet peeve that we humans consider ourselves better than our animal counterparts. So many people claim that we are different from animals, that we aren't animals. Except for the part where we totally are. So, Mette Ivie Harrison, you rock for sharing my (totally correct) opinion. Also, I met her at ALA very briefly and she's a really sweet woman!

I recommend this book to those who enjoyed the previous books in the series. Although this one is not quite as good, it is a short read and thought-provoking. I would not suggest beginning here if you have not read any of the other books, since I think aspects of it would be confusing and off-putting.

"I've been having difficulties keeping to myself
Feelings and emotions better left up on the shelf

Animals and children tell the truth, they never lie

Which one is more human

There's a thought, now you decide

Compassion in the jungle
Compassion in your hands

Would you like to make a run for it

Would you like to take my hand

Cause I want to live like animals

Careless and free like animals

I want to live

I want to run through the jungle
the wind in my hair and the sand at my feet"

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Monday, December 6, 2010

I Wanna Be Sedated - The Ramones


Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: historical fiction, young adult
Pages: 472

Brief Summary:
Andi attends a prestigious school, one of the ones pretty much guaranteed to get you into any college you want. Her parents are wealthy and she has almost everything she could possibly want. Except for her dad (who's still alive), her mother (who's mentally off somewhere else a lot of the time) and her brother (who's dead). Her brother Truman's death destroyed everything for Andi. Since then, she has been on prescription drugs for her depression, Qwells. They obviously don't work very well though, since she is still extremely self-destructive and hell-bent on committing suicide. The only reason she hasn't is her commitment to music, but even that is starting to wane. Her neglectful father, who lives in a different city, shows up, ships her mother (who won't stop painting images of her brother--instead of the still lifes that made her career) off to a psychiatrist, and tells Andi she's coming to Paris with him until she writes her thesis. In Paris, Andi discovers a diary from the French Revolution that changes her entire life.

If forced to give an overall statement on this book, I suppose that it was good and I liked it well enough. Really though, I have to break it down into quarters, because I found the book to be very uneven. Some sections I hated and others I really thought were clever.

The opening of this book was amazingly similar to Adios, Nirvana, which I read a couple of months ago: a self-destructive guitar player wants to follow their sibling into death, because they feel responsible for it having happened. There is definitely some Gossip Girl in their too, what with the spoiled prep school kids who skip school, do drugs and weave a tangled web of who has dated (or hooked up with) whom. This section was awful. I hated Andi (and I never came to like her much) and almost everyone else. The star of this section (and my favorite character in the whole book, even though he makes only cameo appearances) is her best friend Vijay. He is a genius, who is calling every potentate imaginable for quotes for his thesis and actually getting them. He also comes up with the most hilarious nicknames for his mother.

The next chunk focuses more on Alexandrine's diary and is, to me, much more interesting. This follows more along an Iain Pears for teens type of line. The diary entries are really interesting, as is the historical focus. I was a little confused by the order of the entries and could not figure out how it had been constructed, as the first ones were further ahead in time than the middle ones, but oh well. They may not be in the order they would be most likely in a historical sense, but they do make a logical progression weaved into this story.

The third part is really frustrating again. For one thing, Andi gets super mad that they guy she's been dating in Paris was kissed by another girl, even though the French kiss all the time. She runs off and almost commits suicide...again. Then she hits her head on a rock and the plot goes somewhere absurd. I know what Donnelly was trying to do here, but I really think it's over the top. And obvious. I don't want to say what happens to avoid spoilers, but you'll probably know.

The last section, the epilogue, was to me reminiscent of what Dostoevsky did to Crime and Punishment or J. K. Rowling did to Harry Potter 7. Everything has been terrible through pretty much the entire book, until the chapter before the epilogue, but her future is made of sunshine and rainbows. She is suddenly completely happy without the drugs and no longer feels guilty for her brother's death (which is absolutely absurd by the way, by which I mean how Donnelly staged his death). In addition, her mother's all better too and she has a fantastic new life in Paris with her boyfriend. It all feels saccharine, especially after the story was so dark. It also feels a bit like what made a lot of the difference was the boyfriend (which is gross).

That came out more negative than I perhaps intended. Though flawed (obviously), Revolution is a good read once you get past the first part. Once the diary entries began, I became intrigued to discover the answer to the historical mystery within its pages and thus did not want to stop reading anymore. Definitely a good teen novel for historians!

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Top Ten Books That Make Me Laugh Out Loud

Top Ten Humor Titles

I just finished reading Douglas Adams'
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and, rather than trying to review it without spoilers, I am going to present a list of my top ten favorite funny fiction titles! In case you're curious, book two in the Hitchiker's Guide series is great, but not as good as the first book (but that's a really high standard to try to meet). Now, to the ten funniest books, plays, etc:

10. The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear- Walter Moers
This book might not have made it onto this list, but for the illustrations. Don't get me wrong; the story itself is marvy (short for marvelous), but not top ten. What sells it are Moers' absolutely delightful and quirky illustrations (see photo on left). Who says books for grown ups can't have illustrations? Not me. I encourage more people with a unique outlook and artistic style to write books like this (Craig, I'm talking to you). This book is charming, clever, engaging and amusing. I have not read the rest of the books set in this fantasy world (Zamonia) yet, but you better believe that I will!

9. Milk Crown- Mizuto Aqua
Milk Crown is a manga series. So far, I have not shared my love of manga (and manhwa) on this blog, but I could not let that go on any longer. Mizuto Aqua's art is not the best (critics have said that her girls look like men in wigs), but she is one of the funniest mangakas out there. I have read all of her stuff that I can get my hands on and been amused by all of it. Milk Crown is definitely the best. It falls in the shoujo (targeted to girls, often involves romance) category, but definitely avoids being a wholly typical one. I am not sure how easy this would be to get your hands on, but, if you get a chance, give this a look-see. I mean, how can you not love a series where one of the characters has a pet shark?

8. Catch-22- Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is one of the best novels of all time, in my not-so-humble opinion. It is also one of the funniest...for the first half. Heller actually wrote the first half and then got approval to publish; then he wrote the second half, which is definitely a bit depressing. His humor is majorly (major major major majorly) sarcastic and I love every little bit of it. Everyone should read this book, even if it is just to get themselves thinking philosophical thoughts about the human condition. This book is definitely the ultimate in dark humor.

7. Twelfth Night, or What You Will- William Shakespeare
Of all of the bard's wonderful plays, my favorite, by far, is Twelfth Night. Those who have discussed Shakespeare with me know that it is no secret that I greatly prefer his comedies (except for The Taming of the Shrew) to his tragedies (or histories). What is it that I love so much about this particular comedy? I'm not really sure actually, but I always have. It has mistaken identity, cross-dressing, romance and Feste, one of the most awesome fools ever. You can have a grand old time, laughing as you read the play aloud to yourself (or maybe only I do that) and feel really smart while you do so. There is also a fabulous film version, directed by Trevor Nunn with such actors as Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter.

6. Movies in 15 Minutes- Cleolinda Jones

The onl
y not funny thing about this book: it's not actually published in the U.S. You can buy it off of Amazon, of course, but you probably won't be finding it in any bookstores or at the library. Cleolinda is an inspiration, in that she wrote funny things on the internet and people loved them so much that she got a publishing deal. Way to go! Her retellings of popular films will make you laugh really hard (and probably make you want to get your friends into an impromptu acting group). They're funniest if you have seen the movies, but they're still great even if you haven't (i.e. Braveheart, which I have yet to view).

5. The Thief of Time (Discworld Series)- Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett's Discworld is humorous no matter which book you grab. These books are science fiction that pokes fun at pretty much everything. One of the best characters is DEATH, so you know its comedic genius. The funniest and best book of the series I have read as yet (and one of the few books I have ever read out of series order) is The Thief of Time. If you like intelligent humor and science fiction, Pratchett should not be missed.

4. Enchanted, Inc. Series- Shanna Swend
Not many people know about Shanna Swendson. She writes chick lit and is not a big name. I happened across the first book in the series, Enchanted, Inc. at the library (holla!) and devoured it. The sequels were similarly found and loved. Unlike most chick lit, hers is incredibly clever and full of real humor, not just circumstances so absurd they're funny. On top of that, the characters feel a lot more like real people than chick lit or romance novel characters generally do. People are attractive, but in a real way. They are flawed, even the love interest. The books also have magic and who doesn't like that. Even if chick lit isn't your thing, you might just find yourself chuckling as you work your way through this series.

3. The Importance of Being Earnest- Oscar Wilde
I love me some classics, especially when they're as sassy as Mr. Wilde's. This play is, in my mind, pretty much perfect. Wilde is absurdly witty, but not above a good pun (see title). This is definitely in the running as my favorite play of all time. It's not just funny; it's amazingly written and constructed. Also, check out the film adaptation with Colin Firth and Rupert Everett, because it is absurdly delightful! Pardon me while I go in search of muffins...

2. The Stephanie Plum Series- Janet Evanovich
You may be lamenting my choice, wondering how on earth I could possibly choose these silly, romance-novel-esque mysteries above
Catch-22. Well, the reason is that I am basing this on how funny the book is, on how many times it made me giggle, guffaw, snort, etc. while I perused its pages. The Stephanie Plum series was actually a very close second. Say what you want about Janet Evanovich (her plots are certainly formulaic in their way and she does love for her characters to get lots of sex), but her books are absolutely hilarious. I don't read much chick lit or romance these days, but I do not miss a single one of her books. Heck, I'd even check one out if it had a shirtless Fabio look-alike on the cover draped across a woman with heaving bosoms. If not for the fact that the series is dragging on too long and not as reliably funny anymore, Evanovich might have stolen the top spot with her non-literary laugh riots.

I know you must be really excited to find out the funniest book I have ever read...

So...without further ado...

drum roll please, Finn!...

I present the best!

1. The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy- Douglas Adams
So yeah, there's just no beating this book, especially since it comes with the soothing words "Don't Panic!" on the cover. I know that's advice that I need. Almost every single page of this book is laugh-out-loud, side-splittingly funny, and I am not a person who laughs aloud at books with slight provocation. The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a masterpiece of humor. What especially endears me to this book recently, besides revisiting the characters in the sequel, is a comparison of the interactions of a group of my friends with the interactions of the folks on the Heart of Gold, improbability and all. Just in case you were curious, I'm totally Marvin in this scenario. Note: I am incredibly creeped out by the hand on this cover. Incredibly.

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