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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Long Long Sleep


By Anna Sheehan

In this book, the main and well-to-do character Rosealinda Fitzroy goes into a suspended animation for sixty years. After being woken, the book follows her journey of living in the radically transformed future and its perils, discovering things that shaped her past and present. Unfortunately, the discovering part only happens at the end of the book. I mostly read about Rose dimly stuttering through a difficult curriculum at school and other situations. Some parts made me think that she may have been a ditz. On the other hand, it was equaled by signs of intelligence like her proficiency in art and a relationship with a special character, so I don't really know what to think of her.

Her actions seems shallow and poorly based, which reflected on a story arc that seems a little flimsy and without real cause; it could have been greatly changed with just a few tiny (and seemingly completely unthought of) actions... but there wouldn't be much of a story left if it went the way I would like it, would there? However, there were other interesting things that helped the story along a bit. But not much. It was boring to read on and on with no changes in Rose's situation or emotional status; she and the story arc just drifted along chapter after chapter. It was interesting in the very beginning yet dragged soon afterwards. Thankfully, it picked up towards the end and tied everything together into a solid finish and overall a good story. I just wish this solidness existed throughout the entire book.

So, this book had its ups and downs. It's story overall has complexity and is something to think about once you know the whole of it, yet the process of getting to that point isn't as fascinating as it should be. Save this one for a rainy day to kill some time. It was like a vegetable soup, under salted. Its tomatoes and onions are tasty, however they are few and far between with its watery broth. It's filling, but not hearty. Rated as a 3.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss

Another assigned reading project by my dear friend. By now, I knew the drill. Get it pushed at me, try to start reading it, procrastinate for several weeks (sorry!), then get into the book and start reading under the desk in class and give it a high rating. However, I got caught by my teacher. But, it didn't disappoint. This was a wonderful tapestry of a world, with a nicely developed magic system. It tells the tale of a boy who's parents were killed by a fairy tale gone nightmare in life. It follows him in his life in the city as a street urchin to a university goer who is brilliant, to a Talented musician.
The character of Kvothe is an interesting one, though one thoroughly concerned with image. However, this being only the first book in a promising series, I shall wait until the next one comes out (had better be soon!) to draw conclusions about him. Then maybe I can decide whether or not Kvothe and Ambrose's relationship is exactly like Harry and Malfoy's from Harry Potter, or more malicious. I'm going for the latter.
Since I can't think of anything else to say about this book other than it's really SUPERBLY good, (read it!) I'm going to give my food analogy and number score, then blink out. I would describe this book much like I described The Way of the Kings. It is a delectable apple pie, crisp and fresh out of the oven on a cool autumn day, you breathe in the scent, wanting to savor it and then just break the crust with your fork, releasing the built up steam and even more of the warm, cinnamony aroma and then your mother, seeing that you're eating pie before your dinner, goes, "WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING???" swipes the plate of pie away, leaving you staring after it, knife and fork in hand, thinking, "What the heck are you doing? I was gonna eat that!" Then, to top it all of, your mum lectures you for a good 5 minutes about how pie isn't dinner, and you have to wait until after and she spent so long making the dinner of macaroni & cheese (which can be made in 12 minutes). Then you're like, whatever. To condense one long wind into a couple of characters, this book is a solid 4.3. Good to the point of great, but then it ended too abruptly.

Friday, December 23, 2011

'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern, Spoilers labeled


This book is already published, and is pretty popular, but I read it as a galley. So it counts as a galley.

'The Night Circus' came off to a fantastic first impression. Kudos to you, Ms. Morgenstern! It's an enchanting book, dark and beautiful. It plays with words as an illusionist does: It's a dream-like book, full of metaphors and magic.

It begins with a scene, describing the arrival of Le Cirque des Rêves - the Circus of Dreams. It is mysterious, and it is only open at night. The crowd builds over the day, and when it finally opens, the circus turns out to be a world of its own. There is the tattooed contortionist, the acrobats that fly without a net underneath, a Garden of Ice, and, the female protagonist, an illusionist that works without props. I quote, “You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Reves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus. You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.”

The plot of the book is centered around a battle between two illusionists - people who work with real magic and make it look like illusions. Their battle is arranged by their teachers, and through the contract, they must fight, not knowing why they're fighting, what their goal is, and, in the beginning, who their opponent is. They fall in love, though, and their love is tangled and difficult, as love tends to be. There's madness, beauty, emotional instability, blood, twins, and tigers. It's basically the best circus in the world.

As I said, it came off to a wonderful start for me. After I read it the second time, though, it was more disappointing. The characters, other than the two illusionists, are too flat - they fit the stereotypes they are built into. The Japanese contortionist covered in tattoos is hiding an important secret, and **SPOILER** she has magic as well - surprise surprise! **/SPOILER** She... doesn't really have a personality, other than mysterious. The fortune-teller is also no more than mysterious, other than **SPOILER** tragically sad and angry when the male protagonist breaks up with her. **/SPOILER** To be honest, a lot of the characters seem to be no more than mysterious. There aren't enough... flaws, characteristics to build off of.

Then, there's the system of magic. I feel there isn't enough of the magic, which is pretty much one of the center points of the book. There are barely any processes, dangerous side effects, sacrifices - what makes a lot of magic books fun. No, there's just staring, and the blood seeps back into the cut, and it heals. The competitors never hurt each other, and there isn't any real magical fighting. Blah.

There are enchanting scenes, though, built through simple sentences and strangely described details.

Overall - 4, and a cheap dark chocolate bar. Delicious, because chocolate is just delicious, but a flavor that could definitely be better. Made too sweet, and less flavorful, through a bit of cliche, and hiding the flavors that really shine.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'House of Leaves' by Mark Z. Danielewski


I'll say it upfront - do not read this book if you don't have a good threshold for the creepy. Not the scary or bloody, just... creepy. My very first impression of the book, reading the inside cover, was: "Is this real?" It's written in a non-fiction style, which makes everything creepier.

It begins first with a man collecting the story, which itself begins with no context - sort of in the future. It discusses the arguments and controversy over a certain video, "The Five and a Half Minute Hallway". It isn't until later that you find out the video is of a closet that shouldn't be in the house. It loops around the house, thoroughly proving that there is no space for that closet in the house, and yet it is there. The creator of the video and owner of the house, Navidson, and his family, upon moving into the house, find that the inside of the house is slightly larger that the outside - by a few solid inches.

The inches are caused by the closet, which later in the book extends into an entire maze of passageways, hallways, and stairs in pure pitch-darkness and freezing cold, with ominous growls that cause physical c
hanges in the passageways. Navidson and a few other people explore the hallways, leading to insanity, murder, and death. By all means, an thrilling book. While Navidson is descending deep into the maze alone, the pages seem to break down and crumble. There are many footnotes, and footnotes within footnotes - it's a hard to read book, both physically and content-ly.

The other character, Truant, who collects the story of Navidson Record, has his own side story, describes what is progressing in his life while he collects information. He finds, firstly, that there is no evidence of the house existing, that many interviews he found written were claimed false, and that many references are indeed true. We
learn about his childhood, his delusions and paranoia, and his multiple sex encounters. Not nearly as fun as the main story, and definitely cut-out-able.

This book, although with many components of horror and pure fear, is sometimes curiously classified as a love story. Pure hogwash, if you ask me, but I have to mention it - as a result of the maze within their house, Navidson and his wife go through hard times, but make up in the end. There.

I would give this book a 4.3 - it's a wonderful thriller, and fantastically scary, good content for nightmares-that-are-not-quite-nightmares, but it's very hard to read (it's like a dense nonfiction story sometimes), and the side story isn't very fun. It's like freezing cold ice cream - shocking, and painful for the brain at points, but nonetheless a delicious read.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Between Shades of Gray, Shut Out, and Bunheads




Well, I read these books a little while ago (over a month), so I've forgotten some of the finer details that I may have wanted to mention in this triple review. The books aren't necessarily galleys anymore, and there might be a few spoilers, but here goes:
Between Shades of Gray; author Ruta Sepetys:
A Holocaust story that's not about the Holocaust, Between Shades of Gray describes how fifteen-year-old Lina and her family are put on a train to Siberia by the Soviet secret police. Lina's father is separated from them, and she spends a long time wishing that they will find him alive. This was a powerful book. Sepetys's writing is simple but beautiful, and she's not afraid to make the book dark. However, I had a few problems with the book. To start, although Lina is an artist and sketches messages to her father throughout the story, none of these pictures appeared in the book. I was sorely disappointed to only have to imagine what her messages looked like. Then, the ending left me dissatisfied. It stops, then the epilogue says that Lina escapes the labor camp! I wanted to know what happened inbetween. The book had enough of a flow that another hundred pages to have her escape wouldn't have hindered it. Overall, I give the book a 3.8. It was like one of those shortbread cookies that have hard sugary icing on them, but without the icing. Tasty enough, elegant, but it could have used that little bit more. I've included a picture of these cookies in case you don't have a clue what I'm talking about.





Shut OutKody Keplinger:
In the school of Kody Keplinger's Shut Out, the football team and the soccer team have a vicious rivalry. This rivalry involves throwing eggs at each other and physically harming each other. Lissa, girlfriend of a football player, is tired of the rivalry and calls on all the girlfriends to band together and go on a "sex strike" until the boys quit their rivalry. Inevitably, though, she finds herself falling for Cash Sterling (who in their right name would name their kid that?), a soccer boy. I had a number of thoughts about this book, most of them not too favorable. First off, why doesn't the school administration EVER step in on this rivalry?? It's been going on for years, yet no one seems to do anything about it. Next after that was how NO ONE EVER DOES ANY SCHOOLWORK. Really. They're all in high school, yet they have hours and hours to fool around and/or have sleepovers, yet never seem to be in school. Okay, it's possible there were some homework scenes and some school scenes, but I can't remember them right now (I read the book a little while ago). Then there's a scene where Lissa and the girls are having a sleepover, and the boys pull off their shirts outside in the backyard to tempt the girls. Lissa notes that "these were some of the most athletic boys in school, which meant they had some of the best bodies. It was like a museum of muscled arms and six-pack abs on Kelsey's lawn." THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS. Just because a guy is an athlete does not mean he has amazing muscles. There is no "museum" at our school. Next point: while it's nice that the girls are able to talk so honestly about sex and they bring up interesting points, their conversations felt rather forced. Girls don't just sit around and have sleepovers where they talk about sex. At least, not in my experience. Perhaps the author has had a different experience.

Okay, deep breath now. This book did have some positives. There was definitely a girl-power element to it that I liked, and Lissa felt like a realistic and relatable character. She struggles with some control issues, has a job at the library, and has some boy problems. Some of the scenes between her and Cash were sweet, although a little overly sweet at times. I just didn't relate to this book as much as I imagine other girls might, which doesn't make the book bad. It just wasn't really my cup of tea in addition to not being a stellar book, hence the negative points above.
Overall, I'm not entirely sure how to rate something like this. On the number scale, it gets a 1.5, maybe a smidgen higher. Food-wise, it was a day-old Dunkin Donuts donut: it was pretty tasty at one point, but now it's fairly inedible (at least to me). If you like your donuts slightly stale, then hey, it's a snack.

BunheadsSophie Flack:
Hannah is a dancer; dancing is her entire life. She left her family at a fairly young age (the exact number is escaping me) to dance with the Manhattan Ballet, and her burning ambition is to be a soloist. She is starting to realize, though, that she may want something more than the high pressure world of ballet. Bunheads was something like the movie Black Swan in that it has a protagonist with a desire to rise to the top, except Bunheads was significantly less disturbing and had no mental breakdown and death at the end (sorry to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it. Don't worry. It will still be disturbing.)

I really liked how Sophie Flack built the world of ballet in her book; as an outsider looking in, it was fascinating and a little sad, given how anyone who doesn't have the typical "ballerina body" has extremely low self-esteem, and even those that DO have the body worry about their weight constantly. Hannah's joy whenever she performs is vivid, and something that readers can relate to even if they are not a dancer. I liked Hannah's progression as she wakes up to the outside world, but her final decision bothered me a bit. It felt somewhat like an all-or-nothing decision that left her staring at what she could have had, when she could have made a decision that was more in the middle. In addition, especially at the beginning of the book, Flack's inexperience as a writer shows; the writing isn't as good as it could be, though it improves as the story continues. Given her background as a dancer, this isn't exactly surprising (after all, dancing is a different experience from writing), but given this fact the book is still wonderful. There is one scene that I keep thinking about, in which Hannah is ruminating on a little girl who wants to be a ballerina and loves to dance, but so clearly doesn't have the body for it. Hannah's sadness, both for this little girl and that child she once was, is beautiful portrayed. This book was so sweet, and I look forward to other books Flack might write.

When all is said and done, Bunheads gets 4 stars. It was like chocolate ice cream, delicious and sweet. It's a flavor that you may have eaten as a little kid when you were really picky about funny things in your ice cream, and you look back on it fondly after eating it.
Here's an article that The Boston Globe printed about Sophie Flack and her emergence into the writing world:http://articles.boston.com/2011-10-11/ae/30267383_1_balanchine-nycb-novel

Steampunk!


I absolutely love Steampunk - a contemporary culture genre based off the Victorian Era, had technology taken a different term - see Steampunk.

This book is - if you can see on the title - An Anthology Of Fantastically Rich And Strange Stories. It's actually, I think, a newer version of an older Steampunk anthology - I got to read this as a galley! The stories are collected by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant. Some of the contributing authors are Garth Nix, Holly Black, Libby Bray, Cassandra Clare, and Ysabeau S. Wilce - all authors that make me extremely joyful. So, this book got off to a good start with me even before I started reading.

There are about 14 stories - 2 are in graphic novel form. Normally, I dislike anthologies, as they are too choppy to read - this one was no different. Although the stories were beautifully written, and the comics were fantastic, it was hard to keep my attention from straying or confusing the stories.

Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend this to any Steampunk fan, or to any lovers of the authors that contributed to this book. 3.8/5

This book is like a mystery fruity cake - there are too many conflicting flavors, but overall, the taste is nice. Not for people who don't like fruit.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Article 5

by Kristen Simmons

     I read this book a few months ago, so the finer details are fuzzy in my head. Fuzzier still was the feeling I got from reading it back then. Don't get me wrong- it wasn't a warm fuzzy feeling, or even a particularly nice fuzzy feeling. It was a taught-with-danger, electricity-running-through-veins fuzzy, the kind of fuzzy where secret agents are about to come bursting through your bunker door to mow you down with railguns. A bloody brilliant kind of fuzzy. I think I just used the word fuzzy more often than I have in my life.

     This book is a dystopian future; the genre is exploding right now, from what I'm seeing in our ARCs, but I've only read a few dystopian books better than Article 5. Yes, Divergent comes to mind, but that's a happy fairy tale compared to the dark depths of this one.
     The government's post-apocalyptic-war takeover of the United States, a totalitarian coup of all of our ideals, was intensely believable; the history was never directly told, instead being hinted at throughout. It kept me curious and hooked throughout.
     I should say, on that note, that this book isn't really for the faint of heart or those looking for a light read. At points the romance was inappropriate and a bit irritating, but, then again-- you know my taste in books. Maybe others will see the romance as a fitting counterpoint to the pervasive griminess and evil of Simmons' America.
     This book definitely merits the 4.5 I'll give it; I was slightly put off by the sharpness of the narrative some times, and, as I said, I wasn't a big fan of the romance. The rest was way, way, way worth it, though. Food-wise, it's the perfectly tart cranberry juice, chilled and poured at the height of thirst.
     Plus points for a great cover!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Crazy Things Girls Do for Love

By: Dyan Sheldon

Genre: YA fiction,  School Lit

Cody is perhaps the coolest, most gorgeous, charismatic and dynamic teen ever to walk through the pages of YA fiction. When he transfers into Clifton Springs High School hearts are set afire, and the Environmental Club will never be the same. Which girl will win his heart? There are three who are about to start an epic quest for love.

This is one of the most delightful YA novels I have read in years. The clash of cliques is genuine and the pursuit of love single-minded and realistic. Even better was the deft weave of environmental education.

Dyan Sheldon should be commended for not only telling a great story, but for effectively embedding the environmental message of "reduce, reuse, recycle." The gradual evolution of environmental awareness among the main characters, as well as the school and community, was authentic.

Best of all was the highly satisfactory ending. The Crazy Things Girls do for Love should be part of every high school collection and a featured title in book talks for years to come.

The food experience is like a fantastic Caprese salad. Fresh, sparkling, crunchy lettuce with creamy mozzarella, fragrant leaves of basil, plump tomatoes brusting with flavor, all drizzled with a light, spicy dressing. All organic vegetables, grown locally, of course!
5 stars

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings


Hello.

I don't really know how to start this review. I have so many things to say, but when I go to write them down my head empties. This book was so rich with emotion and reality that it is hard to describe.
In Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings, each chapter could stand alone, with a specific message, a different issue touched on. My favorite was probably either the first chapter "The World Around Us" or the second to last chapter "The Scratchboard Project". I like these best because the relationship with the main character and others is more of a positive one. While the chapters do go together, they are not as cohesive as I might have normally liked. However, in this book, I like the feeling of having just snap shot memories and moments. It reminded me of a photograph album that would never actually be able to be made. While the experience is there, the photos taken, these are moments which would never have been caught on film, and the people in them would have never wanted them to be. Each character, even though the reader only met most of them for a chapter, had personality and a face. Each one was specific and different and heartbreakingly real.
The chapters were vastly different and so were the issues mentioned with in them. Cummings hit on sexuality, racism, alcoholics, adultery, and others. There were things that shocked me and left me horrified, while other times I was smiling even just for a moment. I feel that this book really hit home with what it means to be a teenager in the 1970's, to be in this environment of constant social issues and arguments while trying to make something out of yourself, even if no one else believes or cares if you succeed.
This book reminds me a little bit of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros because of how each chapter can hold there own, and is a different story per chapter. However the main character of Ugly to Start With reminds me more of Holden Caufield, in the way that they are both teenagers who are sort of sulky, despairing and depressed.
I give this book a 3.25 because I think the book hits on a lot of hard issues and that is what made me a little bit more uncomfortable and dislike it a little.

Favorite Quotation: "There was this huge, filled up world all around us that I couldn't see." (p. 7)

xoxo.

Miss Liz

Sunday, December 4, 2011

See You at Harry's

By Jo Knowles

This book is the first book I have read outside of school in four months, and I think it was the perfect one to start with. It may just be that I was in desperate need of a character with more problems than me, I enjoyed it immensely. Fern fit the bill perfectly. She is just starting middle school, may or may not have a crush on her best friend, and watches her brother get harassed at school for being gay.  While this is enough for many whiny YA characters Fern's little brother dies suddenly after an accident that she feels is her fault. I sobbed. The writing may not have been great, but I honestly don't know because I was too caught up in the story to notice.
I'm trying to think of the right food to describe this book, and I think its water. I don't mean bland, thirsty-and-theres-nothing-else-in-the-house water. This book was running a marathon in the desert with no end in sight and you just want to die and then you get a large glass of ice cold water, and it tastes SO good. It isn't really about the water, it's the circumstances. I think that I would recommend this to some people, because the story was nice and Fern was a good main character if you need a sad book to put your life in perspective.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Diabolical is the fourth in the series, though I didn't find that out until partway through. Given that, I didn't feel as though I missed too much, and it was only a little confusing, and I'm not sure how much of that was from missing the first books.
It was probably one of the funniest love story I've ever read, and I doubt it would be as funny if I'd been more invested in the characters, the way one is after they've read three books. Miranda is a dead vampire, and she's in Penultimate, the place that comes just before Heaven. She's stuck there, helpless to do anything except watch the love of her life, the half-fallen angel Zachary, and his friend, Kieren the werewolf, get stuck in a school of Satan trying to rescue Miranda's friend Lucy. Though the plot was interesting enough, the writing fell a bit short. The characters didn't seem to have emotions, and when someone dies, they all kind of think, "Oh, look, that person's dead, maybe we should try to do something." No one really gets sad, though it mentions a couple times that maybe someone is being a little sad, but I would not have guessed based on their actions. And I was really disappointed in Satan; he ended up being really lame.
It is a 2.6. Cool ideas and a cool cover, but not very well written. It was like those breads that are shaped like fish. It looks really cool and its a cool idea, but it doesn't taste like the best thing in the world.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Between Shades of Gray, Shut Out, and Bunheads




Well, I read these books a little while ago (over a month), so I've forgotten some of the finer details that I may have wanted to mention in this triple review. The books aren't necessarily galleys anymore, and there might be a few spoilers, but here goes:
Between Shades of Gray; author Ruta Sepetys:
A Holocaust story that's not about the Holocaust, Between Shades of Gray describes how fifteen-year-old Lina and her family are put on a train to Siberia by the Soviet secret police. Lina's father is separated from them, and she spends a long time wishing that they will find him alive. This was a powerful book. Sepetys's writing is simple but beautiful, and she's not afraid to make the book dark. However, I had a few problems with the book. To start, although Lina is an artist and sketches messages to her father throughout the story, none of these pictures appeared in the book. I was sorely disappointed to only have to imagine what her messages looked like. Then, the ending left me dissatisfied. It stops, then the epilogue says that Lina escapes the labor camp! I wanted to know what happened inbetween. The book had enough of a flow that another hundred pages to have her escape wouldn't have hindered it. Overall, I give the book a 3.8. It was like one of those shortbread cookies that have hard sugary icing on them, but without the icing. Tasty enough, elegant, but it could have used that little bit more. I've included a picture of these cookies in case you don't have a clue what I'm talking about.





Shut Out; Kody Keplinger:
In the school of Kody Keplinger's Shut Out, the football team and the soccer team have a vicious rivalry. This rivalry involves throwing eggs at each other and physically harming each other. Lissa, girlfriend of a football player, is tired of the rivalry and calls on all the girlfriends to band together and go on a "sex strike" until the boys quit their rivalry. Inevitably, though, she finds herself falling for Cash Sterling (who in their right name would name their kid that?), a soccer boy. I had a number of thoughts about this book, most of them not too favorable. First off, why doesn't the school administration EVER step in on this rivalry?? It's been going on for years, yet no one seems to do anything about it. Next after that was how NO ONE EVER DOES ANY SCHOOLWORK. Really. They're all in high school, yet they have hours and hours to fool around and/or have sleepovers, yet never seem to be in school. Okay, it's possible there were some homework scenes and some school scenes, but I can't remember them right now (I read the book a little while ago). Then there's a scene where Lissa and the girls are having a sleepover, and the boys pull off their shirts outside in the backyard to tempt the girls. Lissa notes that "these were some of the most athletic boys in school, which meant they had some of the best bodies. It was like a museum of muscled arms and six-pack abs on Kelsey's lawn." THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS. Just because a guy is an athlete does not mean he has amazing muscles. There is no "museum" at our school. Next point: while it's nice that the girls are able to talk so honestly about sex and they bring up interesting points, their conversations felt rather forced. Girls don't just sit around and have sleepovers where they talk about sex. At least, not in my experience. Perhaps the author has had a different experience.

Okay, deep breath now. This book did have some positives. There was definitely a girl-power element to it that I liked, and Lissa felt like a realistic and relatable character. She struggles with some control issues, has a job at the library, and has some boy problems. Some of the scenes between her and Cash were sweet, although a little overly sweet at times. I just didn't relate to this book as much as I imagine other girls might, which doesn't make the book bad. It just wasn't really my cup of tea in addition to not being a stellar book, hence the negative points above.
Overall, I'm not entirely sure how to rate something like this. On the number scale, it gets a 1.5, maybe a smidgen higher. Food-wise, it was a day-old Dunkin Donuts donut: it was pretty tasty at one point, but now it's fairly inedible (at least to me). If you like your donuts slightly stale, then hey, it's a snack.

Bunheads; Sophie Flack:
Hannah is a dancer; dancing is her entire life. She left her family at a fairly young age (the exact number is escaping me) to dance with the Manhattan Ballet, and her burning ambition is to be a soloist. She is starting to realize, though, that she may want something more than the high pressure world of ballet. Bunheads was something like the movie Black Swan in that it has a protagonist with a desire to rise to the top, except Bunheads was significantly less disturbing and had no mental breakdown and death at the end (sorry to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it. Don't worry. It will still be disturbing.)

I really liked how Sophie Flack built the world of ballet in her book; as an outsider looking in, it was fascinating and a little sad, given how anyone who doesn't have the typical "ballerina body" has extremely low self-esteem, and even those that DO have the body worry about their weight constantly. Hannah's joy whenever she performs is vivid, and something that readers can relate to even if they are not a dancer. I liked Hannah's progression as she wakes up to the outside world, but her final decision bothered me a bit. It felt somewhat like an all-or-nothing decision that left her staring at what she could have had, when she could have made a decision that was more in the middle. In addition, especially at the beginning of the book, Flack's inexperience as a writer shows; the writing isn't as good as it could be, though it improves as the story continues. Given her background as a dancer, this isn't exactly surprising (after all, dancing is a different experience from writing), but given this fact the book is still wonderful. There is one scene that I keep thinking about, in which Hannah is ruminating on a little girl who wants to be a ballerina and loves to dance, but so clearly doesn't have the body for it. Hannah's sadness, both for this little girl and that child she once was, is beautiful portrayed. This book was so sweet, and I look forward to other books Flack might write.

When all is said and done, Bunheads gets 4 stars. It was like chocolate ice cream, delicious and sweet. It's a flavor that you may have eaten as a little kid when you were really picky about funny things in your ice cream, and you look back on it fondly after eating it.
Here's an article that The Boston Globe printed about Sophie Flack and her emergence into the writing world: http://articles.boston.com/2011-10-11/ae/30267383_1_balanchine-nycb-novel

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Inheritance - Christopher Paolini

Having waited for at least a year since I read Brisingr, I couldn't wait to dive into this book. It starts immediately after where the third book left off, with Eragon and Arya still trying to capture the town (can't remember the name). One of the things I liked the most about this book as compared to the others is that in this book, Angela plays a prominent role, and her sarcastic remarks are much more frequent. She continues to say cryptic things, but also helps Eragon greatly. Although the end of this book left me sad and wanting for more, I believe that most things that were left unresolved in previous books were wrapped up nicely. However, there are still some loose ends, which makes me wish that there was another book in the series. Although, Paolini has mentioned that considering he has spent so much time creating the world, he may write some companion stories. I really hope he does, it would be a waste of his vivid world not to. Overall I give this book 5 stars, or in terms of food, think of an apple pie that has just come out of the oven with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on top of it. A good read in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Call for ARCs!

At our weekly meeting yesterday the group wrote a request to publishers to be added to mailing lists for galleys. Publishers, be on the look out for our letter!

The highlights:

  • Our blog clocked over 30,000 hits last year.
  • We promote our blog using Facebook and Twitter (follow us @CCHSREADS)
  • We reviewed over 100 books last year.
  • We did a cross-walk analysis of reviews from School Library Journal, VOYA, Horn Book, Kirkus Booklist and other review publications.
  • We take this very seriously and will be participating in a workshop on reviewing this December.
Please add us to your distribution mailing list for ARCs!

Contact:
Concord-Carlisle Regional High School Learning Commons
Robin Cicchetti, Head Librarian
500 Walden Street
Concord, MA 01742
(rcicchetti@colonial.net)

Feel free to contact Mrs. Cicchetti if you have questions! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Way of Kings

By Brandon Sanderson

     Having been shoved at me (a bit more forcefully this time) by the same person, I read this book, expectations high, because the person didn't lead me wrong on The Midnight Palace. Sadly, the book ended. WAY too soon for me.
     It was one of the best books I have ever read (including the Harry Potter's, and don't get me wrong, a hardcore fan here). The 15 or so years Sanderson spent world building and meeting his characters was well spent, creating this masterpiece. Following Shallan, Kaladin, Szeth, Andolin, Dalinar, and friends (as well as enemies), this novel explores a world torn apart by a 6 year war, driven by the murder of King Gavilair (pardon my spelling), and fought by the disjointed kingdom of Alethkar.
     The view point jumps between the characters mentioned above, all leading seemingly unrelated lives. As the reader dives deeper into the world, becoming emotionally attached to Sanderson's characters, they start encountering each other, plot uncovering connections between the heros. In all, a work of art, as flawless, strong, and beautiful as the Shardplate their world so covets.

     Limited to a 5 out of 5 number scale, I have to give it a five when it deserves a much higher score, such as a 50,000,000,000. Yeah, it's that good. As a food, it is your favorite food, the most scrumptious part of a cookies or cake or maybe cheez-its and chocolate (hey, don't knock it till you try it) that you have been longing for for ages and then you get those first few bites, so savory and delicious that you sigh. The flavor melting on your tongue, permeating through your taste buds until it's all you can taste and it surrounds your senses, enveloping you in its delicious flavor. (Wow, so repetitive.) You take a few more bites, then your parents, thinking you have had too many sweets (which you haven't. There aren't that many truly good books out there) and then taking it away to be revisited on a later date (the next book). Sadly, this book had to end before one finds out what happens to their favorite characters, leaving one clamoring for the last book.

The progress of the next book in the Stormlight Archive can be viewed on Brandon Sanderson's website.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Working On Review Skills

During our weekly meeting we spent time doing a cross-walk of reviews from different publications. We selected the following titles:

  • Mockingjay
  • Shine
  • Chime
  • Across the Universe
  • Divergent
  • Anthem
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
  • Midnight Palace 
  • The Night Circus
Reviews from these titles came from Booklist, School Library Journal, the New York Times, People Magazine, Publisher's Weekly, Horn Book, and a few additional sources.

We read all the reviews for a single title and then recorded our impressions of the differences between the various reviews. Did the author like the book or not, and how was that communicated? Was there greater emphasis on the plot, the author, or the reviewer's opinion? 

After everyone read and reflected on the reviews of two books we compared our impressions of the different review publications. Booklist came out very favorably for hitting a nice balance of plot summary and recommendation.

It will be interesting to see if this influences how our group reviews ARCs, and what that will look like.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Emma, a high school student in 1996, has just received a computer from her father. Her best friend Josh, who lives in the house next to hers, has an America Online CD-ROM that he offers her. When she finished downloading it, she discovers Facebook in her list of favorite sites. Clicking on it, she discovers her Facebook page 15 years in the future. To her dismay, she sees herself as being miserably unhappy. She messes around with her life, desperately doing anything to prevent her unfortunate future. She decides to apply to different colleges so that she won't meet her future husband, but everything she does just seems to make a different future in which she is still unhappy. Josh, on the other hand, is extremely happy with his future, and he's terrified that something Emma does will mess it up.
It's definitely a cool idea, but the book did not execute it well. It turned into one of those books that's about high school kids, who they want to go out with, and all the other tiny things they do in their life. The future Facebook added an interesting element, but Emma ended up rushing home every day to check it, and ended up acting like kids do now, so it didn't seem different than the other books about a random high school kid. The idea wasted away as the book progressed, so by the end, it had lost any novelty that it had at the beginning.
The book is a 1.9. It's better than some books I've read, but not nearly as good as many others. Like Splenda, it seemed sweet at first, but quickly lost its appeal, and there are alternatives that are better.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Controlling Governments in Literature

Hi guys!
On Monday for YA Galley Group we are going to be having a discussion on restricting governments in literature. (The Hunger Games, 1984, Anthem, etc.) Some questions to think about are:
1. What are some books that have restricting governments?
2. Do you think that in these societies, a harsh government is needed to maintain order? (We are going to vote on this question)
3. What are the main themes between a lot of these governments?
4. What are some tactics that the government's in these societies use to maintain control?

Also, here is a link to a wiki page that describes different ways that totalitarian governments maintain control over their societies (based on The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins). If you could read the section under Governmental Control and Oppression for Monday, that would be great! (I know I posted this late so I am also going to bring in copies of the article on Monday.)

Governmental Control and Oppression

(wiki educator)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott


Josh and Sophie Newman are twins currently living in San Francisco. Josh works at a bookshop and Sophie works at a coffee shop across the street. Some weird guys go into the bookshop, blow things up, and kind of scare Sophie and Josh. They kidnap the bookshop owner's wife Perry and run away with a book. The bookshop owner, Nick, takes Sophie and Josh and runs away to safety where he explains that he has been living for about 700 years and that the book that was just stolen, the Codex, can destroy the world. He is Nicholas Flamel, and his wife is Perenelle Flamel, and they would be immortal if that book hadn't been stolen. They can live one month without the book.
The Elders once ruled the world, and some of them, referred to as the Dark Elders, have decided that it is time to reclaim the world and reduce the human race to slaves, or, in some cases, food. Josh and Sophie are most likely the set of twins mentioned in the Codex. They have pure gold and silver auras, one can destroy the world, and one can save it.
It was a 3. Like a lemon tart, it was tangy, but not the best thing in the world. However, it was still enjoyable and fun.

Friday, October 7, 2011

When the Stars Go Blue

By Caridad Ferrer

     Once, Soledad thought that the best thing in the world was the percussion encouraging to move faster, jump higher, reach the skies. But things change. She gets into a relationship with Jonathan, a horn player from a corps, and he invites her to dance with the group.
     First impressions were good, a not so usual fairy dancer, Soledad, but one with actual substance. But then, it got really cliche. She falls for the guy, obsesses over him, then, is faced with a problem that might bring her apart from him. And it kept going. She falls for another guy, Taz, a spanish soccer player, then has to choose between Jonathan and the hot soccer player. It goes the whole jealous boyfriend cycle as well. Then a twist almost brought it back from the dead for me, but it somewhat disturbed me. It reminded me of Pink's music video for Don't Leave Me (which I don't recommend watching). Then, guess what! It got cliche a And she even ended up with Taz in the end.
     It's like a well known meal of macaroni and cheese that you've eaten so much that you're sick of it. You're handed a plate of it at your friend's house and have to eat it in order to be polite. You start eating it and it tastes the same, except that some spices add twists to the taste, but then it gets back to the same old and you're forcing it down again. It wasn't that good to me. I give it a 2.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hard vs. Soft Magic

We had a great discussion about the merits of hard magical systems compared to soft magical systems yesterday.

Sabriel and Mistborn were mentioned as great examples of hard magical systems. Advocates of this system pointed out that with fixed laws and rules, a hard magical system creates a more realistic world.

Soft magical systems made for great "human experiences" in books like Harry Potter and Graceling. Frustration was expressed by the hard advocates that in soft magical systems characters were often "special" by birth and not by skill.

In the end the score was 4 - hard, 3 - soft, with one undecided.

Jelle did a great job facilitating the discussion. It was great that we avoided fisticuffs over the algebraic implications.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Robopocalypse

This book by Daniel H. Wilson is an apocalyptic story in which sometime in the future, the robots that humanity has created rise up against us. It all starts when a scientist, trying to create artificial intelligence, succeeds. However, the AI he created outsmarted its virtual prison, and like a virus, infected other machines, reprogramming them to be vicious killing machines. This book, much like World War Z (Max Brooks) is told from an after the fact viewpoint by survivors. Each chapter is a different event from the war, each narrated by the character who's memory it is. At first the different perspectives don't seem to relate, but as the story progresses, the different characters' journeys begin to intertwine as humanity fights back against the machine. Overall i enjoyed this book thoroughly

4/5 stars, in terms of food, i'd have to say this book is the literary equivalent of a Caramel Delite girl scout cookie

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday, October 3

Next week, we're trying something a little different: our first ever (Best) Magic System discussion.
Several questions need to be asked before then:
1. You might want to think about some of the following questions:
What's your favorite magic system?
In what book is it?
How does it work, and who can do magic?
2. Think of your own feelings about "magic". Do you like it? If you could design a magic system, what would it be and how would it work?
3. We'd like to get some answers from our readers, too! Leave comments below!


Brandon Sanderson fans might like his viewpoint: http://www.brandonsanderson.com/article/40/Sandersons-First-Law
(This is probably what I'll be basing, at least in part, the discussion on. Idea credit, too, as to Goodreads.)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

By Laini Taylor

      Karou is a girl with blue hair. Unusual in itself, but she didn't dye it that color; she wished it. Raised by demons, Karou has no family that she can remember other than Brimstone, the Wishmonger, Issa, Twiga, and Yasri, helpers in Brimstone's wish shop. She lives in Prague, a 17-year-old art student with her friend Zuzana and ex-boyfriend Kaz, while sometimes running off to run errands for Brimstone: to collect teeth. What started as a normal week quickly descended into chaos.
     Attacked by an angel, or a seraph, in Morocco, Karou went inside the shop, something permitted only because she was wounded badly. Once there, she went through the other door in Brimstone's shop, the one that has always been closed in her presence, never open, until now.  Once through, she found another world, one of constant war, of constant fear and fighting. The world of her family and the seraph that had attacked her.
    Thus unfolds the story of Karou, one with blue hair and wishes to use. She finds her origin and why she feels so attracted to Akiva, her angle.
     A interesting book where hope is more powerful than wishes, it is a 4, only because it reminded me of Twilight in the aspect of two races who aren't supposed to be together connected by the love of one pair. More like a piece of cake that has been promised to you, and has been drawn as the most delicious thing in the world by your friends, then it falls short of that taste that you created in you head. But it was still exceptional.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Midnight Palace

By Carlos Ruiz Zafón

     Having been shoved at me as an assigned reading project by a certain someone *ahem*, I was all set up and ready to hate the book just because I was forced to read it. However, Zafón soon had me captured in a world of mystery and danger, as well as one twisted with secrets. A wonderful story of a group of seven friends, who had grown up in an orphanage and had sworn to always protect another, on the eve of their separation, ends up being a thrilling plot.
     Ben, the main character, learns the truth about his family.  But someone from his past is threatening to kill him and his newfound friend Sheere. The rest of his friends and he try to unravel a 16 year old mystery as to who this mysterious and dangerous Jawahal is. The 8 friends risk their lives to unravel this mystery to the end, and find out truths they didn't necessarily want to know.

Those who play with fire always get burned...

     Having been able to change my mind around about this book, it would be that home made pie that is all crumbly and partially burnt and looks like it would taste horrible, but is exploding with flavor in the non-charred sections. Well of course, that's to me. Without the first appearance tainting the overall flavor, it would be a juicy and sweet red cherry, fresh from the tree in the midst of the more sour yellow cherries. In simple terms, a solid 4.5.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Everybody Sees The Ants


By A. S. King

Whoo-hoo! Another book by King, who also wrote the well-received Please Ignore Vera Dietz. This book lights up a period in Lucky's life (yes, his name is Lucky) from his freshman year in high school through his summer vacation. With a few flashbacks, it is understood early in this book that Lucky has suffered from on-off bullying and torment from a young age. Along with this, his dysfunctional family has failed to help him; his father focuses only on cooking while his mother finds peace only by swimming the days away at the local pool. After Lucky has a scuffle at the pool, Lucky's mom uses it as an excuse to take a vacation in New Mexico. Away from his menial life, Lucky has a chance to meet a positive side that he couldn't see before.

This book's progression was quite clear-cut and easy to follow, though its construction with Lucky's intermittent dreams and flashbacks may confuse more people than me. It was fun to read and a well-written book, but its popularity probably won't soar as it's more of a book to wait out a rainy day. Normally I'm generous with my ratings to accommodate for one-sided opinions, but this book actually does deserve at least a 3.5. It's truly a book of quality, but if you're looking for a 500-page thriller, don't get your hopes up. It was like a Drumstick ice cream cone. You expected a nice treat, and you got it. Nothing less.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi

I must confess that I originally wrote this review for a biology project, but I liked the book enough to share it with you. That means you must read it. 

     This summer, I was walking around in a bookstore in England. I was poking around the bestsellers section and, quite by chance, stumbled on Mutants. The British cover instantly grabbed my attention- it sported an X-ray of a six-fingered hand. Winner of the Guardian First Book Award. Inspiration for a television series. Can't be too bad.
As I started reading it, I instantly noticed the vivid (sometimes too vivid) medical photography used as evidence and illustration. Each chapter covered a few related mutations (limb-disorders, for example) and Leroi dug up photographs, specimen exhibits, and photos of skeletons as he explained the disorders.
First, he began with an explanation of the history of mutants as it is known to scientific historians. Italian monsters, condemned by the church. French conjoined twins who died at young age of pneumonia. Their bodies were clamored over by the glory-hunting anatomists of the Parisian scientific scene of the time. I was actually surprised at how detailed Leroi's knowledge was of his predecessors' research. I had no idea that specific accounts were kept of each dissection, allowing modern scientists to build off of their ideas (or laugh perniciously at some of their more outlandish schemes). The book's description of the European life at the time is bleak and hauntingly romantic. Circus freaks and giantism-afflicted thugs were tracked down and questioned, sometimes brutally or to great extents.  Historical accounts are displayed and analyzed with a dry wit in each chapter. 

The chapter on cretins, and achondroplasia, dwarfism, was especially rife with history. European explorers' accounts are perused for details of their often-made-up travels in Africa, South America, and more fantastical places that no one else had ever seen. Tales of short (and tall) people abound. Leroi also includes the account of the Ovitz family, below, and their horrific capture by the Nazis during WWII. Joseph Mengele experimented quite brutally on them; luckily, they were saved in the liberation. 
I learned a huge amount from this book. I've always been interested in mutations and genetics, so it was quite fascinating to read of the specific genes that in each case produced such spectacular mutations. The homeobox genes, for example- I had no idea they existed, but Leroi provides an amazing overview of their substantial impact on mutations. I still have one question, though, that the book never really answered. Why aren't we all walking around with a few extra limbs(chapter IV), a conjoined twin (chapter II), and bones that keep growing until they prevent breathing and movement(chapter V)? If the human DNA is so fragile, and just one mutation is enough to cause gargantuan problems, why are we all alive and well?

I'd give this book a 4.5- At times it's a bit stuffily written, but overall it's amazing and the pictures really give it some ooomph. 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor


Karou is living two lives. Sometimes, she is an art student at a college in Prague. She has a friend and an ex-boyfriend and she lives in a flat. Other times, she is the messenger for Brimstone, a part crocodile, part fox, part human thing. He owns a shop, and the door opens into many different countries around the world. Karou helps him by collecting teeth. She doesn’t know what the teeth are for, but she does know that Brimstone can somehow make “wishes.” There is also a secret door that she isn’t allowed to enter.
Then she meets Akiva, a seraphim. Akiva is trying to destroy Karou’s chimera friends because that’s what angels do. Karou learns about thousands of years of war between the chimeras and the angels. She also falls in love.
This is a story of forbidden love. And it was pretty funny. Karou can’t wrap her head around the fact that some people think that the chimera are evil. Akiva can’t figure out how this human got stuck in everything. Which leads to that deep dark secret that the book has to have.
The book was a 3.4. It was well written, funny, and engaging, but a little confusing. It was like mixing two different sodas together. You're not sure how it's going to taste, then it tastes cool, and it's fizzy.

Author website: 
http://www.lainitaylor.com/

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight


By Jennifer E. Smith

This book was ...well, I don't really know. It was a quick read, and had everything I needed after a long day of school, meaning it kept my mind off the homework I should have been doing, which is good. Hadley is an ordinary girl, mad at her mother, mad at her father, misses her plane, the usual Oh-my-goodness-I'm-a-teenager-so-life-is-out-to-get-me plot. But Hadley meets this guy, Oliver. And he's British. And charming. And British. So she spends her time in the airport and on the plane (Lucky girl gets to sit next to a cute boy for hours on end). They talk, because they immediately click and have loads to talk about(Maybe it's just me but the people I sit next to never talk and always seem really lame). Although most of the book occurs during the flight to London there are a lot of flashbacks to Hadley's childhood to build the backstory. While I recognize that it's necessary, the way it was done was choppy and took away from the book. With each flash back I found myself disoriented and a bit annoyed. That said, this is a fluff book so if I'm being honest, I'm not expecting it to be brilliant writing. It served its purpose, but is not a book I would revisit.
I would describe this book as marzipan. It looks really pretty, and it is great at making yummy, fancy deserts look pretty, but it tastes funny and is not something I would want to eat on a remotely regular basis, once, and again by accident, but avoided when possible. The book was good, but the whole point was, Oh look it's a cute British guy. So yes it looks pretty, but once you start to think about it, or the writing, it's not so great.
In terms of numbers this is about a 2.5 because it is written about at the twilight level, but at least there's a cute guy with a British accent and not some pale vampire who sparkles.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Marbury Lens


By Andrew Smith
Unlike many books I have read, the cover is not at all deceiving. Yes, this book does indeed involve a pair of purplish glasses. And a boy. And a place called Marbury. But no, steampunk fanatics, the glasses in the book aren't actually that cool looking. Give or take.
But, anyway, onto the point of this review. Jack is a boy, perhaps 18, who very early in the book experiences a life-changing encounter with a kidnapper who on the surface appears to be a helpful and experienced doctor. Later on, he is thrust into the mysterious, violent, and desert-like world of Marbury where he has a few violent adventures that are too tedious to describe in my sleep-deprived state.
After the kidnapper, the book seems to become quite depressing. As Jack becomes more enraptured with Marbury rather than his real life, he reminds me of a hopeless drug addict spinning towards even worse things, if there were even any worse things.
After I read my last book that had a few depressing things in it, I got this book which was just filled with even more depressing things. I need a break from it now. It's even hard for me to think of how the resolution of this book could be positive at all. Perhaps it is, or perhaps not. Maybe it's neutral. This book gave me quite a bit to figure out- that can be both a good and bad thing. Good, because it has depth, meaning, and other 'deep' stuff. Bad, because it's damn confusing sometimes (and I haven't figured out that much yet; there's not much else to say here).
However, this does not mean the story wasn't put together well. The concept of Marbury, the plot, and Jack's character has obvious development and while it did not make me feel like the happiest person in the world, it was nonetheless a story worth reading. It's not meant for the faint of heart; it has some heavy topics meant for older teens. I can imagine some people disliking this book. Others, I can imagine enjoying and respecting it. Like I already mentioned, this book has some very violent scenes, some sex, some emotion, some gore, some death, some salt and sugar, a cup of milk... Not tons of violence, but a bunch. Personally, I enjoyed this book- but if you're to read it, try to keep an open mind. This book is not about pain and death; it is about a boy and a snippet of his life.
To sum it all up, it was interesting, saddening, and a bit confusing, but I liked it anyway. If you liked the apocalyptic and dystopian style of the Hunger Games and are willing to combine it with a slightly emo guy named Jack, I think you may enjoy this book. As a food, it would be a lemonade or a sharp lemon tart. It's tasty, but lemons are fickle. You may enjoy the flavor and some sweetness, but the bitterness still resides. I proclaim this book to be rated as a 3.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

You Killed Wesley Payne


by Sean Beaudoin

This book has been available at Barns & Noble for a while now. It's also been a very long while since I read this book, but I'm a veteran procrastinator so I hope I'm forgiven. Anyway, this book is set in a world much like our own (but not quite) in a small-town high school. Dalton Rev, a teenage private investigator looking to earn some quick cash, came here to investigate the mysterious murder of Wesley Payne. This book ended up being one of my favorite books of the year. It is truly worthy of the YA category; it was sprinkled with humor and pop-culture phrases only widely known in the teenage realm. As it turns out, the entire school in the setting is seperated into distinct cliques and their followers, some being the 'Foxxes', 'Lee Harvies', and 'Populahs'. The superintendent is bribed frequently for late slips, and in the hallways, it's practically a jungle; bring your wits with you. The element of cliques and the casual, urban, teenage world of the school and writing style made it a memorable read and in a few ways close to my real teenage life. Some books I read are like they are written by my principal: adult-like, brimming with obvious metaphors and similes, and sometimes boring. This books was like it was written by a friend: they have a similar life to me, and uses these similar elements in their writing. It's quite chummy. Simply put, adults seem to have a hard time pinning down the exact elements that can relate to a teenager and make teen-oriented writing especially enjoyable. Well, Mr. Beaudoin, you did it pretty well. Being a damn good writer, of course, was nice too. This book was like a good batch of french fries: full of flavor, not over or under salted, pleasingly crispy edges, filling, and with a dollop of good ketchup to balance the flavor; a tasty high-calorie snack food. I give this a 4 out of 5.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Steel by Carrie Vaughn


Jill fences, and the book begins with her at a fencing tournament. She is competing against another girl for third place, but she loses and gets fourth instead. I can see being a little disappointed at that, especially because Jill only lost by less than a split second, but still, fourth place in a national fencing tournament, not bad, right? Well, apparently, it's not good enough for Jill, who spends the next several weeks (weeks plural) moping. If she were just a little disappointed, it would be fine, but no. Jill's parents take her to the Bahamas for a vacation and all she can do is stay in a hammock and think about how she just wasn't good enough. Ok, maybe it's just me, but I think fourth place in a national tournament is pretty good.
Once Jill gets past moping, which does not actually take up a lot of pages, it just bugged me a lot, the story got a bit more interesting. While on a walk along the beach, she finds the tip of a sword. Later, while on a tour, she falls off the boat and spends a couple minutes drowning. When she finds the surface again, her tour boat is nowhere in sight. Instead, she gets picked up by a bunch of pirates. The captain, Marjory Cooper, recognizes the blade tip, but won't give its significance, so the book has a bit of "mystery" in it (mystery as long as you ignore the fact that you can see what's coming next).
The end, which I suppose had to happen, also bugged me a little. How is a high school fencer (who couldn't even get third place) supposed to beat the evil pirate who has been fighting to live for a lifetime? I suppose that's kind of the point, that she got confident, and she improved, but it's still a little unrealistic. It was also a bit difficult to tell how much time had passed, so maybe she had been learning to fight for a really long time and I just don't know it.
This book is a 2.8. The characters were one dimensional, and it didn't engage me very much. I was really looking forward to this book. I did, however, enjoy the chapter titles. They were all fencing terms and it was cool as well as appropriate. I also enjoyed the overall concept. And Jill was épée, which is definitely the best fencing weapon. It's like a cheap sandwich that looks really good and has stuff you like in it. You get it, and you really want it, then you eat it, and it just doesn't taste very good.

The Magician's Guild by Trudi Canavan

Sonea had been living in the city, but she, her aunt, and her uncle were kicked out during the Purge. The Purge was developed by the previous king in order to rid the city of beggars and thieves. Every year, magicians went through and made sure everyone got out. As a result, those living in the slums hate the magicians. When Sonea arrives in the slums where she used to live, she met her old gang, and goes with them to throw rocks at the magicians. This is purely a statement on the part of the "dwells," those dwelling in the slums, because the magicians have a magic shield so the rocks can't get near them. Sonea's stone, however, flies through the shield and knocks out one of the magicians (because if nothing happened, where would the story be?). This is how Sonea discovers that she has the gift of the hated magicians. Knowing that magician's are not allowed outside of the magician's guild, she flees for her life.

Sonea spends the next couple hundred pages running from the magicians by moving to various hiding spots, eventually getting help from the Thieves, and trying to use her magic, which usually ends up with something in flames.

The book also gives the point of view of Rothen and Dannyl, two magicians. Rothen was the only one who saw Sonea, so he is at the head of the search. Dannyl is his friend. They gave some insight to the magician's side of things, and made it so the magicians were not evil. Rather, they needed to get Sonea before she destroyed the entire city with her uncontrolled magic. As a reader knowing that Sonea had to be caught or die, I spent all of Part One waiting for her to be caught, which took away all the intended suspense, and the whole thing got a little repetitive.

Rothen takes Sonea in when she finally gets caught and tries to gain her trust and train her so she doesn't explode everything, and the book goes on in a more interesting way. There's also a little kind of side plot with Sonea's friend Cery.

The story gets a 3.3. It stretches out at some parts, but some parts are amusing. It was predictable, and I really didn't like Sonea, but I liked the Thieves and Rothen and Dannyl. It was like vanilla cake with a picture on it because you can see the whole picture, and it's not chocolate, but still enjoyable.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

In my usual overestimation of how many books I will need to read while on vacation, I've ended up with two bags full of books. Needless to say, they didn't all come with me, but one of the books that did was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It was only a two week checkout and so will tragically be returned overdue as I hadn't finished it yet, but I am so happy to be paying that $.40.
The book is narrated by Jacob, a 16 year old boy who lives an average, boring life in Florida. As a child, his grandfather told him stories of monsters and peculiar children (one who can fly, another that's invisible, etc.) that he has since deemed false. Grandpa is getting old at the start of the book, and beginning to slip mentally, so when he calls Jacob in a panic, saying "They're coming for me," Jacob understandably thinks his Grandpa has gone off the deep end. Grandpa dies under somewhat odd circumstances, though, and only Jacob is around to hear his last words. As the story continues, Jacob learns that his Grandpa's stories had a lot more to them than he originally believed.
Throughout the book are black and white photographs that tie in with the story line. They were a unique addition to the book, but would be fascinating on their own. The writing was very good, quite descriptive, and the characters were nice too, although many of them were more secondary and didn't develop much. Jacob developed more, as did Emma (another central character). The fantasy aspect of the book was excellent and unique--no vampires, witches/wizards, or werewolves!!! Instead, there are loops and hollowgasts and wights. The ending left more to come, and the author is already planning a sequel. Unfortunately, the book was just published in June so I have a long time to wait. Waaaaah. Anyway, 4 1/2 stars for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Ransom Riggs' website: http://www.ransomriggs.com/





Sunday, July 24, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

by Amy Chua
   This book has divided critics into two camps:

  1. Amy Chua should be put behind bars for years and years and years without probation for child neglect and socially ostracized for painting a perhaps-offensive picture of "Chinese mothers" that applies to very few of them.
  2. She should be praised for putting her own life up for the public to see and examine--her account, while perhaps a bit extreme, is heartfelt and funny. Her daughters eventually turned out all right, didn't they?
   I stumbled upon BHOTTM as I was searching for a biology-themed book for a summer project in the bookstore. Having found the text, I had some time to indulge my own summer reading needs. BHOTTM received, and is still receiving, a lot of buzz in the literary world. Considering the world's schism, I decided to give it a go. I also really liked the cover. Let's be honest- who doesn't judge a book by its cover?

   Here's my interpretation: while Chua's story is extreme and pushes the limits, her struggle is sincere and she really loves her children. BHOTTM chronicles her quest to raise her children as she was raised by her own strict Chinese immigrant parents. Chua theorizes that, while the first and second generation of a Chinese immigrant family will be perfect and strictly-raised, the third generation will experience problems of pampering and come out less than perfect. For this reason, she pushes her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu, to their limits. Everything she does, she says, is to prepare them for the future.
  So what, exactly, raised the ire of a parents worldwide and caused her to be viewed by some as unfit for parenting? For one thing, she forced her children to, at the ripe old age of three, take up the piano. Merely playing was not good enough, and Chua made them practice at times five hours per day. When the piano proved a bad fit for Lulu, she was made to take up the violin in addition. World-class teachers were hunted down to provide the very best musical educations for the two children--quitting was not an option.  Academics-wise, anything less than straight As were not acceptable. Play-dates and sleepovers were out-of-bounds, and sports and school plays forbidden.
  I actually really liked the book. Chua herself warns readers to take everything with a grain of salt, and says that the book is a memoir and not a parenting guide. She is a wicked wit; biting sarcasm coupled with a retrospectively charming naïveté makes for a delightful book. Not all is piano-practicin' fun and math games, though. Both Chua's mother-in-law and her sister deal with cancer at varying points in the book; Chua deals with this topic in an appropriate and tender way--she is a gifted writer. For this and other obvious reasons, this book is not for the faint of heart.
  While they were easy to ignore, this book did have some flaws and dragged a bit in the last third. It also lost a good bit of 'funny' as Chua documented her serious struggle with Lulu. The transition is a little jarring. Overall, though, I'd give it a 4. Nonfiction, by the way, is a fantastic way to take a break from the Spellsong Cycle long fantasy books.
  Here's one of my favorite bits--an incredible hook:
   Jed was at work... and Sophia was at kindergarten. I decided it would be a perfect time to introduce Lulu to the piano. Excited about working together--with her brown curls, round eyes, and china doll face, Lulu was deceptively cute--I put her on the piano bench, on top of some comfortable pillows. I then demonstrated how to play a single note with a single finger, evenly, three times, and asked her to do the same. A small request, but Lulu refused, preferring instead to smash at many notes at the same time with two open palms. When I asked her to stop, she smashed harder and faster. When I tried to pull her away from the piano, she started yelling, crying, and kicking furiously. 
   Fifteen minutes later, she was still yelling, crying, and kicking, and I'd had it. Dodging her blows, I dragged the screeching demon to our back porch door, and threw it open. The wind chill was twenty degrees, and my own face hurt from just a few seconds' exposure to the icy air. But I was determined to raise an obedient child--in the West, obedience is associated with dogs and the caste system, but in Chinese culture, it is considered among the highest of virtues--if it killed me. "You can't stay in the house if you don't listen to Mommy," I said sternly. "Now, are you ready to be a good girl? Or do you want to go outside?
   Lulu stepped outside. She faced me, defiant.
   A dull dread began seeping through my body. Lulu was wearing only a sweater, a ruffled skirt, and tights. She had stopped crying. Indeed, she was eerily still. 
   "Okay good--you've decided to behave," I said quickly. "You can come in now."
   Lulu shook her head.
   "Don't be silly, Lulu." I was panicking. "It's freezing. You're going to get sick. Come in now."
   Lulu's teeth were chattering, but she shook her head again. And right then I saw it all, as clear as day. I had underestimated Lulu, not understood what she was made of. She would sooner freeze to death than give in.
   I had to change tactics immediately; I couldn't win this one. Plus I might be locked up by Child Services. My mind racing, I reversed course, now begging, coddling, and bribing Lulu to come back into the house. When [my husband] and Sophia arrived home, they found Lulu contentedly soaking in a hot bath, dipping a brownie in a steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.
   But Lulu had underestimated me too. I was just rearming. The battle lines were drawn, and she didn't even know it.  

I'd be interested to hear what others thought of it. Was I the only one to think it was innocent and (mostly) funny?

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