Good middle grade series of short story collections edited by John Scieszka. Lots of big-name authors kids will know and love. This is a good way to g...moreGood middle grade series of short story collections edited by John Scieszka. Lots of big-name authors kids will know and love. This is a good way to get reluctant reader boys to start reading, by offering a set of short stories they can easily get through in small sittings. I've heard researchers say that boys tend to stop reading once they hit the upper school-age and middle grade level, so this is a good series to keep them interested. There are a lot of books and series designed to keep girls interested (and that's great), but this is a sorely needed set for boys too.(less)
Good book in verse about a girl dealing with the death of her grandmother due (probably) to alzheimer's. The book starts with the grandmother incohere...moreGood book in verse about a girl dealing with the death of her grandmother due (probably) to alzheimer's. The book starts with the grandmother incoherent and ill and continues with her death and how the girl deals with it. A good book for dealing with the loss of a family member. Not overly detailed given the subject matter, but it's good for younger kids who wouldn't want to be bogged down with lots of introspective details.(less)
I love this series. Amelia is a great kid and her friends are awesome too. This is kind of the Gen-X Peanuts. Obviously the kids don't act like jaded...moreI love this series. Amelia is a great kid and her friends are awesome too. This is kind of the Gen-X Peanuts. Obviously the kids don't act like jaded slackers. What I mean is that the tone of this work is contemplative and the adults have a bit of a "cool" vibe going. There's also a fun reference to an early REM album as a chapter title. This one isn't my favorite in this long-running series, but it's a good stop-gap that allows the kids to take stock of where their lives are going as they get older. They're about 12 by now I think?
In this one you see most of the major players I think, though this is mostly focusing on Amelia, Rhonda and Joan. Tanner is barely in it and Reggie has more of a minor role. Pajama Man is also barely in it, though his character is more of a novelty, let's face it. I missed the presence of Kyle, the kid Amelia kind of had a crush on in previous books. He's kind of a jerk who needs to mature, but he has his good side too and I hoped we'd hear more about whether he grows up a little.
This is a good book about maturing and also about dealing with big issues. Joan's dad is in the military and she is always concerned about his safety. Good addition to the set.(less)
Tried summarizing this story last night right after finishing it, and I kind of knew it was a crap review. Looking at my summary again, I'm committing...moreTried summarizing this story last night right after finishing it, and I kind of knew it was a crap review. Looking at my summary again, I'm committing to my opinion and trying again...
So. This was the best in the series so far. The pacing of these books got better as they went along, and this one had a lot of action. In this story, Raisa has returned to her homeland after a year in exile, living in hiding. But her journey is hazardous in a lot of ways. For one, people try to assassinate or kidnap her probably about every 75 pages. I may be overestimating here, but I don't think so. She also has to deal with being an object of political power as she prepares to become queen. People are vying for her land, resources and title for their own gain. They all hope to do this by either killing her or marrying her. She can't really trust anyone but a handful of people.
Which leads me to the other main character in this book. Han knew Raisa in the previous books under an assumed name with a false identity. She confesses her true identity to him in this story, but now he feels betrayed and unsure of what his relationship is to the queen-to-be. Through cunning, secrets of his own and his ultimate desire to have Raisa for his own, he ingratiates himself into the daily life of the palace and operates under motives no one is really sure of so as to protect himself and Raisa.
This book really allowed the characters to grow. They are faced with hard choices and must decide for themselves what it means to be an adult. Even though this story throws the characters into situations most teens will never experience, it gives readers a window into understanding maturity and ethical dilemmas through the lens of characters they can relate to. Despite thrusting the characters into the roles of queen, spy, military captain, assassin and more, these teens experience the same feelings, thoughts and desires as their readers, though perhaps a bit amplified given the situations they are thrown into.
I can't ultimately give this book five stars because in the end I just don't like high fantasy. The pacing in all of these books (even this one) is still too slow to give them that extra push required to just blow me away. I also can't stand complex world building. I'd rather writers just skipped details about complicated naming systems, long descriptions of setting that ultimately have no bearing on character development, etc. One thing about this fantasy that was atypical was there was no stilted, weirdly formal and also extremely hyperbolic speech from the characters. Just because it's a fantasy doesn't mean you have to say things like, "by the blood of my 25th ancestor I'll cut out your heart if you walk within 25 feet of my best friend..." (obviously an exaggeration but you get the drift). Looking forward to the last one!
This is a really good representation of the Seattle scene from its early days to the quote-unquote end. From the beginning you get the sense that this...moreThis is a really good representation of the Seattle scene from its early days to the quote-unquote end. From the beginning you get the sense that this region was as dark, dirgy, cynical (and yet also funny and irreverent) as the music was. Some of the earlier incarnations of bands that went on to be famous started off making music that wasn't as close to grunge as people would probably like (certainly me). Nirvana was a metal band in the beginning. Alice in Chains was a glam band and the guys in Pearl Jam and Mudhoney started off in a pseudo-glam thing too. In fact, a lot of the music that inspired these bands kind of sucked. Grunge was a real mish-mosh of styles.
I would have liked a bit more on some of the other bands mentioned later on. You hear a bit about L7 in the beginning but that trickles out eventually. You also don't get that much from 7-Year Bitch or the Gits even though people looked at them as real stalwarts of the scene. I'm also confused at the almost-total omission of Bikini Kill. I guess they were really much more of a straight-up punk band, but when you start mentioning friends of friends in this book, I would have included them.
Once you get into the "Kurt and Courtney" part of the book you start to really lose sight of the rest of the bands, which is unfortunate because many of those other groups were much more a part of the scene than Nirvana, but I get that you have to go down that road.
The only complaint I have is that some loose ends remained. Some bands disappeared from the narrative, but I wasn't sure exactly what happened to them. And other stories just weren't finished with certain individuals. On the whole, a really engaging and interesting read. (less)
This book was pretty good. Kind of strange and also outlandish in the way kids like. A good adventure story with an element of magic that is still set...moreThis book was pretty good. Kind of strange and also outlandish in the way kids like. A good adventure story with an element of magic that is still set in a real location (Venice).(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a good ending to this series, which is probably the only legitimate fantasy series I've...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a good ending to this series, which is probably the only legitimate fantasy series I've read and enjoyed for the most part. And, the Seven Realms was actually a bit of a grower; I liked it from beginning to end, but I thought it improved as it went along. Initially hampered by a slow start with too much setup, the story developed along the way into a fun little set that I like to refer to as "The Baby Game of Thrones." Filled with political intrigue, lots of different characters with varied agendas and a highly developed world, this is a good book for teens and even adults. While the series has its flaws, I would recommend it to reluctant fantasy readers, AKA me. The only other fantasy series I really enjoyed was the Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta, but for various reasons I don't consider that a touchstone of the genre (it is my favorite of the genre, but all the same...).
This book takes up directly where its predecessor The Gray Wolf Throne left off. Raisa has just become queen following the mysterious death of her mother, and street rat turned wizard Han Alister is living a precarious existence in the palace as her bodyguard. Everyone has secrets, and even those closest to Raisa and Han have ulterior motives. For a book with a large cast of characters, it's not too hard to keep track of everyone. Most of the supporting characters, while somewhat one-dimensional, have enough of a unique identity to make them discernable. But, obviously the most fleshed-out characters are Han and Raisa, who shine among a set of less glowing character lights. The chapters that focus on their interactions are the best, because it is their relationship, which changes drastically from the beginning of the series to its end, that drives the action. Sidekicks like Fire Dancer, Amon and others never really jumped off the page quite as well, though the author seemed to want readers to love them as much as she did.
One thing I like about Chima's writing is that the setting plays a vivid part in the action. I felt like I could picture the queen's court, the wizards' stronghold and the camps where the Clans lived. This gave additional meat to a story that relied heavily on plot, which I tend to enjoy less than character development. When character development did take place, it was rewarding, but over half of the novel dealt with a steady rising action that seemed to work out for the characters in spite of themselves. I loved Raisa in particular; she grew a lot in this series and played a large part in the shaping of her own destiny. Han, while he had a lot of heart and spirit and tenacity, remained more static throughout the story. His personality carried him through the chapters where his lack of growth did not. I must say I was expecting a big reveal more akin to the plots in Megan Whalen Turner's the Thief series, so without giving anything away, I was a bit miffed to see things just fall into place through chance and luck. It's not as if the characters didn't have a hand in shaping their own destinies - it's just that I was expecting some kind of elaborate secret plot to unfold, and it never did.
All the same, the writing in this book was crisp, and the story moved much faster than it did in any other book in this series. There were no chapters that left me scratching my head as to why they were there, and I felt like Chima had a definite intent in mind. I think the second half of the book could have been shortened, but mostly because I care little for action and exposition. There was a bit of a Scooby-Doo, "this is why I did it and how" moment at one point, which I found anti-climactic at best. But, this was a good resolution for the series, and I liked it the best out of all of the books.(less)
This is a prequel to the book Skellig, which I have not read. However, you don't need to read that to understand what's happening to Mina. This book i...moreThis is a prequel to the book Skellig, which I have not read. However, you don't need to read that to understand what's happening to Mina. This book is plotted out as her diary. Each page is a page from her recitations, thoughts, stories she writes, etc. Mina is an unusual child who has trouble conforming. She hates school. She's not a bad child at all, but she doesn't like to follow directions. I would say she's probably oppossitionally defiant, though the author resists those kinds of labels and so should the reader. Mina loves life, but at the start of this story her mother has taken her out of school to home school her for a year to get Mina sort of back on track. The text is not really illustrated, but done graphically so as to resemble the scrawling, doodling, meandering writing of a child. That's excellent.
This book doesn't have much plot. It's about the inner workings of this one child and how she views the world. It's about her dealing with life as it comes to her, even though it's kind of a meditation on subtlety. This is the kind of book that will be perfect for just the right child if they can find it. Worth talking up and sticking with if you need this kind of book (even if you don't know it).(less)
Alright so I skipped around in this book because I couldn't wait to see what happened. But I did read the whole thing from the beginning, and despite...moreAlright so I skipped around in this book because I couldn't wait to see what happened. But I did read the whole thing from the beginning, and despite a mildly slow start, things got interesting quickly. This book was considerably better than the first one in the series. More plot development and the two main characters interact in more than just an incidental sense. You start to get the idea that maybe their futures are linked. Wasn't interested in the Amon/Raisa relationship, but I would assume you weren't meant to be. The characters (especially Raisa) seemed unsure about the future so they turned toward a familiar, innocent relationship that had yet to be marred by the environmental turmoil of the present. This book seemed to end that storyline as soon as it began though. I found myself more invested in Han's story for much of this one just because there was a lot of mystery built up around his new situation. In general this story was kind of meant to leave you with: so the plot thickens...(less)
Listened to this on audio the second time around at the recommendation of a coworker (looking at you Evie!), and I really enjoyed it. I'm not an audio...moreListened to this on audio the second time around at the recommendation of a coworker (looking at you Evie!), and I really enjoyed it. I'm not an audio person, so the fact that I actually preferred this book in this format is saying something. The dual narrators add a lot to the feel of the book and help to separate the character voices better. And while the story is told in first-person point of view, I didn't lose sight of the characters' nuances and personalities, which are often engulfed by the author's voice in the end.
Sometimes I'm just not in the mood for things, and sometimes I don't always love everything by an author. This applies to this book and Maggie Stiefvater. I really didn't like this on the first go-around. I think it improved largely because of the audio, which allowed me to become immersed in the sense of place the author created. Set during the 20s or 30s on a fictional island likely off of England or Ireland, the landscape is the real star, rather than the time or place. And the characters are well-drawn and evolved from beginning to end. I could see how I didn't like this book the first time, because at times I could see how it would be easy to get bogged down in the descriptions of the setting and the chatter about horses (not into books about animals) but the audio allows all of that to just wash over you easily.
For a book called the Scorpio Races, it's funny how little time is actually spent on the race itself (one chapter of actual racing). It's mostly a story that builds the anticipation little by little. One thing this author does well is reward the careful reader. She's a very subtle writer, and if you have the time to spend, you could contemplate small details for days. I liked that this story wrapped up in one shot. It couldn't have continued with any success, though that's not a criticism. I'd recommend this to people who love audio and people who hate audio but want to give it another try, i.e. people like me.(less)
Finally finished *re-reading* this after a lot of casual fits and starts about nine months ago. I read this back when I was probably 15, and remembere...moreFinally finished *re-reading* this after a lot of casual fits and starts about nine months ago. I read this back when I was probably 15, and remembered enjoying it as much as one could at that age and with the set of life experiences that goes with that. Based on my opinion at the time, I rated this book three stars. While I have a much better appreciation for this story now as an adult, I would still give it three stars.
Tolstoy clearly pioneered what is now known as modernism. He likely invented the concept of alternating, third-person-limited point of view and the idea that human relations never allow us to fully understand each other. The levels of interaction he portrayed in this story were complex, nuanced and intricate. Though called Anna Karenina, this was a book about Russia as a whole during the late 19th Century. At times, this broad subject made for an incredibly illuminating book. At other times, long sections about the Russian economy, peasant life and political issues sent the very human story at the heart of this book pretty far off course. Tolstoy had quite an intent in mind when writing about virtually everything under the sun here, but the real meat of this book lay in the deeply flawed nature of human relationships, communication and interaction. Tolstoy, while at times was incredibly eloquent and sophisticated in his writing and technique, also made awkward structural choices and was didactic and long-winded.
I also wonder how this book would have gone had it been written by a woman. While extremely sympathetic toward Anna's plight as a frustrated woman ostracized from society for behaving in the same way a man might at the time, Tolstoy's decision to throw her under a train for spiteful and rash reasons on the part of the character seems antiquated by today's standards. The women in this story became somewhat vacuous in the end in spite of themselves. Tolstoy went to the trouble of drawing highly complex female characters for the duration of the story and then willfully summarized them in a shallow light as if on purpose. However, the author is by no means forgiving of the male characters either. Vronsky, Anna's lover, is egotistical, vain and stupid and clearly unworthy of Anna. Her brother Oblonsky is a a good-natured imbecile, and Levin, the counterpoint to Anna, has the most to give as a character obsessed with the question of the meaning of life. But, he's incredibly tiresome at times. And in the end, even though this character achieves some peace, Tolstoy knowingly adds that finding faith in God is not the fix-all to life's problems.
An extremely philosophical book that brilliantly examines the nature of existence, this book would have more fully succeeded had it been cut down and had the theoretical moralizing been excised from its pages. This was absolutely a book worth reading and re-reading. At times, its construction was staggering in its brilliance. All the same, the book had its problems. (less)
Sadly I had to return this to the library because I ran out of renewals. I will be back to pick up probably some time later this year when I have vaca...moreSadly I had to return this to the library because I ran out of renewals. I will be back to pick up probably some time later this year when I have vacation to use.(less)
This is the first Woolf book that I find myself thinking was merely alright. The idea is very interesting, but the execution was a bit awkward. This n...moreThis is the first Woolf book that I find myself thinking was merely alright. The idea is very interesting, but the execution was a bit awkward. This novel is extremely satirical and sociopolitical. Both of these things somewhat impede your enjoyment of Woolf's prose (which is always lyrical, transcendent, concise and yet complex all at once) and the ultimate message of the story. Hung up on parody, the narrative becomes bogged down in attacking more traditional coming-of-age stories and Victorian society in general.
There's plenty of humor to be had, and when it's right it's very funny. Jacob isn't meant to be really known in this story. He's vacuous and awkward and seems generally blase about most things unless it involves debating literature through an academic lens. However, it's interesting to see how Woolf creates a story about a man seen through the eyes of different women and a homosexual.
We're looking at a symbol of patriarchy through the eyes of marginalized people: His mother - a widow unable to really enjoy the remainder of her life because of social mores; Clara, who is repressed for the same reasons; Florinda, a shallow slut whose character is intentionally diminished because sexual experimentation for women relegated such characters in literature at the time to a low and criticized state; Sandra Wentworth - the bored upperclass wife; and Fanny, the girlfriend of an artist whose sole function is to be gazed at. Woolf recognizes these people are stereotypes and also victims of society and makes great use of it, though in this book the ironic narrator intrudes and meanders. True stream of consciousness has yet to be achieved at this point, and I found myself nodding off a bit.
Jacob remains vacuous until the end of the story, and even his death is shown as an expression of emptiness. His life is summed up by an empty room and now-useless possessions. His mother and Bonamy, the man who was in love with Jacob, take an inventory of his life briefly and in a very hollow way. I tend to look at his death at the hands of a stupid and pointless war as an ending befitting an expression of hollow society (personified by him), and yet also tragic, because before he could attempt to rise above the snobbery and laziness of his class and academia, he is killed.(less)
Here's another one. This is Virginia Woolf still finding her voice as a writer. Certainly if she had written like this throughout her career she would...moreHere's another one. This is Virginia Woolf still finding her voice as a writer. Certainly if she had written like this throughout her career she would have been remembered, but probably not celebrated as a genius. This story still has some of the hallmarks of her famous writing - focus on characters' perceptions, use of setting as a symbol for the characters' journeys, lyrical writing and even irony. This story began calmly and slowly and then came to a pretty sincere climax. The personal voyages of the characters mirrored the real voyage they took on their travels.
Only gets four stars because the final turn of events could have been executed a bit better and more could have been said about how it affected the main character internally as well as externally. Though, in one sense, it seems like Woolf wrote the ending she did for Rachel Vinrace because she herself was going through an incredibly hard time personally. This was written during the worst breakdown of her life, and it seems as if she was trying to say that the logical conclusion to all of Rachel's inner turmoil is to succumb to a physical illness.
This book (interestingly) is similar to Woolf's last book in that it's more outwardly scathing toward society and political and social issues. It's a book about big questions and universal relationships rather than a story focusing on the more personal aspects of unique individuals. These characters felt very real to me, but they were more like archetypes. Very good.(less)
This book is a more sociopolitical and also existential version of a Jane Austen novel - a comedy of manners on the surface that in fact explores deep...moreThis book is a more sociopolitical and also existential version of a Jane Austen novel - a comedy of manners on the surface that in fact explores deeper issues about human relationships and existence. Things are changing during this period in English history, and the old and the new are seen in direct conflict not just between separate individuals but also within singular individuals themselves. Katharine Hilbery is among the latter. She's practical and cynical, but also dreamy and bored and hopeful of living a life that matches the one she wants to lead in her head. Throughout much of the book, she tries to come to grips with how she can obtain it and whether such a thing even exists.
Opposing Katharine's frame of mind and circumstances is Mary Datchet - a working suffragist who lives on her own. She spends about half of the book in love with close friend Ralph Denham, but rapidly becomes disillusioned with this state when she realizes Ralph is first, in love with Katharine, and second, only proposing marriage to her because he thinks she would like for him to do so. Representing a feminine ideal for Virginia Woolf, Mary acts sensibly about this situation and realizes a new consciousness in which she understands that she has lost something irrevocably but at least experiences a true life.
Chapter 16 is when the style that Woolfe became known for later in her career starts to show itself. Katharine stands alone outside of her relatives' home while visiting them during Christmas, contemplating the peace and quiet. Rather than socialize or go about the expected conventions of a holiday gathering, Katharine does what Woolfe herself seemed fascinated with for the rest of her life and career - she looks the void in the face, entering into a staring contest with existence that never produces a clear winner no matter who or what is involved.
This story veers between styles, which gives it a slightly shaky story arc, but nevertheless, this book is a great look at the author early in her career. Her best work is yet to come, but her language, tone, subtle characterization and use of setting are all here in this book, though in a less refined state in some cases. Once you find this author, I don't think there's anyone who can surpass her.(less)
An interesting final work for this author. A definite sense that she was trying to sum up her views about writing and art in this book. You sense the...moreAn interesting final work for this author. A definite sense that she was trying to sum up her views about writing and art in this book. You sense the author's discord a bit as well, because the writing is just slightly choppy. Though I wonder if a failure to communicate significance was intended. The play was heavy-handed and ambitious, but it seems intended to be. It's harder to get to know the inner lives of the characters in this one, but I do enjoy the moments of satire. Style is radical and yet much more straightforward. I'm just now reminded of how Jane Austen threw a play into Mansfield Park, and I find it interesting how much the style and tone in this book mirror that author. As always with Virginia Woolf, her work ends leaving you gasping.(less)