I must have read Hitchhiker's at least five times. Probably more. And every single time, it's just as hilarious as the first time I picked it up, comp...moreI must have read Hitchhiker's at least five times. Probably more. And every single time, it's just as hilarious as the first time I picked it up, completely unwitting, and found myself diving headlong into this outrageous misadventure alongside poor Arthur.
Douglas Adams has woven an utterly engrossing tale that is, at all times, magnificently outlandish, uproariously funny, and also stands as a humorously scathing commentary on the State of Things. It never disappoints; every single page contains gems of comedic brilliance that have me sporfling coffee all over myself every time. And it's a story that is so perfectly ridiculous, so rapidfire rampaging-through-the-galaxy fun, and so subtly poignant, that I never want it end. And when it does, I can't wait to pick it up and start all over again.
Hitchhiker's has become the literary equivalent of my comfort food. Whenever my life goes to shit, or the world gets me down, I curl up in bed with my tattered and dog-eared old copy and set off again with Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian. And suddenly everything seems all right again. Because at least I know where my towel is.(less)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is my absolute favorite book of all time.
While the story is set at the turn of the century (1902-1919) and contains many hist...moreA Tree Grows in Brooklyn is my absolute favorite book of all time.
While the story is set at the turn of the century (1902-1919) and contains many historical elements that may feel alien to the modern reader, the message that is subtly and intricately woven into the fabric of the story is one that I feel not only transcends the ages, but also one with which many of us can identify.
The protagonist, Francie, and her family represent the sort of wonderfully complex characters who come alive in the reader's mind as fully as if they were old friends. Detractors say that Francie fits the depressing Pauper archetype, who spends the vast majority of the book being beaten down by her unfortunate circumstances. For me, however, she unfolds into a delightful character who is easy to love; a heroine who strikes a delicate balance between sinner and saint, full of humor, wit, compassion, strength, imagination and a unique perspective on the world around her.
Altogether, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a fantastic book that is engrossing, evocative, poignant and inspiring.(less)
Another cute installment in the series, designed to teach kids the benefit of working together. I particularly liked this book when I was a kid becaus...moreAnother cute installment in the series, designed to teach kids the benefit of working together. I particularly liked this book when I was a kid because it was interesting to see how school was different for kids in the 40's, and because I found the discussion about war efforts fascinating, since we never had anything like that when I was growing up. This generation, on the other hand, has parents and siblings and other relatives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, so many young readers will no doubt be able to understand wanting to feel like you're doing something to help, which I think will make this a book they can easily relate to. I think most little girls will like it anyway, though, especially if they're into history.(less)
Okay, I’ll admit it. Deep Wizardry made me want to be a whale. For serious.
I admire the hell out of Diane Duane--I daresay I even worship her--for the...moreOkay, I’ll admit it. Deep Wizardry made me want to be a whale. For serious.
I admire the hell out of Diane Duane--I daresay I even worship her--for the way she conveyed the experience of being a whale. There was no awkwardness at all (except in the beginning, for Nita) and nothing seemed forced or silly. It all felt perfectly natural, and comfortable, and utterly fantastic, as if I could truly imagine what it would be like to be a whale. And by the end of the book, it seemed so normal for Nita to be in whale-form that whenever she was in human-form it felt unnatural. Hell, it felt unnatural for me to be in human-form.
I’m really sad that I can’t spend my days swimming around and singing tales of glory and sorrow in whalesong and hugging other whales by brushing them with my flukes or whatever.
But that’s beside the point.
The point is that I absolutely loved Deep Wizardry, and if I had to choose, I’d have to say that I liked this better than So You Want to Be a Wizard. Duane’s style in this book is fantastic. You can definitely see a difference between DW and its predecessor, but in a good way, like she really came into her own during the interim. I absolutely adored her mixture of simplicity in places where it’s not only necessary, but achingly perfect, and lyrical elegance in others, which come together to weave a story that’s both beautiful and heartbreaking.
And Nita and Kit really came into their own, too, which is another highlight of the book. The action was not quite as fast-paced in this as in SYWBW, allowing Duane the opportunity to really flesh out Nita’s and Kit’s personalities--their strengths, their flaws, their idiosyncrasies and charming little nuances--without disrupting the flow of the story. And I loved that because this is a very powerful and touching story, on several levels, but I don’t think that it would have hit me so fully and moved me the way it did if I hadn’t felt so close to the characters. However, both Nita and Kit (who didn’t get a lot of character development in the first book) really grew on me throughout DW; I cared about them, in a way that I don’t typically care about a lot of characters, and my heart literally ached for them toward the end of the book. I felt Nita’s despair, her turmoil, she and Kit’s courage, their triumph, their joy, everything, and that made the book just that much more beautiful to me.
The only thing that I didn’t care for was that Nita’s parents turned into raving psychopaths in this book. Okay, well, maybe not psychopaths as such. But her mother was definitely annoying to nth degree, what with her raging hypochondria (was this an epidemic among women in the 1980s? I’ve noticed a trend), and her father was no better, considering he didn’t seem to even attempt to be rational about the situation. I mean, I know that some YA writers will blow situations out of proportion because that’s how their target readers see them--kids often view their parents’ decisions as being insensible, unfair, and even outrageous. But I don’t think that’s the case here, and despite being a grown-up myself, even I don’t see the logic in taking your family (plus one) to the beach for vacation, then throwing a holy fit when the kids spend so much time...*gasp*...ON THE BEACH. And how dare they go swimming! You’re not supposed to go swimming when you’re at the beach!
Oy. If I ever spawn any miniature humanoids (though I shudder at the thought), I hope I don’t end up like that.
But I can conceded that this was probably a necessary bit of ridiculousness to facilitate the Big Reveal, even though I think it could have been handled a bit better. And since Nita’s parents end up being pretty cool at the end, once they figure out that Nita and Kit are not, in fact, out doing the nasty, but just doing wizardry (and working a crazy powerful spell that once blew an entire tectonic plate and continental landmass to shit, and battling against the ultimate Big Bad, the Lone Power, who’s basically Satan except he exponentially took a level in Badass, but whatever, at least they're not having THE SEX), all is forgiven.
All in all, Deep Wizardry is absolutely beautiful, a compelling story with great action, fantastic imagery, interesting characters--especially Ed! I never thought I could adore a shark so--and a message that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. If you like fantasy, do yourself a favor and read this book.(less)
"Dear Artificer, I’ve blown my quanta and gone to the Good Place!"
I'm so glad that I decided to re-read So You Want to Be a Wizard as part of my self-...more"Dear Artificer, I’ve blown my quanta and gone to the Good Place!"
I'm so glad that I decided to re-read So You Want to Be a Wizard as part of my self-imposed book challenge for this year. I'd almost forgotten how much I love this book!
In fact, I love it so much that I almost couldn't read it again. At first, I would read a couple of pages and have to put the book down because I'd get all teary and junk. Not because it's sad (although it does have its moments), but because I would remember how much the story touched me the first time I read it. And it still does.
There are so many things in this book that, even as an adult, I can relate to: from Nita's isolation and finding solace in books to the desire to become, to be and to do something more, something beyond imagining, being so strong that even danger and death seem worth the risk. I cannot even begin to count how many times, or how intensely, I've wished throughout my life for something to come along and turn my world upside down, set me off on some crazy ass adventure and make everything new and exciting. And reading about an introverted, socially awkward, oft-misunderstood geek who stumbles across a mysterious book and suddenly finds herself immersed in a world (or two) of wizardry and wonder (and some terror and heartache) allows me to live my fantasy vicariously through a younger, fictional, sort-of alter ego.
Another thing I absolutely adore about this book--and the Young Wizards series in general--is that Diane Duane never assumes that the readers (her target audience being kids roughly, I'd say, 10-14) won't "get it" just because they're young. She doesn't dumb anything down, doesn't shy away from using or making up big words, and she doesn't water down her prose into that succinct but ineloquent simplicity sometimes found in young adult novels. Yet she's managed to weave a tale that is not only beautiful and sometimes lyrical in its elegance (I truly loved how she described the trees talking in leafrustle and fireflicker), but also accessible.
Duane also deserves kudos for creating one of the most original characters ever. I mean, in what other book are you going to find a freaking white hole as a central character? And, oh, how I adore Fred.
"You people are so fragile. A little gamma radiation will ruin your whole day, it seems."
Who can not love a wise-cracking and often endearingly clueless space phenomenon who has a bad habit of spontaneously emitting cosmic rays? Not I, my friends, not I.
Did I mention that I adore this book? I do. And if you're looking for a fast-paced, action-packed, strangely reaffirming adventure to sink your teeth into, or if you're trying to find something to fill the gaping wound...er...void left after Harry Potter and the Book That Tore My Heart to Pieces, Covered Them in Petrol, Set Them on Fire and Danced a Merry Jig All Over the Bloody Ashes, Goddamn You, Joann (otherwise known as Deathly Hallows), I highly recommend SYWBW and the rest of the Young Wizards series.(less)
It's books like The Shining that make me long for the early days of Stephen King's career. Although, can you really long for something that you weren'...moreIt's books like The Shining that make me long for the early days of Stephen King's career. Although, can you really long for something that you weren't even alive for? This book was published eight years before I was even born. But whatever. I still pine for the fjords glory days, back when King actually had something to say, and he used horror mainly as a vehicle for the underlying social commentary. Or human commentary, perhaps, since King has a way of using horror to strip away all of the social conditioning, all the ego, the posturing, of laying a person bare as an animal of base instinct and little else, and showing us the very worst about ourselves--but also, sometimes, the very best--and thus highlighting certain truths about the human condition.
Or I should say, he had a way of doing that. These days, it seems like King has gotten to point where he's writing just to write, and writing horror because it's what's expected of him. His recent works--in my admittedly limited experience, that is, I've by no means read them all--are mostly stories that go nowhere and say nothing, offering the reader cheap chills and thrills, but nothing to feel or to think too deeply about. And after having read such abortions as Duma Key (a steaming pile of shit) and Under the Dome (socially astute, perhaps, but seriously lacking in resolution and, well, a fucking point), getting back to roots and reading one of King's early novels is an almost painful reminder of the writer he can be.
Part of what makes The Shining so good is that, unlike most novels of this type, which offer a slow build meant to maximize suspense, this is instead a novel of constant terror. Even when the characters are going about their daily lives, more or less, there is an undercurrent of dread running just beneath the surface that really gets under your skin and is punctuated only by scenes of balls-out fear and panic.
And another thing that makes this book so good, what makes it truly scary, I think, is that you can never be entirely sure what's really going on. Is Danny actually having visions, or is he just a lonely little boy with an overactive imagination? Is the hotel haunted--or possessed, or whatever--or are these imaginings simply the result of fear and stress and isolation? Is the hotel really bad, an evil entity twisting Jack's mind, or is he simply going mad? The story is a constantly and subtly evolving thing you can't quite pin down until the very last chapters.
But even in the end, you have to wonder: is this really a story about an evil hotel, or is it a story about a man's descent into insanity? On the surface, it's both, of course, but personally I feel that, deeper than that, it's an analogy for a man being destroyed by his own inner-demons. After all, there is a reason the Overlook chooses Jack as its instrument. He's an asshole. Jack Torrance is a self-righteous, self-assured, over-educated, pompous, entitled prick, who holds to the belief that everything has been done to him, rather than accepting that he is in any way responsible for his own failures and misfortunes. He is a self-destructive alcoholic with a bad temper who nevertheless refuses to entirely shoulder the blame for the situation his family now faces. And when the hotel begins to prey on his alcoholism and irrational anger, and his behavior becomes erratic and even dangerous, he refuses to leave, or to at least send Wendy and Danny away, because ultimately he cares more about his goddamn self-image than about his wife and son.
In the end, Jack Torrance is the architect of his own destruction. And that is one of the best things about this book. From a literary standpoint, anyway. It's exactly what I mean when I say that Stephen King used to have something to say. Because in the real world, there are no haunted hotels--or evil hotels, whatever--despite what the History Channel might try to sell you when they're not busy covering Bigfoot or this fucking guy .There are no malevolent supernatural forces hell-bent on bringing you to ruin for whatever mysterious reason. In the real world, the only evil forces that exist are all too human, and we don't need to encounter any possessed real estate for our inner-demons to get the better of us. And that is exactly what King shows us with this book. By making Jack ultimately responsible for his own downfall, even in the face of an evil supernatural force, King is highlighting an essential human truth: there is darkness and evil all around us all the time, and inside of us all the time, but we are the only ones who can allow it to destroy us, and we are the only ones who can save ourselves from it.(less)
I used to love these books when I was a kid. Felicity was my particular favorite, though, with Molly ranking somewhere behind Samantha and Addy, and p...moreI used to love these books when I was a kid. Felicity was my particular favorite, though, with Molly ranking somewhere behind Samantha and Addy, and possibly also behind Kirsten. Sorry, Molly. But at any rate, I think I can safely point to the American Girls series as being the catalyst for my lifelong love of historical fiction, and this is book especially stands out in my mind. It's a cute story, with an Obvious Message, though not so Anvilicious as to turn off the target audience, I don't think. And it's a quick, light read too, with just enough history woven in where it's needed to make things flow smoothly, which should be a plus if you're struggling with a reluctant reader. (It's worth a quick read for grown-up girls, too, if only for the nostalgia.)(less)
High Wizardry is probably my least favorite of the Young Wizards series. It was a fun, fast read, but much of the story seemed rather extraneous. Larg...moreHigh Wizardry is probably my least favorite of the Young Wizards series. It was a fun, fast read, but much of the story seemed rather extraneous. Large portions of the narrative are taken up with unnecessary descriptions of an outdated OS, most of which I could have done without, and overall it simply lacks the same quality of layering as in So You Want to Be a Wizard and Deep Wizardry. As a result, it didn't even seem like anything important started happening until around the latter third of the book, and I came away feeling like there could have been a lot more to the story than there was.
Also, the majority of the book centers around Dairine. I actually kind of like her (except for her name, which sounds like some kind of low-fat dairy product or something), so this wouldn't really have bothered me if not for the fact that Nita and Kit got so little screen time. I love their dynamic, and I really enjoy watching them come into their own both in their wizardry and as individuals in that coming-of-age sort of way that's just right and not too clichéd or cheesy. But more than that, I've become so invested in their ongoing adventures through the first two books, and in their struggles against the Big Bad, that I felt rather cheated by Duane making them little more than a sideshow in Dairine's Ordeal circus, especially considering that this appeared to be such a critical turning point in the fight against the Lone Power.
That being said, I actually loved the latter fourth of the book. Not just because Dairine takes about ten levels in badass and lays the smack-down on the Lone Baddie--although that is pretty awesome--but largely because it's such a powerful story of change and redemption. It has always bothered me how many writers (and people in general regarding real life) seem to operate on the principle that, once a person crosses a certain moral event horizon, they can never turn back. You can't change; you're damned forever. But here's the thing: people change all the time. They don't always change for the better, and oftentimes it might not be very noticeable, but they do change. And I adore Diane Duane for straying from the well-laid path and instead conveying the idea that, even if you're the biggest, baddest motherfucker in the whole of time, space, and the entire freaking multiverse, you can change. It won't be easy, and it won't undo the damage you've done, but you can still make that choice and work to redeem yourself.
Whatever my other issues with this book, there's an important story here that needed to be told. Kudos to Ms. Duane for having the vision to tell it, and for doing it beautifully.(less)
This book was absolutely repulsive to me. I think the only book I hated more was that steaming pile of word-vomit called The Da Vinci Code, but my hat...moreThis book was absolutely repulsive to me. I think the only book I hated more was that steaming pile of word-vomit called The Da Vinci Code, but my hatred for that is due to the fact that Dan Brown is a hack who should have his hands crippled lest he ever write again, whereas I hate She Said Yes because I find it morally repugnant. Yes, morally. And I'll tell you why: poor Cassie wasn't even cold in her grave before mommy dearest started writing this tear-jerking, heart-wrenching, surefire moneymaker. What, is cashing in on the tragic death of your teenage daughter some groundbreaking form of therapy or something? Jesus H.
The thing is, though, what bothered me most about this book was not Misty Bernall making money off a senseless tragedy that claimed so many young lives. No, what bothered me most about this book was Misty Bernall. This woman embodies everything that is wrong with Middle America. She sits pretty in her comfortable, normal, white bread middle-class life and passes judgment borne of ignorance and intolerance on anything and anyone different from her, obviously incapable of dealing with things that don't fall into normal, white bread, middle-class, cookie-cutter molds, including her daughter. When Cassie went through typical teenage rebellion and got involved with the "wrong crowd"--Goths, for chrissakes, que horror--and witchcraft (A WITCH! A WITCH! BURN HER!), Bernall didn't just do her best and let things run their course like a normal (i.e. not neurotic) parent. She unapologetically recounts how she meddled in her daughter's life, going to such lengths as to grievously violate Cassie's privacy by reading her personal correspondence and, worse, to isolate her from her friends, and yet this woman has the balls to carry on as though it's everybody's fault but her own that Cassie was so depressed and angry and alienated and hated her parents so much she talked about killing them. Un-freakin-believable.
But the worst part is that, after everything, Bernall still shows not a hint of realization that the prevalence of attitudes and behaviors like hers are partly to blame for the events that led to her daughter's death. And that, my friends, means this book is basically pointless. Since it's predicated on a lie--the purported exchange between Cassie and her killers never actually took place--without any deeper analysis of the issues underlying the Columbine incident, or even just drawing the obvious parallels, She Said Yes is little more than a rehashing of one teenage girl's not-out-of-the-ordinary struggle to fit in and the sad details of her death. It teaches nothing, and it certainly doesn't do justice to the memory of a girl cut down in her prime.(less)