I kept seeing books from this series by Jacqueline Winspear popping up on friends’ book lists, and I finally decided to give it a try. I was expectingI kept seeing books from this series by Jacqueline Winspear popping up on friends’ book lists, and I finally decided to give it a try. I was expecting to find a Christie-esque plotline full of twists, turns, and stock characters, but the book surprised me very pleasantly. There was, of course, a mystery that needed to be solved, but Winspear’s real emphasis was on the background and motivations of the characters, as well as their profound interactions.
The novel opens with the main character, Maisie Dobbs, opening a private detection agency, meeting an old acquaintance from the War, and receiving her first cases. The mystery is relatively straightforward. Maisie hears of a retreat that many veterans of World War I have been living at and giving all of their money to. She begins to investigate after the son of her wealthy patron buys into the scheme. With the help of her new assistant Billy, she cracks the case in record time.
However, the real meat and emotional weight of the novel is in Maisie’s backstory. She lives happily with her parents until her mother dies and her father, who cares for horses, becomes concerned for her well-being. He secures her a place as a maid in a rich family’s London home. There, Maisie becomes friends with all she meets and obtains permission to read voraciously from the family’s large library. Lady Rowan notes Maisie’s intelligence and devotion to her father and decides to sponsor her to attend a prestigious women’s college at Cambridge. Maisie does very well at the school, but ultimately decides to put off her education in favor of volunteering as a nurse in the war.
Maisie’s strong, feminist choices endeared her greatly to me. I couldn’t help but admire her eagerness to learn and strength of will. She obviously works hard to achieve her goals, and does not let her deeply traumatic experiences in the war hold her back. At the same time, she has immense compassion and a logical, organized mind. The ending, when Maisie’s great secret is revealed, nearly broke my heart. I look forward to reading the rest of the Maisie Dobbs series; I have no doubt it will continue to entertain and move me as this first one has....more
In the wake of The Hunger Games, a massive number of dystopian novels aimed at teenagers burst forth on the publishing scene. This book seems to haveIn the wake of The Hunger Games, a massive number of dystopian novels aimed at teenagers burst forth on the publishing scene. This book seems to have gathered the most buzz, and for good reason I think. Though it relies on many of the tired clichés all dystopian novels do, and added a not entirely believable love story, it does so with flair and really draws in the reader.
The novel is set in an unspecified point in the future, in what used to be Chicago. An unnamed disaster has decimated the population. To rebuild, society has split into five factions, each of which have special jobs and adhere to a specific moral quality. The Dauntless prize fearlessness, Amity reveres kindness, Candor values honesty, Erudite cherishes wisdom, and Abnegation strives for selflessness. The protagonist, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior, is born into Abnegation, but never feels she belongs there. The novel opens on the eve of the aptitude test that tells all young people which faction they are most suited for. They are then given the choice to stay in the faction of their birth or strike out on their own in a different one.
I was fascinated by the idea of factions Veronica Roth came up with. The whole point in the novel is that society could not agree on which moral quality was essential to survival, so they split, but cannot exist totally separately. Members of Abnegation serve as public officials because they put others’ needs in front of their own. Members of Dauntless serve as law enforcement and other dangerous jobs because of their lack of fear. It makes a weird sort of sense on the surface, but as Tris realizes, adhering to just one quality isn’t enough.
In her test, she discovers that she is Divergent, meaning she qualifies for three of the five factions. She makes her choice, but still doesn’t feel a hundred percent satisfied in her new faction. Her divergence ends up playing a crucial role in the climax of the novel, after she discovers a plot by one of the factions to overthrow another. On the way, she makes valuable friendship and violent enemies alike. She also falls for her trainer, Four, who is harboring a secret of his own. As I said before, this romance is one of the weaker parts of the story, slotted in almost as an afterthought. Hopefully, future novels will expand on Tris and Four’s relationship, making it more believable.
This book was the first I read on my new Barnes and Noble nook, and I tore through it very quickly, eager to get to the end. Roth managed to strike that crucial balance between intense readability and a decent amount of good plotting and characterization. Now I’m impatiently waiting for the next book, Insurgent to drop. ...more
The further I got into this ponderous tome of a book, the more I became convinced that Stephenie Meyer is a deeply disturbed individual. I'll break itThe further I got into this ponderous tome of a book, the more I became convinced that Stephenie Meyer is a deeply disturbed individual. I'll break it down.
Bella and Edward's wedding/honeymoon
The wedding is kind of sweet, but the honeymoon is a big pile of crazy. Edward swoops Bella away to a tropical paradise on the West coast of Brazil (major geography fail), and they have lots of sex which knocks Bella out from the intensity, and rips up all of their pillows. I'm not surprised that Meyer didn't include the actual sex. I mean, why show us how awesome it was when we can just listen to Bella natter on about it? I guess that's why we have E.L. James now.
Towards the end of the honeymoon, it starts getting freaky. The housekeeper won't stop crossing herself around Edward (stereotyping for the win!) and keeps trying to tell Bella that something BAD is going to happen to her. Meyer needs to work on her foreshadowing.
Bella starts rejecting so much chicken that Edward finally notices something is wrong. Apparently she is pregnant. In Meyer's mind, pregnancy is instantaneous, even when it's supposedly impossible with a vampire who is (need I remind?) dead. Edward drags her back home and starts demanding that she get an abortion.
Babies, to keep or not to keep?
Here's where it starts to get really disturbing, not least of all because we hear it all from Jacob's point of view. His attitude toward Bella is nearly as disturbing as Edward's. The first time he sees Bella he's shocked by her emaciated appearance (because the baby is eating her alive), and strikes a wary alliance with the Cullens to try to abort the fetus.
Bella disagrees. She apparently has forged a connection with her unborn child, and imagines it as a smaller version of Edward, with no interfering features of her own (I know Bella is self-loathing, but to this extent? It's disturbing). She also has Rosalie in her corner, who so desperately wants to have a child she's willing to put her sister-in-law in certain danger just to get it. Dysfunctional doesn't begin to cover it.
I must say that I am strongly in favor of women making their own decisions about their own bodies, and that definitely includes pregnancy. However, the prevailing opinion (because there haven't been any vampire/human pregnancies before this, which I strongly doubt, because vampires are all about sex, am I right Anne Rice and Charlaine Harris?) is that Bella will die and the baby will be a monster. Just from looking at Bella, I agree, she looks completely wasted away. I don't even think the decision was all her own, as she has a rabid pro-lifer whispering away in her ear, with no regard to her safety. The fact is, abortion, while sad and hopefully avoidable, is often necessary when the mother's life is in danger. Bella, like so many extremists, puts the life of her unborn fetus ahead of her own, automatically, and it's treated as strength of character.
When the baby comes, it breaks all of Bella's bones and has to be chewed out by Edward (because of its weird, hard placenta). Edward turns Bella into a vampire in the grossest way possible and the baby is born perfectly formed, a girl named Renesmee who can put thoughts into people's heads. Jacob storms back into the house and tries to kill the baby, but instead imprints on her, destining her to be his soulmate forever. Again, gross.
Renesmee is just the embodiment of Meyer's twisted idea of love. According to her, it really doesn't matter what kind of personality or ideas the other person has, when you love someone, you just know. Edward and Bella don't go five minutes without professing their love for each other, but it seems so shallow. Bella never gives any reason for loving Edward except for the fact that he's otherworldly gorgeous. Renesmee has Jacob's weird love forced upon her, and apparently she'll grow to accept it, because how can she deny that level of devotion? That's stalker talk, and I can't believe thousands of Meyer's readers buy into that.
Bella's miraculous transition
For the last two books, there have been hints that being a vampire sucks (pun totally intended), especially at the beginning. After all, Rosalie can't have babies any more, and Jasper was thrust into a Sookie Stackhouse mystery as soon as he was "made". One of the main problems is that a baby vampire cannot control their bloodlust and will attack anything and anyone, including beloved family members. Bella and Edward have been debating her imminent vampirism for ages because Edward doesn't want her to lose her humanity.
So what happens when she finally turns? Almost nothing. She is the exact same (dull) person on the inside, but much prettier on the outside. There's no reason given for her spectacular control, just that she has it. She's faster, stronger, and discovers a power that lets her protect other people with a force field.
That power comes in handy when the Volturi, an ancient vampire house, decide to come after the Cullens for harboring an abomination like Renesmee, who is growing way quicker than normal and who everyone just loves. The Cullens start gathering their own friends. I actually enjoyed that, because many of the friendly vampires were much more interesting than Bella or any of the Cullens. Alice and Jasper have disappeared, and Bella gets a cool sequence where she goes to a lawyer and makes arrangements for Jacob and Renesmee should they have to run. It all seems to be building to a massive confrontation, but when the Volturi show up, Bella talks at them and they just back away. Apparently Alice found several other vampire/human hybrids and brought them there, to show that they are safe, and not monsters.
On Community, Abed claims that a DVD of Lost represents lack of payoff. I agree somewhat, but I think Breaking Dawn is much more guilty of that. Nothing Meyer (inexpertly) sets up in the first three books is concluded satisfactorily here. Dangerous ancient house of vampires? Eh, they're nothing to worry about. Risk of Bella losing her humanity? Pssh, she gets to keep it. Jacob still loves Bella? Whatever, just give him a perfect baby to fall in love with.
I never expected to love the Twilight series when I started reading it, but I also never expected to have the amount of disdain and loathing for it as I do now. I cannot believe that Meyer has been able to publish these four books filled with her twisted ideas of love, procreation, and plot structure. I cannot believe that millions of people read and love them, and buy into her ideas. And most of all, I cannot believe I used up so much of my time reading them too....more
With this book, I finished reading the first in a lovely collection published by HarperCollins. The collection is split into five omnibuses, one for eWith this book, I finished reading the first in a lovely collection published by HarperCollins. The collection is split into five omnibuses, one for each decade she wrote prolifically, and only included detectives who were not aging Belgians and little old ladies. The Seven Dials Mystery was the last in the 1920’s Omnibus which also included The Secret Adversary, The Man in the Brown Suit, and The Secret of Chimneys, to which Seven Dials is a sequel.
As a whole, these early works in the omnibus definitely show Christie’s relative inexperience in writing. The mysteries are a bit cut and dry and characters’ motivations are unclear. Without Poirot and Marple’s analyses, the books are not as psychologically interesting or compelling. They are, however, quite good thrillers and exciting to read.
The Seven Dials Mystery brings back several characters from The Secret of Chimneys and embroils them in yet another incident of international proportions. The main sleuths this time around are Eileen “Bundle” Brent and Bill Eversleigh. A chap named Gerry is found dead in Bundle’s old family home, Chimneys, surrounded by seven clocks (the result of a prank, but one clock is missing). Bill and Bundle get swept up in the mystery even more when Bundle accidentally hits a chum of Gerry’s with her car. Further inquiry shows the man was actually shot, and before he dies he cries out something about the Seven Dials and a man named Jimmy Thesiger.
Bundle and Bill form a tea of sorts with Jimmy and begin investigating the secret organization of the Seven Dials, in which members are referred to as numbers and wear masks with clock faces drawn on them. They find out the culprit in the end in a surprising twist, but meet all manner of dangers and contrivances along the way. Ultimately, I think that is the weakness of Christie’s “non-detective” thriller novels. They rely too much on coincidence and the luck of the protagonists. There were many moments in the book where my incredulity got the better of me and I had to laugh out loud at the characters’ adventures.
All in all, this was a fun, rompy novel that had enough twists and turns to keep things interesting, even if the characterization left something to be desired. ...more
I found this book tucked away on a bookshelf in a hostel in Lisbon on a dreary, rainy day. I was tuckered out from having been out late the night befoI found this book tucked away on a bookshelf in a hostel in Lisbon on a dreary, rainy day. I was tuckered out from having been out late the night before, and just wanted something fun to read. I wasn't sure about Yes Man at first. I'd seen the movie starring Jim Carrey, which I found enjoyable but ultimately silly and only just worth the price of a rental. Before I knew it though, I'd torn through the first 100 pages of the book and was rolling on the floor laughing at nearly every page.
The book has a simple premise. Danny Wallace is not really down on his luck, he's just become incredibly apathetic, preferring to stay in and saying no, even lying, to his friends to get out of going out. One day though, he meets a stranger on a bus who tells him to "say yes more". This short piece of advice resonates with Danny, it starts him thinking, reevaluating his life, and he decides to follow it. In the presence of his skeptical friend, he makes a promise to only say Yes for the next year, to everything.
Danny starts out in the way most people start diets, excited and pumped up over the plan, ready to tackle new challenges and say Yes to things. Like people on diets, he doesn't get results at first, and nearly gives up, but then amazing things start happening. He wins 20,000 pounds in the lottery (and then loses it the next minute, but what does that matter?), he goes on a drug-fueled trip around Amsterdam that ends with him as the owner of a lovely portrait with a small dog, he gets promoted, and he meets the girl of his dreams.
That's not to say there aren't hurdles along the way. Danny comes across many situations where saying Yes is clearly the wrong choice, but he does them anyway. This made we wonder if I could truly stick to plan like this. The nature of memoirs makes us readers wonder what we would do in those situations, how we would react? I'm not sure I could say Yes to everything in the way Danny does. Implicit, unswerving Yesness implies a faith that everything will turn out ok, that Yes opens doors but is not that dangerous. Maybe Danny was lucky, and his Yeses just happened to be for beneficial things.
Or maybe not. Maybe saying Yes really is the gateway to bigger and better things. I found myself taking Danny's advice and looking back over my past choices. By and large, the things I regret most (save one or two instances), are when I said No to something. Some of the best times in my life have been when I inexplicably said Yes to something and experienced something amazing. Yes is an inherently positive word, it implies an eagerness to live, to interact. Though I'm not willing to go as far as Danny did and say Yes to everything that comes my way, I've been more careful about decisions that come my way. I'll ask myself, will I regret saying Yes to this? And if the answer is no (haha), then I'll take that opportunity. Who knows what it might bring?...more
When I was a kid I could be very contrary. I willfully rejected things that were fun or interesting or good for me simply because I could. These incluWhen I was a kid I could be very contrary. I willfully rejected things that were fun or interesting or good for me simply because I could. These included Sister Act, eggplant, and inexplicably, Anne of Green Gables. Honestly, I have no idea what turned me so violently against this beloved and unassuming book. All I know is when I received a box set of the first three books in the series as a gift, I conceived a violent hatred of Anne, L.M. Montgomery, andwhatever the hell Green Gables were. My stubborn nature held on to that hatred for many years, until it was fully entrenched in me. Reading Anne of Green Gables was impossible, it went against the very fabric of my being, it was the worst book ever written, and nothing I heard about it would ever, ever change my mind.
But time is a funny thing, it soothes old pain, gives a rosy glow to the past, and makes you question previous, ingrained convictions. I found myself confronted with Anne of Green Gables while searching for interesting books on DailyLit. I started to wonder, could the book really be that bad? So many of my friends loved it, and it had to be a classic for a reason right? So I bit the bullet and signed up for daily installments. I opened the first email with trepidation and began to read.
Can a person be more wrong about a book? Instead of the boredom I anticipated, and the annoying characters I expected to find, I was engrossed and fully invested in the book by the end of the first chapter. I loved Anne's rambling chatter contrasted with Matthew's taciturn kindness. Like Marilla, I grew inexorably fond of Anne's vivacity, cleverness, and boundless imagination. The stories of Anne's exploits, dyeing her hair green, getting her best friend drunk, engaging in a semi-antagonistic competition with Gilbert Blythe (who is totally crushing on Anne), made me laugh and ache in sympathy.
I now truly wish I had read this book when I was younger. Anne would have changed my life had I done so. I was nowhere near as gregarious or confident as Anne, but I had many of the same dreams and thoughts. I read books to imagine myself in different times, places, and situations. Anne made up stories to do the same. Though I wouldn't have shared the same wish for puffed sleeves, Anne's desire for greater things would have spoken to something deep inside of me, and given voice to thoughts I didn't even know I had. ...more
I have forgotten the exact details of the plot, but I do remember being entertained by Matt Smith's reading. Beyond that, the production values of DocI have forgotten the exact details of the plot, but I do remember being entertained by Matt Smith's reading. Beyond that, the production values of Doctor Who books are always high, and this provided a great going-to-sleep listen....more
For me, E. Nesbit was always one of those authors I kept hearing about, but had never read. Other authors like Edward Eager cited her as inspirationsFor me, E. Nesbit was always one of those authors I kept hearing about, but had never read. Other authors like Edward Eager cited her as inspirations for their works, and any fantasy-esque story involving groups of children would inevitably be compared to her stories. So many people I know grew up reading her books, but I somehow missed the boat entirely.
Having finally completed The Enchanted Castle, I can see where the inspiration and comparisons have come from. The main characters are a related group of children, varied in age and personality, who stumble upon magic and have their lives turned topsy turvy. The children in question are siblings who have been left pretty much to their own devices at a boarding school and meet a local girl who insists (at first) that she is a magical princess. Through sheer will, the children discover (or create) a magic ring which grants wishes, though only for certain amounts of time, and is never truly reliable in the way good magic always is. Over the next few days, they bring about mischief and mayhem, but also true love.
Reading this book at a later age than I should have definitely changed the way I saw it. Instead of being transported by the characters and fantasy aspects, I found myself critiquing their actions and noticing the various (but time period appropriate) sexist and racist actions. For example, one of the children dresses in blackface in order to put on a show to earn money. I did, however, love Nesbit's characterization of Magic as something wonderful but tricky and impossible to control or understand fully.
I read this novel in DailyLit's format of several installments a day. It was nice to have the story so neatly broken up, and to know exactly how many days were left. Unfortunately, I would sometimes get to the end of an installment and be left hanging until the next day to find out what happened, something that would not happen with a traditional copy....more
Most new Doctor Who audio adventures are fun, fast-paced, and unmemorable. Their short length combined with their perplexing multitude of characters aMost new Doctor Who audio adventures are fun, fast-paced, and unmemorable. Their short length combined with their perplexing multitude of characters and silly plots make them difficult to distinguish. This adventure by Jason Arnopp certainly fits all of the above. The plot is contrived: a soap somehow makes humans try to speak every language in the universe? There are too many identical characters, and the book was over in a flash!
Having said all that, Meera Syal's reading made it worthwhile to hear. She does the character voices well, and she reads with such vigor and energy that you can really tell she's having a good time. ...more
One of my favorite shows as a kid was Wishbone, the simple tale of a scholarly Jack Russell who would imagine himself into the various classic novelsOne of my favorite shows as a kid was Wishbone, the simple tale of a scholarly Jack Russell who would imagine himself into the various classic novels he loved to read. The show massively appealed to me as a budding bibliophile, and I watched avidly, soaking in the stories of those books still a little advanced for me to read. One of my favorite episodes was "The Pawloined Paper" based on Edgar Allen Poe's "Purloined Paper", arguably one of the first true detective stories ever written. When I saw the novelization in my local bookstore, I begged my mom to buy it and reread it many times over the next few years.
I loved the story for it's cleverness and lack of bloodshed. The mystery is simply that of a politically devastating letter which has fallen into the hands of slimy would-be aristocrat out for his own gain. The Parisian police are baffled, as they have searched the blackmailer's apartment from top to bottom, meticulously removing, inspecting, and replacing every single object. But no letter is to be found! They turn in desperation to C. Auguste Dupin, a brooding genius who lives in a nearly abandoned house with his unnamed companion, who is the chronicler of his stories. Dupin arrives at the blackmailer's house, armed only with a dark pair of glasses, and immediately deduces the location of the letter.
This story in the collection read like a typical narrative, wherein the police bring a case to Dupin in medias res and he goes out to solve it in an infinitely satisfying way. The other two stories were less clear cut, and I must say I enjoyed them less for all that. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is certainly an interesting story, but Poe's recounting of the savage murder of two women by orangutan was too disconnected for me. He tells the story through witness accounts, which were repetitive and a bit dull. I still found the story captivating though, and enjoyed reading about Dupin's scientific investigations.
I cannot say that, however, for the last story, "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt". This story was based on a sensationalist crime of the period, the murder of a woman name Mary Rogers in Manhattan. The "story" is told entirely through examination of police reports and newspaper articles and is, as a result, extraordinarily dry and tedious to read. I found myself skipping over entire passages just to get to the ending and find out the culprit. Even after that though, I cannot say for certain I know who did it or why. This story put me to sleep, and is entirely at fault for dropping my review of this collection to three stars. Even my fascination for detective stories could not save this one from my dislike.
It is still impressive to me that Poe basically invented the modern detective novel with these three stories. Dupin is exactly what a proper detective should be; he is mysterious, terrifyingly intelligent, observant of the smallest details, and fully committed to his work. In Dupin, Poe laid the groundwork for other amazing detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, and Lord Peter Wimsey, and for that, I am eternally grateful....more
I first heard about P.G. Wodehouse in an interview of Hugh Laurie's in which he claimed that reading Wodehouse novels saved his life. I was intrigued.I first heard about P.G. Wodehouse in an interview of Hugh Laurie's in which he claimed that reading Wodehouse novels saved his life. I was intrigued. Who was this Wodehouse, and what about him made his novels special?
My curiosity (and my overwhelming fannish love for Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry) led me to watch all of Jeeves and Wooster, loving every minute of it. I read several Jeeves and Wooster books as well as one or two about Psmith and Blandings Castle. I love that the characters are all semi-connected, and I must admit that the time period Wodehouse writes about is my absolute favorite, a time when women were women, and men were fops.
The short stories in this collection are essentially Wodehousian in all aspects. The characters are delightfully earnest. One story stands out in particular: a dog does everything in his power to make his master (a thief) happy, but only ends up foiling his plans. These characters, bumbling through life, trying their best, and achieving dreams through sheer dumb luck, made me incredibly happy.
When I was a kid, my parents took me to see the movie Mission Impossible. I was very young, and nearly slept through the whole thing. What I do remembWhen I was a kid, my parents took me to see the movie Mission Impossible. I was very young, and nearly slept through the whole thing. What I do remember seeing though, thrilled me despite my total lack of understanding of the plot. I didn't quite get why the characters were doing what they were doing, or why it was significant, but it was exciting, and I fought to keep my eyes open.
Reading The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was exactly like that experience. I found myself intrigued by the story of Alex Leamas, a spy who has been in "the cold" of East Germany for many years, but I can't say I understood it. I read it, seeing the actions in my mind's eye, parsing the twists and turns and motivations of the characters, but always having the feeling that I was missing something.
I could choose to feel sorry for myself and blame the book for not providing enough information, but I honestly think my sense of bafflement added to the reading experience. Leamas himself is lost and befuddled at times. He is never told the whole truth, and he must rely on his skewed senses of logic and loyalty to preserve himself and the woman he comes to care about.
The whole novel is a slow burn toward a taut and deliciously devious endgame. Throughout, le Carré maintains the terrifying and gloomy uncertainty of the Cold War. People are not who they seem, loyalties shift (or not) in the blink of an eye. This was one of the first Cold War spy thrillers I have ever read. I doubt it will become my favorite genre, but I don't deny it was an interesting read, and I will be checking out Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, le Carré's arguably more well-known work, before the movie comes out on DVD....more
I made a rather dire mistake before "reading" this book. I watched the quirky BBC adaptation starring Stephen Mangan and thus spent the whole of my "rI made a rather dire mistake before "reading" this book. I watched the quirky BBC adaptation starring Stephen Mangan and thus spent the whole of my "read" wondering when the time traveling cat was going to show up. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), the TV show Dirk was not a pure adaptation, but a story inspired by the book. As such, the characterization is rather different, certain plot elements were dropped or introduced, and character relationships were completely changed around. In the book, for instance, Gordon is Susan's brother. In the show, he is her ex-lover and stalker.Ick.
Another mistake was listening to the novel as an audiobook. Now, Douglas Adams is an excellent reader, and I am a firm supporter of authors who read their own works (Neil Gaiman ftw!), but I don't think this was the best book for the format. There are so many twists and turns in the story, with so many callbacks and sly brick jokes that I was always tempted to go back and "read" a section again, a task which is made much more difficult on an ipod.
With these two mistakes working against me, I must say I didn't find this book as enjoyable or enlightening as other Adams enthusiasts do. And I must say I'm disappointed about this. I loved Hitchhiker's Guide and the Adams-penned episodes of Doctor Who. But if you asked me right now, three months after having finished this book, I'd be hard pressed to tell you exactly what the plot was about. Something about a monk and Coleridge? Maybe I'll revisit this book someday when I have a physical copy. It might surprise me....more
One of my favorite books growing up was Half Magic by Edward Eager. I loved the crazy adventures the four funny siblings got into, the novelty of theOne of my favorite books growing up was Half Magic by Edward Eager. I loved the crazy adventures the four funny siblings got into, the novelty of the old-fashioned setting, and the peculiar nature of the magic they encountered.
This book, which serves as something of a sequel to Half Magic, continues all of those wonderful traits. Jane, Katherine, Mark, and Martha have concluded their adventures with the strange coin that only grants half wishes, and have gone to the countryside with their mother and new stepfather. While there, they make an ill-advised wish to have "magic by the lake" and are astonished to find cavorting mermaids and talking turtles wherever they go. They pledge to only have adventures every third day to prevent the magic running out, but of course, not all goes to plan.
Though reading Magic by the Lake wasn't nearly as magical as reading Half Magic for the first time when I was ten, I still greatly enjoyed it. The book reminded me of the sense of wonder and imagination I had when I was little....more
I just reread this lovely collection of Shel Silverstein poems. Even after all these years, his inventiveness and skill astound me. His poems vary froI just reread this lovely collection of Shel Silverstein poems. Even after all these years, his inventiveness and skill astound me. His poems vary from silly and hilarious to poignant and introspective. They are ideal for a quick and satisfying read. The drawings are still delightful and the familiarity of the verses bring me back to my childhood. ...more
I love discussing books du jour with teenagers. I think their perspectives on the books are fascinating, since they are so different to mine. RecentlyI love discussing books du jour with teenagers. I think their perspectives on the books are fascinating, since they are so different to mine. Recently, I spoke to some teenage girls about the Hunger Games trilogy. The overall consensus was that the first book was amazing, the second nearly as good, and the third book disappointing. I asked why they disliked the third, expecting to hear that perhaps they disliked the framework of the novel without the Hunger Games, or they hated the amount of death and violence. Instead, most of the dislike stemmed from the relationships in the book.
This book leads directly from the events of the second book, Catching Fire, in which District 12 was destroyed and Katniss was rescued from the carnage of the Quarter Quell by District 13, which was thought destroyed 75 years before the beginning of the trilogy. Katniss is brought to District 13, which exists largely in tunnels underground. Its people are diligent, waste-conscious, and under the complete control of President Coin. Collins's goal for District 13 is to show that it is not so different than the Capitol, that all people do horrible things when given power, that the ends do not justify the means.
I found Katniss's narration to be rather confused for the entirety of the novel, which certainly reflects her state of mind. For most of the novel, she is paraded around as the Mockingjay, the symbol of resistance for the rebels. However she is desperate to fight and to get her friends and family safe, especially those, including Peeta, who were captured by the Capitol. Collins does write action very well, and many of the sequences were exciting and absorbing.
I do think the structure of the book struggled without the framework of the Hunger Games. The final third of the book did take place in a Games-like environment. The rebels have infiltrated the Capitol and most streets are rigged with devices and traps familiar to the Games. This part of the books did not really make sense to me. The Capitol was so confident during its reign of the inability of the districts to rebel, so why bother setting up death traps? Also, why set up those traps where your own citizens could potentially stumble into them. Katniss's experiences prove that there are poisonous wasps and deadly weapons concealed in inconspicuous places, just waiting to kill anyone who comes across it, Capitol resident and rebel alike.
Like the teenage girls, I was disappointed with the resolution of the relationships in this book. I never thought that either Gale or Peeta were particularly interesting or fleshed-out characters. Katniss's attraction to either seems based more on their interest in her than her interest in them. She doesn't show true affection to either of them unless pressed. I have yet to understand Katniss's true feelings, and I'm sure Collins isn't quite sure either....more
This second novel in Suzanne Collin's dystopian Hunger Games trilogy continues in much the same vein as the first. The book begins with Katniss EverdeThis second novel in Suzanne Collin's dystopian Hunger Games trilogy continues in much the same vein as the first. The book begins with Katniss Everdeen, one of the victors of the 74th Hunger Games, back in her home of District 12, about to embark on her victory tour. Before she leaves though, she is visited by the despicable leader of Panem, President Snow. According to the President, there is rebellion brewing in the districts as a direct result of her defiance of the Capitol at the end of the last Hunger Games. His solution is for her to quell the rebellions by rekindling her stale relationship with her fellow victor, Peeta, during the victory tour. In fear for her family's life, Katniss agrees.
Despite Katniss's best efforts and intentions, nothing goes according to plan. Everything she does on the tour manages only to fuel the fires of dissent and rebellion in the districts. This is a key flaw in Collins's dystopian world-building. Nearly everything President Snow and the Capitol does to stop rebellion only encourages it further. The Hunger Games themselves are counter-productive. The Capitol claims they exist to remind the districts of their subjugation and helplessness. In fact, they only remind the districts of the atrocities visited upon them by the Capitol every year. Also, the Capitol keeps the districts just on the edge of survival, often starving them and denying them basic rights and access to medicines. Starving people don't sit back and take their treatment. They do everything possible to survive. When the fungi decimated the potato crop of Ireland, millions of people fled across the ocean rather than stay starving where they were.
Beyond that quibble though, I found Catching Fire to be an admirable sequel to The Hunger Games. Though the victory tour dragged on a bit, it gave some insight as to Katniss's state of mind and expanded on her relationship with Peeta. I liked the twist of the Quarter Quell requiring former victors to participate in the Games, and was touched by Katniss and Haymitch's vow to keep Peeta safe. I also enjoyed learning more about the different districts and found the Games themselves to be interesting yet diabolical. The ending cliffhanger was shocking and served to set up the action for the final book in the trilogy....more
I enjoyed this short but sweet story of Amy and the Doctor exploring the tomb of a goddess. Of course, as per usual, they find much more than a dustyI enjoyed this short but sweet story of Amy and the Doctor exploring the tomb of a goddess. Of course, as per usual, they find much more than a dusty room and ancient artifacts. They actually find Artemis, or is it an alien? In any case, they're forced to flee as she comes to life and sets her hounds upon them.
I liked that this story was narrated by Matt Smith as the Doctor and Clare Corbett as a girl reading Amy Pond's diary. I thought this was a clever way to frame the story. ...more
This was one of my favorite books as a child. When I got back from a week-long trip last night, all I wanted to do was read something so familiar thatThis was one of my favorite books as a child. When I got back from a week-long trip last night, all I wanted to do was read something so familiar that I didn't have to think at all. This book fit the bill admirably.
This slim book is about a housepainter named Mr. Popper who is fascinated by the North and South Poles. His devotion leads him to read copiously on the subjects, and to write to his hero, Admiral Drake, explorer of the Poles. As a gift to his devoted fan, Drake sends Popper a surprise, a penguin! The penguin is named Captain Cook and soon dominates the hearts of the whole Popper family. Before long, there are more penguins, not enough money, and a dilemma on Mr. Popper's hands. The solution? To go on tour across the land with Popper's Performing Penguins!
I loved this book before, and I still do. It is cute and silly, and ultimately heartwarming. From what I've heard about the upcoming film, it will be completely different. The spirit of the story will be severely altered, and will rely more on Jim Carrey's antics than Popper's relationship with the penguins. I can only hope kids will turn to the book before the movie. ...more
I have very few positive things to say about this book. I'm going to gloss over them quickly so I can get to the fun part: mocking this frankly awful,I have very few positive things to say about this book. I'm going to gloss over them quickly so I can get to the fun part: mocking this frankly awful, but somehow still entertaining book.
It has been a few weeks since I read this book, and I've actually forgotten most of the "plot". I see this as a positive because I no longer have the stupidities and mind-numbing prose in my mind. In the interest of writing a proper review though, I will go to wikipedia to refresh my memory.
Ah yes, according to wikipedia, "[Eclipse] continues the story of Bella Swan and her vampire love, Edward Cullen. The novel explores Bella's choice between her love for Edward and her friendship with werewolf Jacob Black, along with her dilemma of leaving mortality behind in a terrorized atmosphere, a result of mysterious vampire attacks in Seattle."
Right, so the things I liked about the book.
1. Meyer actually addressed some of the mythology quibbles I'd had about the werewolves in previous books. Even though the Quileute legends were silly and borderline insulting, she did manage to explain that the wolves only surfaced in those with the right bloodlines when their mortal enemies, vampires, were nearby. I thought this was a neat explanation as to why Jacob was a werewolf but his wheelchair-ridden father was not.
2. Jasper's life story, though convoluted and ill-told, was rather interesting and game dimensions to the rather boring character. I particularly liked the idea of warring vampire factions in the South. Of course, I also liked them in True Blood and I'm pretty sure Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels came first.
That's it, the only two things I liked about the book, and they're both to do with relatively minor characters. The rest of the book was alternately mind-numbingly boring and atrociously awful in terms of writing, plot, and characterization. I hated what happened to Jacob and Leah Clearwater. Throughout the course of the book, Jacob becomes this possessive, jealous bastard who is willing to assault Bella to try and show her how he feels. Bella doesn't put up with the pushiness, but she doesn't do a very good job of choosing between Jacob and Edward, her sparkly, emo vamp boyfriend. Leah's treatment is even more reprehensible. She starts out as a glum young woman, and ends up a glum young werewolf. The rest of the tribe isn't intrigued or impressed by the fact that she's the first recorded female werewolf. Instead, Jacob and the pack complain about how her ugly thoughts and jealousy pollute the communal mind. In my opinion, Bella and Leah act just the same when it comes to their men. The only difference is that Leah's insecurity and anger is heard. So she is hated while Bella is revered. It left a bad taste in my mouth and made me wonder if Meyer hates every woman besides her precious Bella.
Also, I was disappointed by Meyer's continuation of including references to literature that she doesn't really understand. In this case, the classic novel Wuthering Heights is unfairly picked on. It's obvious that Bella is supposed to be Catherine, never able to choose between Edgar Linton and Heathcliff (it's unclear who Jacob and Edward are respectively, one can make good cases for both). But that is where the apt connections end. Catherine's defining character trait is her absolute selfishness (Heathcliff being an extension of herself) and all of the bad things in the novel occur as a direct result of her and Heathcliff's utter disdain for others and the consequences of their actions. The parallels in Eclipse simply don't hold water. Bella thinks her actions stem from selfishness, but I'd argue that they come more from her indecision, stupidity, and self-destructive tendencies.
I watched the "Twilight" movies shortly after finishing this book, and I must say the movies do a far better job than the books. Events are tightened up, we are spared Bella's hateful inner monologues and ramblings about Edward's beauty. They also showed the action of the vampire coven and the final confrontation, both of which were rather cool. ...more
I almost gave this book three stars instead of two for a few improvements it had over the first book, namely:
1) There is actually something of a plotI almost gave this book three stars instead of two for a few improvements it had over the first book, namely:
1) There is actually something of a plot throughout.
The book starts with the Cullens throwing Bella a birthday party, which she moans and complains about because she's an ungrateful cow. At the party, she accidentally cuts herself and Edward's adoptive brother Jasper nearly kills her in a violent attempt to drink her blood. Edward then realizes what danger he's putting his one true love into and leaves town forever. Once he leaves, Bella falls into an all-encompassing depression that only lifts when she starts hanging out with Jacob, who turns out to be a werewolf... somehow. Then, Bella literally becomes suicidal. Edward takes off to Italy and finds a den of very Anne Rice-esque vampires who all have inexplicably different powers to commit suicide himself. It is all extraordinarily melodramatic.
2) The werewolf mythos is actually kind of interesting. They can turn into wolves at any time, and vampire powers go haywire around them. I only wish Meyer had explained why Jacob and his friends suddenly become werewolves. There was no indication that Forks had ever had infestations of giant wolves ever before, yet Jacob explicitly says he inherited his werewolf blood.
3) Bella and Jacob have something that is close to an actual friendship and an almost romance. They get along well together, crack jokes, and support each other. Compared with Bella and Edward's relationship, where all they do is clutch at each other, have intense mood swings, and smell each other, it is vastly more vibrant and interesting.
These improvements, however, still did nothing to hide the fact that Meyer's writing was still atrocious and did nothing to endear Bella to me. I was so disappointed that she falls apart when Edward leaves her. Yes, he may be her "true love," but they'd only known each other for a year, and been romantically involved for a few months. That is not enough time to have such a strong and anguished reaction.
I also hate the fact that Bella is so eager to leave everything and everyone behind to become a vampire and stay with Edward forever. She hates the idea of turning 18 because then she will be "older" than Edward, who is eternally 17. She fails to realize that Edward only looks 17. His consciousness is over 100 years old. If the exterior matched the interior, you can bet Bella wouldn't be falling over herself to call him "Adonis" and letting her heart stop because they kiss.
Unfortunately, I have let myself fall into the Twilight trap. I'm invested, I'm going to have to read the other two books, and maybe even the novella. As Bella would say, holy crow. ...more
Stephen King said this about Twilight: "Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. ... The real difference is that Jo RowlingStephen King said this about Twilight: "Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. ... The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good."
I can't help but agree.
Meyer's writing in this "novel" (I'm more inclined to call it glorified fan fiction) sounds so much like a 17 year-old that I would be impressed if I thought she was doing it on purpose. As it is, Bella Swan seems to me to be thing single most unlikeable and pathetic protagonist of any book I've ever read. She complains about everything in her life, is self-deprecating, ludicrously imbalanced and clumsy, often depressed, and cruelly sarcastic to those around her. Yet she is loved by everyone who comes her way, and especially by Edward "the Sullen" Cullen.
I don't know how I feel about Edward. Oh wait, yeah I do. He's a little shit. He supposedly falls in love with dull Bella, and he knows that she's borderline erotomanic for him. Most importantly, he knows that he is a danger to her because he is a flipping blood-sucking vampire who thirsts for her blood. Edward claims Bella's blood is alternately flower-like and mouthwatering. I guess vampires like munching on daisies in between pints of blood. In any case, he says he cannot resist her and even climbs into her bedroom to watch her sleep.
What's Bella's response to these revelations of stalking, hunger, and felony? She's pleased, but doesn't think she deserves the honor of Edward's ocher-tinted, loving gaze. Gross.
Beyond its bad characterization and even more atrocious grammar, this book fails at creating an interesting and compelling world. I do not want to live in Bella's Forks, or indeed, Bella's universe. I do not want to live in a world where vampires sparkle, drink from animals, play baseball, and are well nigh invincible. The power and interest of the common vampire story is that vampires are dangerous and evil, but ultimately defeatable, once one finds their weakness. Even with their inexplicably different magical powers, these water-downed and neutered vampires bore me. Bella bores me.
So why did I read this book? My friends who like it got tired of me making fun of it even though I hadn't read it. Well, now I have ammunition galore, so brace yourselves girls!...more
This past year I rekindled my love for the epic fantasy. The books I chose to read were huge in scope and size, and The Way of Kings was no exception.This past year I rekindled my love for the epic fantasy. The books I chose to read were huge in scope and size, and The Way of Kings was no exception. I came across the enormous tome in my local library and checked it out based solely on the author’s pedigree. I’d recently read and enjoyed Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the Word, and he had chosen Brandon Sanderson to finish his long-running series, The Wheel of Time. The copy I found was brand spanking new, the spine hadn’t even been cracked. Small wonder, as the hardcover edition is over 1000 pages long.
It took me a while to get into the story, as there is a lot of background and worldbuilding to get through first. Sanderson reportedly spent a decade developing the world of The Way of Kings, hammering out the history, customs and magic of its varied people. The world he created is incredibly detailed and different to our own, with entirely plausible belief systems and traditions based on the strange landscape and history. It is a land plagued with vicious and relentless “highstorms” which have led the animals and plants of the world to evolve shells and retractable body parts, and the people to live in natural rock shelters. Contact between different peoples is infrequent, and constant travel is near impossible, as the highstorms can spring out of nowhere.
The heart of the story revolves around three protagonists. The first is Kaladin, a surgeon turned soldier turned slave. He is the lowest of the low, sentenced to carry a bridge across chasms for an army bent on destroying another race of people, the Parshendi. As the campaign rages, Kaladin discovers strength that he didn’t know he had with the help of a spren (magical manifestations of natural things, like creativity, pain, or anger) who can speak. I was fascinated by Kaladin’s journey, and was captivated by his determination to survive and the regrets and shame he carries with him.
Second is Dalinar Kholin, one of the highprinces in charge of the army Kaladin serves. He is a fierce shardbearing warrior (Shards and Shardplate are well nigh invincible weapons left behind by the Radiants, the former protectors of the world), who has started to question the war being waged by his nephew the king. Dalinar belongs to a caste of people called lighteyes (Kaladin is a darkeyes), and is nobility by birthright. Though he remains loyal to his nephew, he starts having strange dreams about the past and his brother’s death by assassin. Dalinar reminds me quite a bit of Ned Stark in his loyalty, adherence to honor, and sometimes blinding stupidity.
The third main protagonist is Shallan, a girl from a noble family nearing disgrace and ruin, who basically forces the king’s sister to take her on as apprentice so that she can steal the princess’s most valuable possession, a soulcaster. I thought Sanderson’s treatment of women in TWoK was extremely interesting. All women have a freehand and a safehand they keep covered up, low class darkeyed women with a glove, and high class lighteyes with a sewn sleeve. The women, who are tasked with reading and writing, use their freehands for all work they do. There is extreme gender disparity in the book, with women and men eating different foods and often existing separate from each other. Shallan is gifted in drawing, and can often recreate a scene on paper after a single glance. She starts drawing strange creatures and shadows that she cannot see with her eyes, and proves to be a natural at soulcasting (changing one element to another).
The fates of these three characters at first seem disparate and unconnected, but as the story marches on, it becomes clear that they will eventually interact and greatly affect each other’s lives. There are many other characters and elements to this book that I have left out, but to explain them all would be tantamount to writing Sanderson’s opus from scratch. The seeds of future books are clearly planted throughout, and there is a satisfying ending to this book even as there is much left unresolved. As Sanderson intends to write ten books total for his Stormlight Archive, this can only be a good thing. The Radiants only know when he will find the time to write them all, but I know that when he does, I will find the time to read them. ...more
The main character in this novel, Anne Beddingfield, is a down on her luck plucky heroine who finds herself embroiled in an intrigue of internationalThe main character in this novel, Anne Beddingfield, is a down on her luck plucky heroine who finds herself embroiled in an intrigue of international proportions. After her father's untimely death, she decides to search for adventure, and she certainly finds it when a man dies in front of her on a subway platform. Her natural curiosity and a cryptic note soon lead her to board a ship bound for South Africa, where the real adventure begins.
This novel is different from the formula of Christie's Poirot or Marple stories, and is much more of a straight thriller. There are mysterious young men, cases of mistaken identity, code names, and dastardly disguises. I had a fun time reading this book, but I don't think it is a very memorable story. I still vastly prefer Christie's more cerebral, detecting novels. ...more
I didn't enjoy this Sarah Jane Adventures audiobook as much as ones I had previously listened to. The author didn't spend enough time on characterizatI didn't enjoy this Sarah Jane Adventures audiobook as much as ones I had previously listened to. The author didn't spend enough time on characterization. Instead, the whole "story", such as it was, focused entirely too much on the action sequences. Such sequences come across well on screen and don't take much time. However, when conveyed with prose, the scenes were clunky and annoyingly long. Also, there was a constant soundtrack of cloying, distracting "action" music that really did nothing to add to the experience of listening to the book. ...more
I think Gary Russell did a wonderful job of transferring The Sarah Jane Adventures to the medium of audiobook. His characterizations were spot on andI think Gary Russell did a wonderful job of transferring The Sarah Jane Adventures to the medium of audiobook. His characterizations were spot on and he wrote some very exciting action scenes. All in all, a very enjoyable listen. It was also lovely to listen to Elisabeth's Sladen's voice so soon after her passing. ...more
I am not a religious person. When I was younger, I attended a few church services at Easter (mostly to be able to participate in the egg hunt) and visI am not a religious person. When I was younger, I attended a few church services at Easter (mostly to be able to participate in the egg hunt) and visited Buddhist temples with family. Never though, did I feel moved by a higher power or the need to believe in any particular religion. The existence or non-existence of God does not trouble my thoughts, but there have been times of shock and fear in which I've prayed to something, though I do not call it God.
The protagonist of this book, Maurice Bendrick, has this mindset for most of the novel. He doesn't believe in God or love, just hate. There's a pretty good reason for Maurice's hate though, he's been jilted by the only woman he loves, Sarah Miles, who is married to another man. The book is structured as a memoir, in which Bendrick describes the titular affair, its sudden end, and the heart-wrenching aftermath.
Some of the book is told through Sarah's journal, and we are shown her dissatisfaction with her lot and her struggles with her growing faith. I found myself identifying quite a lot with Sarah, even though we are nothing alike. She is a chronic adulterer and so beautiful that men fall over themselves to be her partner. She does, however, fall genuinely and deeply in love with Bendrick, so much so that she eventually leaves him when she makes a promise to God in exchange for his life.
I enjoyed the retrospective view of the relationship and the way details of the story. Grahame Greene also did an admirable job of making the characters real and believable. Their relationships are twisted and confused, but one can't help but sympathize. I only wish that Greene hadn't spent so much time expostulating on God and religion. Towards the end, the book seemed more like a sermon, and I didn't particularly enjoy being preached to. However, I can see how this book belongs on those "1000 books you have to read before you die" lists, it just wasn't entirely my cup of tea. ...more
I'm still a little unsure of how to classify this book. It has some of the elements of a classic Christie mystery: a stately home, the presence of genI'm still a little unsure of how to classify this book. It has some of the elements of a classic Christie mystery: a stately home, the presence of gentry, and of course a dead body. On the other hand, the motives for murder include international treason and intrigue. As far as motives go, I found the plot revolving around the heir to the crown of Herzoslovakia rather far-fetched. I think Christie is at her best when writing about crimes of passion rather than crimes of state.
Beyond that, the characters weren't particularly memorable. The protagonist, young Anthony Cade, was certainly likable enough. However he never seemed to care much about anything and I found his blase attitude off-putting. Also, I felt there were entirely too many sleuths involved, at one point there were five! One detective was there to find a jewel thief, King Victor. I never like jewel thieves in mysteries. I think it is a cheap and bloodless crime that is not very interesting to read about.
I had watched the ITV adaptation of this book which featured Miss Marple, strangely enough. The TV version changed nearly every aspect of the novel. It altered relationships between characters, completely did away with some characters while inserting brand new ones, and even changed the crime, the motive, and the culprit! The only things that stayed the same at all were some of the names. I approve of a little artistic license, but I think that's taking it a bit far. ...more
I bought this book several years ago when I was trying to expand my mystery novel reading beyond Agatha Christie. I remember reading the first few pagI bought this book several years ago when I was trying to expand my mystery novel reading beyond Agatha Christie. I remember reading the first few pages before becoming bored and tossing it aside in favor of a more contemporary work. I picked it up about a week ago, expecting a quick, fun read, but was sorely disappointed.
I found myself disliking nearly every character in the book, including the corpulent, agoraphobic Nero Wolfe and his closest employee, the wise-cracking, milk-drinking Archie Goodwin. Rex Stout attempted to give a backstory to both of the characters, seeing as how this was this first book in a series of 73 novels(!), but it was woefully inadequate.
The plot jumped around way too much for me to follow it well, and I consider myself a sharp, observant reader. Characters popped in and out of the book, and events happened either too quickly or off the page for me to comprehend. The titular snake, the fer-de-lance, doesn't make an appearance until the last 100 pages of the book, and is disposed of entirely too quickly and anti-climactically.
The thing I disliked most about the novel, however, was the blatant racism and sexism rampant throughout. I know this book and its characters were products of their time, but Archie and his compatriots spouted so much hateful talk it was hard to believe it didn't signify something deeper.
Also, I was disturbed throughout by Wolfe's blase attitude toward justice; he seems to prefer tending his massive orchid collection, eating gourmet food, and guzzling gallons of beer. He won't rouse himself to go out of the house, or to even rise in courtesy. He doesn't seem to care about finding the culprit, he only does so to satisfy his ego and acquire money. When compared with other sleuths' motives like Holmes' zeal for the "game" or Poirot's compassion and adherence to justice, Wolfe's fall sadly short.
In the end, reading this book became a chore, and I had to push myself to finish. It's safe to say I won't be continuing to read the adventures of Goodwin and Wolfe. ...more
Another tutoring read. This book was a short but sweet story of a boy who travels to a town called Instep where they hold a famous fair celebrating aAnother tutoring read. This book was a short but sweet story of a boy who travels to a town called Instep where they hold a famous fair celebrating a famous monster, the Megrimum. The focus of the story revolves around the boy, Egan, discovering that the Megrimum may not be all it seems to be, and what the consequences of that fact may be. The main question the book asks is, "is it a wise man or a fool who believes?" There are some pretty heavy themes of faith and belief, some of which, I think went over my student's head. ...more