You've all heard of the book. If you haven't read it yet & don't want anything spoiled, don't read beyond the cut. All I'll say is that if you've...moreYou've all heard of the book. If you haven't read it yet & don't want anything spoiled, don't read beyond the cut. All I'll say is that if you've read the first five books of course you're going to get around to reading eventually and once you finish Half Blood Prince you'll eagerly await the publication of the seventh book in the series. Grad school kept me from finishing it until now, so I'm sure I'm probably the only one who hasn't read it yet. Anyway,
Since I've gotten into writing these reviews for more general reasons & I'm really not anywhere near the biggest HP buff out there, I'm not going to get into debates about who R.A.B. is, whether Dumbledore is really dead, or what in the world Snape is up to. I've never known anyone to acurately predict such things, so while I don't mind a little idle speculation, I'm not going to devote any serious energy to figuring out something that Rowling will inevitably explain much more creatively and entertainingly than I could.
Two things that I've loved about the HP series that I think Half Blood Prince continued to do:
Rowling has continued to fulfill her promise of making sure that the style of the books mature with Harry. Ayear older and wiser than the moody teenager in Order of the Phoenix, Harry's realizes there are more important things than getting pissed off at the world. He's still a 16-year-old boy, though, so it's not surprising that he gets frustrated with Dumbledore for not telling him everything right away, but I'm glad to see that he's calmed down a little bit.
Even while dealing with more and more intricate plot details, or maybe because of that, Rowling still manages to craft a very great mystery, leading us one way, and in the end, showing us that it's really something completely different. For example, with all the talk about werewolves and Draco's mysterious disappearances and sickly appearance had me convinced that Draco had become a werewolf, which made me feel pretty stupid when the truth was revealed. I love that she's still able to trick me after five books of getting used to her writing style.
Two other things I liked about Half Blood Prince specifically:
I love this whole Horcrux thing. It's so satisfying to finally know how Voldemort can be defeated. As a reader I've been a little more satisfied about the ultimate mystery of the series, how to kill Voldemort, but at the same time I have to read the seventh book to find out if Harry is actually able to defeat him with this information.
Harry Potter finally gets a girlfriend! Ginny is way cooler than Cho, and it's good to see "The Chosen One" hooking up with someone as talented and clearly on his side. I was starting to feel like Rowling was forgetting about raging teenage hormones, so it was also nice to focus more on Ron and Hermione's seemingly never-ending dance around getting romantically involved. Plus "snogging" is among the coolest British slang ever. I approve of the many excuses to use it in this book.
Two things I was less than excited about in Half Blood Prince:
Harry breaking up with Ginny at the end of the book. She's tough; she can take it. Besides she's already a target as Ron's little sister, which we've already seen. Besides, they weren't exactly hiding their relationship, even if took Harry forever to get around to snogging her. Someone such as Draco Malfoy could easily inform Voldemort of Ginny's even dearer place in Harry's heart, even if they have broken up.
Harry isn't returning to Hogwarts?!? Because of the way these books have been structured and the importance of Hogwarts for Voldemort makes it clear that Hogwarts will still figure in the seventh book. But Harry isn't planning to be a student anymore? I'm just having trouble getting my head around this concept.
As for Snape killing Dumbledore: "I'm not touching that with a 20-foot pole."
Since I'm so behind the times and I know everyone else has talked this book to death, I feel so unmotivated to get into it in detail on this. Being part of an uber-popular series also makes this book hard to review, so sorry for the lesser quality of this review.(less)
Anybody who knows how much I love the movie The Wizard of Oz would be surprised that I'd taken so long to finally read this retelling of the story fro...moreAnybody who knows how much I love the movie The Wizard of Oz would be surprised that I'd taken so long to finally read this retelling of the story from the Wicked Witch of the West's point of view. All I can say is, at least it was worth the wait.
Just like other "literary revisionist histories" (my first exposure was Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs) the novelty of this book is the retelling of a familiar story from an unexpected point of view. Being one of those people who finds it impossible to get mad at others because of that old adage about walking a mile in someone else's shoes, I am certainly drawn to this type of literature anyway. But even if you're thoroughly convinced that the Wicked Witch is rotten to the core, you might appreciate this elaborate take on her backstory, as well as that of most of the other creatures of Oz mentioned in L. Frank Baum's beloved tale.
One thing I that I must praise is the realistic ways in which Maguire spins his tale. There is a temptation in this genre to completely flip everything upside down, and sometimes that is done to great comic effect, but this novel takes a more complex and nuanced view of its role as revisionist. You come out of the story understanding why all the familiar characters in the land of Oz appear the way they do in the original story, yet a whole new understanding of them is revealed. Dorothy and her party are the only ones left essentially unchanged (although that's mostly because they are very minor characters here).
The fact that what happens in the original story only takes up a small portion of the book (about the last quarter) may be a problem to some Wizard of Oz fanatics. This didn't bother me, although I know I wasn't the only one who thought the opening section about Elfeba's first two years of life seemed a bit tedious. However, the book slowly gains speed as she attends college (where she & Glinda are roommates), and as we meet adult Elfeba and learn how she transforms into The Wicked Witch of the West the story finally hits it stride (albeit a still fairly deliberate one).
And this brings me to my main warning about this book: Do NOT read it expecting a quick light-hearted revision of the Oz world. This book is both long and dense and the narrative is not always clear, especially when dealing with Elfeba's paranoid conspiracy theories, or the muddled minds of several characters. As far as "literary revisionist history" goes this is much more in the vein of John Gardner's Grendel (the monster from the Old English classic, Beowulf, gets to share his story) than breezier more comical versions like the one I mentioned earlier.
It's strange because through 90% of this book I wanted to say something bad about it. I wanted to get mad at the way some of my favorite character's became demonized. I wanted to rage at the way Maguire made me fall in love with Elfie, only to have her die unforgiven. However, as I anxiously awaited the car ride that would conclude this book, I realized that I absolutely loved it. And as I listened to the story's conclusion and the state in which the land of Oz was left, I realized that all this confusion about who was good and evil was intentional. People may try to be good, but that doesn't mean they won't do evil things. Dorothy was pure and innocent and had no intention of killing the Wicked Witch of the West, yet she still did it. Elfeba similarly tried to do right, but she still became known as Wicked.(less)
This BBC radio recording of Romeo and Juliet is a great combination of the written text with the added dramatic flair of the stage production. I still...moreThis BBC radio recording of Romeo and Juliet is a great combination of the written text with the added dramatic flair of the stage production. I still can't get over how stupid Romeo & Juliet are, and yet I still manage to care a lot about their story.(less)
Gossip Girl was pretty much what I expected, but nothing more. The high schoolers in this book are rich and spoiled and partake in all sorts of horrib...moreGossip Girl was pretty much what I expected, but nothing more. The high schoolers in this book are rich and spoiled and partake in all sorts of horrible activities, drinking, pot smoking, skipping school, sex, ruthless cliqueishness - in other words, fairly typical high school behavior, these high schoolers just have a lot more money.
I almost gave up on this book, though, because initially the story seems to focus on the hopelessly lame Queen Bee Blair, who is a completely unlovable villain. Horrified that the return of her former BFF will mean the end of her elite social status, Blair does nothing but remorselessly plan the girl's social demise, while simultaneously trying to lose her virginity to her marginally less boring waspoid (rich kid, pothead) boyfriend, again in an almost unfeeling fashion. Luckily, the book eventually begins to focus on the more human characters and delightful melodrama ensues.
Since it really picked up at the end, I'm considering checking out the next in the series from the library, but it's definitely not something I want to own. Honestly, if you've watched The OC or read Sweet Valley High you won't be too surprised by anything here, although I think this is just a smidge more heartless, which is why I didn't devour it quite the way I do other quick reads like this. As for it's inappropriateness for kids, I think I'd question giving it to middle schoolers, but I don't understand the point of preventing high schoolers from reading books about kids their own age, doing the same stuff that they, or at least their classmates, are already doing.(less)
I'm feeling a little guilty because it seems like nearly everyone is either in love with this book or hates Marisha Pessl because she's hot. I fall in...moreI'm feeling a little guilty because it seems like nearly everyone is either in love with this book or hates Marisha Pessl because she's hot. I fall into neither category. Yes, she's attractive, but that doesn't make me hate her, but I'm also pretty sure I didn't love her book.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics suffers from the opposite of Spiderman 3 syndrome (too many stories, not enough time) and instead took too long to tell what what actually turned out to be a fairly concise story. For at least 300 pages it sounds like a more erudite version of Mean Girls. The narrator, 16-year-old high school senior Blue Van Meer finds herself for the first time attending the same school for an entire year (her father has spent most of her life criss-crossing the country as a visiting professor of political science). Due to the interest of the alluring film teacher, Hannah Schneider, Blue is initiated into the Bluebloods, the social elite of St. Galway School, but of course struggles adjusting to this new way of life.
As the only child of a widowed professor, Blue is almost ridiculously academic (but in an endearing way), outlining her story like a syllabus, naming each chapter after a major literary work (Shakespeare's Othello begins it and Ovid's Metamorphoses ends it), as well as exhaustively referencing the sources of academic as well as popular culture that influence her. This is all fine and used pretty effectively in quick asides throughout the book. However there are also several occasions where Blue goes into lecture mode, expounding on obscure tales of academia only to tangentially connect to the current action of the story several pages later.
Finally, two-thirds of the way into this 582 page book (I actually had to finish on the 927 large print version after the first copy I checked out from the library was recalled), we discover the real story - a murder mystery that finally uncovers the clouded past of more than one person in Blue's life. However, this has very little to do with the first two-thirds of story that deals so well with Blue's struggles to attempt become part of a social fabric outside of the exclusive Van Meer family (Blue & her dad). Instead, this plot is essentially dropped and Blue seems resigned to always be "the new kid" who never stays in one place long enough to fit in.
I loved getting to know Blue, but you never really get to know any of the other characters in the book, other than as quick caricatures. It felt awful to leave this girl who's perpetually alone (while she & her dad have plenty of intellectual in-jokes, it's clear from the beginning that emotions are something he considers himself above) with no equally fleshed out character of equal depth so that she could finally have a real, true friend.
Quick Take: Starts off as high-school social drama, finally reveals itself to be a dark, political murder mystery - all the pieces are good and interesting, but the whole is bloated and not very compelling - needs considerable editing in the beginning and better development of the ending(less)
It's been quite awhile since I updated here, but that should be changing. I decided to start listening to audio books again, so those should give me s...moreIt's been quite awhile since I updated here, but that should be changing. I decided to start listening to audio books again, so those should give me something to update about every week or two. Plus, as the semester comes to a close, I know there are at least too projects I plan to share here.
Looking at my last entry, you'll see that Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was not a book I planned to read. It wasn't that I didn't want to read it. It just had too many stronger contenders to deal with on my way too long list of books to read. But as I started to browse Cole Library's books-on-tape section, this was the first one that caught my eye, so I thought I'd give it a try.
I'll admit that I didn't love this book immediately, but I don't think that's uncommon for me and British comedy. I used to think Keeping Up Appearances was the dumbest show ever, and I think I even used to dislike Are You Being Served?, but time has shown me the error of my ways in both cases. I'm too earnestly Americanly optimistic to enjoy flippant British nihilism, at least when I focusing on the nihilism part. Anyway, I just want to explain that while my first impression of Hitchhiker's was less than favorable, that certainly doesn't mean I persisted in that belief. This is also my warning to those of you who don't usually appreciate British humor, that you may not appreciate this book. Although, as soon as I got to Genghis Khan's distance descendant, I was in stitches.
Hitchhiker's is clearly science fiction, but science fiction at its funniest. We're still dealing with the immensity of interstellar exploration and the mind-boggling possibilities offered by it, but when bright-eyed idealism is exchanged for realist's cynicism, we get to laugh about it, rather than feel depressed, like poor Marvin, the chronically depressed robot.
Coming from a humanities background, I often forget that scientists think about the big questions of life and existence, too, and so sci-fi is always an eye-opening experience for me because it constantly teaches me this lesson. As poor Arthur Dent is forced to evacuate Earth with his alien friend Ford Prefect, it's just the beginning of his new discoveries about the universe.
And here comes my other beef with the book, although I think it's motivated by jealousy more than anything. It's one of those books that you know you're only understanding about half of the first time through because you have the distinct feeling that it's being told in reverse. Sure enough, after I finished it, I put in the first tape to listen again and discovered that only after hearing the whole story did I have any idea what the opening anecdote about the lady who had the most brilliant idea was about. When I used to think I was going to be a writer when I grew up I knew that I could never write stories like that. I don't think that many moves ahead and I'm terrible at keeping my own secrets. I just have to be straight forward and lay everything out in the order it happened. I'm in awe of those who don't have to follow that convention.
After rambling on about this book for awhile, I doubt that I've illuminated those who haven't read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to what it's about, so I'll close with some more concrete practical advice about the book. If you like sci-fi, you'll like this book. If you like comedy, you'll like this book (and not just complex comedy; a character with the name Slarty Bartfast is enough to prove that). If you don't have a sense of humor, you won't like this book and you should stay far away from it. If you don't like sci-fi, don't be afraid to give it a try. It's not the kind of sci-fi that relies on knowledge of complex science, but it is still definitely sci-fi, so I won't guarantee that you'll like it, but I bet that you probably will.(less)
Another book whose ending disappointed me, but the rest of the book was riveting. I'm starting to get sick of Victorian literature, so it was nice to...moreAnother book whose ending disappointed me, but the rest of the book was riveting. I'm starting to get sick of Victorian literature, so it was nice to read something just following that time period challenging societal norms. The Awakening centers around beautiful young Edna Pontellier, wife a a successful New Orleans businessman, who suddenly "awakens" to realize that she is not fulfilled in her role as a society wife and mother. Her awakening leads to the "scandalous" behavior which drew much criticism and kept the work in obscurity until the advent of the feminist movement. I was not at all surprised by the ending, but was surprised at how suddenly it occurred. The story is beautifully written and was thought-provoking from beginning to end. The Awakening was thoroughly enjoyable, though emotionally draining.(less)
This is one of my all-time favorites, a gothic monster classic. I read it constantly from 4th-6th grade. I reread it in college for a Victorian Lit. c...moreThis is one of my all-time favorites, a gothic monster classic. I read it constantly from 4th-6th grade. I reread it in college for a Victorian Lit. class, and then reread it as an audiobook in 2012.(less)