Stargirl is an amazing book about individuality and nonconformism. A home-schooled girl named Stargirl begins attending the public high school for her...moreStargirl is an amazing book about individuality and nonconformism. A home-schooled girl named Stargirl begins attending the public high school for her sophomore year. Stargirl is different.
She learns everybody's birthdays and on the day of, she sings them a happy birthday song -- accompanying herself on the ukulele -- in the middle of the lunch room, whether they want her to or not. She watches a young boy who lives across the street so that she can create a scrapbook for him without his knowledge. She is, in almost every way, unconventional.
The voice of the book is a young man who becomes fascinated by Stargirl and befriends her, even though many of her antics make her an outcast, otherwise. Through a series of events, she becomes wildly popular, then widely despised. For this boy, she experiments with being conventional for awhile.
The book is fascinating. It explores a lot of issues centered around social conventions and how they play in our lives for good or ill. And they take place at a stage of life when kids are most susceptible to peer pressure. Jerry Spinelli's insights are thought-provoking and engaging. In the end, the book makes you want to be a better person, perhaps in ways that aren't quite "normal." It reminds me of a talk given by Dallin H. Oaks, in which he said, "... This requires us to make some changes from our family culture, our ethnic culture, or our national culture. We must change all elements of our behavior that are in conflict with gospel commandments, covenants, and culture." The genius of it is that the book does this without being particularly preachy.
Terry Pratchett is a comic genius. In this first installment of the "Watch" series in his Discworld (a world not quite entirely unlike our own), we me...moreTerry Pratchett is a comic genius. In this first installment of the "Watch" series in his Discworld (a world not quite entirely unlike our own), we meet Captain Vimes of the Ankh Morpork Night Watch and a selection of his fine men as they face down a fire-breathing dragon with kingly aspirations.
This book has more one-liners than a joke book ("The people united can never be ignited!"), and is significantly funnier. Terry Pratchett also works his genius with situational irony: Nothing prepares a person's gut for the scene with three coppers up on a roof trying to figure out exactly how to achieve a million-to-one chance (since those chances never fail) of killing the dragon. This is perhaps the funniest book I've ever read, with the possible exception of Anguished English.(less)
This book tried really hard to ruin Ender's Game for me. The premise of the book is that Ender wasn't really the hero of his own book, but that his c...moreThis book tried really hard to ruin Ender's Game for me. The premise of the book is that Ender wasn't really the hero of his own book, but that his course was manipulated and prodded onward by an even greater genius, in the form of Bean, a member of Ender's army.
Bean had a brutal upbringing on the streets, and somehow ended up in Battle School, where he takes over the computer system and runs everything by the time he's six. He ensures that Ender ends up saving the world -- without his help, Ender would have failed.
It was interesting to see the events of Ender's Game from a different perspective, but that's about the only positive thing I have to say about this book. Possibly the deepest theme element in the book is how Bean's interactions with Ender forced him to care about someone other than himself. End of Bean's worries that he might not be human.
It seems like Orson Scott Card also tried to pull in some elements of Alan Dean Foster's "Flinx" series, with the whole "genetically manipulated super-human with emotional insecurity" thing.
Great. "I see your super-genius and trump you with a super-super-genius." Lousy book.(less)
The final installment of Pamela Aidan's adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice continues Mr. Darcy's confusion over and pursuit of Elizabeth...moreThe final installment of Pamela Aidan's adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice continues Mr. Darcy's confusion over and pursuit of Elizabeth Bennett, and comes to a satisfying and happy conclusion. The book is well written, and a little smoother than the first book in the trilogy (An Assembly Such as This).
I think a lot of men will find Mr. Darcy's emotional obsession with Elizabeth to be a little heavy-handed (consider Dave Barry's definitive treatise on the topic of male/female relations), but Ms. Aidan does a good job surrounding Mr. Darcy with memorable characters. I found Mr. Darcy's relationship with his sister Georgiana a bit cloying. The invention of Darcy's good friend Lord Brougham (in the spirit of Sir Percival Blakeney) was highly entertaining. Mr. Darcy's valet, Fletcher (in the spirit of Jeeves), is clever and adds a bit of humor throughout the series.
All in all, I found the description of Mr. Darcy's gradual change in attitude to be wholly engaging.(less)
The characters are engaging. The description of life in the little community where Rose (Sleeping Beauty) grows up is so idyllic that you want the book to keep going just so you can read about the town.
Unfortunately, the last quarter almost does the book in. The magic in this book shows no particular rhyme or reason, which makes it harder to suspend disbelief. The magic in the last quarter of the book, surrounding the climax, is thick and plentiful. Since the magic seems to follow no rules, the result is rather like I imagine a bad trip on acid would be. It reminds me rather unfavorably of Alice in Wonderland, a book that I have never managed to get through even half of.
Thankfully, the climax of this book is short enough that I could get to the happy ending.(less)
The idea of this play is intriguing. The play concerns two characters who are, as the title suggests, "Waiting for Godot." They're not entirely sure w...moreThe idea of this play is intriguing. The play concerns two characters who are, as the title suggests, "Waiting for Godot." They're not entirely sure why they're waiting for him, because they're not sure whether his coming will be great or terrible. Symbolic interpretation of the play can lead to some interesting insights into human nature, and possibly some perspective into man's relationship with God.
Having said all that, the play is boring. Really, really boring. The main characters are confused and all but unintelligible. Okay, so that is arguably just another commentary on the human condition. But it makes reading the play rather uncomfortably like talking with someone with a mental illness: you know that they know what they're talking about, but you can't for the life of you make out what is going on in their mental world.
I picked this up because someone suggested that it was another funny existentialist play along the lines of Rosencrantz Guildenstern Are Dead. Existentialist, yes; confused, yes; thought-provoking, maybe; funny, no.(less)
It's really interesting to go through the Constitution and see what it actually says. For example, the issue of separation between church and state re...moreIt's really interesting to go through the Constitution and see what it actually says. For example, the issue of separation between church and state really isn't quite how it's often portrayed. The Constitution provides for the non-intervention of the government in religion, and says practically nothing about the non-intervention of religion in government -- at least, I couldn't find anything.
One thing that I really like about this edition is that it marks the sections of the Constitution and amendments that were amended by later amendments and notes which amendments updated the text.
It's really embarrassing to me that I had never read the Constitution before, even though I took oath to uphold it in a previous job. It's quite short, so it's not like it takes that long. Of course, there's a fair bit of legal language in there, too, which makes for slow reading.(less)
Mel Bartholomew is a huge advocate of box gardening. Box gardening is a great idea, especially when you have alkaline clay like we have in our backyar...moreMel Bartholomew is a huge advocate of box gardening. Box gardening is a great idea, especially when you have alkaline clay like we have in our backyard. Constructing the boxes is a snap -- okay, more like a whine, because it takes a drill. He doesn't emphasize enough, though, that the gardens take a huge amount of water, because the wood seems to wick the water away from the dirt.
Stuff seems to grow well in Mel's Mix, if you plant it in the right part of the season. Last year we planted quite late, so our harvest was pretty meager. This year, all of our varieties of lettuce are already huge, our asparagus is coming up, our strawberries are going wild, and our carrots seem to be doing well. For some reason, though, tomatoes seem to just as well in the clay, if not better. So we're doing an experiment: planting tomatoes in boxes and out of boxes to see which are better.
The square-foot part of the idea seems to work for some things, but it's not as helpful for others. I find his emphasis on the idea a little funny. For things that can be planted in a single square, they're great. But last year our tomatoes plants got so big that they overflowed into other squares, choking out the plants that were in them. And, I'm sorry, but strawberries were meant to take over a whole box. There's just no point in dividing the plants up.
The book is very conversational. Some of the concepts could use better diagrams, like the greenhouse idea. And he mentions that each box will last for several years, but he doesn't give any ideas about how to move the dirt when you have to take one apart. And his idea of putting chicken wire on the bottom of the box to keep critters out is great -- but we've learned that you have to use maybe quarter inch chicken wire, because small rodents like voles can get through the one inch. And the edges of the wire tear up the weed fabric, so we have weeds around the edges of the boxes.
Thankfully, though, the garden boxes themselves are really easy to weed, because the dirt doesn't get compacted from being walked on, like you get with a normal garden. Overall, I'm glad we're using this approach, because the results we got the first year trying to plant directly in our clay (with some topsoil thrown on top) was rather sad -- except for the tomatoes.(less)
In Going Postal, the enlightened despot of Ankh Morpork, Lord Vetinari, rather forcibly recruits a con man, Moist von Lipwig, to take over the running...moreIn Going Postal, the enlightened despot of Ankh Morpork, Lord Vetinari, rather forcibly recruits a con man, Moist von Lipwig, to take over the running of the venerable and deserted post office, where letters have been accumulating for years -- if not decades -- without delivery. Moist steps reluctantly into the moldy shoes of the Postmaster, only to discover that the previous three occupants of the position died grisly deaths in the execution of their duties (and I use the term "execution" advisedly).
Complicate the situation with a Golem parole officer trying to buy his (not its) own freedom, a chain smoking female advocate of Golem rights, and the corrupt owners of the "clacks" system that can send messages across great distance very quickly by semaphore, and you have an ingenious showdown that has to be read to be believed.
Terry Pratchett brings his characteristic humor to the story, so you're guaranteed a good chuckle -- if not out-loud belly laugh -- every few pages.(less)
I don't really understand what the fuss is about with these books. They're good, but nothing particularly special. I've read a lot of books in the sam...moreI don't really understand what the fuss is about with these books. They're good, but nothing particularly special. I've read a lot of books in the same genre that are as good or better. I may get flamed for being lukewarm about them, but here goes.
They're pretty well written. Harry and his supporting characters are engaging, if not overly deep. (All of the characters are so archetypal that it's sometimes hard to get past it. Boys are sport-obsessed. The nerd (Hermione) is exceptionally nerdy. The good characters are GOOD. The bad characters are BAD. They're even divided into Houses that embody their characteristics. By and large, the characters who have the most depth are dead: Harry's parents. The only living characters who shows some depth is Severus Snape.)
The stories themselves are fairly well-crafted. The world is interesting and hangs together pretty well, although it's not really clear why some people are wizards and some people aren't. It's also rather unbelievable that, given the large number of wizards, none of them seem interested in trying to make the Muggles aware of their existence in contravention of the prevailing wisdom.
The overall plot is fairly typical of the young-adult fantasy genre: A young orphan boy fostered with relatives learns that he has a special gift, a magical history, and is expected to save the world from a great evil despite being, at the beginning of the story, entirely untrained. The execution of the plot is pretty good.
One thing that I liked about this book and the others that follow is that Harry, the hero, doesn't save the world by himself. Without the support of the many good people around him, Harry wouldn't have had any hope of fulfilling his quest.(less)
What can I say? The book is pretty good. Characters are still a bit flat. The plot is interesting. Needs a better editor, mu...moreThe adventure continues...
What can I say? The book is pretty good. Characters are still a bit flat. The plot is interesting. Needs a better editor, much like the first book.
Ah. I know what I can say. The most irritating flaw in this book is the authors lousy attempts to write seventeenth century English. I can't believe that the editor let those through. For someone who aspires to write like Tolkien on a good day, the author needs some... mmm... seasoning. I think that he was trying to make it obvious that the races (human, elf, dwarf) speak different languages, but it just came across as the author not knowing the first thing about the older forms of English. The constant misuse of "mine" where "my" is correct is really irritating. He doesn't seem to understand the objective and nominative cases of the old English second-person singular forms (thee vs. thou).
And he misuses some words in an attempt to make his verbiage sound elevated.
But if you can get past the author's immature and occasionally ignorant writing style, the story is fun.(less)
Once again, Brandon Sanderson proves that he can come up with a unique system of magic and make it hang together, coupling it with a fascinating story...moreOnce again, Brandon Sanderson proves that he can come up with a unique system of magic and make it hang together, coupling it with a fascinating story. The book had twists that I didn't foresee -- always a pleasure -- characters that were complex and dynamic, and a world with a rich history, of which the reader only gets to see the edges.
Masterful storytelling. I docked it a star because he forgot to finish the book. He alludes to the final resolution, but he didn't bother to write it. Very irritating. But it's still a good book.
And Lightsong is the most amazingly funny character...(less)
The Millionaire Next Door is a summary of the research of two men who have come to some surprising conclusions about the wealthy in America. For inst...more The Millionaire Next Door is a summary of the research of two men who have come to some surprising conclusions about the wealthy in America. For instance, they found that almost two-thirds of America's wealthy are first-generation rich. They also talk about a number of the characteristics of those who become wealthy. It turns out that attitude toward money has a much greater impact on wealth than income or occupation.
The book is filled with lots of fascinating facts and statistics. The authors describe two general classes of people: under-accumulators of wealth, and prodigious accumulators of wealth. They also provide a pretty safe metric to determine which one you are: "Multiply your age times your realized pretax annual household income from all sources except inheritances. Divide by ten. This, less any inherited wealth, is what your net worth should be."
The book is dry at times, and could probably have been slimmed down to about half its size without losing any meaningful content. The authors tend to repeat themselves a lot. But the conclusions that they come to are fascinating, and provide an interesting look at how the wealthy become wealthy -- and why their children usually aren't.(less)
The book is about an orphan with some special characteristic that makes him able to occasionally see and manipulate the future. He, of course, is the...moreThe book is about an orphan with some special characteristic that makes him able to occasionally see and manipulate the future. He, of course, is the hero of the book, as any orphan with magical powers must inevitably be. So the premise of the book is immediately weak -- overused literary theme.
And the writing is frankly disappointing. It's rather awkward. Not quite as bad as Eragon, but bad enough that I decided not to finish the book. For me, that's pretty bad. The editing was poor, too, which is never an encouraging sign. Anytime you see obvious misspellings, you know that the editor either 1) was so bored with the book that they couldn't pay attention, 2) was out of their depth due to technical complexity (several of my college textbooks), or 3) didn't actually expect much of anything from the book.
That this book is apparently so popular among the young adult male population is a tribute to something, but I can't think what it is. Desperate need to be special, like a mistreated orphan boy with magical powers, maybe?
Some of the ideas and the allegories in the book are interesting (for example, one character has an almost unhealthy trust in fate), but the writing didn't hold my attention for long enough to find out where they were leading.(less)
Wilde did a reasonably good job presenting his main thesis, that people need to support and love each other even though they are imperfect, but the dialogue was rather heavy-handed -- preachy -- and he completely avoided discussion of another serious topic: What do you do when you discover that your spouse or loved-one has broken or is breaking some very serious laws?
There was almost no discussion on this question, and ultimately, the character who is so aggressively perfectionistic decides that it's okay to live on what amounts to stolen goods -- an action so out of character that it almost ruins the play.(less)
Very disappointing. David Eddings seems to have given up on creating anything new. He puts the same characters in slightly different worlds. The Belga...moreVery disappointing. David Eddings seems to have given up on creating anything new. He puts the same characters in slightly different worlds. The Belgariad was phenomenal. The Malloreon was a rehash of the Belgariad, but good. The Elenium was quite good. With the Tamuli everything started to fall apart: the quality of his writing worsened and it became evident that his creativity had gone with it.
In this one, all of the supposedly strong-willed characters fall right into line. The little goddess is exactly the same as Danae from the Elenium. The plot isn't very interesting, and the writing is completely flat.(less)
Very disappointing. The premise is interesting, and the world is clever,but the author apparently thought that the book couldn't stand on its own meri...moreVery disappointing. The premise is interesting, and the world is clever,but the author apparently thought that the book couldn't stand on its own merits, so she threw in a bunch of sex. Otherwise, it seemed like the book would have been three stars.(less)
Just as awesome as the first book, if not better. Funny characters, funny writing, and, again, it makes you think about evaluating truth. There's some...moreJust as awesome as the first book, if not better. Funny characters, funny writing, and, again, it makes you think about evaluating truth. There's some pretty interesting philosophy mixed in with the humor and action. I love Alcatraz's cousin's gift of waking up ugly.(less)
This is a great book, although it's so thick with literary and poetic allusions that it made me feel ignorant. O, for a classical education!
The story...moreThis is a great book, although it's so thick with literary and poetic allusions that it made me feel ignorant. O, for a classical education!
The story centers around a time-traveler/historian, whose time traveling research group is being ordered about by a Lady who is obsessed with recreating a cathedral that was bombed in World War II. Of course, too much time travel results in serious side effects, akin to jet lag. The main character is under orders to locate the Bishop's bird stump, a hideous object that was in the cathedral when it burned. And he's badly time-lagged.
Another time traveler in his group inadvertently does the impossible, bringing a cat from the past forward in time. This causes an incongruity that threatens to destroy the universe.
The characterization is brilliant, the writing is clever, and it made me want to read a whole bunch of old classics. Given my aversion to classics, I think that's pretty impressive.
I may have just found my Terry Pratchett replacement.(less)
I had high hopes for this book. But ultimately the author spent too much time world-building and not enough character-building. The characters were bo...moreI had high hopes for this book. But ultimately the author spent too much time world-building and not enough character-building. The characters were boring, flat, and unreal. Some of them were written to evoke sympathy, but their emptiness just made me not care.
And the editing was terrible. Words misspelled all over the place, using words wrong... There were so many instances where the author chose an almost-homophone for the word that he was trying to use that I lost count.
I came away with the impression that the author was trying to imitate Tolkien. But he ended up getting wrong the same things that Tolkien did--like thin characterization--and failed to get right the things that Tolkien did, like creating characters that sometimes chose the wrong thing.
And don't get me started on the internal inconsistencies. Like the Vale that inevitably warps things when they stay in it too long -- unless the person is a protagonist.(less)
I reread this because my first rating was unfair, being based off a 20-minute skim. Now I've read it thoroughly, and I'm still not impressed.
The writi...moreI reread this because my first rating was unfair, being based off a 20-minute skim. Now I've read it thoroughly, and I'm still not impressed.
The writing is fine. The characterization is a little thin, but not too bad.
I suppose it's the plot that really irks me. The story is basically that rich people's lives are empty and they can get away with manslaughter. There's no real depth of insight--no real sense of meaning to the story. It has the same emotional and intellectual depth as an action movie, without the action and without actually bothering to be entertaining.
David Wiesner is a genius. I ran across this book while browsing through the BYU Bookstore one day. I "read" through the whole thing in about ten minu...moreDavid Wiesner is a genius. I ran across this book while browsing through the BYU Bookstore one day. I "read" through the whole thing in about ten minutes, then "read" through it again. Then again. (Please realize that this is quite an accomplishment, because the book is almost 100,000 words long.) Then I bought it for Kim, 'cause I figured she'd love it, too.
You think it's hard to write a story? Try writing one without using any words! How do I reconcile my assertions that this book has no words and that it's almost 100,000 words long? Because the book is entirely made of pictures, and each picture is worth 1,000 words! Hah!
And you thought that I was going senile in my old age...
This book and Flotsam are two amazing forays into the art of storytelling without words. Sector 7 is the story of an artistic boy on a field trip to the Empire State Building. When his class gets to the top of the Empire State Building, the building is fogged in so that they can't see the city. As the boy is walking along the observation deck, the wind steals his hat and scarf. When the boy goes looking for them, he discovers that a cloud is wearing them.
The cloud ends up taking the boy to Sector 7 headquarters, where the clouds get their assignments for the greater New York area.
I'm not going to ruin the rest of it for you. You'll have to "read" it yourself. It's worth it; I promise.(less)
The town of Clarence lives in the shadow of a psychotropic drug factory. The factory burns down, leading to the release of some potent memory-stimulat...moreThe town of Clarence lives in the shadow of a psychotropic drug factory. The factory burns down, leading to the release of some potent memory-stimulating drugs. The book deals with a number of people in the nearby town and how they are affected by the inability to shield their memories -- from the World War II veteran who was among the first into Dachau to a widower father and his author mother.
It's interesting how the author weaves together the personal stories and psychological theory. There's a definite psycho-humanist cant to the book; the author doesn't seem to have much use for the neurological branch of psychology. The theory of the book seems to be that forgetfulness is how the mind protects itself from mnemonic overload. Without forgetting, every event -- smell, taste, sight, sound, feel, would trigger associations that a person would have to re-experience.
I'm not sure that this would be quite as crippling as the author seems to think. But what do I know? I have a terrible memory. Admittedly, the focus is on a few characters whose traumas might be hard to forget; but the description surrounding the other inhabitants of the town indicates that most of them are similarly affected.
I probably wouldn't have run across this book if I hadn't been looking for an author whose name starts with 'U' for the A-Z Author's Challenge, but I'm glad I did.(less)
This book is phenomenal. The author talks about the emerging research into the fundamental differences between boys and girls. He also debunks a lot o...moreThis book is phenomenal. The author talks about the emerging research into the fundamental differences between boys and girls. He also debunks a lot of commonly believed false differences. It's really amazing that psychologists and teachers had to go through forty years of unisex philosophy, thinking that boys and girls are different only because we raise them that way, when any parent of more than one gender can tell you that there are very distinct mental and emotional differences between them.
Even better than his explanations of the research, though, are his comments about how to apply the research to raising kids. The studies that point out that boys and girls are more confident and happier when they have a firm sense of gender identity are fascinating.
And I never expected to develop sympathy for the idea of gender-segregated schools, but his comments on the topic and why it's valuable make me wish that we had schools like that nearby.(less)
I was expecting this book to be funny, and it decidedly wasn't. Nevertheless, it was a really good book, and thought-provoking.
Heck is a good kid who...moreI was expecting this book to be funny, and it decidedly wasn't. Nevertheless, it was a really good book, and thought-provoking.
Heck is a good kid who tries to take care of his mom, who is depressive and occasionally temporally displaced (thinks she's six again, type of thing), particularly when she's under stress. The book starts with Heck (Hector)'s mom calling him at a friend's house to say that they've been locked out of the apartment for failure to pay the rent, and telling him to see if he can stay the night.
Heck doesn't. This story is about Heck's attempts to find his mom and survive. It is honest; it doesn't sugar-coat anything. Even the ending, which faintly colors some hope into the starkness of their lives, doesn't pretend that things are going to be easy. I was very impressed.
The book is short. It's a very quick read, written on a little younger level than I usually read.(less)
This is a decidedly older young adult book, rather like Brandon Sanderson's Rithmatist series, and unlike his Alcatraz series, which is a great middle...moreThis is a decidedly older young adult book, rather like Brandon Sanderson's Rithmatist series, and unlike his Alcatraz series, which is a great middle teen series. Like both of those series, there's a lot to like about Steelheart: great, memorable characters who have real depth, interesting plot, and some good insights into what makes us human, without trying to cheapen the experience.(less)
Light, sort of brain-dead mystery. Funny in a quirky kind of way. Nothing deep here, but it's a fun read.
The Spellman family has a private investigati...moreLight, sort of brain-dead mystery. Funny in a quirky kind of way. Nothing deep here, but it's a fun read.
The Spellman family has a private investigation business. This has made them into a family of snoops who inflict themselves on others. Izzy, the main character, manages to get absolutely everything wrong on the main (unpaid) mystery -- uncovering the identity and privacy of a new neighbor -- while solving three other minor mysteries along the way.
Izzy's stupidity is sort of charming, but her little sister and her imposed-upon friend the police inspector steal the show.(less)
The story has reasonable depth, and some surprising shallowness. The characters are a bit flat. The message about prejudice, bigotry, and racism is a...moreThe story has reasonable depth, and some surprising shallowness. The characters are a bit flat. The message about prejudice, bigotry, and racism is a good one, and the story is well told.
I thought Jem's identification of the four levels (or strata, or castes) of society in their county was very interesting -- the 'of good family' or affluent, who look down on the indigent people, who look down on the indigent and lazy, who look down on the blacks. And Scout says that she reckons there's only one kind of people, and that's people. Yet Scout is pretty prejudiced about the people of the county, and thinks of them in their castes.
There's a powerful lesson here about the influence of social attitudes. Atticus tries to teach his kids to see the good in everyone, but their interactions with neighbors and other kids inform their biases at least as much as his influence. It's making me wonder what the best way is to teach my children to look at what's inside a person rather than race, social status, religion, or what-have-you.(less)
This is the satisfying conclusion to the Twilight series. There's a little too much emphasis on sex. The climax is suitably climactic, and the resolut...moreThis is the satisfying conclusion to the Twilight series. There's a little too much emphasis on sex. The climax is suitably climactic, and the resolution is clever, if a little too smooth for comfort.(less)