There wasn't as much meat to this story as I remembered from middle school; it seemed rather choppy and abrupt, racing through a girl's transition to...moreThere wasn't as much meat to this story as I remembered from middle school; it seemed rather choppy and abrupt, racing through a girl's transition to womanhood and survival of the Navajo displacement within a few sparse chapters. At first I was disappointed, but the understated, story-teller's cadence of the narrative began to draw me in despite myself. Too, when I considered the young age of the target audience and the terrible tragedy of the subject matter, I gained a new respect for O'Dell's courage in attempting it at all. Quite decent story, and a somewhat softened introduction to one of the more horrible truths about our nation's history.(less)
I argued with myself for a while over giving this five stars--generally my rule is to only bestow that honor on books that are really world-shaking, l...moreI argued with myself for a while over giving this five stars--generally my rule is to only bestow that honor on books that are really world-shaking, life-altering brilliant, or "Great Books." I'm still not certain that this is a capital-g Great Book, but in the end I quite simply couldn't think of a single reason to take stars away, so five stars it is.
And oh, world-shaking it certainly is, and potentially life-altering as well. No matter how many accounts one hears of the atrocities of the Holocaust, the shock and grief never lessen. Jane Yolen has, I believe, done something really new and brilliant here in blending the sickening horror with the innocence of a fairy-tale. The brief flash-backs which gradually reveal Gemma's "Seepin Boot" tale are expertly placed, and each clue that falls into place is a chilling echo of the fairy tale, so that the reader simultaneously yearns to read on and find out the next line of the story, and understands more and more what Gemma meant when she said "I am Briar Rose."
Also some really deep insights into how different people respond to a truth too terrible to be faced--the suicidal missions of the freedom-fighters, the angry denial of (view spoiler)[the villagers in Chelmno (hide spoiler)], and Magda's unquenchable cheerfulness ("If one is not optimistic, then there is too much to weep about.")
Make sure to read the author's note at the end. It's only a few lines, but will radically change the way you see the story.
Gripping, haunting, lovely, utterly breathtaking--not a fluffy, romantic fantasy, but a book to share with everyone you know and remember all your life.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Maybe not high literature, but a jolly good yarn. The Artful Dodger has always been one of my pet underdeveloped-characters-I-wish-we-had-more-of, so...moreMaybe not high literature, but a jolly good yarn. The Artful Dodger has always been one of my pet underdeveloped-characters-I-wish-we-had-more-of, so getting an entire novel devoted to him and his exploits was a real treat. There's no mention here of Oliver or the events of his story--we are instead presented with an alternate history in which (view spoiler)[Dodger actually meets Charles Dickens (and presumably is the inspiration for the Oliver Twist character), along with several other famous figures both historical and fictional (hide spoiler)].
Pratchett's Dodger could be considered a male counterpart to another Pratchett character, Tiffany Aching--both are scrappy, spunky, slightly rough-around-the-edges youngsters who overcome foes much more powerful than they through resourcefulness and close relationship to their land. Tiffany had her beloved chalk-land, her Granny's example, her knowledge of sheep and her talent for cheese; Dodger's territory is the alleys and sewers of Victorian London, and between the worldly-wise advice of Solomon (a radically different take on the Fagan character), his own uncanny street smarts, and the luck of the "tosh," he is a formidable guardian of his territory.
Fairly straightforward plot--expose the dastardly scheme, rescue the fair lady, meet the queen, etc.--but with enough surprises as to not be predictable, and quite good fun. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
One of the most intriguing and enigmatic YA books I've encountered--the kind that your mind keeps turning over and over afterwards. There's an unfatho...moreOne of the most intriguing and enigmatic YA books I've encountered--the kind that your mind keeps turning over and over afterwards. There's an unfathomableness, a moral ambiguity to the character of Mimus which is mildly unsettling, but in a slow creeping sort of way that hits you unawares while your attention is elsewhere. It's the sort of book that's difficult for me to frame an opinion of: there's some humor, and some action-adventurey bits, and a driving, well-paced plot, but that's not what makes the book stick in my mind. The fairly standard hot-blooded idealist of a prince is a more than passable hero; but what keeps me puzzling is that blasted inscrutable, donkey-headed, tight-fisted, too-clever-for-comfort jester. Many re-reads will occur before I get anywhere near done trying to figure him out. It's a pity, though not really a surprise, that this isn't very widely recognised (no angsty love triangles or misunderstood supernatural creatures) but I'd recommend it wholeheartedly, to teens and adults alike. (less)
Aside from required reading, it is a rare occasion when I crack open a non-fiction work (with the notable exception of C.S. Lewis's works, which I've...moreAside from required reading, it is a rare occasion when I crack open a non-fiction work (with the notable exception of C.S. Lewis's works, which I've read so often and with such enthusiasm they're essentially a separate category. Classics, Fiction, Children's Lit, nonfic, and Lewis.) But in a deliberate effort to explore new territories in my reading, recently I've set aside my Alice-in-Wonderland prejudices ("what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?") and ventured, not without some apprehension, into the world of criticism, apologetics, biographies, and no plots or characters. And found, much to my surprise and satisfaction, that it was a world I could feel at home in.
Of course, I had the best of guides. Carpenter's prose is clear and engaging, and he offers just the right blend of historical data, personal insight, quotes from Tolkien's own letters or from his friends, and fascinating albeit seemingly unimportant details (such as his childhood fascination with Welsh place-names) to create a richly colored portrait of this unassuming genius. Although he is unfailingly precise in the biographical facts, Carpenter's emphasis is on understanding how Tolkien's mind worked. Thus we are told, for instance, not only that he lived at such-and-such address for so-and-so years, but why he moved there, whether he was pleased or disappointed with the change, how his family reacted, and--perhaps most importantly--how it affected his writing habits. Particularly of interest to me were the frequent mentions of events that would, in some cases decades later, resurface in his works such as The Lord of the Rings.
Because that's really why this book is of interest. Tolkien the scholar, the catholic, the father, the teacher, are sides of him that are interesting to get to know, and probably to him equally important parts of his life as the literary; but the reason I, and I suspect most readers, bothered picking up the book at all was to get to know Tolkien the author. And that is precisely what Carpenter delivers. I highly recommend it to any Tolkien fans interested in getting to know the forgetful, contrary, quirkily humorous man behind the myth so many have fallen in love with.(less)
I won't comment on every book in my shelf, but I thought this one worth singling out as one of those rare works that haunts you long after reading. I'...moreI won't comment on every book in my shelf, but I thought this one worth singling out as one of those rare works that haunts you long after reading. I'm just beginning to discover the impact its understated wisdom has had on my understanding of God.(less)
I'm taking a hiatus from this book in order to focus on some other research, but I wanted to share my impression, since I really don't know when I'll...moreI'm taking a hiatus from this book in order to focus on some other research, but I wanted to share my impression, since I really don't know when I'll be getting back to it. Initially enthusiastic about the subject, I was frustrated for a long while by the apparent lack of order or coherence to the narrative. The auther jumps from one scenario to another, years or perhaps even decades apart, without warning; there is seldom even a date attatched to allow the reader to sketch out a timeline or historical context. By about the second book, though, I had made my peace with her haphazard style of storytelling, and discovered that there IS a logic to it--the anectdotes of living in revolutionary Iran are arranged, not chronologically, but thematically, as they relate to the four novels which form the basis of the four books. Nafisi does more than describe the role of literature in her society; the themes such as free will and the pursuit of an ideal found in the novels she teaches to her students are interwoven with the struggle she witnesses playing out around her. This is a thoughtful reflection on the revolution and Iranian culture, but it also has some surprising insights into the nature of art and on the novels themselves--I discovered a newfound appreciation (though still not quite affection) for Fitzgerald in reading the Gatsby section. Like any true book-lover, Nafisi organizes and makes sense of her life in terms of her beloved literature, and I think it was this realization that finally won me over. I definitely look forward to the final two sections.(less)
Despite the strangely scatological fixation, this is quite a good read. Kathryn Stockett has created a surprisingly uplifting snapshot of a dangerous...moreDespite the strangely scatological fixation, this is quite a good read. Kathryn Stockett has created a surprisingly uplifting snapshot of a dangerous and troubled time. Even more surprising is that she achieved this effect through the mundane details, the parts of everyday life that nobody talks about, brilliantly captured in the voices of three very different women. "Seems like you just writing life," one character remarks to aspiring journalist Miss Skeeter; and that is exactly what Ms Stockett has accomplished.
*I've updated my review from three to four stars because, despite the eight months and countless more recent reads, I can't get this book out of my head. I'll find myself musing over some element of the plot in my car, or in the shower, or just while letting my mind wander when I'm working, and something will suddenly click into place--"Oh, THAT'S what she was doing!" I think I need to give it another read, if only to take another look at the elegance of the structuring.(less)
I wouldn't presume to say that this classic needs any praise from me--books like this always seem to me to be on a plane of their own, above my approv...moreI wouldn't presume to say that this classic needs any praise from me--books like this always seem to me to be on a plane of their own, above my approval or disapproval. I have to acknowledge the genius of Steinbeck because, whether I happen to enjoy the experience or not, I know it is authentic. However (since I did, in fact, enjoy it immensely, if one can even use that word to describe an experience comparable to being hit by a tidal wave) I can't resist putting forth my own humble remarks. This is, quite simply, a Great Book such as one encounters rarely and immediately knows will probably change one's life; the kind that requires one to contemplate and work through (and maybe cry over a little) after the last page is turned. Despite having had the end "spoiled" for me long ago, I was totally engrossed from beginning to end. Actually, I think knowing how it would end made me appreciate all the more the foreshadowing. Steinbeck's peculiar blend of cruel irony and gently humorous sympathy for humanity's failed efforts to build up to heaven moved me deeply in The Grapes of Wrath, and was if anything made more clear and pure, rather than reduced, by the brevity and simplicity of this little drama. This is one worth reading and, like all great books, re-reading. (less)
Thanhha Lai's simple, stark prose-poetry may lead a casual reader to think this a light read. Don't be fooled: the crystal-clarity of the lines concea...moreThanhha Lai's simple, stark prose-poetry may lead a casual reader to think this a light read. Don't be fooled: the crystal-clarity of the lines conceals hidden depth. The author makes the voice of little Ha Ma, refugee from Vietnam, into a vehicle for diving fathoms deep into the many ways that loss can turn a life inside out--loss of a father, a friendship, a pet baby chick, a favorite doll, a homeland, a home, a cherished papaya tree. Lai has a that rare gift, the ability to evoke profound emotion through the barest of details, the finest lines.
Well deserving of the accolades, and an excellent conversation-starter for the immigrant experience.(less)
I'll update later when I've sorted out my thoughts, but for now I can only say: Brilliant. Utterly, hilariously, beautifully brilliant. I want to read...moreI'll update later when I've sorted out my thoughts, but for now I can only say: Brilliant. Utterly, hilariously, beautifully brilliant. I want to read it again. Like a child at bedtime, "Do it again! again... and again..."
*Second reading (or rather listening, via the Audio Renaissance audiobook.) It is a testament to Susanna Clarke's astonishing skill that her novel, despite its formidible length, should have such gorgeous symmetry. The balance of dry, lightly ironic humor against the maelstrom of dark suspense and wonder; the development of themes and foreshadowings so subtle that the reader scarcely notices they are being insinuated into one's mind until they burst into satisfying fruition; the gradual teasing out of mysteries with maddening deliberateness until tension crackles on the pages... everything is crafted with graceful, breathtaking perfection.
There are so many points which struck me on this second reading that it would be useless to try and list them all--I might as well just tell the whole book over again, and you'd much better read it in the original words than in mine. I will mention, though, that the secondary characters in particular improve upon re-reading, even more so than the eponymous heroes. Not that they were weak to begin with, but the more time one spends with them, the more real they become. Lascelles and Segundus in particular seem to gain color and flesh out; and Childermass of course is a glorious invention, so it was fascinating to see his character come into focus a bit more.
I was also struck this time 'round by the similarities (or perhaps I should say homage) to Charles Dickens' style of creating colorful personalities. The descriptions of Sir Walter Pole's "surprised" face, and of Drawlight's professional mooching, are very Dickensian. (Mr. Honeyfoot on the other hand, with his lovably misguided generous spirit and his pretty daughters, seems to have walked straight out of Austen.)
A few note on the audio recording. Simon Pebble does a fairly decent job of rendering the characters' various accents (I was gratified in particular to hear that Childermass's northern burr was not neglected) though a few characters, such as Drawlight, did not sound at all how I had imagined them. But as much as I love them, in this medium the footnotes were more of a nuisance. Aside from being entertaining, some of them are so integral to the plot that I can understand why the producers didn't want to omit them; sadly, they really do break up the flow of the narrative when read aloud. Some books are obviously meant to be read aloud. This is not one of them.
Overall, this is a book to gladden the soul of the fussiest literature enthusiast. If storytelling is a kind of magic, then Clarke--like her magicians--proves that English Magic is very much alive.(less)