Book review, Write

My sister is smarter than you

My sister read The Last Battle recently, book 7 in C. S. Lewis’ beloved Narnia books, infamous for its unveiled religious proselytizing. While the parallels between Aslan and Jesus had always been present in the rest of the series, book 7 is when–spoiler alert–a 16-year-old girl doesn’t get to go to heaven (Narnia) by dying in a train wreck (the Rapture) because she’s into make-up and boys now.

Hold on, what?

I asked Em, who just turned 12 recently, what she thought of the book, and this was her response:

I think that the author might’ve been trying to get too philosophical in it, and it was a bit strange. It wasn’t bad, but it sort of reminded me of Animal Farm, by George Orwell.

This is better literary criticism than I’ve seen of some freshmen college students. Also, she’s read Animal Farm??

Basically, my sister rocks.

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Fifteen book reviews and an excuse

Procrastination, as they say, is a bitch.

As anyone who has done any sort of creative work knows, inspiration tends to strike you when you’re in the worst position to be able to take advantage of it. (Apparently there’s even a scientific reason for this.) As I write this, I am at least 4.5 hours behind on delivering on a deadline I promised a sort-of client. To be fair, this is partially because I spent most of the weekend incapacitated by a debilitating headache that drove me to take Tylenol for the first time in, oh, probably two years. And while I can probably still deliver on the product before the client gets up for the day–the beauty of being a night owl–the fact remains that I’m staring at my work at 4:30 AM on a Monday morning and all I can think about are the three new ideas I’ve had for blog posts in the past day or so.

I could simply jot down a few notes about the broad outlines of these posts and consign them to the lonely and neglected folder of blog ideas on my desktop, where they’ll be in great company with that half-written rant about college sports, that follow-up post about SOPA with 47 URLs languishing in a text file, and that email about Chinese proverbs that just needs a few tweaks to be adapted into a proper post.

But pushing these ideas out of my mind won’t actually stop me from procrastinating; they’ll simply ensure that by the time I come back to these ideas in four weeks I’ll barely remember what it is I wanted to write about. Instead, I’ll procrastinate tonight–this morning–by doing the dishes, taking out the trash, sweeping, and dusting places I’ve not dusted since I’ve moved into my apartment. All of which are still more pleasant than making myself work for an overdue deadline at 4:30 AM on a Monday morning.

So I thought I’d try something different. Instead of doing twenty different tasks that take five minutes each and pretend to myself that I’m being productive and preparing for work, really, I thought I’d indulge the creative itch for an hour, and see if that exhausts the attention deficit part of me enough for me to actually get down to earning some money.

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Review: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Year Published: 2008
Genre: Young Adult novel
Serialization: First of trilogy
Rating: 6/10
Premise: Following a failed uprising by the twelve districts, the Capitol of Collins’ world has instituted a brutal gladiatorial deathmatch to be fought by district children between the ages of 12-18 in order to suppress any potential will to rebel. The annual Hunger Games are an occasion of morbid spectacle, and even districts who don’t want to watch their tributes fight to the death are forced to participate in the morbid revelry. When Katniss Everdeen’s twelve-year-old sister is selected by the random lottery to participate, the sixteen-year-old volunteers to go in her stead. She may be good at hunting illegal game to supplement her family’s meager rations, but that might not be enough to help her survive against the Career tributes who have trained their entire lives for a shot at the glamour granted to the lone survivor of the Games.

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Review: The Darling Budds, Johnny Dale

It’s been over two months since a book review, and now’s as good a time as any to talk about The Darling Budds, by Johnny Dale. This is going to be a little unorthodox, because it’s an ongoing serialized work with installments being published each week, but bear with me.

(Some of you know that I’m friends with Johnny; I’ve even been a guest on his blog a few times. This book is basically the reason we’re friends. I stumbled across it more or less accidentally, read it, loved it, and pestered him so much with breathless emails demanding updates that he had no choice but to acknowledge my existence.)

Title: The Darling Budds
Author: Johnny Dale
Year Published: 2008 – present
Genre: Young Adult
Serialization: Serial novel in progress
Rating: 9/10
Premise: By the end of their junior year, twins Alexander and Lillian Budd have completely revolutionized the social landscape of elite New Orleans private school Beaumonde Academy. Even the seniors are forced to grudgingly acknowledge the influence of their band of friends. But when their father is caught up in a political scandal at the beginning of the summer, the Budds are whisked away from the city until the storm passes. Their friends are left behind to figure out who they really are and what they mean to each other–and just maybe, who orchestrated the scandal–in the absence of the Darling Budds.

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Review: The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

Title: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Year Published: 2007
Genre: Fantasy
Serialization: First of trilogy, cuts off pretty arbitrarily
Rating: 6/10
Premise: Kvothe Kingkiller has done lots of cool stuff in his life. Stuff that resulted in him acquiring an apprentice of demon origins and training him while owning a tavern in an out-of-the-way town and avoiding reminders of his former adventurin’ life. Except the reader only gets mysterious allusions to said Stuff in bits and pieces of cryptic dialogue between Kvothe and his apprentice as they discuss the recent rash of demon attacks in the region… until the Chronicler, a man we’re meant to revere as THE bard, comes to town and harasses Kvothe into telling the entirety (and I do mean entirety) of his life story so the Chronicler can preserve it for posterity. The story will take three days to tell. This book is the first of those three days.

Review: Maybe the somewhat whimsical plot summary gives it away, but I didn’t think this book was that great. A lot of people I know and whose opinions I respect really enjoyed this book. The AV Club thought it the best fantasy book of the past ten years. I really wanted to like it, partially because I hadn’t read anything pure fantasy in a while, but… nope.

My main problem with the book was just that it was really… typical. It was almost like a road map of why fantasy fiction often doesn’t get taken very seriously, and I kind of wish it had been written as a parody instead. Every single event that occurs in the book is taken as this revealing epiphany. Everything the protagonist does is magical and special. The characters were kind of flat and one dimensional–the girl was mysterious, the friends were supportive, the bully was evil, the teacher was biased–and the entire plot felt more like an amalgamation of “events designed to make you care about the character” that weren’t actually very good at building a coherent plot.

Here’s what happens. Obviously spoilers, but I’d say it’s safe to read on for reasons I’ll explain below.

Protagonist has loving family. Protagonist has mentor in magic. Protagonist turns out to be better at magic than anyone, ever! Family gets killed. Protagonist has a rough life on the streets and learns So Many Lessons About Survival. Protagonist goes to magic school, where his entrance exam is better than most upper year students are capable of doing. Protagonist is so good he skips grades. He has a gang of Good Friends, a Nemesis, a Prof Who Hates Him, and the rest of the staff adores him to pieces. The girl he has a pseudo-romance with is Beautiful, and The One Every Other Boy Wants But Can’t Have. They go on an adventure. He kills a dragon. There’s lots of thinly veiled religious allegories and ancient myths and predictions.

It’s all very Fantasy 101. Those plot points are so generic and predictable it’s as if nothing’s happening. If I had had something to do the next day and set the book down halfway through, I doubt I would’ve felt much loss.

The reason it got a 6/10 rating was because it was, in a word, entertaining. It was a good enough read that on a weekend when I had nothing planned and no obligations, I stayed up until 7 AM to finish it. The writing wasn’t too dense and I didn’t feel like I had to stop and re-read or process anything, and the plot was reasonably paced so as to keep me sort of interested, so I’ll give it credit for keeping me amused for 8-9 hours… but that’s where my praise stops, more or less.

Maybe it’ll pick up once the plot progresses more, but at this point I don’t know if I even want to pick up the sequel when it comes out.

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Review: Song in the Silence, Elizabeth Kerner

Title: Song in the Silence
Author: Elizabeth Kerner
Year Published: 1997
Genre: Fantasy, romance
Serialization: First of trilogy, can be read alone
Rating: 5/10
Premise: Lanen Kaelar has dreamt of roaming far and wide to explore the land ever since she was a young girl. More importantly, she has dreamt of meeting the mythical great dragons of Dragon Isle–so different from the dumb, cattle-like ‘dragons’ on the mainland–and bringing their wisdom and knowledge to the human race. Their song calls to her, and she yearns to understand what drove the great dragons to self-exile.

When her remaining family, her cold and stoic father, passes away, she leaves care of the homestead with her cousin and embarks on a journey to find a ship that will brave the legendary Storms to arrive at Dragon Isle, in the name of collecting the precious healing leaves that will only grow on that island. Unfortunately, she unwittingly traps herself with the harvesting party of Marik of Gundar, a shadowy figure from her mother’s past who deals with demons, and who may very well have a claim to her life.

So it’s a good thing that the great dragons do exist.

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Review: I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith

I started writing this review about seven weeks ago. It seems silly that it’s sat in my drafts pile for so long, so here it is.

Title: I Capture The Castle
Author: Dodie Smith
Year Published: 1949
Genre: Young adult, romance
Serialization: Stand-alone
Rating: 10/10
Premise: Cassandra Mortmain is a young and aspiring writer seeking to improve her prose by capturing the life of her quirky family in the pages of her journal: they live in a desolate and dilapidated castle, her older sister Rose is desperate to be married off so she can escape poverty, her family’s loyal but unpaid helper and adopted son is growing alarmingly attached to her, her father has been struggling with crippling creative stagnation in the ten years since his brilliant debut publication, and her stepmother is running out of ideas of what other furniture they can sell to buy food.

And then the Cottons, an American family who own the castle the Mortmains are leasing, move in next door. The younger brother is charming and carefree, and the older brother is sophisticated…and enamoured with Rose. Amid schemes of marriage for her sister and painfully extracted inspiration for her father, Cassandra struggles to cope with the more bittersweet aspects of  relationships and comes into her own brilliant voice as a writer.

(Minor spoilers, but I’ve managed to largely preserve the plot.)

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Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King

This is the other review I had written for the first incarnation of this blog, when I still naively thought I could read and review at least one book per week. Ha!

This was written about a year and a half ago, and features one of my favourite books ever. It’s neat seeing how my writing style has evolved in the past eighteen months.


Title: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, or On the Segregation of the Queen
Author: Laurie R. King
Year Published: 1994
Genre: Mystery
Serialization: first book in series of eight (as of 2008)
Rating: 9/10
Premise: The initial meeting between famed Baker Street detective and literary legend Sherlock Holmes and sharp-witted fifteen year old Mary Russell on the Sussex Downs is as hostile as it is serendipitous. She nearly steps on him in her wanderings; he mistakes her for a boy. Despite his being esconced in his allegedly restful retirement, a mind so identical to his own and so in need of guidance is difficult to resist, and he, surreptitiously and with feigned reluctance, takes her on as his apprentice. As can be expected, the unlikely partnership and its penchant for interfering with the best-laid plans of Britain’s criminal network culminates in a threat to both their lives.

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Review: The Gum Thief, Douglas Coupland

Originally, when I still toyed with the sane thought of having a running theme for my blog, I thought about doing book reviews. Then I discovered the AV Club and promptly felt wholly inadequate.

(Also, I would never have the time to read books with enough frequency to review them for a blog.)

But I really liked the two (two!) reviews I did end up writing, so maybe I’ll make it a feature of this blog instead. Here’s one of the original reviews that spawned my interest in blogging.

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