Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rereading Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

Down in the valley there were three farms. The owners of these farms had done well. They were rich men. They were also nasty men. 

Ah, how I love Roald Dahl. I recently reread Boy and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, so I figured it was time to reread some more of his children's books, all of which I love. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a short, but really clever and entertaining book. It is the story of "Fantastic" Mr. Fox, and his ongoing battle against Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, three farmers who despise him because he always steals poultry from them. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, they are determined to dig him out and then wait him out. Mr. Fox also has a wife and four small children to protect.

In many of Roald Dahl's books, it's about the children outwitting the grown-ups. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, we have instead a clever animal outwitting a bunch of stupid and mean adults. Fantastic Mr. Fox isn't my favorite Roald Dahl book (that honor would probably go to Matilda), but it's certainly a book that I love and enjoy.

I probably reread this book in about ten or twenty minutes. It's short, and the font is really big. Plus, a lot of space is covered by some pretty good illustrations (by Quentin Blake). So this whimsical book is perfect for reading aloud or for just reading in a few minutes for some fun. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but it's pretty entertaining.

There was a movie made of it in 2009, and I saw some of it on a flight when it came out, but I don't think it did this amazing book justice. Fantastic Mr. Fox is just too short for a movie, so they had to add a whole bunch new things into the movie, and none of it has the sheer genius of Roald Dahl. To be fair, I haven't seen the movie in a while.

I would highly recommend this Roald Dahl book.

Read Fantastic Mr. Fox:
  • if you like Roald Dahl
  • if you like books with foxes
  • if you like books about children and/or animals outwitting adults
81 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Giant Wishlist

These are books that I don't have, but I really want to read.

Rebel Heart (Dust Lands, #2)How to Lead a Life of CrimeThe Unexpected Miss BennetNights at the CircusThe Unchangeable Spots of LeopardsThe Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other StoriesComplete Short Stories (Greene, Graham)Collected StoriesCatharine and Other Writings

And these are just the books I really want. I also have a giant stack next to my bed which includes War and Peace, Don Quixiote, and Dostoevsky. And a schedule becoming every-busier. (sigh).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)It happened every year, was almost a ritual. And this was his eighty-second birthday. When, as usual, the flower was delivered, he took off the wrapping paper and then picked up the phone to call Detective Superintendent Morell who, when he retired, had moved to Lake Siljan in Dalarna. 

I'm not generally one for thrillers, but I saw this one at a library sale and picked it up for a whopping $1. I am on occasion fond of a smart thriller (practically an oxymoron, I know), so I took a chance. And I really enjoyed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It reminded me a bit of State of Fear, but it was much better, and was a mystery thriller as opposed to an environmental thriller. "Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there's always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo." More specifically, Bloomkvist is hired to investigate what happened to Harriet Vanger by her old uncle. 

Like many 600+ page thrillers, it takes a while for all the book's various sub-plots to combine. You have the story of Blomkvist's battle against libel charges, the story of Lisbeth Salander, a lot of background information, and of course the main mystery. For nearly half the book, Lisbeth and Blomkvist's stories don't converge, although Lisbeth is interested in Blomkvist. 

There is so much going on in this book, and there are so many members of the Vanger clan that the reader must be suspicious of. This book is so complex, and there are so many different threads of the narrative that have to drawn together. And drawn together they are, very skillfully. 

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is definitely an "adult" novel, if you know what I mean. There are many deeply disturbing scenes.  I did really like it though; it had its darkly funny moments, and its moments when one of the "good" characters gets their revenge, and you, the reader, feel so good too. And, like most thrillers and mysteries, there's a moment when the detective (in this case Bloomkvist) makes a major break-through in the case. 

I enjoyed both the characters of Bloomkvist and Lisbeth. They are both so complicated, and so interesting. I also learned a lot of things that may (or may not) be true about the Swedish system. This is the first of a trilogy, and I might read the sequel, though this book wrapped things up pretty well. I loved the various twists and turns in this book, as the mystery grows ever deeper. 

Read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo:
  • if you like thriller
  • if you like mystery
  • if you like Swedish fiction
644 pages. 
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rereading The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (translated by Richard Howard)

The Little PrinceOnce when I was six I saw a magnificent picture in a book about the jungle, called True Stories. It showed a boa constrictor swallowing a wild beast. Here is a copy of the picture. (Sorry that I can't copy it).

"Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures." The Little Prince is a strange little book, but it is also amazing. Actually, the first opera I ever saw was an adaption of The Little Prince, and I first read the book soon after.                                                                                       

As I said, the writing of The Little Prince is somewhat odd, but also endlessly inventive. The book tells of the prince's adventures on his own planet, with the special rose that he finds and raises, to the strange other planets that he visits before finally coming down into the African desert and meeting the crashed pilot who narrates the story. 

The Little Prince is full of whimsy and charm, and is a lightning fast read. It probably took me about twenty minutes (at most) to read. I think my favorite section of the book is when the prince has left his planet, and is visiting many of the other small planets. On various different planets live a king who has no subjects, a drunkard who drinks to forget that he's ashamed of drinking, a business man who owns the stars but doesn't do anything with them, a geographer who doesn't know what formations are on his own planet, and a lamp-lighter who must put out and light the lamps once a minute because his planet's rotation. All adults, of course. After the prince visits each of them, he remarks that adults are so very, very strange. 

The Little Prince is a fable of sorts, and an excellent one at that. I don't Love it with a capital L, but I did really enjoy rereading this little book. I may try some of Saint-Exupery's other novels, like Night Flight.

Read The Little Prince:
  • if you like children's (and adult's) classics
  • if you like French literature
  • if you like easy but thought-provoking fiction
83 pages, 4.5 stars.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Silver Orphan, Martine Lacombe

Silver OrphanThe ringtone carries a peculiar melody - not a personalized tune selected specifically to identify a loved one or a foe to avoid; the banal factory ring seems to convey a sense of doom. The accompanying vibration-induced dance on the glass table nudges the phone away from me, as if the handset itself feared the incoming call. 

Silver Orphan was definitely an interesting novel. The premise itself is interesting: "An endearing tale of unlikely friendship and compassion between two diametrically opposed individuals - a vibrant young woman and an elderly frail man - Silver Orphan illustrates that giving up yourself reaps untold benefits. The subject matter covered in Silver Orphan is disturbing from a collective point of view. How we treat our elders, how we discard them - both in life and death - mirrors how we fare as a society. The old will soon outnumber the young - a chilling prospect treated with compassion in Silver Orphan. Interwoven in the stark reality of our superficial ethos is a story of love, redemption, and compassion. Silver Orphan should be included in ethics class curricula nationwide. A chance encounter; an unusual request; two lives inexorably transformed.  When self-absorbed Brooke Blake uncharacteristically sheds her narcissistic armor, she discovers that the hand we lend may pave the way to our own redemption. Silver Orphan is a perplexing hall of mirrors where every image reflects agonizing - though liberating - secrets." Yes, there are many secrets in this book.

This is not the kind of book I normally read, but when the author offered me a review copy, I was glad to give it a try. It seemed interesting. And I was not disappointed. Though the writing style was a bit peculiar, it was also really distinctive and quite new for me. 

The two main characters, Brooke and Frank, take turns narrating. Frank narrates various experiences from his childhood that have stuck with him, Brooke tells of her meetings with Frank. Throughout the narration, we see how she is changed by the experience. At the beginning, she actually reminded me a bit of Bernadette from Where'd You Go Bernadette; she hates social interaction, and looks down upon everyone else. The subject, was of course, much different, but Brooke was very similar to Bernadette in some respects. It was amazing to see her transformation.

Read the description in quotes. It pretty much sums up everything I could say about this one. Some of the images in the book are so powerful, some of the statistics quoted in it so disturbing. Imagine: an eighty-six year old man, very fragile and weak, with no known relatives at all. One of my favorite things about the book was definitely the title. Silver Orphan. It's so apt and so simple, yet it conveys so much. Of course, not all older people are silver orphans, but there are some. It's a scary thought, and one that this novel talks about very well indeed. I feel like the author could have acknowledged that there are plenty of older people who have a loving family and lots of younger relatives. My grandparents, for example. Silver Orphan is about the ones who don't, who when they die, have no next-of-kin to bury them. What does one do?

I heartily enjoyed this thought-provoking book, and was glad that I gave it a try. I would recommend it a lot. It's not in bookstores until May, but you can order it on Amazon and other sites now. 

232 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Watching The Great Gatsby (2000)

I recently watched the 2000 adaption of The Great Gatsby. I remember not loving the novel when I first read it, but perhaps I'll like (and understand) it better now. At any rate, I did enjoy the film, which was quite interesting. Its portrayal of the upper-class is so biting, and I have a feeling it's even more so in the book.

The book/movie is narrated by Nick Carraway as he tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a poor soldier who returns from World War I to discover that his (rich) sweetheart has given up on him and married a fellow millionaire. He proceeds to build up an enormous fortune, and moves across the bay from her, hoping to win her back. Gatsby's parties become famous, drawing crowds of people. The movie is basically about what happens when Daisy and Gatsby meet up again, and the disaster that it results in.

There are many, many film adaptions of The Great Gatsby out there, but since I watched this one first, I have a feeling that it will be my favorite (if I even get to watching any of the other versions). There is one from 1974 with Robert Redford, and while I love Robert Redford and his films (though I've only seen "The Sting" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), I really can't see him playing a Jay Gatsby. Watching a few clips online, my first impression of the '74 version was that it was really...sweaty. The book is set in the summer on the East Coast, so that's actually probably more realistic.

Anyway, I liked this version; the actors were all great. Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby are all played by very attractive people, but somehow, they look so ugly, so washed out. I think that was intentional, and it certainly worked. What was a bit annoying was Nick's narrative voice-over, which is the easy way out of getting information across. A lot of conversations in the movie were taken word-for-word from the book.

4 stars.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where for many generations they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintances.

I thought the plot of Persuasion sounded a lot more interesting than that of Sense and Sensibility, but I ultimately ended up liking this Jane Austen much better. (Who knows? Maybe if I reread Persuasion I'll enjoy it more). It feels kind of silly to re-summarize the book, since many probably already know the plot, but here we go: Basically, Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, are cast out of Norland Park when Mr. Dashwood dies. They are cast out by his son by his first marriage. The son had promised his father on his deathbed that he would take care of them, but his wife Fanny manages to dissuade him from giving them any money, in a scene really well done and comic, if you think of them as villains. So the Dashwood sisters and their mother leave for another part of the country (though still fairly nearby), rent a cottage, and fall in with a whole different set: Sir John Middleton, Lady Middleton, and Mrs. Jennings, among others. They're all deeply flawed, but funny to read about. Mrs. Jennings is very vulgar, and basically likes to pry into everyone's business. She means well though. Lady Middleton is cold and insipid; she reminded me a bit of Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park. There's also Colonel Brandon, a gentleman of thirty-five who Marianne considers "old". 

Margaret does not figure much in the story, as she is only thirteen, but the characters of Elinor and Marianne must be addressed before we continue. Elinor is practically perfect; she is sensible, smart, pretty, and basically all-around rational, never assuming anything, and she is very prudent. Marianne, however, likes to wax rhapsodic about dead leaves and twisted trees and passion, and she never does anything by halves. As Jane Austen says, "She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was every thing but prudent." (pg. 6). Willoughby comes into her life, and charms everyone, before suddenly having to leave.

I think I'm correct in saying that this is the only one of Jane Austen's novels that has two heroines (although one could argue for Jane and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice). I liked Elinor, but Marianne has an appeal about her. She's fiery, and passionate, and opinionated, full of sensibility, but little sense. There's always an appeal to someone like that, especially in Regency England. It's so hard to reconcile these two widely different notions of love: Elinor's and Marianne's. Elinor's suitor, Edward Ferrars (the brother of Fanny) and herself seem not to feel much passion, Elinor "does not attempt to deny...that she thinks very highly of him- that I greatly esteem, that I like him." (pg. 21). To which Marianne replies, "'Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again and I will leave the room this moment.'" As you can see, Marianne likes to use a lot of exclamation points. She requires seven to take leave of Norland: "'Dear, dear Norland!' said Marianne...'when shall I cease to regret you! - when learn to feel a home elsewhere! - Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more! - And you, ye well-known trees! - but you will continue the same. No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! - No;  you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade! - But who will remain to enjoy you?'" (pg. 27). Elinor is more calm and level-headed.

There are some amazing characters in this novel. Elinor and Marianne are both so well drawn, as are Lucy Steele, Mrs. Jennings, Colonel Brandon, Willoughby, Edward, and many more. Jane Austen is amazing at creating character sketches. She manages to say so much through so very little. Though as in most of her books, many of the characters are deeply flawed, they also feel so real. Much more real than if everybody was just perfect or drawn in black-and-white.

Somehow, the writing style of Sense and Sensibility was so much better than Persuasion; it was more compelling, and it flowed better. Though Sense and Sensibility is one of those books, like Mansfield Park, that are hard to reconcile with, I loved it a lot. It's probably my second favorite Austen novel, after, of course, Pride and Prejudice. There are so many subtleties that make this book well worth reading slowly. There are so many witty lines of dialogue and witty sentences.

I read The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, and I actually liked the tempest in a teacup design, though it's obviously not the traditional classic cover. I loved Sense and Sensibility, and I like forward to reading Lady Susan, the Watsons, Sanditon and Catharine and Other Writings (hint hint). I've now read all of Jane Austen's complete novels!

Read Sense and Sensibility:
  • if you like Jane Austen
  • if you like classic romance
  • if you like British fiction
353 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Shoemaker's Wife, Adriana Trigiani

The scalloped hem of Caterina Lazzari's blue velvet coat grazed the fresh-fallen snow, leaving a pale pink path on the bricks as she walked across the empty piazza. 

The Shoemaker's Wife is the story of Ciro and Enza, two teenagers growing up in Italy in the early twentieth century. They meet, and fall in love. Then, Ciro is banished and sent to live in New York's little Italy, leaving a heartbroken Enza behind. But eventually she too makes her way to America. The star-crossed lovers are reunited and separated again when Ciro goes off to fight in World War II, while Enza becomes involved with opera, and into the life of Enrico Caruso. But ultimately, their love will prevail. This is Adriana Trigiani's most recent novel, and while I haven't read any of her other books, this one sounded really interesting since I love historical fiction.

The best thing about this novel is the lush descriptions in every place that the book is set in through its 400+ pages. The words that Adriana Trigiani uses really bring everything to life. Not just the places, but the people and their personalities, too. Almost everything about this book is portrayed so well, with such talented writing.

I hated the romance, however. Enza and Ciro only meet once in Italy, at a funeral, and suddenly Enza goes from crying over her sister to kissing him. ???? I know she was just trying to swallow her grief, but there didn't seem to be much chemistry between them to me. Their dialogue in that scene felt awkward and disjointed, and their romance didn't get better in the New World. Despite this, I loved both of their characters individually; both Ciro and Enza were interesting and I enjoyed reading about them. But whenever they met up, the dialogue felt disjointed and awkward. And, they somehow know that they're "right" for one another after what, 5 meetings at most? I actually didn't want them to end up together! And it's seldom that happens for me.

The Shoemaker's Wife is both uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. It's the story of love that knows no bounds (even though I didn't love the love), but there are also so many sad moments in the book; when Enza leaves her home forever, when Ciro and his brother are separated. There's a lot of foreshadowing too, which adds to the sadness. Trigiani tells you that Enza will never see her mother again when she leaves.

Though The Shoemaker's Wife is heavily fictionalized, it is actually based upon the story of the author's grandparents, who had different names, but (presumably) a similar story.

The only other criticism I had wasn't about the writing; it was about the font. It was really annoying and really off-putting. Sometimes, if a book has a nice-looking font, it makes you race through it and love it all the more. The Shoemaker's Wife was not one of those books. The overall design of the book was nice, though I wasn't fond of the model on the cover.

Kathrynn Stockett, author of The Help, highly recommended this book. Here is the full blurb: “I’ve always loved reading Trigiani, but The Shoemaker's Wife is something totally new and completely wonderful: a rich, sweeping epic that tells the story of the women and men who built America dream by dream. I don't know how Adriana goes into her family's attic and emerges with these amazing stories, I'm just happy she does.If you’re meeting her work for the first time, get ready for a lifelong love affair. The Shoemaker's Wife is utterly splendid." The Shoemaker's Wife is indeed splendid in certain respects, though not "utterly splendid."

Later: Argh...I've read a lot more of the book, and Ciro. Is. Such. A. Jerk. Sometimes. He wants Enza to leave the job she loves, her passion, at the Metropolitan Opera and come with him to Minnesota to make shoes. God, I really hated him then. Enza loved her job, and then he drags her away. I know that the book is based upon real people, but Trigiani could have written it more skillfully. Everything else about the book is amazing: the writing, the descriptions, the plot, but the central element of the book- the romance, just didn't work for me. I didn't get the attraction between them. So I'm not sure what to rate this book. 5 stars in every respect except for the romance, which was more like a 2 or 3 star at best. So that would average out to about 3 stars.

Read The Shoemaker's Wife:
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like Adriana Trigiani (I'm planning to read more of her work soon)
  • if you like books set in Italy, New York or Minnesota
  • if you like romance
468 pages.
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

Ever read a book where you liked some elements and hated others?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger

Elspeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup.

The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my favorite novels, so I was really looking forward to reading Her Fearful Symmetry. The plot is quite different from The Time Traveler's Wife. Elspeth dies, and leaves her flat to her two nieces, twins Julia and Valentina. Their mother was named Edie, and she and Elspeth were twins too, though they had been estranged for a long time. The two conditions of the inheritance are that they both live in the flat for at least a year before selling it, and that their parents can't come inside it. Julia and Valentina move into the apartment, which borders Highgate Cemetery, where many famous people are buried. They also become involved with some of their live neighbors: Martin, who makes crossword puzzles and has crippling OCD, and Robert, a scholar of the cemetery and Elspeth's lover. They discover that much is alive in Highgate, including (perhaps) their aunt.

The plot of this novel sounded much less interesting than The Time Traveler's Wife, though like The Time Traveler's Wife, the book is largely realistic except for one supernatural element. But still, I didn't find Her Fearful Symmetry as compelling. It wasn't bad, just less absorbing, less suspenseful.

Also, it felt like the characters were less developed. A hundred pages in, we still didn't know much about the twins, though the character of Martin had been developed a lot. I did love the descriptions of the relationship between Julia and Valentina; one has a mole on her right cheek, the other on her left. They're basically mirror images of one another.

As I said, Martin, who suffers from OCD, was characterized really well. It was so sad to see how he is destroyed by his obsessive compulsion to make everything "uncontaminated". I think everyone has something of the OCD in them, just not to this extreme.

I enjoyed Her Fearful Symmetry, and its plot was fairly interesting. One its own, it makes for an okay novel, though it pales in comparison to The Time Traveler's Wife. There's less humor in this one too. And I really didn't like the ending. Still, if you loved The Time Traveler's Wife, I would recommend it.

Read Her Fearful Symmetry:
  • if you like Audrey Niffenegger
  • if you like books set in London
401 pages, 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rereading Travels With Charley In Search of America by John Steinbeck

When I was very young and the urge and the urge to be someplace else was upon me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When  years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.

Travels With Charley is the tale of a trip that John Steinbeck made around the country, accompanied by only his poodle Charley. The book is both funny and thoughtful at the same time. Steinbeck wanted to rediscover the real America that he had been writing about for so long, an America which he had lost touch with. "With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. And he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, on a particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and on the unexpected kindness of strangers that is also a very real part of our national identity." 

I'm not overly fond of America, but I love this book. It's hilarious in parts, especially when Steinbeck describes Charley's antics. But at other moments, Steinbeck is dead-on right. For example on page 26, "...but I do wonder whether there will come a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness- chemical wastes in the rivers, metal wastes everywhere, and atomic wastes buried deep in the earth or sunk in sea." That time that he refers to is now, and Steinbeck, writing in the 1950's and 60's, predicted it. Are humans so predictable? 

Much of the book is about interactions between Steinbeck and various people, and encounters with various animals. Steinbeck comments on Charley's waking-up habits, commenting that "Charley likes to get up early, and he likes me to get up early too. And why shouldn't he? Right after his breakfast he goes back to sleep. Over the years he has developed a number of innocent-appearing ways to wake me up. He can shake himself and his collar loud enough to wake the dead. If that doesn't work he gets a sneezing fit. But perhaps his most irritating method is to sit quietly beside the bed and stare into my face with a sweet and forgiving look on his face; I come out of deep sleep with the feeling of being looked at. But I have learned to keep my eyes tight shut. If I even blink, he sneezes and stretches, that night's sleep is over for me...he nearly always wins." Hilarious, right? There are way too many funny and interesting parts for me to include them all, but another fascinating instance is when they're driving through Yellowstone. Charley, normally a gentle dog, suddenly becomes a savage beast when confronted by bears, regardless of the fact that a bear could crush him with one paw. 

I really love John Steinbeck, and Travels With Charley is a humorous and thought-provoking work of nonfiction. I need to reread some of Steinbeck's novels (the only one I've reviewed on this blog is The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights). Rereading The Grapes of Wrath is probably next on my list. I would highly recommend this book too, and I'm glad I have my own copy now.

Read Travels With Charley:
  • if you like John Steinbeck
  • if you like traveling
  • if you like books with poodles or dogs in general
277 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest. I was sitting in my hideout watching cartoons when the news bulletin broke in on my video feed, announcing that James Halliday had died during the night.

I'm not a fan of video games. In fact, I hate them. But Ready Player One was an interesting science fiction novel. "It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them. For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape."

Sounds intense, right? It is. There are a lot of 1980's references that I did not get, not being particularly impressed with culture at that time. And I really hate video games. The OASIS doesn't sound like a utopia to me; it sounds like a dystopia. Imagine it, the lines of reality and virtuality (is that a word?) blurring until it's hard to tell what is real and what is not. It's nightmarish actually, like something out of the Twilight Zone. Plus, the real world is in ruins.

Ready Player One wasn't an amazing book, but it was a good one, and somewhat thought-provoking. It is certainly not one of the best books in the world, as one of my classmates claims. It wasn't a bad book, though, and I liked the hardcover edition's cover (on right).

I loved the character Art3mis (pronounced Artemis). She's smart, pretty, and awesome. I loved her name too.

The descriptions in this book are really well done, and Ernest Cline writes well. Though he drops way too many references to 1980's culture. I enjoyed Ready Player One, though it's certainly not one of my favorites. It was pretty suspenseful though.

Read Ready Player One:
  • if you like science fiction
  • if you like video games or even if (like me) you don't
372 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cane River, Lalita Tademy

On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madame Francoise Derbanne slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes. 

Cane River is an interesting, if easy book. Lalita Tademy traced her ancestry through four generations of remarkable woman, each struggling for her freedom in different ways. This is their story. First we have Elisabeth and then her daughter Suzette, who is the first to know the joys and the heartbreaks of freedom, her daughter Philomene, Philomene's daughter Emily. All of these women are different, and they all go through different trials and tribulations, but they all have one thing in common: their unbreakable spirit. And I know that sounds really cliche, but it's true. They never lose hope, and they stick together, despite the occasional spats.

The most interesting thing about Cane River is that most of the things that happen in the book, are, presumably, things that actually happened in real life. Lalita Tademy also wrote a book about her father's side of her family, which I may or may not read.

I read Cane River for Language Arts class, and it did not help my reading experience. Normally, I would read a book this size in 2 or 3 days, but it got stretched out over two months. Two months. I know, right? So I would read the 40 some-odd pages assigned for four days in one day, and then kind of forget about the book, and then read another 40 pages 4 days later, and etc. In the intermediate time, I would kind of forget what happened. Not forget, exactly. It was more like the book lost its immediacy. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Cane River.

There are some really disturbing things in this book. Both Suzette and Philomene have children with white Frenchmen, and Emily, Philomene's daughter, ends up having relations with a white man over twice her age. But he genuinely loves her, I think. Cane River is not for the faint of heart, though there's nothing too intense. Just some disturbing stuff. I would highly recommend this book, despite my short review.

Read Cane River:
  • if you like historical fiction nonfiction, fictionalized
  • if you like family history
  • if you like books set during the Civil War
517 pages, 4 stars.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rereading The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl

From "The Boy Who Talked With Animals": Not so long ago, I decided to spend a few days in the West Indies. It was to go there for a short holiday. Friends had told me it was marvelous. I would laze around all day long, they said, sunning myself on the silver beaches and swimming in the warm green sea. 

I love this collection of short stories by Roald Dahl. From a boy who helps a giant turtle, a cunning hitchhiker, a man who can see with his eyes closed, and a luck plowman, these stories are all marvelous. Some of the stories are actually true, and the book also includes the story of how Roald Dahl became a writer. I love all the stories in this book, except one: "The Swan". It's not witty, it's not humorous, it's not sly. It's just sad, about two hooligans who have some fun at another boy's expense. I suppose the ending is supposed to be uplifting, but it just wasn't. There's so much killing, and brutality, and it's really quite scary. However, the rest of the stories are sheer genius.

One of my favorite stories is definitely "The Hitchhiker". It's really entertaining, and really funny, and really interesting too. It's one of those stories that are about defying an authority figure. In the case of Matilda, it's about defying the adults. Here, it's about defying the police. I think everyone likes to read about a little subversion now and then.

The title story is the longest, and also really good. Henry Sugar is a rich, sleazy, guy who's never done a day's work in his life. But then he discovers a little booklet, and teaches himself to see with his eyes closed. What's more, he can see through cards, so he wins every time at gambling. But will he use his power for personal gain, or for good? "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar" is probably the most meaningful of the stories, with the most powerful lesson. It is really entertaining too.

"The Mildenhall Treasure" is actually a true story (I actually saw the treasure at the British Museum a few years ago). Roald Dahl interviewed Butcher, one of the people involved in the discovery, and composed a short piece on it, included here. "Lucky Break" is the story of how Roald Dahl became a writer. "A Piece of Cake" is the first piece he ever composed (no play on words intended). "The Boy Who Talked With Animals" is the story of...well, a boy who can talk with animals. All of these stories are amazing.

Roald Dahl, as well as being known for his children's books, is also known for his short stories. I'm planning to read them, in a whopping book of nearly 900 pages. I'm looking forward to it. I might also reread some of his children's books.

Read The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More:
  • if you like Roald Dahl
  • if you like funny and interesting short stories
225 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rereading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

From the prologue: Clare: It's hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he's okay. It's hard to be the one who stays. I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way.

Here is what I said in my original review of The Time Traveler's Wife: "This is a really great book, recommended to me by Mr. Campbell (thank you so much!!!) about two people: Henry DeTamble, a man who involuntarily travels through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist and his wife whose life is "normal." "Henry and Clare's passionate affair endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love." Very dramatic, but I really did love this book. The premise was really great and interesting; time travel is so fascinating. And the way that Henry would go back and meet Clare as a young girl to set up their relationship one...I just had to keep reading. The way the book was narrated was interesting too, with Clare and Henry taking turns in a particular scene and time setting.

One thing about time travel though: it requires some concentration. It's really hard to wrap your head around, and I was a bit confused at the beginning. However, that has nothing to do with the quality of the book: that's just the way time travel is." 

Such shortness. Anyway, I loved the book just as much the second time around; it's really funny at times and really bittersweet. The book skips around to various times as Henry travels there, but it's not too confusing if you just think about it for a second. I love the premise of this book; time travel is so fascinating, and so hard to wrap your head around. It goes against every rule that we've ever learned, yet maybe it is possible. 

The novel itself is also amazing, really thought-provoking, and also highly entertaining. It's really at heart a simple love story, but there's just the one twist: time travel. The ending of the book is really sad, really really sad. But it also is really, really, good. That's what I mean about the book being bittersweet. 

I love both of the main characters: Henry and Clare. They're very different from me, but they're also really funny and interesting to read about. Plus, Audrey Niffenegger has an amazing writing style, engaging and compelling. It hooks the reader in, and you just have to keep reading. 

I'm planning to read Her Fearful Symmetry, another novel by this author, very, very soon. It sounds interesting, and I hope I'll enjoy it. I would highly recommend The Time Traveler's Wife.

Read The Time Traveler's Wife:
  • if you like Audrey Niffenegger
  • if you like books about time travel
  • if you like realistic fiction with a sci-fi touch
536 pages. 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Rereading Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

My father, Harald Dahl, was a Norwegian who came from a small town near Oslo, called Sarpsborg. His own father, my grandfather, was a fairly prosperous merchant who owned a store in Sarpsborg and traded in just about everything from cheese to chicken-wire.

Roald Dahl is one of those authors who manages to make something absolutely horrible into something rather funny. He does so in Boy, which contains various stories of  his childhood. His many childhood trials and tribulations, though dreadful for him at the time, make entertaining reading material, and Boy is a short but sweet collection of them. I hadn't read it in a while, and I didn't own this particular Roald Dahl, so I purchased it at Orca and enjoyed it all over again. Dahl also tells about various pranks that he played, and how he got punished for them. I may be rereading Going Solo, his memoir of his flight years, soon, but Boy is better, I think. It's also probably more entertaining for younger readers.

Some of the anecdotes in this book are no doubt dramatized; some seem a bit too wild to be credulous. But they're all really interesting to read, and I sped through Boy. Roald Dahl also includes some photographs, and though they're not very good quality, they do add something to the book. It is hard to make out individual people.

I don't know what else there is to say about this book. I haven't read Roald Dahl in a while, but I love all of his hilarious novels, and own almost all of them. I might reread Matilda, The Witches or perhaps The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More soon.

If you love Roald Dahl's novels, try this excellent nonfiction book by the great children's author. Even though the book is easy, I still enjoyed it a lot. All of the anecdotes in the book are highly amusing. You can see a lot of where Roald Dahl got his inspiration from. I'm also planning to read some of Roald Dahl's short stories for adults in the future.

Read Boy:
  • if you like Roald Dahl
  • if you like memoir
  • if you like books set in English schools
176 pages, 4.5 stars

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers, Kirsten Miller

From the preface:  There are plenty of impatient people in this world who will pick up a book and thumb past its preface. You should be proud you're not one of them. The point of a preface is to prepare you for the story you're about to read. And when it comes to the dark and dangerous tale that's written on these pages, you'll need all the preparation you can get.

I'll admit, I'm generally one of those people who skip the preface. But not this time. I was so, so, so, so excited for the release of the third book in the Kiki Strike series. I've been waiting so long, and I didn't manage to win an ARC from Kirsten Miller's blog. But it's here, finally. In the third (and final) book, Kiki has gone to claim the throne of Pokrovia, but she is waylaid in Paris, with Sidonia planning to pose as the real princess Katarina! If that's confusing to you, read the first two books. Betty must go to Paris to deliver something to Kiki. And Ananka must hold down the fort back in New York City. Oh, and Oona's evil twin Lili Liu is causing trouble by stealing, and everything thinks it's Oona who's been doing it! As if that wasn't enough, Ananka is also stealing trying to avoid stealing Betty's boyfriend while she's in Paris.

As you can see, there's quite a lot going on in this book. Perhaps a bit too much. Still, intrigue abounds, making for a fairly good third book. The plot line that I didn't like was about Ananka and Kaspar. It didn't feel right, and I never got any sense in The Empress's Tomb that Ananka liked Kaspar more than any girl would like a cute guy. It made the book more YA-like, which is not necessarily a good thing.

However, I was very happy that Kirsten Miller kept the tips at the end of every other chapter or so. In The Darkness Dwellers, each page types if from "The Fishbein Guide to...", imitating the style of the finishing school, except that the tips are much more useful.

Some new characters are introduced in this one: Etienne and Marcel, two wannabe Darkness Dwellers in Paris, who discover Kiki and aid Kiki and Betty in their adventures. But what are those adventures? One of my criticisms of The Darkness Dwellers, is, in fact, that there's not much of a ddriving plot. Le Institut Beauregard wasn't that interesting to me, and neither was the back-story behind its headmistress. The Darkness Dwellers lacks some of that Kiki Strike aura that the first two do. It's still a good book, just less so. Somehow, it just didn't pull me in like the other two do. It was partly because Ananka was less featured, and when she was, she was acting kind of snotty. Also, we don't get to see much of Luz and Dee Dee. Part of the letdown was also that I let myself get way too excited over its release. I still enjoyed The Darkness Dwellers, but it wasn't nearly as good as Inside the Shadow City or The Empress's Tomb. It also has a new cover, which is pretty cool, but it's still disappointing that it doesn't match the first two. There are reissues of the new cover for the first two books.

Read Kiki Strike: the Darkness Dwellers:
  • if you liked the first two books in the series
  • if you like books set in Paris or New York
  • if you like books with underground tunnels
403 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Silas Marner, George Eliot

In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses- and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread lace, had their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak- there might be seen in districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hill,s certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country-folk looked like the remnants of a disinherited race. 

I failed miserably at reading The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, but I loved Silas Marner. I think it was just that my edition of The Mill on the Floss has really off-putting font, and seems really long. At any rate, I sped through Silas Marner, which is a slim little volume, and is quite interesting. "Wrongly accused of theft and exiled from a religious community many years before, the embittered weaver Silas Marner lives alone in Raveloe, living only for work and his precious hoard of money. But when his money is stolen and an orphaned child finds her way into his house, Silas is given the chance to transform his life. His fate, and that of the little girl he adopts, is entwined with Godfrey Cass, son of the village Squire, who, like Silas, is trapped by his past. Silas Marner, George Eliot's favourite of her novels, combines humour, rich symbolism and pointed social criticism to create an unsentimental but affectionate portrait of rural life." (from the Penguin Classics edition). Yes, "her." George Eliot was a pen name. My question is, why do we still use the pen name in this case, but Charlotte Bronte's pen name (Currer Bell) isn't used anymore? I might research that...

The actual edition that I read called it a moral fairy tale, and I would agree with that term. The book is fairy-tale-like, and highly entertaining, but also thought-provoking, as moralities (and fairy tales for that matter) are supposed to be. The sentences can be very long, but somehow, unlike Charles Dickens, they don't seem overwritten; they seem to fit the tone of the story just right. 

I loved how the little golden-haired orphan Eppie made her appearance; she is the child of Godfrey Cass, and when her mother keels over, Eppie toddles into the cottage of none other than Silas Marner, who now has a chance for redemption. She is the reappearance of his precious gold that he lost.

A chance for redemption. I suppose that's not really the right phrase; Silas Marner isn't bad per se. He's complicated, and yes, he's miserly, but that's because he was wrongfully accused of a crime in his past life. He's just drawn into himself, and he no longer wishes to associate with the rest of the world or have anything to do with religion. But bright little Eppie gives him a chance to get past that and start again. Godfrey too isn't strictly good or evil. He's conflicted, and he's done some bad things which he wants to forget about, and he's done some good things. I won't tell how the book ends, but suffice to say that Silas Marner is an amazing classic novel, for its social commentary, and its humor, and its symbolism. I would highly recommend it, and am thinking of trying to tackle The Mill and the Floss once again. Or perhaps Middlemarch. I do think Silas Marner is a good book to start off with if you're going to read George Eliot; it's short and (it seems to me) less overwritten.

Read Silas Marner:
  • if you like George Eliot
  • if you like British fiction
244 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rereading Savvy by Ingrid Law

When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it.

I read Savvy perhaps three or four years ago, and I remember loving it. Savvy is the story of Mibs Beaumont, who lives in a family where everyone has a special gift, or savvy, that manifests itself when they turn thirteen. But really, they're just like other people, as Mibs tells one of the other characters, "We  get born, and sometime later we die. And in between we're happy and sad, we feel love and we feel fear, we eat and we sleep and we hurt like everyone else." But on the day before Mibs's own thirteenth birthday, her father gets into a car accident, and she becomes convinced that her savvy can help wake him up. So she sets out in a truck which she thinks is going to the hospital, along with the pastor's children, Fish, her hurricane dealing brother, and Samson, her quiet seven year old brother. Savvy is the story of their escapades. Savvy is one of those books that should be fantasy, but reads like realistic fiction. Of course, the idea of a savvy isn't realistic, but in all other respects, the book is realistic. That's part of what makes the book so compelling.

Savvy is one of those really easy books that you'll keep on rereading. It's deceptively short, and once you get into it, it's hard to put down. The characters are all really interesting, and the plot is so simple, yet so meaningful. Set in the Midwest, the setting hardly seems ideal, yet it works, because you're not distracted by some place that's too busy; instead, you can focus on the plot and what's going on in the book. If that made any sense.

Even though I'd read Savvy before, it still kind of felt like I was reading it for the first time. I did remember some of the key elements of the book, but not the most important of all - the ending. So it was a surprise to me too. And of course, I had forgotten a lot of the little details that add so much to the story.

My favorite character was probably Mibs, or maybe Will Junior. I also liked Lill, the waitress who joins them along the way after her car breaks down and she gets fired for being late. She's always late, but she's really nice and lovable, and becomes sort of a mother figure to the kids throughout the journey.

I remembered that I loved Savvy, but I didn't remember why at first. But the plot is so amazing, a perfect mix of magic and realism, creating a wonderful MG work of magic realism. I really want to read Scumble, another book about the same family (one of Mibs's cousins?). Savvy would probably make a great movie too.

Read Savvy:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like realistic fiction
  • if you are looking for an amazing MG novel
342 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rereading Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

Dr Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse. He had attended a surprisingly easy calving, lanced one abscess, extracted a molar, dosed one lady of easy virtue with Salvarsan, performed an unpleasant but spectacularly fruitful enema, and had produced a miracle by a feat of medical prestidigitation.

Corelli's Mandolin was a book I reviewed very early on in this blog's life. Here is what I said in my first review of it: "I loved the prose style of this historical novel. It's witty and kind of hard to describe, but very distinctive. If you read it, you'll see. I guess it sort of reads like a folktale or a epic quest or something. And the way the book is formatted- and the font is very good. It has "love and death, heroism and skullduggery, humor and pathos, and art and religion... a good old-fashioned novel." (Washington Post.) Corelli's Mandolin tells of the Greek island of Cephallonia during World War II. In the midst of the occupation are Pelagia, a beautiful young woman, and two suitors: Mandras, a fisherman of the island, and the charming, funny, clever mandolin-playing Captain Corelli, an officer of the Italian garrison. This was a very exciting book, and I really raced through it, wanting to get the end and find what ultimately happened. But it was deeply sad. So many characters that you grow to love throughout the book die during the various occupations of the war, and also many animals that are characterized and then killed. The ending was also kind of unsatisfying; I felt so frustrated with it. But I did like the characters. They felt so real. 4 stars." Despite its shortness, and a few ungrammatical sentences, it's actually not a bad little review. 

But I really loved Corelli's Mandolin more than four stars. More like 4.5, or maybe even 5. Though I will admit that Louis de Bernieres can be a bit verbose at times. Too much so, perhaps. But at times, its verbosity can be slyly amusing, and even funny. Some of the writing has a sort of snide tone that fits the novel well.

I really loved the animals in the book, the goat and the pine marten called Psispina, which apparently means cat in Greek. I also loved Lemoni, the little girl who discovered the marten as well. And I love, love, loved Captain Corelli himself. He's handsome, charming, witty, and (nearly) laugh-out-loud hilarious. He also plays the mandolin, as you might have guessed, and very well too. More than well, amazingly. Some of the descriptions of what he gets up to in the army are so, so, so funny, as well as when he first arrives at Pelagia's house. Although I don't agree with his opinion of Wagner; yes, Wagner was an anti-Semite and an awful person by all accounts, but his music is great, despite its later Nazi associations. I also think Corelli  has synesthesia; at one point he doesn't like a certain tune because "it was a particularly vile shade of puce." Be warned though, he does not appear until page 157. So don't despair if there is no sign of Corelli; he will soon be there. The fact that you love Corelli so much is what makes the book's ending so heartbreaking. Pelagia is a good character too. 

But the book isn't just the story of Cephallonia. There are other narratives within the book, from a first person narrative by Mussolini himself (once), to a homosexual Italian soldier's account of the war (many times). Though it's a bit confusing to adjust to the different stories at first, you get used to it, and it ends up making a much better novel overall. I would recommend Corelli's Mandolin if you're looking for an interesting and challenging read.

Read Corelli's Mandolin:
  • if you like historical fiction (World War II)
  • if you like books set in Greece
435 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Days of Blood & Starlight, Laini Taylor

Prague, early May. the sky weighed gray over fairy-tale rooftops, and all the world watching. Satellites had even been tasked to surveil the Charles Bridge, in case the...visitors...returned. Strange things had happened in this city before, but not this strange. At least, not since video existed to prove it. Or to milk it.

I loved Days of Blood and Starlight, the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone. If you thought Daughter of Smoke and Bone was dark, Days of Blood and Starlight seems pitch black in comparison. "Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war. This is not that world. Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is--and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it. In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life. While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hopeBut can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?"

Yup. That sounds pretty dark, doesn't it? It reminded me a bit of how Pandemonium was so much darker and more melodramatic than Delirium. But I also really loved Days of Blood and Starlight too. New characters are introduced, and old ones expanded on. 

The story was just as suspenseful, though much longer than the first book. It did feel like it dragged in places in the middle, with all this killing and brutality. Plus, the cover was rather hideous and disturbing. I'm not even sure what it's supposed to be. Such awful makeup. 

Still, Days of Blood and Starlight was a good sequel, and I'm very glad that I read it, and managed to get it from the library. Some of the things in it were really disturbing to me, but still, it was honest and brutal, and Laini Taylor has an amazing imagination. I don't know where she comes up with all this stuff: Chimera, angels, Eretz, teeth, and resurrection. The character development of everyone and especially Karou in this book was great, and I would highly recommend this sequel. Though I didn't love it as much as Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I still loved it. I look forward to reading the third (and final?) book in this series.

Read Days of Blood and Starlight:
  • if you like dark fantasy
  • if you liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone
513 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Rereading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seemed like just another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its Januaryness. It was cold, and it was dark - in the dead of winter the sun didn't rise until eight - but it was also lovely. The falling snow and the early hour conspired to paint Prague ghostly, like a tintype photograph, all silver and haze. 

Here is what I said in my original review of this wonderful fantasy novel: "This was a really great dark fantasy book. Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by strange winged beings. In a dark shop, a devil's supply of human teeth is growing low. And Karou, a strange young art student in Prague, is caught up in an otherworldy war. I loved basically everything about this book. It was suspenseful; and Karou was a great character. It also had some humorous moments as well. And I really like dark fantasy, and the magic that was described in the book. Also, it was interesting because both sides of the battle have good elements and bad elements; no one is just a bad guy or a good guy. It's less clear-cut than that."

Wow. That was a really short review. My reviews have improved since then, I think. At any rate, I wanted to reread Daughter of Smoke and Bone, because I'm going to be reading the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight soon. Very soon. Like, possibly tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to it. 

I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone just as much, if not more, the second time around. I spent more time reading it; the first time I just raced through it, eager to get to the end. This time, I savored this amazing book, with its amazing dark world and its amazing plot. I love all of the characters: Karou is smart, funny, and has a wicked sense of humor. I liked Zuzana too, and of course, Akiva. Though the descriptions of some of the characters are a bit weird; not my idea of good-looking. There's a movie coming out eventually of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I think this book could be a great movie it it's well done. It probably won't be though; most YA books don't get anything original done with them. We'll see though.

There's one thing that I touched briefly upon in my original review that I want to expand on. "Also, it was interesting because both sides of the battle have good elements and bad elements; no one is just a bad guy or a good guy. It's less clear-cut than that." That may be one of my favorite elements of this YA book. There are chimera (devils) and seraphim (angels), but neither of them are strictly devilish or angelic. The two groups have always clashed, and both sides have done some pretty awful things to one another. There is no black-and-white evil and good, starkly contrasted. Everything is gray and hazy, and who knows which side is really "right"? 

There was one line I really wanted to share, from page 203: "His lips made a grim twist that was like the joyless cousin of a smile." I just loved that line for some reason. It rang true.

In addition to all this, the plot of the book is just amazing and original and highly engaging. Daughter of Smoke and Bone just grabs you and never lets you go. I'm really looking forward to reading Days of Blood and Starlight now. I would highly recommend this YA novel.

Read Daughter of Smoke and Bone:
  • if you like dark fantasy
  • if you like quirky characters
  • if you like books set in Prague and all over the world
418 pages. 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!