Monday, April 29, 2013

Death in Sicily The First Three Novels in the Inspector Montalbano Series:The Shape of Water, The Terra-Cotta Dog, The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri (translated by Stephen Sartarelli)

Death in Sicily: The First Three Novels in the Inspector Montalbano Series--The Shape of Water; The Terra-Cotta Dog; The Snack ThiefFrom The Shape of Water: No light of daybreak filtered yet into the courtyard of Splendor, the company under government contract to collect trash in the town of Vigata. 

From The Terra-Cotta Dog: To judge from the entrance the dawn was making, it promised to be a very iffy day - that is, blasts of angry sunlight one minutes, fits of freezing rain the next, all of it seasoned with sudden gusts of wind - one of those days when someone who is sensitive to abrupt shifts in weather and suffers them in his blood and brain is likely to change opinion and direction continuously, like those sheets of tin, cut in the shape of banners and rooster,s that spin every which way on rooftops with each new puff of wind. 

From The Snack Thief: He woke up in a bad way. The sheets, during the sweaty, restless sleep that had followed his wolfing down three pounds of a sardines a beccafico the previous evening, had wound themselves tightly round his body, making him feel like a mummy. 

Death in Sicily, scheduled to come out in late May, is a volume containing the first three Inspector Montalbano mysteries. It has quite a long title. I received a review copy from Penguin, and was excited to read these Italian mysteries. In this post I will review the titles separately.                      

The Shape of Water: In The Shape of Water, the first mystery in the series, a man is found mysteriously dead in a car by the beach. He had been doing certain things before he died, but it appears that he has died from a heart attack. Inspector Montalbano, however, is suspicious. It's just a feeling that he has, but he somehow thinks that there is more going on than meets the eye. And of course, he is right. There are many secrets swirling around the death, and many people to be questioned.

The writing in these mysteries was certainly quite different than I was expecting. It wasn't particularly suspenseful, but there was a certain charm about it, and once I got used to it, I really enjoyed the snappy dialogue and quick turnaround of events. I didn't love it, but I did enjoy it, and I while I wasn't desperate to see what had actually happened, I did want to find out. The Shape of Water is the shortest of the three mysteries, and was definitely entertaining. Once you get into it, it goes by very quickly and is a pretty short read (153 pages). It was definitely a good introduction to the series.

The Terra-Cotta Dog: The second book in the series opens "with a mysterious tete-a-tete with a mafioso, some inexplicably abandoned loot from a supermarket heist, and some dying words that lead inspector Montalbano to a secret grotto in a mountainous cave where two young lovers, dead fifty years and still embracing, are watched over by a life-size terra cotta dog. Montalbano's passion to solve this old crime takes him, heedless of personal danger, on a journey through the island's past and into a family's dark heart amid the horrors of World War II." As you can see, The Terra-Cotta Dog began with a very long sentence. It was longer than The Shape of Water, and quite different, though still very enjoyable.  In The Terra-Cotta Dog, Inspector Montalbano often pretends to be a bit slow in order to trick the suspects into revealing something or in order to surprise them, which is a very effective technique and a classic in mystery stories. But in other respects, these books are different from what most mysteries are like. Sometimes no one ends up arrested and sometimes there are multiple cases that Montalbano is dealing with in the story. They may or may not be connected. I really enjoyed it when Montalbano told off some not-so-nice people. The Terra-Cotta Dog was also very enjoyable, and I liked it more because there was more time for the story to develop, and there were a lot of little details about Montalbano that the reader learns. For example, he has synesthesia; smells have colors for him. We also learn more about his life and personality. I also really enjoyed the character of Catarella; he added some comedy to the story. 265 pages, 5 stars. 

The Snack Thief: "In the third book in Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series, the urbane and perceptive Sicilian detective exposes a viper's nest of government corruption and international intrigue in a compelling new case. When an elderly man is stabbed to death in an elevator and a crewman on an Italian fishing trawler is machine-gunned by a Tunisian patrol boat off Sicily's coast, only Montalbano suspects the link between the two incidents. His investigation leads to the beautiful Karima, an impoverished housecleaner and sometime prostitute, whose young son steals other schoolchildren's midmorning snacks. But Karima disappears, and the young snack thief's life-as well as Montalbano's-is on the line . . ." These books have such unique plots, and The Snack Thief was no exception. The characters are developed more, and there's another great mystery to read. 4 stars, 239 pages.  

So overall, the first three books in this series are really good and highly recommended. This series is quite different from many other mysteries, but very entertaining and absorbing. You can, of course, buy the first three books separately now, but this volume of all three is coming out May 28th. Thanks again to Penguin. 

Read Death in Sicily:
  • if you like mystery
  • if you like Italian fiction
  • if you like this series
668 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Candymakers, Wendy Mass

The CandymakersOnce there were four children whose names were Logan, Miles, Philip, and Daisy. Each of them had recently turned twelve, and although none of them knew it yet, their lives would never be the same.

"Four children have been chosen to compete in a national competition to find the tastiest confection in the country. Who will invent a candy more delicious than the Oozing Crunchorama or the Neon Lightning Chew? Logan, the Candymaker's son, who can detect the color of chocolate by touch alone? Miles, the boy who is allergic to merry-go-rounds and the color pink?  Daisy, the cheerful girl who can lift a fifty-pound lump of taffy like it's a feather? Or Philip, the suit-and-tie wearing boy who's always scribbling in a secret notebook? This sweet, charming, and cleverly crafted story, told from each contestant's perspective, is filled with mystery, friendship, and juicy revelations."

I've read many of Wendy Mass's excellent books in the past, but this one really disappointed me at first. The premise sounded interesting, and the descriptions in the book were mouthwatering. Yet a lot of things felt flat and contrived. I wasn't impressed by Miles's insecurity or Logan's scars. None of the events came to life in the beginning, and the writing was poor. Daisy's secret, though kind of cool, also felt really unrealistic and underdeveloped. What kind of twelve year old girl does what she does? However, she was probably my favorite character. 

The book is told in four parts, from each character's perspective. But the interesting thing is that the same events are told from the different views of the four children. I really didn't like that at first; it seemed so ridiculously redundant. When Logan and Miles told of the same events, we only learned a tiny bit more about each of them, and that could have been skipped. Daisy's section was interesting though, because the reader learns who she really is. And she's not the cheerful girl in a yellow dress who we've been led to believe is the real Daisy. That was interesting, but overall the technique was a bit off-putting, though very original. Philip's section was also really enlightening though; we learn why he's such a brat all the time, and I actually really sympathized with him after he was done telling his point of view. Though I still think Philip's initial reasons for entering the competition were really stupid. 

All in all, The Candymakers ended up being a fairly good book. It had a lot of good lessons, and a fairly interesting plot. It started slowly, but it did pick up in the later sections. The writing was all right, the characters were okay, everything about it was basically good, but not amazing. Except for the candy, which was amazing. I would love to visit the Willy Wonky-esque factory in the The Candymakers.

I must admit that the book was a lot more complicated than I thought it would be. There are lots of intertwined mysteries and really deep tragedies in all of the characters' pasts. Everyone seems to be haunted by something and scarred, inwardly or outwardly. It was a bit much, but The Candymakers was actually quite profound in certain parts. As I read, my opinion of it improved. It's probably on the lower end of 4 stars now. This novel is certainly not one of Wendy Mass's best, but I was glad that I stuck through the whole thing. It was rewarding in some ways. 

Read The Candymakers:
  • if you like Wendy Mass
  • if you like mystery 
  • if you like books set in candy factories 
  • if you're looking for a fairly light but interesting read
453 pages, 3.5 stars.                                                                                                                           

A Weekend at Powell's

I spent a lovely weekend in Portland, and I -of course- went to Powell's, where I'm afraid I got a bit carried away with my book buying...

Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman MiddlemarchThe Eternal OnesJepp, Who Defied the StarsThe Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other StoriesAngelmakerCatharine and Other WritingsMary CoinMagic Study (Study #2)St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

I also got a first edition of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Replay, Ken Grimwood

ReplayJeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died. "We need--" she'd said, and he never heard her say just what it was they needed, because something heavy seemed to slam against his chest, crushing the breath out of him. The phone fell from his hand and cracked the glass paperweight on his desk. 

In 1988 at the age of 43, trapped in an unhappy marriage, Jeff Winston dies and wakes up to find himself in college at the age of 18. But all his memories of the next 25 years are still there. He has a chance to live his life again, avoiding many mistakes. He also knows which horse won every Kentucky Derby and who will win the World Series. Oh, and that the Vietnam War will happen and that Kennedy will be assassinated. Then he dies at age 43 and wakes up back in college again. And again. Why has Jeff been chosen to replay his life like this? That's the fundamental question here. Also, "What if you could live your life over again, knowing the mistakes you'd made before"?

Replay was another book recommended to me by Goodreads. And it was really interesting. I don't think there's a book with time travel that's quite like this. In many books, the character who time travels has to fear running into his/her younger self. That's not the case in Replay. Jeff literally has become his younger self, except he remembers everything.

I have mixed feelings about Replay. It was a fascinating book in some ways; I do really like time travel books, and this was a really interesting-sounding novel to me. But I don't agree with a lot of the messages that the book is trying to express. Basically, live life to the fullest while you've got it. This makes for a science fiction novel with many graphic scenes and a lot of indulgence. This book has kind of the same feel as A Spell For Chameleon. Every time a new woman is introduced, we get a detailed description of what her body is like. Aren't there more important things than that? Both books were published in the 1980's, which might have something to do with it.

Nevertheless, Replay was an absorbing novel, and it kept me reading. The first time it happens, Jeff basically makes millions of dollars off of bets and stocks that he knows are going to do well and messes around. But it's an empty existence, devoid of meaning or any real happiness. He has wealth, but nothing more than that.
But he also has a daughter who he dearly loves, which makes it all the more sad when he dies again.

Replay was somewhat depressing; the main character loses everything again and again. He makes money, has a beloved child, falls in love, and then it's all gone. The actual time traveling itself was really confusing. When he dies and goes back to 1963, does everything that happened vanish? What is the present and what is the future? Does that mean that time never advances beyond 1988 because Jeff dies and then it goes back to 1963. All this and more is explored in the later sections of the book.

Replay is a really disturbing book, especially in the second half. But it was also really compelling and really interesting. It raises a lot of questions that are really difficult for the mind to conceive of. I'm definitely glad that I read it.

Read Replay:
  • if you like science fiction
  • if you like books with time travel
311 pages, 4.5 stars.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Poison Study, Maria V. Snyder

Poison Study (Study, #1)
Poison Study (Study, #1)Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, I had nothing to distract me from my memories. Vivid recollections waited to ambush me whenever my mind wandered. 

Poison Study is a really good fantasy, very original and intriguing. It had an interesting premise, and lots of twists. About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary chance: she can either be executed or choose to become the poison taster for the Commander of Ixia. Of course, she chooses the latter (otherwise there wouldn't be any story to tell!) She meets Valek, who begins to train her, and meanwhile starts to develop a strange magical power that helps her when she's in need. The fantasy part isn't the most major part of the story, however; it's more about Yelena's wounds healing (physical and mental). She's undergone a lot, and the palace is a tough place to stay alive. Poison Study is an adult fantasy, but it's really not that difficult, and I quite enjoyed it. The world in Poison Study could have been characterized a bit more, but it was still interesting. Basically, there's the Commander for whom Yelena is food taster, and then there are 8 (I think) military districts: each are ruled by their own general and each have their own colors. Yelena murdered one of the general's sons. She was in an orphanage there, but it was an evil orphanage (as fantasy orphanages tend to be).

One really interesting thing about Poison Study was just the job that's the center of the story. I never really considered what being a food taster would actually entail. I guess one just assumes that that means that the taster just tries a bit of food, and that's that. That's not how it is. Yelena must learn about the different types of poisons, what they do, and how to recognize them. This can help lead Valek to the assassin, and can help her discover poison without even trying the food.

I was expecting a Throne of Glass-esque fantasy, but Poison Study was quite different, though I still loved it. The writing was a bit off-putting at first, but it was really riveting, and I ended up being hooked. Despite being over 400 pages, Poison Study is quite a suspenseful read. I loved all the characters in it, especially Valek. He's an assassin, but he's also really sympathetic, and I loved seeing how his and Yelena's relationship changed: from distrust to grudging regard to something besides that. Yelena was an interesting character too. She's really conflicted and she's undergone some horrible things while she was at the orphanage. I didn't agree with some of the choices she made, but she was still a really compelling narrator.

Poison Study is the first in a trilogy, and I might pick up the next two books, Magic Study and Fire Study, if I have the chance. Poison Study was another book recommended to me by Goodreads, and once again, their recommendation was a great one. I'm really glad that I read this excellent fantasy novel. It's one that I would highly recommend. In some ways, it has a lot more depth than Throne of Glass. It's definitely a favorite, one that I will reread often. Some of the twists were predictable, but I have no other complaints. And there was chocolate.

Read Poison Study:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like books with assassins and poison
427 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Austenland, Shannon Hale

AustenlandIt is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her.

Austenland was a really light read, but it was fun and feel-good. Sometimes I just need to read something that's not very deep but is good for a laugh or two. "Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man—perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?"

I can well relate to Jane's obsession; I can't count how many times I've watched that version. Though I don't hide my copy in a potted plant like Jane does. But seriously, Jane is thirty-four, and she's so obsessed. All of her romantic relationships have ended poorly, so she always goes back to watching Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Her fantasies are so much better than real-life. 

This book is somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me. It's definitely chick-lit, a genre which I normally despise. But this is not teen chick-lit, which in my opinion is nauseating. It's adult chick-lit, I suppose. Really, I think the whole genre of (teenage) chick-lit is kind of stupid. I mean, is there really a certain type of book that only teenage girls read? I suppose there is. But I've read perhaps one teenage chick-lit book, and it was awful. There are two reasons that I justify reading Austenland

The first reason that I read is, of course, that I love Jane Austen's books, and I do also really love the 1995 adaption of Pride and Prejudice. This is basically just Jane Austen fan-fiction that got published, and the plot looked pretty interesting. 

The second reason is that the author is Shannon Hale. I love most of Shannon Hale's fantasy novels: Princess Academy, Enna Burning, The Goose Girl, etc. I wanted to see what her writing for adults was like. It was really quite different, though still excellent. All of her books are fantasies of sorts; when you go to Austenland, you basically dress up in period costumes and pretend it's 1816. I wonder what Jane Austen would think of it. 

The writing, however, is quite contemporary. Shannon Hale doesn't attempt to imitate Jane Austen in her writing; it's basically just Jane's reflections, and she is a modern woman. I liked that aspect of it; writing like Jane Austen in the present day would have just felt very forced. 

Why are light books always called "summer reads"? Shouldn't one be reading something light-hearted in the cold and dreary winter to cheer you up? But Austenland would be a fun book to read on the beach. However, reading it in the spring and during a rather stressful time of year was fun and very good for me. I would recommend this one. It wasn't super thought-provoking, but I did really enjoy the writing and plot. Austenland is being made into a movie this year, and I look forward to (possibly) watching it.

Read Austenland:
  • if you like Jane Austen
  • if you like Shannon Hale
  • if you like light romance
194 pages. 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)! 

It's not great literature, but in its genre, it's pretty good. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Mark of Athena, Rick Riordan

The Mark of Athena (The Heroes of Olympus, #3)Until she met the exploding statue, Annabeth thought she was prepared for anything.

The Mark of Athena is the third book in the Heroes of Olympus series. *Spoilers for the first two books will be inevitable, and there are some spoilers for this book here too*. The Greek and Roman heroes must come together to save (Old) Rome from being destroyed by Gaea and her minions. Like most of Rick Riordan's books, they don't have much time: only six or seven days to Rome and somehow save it. There is also (of course) a prophecy: seven heroes from both camps must do this quest. So we have Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Hazel, Frank and Leo. *SPOILER* When one of them accidentally fires on the Roman camp, they must flee, with the Romans hard on the heels, and very, very angry. *END SPOILER* But Annabeth has another worry too. The last time she met up with her mother, Athena, Athena gave her a token and told Annabeth that she must follow the Mark of Athena and avenge her. So Annabeth has a lot to do, and it's not going to be pretty. Oh, and she's worried that Percy might have changed after his time in the Roman camp. Four of the demigods take turns narrating The Mark of Athena.

I read the second book, The Son of Neptune, way back in January 2012, so a lot of the events that were referenced in The Mark of Athena went over my head. After a little bit, I remembered all the main characters and their relationships to one another, but when they talked about certain adventures that they'd had, I couldn't remember it at all. Somehow though, that wasn't too detrimental to my reading, and I could still enjoy this book.

The Mark of Athena is very long, and that's because there are lots of adventures, and the book talks about the characters' changing relationships as well. On the ship en route to Rome, they all get a chance to know one another a bit better, which is a really important part of the book. Different groups of the characters go on smaller quests to get information and then come back to their warship, the Argo II. Speaking of the Argo II, it has all these amazing amenities. I wouldn't mind riding on it. The characters in The Mark of Athena are developed so well and there's action, inevitably making for a longer book. But I didn't feel like it was overwritten or there were too many scenes. The Mark of Athena was a real page-turner, and though there was less trademark Riordan humor, some of that was still present. The heroes have to use some creative ways to get out of tight spots.

In The Mark of Athena, the reader meets a lot of new secondary characters and some ones we've met before, too. For example, towards the beginning of the book, Leo and Hazel are going to look for some metal to repair the ship, and they encounter Nemesis, the goddess of revenge. A bit later on, they also meet Narcissus. But we also encounter Aphrodite, Athena, and the other well-known gods.

The Mark of Athena was a great (if long) third book, and I would highly recommend it.

Read The Mark of Athena:
  • if you like Rick Riordan
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like Greek mythology
574 pages, 4.5.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult

My Sister's KeeperWhen I was little, the great mystery to me wasn't how babies were made, but why.

My Sister's Keeper is an interesting realistic fiction novel, if not high-brow literature. Our main character is Anna; she's not sick, but she was conceived to be a perfect match for her sister Kate, who has leukemia. Over the years, she's undergone many surgeries, transfusions, and shots, so that her sister can live a little longer. But at the age of thirteen, she's finally getting just a little bit sick of it. She makes an unthinkable decision, that will tear her family apart and affect everyone in the story, most of all her sister. "A provocative novel, that raises some important ethical issues, My Sister's Keeper is the story of one family's struggle for survival at all human costs and a stunning moral parable for all time."

Most of that description in quotes is right, though I wouldn't call it that great. "A stunning moral parable for all time" may be overkill a bit, but it is certainly provocative, and it does certainly raise some important ethical issues, which are quite interesting. There's no one "right" side in this case. Obviously, the parents want Kate to live, but Anna has never had a say in anything. It's always been taken for granted that she will donate things to her sister. Now her parents want her to donate a kidney, and that's something that Anna just isn't sure about, because it's kind of dangerous. That may seem a bit selfish since her sister might die if she doesn't donate her kidney, but think about it. Anna has never had a choice, and now her parents just expect her to do something like this.

The writing in My Sister's Keeper was interesting. It was kind of full of cliches, but it was also really absorbing. I was pulled in, and couldn't stop reading. I feel like Jodi Picoult tried to make all of the events symbolize something really important, and perhaps it was a little too much. Does everything that happens have to reinforce a specific something? There was also so many dramatic events: past loves returning to haunt the characters, tortured remembrances, and the like. This made My Sister's Keeper read kind of like a soap opera, though an entertaining one.

The various characters take turns narrating this story, but the one who is conspicuously absent from most of the novel is Kate herself. I kind of would have liked to see her perspective throughout the events, and was a bit disappointed that that didn't happen. She is, after all, one of the most central characters in the story, and yet she never gets her turn, until the epilogue, the very last section.

As many reviewers have commented, the ending of My Sister's Keeper was really bad. It was awful and contrived and I have no idea why the author chose to write the book like that. I did still enjoy this dramatic and sad book.

Read My Sister's Keeper:
  • if you like realistic fiction
  • if you like Jodi Picoult
  • if you like books dealing with cancer and ethical issues
423 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Last Brother, Nathacha Appanah (translated by Geoffrey Strachan)

The Last BrotherI saw David again yesterday. I was lying in bed, my mind a blank, my body light, there was just a faint pressure between my eyes. I do not know why I turned my head towards the door, since David had not made a sound, not a sound, not like the old days when he used to walk and run a bit lopsidedly and I was always amazed that his thin body, with those legs and arms as long and slender as the reeds that grow beside streams, his face lost amid the soft hair that floated like spindrift from waves, I was amazed that all this, this combination of small, gentle, and inoffensive things should make such a clatter on the ground as David walked along.

That's what I call a comma splice, to the point of being incoherent. Those two sentences take some deciphering. "As 1944 comes to a close, nine-year-old Raj is unaware of the war devastating the rest of the world. He lives in Mauritius, a remote island in the Indian Ocean, where survival is a daily struggle for his family. When a brutal beating lands Raj in the hospital of the prison camp where his father is a guard, he meets a mysterious boy his own age. David is a refugee, one of a group of Jewish exiles whose harrowing journey took them from Nazioccupied Europe to Palestine, where they were refused entry and sent on to indefinite detainment in Mauritius.  A massive storm on the island leads to a breach of security at the camp, and David escapes, with Raj’s help. After a few days spent hiding from Raj’s cruel father, the two young boys flee into the forest. Danger, hunger, and malaria turn what at first seems like an adventure to Raj into an increasingly desperate mission.  This unforgettable and deeply moving novel sheds light on a fascinating and unexplored corner of World War II history, and establishes Nathacha Appanah as a significant international voice."

The premise of this book was interesting, and I did end up really liking it. It reminded me of The Tiger's Wife, though it wasn't quite as good as that. Some of the descriptions in it were amazing though. I could really picture the various places that Raj lives when he's a child. The descriptions of Mauritius and just of everything that happens were so life-like and compelling. The comma splices were a off-putting, but they ended up being pretty effective, though some of the sentences were annoying. They did abate as the book went on.

The blossoming friendship between Raj and David didn't thrill me; it wasn't amazing and I didn't really feel the strong bond. But despite that, The Last Brother was a really good work of historical fiction. It was just the language and the subject matter that was so amazing and fascinating and compelling. It's a fairly short book, but I took a little longer to read it than I usually take for a book of this length.

Goodreads also so graciously recommended this one to me, and I must say, their recommendations have been good so far, despite it being a computer recommending generic books to me based upon my preferences. I'm going to be reading more books recommended by Goodreads very, very soon.

The Last Brother was a bit depressing, but overall really a great, luminous novel.

Read The Last Brother:
  • if you like historical (WWII) fiction
  • if you like books set in Mauritius (in the Indian Ocean)
  • if you like stories of friendship
164 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Liar & Spy, Rebecca Stead

Liar & SpyThere's this totally false map of the human tongue. It's supposed to show where we taste different things, like salty on the side of the tongue, sweet in the front, bitter in the back. Some guy drew it a hundred years ago, and people have been forcing kids to memorize it ever since. But it's wrong - all wrong. As in, not even the slightest bit right.

I enjoyed When You Reach Me, so I gave Rebecca Stead's latest novel a try. And it was really good. It's the story of Georges (the s is silent) who moves into a new apartment building in Brooklyn, where he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old drinker of coffee and leader of the Spy Club. He also has a younger sister named Candy. Georges slowly gets to know their family, and enjoys hanging out with them. He's been having problems at home and school: his dad lost his job, and his mom works extra shifts as a nurse. At school, he's the target of Dallas, a big bully and also a big idiot. Georges is Safer's first recruit, and his job is to track the mysterious Mr. X who lives in the apartment his. But how far will he be willing to go? And is Safer telling him the truth?

In case you couldn't tell, I basically paraphrased the given summary. I really enjoyed the characters in this quirky novel, especially Candy, who's about seven years old but really smart and interesting. The thing about Rebecca Stead's novels is that there are so many different elements that contribute to the over-arching story and to the overarching "themes". There's the fact that the kids are learning about taste in science, and the Seurat painting that Georges talks about. In some ways, Liar & Spy is about seeing the big picture, not just the little dots.

Though the book is of course very different from Wonder, which I recently read, it also had some similarities in its picture of school life. For starters, both books are set in New York. Then, there's the fact that both of the protagonists are getting bullied. The writing is also kind of similar, though Georges is two years older than August. Liar & Spy is a much lighter and less cheesy book though.

There's a really big twist at the end of Liar & Spy; I'm not sure if I liked it. It just felt so sudden and completely unexpected, and it didn't seem to add much to the story. However, there was also an amazing scene at the end where the bullies get their comeuppance, and the "rules" of the school get defied. I really enjoyed this one, and would recommend it.

Read Liar & Spy:
  • if you like Rebecca Stead
  • if you like quirky realistic fiction
  • if you like MG novels
180 pages, 4.5 stars.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Big, Big, Big, Big Book #4: Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity FairVanity FairWhile the present century was in its teens, and on one sun-shiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachmen in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour.

I found Vanity Fair really hilarious. It's a novel without a hero, but  one of the main characters is Becky Sharp: pretty, sharp, smart, and ruthlessly determined. She is an orphan, and her father was a poor artist, so she must make the best of things. The story starts when she leaves the hated academy for young ladies with her sentimental companion Amelia Sedley, and arrives to stay at Russell Square for a little bit. There, we meet Amelia's wealthy brother Joseph, who Becky is determined to marry, and two other men: George and Dobbin, both of whom love Amelia in their own way. "As the two heroines make their way through the tawdry glamour of Regency society, battles - military and domestic - are fought, fortunes made and lost. The one steadfast and honourable figure in this corrupt world is Dobbin, devoted to Amelia, bring pathos and depth to Thackeray's gloriously satirical epic of love and social adventure."

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Vanity Fair. The Regency England portrayed in Thackeray's novel is very different from the society in Austen's books, though they are set in the same time period. Vanity Fair is clearly a satire; everything about it screams satire. The author interrupts with little side notes and witty comments, playfully mocking everything he talks about. For example, at the beginning of Chapter 6, "I know that the tune I am piping is a very mild one (although there are some terrific chapters coming presently), and must beg the good-natured reader to remember, that we are only discoursing at present about a stockbroker's family in Russell Square, who are taking walks, or luncheon, or dinner, or talking and making love as people do in common life without a single passionate and wonderful incident to mark the progress of their loves...We might have treated this subject in the genteel, or in the romantic, or in the facetious manner. Suppose we had laid the scene in Grosvenor Square, with the very same adventures - would not some people have listened? Suppose we had shown how Lord Joseph Sedley fell in love, and the Marquis of Osborne became attached to Lady Amelia, with the full consent of the duke...or instead of the supremely genteel, suppose we had resorted to the entirely low, and described what was going on in Mr. Sedley's kitchen - how black Sambo was in love with the cook (as indeed he was), and how he fought a battle with the coachman in her behalf...such incidents might be made to provoke much delightful laughter, and be supposed to represent scenes of 'life'. Or if, on the contrary, we had taken a fancy for the terrible and made the lover of the new femme de chambre a professional burglar who bursts into the house with his band, slaughters black Sambo at the feet of his master, and carries Amelia off in her night-dress, not to be let loose again till the third volume, we should easily have constructed a tale of thrilling interest, through the fiery chapters of which the reader should hurry, panting." (pgs. 59-60). This part really amused me. Thackeray manages to make fun of all of the different types of novels of the time. Then, later in the chapter, "It is to be understood, as a matter of course, that our young people, being in parties of two and two, made the most solemn promises to keep together during the evening, and separated in ten minutes afterwards." (pg. 63).

There were a lot of Regency references, and thus a lot of footnotes, which was kind of annoying. I don't like it when a classic makes so much reference to long defunct things that no one knows about anymore. However, even if the reader skips the footnotes, the general gist of the book can still be understood. The names are also a bit confusing, but overall, Vanity Fair was very entertaining.

I was expecting Vanity Fair to be very overwritten because of its length and when it was written, but it actually wasn't. The writing was very compelling and charming in its own way. It was also very slyly funny. It is kind of a vulgar book, as you can see from the cover. In Jane Austen's books, the mothers of the heroines generally try and get them married. But Rebecca Sharp is an orphan, so she has to take matters into her own hands, and try and marry herself off to someone wealthy. This makes the whole character of the novel very different. It also takes place in many different locations: London, Brighton, other parts of the English countryside, and Brussels.

There were a lot of twists in Vanity Fair that I really wasn't expecting. Much like Anna Karenina, before 200 pages had gone by, so much had happened, and I wasn't quite sure how the next 600 pages could be filled with an interesting story and not be bogged down. But I was kept absorbed by this engrossing novel.

Vanity Fair is also like Anna Karenina in the respect that there are two different stories that occupy the novel; in this case, the story of Amelia and the story of Becky. These two are almost opposites. Amelia is perhaps not the smartest of women (she reminded me of Dora from David Copperfield a bit), but she is kind, sweet, and gentle. Rebecca is very street-smart, and everything she does has a purpose. She's good at fending for herself. But both of these characters are really compelling.

Thackeray makes reference to "Vanity Fair" a lot in the book, which was interesting, but definitely a good satirical touch. I loved Vanity Fair, and would highly recommend it.

Read Vanity Fair:
  • if you like William Makepeace Thackeray
  • if you like satire
  • if you like British literature
809 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Big, Big, Big, Big Book #4: Vanity Fair

Vanity FairI've been looking forward to Vanity Fair for a long time, and a used copy finally showed up at the local bookstore. It's set in the same period as Jane Austen, but is very different.

"'I think I could be a good woman, if I had five thousand a year,' observes beautiful and clever Becky Sharp, one of the wickedest—and most appealing—women in all of literature. Becky is just one of the many fascinating figures that populate William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, a wonderfully satirical panorama of upper-middle-class life and manners in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Scorned for her lack of money and breeding, Becky must use all her wit, charm and considerable sex appeal to escape her drab destiny as a governess. From London’s ballrooms to the battlefields of Waterloo, the bewitching Becky works her wiles on a gallery of memorable characters, including her lecherous employer, Sir Pitt, his rich sister, Miss Crawley, and Pitt’s dashing son, Rawdon, the first of Becky’s misguided sexual entanglements.

Filled with hilarious dialogue and superb characterizations, Vanity Fair is a richly entertaining comedy that asks the reader, 'Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?'"

Vanity Fair is a comedy and a satire, and I was looking forward to it. Review tomorrow, though obviously it took me a while to read. 

Coraline, Neil Gaiman

CoralineCoraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house. It was a very old house - it had an attic under the roof and a cellar under the ground and an overgrown garden with huge old trees in it.

I'm sad to say that I hadn't read Coraline until now, even though it's one of Neil Gaiman's most famous books. "Coraline's often wondered what's behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her "other" parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures." 

I didn't love Coraline as much as Stardust or The Graveyard Book, but it was chillingly good, and the story was amazing. It's also a really odd book. Like the other two books of Gaiman's that I've read, Coraline is fantasy, but it's a much more twisted and creepy type of fantasy. It's set in the real world, but nothing that happens in the book is actually real; it's all so odd. 

I will say that despite Neil Gaiman's genius, Coraline was a bit hard to get into (and the book isn't even 200 pages!) On page 58, things were just getting started. And that's part of the ingenuity of the book. It's short, but it doesn't feel rushed; it proceeds at its own pace, with events slowly unfolding. Yet at the same time, there's never a moment when something isn't happening. The book's too short and event-filled for that. Yet even though the events are dramatic, they don't feel dramatic. Does that make sense? Everything's so dreamy, just like the strange land on the other side of the door.

Coraline was a good character, but I really liked the black cat who (sort of) helps her. In typical cat fashion, he vanishes and reappears and offers very cryptic advice. Yet he is on the good side, despite being a black cat, and I loved when he showed up.

Another thing that was amazing about this one was that during the beginning of the book, it's shown so well how Coraline's parents neglect her and don't really care for her. Neil Gaiman never says as much, but you can tell from the way they talk to her and treat her. Yet they still are her parents, and she must save them from the "other" parents.  

And yet, Coraline lacked something for me. It was still really good, but not amazingly good. Stardust and The Graveyard Book were both much better in my opinion. Neil Gaiman's new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, sounds somewhat similar to Coraline, and I'm really looking forward to it. 

Read Coraline:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like Neil Gaiman
  • if you like horror
162 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

WonderI know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary, I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go.

Wonder, a MG realistic fiction book, received high acclaim and looked really good, so I was excited to read it. "August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances? R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels."

I feel really bad for not liking this one as much as a lot of other people. There are some valuable lessons in this book, and it's certainly an uplifting story, but somehow the writing just didn't resonate with me. I know that August is ten years old, but although he's an intelligent child, he narrates like he's about six. There are plenty of amazing middle grade novels that don't feel kind of dumbed-down. I also wasn't fond of the short chapters. They were annoying. 

I do feel so cold-hearted for rating this book relatively poorly. Again, the premise was great, I just didn't really like how it was executed. I kept waiting for it to get better, and it did, a little bit. But there were still some parts that made me wince because of their badness. Like when Auggie and Will are exchanging texts and they spell the word "again" like "agen". I mean, what's the point of that? Do people even really do that kind of abbreviation? Also, some of the things that happened and some of the ways that the characters talked did not seem like fifth-grade. 

The technique of alternating perspectives was a bit off-putting at first, but eventually quite effective. The problem with it was that just as the reader is getting to know Auggie, the book starts being narrated by his older sister Via. And then it switches again. Still, it helps you get a variety of outlooks on the events. 

In the end, I did enjoy Wonder; but I didn't love it. It gets 3.5 stars, I would say. Still, it's worth reading and is a fast read; I sped through it. And it was compelling; there were just so many little things that bothered me. Still, there were also some aspects that I liked. 

310 pages, 3.5 stars. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy, edited by Douglas A. Anderson

Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern FantasyFrom "The Elves": "Where is our little Mary?" said the father. "She is playing out upon the green there with our neighbor's boy," replied the mother.

I enjoyed many of the stories in this collection, though "The Elves" was not one of them. It was really strange and rather boring. However, many of these stories were really good. The title of this collection is kind of self-explanatory; it purports to include many stories that may have influenced J.R.R. Tolkien. I've had this one on my shelf for a long time, but since I just re(read) The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I figured now would be the time to actually finish it. Many of the stories one can see how Tolkien would directly draw from, but there were some that he never even read, which makes the collection's description slightly misleading.

There are a wide variety of stories in this collection; some are like fairy tales, others classic fantasy and fantasy. One, "Black Heart and White Heart: A Zulu Idyll" is set in Africa, and most of the others ones are set in fantasy lands.

The first two stories, "The Elves" and "The Golden Key" are about the perils of Fairyland, and how the mortal can easily get lost and spend what seems like days there while years pass outside. It's a fascinating concept, yet these two stories were really strange and the most boring in the whole collection. So don't get turned off from reading this by the first rather uninteresting couple of stories.

The third story, "Puss-Cat Mew", is much better. It's a rather violent tale, but it's really entertaining, and was certainly a welcome relief after the dullness of "The Elves" and "The Golden Key". The next story, "The Griffin in the Minor Canon", tells of a kind-hearted griffin who shows up at a village when he hears that there's a statue of him in front of the church. This story is really thought-provoking, because when the griffin takes over some of the town's duties, everything runs very smoothly because everyone is so afraid of him that they do their job well. "The Demon Pope" was rather confusing, but good. I loved "The Story of Sigurd"; it's one of the stories that Wagner drew off of to great the Ring cycle, which bears a lot of similarity to the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien definitely drew off of Wagner too.

"The Folk of the Mountain-Door" was another dud; it made no impression on me whatsoever, and I confess to skimming through parts of it. "Black Heart and White Heart: A Zulu Idyll" was an interesting story which I enjoyed. "The Dragon-Tamers" was funny in a British sort of way. "The Far Islands", about a man who hallucinates about a fantasy land, was rather depressing but good. "The Drawn Arrow" was just kind of stupid and annoying, though it started out promisingly enough. "The Enchanted Buffalo", written by L. Frank Baum, is one of a series of animal tales, and was a fairly good story.

There are many more stories, but I'm not going to go into them. Suffice to say, that this collection was pretty good, though as in most short story collections, there were some good and some bad. Still, I would recommend this book, and I may try Tales Before Narnia, edited by the same person.

Read Tales Before Tolkien:
  • if you like J.R.R. Tolkien
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like fairy tales
505 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)
The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)Pippin looked out from the shelter of Gandalf's cloak. He wondered if he was awake or still sleeping, still in the swift-moving dream in which he had been wrapped so long since the great ride began. 

"Concluding the story begun in The Hobbit, this is the final part of Tolkien's epic masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. The armies of the Dark Lord are massing as his evil shadow spreads ever wider. Men, Dwarves, Elves and Ents unite forces to do battle agains the Dark. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam struggle further into Mordor in their heroic quest to destroy the One Ring. Impossible to describe in a few words, JRR Tolkien's great work of imaginative fiction has been labelled both a heroic romance and a classic fantasy fiction. By turns comic and homely, epic and diabolic, the narrative moves through countless changes of scene and character in an imaginary world which is totally convincing in its detail. Tolkien created a vast new mythology in an invented world which has proved timeless in its appeal."

The last book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I enjoyed The Return of the King. Still, The Two Towers remains my favorite of the three. It is the least bogged down and the most entertaining of the books. The Return of the King was just as good as The Fellowship of the Ring though. I really wanted to return to Frodo and Sam's adventures right from the beginning, but that had to wait until later. The second half of the book, to be more exact. 

There are a lot of new characters in this one; a lot of the place names and character names got really confusing. I had difficulty keeping them straight, and to be frank, I just kind of stopped trying. To really fully absorb everything, I would have to reread this one at least several times. 

My favorite character in this one was probably Eowyn; she's the only really strong female character in the whole trilogy (except for Galadriel, perhaps). I enjoyed reading about her. I also really like Sam Gamgee; Frodo doesn't deserve such a faithful servant. Merry and Pippin really interest me too; I like especially what happens towards the end of the book when they come back to the Shire. One other thing I did like about The Return of the King was the ending. It was bittersweet, yet so perfect, bringing this trilogy to an excellent close. I would recommend this one, though it's not my favorite of the three. The Lord of the Rings is still an amazing series. 

Read The Return of the King:
  • if you like J.R.R Tolkien
  • if you liked the first two books
  • if you like classic fantasy
311 pages. 
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Watching Northanger Abbey (2007)

The film version of Northanger Abbey was really amazing, just as good as the 2009 version of "Emma". It sticks closely to the original book in terms of dialogue but adds some foreshadowing of important events to come. I really liked that; it made the book more movie-like, as movies tend to have foreshadowing in them. The only thing that vexed me was that the part where Henry teasingly tells Catherine about the black cabinet and its contents was left out. That's such an important part, and it wasn't included.

Other than that, I had no criticisms to make. The casting was amazing, especially Catherine and Tilney. Catherine is pretty in a really young, innocent, naive sort of way, which is exactly her character. I loved Tilney too. He's just perfect; witty and really quirky.

Northanger Abbey is really suited to being made into a movie; what with the Gothic novels and the horrors that Catherine imagines, it makes for excellent drama. This version actually films some of the lurid dreams Catherine has due to the books she reads. So that was good. And things get even more creepy when Catherine arrives at the abbey, providing ample space for some movie magic.

Another thing that I noticed was that some of the same music from the 1995 adaption of Pride and Prejudice was in this one in the background. That was nice to hear. I would recommend this adaption if you like the novel. It was humorous and well done. I also loved the ending.

5 stars.

Rereading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger AbbeyNorthanger AbbeyNo one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. 

Here is what I said in my original, horribly short review: "Jane Austen. Some people like her, other people hate her. (At least, that's what I got from the writing.) Northanger Abbey is apparently the most cheerful and lighthearted of her novels, dealing with Catherine Morland, a young naive lady, who goes to Bath, and experiences fashionable society for the first time. She meets many new friends: Isabella, who shows her Gothic romances, and Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father's house, Northanger Abbey. 'There, influenced by novels of horror and intrigue, Catherine comes to imagine terrible crimes committed by General Tilney, risking the loss of Henry's affection, and has to learn the difference between fiction and reality, false friends and true. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, Northanger Abbey is the most youthful and optimistic of Jane Austen's works.' (Penguin Books.) I definitely enjoyed the light tone and writing of Austen, but (as I said early), I can definitely imagine how some people would not like it all. She wrote even before Charles Dickens, and yet her style is much less overwritten, with not many adjectives (Dickens is stuffed with them.) Austen's style is a sort gossipy tone; the young ladies talking among themselves about various happenings. Henry Tilney was a really great character, really likable. I liked the book overall a lot; it was quite a contrast from other literature from around that time, is definitely a readable classic for most people. Northanger Abbey was published posthumously right after her death." Yes, there was a fragment in the second-to-last sentences. Yes, I said "Northanger Abbey was published posthumously right after her death." Lots of redundancy...some of my older reviews are painful to read. 

Anyway, I rated it four stars at the time, but now it's definitely a 5 star read. I'm more equipped to appreciate Jane Austen after having read all of her novels and most of her shorter works. Northanger Abbey is really witty, and humorous, and youthful. A lot of the dialogue in it is just so charming. There was one particular chapter that I really liked. I'm also experimenting with marking stuff in books; passages that I like, interesting areas, etc.

I love the character of Henry Tilney in this one. He's really charming, and also really kind and all-around amazing, especially when compared to the horrible Mr. Thorpe, who is so boorish and likes to drive his horses fifty miles a day, and has no respect for women. But Mr. Tilney is wonderful, even better than Darcy in some ways. Catherine really likes him from the very beginning, so we really like him too. He's kind of a better version of Bingley; he's more playful and less infuriatingly trusting than Bingley. He's also unique; the only other Austen character that I can think of similar to him is probably Elizabeth. They both are really witty, playful, and smart. Also, Tilney has knowledge of muslin, and he actually reads novels, unlike the detestable Mr. Thorpe. He's the one who says that the person, - be it gentleman or lady - who has not pleasure in a good novel, must intolerably stupid. I have to agree. I also love his sister Eleanor; they're an amazing pair.

Also, this time around I took more time to really read the book; I was reading quickly, but I wasn't rushing to get to the end. Thus, I could savor the dialogue and the phrasing better. I really love Catherine too; she's very naive, but also a really nice person. Catherine is less placid than Fanny, but also less arch than Elizabeth (though several characters accuse her of archness).

Catherine's fondness of Gothic novels leads her to all sorts of suppositions about Northanger Abbey. It doesn't help that on the ride there Mr. Tilney told a story about locked cabinets and passageways, and that's exactly what happens to her at the abbey (sort of).

The first time I read Northanger Abbey, I didn't really see why it is "the most youthful and optimistic" of Jane Austen's books. That's because I hadn't read any of her other novels before. Reading it this time, I could definitely see how light it was. I noticed - and penned in the margins-  that Northanger Abbey doesn't really talk about incomes or financial difficulties, something which all of Austen's other novels do talk about. Extensively. The Morlands' situation isn't really delved into, though the reader does know that they're comfortable, but not really wealthy. And the Tilneys are really wealthy, but that doesn't serve as a barrier against friendship. Northanger Abbey also may be the most unrealistic of Austen's novels, but nevertheless, I loved the world portrayed in it. I loved this one much, much more the second time around.

Read Northanger Abbey:
  • if you like Jane Austen
  • if you like classic literature
  • if you like British literature
235 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)
The Two TowersAragorn sped on up the hill. Every now and again he bent to the ground. Hobbits go light, and their footprints are not easy even for a Ranger to read, but not far from the top a spring crossed the path, and in the wet earth he saw what he was seeking.

The Two Towers is the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. "The Company of the Ring is sundered. Frodo and Sam continue their journey alone down the great River Anduin - alone that is, save for a mysterious creeping figure that follows wherever they go..." Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are having their own adventures. I bet you can guess who "the mysterious creeping figure" is. In The Two Towers, we are also introduced to the mysterious Ents and their even more mysterious Entwives. 

I still definitely prefer The Hobbit, but I enjoyed The Two Towers. Epic fantasy! I actually liked it better than The Fellowship of the Ring; it wasn't told in a lighthearted fashion like The Hobbit, but there were less bogged-down sequences. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the council of Elrond was not a very entertaining part. But there are no councils in this book, except for the council of the Ents, which was very interesting. The Ents are fascinating creatures.  

We don't get to follow Frodo and Sam's adventures until more than halfway through the book; instead, we hear of what Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn are up to, and also Merry and Pippin. I was pleasantly surprised by this one; I was expecting to like it, but not as much as I actually did.

I raced through The Two Towers at a very fast speed. It's a pretty suspenseful book, full of battles and wild rides and surprises and much more. In The Two Towers, we meet Shadowfax, Gandalf's horse, the most amazing steed ever! He's so fast and magical.

The second part of The Two Towers tells of Frodo and Sam's journey. They eventually meet up with the slippery Gollum, who guides them through Mordor. This section is less action-packed, but just as interesting. Gollum is such a fascinating character; twisted and conflicted. He's also a bit bi-polar; there's the Smeagol side of him and the Gollum side of him, neither of which is very appealing. Gollum tends to have internal arguments with himself. There's an okay side of him, and a really bad side of him. 

The description of She-lob towards the end of the book is really chilling and amazing. Those maniacal black eyes in that dark, dark cave. Also, she's very mysterious; "How Shelob came there, flying from ruin, no tale tells..." (pg. 332).

I loved The Two Towers even more than The Fellowship of the Ring and would highly recommend it. It introduces more twists, and new characters, good and evil.

Read The Two Towers:
  • if you liked The Fellowship of the Ring
  • if you like J.R.R. Tolkien
  • if you like fantasy
352 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!