Saturday, November 27, 2010

Like most avowedly alternative cultural movements, alt comedy was also an expression of snobbery.

Kelefa Sanneh, "Funny Person", New Yorker, November 1, 2010, 64.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Joanne Harris: Runemarks

One Word Summary: Chaos is necessary
Critique: I liked how Harris played with words. I liked learning about Odin and his crew, there aren't enough stories featuring Norse gods. I liked the maps at the beginning of the book. Who wouldn't? The plot is intricate, I expect she was pulling her hair out in parts. Harris must have had fun writing her characters. The goblins reminded me of Terry Pratchet's Mac Feegles. On the whole I smiled through this engaging book.
Rate: 3 oracles
Teaser Synopsis: In a world where order rules and anything magical is stamped out Maddy Smith is proud of her glamour. With the dubious help of her only friend and mentor, One Eye, she learns the old stories about the old gods. This story begins on a typical Monday morning 500 years after the end of the world (Ragnarok) when she unwittingly opens the door to the world below; where the adventure of a lifetime awaits.

Spoiler Synopsis: One Eye instructs Maddy to travel into the tunnels beneath Red Horse Hill to find a tool he desperately needs to save the world. He doesn't tell her what it is. He also refuses to accompany her because his old enemy is likely guarding the thing. Maddy is courageous. She forces a goblin to guide her. When she's good and lost and hungry and powerless, the goblin deserts her. But she does find the thing trapped in some sort of geyser. It's like a quartz volley ball. Almost immediately she meets a young man, who appears unmagical and has a plausible story for also being lost in world below. (Wow... this is getting LONG) Maddy decides to trust him, despite One Eye's warnings to trust no one. And that really begs the question: is One Eye trustworthy? Later she learns her mistake. It turns out the young man is Loki and he is One Eye's not-dead-after-all enemy. Anyhow, because her glamour is so powerful she's able to free the thing from the geyser. It turns out the thing is an Oracle. And the Oracle sees a battle looming with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Which, I guess means, Ragnorak was not the end of the world after all. Alright so... meanwhile Maddy's archenemy (some sniveling unimaginative mortal boy) alerts the authorities that peculiar things are happening at Red Horse Hill. The Parson, an ambitious member of the Order (a fanatical hegemonic group with religious undertones determined to stamp out chaos), with the help of a conveniently near junior magistrate lays siege to the Hill. I can't remember all the details but the Order capture One Eye (who turns out to be Odin). Maddy inadvertently wakens the the wife of Njord (a huntress) who is one of the seven sleepers (AKA: the Vanir who survived the end of the world). The Huntress Goddess wants Loki dead. While she's confronting Maddy, who has hidden the oracle behind some ice, Loki falls from the ceiling. He saves himself by claiming to be in alliance with Odin and to have possession of the oracle. They all go to rescue Odin from the Order. Meanwhile the junior magistrate is preparing to enter Odin's mind and steal everything he knows. The Parson interferes with the inquisition. The magistrate dies. Odin escapes. The Parson hears a voice in his head. Ummm, and then I can't remember why but The Huntress forms an alliance with the Parson. Odin goes somewhere. Maddy and Loki decided to travel to the Underworld to fetch reinforcements, first they pick up the oracle hidden behind some ice in where the Vanir are sleeping. The Huntress returns to the mountains. The other Vanir wake up. She wants them to join with the order against Odin. They are all undecided. They go to meet Odin. The Huntress kill Freya and frame Odin. The Parson's wife gets in the way. Freya isn't killed. Odin goes somewhere again. The other Vanir decide against the Order. The Huntress is spitting mad. Odin has gone to Red Horse Hill. The Huntress and the Parson are chasing him. The Parson's wife her secret admirer and his pig follow them. And the other Vanir take up the rear. Loki and Maddy make a deal with Hel to enter the underworld (the place where the dead Aesir are trapped in eternal torment). The must leave there bodies behind.... really you should just read the book.

Am I overly sensitive or was there an anti christian agenda in this book?

Alfred A Knoph 2008

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kristin Harmel: After

One Word Summary: Kate's Club

Synopsis: Lacey's father is dead. He was a great dad. One year later she's relishes the opportunity to help other kids who've lost a parent too soon. Turns out there's a lot of kids grieving.

Review: Is is heinous to criticize a story about a girl who's father/mother/sibling dies? In short this novel was okay, but not particularly memorable. I liked that Kristin Harmel included other ways a child can loose a parent. I liked the shifting dynamics of a family coping with loss, and the depiction of the other two families as well.

Rate: 2 rainbows

Other Books:

The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessin
That one with the girl who gives a boy a leprechaun hat. She dies tragically and he leaves it in her coffin. She's the friend of the girl who's mother dies.
The one with the girl who learns to surf. She's from New Jersey.
Delacort Press 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nicolas Drayson: A Guide to the Birds of East Africa

One Word Summary: Jack is local
Review: Bravo, Mr Drayson. I felt like you were my best friend sharing an incredible tale with me over a cup of tea in the garden. I loved this book first for the title, and next for your flare for understatment. You kept me interested for more than 8 hours! I loved the whole thing. It was tangental, hilarious, and humane all wrapped up in 202 pages. Bravo.

Synopsis: Malik, a short round balding brown man, enters an impossible wager at his gentleman club to win the right to ask Rose Mbikwa to the annual hunt ball. The story is about this diminutive man greatness, with a lot of bird watching.

Rate: 5 Red Bishops

(Note this novel is higly quoteable. It's worth having a copy to keep forever!)

Houghton Mifflin, 2008

Georgette Heyer: Regency Buck

One Word Summary: Guardian Shmardian
Review: The covers of these novels usually say something like: Sparkling. I heartily agree.
I like Georgette Heyer. This is one of my favourites. The ending is a little havey cavey, but still it's an enjoyable romp.
Synopsis: Miss Judith Taverner travels to London for the season against her guardians wishes. A guardian she's never met and who can't take the trouble to notice her. On the way to London she's insulted by an arrogant gentleman with magnificent greys. She later discovers that it was her Guardian, The Fifth Earl of Worth, who stole her kisses. She spends the entire season at loggerheads with him. And someone is trying to kill her brother! Could it be the Earl?
Rate: 3 snuff boxes

More Words: While I was in the Heyer section at the library I also picked up Helen. It takes place in England, 1895-1925 ish. I liked it at first, but my initial good impression couldn't outlast Helen's constantly saying, "I don't know what love means. I haven't grown up yet" (at the age of 23? Really?). Her friends explaining herself to herself for the edification of the reader was also a dead bore. Heyer's philosphizing about Truth and Psychology did drone on a bit as well. More than all that, however, I found Heyer's feminism alarming. It's undercurrents of misogynism alarm me. I don't know if these were her personal ideas or the ideas of the class she was writing about, but I didn't like it at all. I noticed the same tone in her other 'modern' stories. I'm sure it's rampant throughout her regencies only I'm inured to all the inequality of that period. Really I don't mind if she's a snob. She's English after all. But I don't like to think she despised her own gender.

Helen Halstead: Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride

One Word Summary: Blase

Review: Mr. Darcy stomps around in his big boots scowling at anyone who looks at his wife wrong. And if he's not doing that he's delivering smouldering looks to Elizabeth. He never says anything truly intelligent through the whole book. In fact the reader is made to suffer while he repeats himself. He has two lines- "Don't look at my wife that way" & "Elizabeth I love you to distraction". He does of course laugh and smile now that he's married to dear Lizzie, but that's to her credit. The whole book is a tribute to her wit and charm. Only book itself is not witty or charming. On the upside Wickham dies in an asylum. Syphilis, who'd have guessed.

Synopsis: Elizabeth navigates the shoals London Society after her marriage. She takes the Ton by storm. Her younger sister, Kitty, becomes interesting.

Rate: 2 fairytale matches

Nicholas Sparks: Dear John

One Words Summary: Coins
Review: I don't know why I keep tasting this olive, but I do. I've been trying read The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud, and I think I know why I'm reluctant to commit. It reads like a Nicholas Sparks novel, they both have the same macho assure-ity (how do you spell that? It is a word right?) that likes to break complex things down. I'm thinking complex things like: Humanity, Love, The Meaning of Life. Insentive handling renders these complex things lifeless. Anyhow, I took this book to the beach and read it there. I like the unconventional conventional ending, it made me cry. Yes I am a sap.
Synopsis: Army dude rescues Christian goddess. He's self contained, she's perfect. They have an instant connection and make promises to each other that they eventually break. They manage to fight so reasonably before the inevitable occurs. He learns a valuable life lesson. And she learns to drink wine.

Rate: 2 tours of duty

Two Books I Hesitate to Mention

There was nothing wrong with these two, except that I found the characters insipid and the style boring. They could have been lots and lots better. I did finish them both, and sighed with relief.
I do like the cover of Wildwood Dancing, a version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It's clear some research went into the work and there was a part in the beginning when Jena plucks a faerie creature from her shoulder while sneaking off to the Wildwood that was magical. It's really too bad about the dullness of the last 300 pages.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire

One Word Summary: Team Peeta
Review: Good. I spent an excessive amount of time discussing the merits of Suzanne Collins' emotionally detached style with my friend N. Bryson. I even called my best friend, P. Neale, in Canada to hear her opinion of the finale, Mockingjay. Everyone is talking about this book, because there is so much to say.

Synopsis: It's the quarter quell. Katniss and Peeta need to survive another round of the hunger games. And President Snow is out to get Katniss, before the districts rebel.
Rate: 3.5 atomic bombs
Censorship: The bad guy is named Snow!

Kristin Cashore: Graceling

One Word Summary: kindness is a grace everyone can have
Review: Great writing. Compelling plot. Interesting characters. A dash of mystery. And my favourite, a little romance. Kristin Cashore did a wonderful job.
Synopsis: It's a world divided into seven kingdoms. There are people with extraordinary abilities known as gracelings. Katsa's grace is the ability to kill anyone. She's used by her uncle, one of seven Kings, as a sort of strong arm to enforce his will. She hates her grace, because people are afraid of her. One day, with a little help from Po, she realizes she doesn't have to act the monster. Together they strike out on their own to save the kingdom from an unknown menace. While on her journey Katsa learns a few home truths about herself.
Rate: 4 insurmountable mountains
Harcourt Books 2008

Review: Another fantastic tale by Kristin Cashore.

Synopsis: On the other side of the mountains, the Kingdom of the Dells is at war with itself. Gracelings are unheard of, but there are monsters. They crave the taste of monster blood, they are irresistibly beautiful and they can control your mind. Fire is the only human monster alive. Most people hate and fear her. For the last 16 years she has lived quietly, but now she's compelled to help restore peace to the land. It's an opportunity to undo her father's wickedness. And really she wants a chance to prove she isn't the monster people think she is.

Rate: 3 red heads
Censorship: Teenagers do have sex.

Dial 2009

Todd Mitchell: The Secret to Lying

One Word Summary: Demons
Review: Todd Mitchell captured the torment being immature and unsatisfied in his novel TSTL. His writing is evocative without being unbearable. When I finally closed the book at 3am I let out a the breath I'd been holding forever. Although I never cut myself as a teenager, I remember feeling an intense loneliness that nothing could ease. I especially liked the dream sequences; they reminded me a little of Dave Egger's famous autobiography.
Synopsis: Unremarkable James jumps at the chance to reinvent himself. He's at a new school, making new friends, getting noticed by girls and finally doing stuff. However his new persona gets out of hand. He quickly morphs from Ignored to Mysterious to Pariah, all while he's trying to figure out what he wants.
Rate: 3.5 pranks
Censorship: Teenagers have sex. There are mental health issues.
Action List:
Read Todd Mitchell's first novel The Traitor King

Candlewick Press 2010

Ben Sherwood: The Man Who Ate the 747

One Word Summary: The Greatest Love
Review: I liked this novel. It was hard stay interested at first, but then it grew on me. Although, quirky characters are getting a bit cliche. Still I liked it.
Synopsis: J.J. Smith learns that love is more than biological algebra. Turns out there's more to it than pheromones, facial symmetry, and vocal resonance.
Rate: 2 antacids

Bantam Book 2000

Sophie Gee: The Scandal of the Season

One Words Summary: Swan 1711
Review: I haven't finished reading this book yet. So far I like. But it'll probably be an age before I pick it up again. When I read it I actually feel like I'm suffering through an English Winter with a too small fire.
Synopsis: The story that inspired Alexander Pope's famous poem: The Rape of the Lock.
Action List: Go back to university and take a degree in English.

Scribner 2007

Becca Fitzpatrick: Hush Hush

One Word Summary: Twisted City of Angels
Review: I'm not sure why this book was on the New York Times Bestseller List. I didn't like the writing much. I especially didn't like the dialogue. Is that how teenagers really talk. Really? And I think the story promotes unhealthy attitudes about romantic relationships.
What is in a name: The romantic hero's name is Patch. Why? I put off reading this book because I thought the name was too trendy or belonged to a dog. I realize story characters are not real people but they weren't born yesterday. They should have age appropriate trendy names. I mean Ryan was a really popular name for boys 18 years ago. Anyhow, I know my complaint is ludicrous. So, now I'm wondering if Authors choose names that are au currant or do they set the baby naming trends.

Synopsis: A creepy new guy shows up a school and wont leave Nora alone. Against her better judgment she becomes involved with him and then she gets entangled in his problems. But it's true love right?
Rate: One Nephil
Other Books:
Simon & Schuster 2009

Monday, November 1, 2010

James Dasher: The Maze Runner

One Word Summary: Build a better mouse trap

Review: Did I like this book? In a word, Yes. The monster is a fascinating mixture of disgusting and frightening. It's an Edward Scissor Hands Rolly Polly Ooze Insect. Maybe now I should read Lord of the Flies. It'd be fun to compare the two. Anyhow, the ending is a bit of a tease. I'll have to read the next books to find out what is really going on. It's intriguing.

Synopsis: "Everything is about to change." That's the message the girl brings to the boys living in 'the glade', a warehouse style encampment surrounded by stone doors which lead to a maze with an exit no one can find. When the girl wakes up from her coma it becomes apparent that the glade residents must find a way out soon, or die. But who put them in the impossible maze? for what reason? and why can no one remember anything about their life before?

Rate: 3 scourges

Other Books:
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Random House 2009