Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dragons of the Dwarven Depths by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

This book has been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for at least a year. I picked it up when I saw a signed copy at the book store, otherwise, I probably wouldn't have bothered.
I enjoy the Dragonlance books, but I would not call myself a huge fan. This title is the first in a new series, the Lost Chronicles. The Lost Chronicles series documents some of the events that take place in between the original Chronicles series. This first book covers the events between the first and second books. I read those ages ago, so trying to remember it for this one was a little bit difficult.
Dragons of the Dwarven Depths begins right where Dragons of Autumn Twilight leaves off. Lord Verminaard has just been killed, and the companions have helped his slaves escape. Now they are all trying to figure out what to do next. None of the various factions within this group of refugees can agree, causing problems for Tanis and his friends, who are just trying to help. They end up splitting up - Tanis and Flint head out to find the fabled dwarf kingdom of Thorbardin; Caramon, Raistlin, and Sturm (later followed by Tika and Tas) head to the haunted keep of Skullcap, where Raistlin is drawn by some strange power; and Riverwind, Goldmoon, Laurana, and Gilthanis stay to help the refugees. The story switches back and forth as it follows these various groups, bringing them all together again in Thorbardin.
I did find this book an entertaining read, but I can't say whether or not I'll bother picking up the other two books in the Lost Chronicles series. I am sure that for diehard fans of the Dragonlance books, getting to read more stories by the original authors is a treat. But to me, the whole book felt like an inside joke - it really should only be read by people who have read the other books, as so much of your understanding of the strange things that happen relies on that. And it is simply not as well written as many of this team's other books. The editing is terrible, which is always frustrating, and in parts it really felt like they phoned it in. All-in-all, this is one edition to the Dragonlance series that is fun to read, especially for big fans, but otherwise should not be bothered with.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Blue Way by Daniel de Faro Adamson & Joe Andrew

While looking for some books on socially responsible investing, I came across this one - the subtitle is How to Profit by Investing in a Better World. But this book is about more than socially responsible investing. The Blue Way refers to supporting companies that support Democrats. The assertion of the authors is that the Republican party is against everything that socially responsible companies are for, or at least their actions have shown this for the past decade or more. And although it seems taboo to discuss the political contributions of companies and CEO's, that is exactly what this book wants to talk about. Many of the companies that are listed in socially responsible mutual funds donate big money to the Republican party, or to individual campaigns. The authors have identified 76 companies on the S&P 500 that they describe as "blue" - contributing a majority of their political donations to Democrats. The authors then set out to show that these 76 companies are more successful than those that support Republicans.
Adamson and Andrew do get their point across. They have run the numbers, and the numbers show that these companies have done much better than the average S&P 500 company over the past decade. Of course, this book came out in 2007, and much has changed about financial markets since then, but it is still an interesting fact. The reason why the authors feel that they have to emphasize their facts so heavily is that conventional wisdom goes against these results. Republicans are traditionally the party of big business. The other main point the authors make is that the reason "blue" companies are more successful than "red" is that their business model is more progressive, in more ways than one. They spend a tremendous amount of the book discussing the importance of progressive leadership, both in business and in politics.
This book was not really what I expected, and it spent more time on topics other than investing than I would have expected, seeing as how the word "investing" was in the title. But the authors did make some very interesting points, and gave me a lot to think about. They discussed changes that certain very large companies have made to make themselves more socially responsible, companies like Nike and Gap, who I didn't realize had made so many steps in that direction. I'm still not sure that I agree that it makes sense to dig into data about political contributions; I also did not particularly care for the incredibly consumerist take on reality. There was barely a mention of the fact that perhaps instead of purchasing stuff from a "blue" company, we could instead not buy stuff at all. But I guess that wasn't the point of the book.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Here is the first entry for the From the Stacks Reading Challenge that I am participating in. I have chosen my list of books which include this one, as well as Dragons of the Dwarven Depths (Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman), Crimes Against Nature (Robert F Kennedy), Under the Net (Iris Murdoch), and Life of Pi (Yann Martel). Kind of a random selection, but I have so many to choose from, I went with books that were gifts. I always feel bad when I get books as gifts, and then next time I see the person who gave it to me, they ask about it and I have yet to read it. This will take care of a couple of those.
I have heard so much about this book, but it took this challenge to get me to read it. After the first ten pages or so, I knew that I was going to love it. I actually had no idea what it was even about, so I had no preconceived notions whatsoever. The main character is Christopher, a fifteen-year-old autistic boy who is also a genius when it comes to math and logical thinking. He has developed ways of understanding his world that allow him to adequately function on his own, but new situations are still terrifying for him. He has no real concept of human emotions, and he lacks understanding when it comes to many types of communication. Everything is very literal for him, making most people difficult for him to comprehend. He lives with his father, who knows him very well, and he goes to a school with other special needs children, where his main teacher understands exactly how he needs to be taught. Even with his difficulties, his life works very well, until the night he finds his neighbor's dog dead in its yard. Christopher decides to become a detective like one of his heroes, Sherlock Holmes, and find out who killed Wellington (the dog did not simply die of natural causes). This investigation exposes more truths than Christopher is capable of handling, and the choices he makes to try to set his world right change his life forever.
The story is told in first-person narrative, in Christopher's voice. It is brilliant, Mark Haddon does an amazing job of putting the reader into Christopher's mind. Within the first couple of pages, I loved him, and learning about the way he thinks and perceives the world was fascinating. Christopher has worked very hard to develop ways of interacting with the world that will help him to feel safe, and when those controls fall away, seeing how he acts is frightening, because you come to fear for him and his well-being. This is a tremendous book, and shows that no matter what problems we face in our own lives, if we do our best and face the problems head on, we can do anything.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

In the Country of Men takes place in Libya, in the 1970's. This is a time and place that I know very little about, but the scope of this novel is not very wide, and the narrator gives a full picture of his world. The narrator is nine-year-old Suleiman, describing the summer when his father's rejection of ruling government brings his family much pain. Suleiman understands very little of what is going on, and so as a reader who does not know very much about this time period, I also did not understand much. Matar does an excellent job of keeping the story within what a nine-year-old would be able to grasp, yet allowing for enough hints to give the reader a better understanding.
The hardest part about reading this book was watching Suleiman's moral deterioration. He is incapable of acting in the adult ways that his parents expect, and he begins to strike out at his friends and family as a way to try to regain control of his environment. He knows that the way he is behaving is wrong, but he just wants attention, and possibly appreciation from anyone, even if that means betraying his family and himself. The rest of his life is colored by this one summer, but it seems that in the end, his own actions have little effect on his life. It is the bigger changes, the trouble his father brings on them and what his mother does as a result of it, that truly alter the course of his life.
It would be interesting to pair this book with one or two non-fiction titles about the political situation in Libya at this point in time. As with many books that I read, I feel like I miss something when I don't know the whole background that the author is writing from. This book is an interesting read even without that understanding, however, it makes me realize how little I really know.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer

**WARNING: SPOILER ALERT - MAJOR SPOILER ALERT - Please do not read this review if you care about spoilers!!! - SPOILER ALERT!!***
Okay, now that that's taken care of. I'm really not kidding about the spoilers though, I can't really talk about what I think of the book without giving away big chunks of plot. Sorry.
So anyways, it took me awhile to get around to reading this one. I have read the rest of the series and enjoyed reading them, although I can't really say that I liked them very much. The main characters and their love affair really just kind of annoyed me. Everything was always the end of the world and Bella's heart was being ripped out of her chest and torn to shreds. Constantly. It was just too much angst and pathetic whining. But they were fun to read, regardless.
I really had no idea what to expect from this one, what with all the major conflicts over it - fans hating it, wanting it to be re-written, etc. I didn't even know whether or not to expect Bella to actually become a vampire. I had no expectations whatsoever. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I discovered that I actually liked this book a lot better than the other three.
First of all, a good portion of the story is told from Jacob's point of view, which was nice, because Bella really gets to me. And at the end of Jacob's part of the story, Bella becomes a vampire. I wasn't sure what to expect from vampire-Bella, and although she was obnoxiously perfect, she was no longer pathetic and angst-y. She now felt worthy of Edward, which meant that she stopped whining about how she did not deserve his love. So that was nice. And although Renesmee totally creeped me out at first, she grew on me. Even the whole werewolf-imprinting thing wasn't so bad, though it felt like sort of a cop-out. The remainder of the story was typical life-and-death conflict, but I expected that. So although the book was definitely still just like the others, I can actually say that I truly liked this one. I am not sure what other fans got so worked up about, but I suppose that I would not understand, having not been a very big fan of the series. I'd be curious to see what others thought of this latest installment.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Amazing that this book should be my 100th book review of the year. This is probably my all-time favorite book, and after re-reading for the third time, I am reminded why. It is amazing what you get out of a book that is different each time you read it. I think that is a measure of how good a book really is, sometimes.
The Handmaid's Tale is similar to many of the other books that I have read recently, the dystopias that I love so much. This is by far the best. The world that Atwood creates is much more similar to our own than that of 1984 or Brave New World. Although 1984 takes place not long after the upheaval that creates its world, The Handmaid's Tale takes place in a world that is so similar to our own. The main character remembers so much from "the time before" that is recognizable.
The way that women are controlled in this new society is frightening, and it's always the worst when we learn that many women support what the new society is doing. They feel safer with the new order, although how anyone can ever feel safe when everyone is under heavy government surveillance, I will never understand. Everyone must constantly watch their step, make sure to not attract undue notice. The narrator of the story does her best to go along with it, stay out of trouble, but as a handmaid, she has one of the most despised, but also powerful, positions in society. She also remembers too much about "the time before" and that makes it difficult for her. She imagines what it will be like when future handmaids have never known any other kind of life - they will cease to question it.
There are so many fantastic levels to this book, but after reading it this time around, what stood out to me the most was the descriptions of "the time before". When I first read this book, I think that I imagined it to be more similar to our own time than it actually is. As the narrator remembers her life before the current regime, she remembers details that seem like our world, but are slightly off. She describes a time when a woman tried to run off with her daughter, right in the middle of a grocery store - she thought it was a random occurance, but apparantly it was not uncommon. It was becoming clear that women were having more and more trouble having children, and those who were able to get pregnant were the truly lucky ones. Another factor is that of the Compubank. It is similar to our ATM card system, but paper money has been abolished. The narrator believes this is what gave the new government so much power. They were able to freeze the accounts of all women, not allow them access to any sort of money. It's a chilling thought. These are just a few details in a book that is rich with them.
This is a wonderful book, even if you are not a fan of alternate futures, or dystopias. If you've never read it, read it. If you have, you will always get something new from reading it again.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

I have mentioned before that I have not historically been a huge fan of graphic novels, but I find them growing on me lately. One of my main issues when it comes to reading them is the art. This may seem very obvious, but if I dislike the style of the illustrator for the graphic novel, I often won't give the book a chance. I'm learning to do differently though.
I picked up Watchmen mainly because of the movie coming out. This is silly, because for the most part, at least lately, I have hated what Hollywood does to the books that I love (Lord of the Rings being the exception to the rule). But I do like movies based on comic book characters, so . . . well anyway, I read it. I was not a huge fan of the style at first, but it grew on me. It only detracted from the actual story occasionally, so that was good. The story itself is terrific. I love the "Who watches the Watchmen?" theme of the whole thing - who knows who is really good or bad, who decides that? What does it mean to "do the right thing" in very morally complicated situations? The way that the superheros deal with these questions defines them. The other thing that I really liked about this book was all of the stories within stories. It seemed like it might have made it hard to keep track of, but really, the secondary stories added to the overall theme, making reading the book a very rich experience.
I honestly don't know whether or not I will see the movie, because of my hatred for the past few books-into-movies I have witnessed, but as it's about comic book characters, well . . . I probably actually will. And I will definitely be looking into reading more work by Alan Moore. And I may even give Sandman a chance, because I do really like Neil Gaiman, and maybe, like with Watchmen, I can get over my dislike of the visual style.

Monday, November 17, 2008

1984 by George Orwell

This is one of those books that I have read at least three times, this most recent time being the third, I think. This image is actually the edition of the book that I own. It's so different from some of the others, especially the more modern editions. This is the 1984 edition, which is meaningless, because the book was not a prediction for where we would be in 1984. I just find it interesting.
This is absolutely one of my favorite books ever. It's funny how you can read a book like this and remember things that seem so important to the story, you wonder how you forgot them. Even though I've read this book twice before, I still kept having, "Oh yeah!" moments. The story of Winston Smith and his comrades of the Party, of Oceania and Big Brother, is so compelling, so intricate, it should be read by everyone.
One thing that I wanted to discuss about this book was the fact that in the various prefaces, forwards, afterwords, etc in the different editions they always talk about how Orwell did not mean for the book to be a prediction or prophecy, but a warning. But I think that even more than a warning against the future, he meant it as a warning to open our eyes to the present. So many of the aspects of the control that the Party has over the people of Oceania are things that we experience now. Doublethink is alive and well, but that is only important if you acknowledge it for what it is, and don't let it fool you. Orwell could not have known about the war on terror, but that is exactly the kind of war that the Party wages against its "enemies" Eurasia and Eastasia. An unending war, whose purpose is to create an economy (supplies and weapons), give the people an enemy to hate, and give the government permission to take away freedoms. There are so many other details that you will notice as you read this book - it really is a matter of reading to open your mind. If you've read 1984 before, read it again; and if you've never picked it up, now is a good time.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

As I mentioned previously (a few posts ago), I wanted to review this book separately from the other books in the Uglies trilogy, because I felt more like it was a companion novel. The other three books all follow the character of Tally Youngblood, and center around the plot of the destruction of that world/way of life. This book takes place three years later, in a completely different city, and while Tally does show up eventually, she does not do so until two thirds of the story is already over.
The main character of Extras is Aya Fuse, a fifteen-year-old who is stuck being ugly because her parents still believe she should wait until she is sixteen to get any kind of surgery (in Aya's city, anyone can get whatever kind of plastic surgery they want, whenever they want - not just to be Pretty anymore). Not only is she Ugly, she's also an extra, a nobody who wishes she was famous. In her city, everyone has at least one hovercam that follows them and helps them document their world. Everyone is constantly uploading information to their own personal feed, and if enough people see their stuff and send it on, "kicking" it up higher in the feed numbers, that person becomes famous. Once a person is famous, they are constantly dealing with their celebrity status, as other less-famous people try to get stories about them. Aya's dream is to "kick" a huge story, one that will make her at least as famous as her older brother, and will save her from her fate as a boring nobody extra. She obviously finds her story, and Tally shows up to save them from themselves.
I really enjoyed this book. I even liked it better than the previous three books that took place in the series. It could probably be read without reading those others, but there will be a few inside jokes that would be lost on the reader. Other than that, Westerfeld explains the world well enough that it makes sense. I loved the fact that Aya's city seemed to be a commentary on the blogsphere. Maybe we aren't as obsessed with getting famous as everyone in her city is, but certainly there are plenty of "kickers" out there, as well as paparazzi and hangers-on trying to get famous from rubbing elbows with someone else. The book really does bring up some very valid issues about fame and popularity, and why they are important to some people, or not at all to others. It is an engaging read that would be enjoyed by fans of the series, as well as by teens who want an interesting book to read that will make them think (but not too much).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is a fantastic book, which I love. It is one of those classics that I actually did read (and I even remember it!) in high school. The story of the Finch family and their small Alabama town of Maycomb is one that everyone can relate to in one way or another. Lee does a beautiful job of telling the story of the family and the town without directly telling you. The descriptions and anecdotes of the book are my favorite part. It's like getting a glimpse of someone's life without them telling you every detail, just by observing. Lee makes us feel like we've observed and absorbed this small town story.
I wanted to take this opportunity to address all of the challenges that I have signed up for. This is the first book that I have completed for one of those challenges. Challenges are hosted by various bloggers, and are a fun way to get ideas for reading, as well as a way to discuss lots of interesting books with lots of interesting people. Most of the challenges I'm participating in don't actually start until January, but a few have already begun. This book qualifies for the Martel-Harper challenge.
The Martel-Harper challenge refers to a unique relationship between a writer and a politician. The relationship is actually almost 100% one-sided, but it is a relationship nonetheless. Yann Martel is the author, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the politician. For months now, Martel has been sending Harper two books a month, enclosing a letter with each one to explain why he feels Harper should read it (read more about it here). The challenge is simply to choose two of those books each quarter to read. Here is the letter that Martel included with To Kill A Mockingbird.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Universe Story by Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry

The full title of this book is The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era - A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. It's quite a mouthful. But that is exactly what this book is about. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I began it - I had picked it up to read for a book club meeting that I never attended. But I thought it sounded interesting, so I kept it in my stack anyway. It certainly qualifies as an interesting read. I guess that I am still just trying to form my opinion of it more fully.
The book begins with a description of the formation of the universe, then following through in each chapter with the developments that led up to our (human) appearance on Earth. Each step forward, from the first prokaryotic cell to the first plant to make it on to land is given a name. These names exemplify how the authors feel about each of these profound steps, and individualizes it for the reader. But at the same time it felt a little silly. Once we get to human civilization, each chapter covers all of our technological changes, especially those that brought us into the current technological phase. It is the belief of the authors that we have lost the sense of the universe that our ancestors had, that we see it now purely in terms of science, and what technology can do with it, rather than as the glorious creation that it is. (I use the word creation, but the authors do not seem to believe in a "creator", at least not in the terms that we often think of it - more that the universe created itself.) The authors contend that if we don't get back some of our wonder and awe of the universe, we are in danger of thinking of ourselves separate from the fate that we have created for the Earth, and thus eventually dying along with it.
This book was written in 1994, and so has a different analysis of the environmental movement than we might see if it was written today. I think that if it was written today, the authors may have had more hope for the future of a Ecozoic Era, rather than a Technozoic Era. I really did enjoy their description of the universe as a celebration of life, and the authors did an excellent job of explaining how if each individual piece of the universe's creation had gone somehow differently, we would not be here. It was fascinating. I guess I've never really lost the awe and sense of wonder that I have about the universe and the Earth itself, but this book may be a good reminder for those who have. Overall, I agree with the authors, but I felt that this book was just a bit too heavy-handed in its attempts to inspire.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I love this book. I read it for the first time a few years ago, and I thought it was great then. Now that I know more about teen lit, and have read considerably more young adult fiction, I like this book even better. I have heard discussion that we need a new Catcher in the Rye, a new coming-of-age novel for the younger generations. I think this is it.
The main character, Charlie, is this incredibly awkward, rather odd high school freshman. The story is told through his letters to an anonymous reader, someone who Charlie doesn't know and who doesn't know him. There is never any information given about this mystery reader, beyond the fact that Charlie likes them because they "didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though [they] could have". Charlie begins writing letters because he is afraid of starting high school, and he really doesn't have any friends to share this fear with. He does make friends with a group of seniors, however, and these become the people who are most important to him. They love him for who he is, and they encourage him to be himself. Along with his English teacher, they are formative in helping him discover who he is as a person and a high school student. Charlie helps them through various difficulties, and they help him when he struggles with his depression and panic attacks.
The beautiful thing about Charlie, and about all of the characters in this book, is that they are so real. Not a cookie-cutter to be found. Charlie's older siblings are the least well-formed, but even they are good characters. Chbosky does nothing to hide Charlie's strangeness, and he does an excellent job describing how depression feels from Charlie's point of view. His family and friends are not perfect by any means, but they are real, and it is obvious that they love Charlie. This is a great teen book for all of these reasons, but it also explores some of the more frightening aspects of being a teen, of figuring out how to be a good friend, boy/girl friend, brother/sister, student. Of how to balance your needs with the needs of others. I would recommend this to every teen that we recommend Catcher in the Rye to, without reservation.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The last time I read this book, I did so all in one sitting. After beginning it again, I can remember why. It begins with descriptions of the new way of making humans in this futuristic, dystopian world. We discover in the first few pages that no longer are people born, they are decanted from bottles, where they are grown from the very tiniest embryo. Not only that, but their predestination for their station in life is determined before they leave the bottle, and so the conditioning begins while they are still a fetus. It is just creepy. Huxley does a fantastic job in describing this world, and when he describes how the concept of parents is absolutely obscene, we can understand why. The next rather horrifying thing that we learn about this world is that "everyone belongs to everyone", which really just seems to mean that the men can have sex with whatever woman they want, and the women don't really get to say no. All of this preconditioning and the idea of sex being meaningless, creating no attachments between people for any reason, is supposedly to produce a happy population. And it seems to work.
The best, and scariest, part of Brave New World is the fact that most people do not seem to mind the state of things at all. Their world is at peace, they have a job that they have been conditioned since before birth to like, they have the drug soma available to them, and they never have to be alone (in fact, they are never supposed to be alone). Even those people who are deliberately stunted before birth, who are created for menial jobs, do not have any interest in knowing the truth about their reality, and would rather just be happy with what they have. Only the Alphas, and perhaps the Betas, the people who have been conditioned to do the tasks that require individuality and intelligence, ever have any doubts about their world. But how can you go against a government that merely has the best interests of humanity at heart?
After just reviewing the Uglies series, I have to acknowledge that Scott Westerfeld was definitely influenced by Brave New World. It is clear that his book is written for teens, however, and while Brave New World is often read in high school, it was not written for a teenage readership. It may be difficult for some teens to understand, but should be included on everyone's reading list. Reading about the extremes that a society can go to is always fascinating.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

For awhile now I have been reviewing series as a whole, rather than as separate books, at least, I do if the whole series has been published already. I find that for a lot of teen and children's series, reviewing them individually gets seriously repetitive and annoying. So I was waiting to review Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series until I finished Extras. But now that I'm reading Extras, I'm realizing that it is more of a companion novel, and not so much part of the series. I would like to review it separately, so I might as well go ahead and review the rest of the books, since I finished Specials a few weeks ago.
The first time I saw Uglies, I was hooked by the cover. After reading the back cover, I was intrigued, but I could also see how such a book could be absolutely terrible. So I never bothered reading any of them until they were on a list for a class I took on teen materials over the summer. I really enjoyed all three books, and as they are easy to read, I zipped through each one.
The main character of all three books is Tally Youngblood. Uglies begins when she is fifteen, just waiting for her sixteenth birthday, when she will be made Pretty. In this alternate future, everyone undergoes the surgery at sixteen that makes them perfectly beautiful, making everyone theoretically equal. It is the belief of the controllers of this society that if everyone looks the same, and has the same opportunities, there will be no strife. But there are other, hidden controls put on the population that keeps them in line. Tally hates being an Ugly, and she doesn't even have any friends who are Uglies anymore, as she has a later birthday than all of them. When she meets Shay, another soon-to-be sixteen-year-old, she latches on to her like a lifeline. Shay tells her about David, someone who lives in the Wild outside of the city. This seems incomprehensible to Tally, and she thinks that Shay is insane for wanting to leave the promise of becoming Pretty. When Shay makes her escape, the city controllers force Tally to make a choice: betray her friend by following her, or never become Pretty.
From there Tally simply seems to be forced into one crappy situation after another. In all three books she never seems to have much control over her decisions, and is constantly forced to betray someone. But after learning the truth about the world that she lives in in Uglies, she knows that she can do the right thing, even though she constantly has someone mucking around in her brain and changing her body with surgery without her permission.
The world that Westerfeld creates is really interesting. He does a decent job of explaining how such a world could actually function, without going into too much detail. My favorite part of the series is the fact that it brings up the issue of control, and what it means to be under control. Is it better to live in a totally controlled society, but one with complete peace? Who gets to decide what constitutes beauty, or what makes something fun? Is it right to buck a government who is lying to its people, even though the truth might be more frightening than the lie? These are the questions Tally faces, and I like the theme of insurrection and government take-down. The issue of being Pretty is not addressed as cleanly as I would have liked. The government in the books makes the case for biology - Pretties are created the way they are because that is what our biology says is attractive. The issue of what makes someone beautiful is addressed peripherally; taken further, this could have been a very interesting concept.
Overall, I have to say I did enjoy the series, and I do love the theme of questioning authority and the accepted way-things-are. These are good books for teens who are looking for a fun read that also has something a little bit deeper (but not too deep). I'm looking forward to finishing Extras, and comparing it to the rest.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

I am really not sure what to say about this book. It's kind of amazing that I've never managed to read it before now. None of my high school English classes ever required it, and I had no real desire to read it after that. Now I've read it for my course on Intellectual Freedom and Youth, because it is another one of those classic titles that has been challenged more times than you would believe. It was most recently challenged in 2004, and for the past 50 years it has been challenged based mainly on the language and sexual content. (One of the challenges refers to "sexual exploits" of the main character, which is rather amusing, since he has none.)
I found the character of Holden Caulfield to be rather annoying, and I really got tired of reading about him after awhile. There comes a time when a character's voice in a story simply becomes too much. How many times can you listen to a first-person narrative that is so repetitious? If I wasn't reading this for a class, I honestly would probably have given up on it. I just stopped caring. But at the same time, the story that Holden is telling about himself and his world is very compelling. The picture that he paints is not altogether honest, either about himself or the schools that he talks about, or even all the "phonies" that he obsessively describes. Once I got past his obnoxious repetition of condemning all the phonies that he sees, I really started to pay attention to Holden himself, to his fears about becoming one of those phonies. Or maybe he is afraid that he is one, or has been in the past. Thinking of it in those terms made the story a lot more interesting.
I'm told that if you read The Catcher in the Rye as a teenager, you think that Holden Caulfield is absolutely brilliant. I'm not sure how true that is, but it is an interesting book, and one that is very different depending on what age you read it at. If you read it as a teen, give it another try as an adult, and you may discover something new about the book.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Foundation by Mercedes Lackey

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I love Mercedes Lackey. She is another fantasy author whose new books I always make a point of reading. She is very different from Juliet Marillier, who I talked about just a couple of posts ago. Lackey's books are lighter reading, though no less enjoyable. They definitely qualify as a guilty pleasure for me.
Foundation is the story of the founding of the Herald's Collegium in Valdemar. It takes place before most of the books in the Valdemar series, but includes a lot of references for those of us who've read the rest of the books. It is very similar to most of the series beginnings: a boy (or girl, but in this case, it's a boy) who is struggling in life (in this case, he is an orphan, and working as a slave in a mine) is Chosen by a Companion (mystical being in the form of a white horse). This boy then has to learn how to live at the Collegium and become the Herald that he is meant to be. Mags is the main character of this book, and he is perfectly likeable. The only problem I had with this book is one that is usually not an issue in Lackey's books. The ending felt incredibly unfinished to me. Even within the series, Lackey rarely leaves so many loose ends, or at least they never feel this loose. This one left me with a lot of questions, which presumably will be answered by the next book in the series. It was just a bit disconcerting. I always look forward to more books by Mercedes Lackey, but now I know that I have another trilogy to look forward to.