Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

It's been a little over a weeks since I read The Screwtape Letters, so this probably won't be the best review ever (which is not to say that it necessarily would be otherwise). However, I would like to give a very brief summary. I've been wanting to read The Screwtape Letters for quite some time, but never remembered when I was at the library or bookstore. Fortunately, I finally remembered last time I was at the library, and so the book was added to my ten-high pile, and eventually was read.

If you haven't heard of this book already, The Screwtape Letters is a fictional book of letters from senior demon Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, who is just begininng his career as a tempter for Satan. Throughout the series of letters, Wormwood is anxious to get his Patient to commit a deplorably evil sin that will damn him to hell; however, Screwtape assures his nephew that "the safest path to hell is the gradual one." The Screwtape Letters is a commentary on a wide range of social and moral issues, from love, war, pride, and gluttony. And while the book wasn't one of my favorites--I can understand why C.S. Lewis said it was "not fun" to write--I do appreciate the theological views behind the letters. All in all, a fairly good read, but nothing I was tempted to shout from the rooftops about.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell

The sixteen-year-old main character of Carpe Diem, named Vassar Spore after the prestigious women's college, has big goals. As she says, "I've got my entire life planned out for the next ten years--including my Ph.D. and Pulitzer Prize." Uh, woah. Then, the grandmother she's never seen somehow blackmails her parents into shipping Vassar off to backpack through Southeast Asia--Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos, to be exact--with said grandmother. Suddenly, it looks like the summer won't include AP and AAP classes anymore.

When she gets to Malaysia, the first country on the very, very (and to Vassar, uncomfortably) loose agenda, she discovers that her grandmother, or Grandma Gerd, is nothing like her parents. Grandma Gerd is an artist, collects "found art" (Vassar's word for it is trash) for her collages, wears a skirt made out of a rice bag, and believes firmly in LIMming, or living in the moment. This last habit is anything but what Vassar has been raised to do, but Grandma Gerd is determined to have her LIM all the way around Southeast Asia. No plans, and certainly not the ten suitcases Vassar brought with her. Over the course of her stay, Vassar encounters: lots of mosquitos, a Southeast Asian cowboy boyfriend, a new name, venomous caterpillars, ancient relics, an amputee, 100% humidity, and the secret her parents were blackmailed with (among other things, of course).

Carpe Diem was good, but not as good as I expected it to be. (The last part was probably more my own fault than the book's.) After the first couple of chapters, I was aghast at what Vassar's parents expected of her, and at the fact that she seemed to think nothing of it. Grandma Gerd was an absolute riot, and definitely my favorite part about the book. At first, she seems kind of crazy, but she levels out well. In the end, though there were things I didn't like, I would definitely recommend Carpe Diem.

The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon

This will be a mini-review, as I haven't got much time, but believe me when I tell you that this book deserves a much better review than I give it.

The Little Bookroom is a book of short stories for children first published in 1955. I stumbled upon it at my local library (where I stumble upon most of the books I read), and am ever so glad I did. Some of the stories are fantastical, others are not; some of the stories are only a few pages, others are longer and have miniature chapters. But each and every one of them, no matter the subject or length, is absolutely precious and magical and wonderful and you should go read the book right now. I'm not sure if it's still in print--*Googles it*--yeah, it's still in print, and it happens to have won the very first Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Carnegie Medal, to boot. So you don't have to take my word for it.

A Footnote: Apparently, Eleanor Farjeon turned down yet another honor, Dame of the British Empire, saying she "did not wish to become different from the milkman".

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Imagine a world where there are people with unnatural talents. Talents that enable them to read minds, cook exceptionally well, or even climb trees better than any normal person. For Katsa, this is her world, and she is Graced with killing, a skill she does not relish and that has turned her into the pawn of King Randa, who sends her out to injure or kill whomever he wishes.

Despite her seeming brutality, Katsa has founded the Council, a group devoted to helping protect citizens of the kingdoms from the anger and/or carelessness of their oft hot-tempered kings. It is on a mission of the Council that Katsa first meets him, the strange hooded man in the courtyard who could be extremely dangerous to her, yet whom she only knocks out. Later, they become friends, and she discovers that he is Graced, as well.

However, something is afoot in the kingdoms--the Council has not been able to ascertain who was behind the kidnapping of their latest rescue, the Lienid king. As intelligence is gathered, it becomes clear that the only possible culprit is Monsea. The only problem is, there are widespread tales of the Monsean king's kindness to both people and animals, and it is this mystery that will lead Katsa into the most dangerous situation she has ever faced: one in which her Grace will not help her.

On normal standards, Graceling is a terrific, fast-paced, un-put-down-able read. Considering that it is a debut novel, Graceling is stunning. Kristin Cashore manages to show Katsa as both threatening and likeable; cold, yet friendly. King Randa is absolutely despicable, as he should be, and Po is as well-faceted a character as Katsa--which is saying something. The characters in Graceling could very well be real people for all the life Cashore breathes into them.

As for the story itself, I feel that it is a very real portrait of how people behave. Though the plot is well-drawn and captivating, this was, for me, a character's novel, and I look forward to meeting more of Cashore's creations in the future.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

After the many instances of my picking up a copy of a Sarah Dessen book while browsing the shelves of a bookstore or library, I finally read one. Just Listen is about the youngest sister of three, Annabel, who can't seem to find her way in the world after her fairly (well, very) nasty "best friend" Sophie ditches her and she falls into aloneness. Then she meets Owen, a music-obsessed, dark-haired boy she eats lunch in close proximity to. Through the course of the book, Annabel slowly--very slowly--deals with what happened to her the night her so-called friendship with Sophie fell apart.

Just Listen was, for me, one of those books I enjoy while reading, then kind of forget. The book reminds me a bit of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (which is a bit ironic--Just Listen and Speak), though it's not nearly as good. However, the book accomplishes what I felt it set out to do: it accurately depicts the interrelationships of a slightly dysfunctional family, examined different meanings of teenage friendship, and dealt with the value and difficulty of telling the truth.

All in all, Just Listen did not, as my mother says, "make my socks roll up and down"; but it tole its story well, and in the end, that's what matters most.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Wordle of My Posts Here So Far

Wordle: This Bookish Life

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it is absolutely beautiful. The cover is fantastically gorgeous, but the real visual treat comes when you open the book. Every letter in the book is either maroon or a leafy green color: when the story starts, maroon is for when the main character, Bastian, is in his own world, and the green is for the text of the book he is reading or for when he is in Fantastica. Aside from that, the first character of each chapter is beautifully illuminated in maroon and green, and I noticed after finishing the book that there are twenty-six chapters, and if you put all the first letters together in order, you get the alphabet. (I wonder if it was difficult for Mr. Ende to come up with the first sentences for the last few chapters.)

Aside from the physical book itself, The Neverending Story is a book about a young boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux who is fat, pale, and not very good at anything except for loving books and telling stories, talents not very well valued by his classmates. One day when running away from bullies before school, Bastian dashes into the bookshop of Carl Conrad Coreander, who is reading a book called The Neverending Story. Bastian is so intrigued by this book that when the telephone rings and Mr. Coreander answers it, he decides that he must have the book, takes it, and leaves the bookshop. Overcome with shame, Bastian decides that he could neither go home and have his father know that he had skipped school and taken something that wasn't his, nor could he go to school and suffer the usual torture. Instead, he goes up to the school attic, where he sits and begins to read The Neverending Story. He stays all day, and eventually he begins to be drawn deeper into the aptly named world of Fantastica, until he is no longer reading the story, but is part of the story. Only then does the real adventure begin, as Bastian meets the Childlike Empress, whom only he can save; befriends a green-skinned boy and an opalescent luckdragon; and seeks out Uyulala. But the longer Bastian stays in Fantastica, the more he forgets about the life he left behind.

This book is absolutely magical. If you ever enjoyed Narnia, Edward Eager's books, or The Phantom Tollbooth, then get your hands on a copy of The Neverending Story as soon as possible--just don't steal it. I did sort of want to smack Bastian over the head about two-thirds of the way through the book, but it all turned out very well. One of my favorite things about the writing style in this book is how Mr. Ende often gives the reader a little hint of things to come, but then says, "But that's another story and shall be told another time." I suppose some people might think that's sort of annoying, but I like it. It's like there's not just the one story about Fantastica, but many; and they're all hiding somewhere you can't find them, just waiting to be found and written down.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Crunch Time and a Giveaway!

In Crunch Time, four high school juniors form a study group for the SATs after walking out of the prep class. Max is smart, but slightly socially awkward. Leo is a popular guy whose only extracurricular is getting drunk. Daisy is a test-challenged girl with financial aid-desperate parents. Jane is the daughter of a famous movie star who just wants to be something besides the daughter of a famous movie star. Despite the motley nature of the group, they soon forge relationships and seem to be getting along fine. Then, a girl tells the counselor that she was paid to take someone else's test--but she won't say who. The entire school is in an uproar, and nearly everyone has an opinion as to who cheated, and whoever did do it isn't talking.

This book is more about relationships and teenage-ness than anything else, and it is good at what it does. What more could you ask for, really? The characters are not quite as well-developed as they could be, but the style in which the book was written makes up for that: it's a four-voice novel, and the sections are, at times, only a sentence long. Fredericks pulled this off better than I might have expected, and I'm looking forward to checking out The Meaning of Cleavage the next time I go to the library.

And now, I have a super-awesome giveaway to tell you about! Beth of Beth's Book Review Blog is giving away five copies of Friends Like These by Danny Wallace. This book is (apparently--I haven't read it yet) about Danny Wallace's quest to reconnect with his childhood friends, who have transformed into, among other things, Fijian royalty. I will definitely be reading this book even if I don't win the contest--and I'm not known for my contest-winning prowess--as it looks like an absolute riot. The contest ends on September 27, 2009. Head on over!