Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Seventy-Seven Clocks - Christopher Fowler

Seventy-Seven Clocks continues the Bryant and May books, a series of mystery novels that are centered around odd couple John May and Arthur Bryant, detectives working in London's Peculiar Crimes Unit. Responsible for solving crimes that don't fit in the range of the normal police, the PCU is faced this time with rat poison, an exploding suspect, a secret society, and (oddly) Gilbert and Sullivan operas. People are dying right and left, and Bryant and May have no suspect.

Seventy-Seven Clocks is the third book in the series, the first two being The Water Room and Full Dark House. That said, I have read neither of those two - in fact, the only other Bryant and May mystery I've read is Ten Second Staircase, the fourth book. This has so far presented me with no difficulty in understanding or enjoying the book, and I would encourage readers to go through the books in whatever order they please.

While the Bryant and May books are mystery/thriller novels, they are also very humorous. John May and Arthur Bryant have very different personalities and eccentricities, and yet manage to work together in a manner that is both effective and fun to read. The plot of Seventy-Seven Clocks is unexpected and original, at least in my experience, and kept me guessing all the way through. Sergeant Janet Longbright, who also works in the PCU, is one of my favorite characters in both of the books, though I'm not sure why, but all of the characters are well-written. If in search of a good mystery novel that's not terribly dark, I would definitely recommend that you read Seventy-Seven Clocks.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Cardturner - Louis Sachar

In The Cardturner, Alton Richards is forced by his mother to be his old, sick, blind, and rich Great-Uncle Lester Trapp's cardturner at the local bridge club. Mr. Richards just lost his job, and Mrs. Richards is hoping that Alton can worm his way into the uncle's good graces, securing a spot in the will. Alton very reluctantly agrees, though bridge is the farthest thing from his idea of a good time, and is thus drawn into the world of bridge. He begins to follow the game and enjoy going, eventually meeting and becoming friends with Toni Castaneda, who has been classified as "crazy" by Alton's parents.

Prior to finding The Cardturner on the "new books" shelf at my local library, I had read Sachar's Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Holes, and Small Steps. I loved the first two, but didn't like Small Steps that much, so I wasn't sure what to expect from The Cardturner, especially as I had no experience in reading YA bridge novels (understandably, as I'm pretty sure there's only one). Much to my surprise, I enjoyed The Cardturner very nearly as much as I liked Holes - in other words, a lot. All the characters are great, though the Richards parents are not all that likeable, and Trapp (or "Uncle Lester," as Alton's parents would like him to be called) was my absolute favorite. As Sachar pointed out in a preface, it would be difficult to write a book about bridge without writing about the mechanics of the game, and The Cardturner does contain quite a bit of technical bridge-talk. However, these sections are kindly prefaced with a small picture of a whale, in reference to Moby Dick, and a short summary follows the lengthier description. While I didn't really understand a lot of the technical stuff, I did read and enjoy the sections - I just didn't always quite follow them.

If someone had told me a week ago that I would be reading a book about bridge by Louis Sachar, I would by no means have believed them. However, here I am, writing this review of The Cardturner, a book about bridge which I absolutely loved. If there is one thing I didn't like about the book, it was that I couldn't always understand what was going on bridge-wise, but I still enjoyed reading those sections. Overall, I highly enjoyed The Cardturner, and I would recommend it.

I have a question for you...

I've been wanting to post book covers in my reviews to make them more visually interesting, but I also don't want to violate copyright. I am kind of confused about how all that works, so if someone could explain it to me in the comments I'd be very appreciative. Thanks in advance!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Name is Memory - Ann Brashares

My Name is Memory is the most recently published of Ann Brashares' books. It is about Lucy Broward, a perfectly normal teenager who is about to graduate high school, and Daniel Grey, a mysterious boy who Lucy has been admiring from afar. On the night of the last school dance, Daniel and Lucy come together by chance, and Daniel tells Lucy that everyone has past lives, and that he is unique in that he remembers his. According to Daniel, he has been falling in love with Lucy (whom he calls Sophia, a name he once knew her by) for hundreds of years. As might be expected, Lucy is alarmed, frightened and disbelieving, and runs away. Daniel does not contact her again, but over the next several years, though, she begins to realize that things are not as they seem and that Daniel was indeed right.

I vaguely remember reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and its successors somewhere around eighth grade; however, I don't remember much except that I enjoyed them and that Bridget was the soccer player (I think). Probably at least partly because of this, I was quite surprised to enjoy My Name is Memory as much as I did. The fact that I read the book in one sitting gives testimony to how captivating and well-paced it is, and I found the relationship Lucy and Daniel is very compellingly written. I love the dynamic between Daniel and Lucy, as well as her previous incarnations, when he knows who she is and she doesn't know who he is - the nearest comparison I can make is seeing a high school sweetheart twenty years later and them not recognizing you, but that really is a pitiful comparison. It almost seems like My Name is Memory could have a few sequels as well, but it's not slated to as far as I know. Maybe that's just my wishful thinking; I would love to see more of Ben, the mysterious, memory-gifted (that's what I'm calling it) person who has lived many, many times and seems to know a lot more than he's telling.

Anyway, I'm getting off the point: I very much enjoyed My Name is Memory, and I will definitely look forward to reading (and perhaps re-reading) more of Ann Brashares' bookes in the future.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

13 Little Blue Envelopes - Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes is about a teenage girl, Ginny, who receives a package from her Aunt Peg several months after Peg's death. The package contains thirteen numbered blue envelopes with the instructions that Ginny must open each envelope one by one and in numerical order, and that she cannot open the next envelope until she has completed the "mission" set forth in the envelope before it. The envelopes take Ginny to London, Scotland, Amsterdam, and Greece, among other places, and the things Ginny experiences and the people she meets change her forever.

13 Little Blue Envelopes was the first Maureen Johnson book I ever read; I found it at my local library and fell in love. Though I have now read several of Johnson's other books, 13 Little Blue Envelopes remains my favorite. This is probably partly because it prominently features travel - I love traveling, fiction about traveling, nonfiction about traveling, movies about traveling...the list goes on (and on). Aside from that, though, I enjoy 13 Little Blue Envelopes because it is funny, well-paced, has great characters, and I identify with Ginny in several ways. I always enjoy seeing her grow, have fun, get frustrated, get conned, and gain friends throughout the story, and I highly recommend the book.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Necromancer - Michael Scott

The Necromancer is the fourth book in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, the first three being The Alchemyst, The Magician, and The Sorceress. The series is about twins Josh and Sophie Newman, two ordinary teens whose lives are changed irrevocably when they discover that Sophie's employers are actually immortals Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel, and that Sophie and Josh may be the twins of legend, destined to be extraordinarily powerful for good or evil.

I've greatly enjoyed this series so far, and The Necromancer is no exception. The series is steeped in the mythology of many different cultures, which I absolutely love - characters in the series include the Torc Madra, Prometheus, Isis and Osiris, and Quetzalcoatl, just to name a few. The books are also very fast-paced, and are quick reads despite their length. And while I've found some series to get more tepid as the series progresses, that is not the case with these books - I enjoyed The Necromancer every bit as much as The Alchemyst, if not more.

I have found each of these books very difficult to put down, and I always have difficulty waiting for the next to come out. For fans of fantasy, mythology, and/or young adult literature, this series, including The Necromancer, is a must-read.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

I first read Wuthering Heights about five years ago, and while I loved it at the time, I hadn't picked it up since. But because it was part of my AP English Language reading list, I read it again, and I must say that I don't like it half as well as I remember liking it the first time around.

According to the back of my tattered, school-issued copy, "There are few more convincing, less sentimental accounts of passionate love than Wuthering Heights," and it is "the story of a savage, tormented foundling, Heathcliff, who falls wildly in love with Catherine Earnshaw, the daughter of his benefactor, and of the violence and misery that results from their thwarted longing for each other." Well, then. First of all, I'm not sure what exactly makes Wuthering Heights "convincing"...what exactly am I intended to be convinced of? Anyway, the blurb is a pretty good summary as far as I'm concerned. Heathcliff is definitely savage and tormented, and there is plenty of violence and misery.

However, I would like to point out that from my point of view, their longing for each other was thwarted by no person or persons more than Heathcliff and Catherine themselves. If Wuthering Heights was real and set in present day, I would sent Catherine straight over to a little blog called How Not to Fall in Love - I have a feeling she might find it very useful. Throughout almost the entire book, the main characters seem to have the aim of being as utterly senseless as possible. In fact, the housekeeper, Nelly was the only significant character who seemed to have a lick of sense (pardon my colloquialism). While there was some reconciliation at the end, I was disappointed that the book didn't really follow the development of the two characters who did become friends. Rather, the reader jumps ahead a bit and finds that it has all already happened, and that he/she can only learn of what's been going on through a retelling. When a book doesn't have an action-packed, gripping plot, I find that I need some character development to keep me going, and I didn't find sufficient development in Wuthering Heights.

Perhaps I will like the book after studying it in English, but I doubt it. Maybe this will be one of those books that I read every five years and react differently each time. Have you read Wuthering Heights? What did you think?

Mockingjay Giveaway!

Hello, everybody! I usually don't post about giveaways, but I am extremely excited about this one. Beth of Writing It Out is giving away a copy of Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games series, and a beautiful mockingjay pin. The giveaway is here, and I encourage everyone to enter! Good luck!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ethan Frome and Other Short Fiction - Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome and Other Stories contains Ethan Frome, The Touchstone, "The Last Asset," "Xingu," and "The Other Two." While I own Wharton's The House of Mirth, I hadn't read any of her works prior to this book, which I read for AP English Literature. I will divide this review into five parts, one for each work - this will make my post rather long, but I hope you don't mind. :) I wrote each section just after finishing that piece, so they are organized in the order I read them.

Ethan Frome
The book Ethan Frome is about (funnily enough) Ethan Frome, a farmer who lives in a rural New England town. Frome's already fragile relationship with his wife Zenobia, or "Zeena," is tested when Zeena's cousin, Mattie, comes to stay with them and take care of Zeena. Ethan clearly has feelings for Mattie that Zeena notices and naturally does not approve of. When Zeena announces that she is getting a hired girl and that Mattie will have to leave, Ethan and Mattie sled down a hill into a large maple tree, hoping to die together rather than live apart. Unfortunately, they are only crippled, and Mattie, Zeena, and Ethan end up living together, though unhappily, for the rest of their lives.

Knowing that Edith Wharton came from a prominent New York family and never experienced rural life or financial hardship, I was quite impressed with how well she portrayed the characters, as well as their financial situations and stations in life. It did not feel as though Wharton was condescending to the rural poor, or as though she had no idea what she was writing about. Aside from that, I enjoyed the story quite a lot - Wharton's imagery depicting the New England countryside created a beautiful, desolate setting that was very appropriate for the characters and story. I felt compassion for the Fromes and for Mattie, and enjoyed reading the book. I know there is symbolism in the book, but I usually don't pay attention to symbols while reading, so I'll be interested to study Ethan Frome in English this year.

The Touchstone
The Touchstone is a novella about Glennard, a man whose love for a woman (Alexa) he cannot marry without greater finances drives him to sell hundreds of love letters from a newly deceased famous author, Mrs. Aubyn. The letters are made into a book, and while Glennard does marry Alexa, he doesn't tell her - or anyone else - that he was the recipient or even the seller of the letters. The book, titled The Aubyn Letters, becomes an object of horror among the women of Alexa's circle, who all think that the man who received and sold the letters must have been a cretin to do such a thing to poor Mrs. Aubyn. Glennard feels more and more remorseful, and though he wants Alexa to know what he has done, he does not want to tell her himself. Instead, he gives her a stack of papers to sort through, and leaves a receipt from a check clearly indicating him as the one who sold the Aubyn letters in the pile hoping she will understand and say something to him. Weeks go by, and even after going through the letters Alexa does not mention the receipt. Finally, Glennard confronts Alexa, and...well, I just can't bring myself to tell you what happens.

I absolutely loved The Touchstone. The characters were very real to me, Wharton's writing was as descriptive and lovely as in Ethan Frome, and the plot was very engaging. While my favorite part of the book was the very end, I loved the whole thing and I can't wait to discuss it in English. I find myself falling in love with Wharton already, and I haven't even read the last three stories yet.

"The Last Asset"
In the short story"The Last Asset," Paul Garnett is asked to do a favor for acquaintance Mrs. Newell - Miss Hermione Newell is engaged, but the groom's parents will call off the wedding if Mr. Newell does not attend. While Mr. and Mrs. Newell are still married, they do not have regular contact and Mrs. Newell insists that Mr. Newell would not welcome a visit from her. Garnett agrees to do the favor, though he is motivated by Hermione Newell's wishes more than those of her mother. I enjoyed this story very much - I wish that Wharton had revealed whatever caused the rift between Mr. and Mrs. Newell, but that wasn't in any way a deal-breaker for me. I found the characters as interesting and real as in The Touchstone - I especially enjoyed reading about Mrs. Newell, who I found rather ridiculous. The plot wasn't very complex (though I don't suppose it could be in the amount of pages it takes up), but did have a couple twists and turns that I enjoyed, and I would recommend it.

When I started "Xingu," I had absolutely no idea what it was about. However, I definitely didn't expect what I got. "Xingu" is a short story about the Lunch Club, a small group of upper-class women who like to think of themselves as erudite and scholarly. When the club manages to get a notable woman writer, Osric Dane, to attend one of their luncheons, everyone is terribly excited. The day of the luncheon arrives, and when Osric Dane arrives, the conversation stalls. Finally, Mrs. Roby - who is generally agreed upon to be the least desirable member of the Lunch Club and the least "up" on current topics - asks Mrs. Dane what her opinion on Xingu is. An intense conversation on the subject follows, and when the conversation begins to turn to Dane's most recent novel, a subject which clearly bores Dane, Mrs. Roby announces that she has to leave for a bridge meeting. Osric Dane then runs out after her, wanting to know more about Xingu, and the Lunch Club ladies are left, embarrassingly, on their own. Of course, it turns out that none of them, even those who proclaimed to have had their lives changed by it, have the faintest idea what Xingu is. I must say, I kind of had an idea how the whole "Xingu" thing was going to turn out (thoughI'm not going to tell you). That said, the fact that I saw what was coming in at least one respect didn't diminish my enjoyment of "Xingu" one slight bit. The whole story was absolutely hilarious from beginning to end - while it's not the type of humor everyone would appreciate, I loved it. I definitely didn't expect humor from Wharton, and while "The Last Asset" had elements of humor and satire, "Xingu" was satirical humor at its best. I laughed out loud quite a few times during this twenty-one page story, occasionally startling my mother. I would definitely, definitely recommend "Xingu," and I think it's my favorite story so far.

"The Other Two"
Mr. and Mrs. Waythorn are happily married. Though Mrs. Waythorn has been married twice before, to a Mr. Haskett and then to a Mr. Varrick, she does not have much to do with either of them, and the Waythorns live peacefully on their own with Lily, Mrs. Waythorn's daughter from her marriage to Mr. Haskett. However, the situation is complicated when Lily falls ill with cholera, requiring Mr. Haskett to visit her at the house rather than having Lily visit him. On top of that, Mr. Waythorn is required to engage in business with Mr. Varrick in the stead of Waythorn's partner, who is laid up with gout. In the climax of the novel, all the characters (excepting Lily) manage to end up in the same room together, resulting in embarrassment particularly on the part of Mrs. Waythorn. I don't think I'm managing to make this sound like a very interesting story, but I quite liked it. It's similar to "The Last Asset" in that you never find out exactly what happened in the past - in this case, what caused Mrs. Waythorn to divorce Mr. Haskett and Mr. Varrick. While I would've liked to find this out, I still greatly enjoyed "The Other Two," and I regret that it is the end of my Edith Wharton reading for the time being.

In conclusion, I loved all the pieces in Ethan Frome and Other Short Stories, and I will definitely be reading more of Wharton. If you made it through this whole post, congratulations and thank you!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

We watched this movie at the end of the year in one of my middle school social studies classes, and the movie made want to never, ever read the book. All I remembered from the movie was a gory boar's head on a stick and a bunch of boys running around like wild men and fighting with each other. I probably wouldn't have picked up Lord of the Flies due to this experience, so I'm glad I had to read it for my upcoming AP English Literature class. While I don't love the book by any means, I understand and appreciate it far more then I understood or appreciated the movie.

In Lord of the Flies, a group of English schoolboys are crossing the ocean (in all likelihood they were evacuating the country, as it is implied that there is a war going on) when their plane crashes, killing all the adults and leaving the boys stranded. Two boys, Ralph and Jack, quickly emerge as possible leaders, and all the boys vote for Ralph to be the primary leader, with a boy called Piggy as his second man, and for Jack to be the head hunter, with a boy named Roger as his next-in-command. Eventually, Ralph and Jack become the leaders of opposing factions rather than leaders working together within one group, and more and more boys join Jack's group out of fear or a desire for power. As Ralph's group grows ever smaller, they become the prey of Jack's hunters and must struggle to stay alive.

My favorite quote from this book is found on the very last page: "Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and ----." The last part of the sentence is a spoiler, so I won't post it here, but I felt like that quote kind of mirrored how I felt after finishing the book. Lord of the Flies is and excellent portrayal of the dark side of human nature that exists to some extent in us all, young or old. One thing I found particularly compelling was the faith of some of the children in the power of adults to set things right. At one point toward the end of the book, Piggy wishes that adults were on the island because things wouldn't have gone so badly wrong. However, this is clearly contradicted by the fact that the adults in the story, though absent from the main plot, are waging a war that on many levels makes no more sense than the war between the two groups of boys. The theme I got from the book is that people are generally dark creatures, and that the great wars of men and rulers are no less nonsensical than the war games of children. Depressing? Yes. Dark? Quite. Fortunately, that is often to my taste, and such was the case with Lord of the Flies.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Angel's Game - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Though it did take me nearly a week to read The Angel's Game, that had nothing to do with the quality of the book. Rather, it had to do with the fact that I've been up to my ears in working on my spreadsheet of colleges I might apply to, applying to scholarships, and that sort of thing. Every time I had a moment in which I allowed myself to pick up The Angel's Game, I was hooked within a couple of pages and continued reading furiously until responsibility (or lunch) called.

The Angel's Game is a prequel to the bestselling novel The Shadow of the Wind, a fact that I did not know until I was already into the book. Oops. I didn't realize this because I picked the book up off of the "new books" shelf in the YA section of my local library, and was only enlightened when I read Jess's review of The Shadow of the Wind on Park Benches and Bookends. Anyway, The Angel's Game takes place in 1920s Barcelona and follows young novelist David Martin, who writes popular novels under a pseudonym. Martin has finally attained residence in the old house where he wanted to live as a child when he receives a letter from mysterious French editor Andreas Corelli, who offers to pay him an enormous sum of money to write a book that will create a new religion. The further into his writing Martin gets, however, the more reluctant he becomes, and he and the people he cares about start to suffer for it.

The atmosphere, subject matter, and themes of The Angel's Game remind me of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which I reviewed in June, and after taking a look at Zafon's website, I see that he and/or his publisher have made the same comparison. I'm not sure if that indicates my lack of originality, the validity of the claim, or both. Regardless, I really enjoyed The Angel's Game. I found its plot intriguing and its characters even more so, and even after finishing the book I still have questions. For me, this is a good thing - I don't always like everything to be tied up neatly. Fortunately, my library also has The Shadow of the Wind and The Prince of Mist, another book by Zafon, and I will be checking those out shortly...though perhaps I should wait until I finish my AP English required reading.

Until next time, happy reading!