The Moon is Down - John Steinbeck

Since this is propaganda, I wasn't sure about reading this. I'm suspicious of anything written for political reasons, but this got such good reviews that I figured I'd try it.
      The setting is left vague, hinting at European background. The town is small, with a man-of-the-people as their mayor and coal as their main source of income. Interestingly, Steinbeck doesn't demonize the origin-less "invaders." They miss their homes, they dislike the animosity of their conquered people, and they want the war to be over as much as anyone else. But they also desperately justify their actions, and use violence to keep the fear away.
      The political sway was a little intense for my taste, but this was written during the midst of World War II, so I guess it was supposed to be. The dialogue was a little dry, and the characters were simplified, so this wasn't as good as some of Steinbeck's other work. The story was still interesting and there were some great lines here about war, but overall the story was a little lackluster.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure - William Goldman

I committed a cardinal reading sin: I saw the movie before I read this book. To be fair, I was five--so not a lot of four-hundred page books were getting read then anyway. Nevertheless, I went into this story with as fresh a perspective as I could manage. Here is my opinion: the book is better.
      For all of the humor in the movie, this book is funnier. Goldman's abridgment--which he painstakingly reminds the reader of in frequent italics, lest he get full credit for this story--keeps in a lot of Morgenstern's satire (some of it, the parts about trees and royalty, were cut out to keep with the story). Inigo, Fezzik, Vizini, and the whole gang are even more loveable on the page than they were on film. (Fezzik is my favorite.)
      I don't want to give away any spoilers to those who have seen the movie, but there is more background given on the characters in the book. You get to meet Buttercup's parents, and see Humperdink's lunacy full-tilt; additionally, Fezzik and Inigo's friendship goes into more depth.
      I am deducting a half-star for some Buttercup-Westley issues. Are they precious? Yes. Do I want them to survive their plight? Of course. But the slap was excessive. (Those who have read know what I'm talking about.) I was also annoyed by Buttercup's stupidity. I mean, sure, she's helpless and this is a satire about high adventure, but does she have to follow everyone's orders? (Granted, I still love her, but come on.)

Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat - John Steinbeck

Tortilla Flat tells a strange rendition of King Arthur's tales. Three "paisanos," as they are called--Pirate, Jesus Maria, Pablo, Pilon-- are drawn to Danny's house and find home as his friend. I admit, I waited around for several chapters, hoping to see more of the Arthurian legend peek through in Monterey. In the end, it all came together.
      The time period is fascinating, during the Great Depression, when nobody can easily get a job; the five men, after seeing how difficult and serious life is, essentially give up and drink their troubles away. If any of them can find wine, they start drinking it before they get home. They spend their days on the porch of Danny's house, swatting at flies, while everyone else in Monterey is living their lives.
      The point of the story is that these men watch other people live their lives rather than get ones of their own, and it worked well in this story. It did get a little repetitive to read, though, from a plot standpoint.
      Pointless observation: at one point a "Jenny's house in Salinas" is mentioned in this book. There is a Jenny's whorehouse mentioned in Steinbeck's later work East of Eden, and I think it might be in Salinas. I wonder if he intended it to be the same one.


Blankets - Craig Thompson

Blankets starts out with Craig as a young boy in Wisconsin, growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household. He deals with his family, his bullies, his hyper-religious community, and falling in love, all the while struggling to fit into God's kingdom. I'm not particularly spiritual, but I related to Craig's attempts to fit passion and religious expectations.
     The illustrations are fantastic! I really liked Thompson's imagination, and how he works his fantasies into the grittier drawings. While I wasn't sure about how some of the relationships were wrapped up at the end of the story, I liked the way it was told. Some people mentioned the spiritual undertones in the story, but I didn't sense an agenda while reading. This is just the author's story of his childhood home. But because this was such a personal story, this might have been why the conclusion didn't tie neatly together. I expected more pages with Phil, rather than Raina or with his parents. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this story.

Books Make You Telekinetic, Apparently

Matilda (Puffin Modern Classics) - Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl

This is my favorite Roald Dahl book. Matilda is a smart and lonely five-year-old girl living with her vapid, mean family in England. She teaches herself reading and mathematics, and begins using her intellect to get back at her bullies.
      As a nerd, I really enjoyed reading about Matilda's time at the library and, consequently, Matilda also gave me a great reading list. But what makes this story so sweet is that at the beginning of the story, Matilda found a way to protect herself from the people around her; by the end of the book, she has also found a way to protect others. Dahl has always been a kids-are-the-heroes type of author, and here it is no different. Matilda is great!

Confessor Book Review: End of a Series (spoilers)

Confessor (Sword of Truth, #11) - Terry Goodkind

I am a little emotional, as this is the last book in the series, and finishing a series always makes me sad. I was a little disappointed, too, though. I preferred this book to its past two books—Chainfire and Phantom, respectively—but I was also disappointed.
       First of all, I still love the characters: Cara rocks; Kahlan should be queen of something; Nicci is slowly growing on me; and Gratch… just… Gratch. I just have some issues with the storytelling.
       The series has gotten incredibly complex. It began with one out-and-out villain, one out-and-out hero, and one badass leader named Kahlan. Goodkind made this series philosophical, so even during the first book there were heavy debates on the soul and integrity, stuff that you don’t ordinarily stumble across. The debates were interesting in the beginning, so I liked them. But by the time Book 11 has come about, I’m a little tired of talk. There are a LOT of monologues in this series. Zedd is prone monologues because he is the Who’s Who in the magic world; Nicci gives long-winded lectures because she doesn’t understand humanity; and Richard gives speeches because he’s (unbelievably) self-righteous. In fact, Cara is one of the only character who gives straight answers.
         While the speeches make sense, I also wanted the conversations to have more back-and-forth dialogue. It always seems like Richard, Zedd, and Nicci know everything, and they have to explain everything to other people. In defense of Cara: she is intelligent, loyal, and pragmatic; surely, she doesn’t need to be talked-at all of the time? That was the problem: The monologues became grating because I felt like I was being constantly talked-down to. I felt like the author didn’t trust me to connect the dots on my own; I kept wishing that Goodkind would surprise me instead. I wanted to have him throw me curveballs, like he did in the earlier books. After all, for all of the talking, it took surprise and an off-the-cuff trick to defeat the enemy. The story could have used more of that.
          I appreciated the callbacks to the first books: the Mud People, Rachel being awesome, Gratch, dragons, Samuel and Shota’s weird bond, Jensen, etc. In fact, I wish that those things tied in better with the final story. I got so excited when Gratch appeared, I was hoping he would be more prevalent to the story.
          The ending is a little too cheesy and deux-ex-machina for my taste, but that’s fine. I sometimes wished that Richard screwed up a bit more. He is idolized by everyone; is it bad to wish that he irritated some of the good guys? Regardless, I wish the ending clicked more for me, but it still got me sentimental. This was a really cool series, and it sucks to say goodbye.

Shadow and Bone Review (spoilers)

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

This book really disappointed me— and I’m not just talking about the romance because I’m biased when it comes to that. This story had such an interesting premise, with several diverse cultures living in a steampunk-Soviet regime, and a brilliantly-organized militia. The execution of this concept was the main problem. The story focused solely on Alina’s training with the Grisha, which would have been interesting if it wasn’t told so vaguely; instead of having in-depth descriptions of the court and its operations, the alliances, and the way the different Grisha groups interacted, Alina instead provided a whiney training montage of her Grisha tasks. (E.g. she hates working out; she doesn’t like the steambaths; ew, make-up; “I can’t make light on my own!” Look, I get that she’s in a compromising situation, but she’s also discovering real power for the first time. And she’s not the least bit curious?) Alina had a few theory books that were interesting—books she refers to as boring— including one that described how energy was used in Grisha powers. I was fascinated by that, by the physical manifestations of power, and how it could affect the holder; this could have given the Darkling more dimension, and showed that someone could become a slave to their own abilities. Instead, this never came up again.
       I’m starting to resent love triangles. I especially dislike THIS love triangle because both guys are such losers: the Darkling can’t resist using everyone around him and Mal can’t get out of his own perspective long enough to lead. I mean, sure, relationships are nice—but the theory books about power were so much more interesting! In a book like this, plot should not take a backseat to romance.
        Generally, this was just not a story for me. I just got too nitpicky over it: I also thought that “the Darkling” could have used a real name. (You know, to be less conspicuous.) I also thought that the majority of the court was one-dimensional. Marie, Nadia, and the other Summoners come off as ditzy and naïve. While I’m sure that Alina’s street smarts put her ahead of them, I thought that they were all written off as idiots too quickly. Even Genya, during her sympathetic period, couldn’t understand anything outside of superficiality; in fact, she develops feelings for, and fails to impress, a Fabrikator named David who has no interest in appearances. If she had more of a personality—perhaps stronger allegiances, a history, hobbies, fears, etc.—her switch to the dark side would have come off as less cold.

Little house in the big Woods

Reblogged from tinasimms:
Little House in the Big Woods  - Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams

I forgot what a great kid’s series this is. It’s a simple story about Laura and her family’s life, moving steadily across the country and their struggles with settling during the pioneer times. This is the first installment, and it shows Laura living in Indian Territory. It’s a strange experience reading about a different time period, and it’s even stranger learning that these are based on true stories. In this time period, bears and panthers are a daily threat, meat has to be smoked and saved for the winter months, food like butter and sugar have to be churned and made at home, and Laura never meets anyone outside of her family until she traveled to town in the middle of the book. It’s a bit of a surprise to see how hard it was to live back then.

The Mockingbirds

The Mockingbirds - Daisy Whitney My expectations were a little high on this one, so that might be the reason I was disappointed with the book. Many booktubers raved about this book, and I admit that I didn't dislike all of it. First of all, I really liked the concept of the story, of having a vigilante-ish group address a serious issue and help a traumatized girl get through it. Date-rape is a sticky subject and many authors are too afraid to get near the subject, so I praise Daisy Whitney for having the guts to do so. I hate to sound like a snob but it was the writing that disappointed me the most. The language was very repetitive, and it relied on similes and overtelling to get the point across. Whitney has a habit of over-explaining; where one of her sentences would make a point, she would add two more to emphasize. She used dialogue as a way of adding backstory, and after a while it got annoying to be talked-at rather than shown. I also expected Whitney to really delve into the grittiness of what happened, the panic of waking up in an unfamiliar room, the pain of the experience itself, the way all physical touching feels claustrophobic. Instead the more physical and psychological stresses were glossed over. Again, most of what Alex went through was told to me rather than shown. Even in the first chapter, Alex's panic is told in a logical step-by-step manner, and that felt forced and unrealistic for an in-the-moment problem. I know that such intimate details are difficult to write about, but that is what makes the traumatic aftermath so hard to get through: you can't put it in soft-focus. I was also really surprised by how quickly Alex finds comfort in Martin. Usually after something like this, an instance where someone used physical force on Alex, any tangible touch feels awkward. I'm not saying that is what SHOULD have happened; after all, Whitney herself was date-raped in college and would know more about this issue than me. But in memoirs I've read and in conversations I've had with survivors, any kind of touch feels wrong; even hugs from friends can make them feel sick. I'm glad that Alex didn't feel hemmed in, and that she felt safe with Martin; I just thought Martin's relationship with Alex progressed very quickly. (That said, I'm glad that this book is out there, and I'm glad that Whitney addressed this issue.)

Birdsong (Movie Tie-in Edition)

Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks This book comes in three parts: Stephen before the war; Stephen during the war; and in 1978 with Elizabeth, the grandchild of a WWI soldier who stumbles upon Stephen's diaries. As you can probably tell, this novel focuses mostly on Stephen. The story opens with Stephen, a Brit who travels to France before the First World War to learn about the management of factories. There he meets Isabelle, the wife of the host he is staying with. From then on, Stephen's complicated relationship with Isabelle shapes the novel. The shifting perspectives isn't confusing, though I couldn't see the reason why they were set up this way. Going back and forth between the time periods made Elizabeth's sections a little anticlimactic; while Stephen is having a mental breakdown and experiencing constant bloodshed, Elizabeth's relationship with Robert falls flat in comparison. Additionally, the chapters set during the war were so beautifully written that the sections outside of that setting didn't draw me in as much. The wartime descriptions didn't always stay with Stephen, sometimes they went to one of the infantrymen or to a "tunnel rat." And while descriptions of the wartime brutality have been seen in other books, like All Quiet on the Western Front, here Faulks made all of the experiences real and jarring. He was very particular about the soldiers: their jobs, their home life, their struggles with adjusting to wartime, etc. And Faulks had a dozen of military characters--all with different backgrounds, ranks, and personas--and Faulks kept all of them straight. Overall rating: This emotional drama was fine in other characters, but I was more invested in Stephen's POV.

Daisy Miller (Modern Library Classics Series)

Daisy Miller - Henry James I understand that, for the time period, it was a provocative piece on the differences between American and European values. I also understand that Henry James was an Anglophile and he eventually immigrated to England, so his appreciation of British rigidity and his impatience with American nonchalance are bound to translate into his work. I also understand that my own American background might make this review biased. However, to me, Daisy Miller was distractingly chauvinistic and anti-American. Daisy is a lively, uneducated America from Schenectady who is travelling with her boisterous younger brother and her idiotic mother. In Geneva, she stumbles upon Mr. Winterbourne, a fellow American who witnesses Daisy’s tragic fall from society and exists as Daisy’s character foil for the novel. My first issue is with Daisy. While James mentions several times that Daisy is a victim of circumstance—women during this time period weren’t offered a formal education, and women who weren’t of the upper-class had even less of a chance to get one—he also spurns her for her decisions. Mr. Winterbourne plays hot-and-cold with Daisy from the opening until the end. At first, he finds her innocence and her flirtations refreshing. Then he proclaims she’s an idiot. A few pages later he changes his mind and says that she isn’t stupid, she’s just uneducated. Then he decides that she is stupid, but it’s okay because she’s charming. Then, after seeing her with another man, he makes up his mind that she is no longer a nice girl and she is purposely making a fool of herself. Likewise, Daisy is spurned for going out alone with men, but it is Mr. Winterbourne who first proposes the trip to Chillon. Furthermore, he doesn’t prevent Daisy’s relationship with Mr. Giovanni; instead, he tags along with them. His intervening measures are boosted more from jealousy than genteel worry over her well-being. While Daisy is loud and foolish, her enthusiasm for exploring each city she visits—while her lazy mother and her whiny brother stay indoors with their concierge—comes from this lack of culture. Daisy has never been to Rome, or Geneva, before and she wants to see everything. She is the only one in her family who wants to actually see the continent she’s traveled to, and since she is in such poor company, in order to sightsee she has to go by herself. It’s a little sad, actually. This is just too blatant a moral story. Daisy’s mistake with Giovanni is a sensible point in the plot, but her fall from grace is such a thinly-veiled loose-woman parable that it’s annoying to read. Daisy doesn’t just become a fallen woman, she also dies, taking this sentiment a shade too far. If a woman is loose or in any way strays from societal propriety, she dies? Because, even then, that sentiment doesn’t seem to work; in America, Daisy had several male friends, and it wasn’t considered shameful to walk and sit with them. So, when she encounters a fellow American in Winterbourne, her irritation with his European condescension made sense. Sure, she is foolish, but at least she is honest; Winterbourne, on the other hand, is a hypocrite who can’t make up his mind about his societal identity. Is he European or is he American? He bends so quickly to European societal pressure, is he really the best example of a gentleman?

100 Places to Go Before They Disappear

100 Places to Go Before They Disappear - Patrick Drew, Desmond Tutu, Ranjedra K. Pachauri, Ranjedra Pachauri, Co+Life As you can probably tell from the title, this book is about one-hundred different places in the world that are disappearing—that are endangered in some way, by pollution, population, overfishing, poverty, or neglect. They include sparsely-populated islands, indigenous Siberian nomad land, the location of the world’s oldest tree (Sweden), ecologically-unstable reefs from around the world, and polluted oceans. None of this information is overwhelming, and it most of the book is made up of amazing photographs showing each location. This was very well-researched, and every place has a small soundbite of the area’s history and its current state. This book isn’t a depressing book about the devastation of nature around the world. The photographs are breathtaking. There are gorgeous shots of the moving sand dunes in Namibia, castles in Spain, and Australian wetlands. I’ve never heard of some of these places, and I was fascinated in all of the different cultures featured (e.g. Mongolian nomads, Saimi tribes in Norway, sea gypsies in Myanmar, San tribes in Namibia). This is definitely one of the coolest, most informative books I’ve ever read. The only problem is that now I want to travel to all of these places.

Little house in the big Woods

Little House in the Big Woods  - Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams I forgot what a great kid’s series this in. It’s a simple story about Laura and her family’s life, moving steadily across the country and their struggles with settling during the pioneer times. This is the first installment, and it shows Laura living in Indian Territory. It’s a strange experience reading about a different time period, and it’s even stranger learning that these are based on true stories. In this time period, bears and panthers are a daily threat, meat has to be smoked and saved for the winter months, food like butter and sugar have to be churned and made at home, and Laura never meets anyone outside of her family until she traveled to town in the middle of the book. It’s a bit of a surprise to see how hard it was to live back then.


Middlemarch - George Eliot, A.S. Byatt A year ago, I started and put down this book after a hundred pages. So, going into this for a second try, I didn’t have high expectations. But even with this perspective, I still had a lot of difficulty understanding this book. It was very dense, and it also came off as pretentious, particularly in the later chapters. I start out by saying that the vast majority of the characters are unlikeable. They are not just annoying, but increasingly more static as the novel wears on. I wasn’t sure if they were like that due to the serialized style the book was published in, as Dickens’ characters sometimes were, or if they were written this way as an ironic twist. The fact that this remained a murky point throughout the entire book made it frustrating to read, since I couldn’t figure out if it was too intelligent for me to understand or if it was too muddled for anyone to make out. (I looked up two reviews for this book upon its book publication in the 1800’s, and both reviews don’t mention the plot of the book at all and instead pontificate in vague, multi-syllable vocabulary words.) Since certain chapters were painfully overwritten, where several pages were written to make one philosophical statement, I think it’s the latter. The novel seemed overwrought, with a lot of monotonous preaching and unfocused narration. I was completely uninterested in Mr. Bulstrode’s chapters, which were written in a moralistic and looping ramble that repeated itself at each chapter. Since his character has the most depth, I assumed that my interest in his story would pick up, but because Eliot talked at me and insisted on over-explaining his every virtue, I was not only unconvinced of his complexity but also nettled every time his character popped up. The resolution was a little quick, and the epilogue was almost clichéd in its positivity, but otherwise I thought that this story was bogged down by constant exposition. Overall, this book was not for me.

The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton This is a multi-generational story, each a journey of self-discovery between Cassandra (2005), Nell (mid-1970’s), and Eliza (mostly early-1900’s). As Eliza starts over, Nell tracks down her family, and Cassandra pieces both Eliza and Nell’s trials together, Morton shows the loneliness and the struggles of the women. Keeping three different stories going at the same time takes a special kind of writing skill, and Morton has it. Unfortunately, she uses it a little too well. This is where the writing nagged at me the most. She takes three paragraphs to say something that could have been said in one sentence. It gets very repetitive. The author was so forceful her intention, and made some foreshadowing so pointed, that I felt like I was being walked through the book. It was as if I were being talked down to rather than told a story. I got impatient with the switching narrators, too. I felt like just as I was getting somewhere with Cassandra, it would switch to Eliza or Nell. The switching was most likely built-in to create suspense, but it was so slow-moving that it bothered me. Also—I have to say it—the InstaLove irritated me. It would not have stuck out so much if the romantic relationships had begun earlier in the story. The two “romances” took place in the final hundred pages, and I had trouble accepting both of them with the rest of the story. (That may just be my personal issue with romances in stories, though.) Overall this story just didn’t click with me. It’s still interesting, it’s just a little dense to get through.

The Moon by Night (Austin Family Series #2)

The Moon by Night  - Madeleine L'Engle Disclaimer: a lot of people I know don’t like the Austin Chronicles. They aren’t as action-packed as the Wrinkle in Time series, and involve fewer supernatural elements. They also have a slower pace. This is the story of the Austin family roadtrip across the United States (and some of Canada). It’s a very simple story, told in almost diary-like snippets by Vicky Austin, the second-oldest sibling. Facing the above complaints, I will admit that Moon By Night has a very slow pace. But the pace doesn’t hamper the story. In fact, Vicky has a very idyllic family life—idyllic to the point of ignorant—and some readers may balk at such a naïve protagonist. But this kind of calm personality is what drives the conflict. For example, it is Vicky’s principles that make Zachary Grey such a confusing and upsetting presence in her life. Zachary is brash and insulting, but is physically weaker than he seems; he talks endlessly about a godless, doom-driven world that clashes with Vicky’s spiritual and familial optimism. While equally attracted and depressed by Zachary, Vicky struggles with her feelings; here L’Engle describes the emotional stickiness that happens when people surround themselves with negativity. But Zachary is a realistic character: he is cruel, but he is the result of negligent parenting and a seemingly “unfair” heart condition that could kill him at any moment, and towards the end of the novel he shows interest in changing. Whether that change takes remains a mystery. As for cons: This takes place right after World War II, so some of the colloquial language is a little odd. Zachary sounds much less badass when the words “gee” and “Vicky-O” work their way into the dialogue. Another problem I had was with the parents: Vicky idolizes her parents. While that worked for her character, her constant praising of their spirituality, their kindness, and their good sense seemed a little too goody-goody. I’m sure that later, her parents will have to make a mistake and learn from it; they are, after all, the only characters who haven’t yet. I like having positive parents—they are a rare breed in children’s and young adult fiction—but they cannot be immaculate. I’m hoping that they will be challenged more in the following books.

Currently reading

Doctor Zhivago (Pevear / Volokhonsky Translation)
Progress: 157/653 pages
Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy, Louise Maude, Aylmer Maude
Progress: 212/735 pages