Monday, December 15, 2014

Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull

by Jonathan Stroud

Story summary: See the first book, The Screaming Staircase. This time around, you have the trio of intrepid ghost hunters themselves, of course, as well as rival ghost-hunting groups, plenty of in-fighting, dreadful curiosity, smashing sword fights, and, of course, a whispering skull.

Thoughts: Unlike Stroud's other books, which are either stand-alones or in a short series (trilogy with a prequel at the most), I've heard this is going to be a many-book series. Or at least several more than a trilogy. Because of that, this felt much more "middle book" than even the middle books of trilogies. There wasn't as much distinct character development as I might have wished--except for maybe George, which made me happy because I love George. And no over-arching plot lines were answered (only vaguely hinted at).

But there were definitely good parts. More George, as I mentioned. The skull itself, which was mysterious and terrifying and really interesting.

I wish I had more to say about this book, but due to circumstances in my life I've fallen way behind in book reviews. So this'll have to do.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Blood of My Blood

by Barry Lyga

Story summary: The third in the trilogy, following up from I Hunt Killers and Game, this book sees Jazz finally confronting his serial killer father, as well as the darkness that is growing inside himself.

Thoughts: Starts with Jazz laying bleeding and dying in a locked room, his best friend also bleeding and dying (and a hemophiliac), and his girlfriend captured by his evil, serial killer father, which means imminent bleeding and dying. So that's a good start. And then there's many a bloody twist and turn from there.

1/2 a star off from the grade for the first two, simply because I hardly remember what happened. Which must say something about a book, right? Although really, it probably says more about my memory and the personal things I've been going through this year. It was still greatly enjoyable, though. And I remember a few things that were interesting. Definitely a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

Also, a really pretty cover, no? I love the covers for this series--grey and red makes an awesome combination. (Still like the second one's cover the best, though.)

Grade: 3 stars

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Story summary: Now it's finally the turn of Miles's cousin Ivan (known as "Ivan, you idiot.") to have his own book, his own story, and his own adventure.
See the others in this series: Shards of HonorBarrayarThe Warrior's ApprenticeThe Vor GameCetagandaBrothers in ArmsMirror DanceMemory, Komarr, and A Civil Campaign.

Thoughts: I've always loved Ivan. It was so refreshing to finally get a book where he gets to have the adventure. Of any of the non-Miles characters so far whom I would have wanted most to get their own book, it would have been Ivan. (Well, also Cordelia, but she already got a book.)

This book wasn't as mindblowing and fast-paced as some of the past in this series. But it would be like that. This is Ivan, not Miles. The romance between Ivan and Tej was sweet, and if not ideal for my taste (Ivan is a bit too much of a womanizer for that), it is at least significantly better than my taste overall for the romance in A Civil Campaign. And Bujold does seem exceedingly good at creating people that suite each other very well. Every single romance in her books so far is unique and well done, even the ones I wasn't fond of.

And then there's Tej's family. LMB does family relations soo well, and I loved their chaotic presence. You also got Tej introduced to all of Ivan's extended family, and it was immensely amusing to see their reactions to Ivan, Tej, and her family.

Altogether, great fun.

Note: The cover to the left is the one I read. Generic, but not horrible. But there's another one--and this one features on the back cover of the one I read--and it made it horribly embarrassing to read this book in public. Sigh. LMB does NOT have good luck in covers. None of them (at least in the English versions) manage to portray all of the uniqueness, sci-fi elements, and character study elements of this series at once.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Bad Catholic's Guide to the Catechism

by John Zmirak

Thoughts: Witty, insightful, and a rather hilarious general look at the teachings of the Catholic Church. Zmirak gets the both/and nature of the Church--it's grittiness, humanness, and, yes, catholicity. And although the preface seems to indicate it's meant for non-Catholics, I actually learnt some things myself. For instance, I didn't know that the it was only a widespread Western theory that the Spirit is generated by the perfect mutual love of the Father and the Son. I had thought that was part of doctrine. There was also a fascinating discussion on how most polytheistic tribes said their ancestors used to worship one, highest God, before they decided they needed several more "hands-on" gods because God wasn't answering prayers promptly enough. (pg. 2) He didn't back this up with a reference to the study, though, so I'm going to have to research this. Similarly, he claimed that the Benedictines offered the first advanced schooling to women in Western history, which would be another fascinating fact, if true. (pg. 94)

I must admit, though, I'm glad that I agreed on almost everything he said, because otherwise this would be hard to read. His wit is acerbic and very sarcastic, and would be hard to stomach for many non-believers, I think. Also, as a note, I didn't agree with everything he said. Just as a small example, I found his discussion on men vs. women on page 33 a bit annoying. I am definitely the kind of person who would crash her car while pushing a radio button, not when lapsing into deadly indecision. My multi-tasking skills are not of the highest calibre.

But all in all, decidedly worth reading, if only for how funny it is, and the random interesting asides. In some ways, Zmirak reminds me of a grumpy, Catholic, Bill Bryson.

Grade: 4 stars (maybe 4 1/2?)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cuckoo Song

by Frances Hardinge

Story summary: Eleven-year-old Triss wakes up from a severe illness not remembering who she is or what her life is like. Even as she slowly gains memory, she beings to realize that things are not as they should be. She is getting more and more hungry, and food is satisfying her less and less. She is having strange hallucinations, and waking up in the morning with leaves in her bed. As she slowly discovers who she is and what is happening, she also slowly realizes the price she is going to have to pay.

Thoughts: Frances Hardinge has been one of my favourite living children's authors for some time now. A lot of what makes her so wonderful is her original world building. Gullstruck Island and A Face Like Glass are especially good in this way, but Fly By Night and The Twilight Robbery are pretty wonderful too. This one took place in the real world, and used more standard world-building (bit like her other book Verdigris Deep). But still, it had her characteristic originality still present, with the excellent writing and vivid imagery always present with her books. And she is a master of creepiness. For what is technically a children's book, the imagery is intense...and somewhat disturbing. (Bit like some of Doctor Who, that way.)

Hardinge is one of the few authors I will buy on the spot without reading any reviews or doing any research. Which is saying something. And this book did not disappoint.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

Story summary: A man and his young boy are travelling through the dead and dreary post-apocalyptic America, barely surviving and slowly dying.

Thoughts: This was fairly tough to get through. It was bleak and relentless, and took me a very long time to read compared to most books. In some ways, there seemed very little point to reading a book like this. And yet... there are enough threads of hope throughout the story, that by the end (and especially because of the end), I could have a new perspective on the bleakness and suffering of the rest of the book.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Travel Reading Part 6

For the last three months, I've been gone, walking across Canada with a group called Crossroads Pro-Life. I was very, very busy, but I did manage to read a few books. Blogging about them was a different story, however. So it's been so long now since I read many of them, that I thought I could do travel posts like I did last summer, and just write a couple sentences for each book.
So here goes the second Crossroads multi-review post:

"Rome Sweet Home" by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
Grade: 4 stars
For me, being a Catholic who grew up on Scott Hahn and Protestant conversion stories, there was nothing very new in this book. Still, it was well written, and it was interesting to read something that was so personal. It showed the same story from both Scott's and Kimberly's point of view, which sometimes I found slightly repetitive and sometimes I found fascinating.




"Sword Art Online 1: Aincrad" by Reki Kawahara
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
This is a Japanese light novel, and thus is (surprise, surprise) rather on the light side. Apparently there are a number of sides stories that used to be included online, and are also in the anime. I think those scenes would have filled this out a little more and made it more enjoyable. I generally have a rule that if a manga came before an anime, I have to read it before watching it. I do not have the same rule with light novels, and this is partly why. The anime has more depth and more story. (I think in the future I will try to watch the animes first, and if I really enjoy it, will read the light novels to get a different perspective on the characters.) But there was some cool stuff in here. Interesting ideas about living a video game.

"The Icebound Land" by John Flanagan
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Third book in the Ranger's Apprentice series, after The Ruins of Gorlan and The Burning Bridge. I found this one slightly slower than the first two, but it may have been my mood at the time. And there was an awesome section with Horace, which I was very happy to see. Hopefully he continues to grow more and more awesome.




"The Last Guardian of Everness" by John C. Wright
Grade: 4 stars
A fantasy novel with a dream world, many mythological references, a rising and terrible evil, betrayal and disguise and mistaken identities. The imagery was fantastic, and was definitely my favourite part. But I liked almost the whole cast of characters, who were mostly interestingly nuanced. As a note, because I like to keep track of these things, my favourite character was Peter, although Azrael was quite fascinating too (the part where he rides home with a certain character was hilarious).


"Mists of Everness" by John C. Wright
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Technically I finished this after my summer travelling, but it's the sequel to The Last Guardian of Everness, so I thought I'd stick in in the same post. These two books were basically two halves of the same story, not a book and its sequel (sort of like the three LotR books are really just one book). However, I didn't actually like this one quite as much as the first. It seemed a little more disjointed, plot-wise, than the first. It was still very enjoyable, however. I loved when the characters all got their particular weapons and were using them like bosses. Also, John C. Wright is Catholic, and I could see some themes that resonated with me because of this. I'm definitely going to try out more of his books (especially his scifi, which is what he's most known for).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Travel Reading Part 5

For the last three months, I've been gone, walking across Canada with a group called Crossroads Pro-Life. I was very, very busy, but I did manage to read a few books. Blogging about them was a different story, however. So it's been so long now since I read many of them, that I thought I could do travel posts like I did last summer, and just write a couple sentences for each book.
Here goes:

"A Civil Campaign" by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grade: 3 stars, maybe 2 1/2?
Actually a bit disappointed in this one--the first time for this series, I think. I'm not sure, though, if it was the book itself, or the fact that I'd just started Crossroads, or the fact that I'd heard more hype for this one than the others. It was definitely more Romance heavy, though, even than Komarr, and some of the romances were not to my taste. I still think Ekaterin is the perfect wife for Miles, though, and I greatly enjoyed the parts with them and with the Emperor Gregor.



"Odd Thomas" by Dean Koontz
Grade: 4 stars
A thriller/mystery/paranormal, where a fry cook named Odd who can see the dead and hints of the future has to save a town from a horrible fate. Dean Koontz is Catholic, and it shows up in little interesting ways in his books, which is quite cool for me. The mystery/thriller/paranormal part was interesting (especially the bodachs!), but I think it was Odd's character and relationships that stood out to me most (unusual for this kind of book).



"Brother Odd" by Dean Koontz
Grade: 4 stars
Third book in the Odd Thomas series (I was told to skip the second). This time, the Catholic elements are even more obvious, as Odd goes to hang out at a monastery while recovering from the events of the first novel. The paranormal aspects were more interesting this time as well (those weird bone creatures! and the bodachs!). Great fun.



"The Ruins of Gorlan" by John Flanagan
Grade: 3 stars, maybe 2 1/2?
First book in the Ranger's Apprentice series. Fairly standard beginning to a children's fantasy series, with a few attributes that make it stand out. Although... I forget what they are because it's been so long, haha. Obviously doesn't stand out that much. But I know I really enjoyed the training sections (seriously, some day I'm going to write a story that's half training montages--I love them), and the character of Horace.


"The Burning Bridge" by John Flanagan
Grade: 3 stars
Second book in the Ranger's Apprentice series. This is where it first starts to become less of a cliched fantasy series, but one of the main parts of this is a spoiler, so I can't talk about it. Horace is still my favourite character, and I hope he just grows more awesome as the series progresses.

Komarr

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Story summary: As this is the first book in the Miles in Love omnibus, I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that this is the book where he meets his future wife. But of course, this is a book about Miles, so there are also plots and shenanigans and lots of trouble.
See the others in this series: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, The Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, Cetaganda, Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance, and Memory.

Thoughts: Right after reading this book, I left for a three month trip across Canada, and I didn't have time to upkeep this blog. Thus my memory is definitely fuzzy, and the review will have to be short and lacking in details.

Basically, it felt a little like a lead-up to "A Civil Campaign" (the next book in the series) in the same way that Brothers in Arms felt a bit like a lead-up to Mirror Dance. But it was still extremely good, as is all of the Bujold I've read so far. I couldn't imagine someone who could actually be Miles's wife, whom both he and I would like immensely. But I should have trusted LMB. Ekaterin was perfect.

Grade: 4 stars

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wizards

ed. by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois

Thoughts: Entertaining selection of short stories including several authors I really like: Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, etc.

Most of the stories didn't pop out at me as ones I particularly loved. But on the other hand, I didn't dislike any of them either, which is somewhat unusual. Here are a few notes on stories that stood out to me in one way or another:

"Holly and Iron" by Garth Nix. I always enjoy Garth Nix's stories. I didn't fall in love with this one as much as I sometimes do, but it was still a really interesting take on a combined Robin Hood/King Arthur re-telling.

"Color Vision" by Mary Rosenblum. Lots of fun. I liked the synesthesia aspect, and think this could also make an interesting full length work.

"The Ruby Incomparable" by Kage Baker. This was great, with lots of potential. I was a little put off by how equivalent Good and Evil were portrayed, but the characters were all interesting

"Fowl Tale" by Eoin Colfer. It was surprisingly funny, and I was reminded again how much I actually enjoyed the first bunch of Artemis Fowl books (though this story was not related to them, just by the same author).

"Stranger's Hands" by Tad Williams. The worst thing about this was the insinuation that religious people (specifically Christians, since the world seems similar to ours) are intolerant. To quote (pg. 122): "[T]he big one was plainly touched, perhaps even demon-possessed, and almost no one felt anything for them but horror and disgust." The only exception was the priest, who "had experienced a crisis of faith, leading him to doubt many of the most famous and popular tenets of his own religion." Because of this, "he was [...] unwilling to assume the guilt of someone else simply because they were not part of the familiar herd."

"Stone Man" by Nancy Kress. This was one of my favourites. There was lots of potential for a longer book here, and I'm going to look up Nancy Kress and see what else she's written.

"The Manticore Spell" by Jeffrey Ford. A lyrical and strange story. But I enjoyed it.

"Zinder" by Tanith Lee. The one I came closest to disliking. Zinder is basically just this perfect guy who helps everyone and everyone loves him. And that's it. Also the slight insinuation that religious people are deluded.

"Billy and the Wizard" by Terry Bisson. The other one I came close to disliking. It was creepy, but not in a way I enjoyed. The style was similar to a small child's story, which made it all the creepier.

"The Magic Animal" by Gene Wolfe. I liked this one, and could have really liked it, but in the end it was rather strange and I found it difficult to understand. This was a similar reaction to what I had with the novel by Gene Wolfe I read, The Sorcerer's House. I'm intrigued to read more of him, as he is considered (as it mentions in this book) "one of the best--perhaps the best--SF and fantasy writers working today." (pg. 299).

"Stonefather" by Orson Scott Card. Also really liked this one. Apparently it's related to several full length novels, which I'll now look into. The magic system and world-building was quite interesting.

Grade: 3 stars

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Would Machiavelli Do?

by Stanley Bing

Thoughts: I'm not quite sure of the point of this book. If it was to make fun of our celebrities, "ruling class", and own egos in an amusing way, then it succeeded, for the most part. If it were trying, as seemed to me, to bring Machiavelli's thoughts and ideas to a modern audience, then it definitely failed. The theme of this book was basically "be mean and do whatever you feel like doing, and you'll be successful". According to this book, what Machiavelli would do was "[B]e satisfied with nobody but himself" (pg. 45), "[D]o what he feels like doing" (pg. 64), "[R]espond poorly to criticism" (pg. 73), "[C]arry a grudge until the extinction of the cockroach" (pg. 74), and "[E]stablish and maintain a psychotic level of control" (pg. 123), among many others. Many of these are in direct contradiction to what Machiavelli actually wrote in The Prince, such as, "each of [these councillors] should know that, the more freely he shall speak, the more he shall be preferred" (pg. 111). Elsewhere (I can't find at the specific spots) he talks about the times a prince should delegate, should forgive, and practically the whole book is about a prince can't just do what he feels like doing. Machiavelli is so much more practical and rational and amoral rather than immoral than the Machiavelli portrayed in this book. I think people get caught up in the "better to be feared than loved" thing, and forget all the rest.

To summarize, it was funny (although not that funny), but not at all what Machiavelli would do.

Grade: 2 stars

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Memory

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Story summary: Miles finally reaches a bit too far, and one of his clever, seemingly-impossible schemes ends as expected for once: badly. He is stripped of what he holds most dear, and his life (as he sees it) is pretty much over. And then on top of this utter misery, things start to go subtly wrong on Barrayar.
See the others in this series: Shards of HonorBarrayarThe Warrior's ApprenticeThe Vor GameCetagandaBrothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance.

Thoughts: Most of my reviews for these books end up seeming rather similar. I exclaim that the book is marvellous, and then gush over the characters for a while. But one of the amazing things about this series is actually how different they are. Their excellent writing and fascinating characters are some of the few things that remain consistent (ignoring the similarities that obviously occur from taking place in the same world and focusing on pretty much the same set of characters). This one was more a psychological study/mystery story with some romance, as opposed to the adventure of the first few books, or the psychological study/adventure of Mirror Dance, or the more straight romance that I gather some of the future books are.
But I am not good enough to analyze it properly (you can see some really good analysis at Tor.com, though). So here goes the standard gushing:

This one had a lot of focus on Simon Illyan, which I was extremely pleased about. Illyan has been one of my favourites since he was first introduced in Shards of Honor, but there's been less about him than all my other favourite secondary characters (Cordelia, Ivan, and Gregor, mostly). But the main plot of this book centres around him, so he gets lots of character development. Also, Gregor's part in this book was absolutely lovely, and rather hilarious.

I was worried that I wouldn't like the later books in this series as much as the first few, with the emphasis on society and romance as opposed to adventure and frantic cleverness. But I should have trusted. Because, man, I love these books. They are just so good. They have depth and keen insights into human nature as well as lots of humour and adventure. I love almost every character that comes along, and I always finish feeling glowing and satisfied. They are everything I could want in a series. I'm sure they will remain among my favourite books for the rest of my life.

Grade: 5 stars

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Prince

by Niccolo Machiavelli

Thoughts: Well, I feel completely unable to offer up any insight on this. It did make me wish I'd been able to study English and Literature in university (as well as computer science). Then I would have had a firmer grasp on this, perhaps. It also would have been considerably more interesting if I were familiar with Italian history, as there was quite a lot of it present here.

I can tell that Machiavelli is definitely insightful on human nature, though. I have two small examples. Firstly: "For it is the nature of men to be bound by the benefits they confer as much as by those they receive." (pg. 55) I have noticed this myself, and it is very true. I believe there have also been studies giving much evidence to this. And secondly, he discusses how important it is for princes to appear religious and upright, "but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite." (pg. 85) It reminded me of today's politicians, who are always very careful to seem religious, but in reality, often are not much at all.

Also, as a side note, Lord Vetinari (from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series) is decidedly Machiavellian. Some people seem to think that means "cruel" or "self-absorbed and egotistical", but it really doesn't. (See also my review for What Would Machiavelli Do?.)

Grade: 2 stars for my personal enjoyment. More objectively, I have no idea, but considering it's so well-known, probably some very high number like 4 1/2 or 5 stars.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cast in Shadow

by Michelle Sagara

Story summary: Kaylin is the equivalent of a police woman in a fantasy city filled with interesting other races. Something from her troubled past comes back to haunt her, the strange marks on her arms start changing, and she has to team up with a man she hates and a man who's a dragon, to discover who's murdering children in the lawless city of her childhood.

Thoughts: A fun, interesting world with several intriguing aspects--including Dragons! Now that I've read Silence and Touch, I can see that Michelle Sagara has quite a distinct writing style. Reading reviews, it's obvious that some people find it fairly annoying; but in the end, although I find it somewhat distracting at times, I rather enjoy it. It can be a bit confusing, though. She doesn't explain a lot.

But it certainly looks like a promising series. There are a few too many eligible men hanging around for my taste (and not quite enough female friendship) but the romance seems like the really slow burn type, and I'm keeping an open mind about it for the present. I might end up quite liking it. Meanwhile, the diverse races and interesting politics can keep me going for a while, I think.

Grade: 3 stars

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mirror Dance

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Story summary: I don't really want to explain this plot in too much detail. Suffice it to say, it concerns Mark, who was introduced in Brothers in Arms. Thus, there is more twisty identity stuff, and lots of character development.
See the others in this series: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, The Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, Cetaganda, and Brothers in Arms.

Thoughts: Wow. This was...intense. And rather brilliant. Although I found the first bit slightly less interesting, but then everything starting from Barrayar afterwards was fascinating. It seems to be a lot of people's favourite of the series, and I can see why. The Warrior's Apprentice or The Vor Game might still be my personal favourite; I will have to do a re-read of the whole series to find out! hurrah! But this one is most certainly the darkest since the stuff with Bothari in Shards of Honor. And I mean dark in a good way; it's the gritty stuff that stays with me and makes me think.

As always with these books, it's the characters that have my heart and soul. And because much of this takes place on Barrayar, we get to see a lot of Cordelia and Aral again, as well as Gregor. And Ivan is around as always. The fascinating thing about this book was being able to see everyone from the outside, from Mark's point of view. Ivan's scenes, for instance, were amazing. I've always loved Ivan, and each book I love him more.This was definitely the best one for him yet. (I loved Cordelia's little comment about his intelligence.) And of course, we got to see Miles himself from the outside. Although I found what was most interesting was seeing the effect of Miles from the outside, as opposed to Miles himself. Here's a short paragraph concerning Miles a.k.a. Naismith (thought by Mark):

"He could always tell, instantly, when someone he met thought they were facing "Naismith." They all had that same stupid hyper-alert glow in their faces. They weren't all worshipful; he'd met some of Naismith's enemies once, but worshipful or homicidal, they reacted. As if they suddenly switched on, and became ten times more alive than ever before. How the hell did he do it? Make people light up like that? Granted, Naismith was a goddamn hyperactive, but how did he make it so freaking contagious?" (from page 315 of the Miles Errant omnibus)

Miles is one of those charismatic fictional people that reminds me a little bit of Eugenides, from Megan Whalen Turner's "Queen's Thief" series. They are "kings", in some sense of the word; they have a certain innate power over people (should they choose to exercise it). Strange, mad, brilliant people they are, and I love them. As his own mother says of him, "I grant you he's a genius, but don't you dare try to tell me he's sane." (pg. 473)

This definitely deserves its 5 star rating, for me. It encompasses the best of the character development of the series so far, which is saying something since character development is always superb in these books. And there are so many awesome little poignant scenes. For me, these are always the ones that stand out. Every once in a while I will like a book solely for its excellence overall, but it's almost always the presence of a few spectacular scenes (not really mattering what the rest of the book is like) that does it for me.

It makes me sad. Every book I finish in this series means one less book I have left to read. I also keep thinking, "Surely it must have peaked by now. The rest of the series after this book won't be as good--they can't continue being So. Darn. Good." But they do.

Note: all page numbers come from the Miles Errant omnibus.

Grade: 5 stars

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Revenge of the Witch

by Joseph Delaney

Story summary: First book in the "Last Apprentice" series. Thomas Ward leaves his home and family to become the apprentice of the Spook, an old man who deals with the supernatural. But being an apprentice, he naturally gets into trouble, and he soon comes to realize just what he has to deal with as a Spook. (Hint: there are witches. Evil, evil ones.)

Thoughts: I started reading this series because I read that it was an excellent series, and like Harry Potter, it got more adult as it went on. I did find it a bit young for me, but then, I never managed to properly read the first couple HP books either (though I consider myself a huge HP fan). So I'll continue for some books more, and see how it goes.

There did seem to be a bit of  anti-priest sentiment, and the sneak peek for the next book shows even more. It could be that there are good character reason for this--it remains to be seen--but I found it slightly annoying, and I hope there is not too much of it in future books.

Grade: 2 1/2

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Retro Friday Review: High Wizardry

by Diane Duane

Retro Friday introduction:
Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be a favourite, an under the radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print etc.

Story summary: The third book of the "Young Wizards" series, set after the events of So You Want to Be a Wizard? and Deep Wizardry. This time, it's Nita's little sister Dairine's turn. As she is only eleven, her acceptance of wizardry results in an explosion of power that sends her across the universe, to a planet of silicon where strange things are happening.

Thoughts: This is perhaps my favourite book in the entire series, tied with A Wizard Alone. Outer space! Computers! Artificial intelligence! (Except not really artificial in this case.) Emerging sentience! Learning of all the things! Everything I love, in one very exciting and well written book. Although it might take a particular kind of person to love this book as much as I do. The description of the rise of the nearby galaxy on pg. 160-2, though perhaps not poetical and interesting enough to quote here, moved me greatly. So did the whole part where Dairine first began interacting with the aforementioned emerging sentience. Man, as a computer nerd, that was amazingly cool.

Page 333 describes, in more poetical terms, this series's idea of heaven: Timeheart. "[A] reality that burned like fire but still was sweeter than water after thirst, and fed the thirst itself, and quenched it again in delight and more desire; a state so much more solid and real than mere physical being and thought that Nita held on to herself for delight and terror, afraid she would fade away in the face of it like a mist in full sun. Yet she wanted to see and feel more of it--for she knew that there was more. How many more realities like this, piled one on another in splendor, towered up into the burning depths of creation, each more concrete, more utterly real than the last?"
I found it interesting how similar some of these ideas sound to C. S. Lewis, especially the idea of "heaven" as described in The Great Divorce: it is more solid and concrete, more real than this reality. Part of it also sounds a little like the "further up and further in" idea from The Last Battle.

Also, a quick little note that isn't really important to anything: on pg. 114 there is a quick conversation with an alien where he says he comes from "Earth", and Dairine remembers that most sentient creatures call their planet "earth" or "the world" or something. Which totally makes sense. It has been a small pet peeve of mine that often in scifi/fantasy, the planets all have strange names, and are called thus even by the inhabitants of the planet. All except Earth, which is called Earth by everyone, including aliens. Biased, much?

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Brothers in Arms

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Story summary: Miles already has to deal with a dual personality in the form of Lord Vorkosigan/Admiral Naismith. And now a clone is added to the mix. So this is a pretty twisty book, with clones pretending to be lords pretending to be mercenaries.
See the others in this series: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, The Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, Cetaganda.

Thoughts: These are books I know I'll love. Every single one of them so far has been amazing and gripping and memorable. Perhaps this one slightly less so than some of the others, especially now that I've read Mirror Dance as well, which has some of the characteristics of this book, but is more amazing.

A few comments on the characters this time round: there is more awesome Miles of course, more Ivan (Ivan! I am terribly fond of Ivan. He might be my favourite character-that-isn't-Miles--except then I remember Gregor and Cordelia and Botheri...). Elli Quinn was interesting, but I think I'd like her a lot more if we could have had her point of view more. As it is, Cordelia is the only one of Bujold's female characters that I really like (so far). But I really like Cordelia, so that makes up for a lot.

Grade: 4 stars

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Maze Runner

by James Dashner

Story summary: Thomas wakes up in an dark box, with absolutely no memory of his life at at all. The box is opened, and he discovers himself in a small community of male teenagers, surviving in a enclosed area, outside of which is a huge, inescapable maze full of monsters.

Thoughts: This reminded me a lot of what I liked best about LOST: you start knowing absolutely nothing about anything, and slowly gather bits of information, although that doesn't help you much since everything is so strange and weird, and every new clue reveals a whole new set of questions. There were also a lot of similarities to the Gone series by Michael Grant, with teenagers struggling to survive on their own (and mostly failing). However, it was quite a bit lighter than both of those in some ways. Mostly just light and fun (despite the somewhat gruesome deaths) and full of intriguing mysteries. I didn't become attached to any of the characters, and there wasn't exactly much depth. I'd like to continue the series some time to get more answers (hopefully--unless it's too much like LOST), but I'm not rushing out to get them immediately.

Grade: 3 stars

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The House of Hades

by Rick Riordan

Story summary: Sequel to The Lost Hero, The Son of Neptune, and The Mark of Athena, as well as the first "Percy Jackson & the Olympians" series. In this one, everything gets worse, as the poor demigods have to fight with Titans, giants, strange cows, and sorceresses, as well as heartbreak, loneliness, fear, and much physical pain.

Thoughts: I never quite like Riordan's middle books as much as the the first and last books. In fact, even though I remember loving the first Percy Jackson series a lot, when I think back, I realize I only skimmed through some of the middle books. So I definitely think Riordan has improved since then. However, this still did feel very much like a middle book, and I think it was my least favourite of the new series so far. This series is also considerably less funny than the first series, which is too bad since it was one of my favourite parts of the first series.

But there was a lot of Nico in this one, which made me extremely happy. He has always been my favourite character. There was quite an interesting development in this one, which is now the talk of Tumblr. I don't want to spoil too much, but suffice it to say, I think it was handled in a fashion perfectly in keeping with the teachings of the Church.

Grade: 3 stars

Friday, March 21, 2014

Retro Friday Review: Deep Wizardry

by Diane Duane

Retro Friday introduction:
Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be a favourite, an under the radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print etc.

Story summary: The second book of the "Young Wizards" series, set after the events of So You Want to Be a Wizard?. Nita and Kit are helping their fellow wizards who live under the sea: the whales and the dolphins. They agree to take part in the Song of the Twelve, a sung ritual which will help keep the Lone Power at bay. But they realize they've gotten into more than they bargained for when they discover what's actually entailed in the Song, and meet one of the singers:  the master of all sharks, an ancient great white shark who's job is to end pain--usually by death.

Thoughts: This is a fabulous series, and definitely deserves more attention. The series was started far before Harry Potter, but sometimes gets unfairly compared to it. It really isn't very similar at all, except for that it's about some children learning about wizardry, and there's the whole Good vs. Evil thing going on.

As a Catholic, I really love some of the explanations of spiritual concepts in these books. They can be terribly inspiring. There is some weird philosophy/theology from a Catholic standpoint (e.g. the redemption of the Lone Power, or the Devil). But the good stuff more than makes up for that.

I love this series more and more as it goes on, with high points in the third book, High Wizardry, and the sixth book, A Wizard Alone. This particular book is excellent, of course, but I must admit, I mostly like it for Ed (short for ed'Rastekeresket t'k Gh'shestaesteh), the Master Shark and Pale Slayer. (In fact, the only characters I can think of right now that I like better or equally are Dairine's computer, Spot; Darryl, the autistic wizard from the sixth book; and Fred, the star from the first book.) He is dry and amusing and mesmerizing and altogether quite fascinating. He's sort of the equivalent of an atheist in this universe, as he doesn't believe in Timeheart (sort of the equivalent of Heaven) or the "Heart of the Sea" (the whale's source of wizardry). His character arc is one of the best ones among the secondary characters in this series as well.

Grade: 4 stars

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Testing

by Joelle Charbonneau

Story Summary: In a world recovering from a horrible, civilization-destroying war, Cia is one of the top students in her class, and is chosen to participate in the highly sought after Testing process, to see if she's suitable for the University. But there's more going on in the Testing than she thought, and she's thrown into death and danger and survival.

Thoughts: I thought this was quite derivative of The Hunger Games and other such YA dystopias. There was the post-disaster North America, divided into small areas which each focused on a separate societal task (called Colonies this time round instead of Districts). Then a bunch of teenagers get called into a series of game-type challenges where most of them die, and many of them kill each other. Plus, of course, there's the underlying issue of a very shady government trying to be evil under the guise of helping the nation survive.
It was a gripping, easy read, though. So there's that. And I enjoyed the first bunch of tests which involved intelligence related testing. Some day I'm going to come across a well-written book which actually delves into that sort of stuff in more detail.
I haven't yet decided whether I'm going to read the sequel, which came out recently. I think I might not, unless I hear really good things about it. Although I was interested in the Michal character, and I might want to see what happens to him. (He seems like the Cinna equivalent from THG, and Cinna was always one of my favourite characters from that series.)

Grade: 2 1/2 stars

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Story summary: Through three eras, three distant periods of Earth's history, a single blueprint is discovered, and treasured. And I don't want to give away too much more of the actual plot, so that's all you get. You can read the Goodreads description if you want more. It's nice and not spoilery.

Thoughts: For such an excellent, classic, and well-loved scifi novel such as this, I really don't feel adequate to properly review it. I'd need to spend more time thinking about it and discussing it with other people, and what with the enormity of school's stress right now, I just can't do that. It really deserves it, though. It's a fascinating book, which manages to portray insights into humanity as a whole, whilst still having interesting and complex characters.

 So here are a couple points we'll have to make do with:
--It gave me a similar feeling to the play "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard, in some ways. There were the contrasting eras of history, and how the future viewed the past. And there you were, outside it all and viewing the flow of time, and how certain small things unknowingly had huge repercussions.
--The view of the Church was excellently done as well, I thought. You could see how different ages of the Church had different difficulties and errors, but it still "flies thundering through the ages, [...] reeling but erect" (from Chesterton's Orthodoxy).
--The characters were a good example of these two above points. They were firmly trenched in their own period of history, with definitive faults and strange ways of thinking, but still people. I also got the impression that we would appear equally faulty and strange to those in the future, though I do think most people have a perhaps unconscious belief that we have now reached a new height of understanding in our age.
--I was happy to note that there was a short reference on page 213 to St. Augustine's evolution-like theory of creation. In fact, that whole section with the scientist discussing science with the monks was quite amusing and enjoyable. It quite annoys me how there is a tendency to think the Church as a whole was anti-science, when in fact, quite the reverse was generally the case.

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

by Oliver Sacks

Thoughts: A collection of interesting and unusual anecdotes about strange musical happenings related to brain functions,  from musical hallucinations to perfect pitch, brain worms to synesthesia. Oliver Sacks is a physician and professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry, and man must he have an interesting life if even half of these stories were true. (And they almost definitely are, by the way. This is a fairly well documented and scientific sort of book.)

Some interesting things I learnt:
--A professional musician's brain has an enlarged corpus callosum and increased volumes of grey matter in motor, auditory, and visuospatial areas of the cortex and cerebellum. It is more unique and recognizable than that of a visual artist, writer, or mathematician. (pg. 94) Similarly, there is a striking change in the left hemisphere of children who've had a only a year of violin training. (pg. 95)
--Physical music practice increases activity in various areas of the brain, but mental practice excites those same areas (i.e. going through the motions in your mind). (pg. 95)
--There is a theory that perfect pitch is inborn bust lost. Infants, apparently, rely much more heavily on absolute pitch cues, and adults on relative pitch cues. (pg. 129)
--On of the longer stories (pg. 188 ~ 205) was about a man called Clive Wearing who couldn't remember anything longer than a minute or so at most. And yet he could play entire pieces of music with as much fervour as before his accident. There is a documentary about him on Youtube which is quite interesting. There are also many other stories of people who have completely lost their memory, and yet still retain their memory for music, which is quite astounding. (See some of these on pg. 337-9.)
--Apparently there have been children that have had their entire left hemisphere removed from their brain, and yet still recovered speech and language. (pg. 220)
--Freud hated music. In his own words, "Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me." (pg. 293) I find this really interesting, and as someone who's not a huge Freud fan, I'm rather pleased to find him with such an unusual weakness.

Grade: 3 stars

Friday, February 28, 2014

Touch

by Michelle Sagara

Story summary: Sequel to Silence. The cliffhanger to the last book added a new, spoilery player to the mix. There are also more Necromancers to kill Emma, and a small, lost, autistic ghost to save.

Thoughts: I loved this just as much as the first one, although I'm not sure if technically it was as well written. There were a lot of potentially-distracting differing viewpoints, and it seemed less polished in some ways. But in truth, I really didn't care. This is the kind of story that appeals to me very personally, and the kind of story I would write if I were not writing the To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure type of book. There is the framework of a fantasy adventure story, but mostly it concentrates on the characters and their thought processes. The multiple viewpoints then just adds to the enjoyment instead of detracting like I feel it ought to.

Some notes:
--There was a romance this time around, but I loved it. The buildup was slow, and it wasn't necessarily the obvious choice. (Note: I realized after writing this that there were actually two, or even three if you included her mother. But I'm speaking of the one that developed in this book, not that one that was already established and then rekindled due to unusual circumstances.)
--I thought Eric was a bit shortchanged this time around. He was never my favourite character, but I think I could still like him quite a lot if some time were actually spent on him. There were some intriguing hints that there might be a lot more going on with him than suspected, though.
--I'm also not totally sure about Amy. On the one hand, she is undeniably awesome. But on the other, it seems like maybe we're told about how awesome she is rather than shown. I do like her, but I think I'd like her to have a bigger part in the next book.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Silence

by Michelle Sagara

Story summary: One fateful visit to her boyfriend's grave reveals that there is something special about Emma: she is a Necromancer, and can see and touch the dead. And then two newcomers show up at her school, who turn out to be hunters of Necromancers, sent to kill her.

Thoughts: Surprisingly delightful book. When I read the inside cover, it sounded like a stereotypical YA book without any particular redeeming qualities. But it came recommended by someone so I tried it out, and I'm very glad I did. On the surface, I suppose it is fairly normal for a YA book nowadays--there's the ordinary girl who turns out to be special, and surprise! All that paranormal stuff is real! She meets a boy who is involved with all the said paranormal stuff, then gathers a group of other teenagers around her, and together they fight evil. But this book has some important differences from the standard fare. Emma's boyfriend and father both recently passed away, and she is still suffering from the grief. Partly because of this, the characters' reactions are all much more realistic. There is no romance at all, for instance (although there is the distinct possibility of some in the future). This seems almost unheard of to me for this type of book. But even if there had been, although it would have lessened my opinion, I still would have had a lot of fun with this book because of the secondary characters. I love me a group of evil-fighting teens a la Buffy, and this bunch was awesome. I especially liked the autistic character, Michael. I believe one of Sagara's own sons is autistic, so he is portrayed very well, as a person in his own right with flaws and strengths.

P.S. Just for the record, because I like to keep track of these things for my own amusement, Chase was my favourite character here. I'm not totally sure why, but his kind of character really appeals to me when they are a secondary character. I'm not sure I would have liked him as much if he had taken Eric's place.
P.P.S. Also, Sagara is Canadian! The whole book takes place in Toronto. Go Canada!
P.P.P.S. I have also now reviewed the sequel, Touch.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Leap

by Jonathan Stroud

Story summary: Charlie's best friend Max drowned in pool, and she's not taking it very well. She hasn't brought up since the beginning the fact that she believes Max didn't drown, he was taken. By a strange creature who lived in the pool. Is Charlie right, is there something strange and supernatural going on here, and she is the only one who can save Max? Or is Charlie falling slowly more and more into insanity?

Thoughts: Short but sweet. Very creepy and atmospheric, with some uncertainty and ambiguity that I find intruiging. I love all of Jonathan Stroud's books, although I think he got better with time. The Bartimeaus trilogy are among my favourite books ever, and Lockwood & Co is looking to be a fantastic series. While this and Buried Fire and The Last Siege are good and enjoyable, they are also a bit short and don't stand out in the same way.

Grade: 3 stars

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Severe Mercy

by Sheldon Vanauken

Grade: 4 1/2 stars

Thoughts: Amazing book telling the story of how the author, "Van", and his wife Jean ("Davy") met each other, married, met C. S. Lewis, converted to Christianity, and suffered through Davy's illness and eventual death (not a spoiler--he gives it away in the first chapter).

Beauty was a very strong theme in this book. Their journey started with beauty, with a pagan appreciation of creation, and ended with a fuller, though more sorrowful, appreciation of Beauty Himself. Here's a quote on beauty from right near the beginning:

"[Beauty was] for him the link between the ships and the woods and the poems. He remembered as though it were but a few days ago that winter night, himself too young even to know the meaning of beauty, when he had looked up at a delicate tracery of bare black branches against the icy glittering stars: suddenly something that was, all at once, pain and longing and adoring had welled up in him, almost choking him. It was long afterwards that he realised that it had been his first aesthetic experience. That nameless something that had stopped his heart was Beauty. Even now, for him, "bare branches against the stars" was a synonym for beauty." (pg. 7)

Linked strongly to beauty, and also mentioned frequently throughout this book, were ideas on eternity and timelessness. I've always found Lewis's descriptions of this to be the most inspiring I have ever read, and Vanauken obviously has similar ideas. The description of the "moment made eternity" (pg. 69) on their boat the Grey Goose is too long to quote here, but it is profound and I understand completely what he is describing, though I don't think I've ever experienced it to quite the same degree.

There were of course many other interesting observations and discussions. I liked his thought near the beginning about emotions, that "maybe girls with their tears and laughter were getting more out of life" (pg. 8). I liked the idea they had that "one might wake the other in the night and ask for a cup of water; and the other would peacefully (and sleepily) fetch it", and that "[they] considered it a very great courtesy to ask for the cup as well as to fetch it" (pg. 31). I try to explain this idea to people when they're feeling bad for asking me to do something--that they are actually doing me as great a courtesy as I am doing them. They don't often want to accept that, but I was happy to see someone agrees with me at least. I also found his discussion on women vs. men on page 194 rather interesting, although too short. It's a topic I think about frequently, and haven't yet decided my thoughts on. I believe he discusses this further in Under the Mercy, though, so I shall look forward to that.

An added bonus are the letters by C. S. Lewis to Vanauken (shown in this book in their entirety), which are little gems of Lewisian wisdom. I am very glad I discovered them. I found his letter about homosexuality (pg. 146) particularly interesting. (You can find the relevant part of that letter online.)

I would love, in conclusion, to quote the last chapter on loss and beauty, sorrow and joy, but this is not the place for it. Go read it yourself.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

To Be Or Not To Be: A Choosable Path Adventure

by Ryan North, William Shakespeare, and YOU

Grade: 5 stars
Story summary: Hamlet. As a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Enough said.

Thoughts: I gave this 5 stars not because it was so terribly brilliant, or the best book I'd ever read, but because it is perfectly suited to me. This is pretty much the book I wish I had written. I mean, it's Hamlet as a Choose Your Own Adventure story. I've always loved Choose Your Own Adventure stories, and this one is hilarious and meta and so thick and full of good stuff--I completely love it. I don't want to spoil too much, but there is so much awesome in this that I think I'm fairly safe. So as some examples: there is the ending where you get to turn into a gamma-irradiated monster (pg. 274), or the one where you're suddenly in Macbeth (pg. 260), or super awesome ones like the one where you get 50 billion decapoints for doing such a great job (pg. 719). And there are tons of somewhat normal ones, where you settle down with Ophelia or do projects that are good for the economy or murder the whole town. There's also a way where you can follow the actual story of Hamlet, the choices marked with Yorick skulls.

(I always do the first run through one of these books trying to choose exactly as I would as myself in real life. Through this method I (as Ophelia) helped Hamlet put Claudius in prison by working through the legal system. I got 100 out of 100 LEGAL JUSTICE POINTS, but only 3 ADVENTURE POINTS, because it was sort of a boring ending. (pg. 160))

If I had to have any criticism, it would be that Ryan North didn't always seem to have the best understanding of some of the themes and happenings of Hamlet. As one example, he didn't seem to understand why Hamlet didn't want to kill his uncle while his uncle was praying. Which I actually find a rather fascinating insight on how far Hamlet has gone by that point. But since the whole book was rather silly and completely for fun, these little issues really didn't bother me.

Also, coming back to the awesomeness: every single ending is fabulously illustrated by a different artist (many of whom I recognize from webcomics and such on the internet (e.g. Ethan Nicolle from Axe Cop!!!)). Here are two sample illustrations for your viewing pleasure, but there are many more awesome ones.



P.S. This is just for me, or for people that have already read the whole book, but I wanted to make note of some of my favourite parts and endings so I could reference them later if I wanted to (and not have to search the whole darn book). This will be encoded in rot13 to prevent spoilers, but you can translate if you want.

V ernyyl guvax gung zl snibhevgr raqvat jnf ct. 356, jurer Ubengvb tbg gb unir uvf bja fznyy nqiragher. V'ir nyjnlf unq n fbsg fcbg sbe Ubengvb, rira gubhtu ur qvqa'g ernyyl qb zhpu va gur cynl. Naq V gubhtug gur jubyr "Lbh or TERNG" ynfg yvar jnf dhvgr fjrrg. Gur raq ba ct. 379 jnf nyfb npghnyyl engure vafcvevat va n fvzvyne jnl.
Naq gura gurer jrer gur qbjaevtug uvynevbhf raqvatf...  V guvax V jvyy svaq gur cvpgher bs Unzyrg ynlvat ba gur sybbe orvat "pnfhny" va sebag bs gur fgnoorq phegnva crecrghnyyl shaal. (Cvpgher ba ct. 607, sebz gur raqvat ba ct. 26.) Fvzvyneyl gur raqvat ba ct. 75 jvgu gur cvpgher ba ct. 163 (gubhtu sbe fbzr ernfba V svaq gur cvpgher ba ct. 607 fyvtugyl shaavre). Gur raqvat jurer lbh qrpvqr gb qvgpu ernyvfz nygbtrgure (sbetrg gur cntr..., cvpgher ba ct. 197), gur bar jurer lbh nf Bcuryvn trg n ernyyl zhfpyrl nez ("Naq va gur raq...vfa'g gung gur zbfg jr nyy pna ubcr sbe?") (ct. 624), naq gur bar jurer, ybat fgbel fubeg, vg gheaf bhg xvyyvat Cbybavhf, phggvat uvz hc, fghssvat uvz vagb ontf, naq chggvat gur ontf vagb fgrj oevrsyl bayl gb erzbir gurz vf vyyrtny? (ct. 541)
Gurer jrer whfg fb znal njrfbzr raqvatf... gur bar jurer vg gheaf bhg lbh'er va gur Tubfgohfgref zbivr abj (ct. 233), be gur bar jurer lbh ohvyq n znpuvar gb perngr n arj gvzryvar (ct. 229) naq unir gb qb pbzcyvpngrq zngu gb raq hc ba guvf arj gvzryvar (ct. 158) jurer lbh zrrg gur bgure irefvba bs lbhefrys (naq trg n ybat n yvggyr gbbb jryy...). V guvax glvat sbe svefg jvgu gur Ubengvb raqvat zvtug or gur bar gung fcrpvsvpnyyl gryyf lbh vg'f na njrfbzr raqvat: ba ct. 268, lbh, nf gur tubfg bs Unzyrg, wbva sbeprf jvgu lbhe qrnq sngure va n uhtr tubfg-ba-tubfg jner sbe gur fheiviny bs gur nsgreyvsr. Lbh ner yrnqvat gur nezvrf bs uhznavgl'f terngrfg tubfg vagb onggyr, naq znxr n fhcre qenzngvp cer-onggyr fcrrpu. "Yrg'f qb guvf, Unzyrg," Senaxyva Q. Ebbfriryg fnlf, pbpxvat uvf fubgtha. Guvf vf na njrfbzr raqvat.
Naq bs pbhefr, gurer jrer cyragl bs njrfbzr ovgf fcevaxyrq guebhtubhg gur obbx, orsber lbh rira tbg gb na raqvat. V ybirq Bcuryvn naq Unzyrg'f ybat "Jnlf gb Zheqre n Xvat" yvfg (ct. 538), naq gur jubyr "Pubbfr Lbhe Bja Nqiragher" fgbel jvguva guvf "Pubbfr Lbhe Bja Nqiragher" fgbel, naq nyy gur ersreraprf gb bgure  aba-rkvfgrag "Pubbfr Lbhe Bja Nqiragher" fgbevrf (yvxr gur njrfbzryl zrgn qvfphffvba jvgu gur nhgube ba ct. 10),  be gur yvggyr ovg ba ct. 337 gung vg gheaf bhg lbh pna'g trg gb guebhtu nal cngu (orpnhfr vg jnf vafregrq guebhtu gur gvzr-fcnpr pbagvahhz ol gur Bzrtn Cebgbpby...ybat fgbel). Naq gura gurer jnf gur ubarfg-gb-tbbqarff genvavat zbagntr! (ct. 508) V ybbbir genvavat zbagntrf!!!

Maaaaan, this P.S. went on for a long time... Sorry... this book makes me very enthusiastic, even when I'm just making notes for myself in code so noone can read them.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You

by Sam Gosling

Grade: 3 stars

Thoughts: Gosling, a professor of psychology, talks about how people's belongings can give you information about their personality. Quite a fascinating topic, I think. Although there was much less actually about that topic than I was expecting. Much of this book was taken up explaining a current theory of personality types and other such background information. I would have liked more actual data and scientific studies.

Nonetheless, there were some very interesting tidbits of information you could pick up, especially when it wasn't about what people's stuff actually says about them, but what other people think people's stuff says about them. For example, people think "the presence of art and books on art [infers] that occupants leaned to the Left" (politically). But that's not the case at all (although sports-related decor does correlate with leanings to the Right). (page 6) There were several long tables comparing what observers relied on to make judgments about people's personalities, and what they should have relied on. (page 93, 99, 172, & 182)  As a short example: people thought a bedroom's occupant was high on the neuroticism personality trait when the air in their bedroom was stale. In actuality, there is no correlation, although people with high neuroticism do tend to have more inspirational posters. (pg. 172)

Here are a couple other interesting things I learnt:
--The order in which you tell someone something, or see something in someone's house, really does matter. (Such as the example of estimating products with the large numbers first vs. small numbers (pg. 188).) This seems obvious, but it's something I unfortunately tend to miss sometimes in conversation.
--I was also reminded again about hindsight bias. If Gosling showed an audience the results of studies first, instead of asking them to guess the results, they were not nearly as surprised. (pg. 6)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RED Book Awards 2013

This year, in addition to the Top Ten (Or So) lists of covers and books, I've decided to do some other awards, to remember all the great stuff I was unable to properly cover in those lists. I've decided to do this even though it's way past the end of last year, and I'm so late now. But I want this summary, so here goes. (Prepare for many ties and winners greatly dependent on my not-very-good memory, since I have no time now to be thorough--also note, the runners up are not in any particular order.)

Favourite Central Female Character: Cordelia from Shard of Honor and Barrayar. I find it difficult to explain why I like her so much. Her compassion, her bravery, her "fountains of honor", her relationship with Bothari, her theism. That's a start, although not adequate.
Runners up: >>Kat from Stolen Magic (and its prequels): indeed incorrigible, I can only imagine what she'll be like when she grows up. >>Saturday from Hero: the more gruff and non-magical of the seven sisters, but it turns out just as prone to adventure. >>Seraphina from Seraphina: grumpy and music loving. >>Alexandria from Goose Chase: also delightfully grumpy.



Favourite Central Male Character: Miles Vorkosigan from The Warrior's Apprentice and most of the rest of the books in the Vorkosigan Saga. Miles completely stole my heart. Brilliant little man with enough "forward momentum" to conquer the universe.
Runners up: >>Peregrine from Hero: a very atypical male love interest (which I like). Also just a little bit strange, which is understandable given is rather unusual style of imprisonment.  >>Lockwood from The Screaming Staircase: at the end of this first book in the series, he is still a fairly mysterious character, so my views may change as I get to know him better. But he is already terribly charismatic, so my hopes are very high indeed. >>The Prince of Dorloo from Goose Chase: because he was sweet and and amusing and also rather unusual for a love interest.



Favourite Secondary Female Character: Wyatt from Vortex. She's socially awkward and brilliant and definitely my favourite thing about the series. Also, as a computer programmer myself, I appreciate the fact that she's a brilliant coder.
Runners up: >>Riza Hawkeye and Olivier Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist: Riza is the intensely loyal, battle-scarred lieutenant and Olivier is the cold, tough queen of the north. >>Diana from Light: complex, brave, and tragic in many ways. My favourite character from this series.




Favourite Secondary Male Character: a tie between Peter Wiggin from the Shadow series and Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist. Peter is my favourite thing about the Shadow series after Ender's Shadow--he's so terribly clever, and the epitome of a Slytherin. He also has all these issues he tries to overcome, and struggles with the cruel, sadistic, and whiny side of himself. And Roy! Roy is so cool. His fire powers, his past as a soldier on the wrong side of the war, his ambition and leadership qualities. Also fairly Slytherin.
Runners up: >>Greed and Pride and Kimblee from Fullmetal Alchemistsuch amazing villains. Greed has the best character arc, and was one of the most fun characters in the manga. Pride I don't want to say too much about because of spoilers, but he was surprising and had very interesting and frightening powers. Kimblee was amoral and so creepy, but a great character with a good ending. >>George from The Screaming Staircase: sarcastic and really funny. Can't wait to read more of him. >>Cain from Light: fascinating relationship with his brother Sam, and with Diana (one of my favourite secondary female characters), and like her, also a rather complex and tragic character. >>Gregor from The Vor Game: although he appeared briefly in some of the other books in the Vorkosigan Saga, this was the only one where he had a main part. And he had so much character development in this one--he seemed so very much a real person, though an emperor. >>Bothari from Shards of Honor and other books in the Vorkosigan Saga: such a very sad and tragic life. A very fascinating man. >>Death from Breath: he's an anthropomorphic personification of death, so of course I love him. Plus, his suicide issue story line actually sort of worked, which surprised me.



Favourite Ensemble: a three way tie between the Hale family from Ordinary Magic, the Battle School kids from the Shadow series, and Team Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist. The Hale family is very much like a real family, and every one of them is interesting and likeable. The Battle School kids are a bunch of brilliant, volatile, not-quite adults attempting to seize power, save the world, or both. Team Mustang (not their canon name), consisting of Col. Roy Mustang, Lt. Riza Hawkeye, 2Lt. Jean Havoc, 2Lt. Heymans Breda, W.O.Vato Falman, and MSgt. Kain Fury, is a group of military persons, each with their own specific talent, struggling together to defeat the evil besetting their country, and to help Col. Mustang gain command.



Favourite Romance: Saturday and Peregrine from Hero. I am very picky about which romances I like, but something that often allows me to enjoy one quite a lot is an element of surprise or uniqueness. Some of the gender stereotypes are reversed in this book, in a way I quite like. And both of them are not exactly socially ideal. Saturday is large and gruff and Peregrine is just a little bit odd after his long entrapment.
Runners up: >>A spoiler-y romance from the end of The Shadow of the Giant: it comes as somewhat of a surprise, but I happened to love it. In fact, it may have tied for first if it weren't for the fact that I can't talk about it without spoiling it. Sorry. >>Goose Chase: very sweet. >>Also, I don't really know if I can include the barely hinted at romances in Ordinary Magic, or the not-exactly-canon romance between Roy and Riza in Fullmetal Alchemist, but I love them immensely, and it's my awards post, so I'm including them.



Favourite World: The Touchstone Trilogy. Discovering the alien world Cassandra's diary was definitely my favourite thing about these books. Especially the first one and a half books. I found it slightly less interesting when Cassandra stopped learning quite as much and began to settle down more.
Runners up: >>A Corner of White: definitely fantasy here, what with the animate colours and all that, but really fun. >>The Giver: really good building of a dystopian-masquerading-as-utopian world. >>Seraphina: Dragons! Music! Some of the world building struck me as pretty strange (sort of pseudo-Catholicism?), but there was enough cool stuff to make this a runner up. >>All books in the Vorkosigan Saga: I think these books are less about the world building and more about the characters and ideas, but there were some really interesting contrasting cultures, plus spaceships.



Favourite Surprisingly Good Book: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I really didn't expect to like this one, since I was given it by a co-worker who had no idea of my taste in books. And then I didn't like it for the first little while, but because of the situation, I was forced to continue. And boy, was I glad I did. It was a fascinating story of a man's survival through war, being stranded in the middle of the ocean, being imprisoned in Japan, through starvation, despair, and loneliness. But it was one of the more uplifting and hopeful books I've read as well, and fully deserves this award.




Favourite Non-Fiction (Not Including Unbroken Because I Just Gave it an Award): I enjoyed all the non-fiction I read this year a lot, so this was a very difficult category to choose. Eventually I decided upon Of Other Worlds by C. S. Lewis. I didn't enjoy most of the stories included (which is why it got 4 1/2 stars instead of 5 stars), but everything else was fabulous, in the typical Lewis way. I sort of suspect this one won mostly because it was the most recently read so I remembered it more than the rest. But I needed some way of choosing a favourite, so I'm ok with that.
Runners up: Reflections on the Magic of Writing, Reflections on the Psalms, Ender's World, Music, Language, and the Brain.



Favourite Book Not Getting Enough Awards: There are a number of books that I really quite enjoyed, but they just never managed to trump the really good ones. So in order to showcase a book that I feel has been rather neglected, I'm giving this award to Darkwater. Darkwater was atmospheric with interesting characters and a good twist. Not quite as in depth as it could have been, perhaps, which is why it hasn't shown up on any lists so far. But I really enjoyed it and want it to get some sort of mention.
Runners up: >>How to Lead a Life of Crime: lots of fun. About a school for clever people, which is one of my favourite tropes. >>The two Skyship Academy books: great brotherly relationship, fun adventury-sci-fi plot, someone with the power of Fire. >>The Spark: complex characters, detailed and realistic world, very well written. >>The Discernment of Spirits: helpful discussion of Igantian rules. >>The Princess Curse: unusual romance, good main female character. >>Game: creepy and tense. I really like this series, and not only for their beautiful, blood-splattered covers. >>And more. But this is already too long. Seriously, I liked a lot of books this year.