Friday, February 28, 2014


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


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)