Sunday, April 27, 2014

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Mini HP6 Review:
Did not disappoint. The story reaches a crescendo through Book 6 of the HP series, and I raced through the latter 400 pages.

Let's see, what "happens"... Ron and Hermione grow up a little bit, Harry grows up a lot, Ginny becomes a "young lady," and we can see why she's so popular. Professor Snape shows some true colors and perhaps some strength. Professor Slughorn shows more colors and perhaps some strength. We see Draco's pressure. We see Hagrid's pain. We see Dumbledore's love and we hear Fawkes' pain.

We laugh, we cry, we hope, and we feel anger.

Although I love this series, i feel that Book 6 is where Rowling takes a step up. This is the best book in the series (in my humble opinion) because the characters show the most dynamics and the storytelling shows the most range. So much happens in a "mere" 600-some or 700-some pages (depending on your version).

Eager to finish the series again!
I will be taking my time w/ Book 7 this time around...

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

I'm not going to say too much about this... but I read it at the perfect time... about a month after leaving my busy-all-the-time, perma-attached-to-phone, high-stress law job for a wonderful job working for the courts.

This was my first Kinsella, and I will definitely read more! She's funny and at times poignant and flippant and thoughtful and easy. Although of *course* not everything in the book is realistic, including sort of one of the underlying premises (it is a *fiction* after all), but Kinsella does a good job of capturing the essence of both perspectives.

What was most impressive to me was that I noticed that my pace of reading the book matched the pace of what was happening in the book.. i.e., it was a little frenetic at the start and again at the end, but slowed down to enjoy the roses in between.  I think this is a mark of a good story teller - the ability to control your reader's flow.

Definitely recommend to ANY female lawyers (and probably a fair few male lawyers as well), or anyone who has a lot of job-related stress or used to have a lot of job-related stress, or anyone who just wants to be entertained. A super quick read, and fun to boot.

FOUR of five stars.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Three-fer: Daughter of Smoke and Bone; The End of Mr. Y; and Shades of Grey

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Briefly: This book was highly recommended.  One of those articles with recommendations for people who liked other popular books, like The Hunger Games or Twilight.  I don't remember the exact comparison...

Regardless, coming off of the Hunger Games trilogy and even Divergent, Daughter of Smoke and Bone was quite the let-down.

What's good: the idea! kind of. It's sort of a new mythology, explaining so-called angels and demons. It's a God-less world; there's another explanation. Ok, I can dig some creativity. And there's this long-time war between them, and of course your protagonist and her love interest are caught in the middle somehow. I'm not going to say how, because that's sort of the book.  But suffice it to say there's a lot of romeo & juliet influence in here.

What's bad: the romantic aspect. it was rather predictable and just a whole lot more of the same that has already supersaturated the market.

It wasn't terrible, it was just terribly annoying. UNLESS you really dig teen-romance. In which case, you will love this book!  So... yeah. It was fine to pass the time. I was eager to be done. I will likely read a synopsis of the other 2 because I really don't think I could justify the time to read the other 2 in the series...

THREE AND A HALF of five stars

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

Briefly: I've been meaning to read this book for a while. It just sounded so interesting.  This book had GREAT promise when it started. And I think the height of its promise partially resulted in the fall of its disappointment. I loved this book when I started it and through about half of the book. I felt attached to it in something akin to the way I had felt attached to Ready Player One. And then it just took a nosedive.  I don't know what happened.

You know when you read a book that's interesting and creative and smart, and the author puts a lot of intellectual stuff in there that's also interesting, and it doesn't weigh the book down? and you feel like you're learning new things, and it's just wonderful? that's the first half of the book. All the additional science information and philosophical information was good, interesting, and appropriately "lengthed."

And then it was like the author felt like this was her chance, she was going to EDUCATE her readers, darnit, whether they wanted to be educated or not. The science and/or philosophical information stopped being relevant to the plot, stopped assisting with the movement of the story, and started feeling like the author's own opinions and soliloquies, rather than those of the actual characters.  And it was too much and weighty and created disappointment.

The story of the book is about a book called The End of Mr. Y, written by an author who engaged in "thought experiments" (considers some hypothesis, theory,[1] or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences), and who is supposedly brilliant. Supposedly, because all copies of the books, save 1 in a vault in a foreign country, have disappeared. Supposedly, because anyone who has ever read the book has allegedly succumbed to the curse and died. Supposedly, because no one really knows. Then, our protagonist stumbles upon the book and finds herself on a rapidly accelerating roller coaster to the ultimate thought experiment.

Intriguing concept, and partially excellent executed. Thomas creates a few very vivid characters, and although her protagonist, Ariel, has been criticized by some readers as non-realistic, I strongly beg to differ. I know her -- I've spent many hours having those types of conversations with her. She is realistic, even if she's not your "typical" heroine. And I love Adam, one of her co-stars. I mean, he was expertly drawn. The idea was great, the characters were great, and the execution was, therefore, disappointing.

If you're super philosophically read, you might enjoy this anyway. But for most people, it became more of a task than an enjoyable reading experience. Ultimately, it is a good book -- an intellectual modern sci-fi/fantasy. But not great.

Overall, THREE AND A HALF of 5 stars.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

This is another one I've been meaning to read for a while.

The book is classic dystopian; yet, although the narrator (Edward Russett) is only 20, it's not a YA book. Another great idea. In the future, you are what you see. Vision and perception have "evolved" to the point where people can see only the brightest versions of all colors; but, otherwise, they can only see their color. Color is distributed by a central city and paid for, and people marry "up" or "down" in order to increase their stance on the chromatic scale, to make money (marrying down usually means you get paid by the family you're marrying), or, on rare occasion, for love.

Eddie Russett is a red. His life is on the eve of taking the adulthood test that determines just-how-red-are-you. If he scores above 70%, he will become a prefect, his dream. In such a case, he will also get to marry Ms. Constance Oxblood, up on the chromatic scale and societal standing, to whom he is partially betrothed. (i.e., he's committed to her, but she has not yet made a commitment to him).

Eddie Russett, however, has a curious mind that has gotten him into a bit of trouble. He has decided to take his punishment (rather than pay his way out of it), and goes with his father to a small town on the ouskirts to learn humility whilst purportedly completing a chair census. His father will be replacing the town (East Carmine)'s "Swatchman" -- which is their version of a doctor.

After arriving in East Carmine, Eddie learns that things do not always exist as they appear, and his curiosity begins to get him into more and more trouble. Add to the mix Tommo, a sneaky untrustworthy friend, Jane, the gray who he's started to fall for, Violet, the purple he is supposed to want, a murder, a national figure snooping around, ghosts, deathly swans, people who don't exist, and carnivorous plants, and you have Shades of Grey.

It was enjoyable to read. At times, it was quite the page turner -- particularly in the last third-to-quarter.  I didn't love Eddie, though I'm not sure we're supposed to. I didn't love Jane, but again, maybe that is by design. I didn't love Tommo... I didn't love... yeah, I didn't love any of the characters. They were all so realistically flawed. But I cared what happened to them. And how.

And I REALLY wanted to know what was happening and why and how and... I completely got caught up in Eddie's curiosity.
This is not a mindless novel. Recommend to people looking for a slightly more complex dystopian novel.

Note: this is the first in a trilogy! (I didn't know that until I finished the book!) However, it ends satisfyingly enough that it can stand on its own.

FOUR of five stars.