Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay was the third (and supposedly final) book in the Hunger Games Triology. Unlike some other young adult series, e.g. Harry Potter and Twilight, Hunger Games did not improve as it went on. Neither the author nor the books seemed to mature and the first book was probably the best. The final denouement was not the inevitable result of what had come before, the characters didn’t grow, and the ending was neither optimistic nor realistic. It was merely the end. However, all three books were enjoyable quick reads.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I didn’t expect the lead characters to be back in the arena themselves for the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, but she figured out a way to get them there.  Now I’m wondering if she can pull it off for the third book.  There was plenty of excitement and adventure in this book, and her story lines gain momentum when the games are being played.

The ending seemed hectically rushed.  There were no long chapters of wrapping up and resolution, just a couple of quick paragraphs to catch the reader up on a wealth of backstory that had been occurring unseen (though not completely unguessed) throughout the book.  Now we wait for the third installment (not yet published) to find out how she wraps up a complex set of story lines.  The romantic triangle seems unsolvable.  It’s hard not to root for Peeta since he’s the love interest we see the most of.

The Hunger Games

Warning: spoilers (if you can’t guess the ending by chapter 2)

The Hunger Games is the first book in the latest sub-adult series to hit it big with audiences of all ages.  I didn’t realize that Hunger Games was considered Young Adult until I went to look for its sequel and had to find my way over to that section.  Compared to the early Harry Potters, which were clearly written for children, or Twilight, which has unquestionable appeal for teenage girls, Hunger Games seemed pretty adult to me.  Yes, the protagonists were children/teens, but the writing level was up to adult speeds and the themes are pretty grown-up.  Except that, as with Twilight, no one is getting it on.

My only gripe with Hunger Games is that it’s monumentally predictable.  That she will win, we can guess.  That somehow he’s not going to die either, we can assume.  That they’ll fall in love?  Well, she managed to surprise me there only by ending the book without a decision.  I didn’t realize going into this book that it was a series.  I now see the impending love triangle, but I also see a lot of potential for some more serious themes.  Future installments won’t just be a glimpse into the future of reality TV.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer

As with the Harry Potter series, the books in the Twilight series kept getting longer and more adult, so it was no surprise that Breaking Dawn weighed almost enough to break your wrists. Although this was the book where the characters finally got down and dirty (very off-stage), it was ironically the least sexy of them. There was a lot of plot to get through.

Being personally more about passion and adventure than motherhood and family, I didn’t initially care for the direction the plot was taking, but I got caught up in it and the story arc is brought to a satisfying close. Bella is much less irritatingly helpless and clingy than she’d been in the first three books, which was a refreshing change. Jacob gets a chance at center stage and that was also a refreshing change. Edward is still Edward only not quite so protective (thankfully).

I didn’t find myself re-reading this one over and over but I did enjoy it and the series as a whole.

Eclipse and stuff I didn’t finish

When I got Eclipse, the third book in the Twilight series, in the mail I was in the middle of reading various other things. I tried to hold off. I really did. But after it sat there calling to me for about a week I gave in and devoured it in two days, then spent the usual next two days re-reading parts of it. I’ve stowed it away on the bookshelf now in an attempt to stop re-reading it before I have it memorized.

This one started slowly and I thought perhaps the series was losing steam, but it got plenty steamy. I regretted the lack of Edward in the last book but it was worth it to set up the Edward/Bella/Jacob triangle which is so deliciously drawn in this book. I anticipate even better things to come in the fourth book, which is already on the way.

The Twilight series is compelling. When I’m reading one of these books, I’m actively reading it. It doesn’t sit on the end table next to me night after night while I watch TV or do crossword puzzles or go for a walk. It floats into my hands as soon as I get within gravitational pull.

“Good for you” books can be compelling too. They can also be good without being compelling by being interesting, thought provoking, beautiful, informative, or revolutionary Unfortunately, many of them aren’t any of those things. Not everything with footnotes or an introduction by some literary critic I’ve never heard of is actually worth reading. For that matter, not every trashy novel is even minimally entertaining.

To wit:

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens: OK, this isn’t horrible and I’ll finish it, but I’ve seen it ballyhooed as Dickens’ best work and it’s nothing but silliness. A Tale of Two Cities, now that’s good stuff: moving, compelling, interesting, heart-breaking. The Pickwick Papers are a disjointed series of humorous sketches sometimes connected by a plot string no thicker than “let me tell you a story.” It was originally published serially, which is exactly how it reads. This was the sitcom of its day. Not that The Simpsons can’t be genius, but will it ever become the sort of “classic” that gets taught in school?

The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books: Guess I thought I’d get some insight from this one, either about what might be interesting to read or what might inspire me to do some good writing. I didn’t get either. I got lists. Literally, lists. This book is interesting only if . . . never mind. It’s not.

The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights: This is one of those classics that’s best not read at all. We have a cultural understanding of what it entails: Aladdin and the lamp, genies, flying carpets, Scheherazade telling stories to stay alive. The reality is a misogynistic, racist cesspool of hate and stereotypes. Women can’t be trusted and will cheat if left alone for five minutes. (Men get to have unlimited numbers of wives and concubines, so their faithlessness doesn’t come up.) Not only that, but given half a chance they’ll have sex with a black man, and apparently having one of your hundreds of wives cheat on you with a black man is so unimaginably horrible (despite the fact that it seems to happen almost constantly), that it entitles you to lay mayhem on him, her, and all the women and black men you can reach. This is a thoroughly disgusting, unreadable compendium of vaguely familiar stories.

Imperial Ascent: Mountaineering, Masculinity, and Empire: Although I don’t climb mountains, most of the climbing literature I read is about mountain climbing. Rock climbing doesn’t seem to make for good stories. Too short for one thing, and we don’t die nearly as often for another. The focus of this book is on the amazing adventures white men have had in conquering the mountains and far off reaches of the world. This being 2009 and not 1909, I’ll assume there was some deeper purpose to focusing so excessively on what white men were doing and why. I couldn’t make myself read the overly scholarly text closely enough to figure out what that purpose was. All I know is that the word “masculinity” appeared approximately once per paragraph in the introduction. So I skipped forward to where I hoped the real stories would begin and found a continuation of overly quoted and footnoted text and yes, the word “masculinity.” So I quit. You don’t need to read this book. In case you’ve been wondering, I’m going to explain why our early adventurers are all white men: they were the ones with the freedom to go climb mountains. Give women and minorities permission to leave the house and the time and money to do it and guess what? We like to climb mountains too. I’ll bet we like to do it in exactly the same proportions as white men. Mystery solved. 200 pages saved.

Ten Thousand Islands: So I’m leaving on a jet plane and I ask my friend Sheila for something to take with me. She has more books than can fit in a single room if you stack that room from floor to ceiling all the way around, and I mean that literally. So she picked out a good beach book (well, forest book in my case but it seems like the same thing), only I couldn’t get more than a few chapters in before I started just not giving a damn. It’s supposed to be a mystery but things weren’t moving along and the characters were supposed to be endearingly quirky but they just seemed overdrawn and the setting was supposed to be exotic but it’s only exotic to people in their living rooms. Perhaps I’d have done better with this on the beach. Somehow having people screaming “Bear!” outside your tent while you’re reading undermines the suspense of how the intrepid PI’s fist fight is going to come out.

I say all of this because my blog would suggest that I’ve been reading nothing but vampire porn lately, which isn’t true. I just haven’t been enjoying anything but vampire porn lately.

New Moon by Stephanie Meyer

Not as good as Twilight, though it was an even faster read if such a thing is possible. I did 500+ pages in under 24 hours. Not much brain chewing going on. The trouble with New Moon is that it didn’t have enough Edward. I don’t have the antipathy for the protagonist that some people have, but she is a teenaged girl. In other words: the least interesting thing on earth. The backup love–werewolf Jake–is pretty hot too, but she’s not biting (ha ha). Overall this book has the feeling of a setup for books to come. The plot must advance.

I wonder, and perhaps Meyer will get to this, if Edward will still love Bella when she stops smelling so good, i.e. becomes a vampire too. Why doesn’t Bella worry about this?

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

So it’s a romantic teen novel about vampires, not something I’d normally read. But I was ultimately captivated by Harry Potter and I really enjoyed The DaVinci Code, so it’s worth it to take my nose out of the air now and then and see what the TV-crowd is reading. When you think about it, these uber-popular books must be pretty entertaining to get so many non-readers reading.

Twilight is a chick book, no mistake, and I was chick enough to be reeled in. It’s superficial and slow-moving but oh-so-sexy. After I read it, I went back and read the chapters in the middle where they’re falling in love straight through all over again. Ah, those first throbs of new love. What can beat that?

The amazing twist to the romance/passion is that the author manages to pull it off without ever having her teen protagonists do more than chastely kiss. Men should read this for the road map.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien

Well, you knew it was coming. I read The Hobbit so the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was the next logical step. I suppose I read all this as a child or young adult. I own the books and that usually means that I read them. After the Hobbit, LOTR wasn’t very familiar though, so perhaps I didn’t.

The obvious comparison to make is to the Harry Potter series. I guess I must be jaded by today’s fast-paced world because I found LOTR slow and uneventful. They spend an awful lot of time walking around. Tolkien must have had some kind of name fetish because there are entire paragraphs where he seems to do nothing but name things, in different languages and different times. So that Aragorn and Strider and Elfstar (or something like that) are all the same person in addition to more oblique references like “the Lord of Rohan” that I’m always a little vague on.

Then there are the pages of environmental description. I’m sure it was all very beautiful and clear in Tolkien’s mind, but in mine it’s murky and unnecessary. I think that if you described my own living room to me I wouldn’t be able to picture it and I wouldn’t care either. Tell me about the people in the living room and what they’re thinking and doing, please.

So LOTR has got a lot of lore. It’s a treasure trove of lore. You can map it and analyze it and create alphabets and languages, and people have done all that. But it’s lacking the human angle (and not just because they aren’t all humans). The characters perform amazing feats of bravery by the end of the series, but it feels more expected and less a result of character growth than in the Harry Potter series.

I enjoyed The Hobbit the most. It was less grand and more personal and we were inside Bilbo’s head as a part of the adventure. Nevertheless, I had no trouble finishing the trilogy despite its great length and I can understand why it has endured for so long.

The entire Harry Potter series

Having finished the last Harry Potter book, I decided to make good on an old vow and read the whole series back to back. It only took about two weeks–which is saying something about how addictive they are–and I was sorry to be finished. I think I became more attached to the series as it went on.

Certainly the series became more adult, and also darker. I was surprised on re-reading the first one to remember how humorous and harmless it was. Rowling has said that her books grew up with her readers. The theme gets progressively more serious as the stakes are raised. In the first book you can hardly believe anyone will ever die; by the last book they’re dropping like flies. Harry grows up while remaining true to his character. His development as a reluctant hero is well planned and executed. The only thing that doesn’t advance much is romance. Seventeen year olds are a little more sexually active than the occasional “snog” but she does move them along the timeline from ick to interest.

I was most interested in seeing how the plot hung together. I’ve heard that Rowling plotted the entire series right from the beginning but that was hard to believe. I was sure I’d spot a lot of holes, but I didn’t. If anything, I discovered more complex ways in which the series of events were linked.

For example, at the end of the last book, Neville kills the snake using the sword of Gryffindor. On my first read, I barely registered that fact. I liked that she’d used Neville but didn’t worry about how he’d come to have the sword. As I started re-reading, enjoying how the Neville character had been developed, I realized that Griphook had the sword by the end of the book. Aha! I thought, a major mistake on her part. It wasn’t until I got back to that spot in the last book again that I realized Neville pulls the sword from the sorting hat (which Voldemort has mockingly caused to be placed on his head), just like Harry pulled it from the hat in the first book. Dumbledore told Harry that only a true Gryffindor could have pulled the sword from the hat. So Neville, whose place in Gryffindor was intially questioned, bravely confronts Voldemort; Voldemort, who doesn’t understand the nobler emotions, gives him the hat; and voila! the sword is there, the snake gets killed by a magical weapon, and it’s not deus ex machina, it’s inevitabile. And hugely satisfying.

So either Rowling intended all along for Neville to kill the final horcrux with Gryffindor’s sword after pulling it from the sorting hat, or she kept really good track of clues and loose ends and pulled them all together at the end in a blazing act of inspiration. Either way, my (sorting) hat’s off to her.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

I was never a Harry Potter maniac but I’ve read and enjoyed the whole series. One of them got me through my first week of quitting smoking (and I heartily endorse them for that purpose).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a fitting finale for the series. She really tied the ends together and gave plenty of opportunities for joyful tears. I particularly liked Neville Longbottom’s contribution to the ultimate showdown. My only complaint is that I’d have appreciated a longer “wrap-up” because I was sorry to see the characters go and wanted to relish their happiness a little longer. I’d also have liked more Harry/Ginny interaction because what little there was was so nicely done, but perhaps that’s the secret to a good romance.