A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (11 September β€” 12 September)

A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books as a kid, probably because it has a cool girl protagonist and also a super-smart five-year-old, both of which I wanted to be/have been. πŸ™‚ I re-read it once in undergrad and I remember liking it, but I don’t remember it going by so fast! I think I was also reading lots of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books at the time, so it probably didn’t feel so rushed.

Anyway! Like you don’t know (and if you don’t, you should fix this immediately!), this book is about a girl called Meg Murry who has the hard life of any teenager, plus a little bit: she hates school, she’s constantly picked on and getting in fights, and her dad has disappeared amongst rumors that he’s left his wife for another woman. Fun! Meg doesn’t believe that last one, so when her super-smart little brother, Charles Wallace, introduces her to some crazy old ladies who say they can help get Mr. Murry back, she’s game. But, of course, this adventure requires some space-folding and other-planet-visiting and moral-learning.

Reading it now, I can see some problems with the book: namely, everything seems to happen in the span of a day and there’s no time to digest what’s happening before something else happens. And the moral-learning part is more than a little heavy-handed. But I think it’s perfect younger young adult reading and the images of the book (especially the sameness of everything on Camazotz) have stuck with me since childhood, so that’s a point in L’Engle’s favor.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge, My Year of Reading Dangerously)

See also:
Library Queue
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger (13 August)

-contented sigh- I love this book. You should, too. Go read it, now.

What? That’s not enough information, you say? Well. Fine.

I first read this book three years ago while in New Zealand and had to tear myself away from the pages to go hang out with people in Auckland, which is one of my favorite places in the world, so… yeah. I’d been wanting to re-read it for awhile, but I worried it wouldn’t hold up to a second reading, but then the movie was coming out and other people were reading it and I really wanted to read it again so I did! And it held up just fine.

This is a giant sappy love story about a girl called Clare who meets her future husband, Henry when she’s six and he’s thirty-six. But Henry doesn’t meet Clare until he’s twenty-eight and she is twenty. Right. Because Henry randomly travels through time, going to seemingly arbitrary wheres and whens. The story flows mostly chronologically through Clare’s life, with brief jaunts elsewhen here and there, and describes Henry and Clare’s meetings and courtship and attempts (successful and failed) to be a normal couple.

It’s really sweet and made me cry a whole bunch at three in the morning while I was finishing it, even though I knew what was going to happen, even though everyone and his brother knows what’s going to happen, which I think is a strong point of the novel. Or I’m just a big ol’ sap. Or both. You never know.

Rating: 10/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

See also:
The Soul of the Reviewer

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket (10 August)

The power was out at our house from Monday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon, which was super-lame, as Scott and I are both rather in love with our computers. And when we’re not on the computer, we’re snuggling in front of the TV. Luckily for us, I had recently put The Bad Beginning on my iPod (a harrowing experience, actually, but it’s all better now!), so we hooked Travis (the iPod) up to Hobbes (our stereo system) and listened for two and a half hours (such a tiny book!).

This was one audiobook experience I really enjoyed! I think it helped that I had already read the book (and also that it’s a fairly simple story), because I didn’t feel like I had to concentrate terribly hard to keep up. Also, it’s narrated by Tim Curry, whom I adore, and the dialogue is actually done by several other voice actors so I wasn’t ever confused as to just who was talking. And there were some excellent ambient sound effects that just drew me even more into the story. It was like a radio play, and very well done. I highly recommend it.

I also highly recommend this book, if you haven’t already read it, and the whole series, really. The Bad Beginning kicks off the story of the Baudelaire children, who quickly become the Baudelaire orphans when their parents die in a fire that also consumes their home. The Baudelaire parents’ wills specify that the children are to be sent to live with their closest (in distance, not relation) relative, which leads them to live with a distant cousin, Count Olaf, on the other side of town. Olaf is terrible to them, but no one will help the children out of their situation and they have to do what they can themselves.

And, as this series is called A Series of Unfortunate Events, I’m sure you can guess that their lives don’t get much easier. In case you had doubts, the narrator (Lemony Snicket) reminds you many times that things are going to go badly and why don’t you just put this book down and go do happy things, which is not quite as entertaining the second time ’round, but is still good for a giggle here and there.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

See also:
Back to Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling (25 July β€” 27 July)

My goodness, this book was long. How did I read this in one night when it first came out? A mystery of the universe, that.

So. HP4: A New Hope. Harry goes to the Quidditch World Cup, where quidditch happens but also some bad wizards do bad things and then the mark of the Bad Wizard shows up in the sky and everyone flips. Then, at Hogwarts, there is a Tri-Wizard Tournament going on with four champions β€” someone put Harry’s name in the Goblet even though he’s underage, and now Harry has to fight dragons and merpeople and a hedge maze. But, oops, at the end of the maze Harry gets transported to meet the Bad Wizard, who does some magic and is now scarier than ever. Then three more books happen.

A few days ago, I would have told you with absolute certainty that this is my favorite Harry Potter book. Now I’m not so sure. Azkaban may have beaten it this go round, and of course there are still three more books to go. But it was really long, and even though it was really long most of the scenes still felt truncated! I had forgotten just how short the World Cup really is, how little there is to the Tournament, how much I don’t care about house-elves… bah.

But! I did like the fact that, knowing the story well, I could see how things would fit into the ending β€” Winky at the World Cup, Moody and his dustbins, Bartemius Crouch in Snape’s office. And I like that all of the help Harry was getting was really part of the story, instead of convenient to the end (Dobby bringing Harry gillyweed vs. Ron’s expertise at wizard chess).

Also, Fudge is an idiot. But more on that, sadly, later.

Rating: 7.5/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling (23 July)

Uh, what’s that? Oh, um, yes, I did read this in the same day as book two. -cough- Moving along now.

Book 3: Harry returns to school again, but this time there is a Secondary Bad Wizard just escaped from Azkaban (wizard prison and thought to be impossible to escape). Oh, and, bad news, Secondary Bad Wizard might possibly want to kill Harry. Seriously, this kid’s life kind of sucks. Primary Bad Wizard doesn’t make an appearance in this one, but his presence is felt and in the end a Very Tertiary (Vigenary?) Bad Wizard is presumed to have gone off and joined Primary Bad Wizard. Then four more books happen.

Since this is my favorite of the movies, I found myself many times wondering why things hadn’t happened/weren’t happening in the book. Sigh. I certainly missed Alfonso’s Knight Bus. But, interestingly, I feel like I enjoyed the book better than I did when I first read it.

I have to say my favorite part was the time travelling, what there was of it. Rowling followed my favorite of the time-travelling conventions β€” that of each timeline being dependent on the others. And no changing the course of events! I did think the bit with Harry thinking Harry Prime was his father was a bit contrived, but, well. I don’t know how it could have been done better (do you?).

I also appreciated Dumbledore’s handling of the Buckbeak and Sirius problems; he seems to love, as my LIS textbook would call them, “wrong way” approaches. It might not be doing it right, per se, but it’s getting it done well that matters. I think that’s why I like Dumbledore so much.

This book is where Rowling also starts to tear down Harry’s “good guy” persona; he jumps to conclusions without full facts, he flaunts rules meant to protect him, and he is accused (rightly) of ignoring the sacrifice his parents made for him. And he’ll continue to do that right through to the end of the series. It makes me dislike him rather a lot at times, but it really does show that he’s a teenager and I respect Rowling for that.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling (23 July)

The second book! I’d forgotten how addicting these are… I might not get around to reading anything else until these are done. No! Help me! Make me read something else!

Anyway. HP2: Electric Boogaloo. Summary: Harry returns to school. He learns even more new things and then a monster starts Petrifying (literally: turning to stone) students and then Harry fights the Bad Wizard, again, in memory form (yes, really), and then five more books happen.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed parts of this book. Lockhart is hilarious, and I’ve certainly met plenty of his type in my time. All of them deserved a memory charm to the face. I also thought that the big plot line was better paced and required much more effort on the part of three twelve-year-olds to solve. The adults could probably have solved it if those darned kids would just trust them, but I certainly didn’t trust adults when I was twelve. Just ask my mother! Similarly, I initially thought it odd that Ginny gets all but ignored throughout the novel, for the integral part she plays in the plot, but then I remembered that this is really from Harry’s point of view and I would probably ignore Ginny, too. I was sad that the bit that actually takes place in the chamber lasted all of ten minutes β€” I really thought it was more involved, but that’s probably the movie instead? I don’t know. Nonetheless, I want a phoenix.

One last thing: Dobby is so annoying. I do not look forward to his presence in the remaining books.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (21 July)

Things I forgot about the first Harry Potter book: 1) It’s short! 2) It’s cute! 3) It’s not very British! (Silly American translations…)

I really think that if you don’t know what the Harry Potter books are about, at least slightly, you have to have been living under a rock under a larger rock for the past, um, 12 years? Wow, that’s a long time. I’m old. Anyway, summary: Harry Potter is a wizard. His parents died at the hands of a Bad Wizard when he was but a little thing. Now he is eleven and off to wizarding school. He learns things and fights monsters and learns that the Bad Wizard, who all but disappeared after not killing a little thing, is back and coming to get him. Then six more books happen.

It was kind of weird reading this after seeing the most recent movie, because I kept imagining the twenty-year-old actors instead of the twelve-year-old ones. Then I thought about how my youngest brother is turning eleven this year, and I just about laughed out loud at the thought of William fighting trolls and Bad Wizards. I don’t doubt that there are eleven-year-olds that could, I just don’t know any, is all.

I also realized just how contrived the ending was (oh, let me alone, I last read this book nine or ten years ago!), what with all of the little tests fitting in with the main kids’ skills so well. And while I dare say they probably couldn’t have got past Fluffy (teehee, it’s still funny) without Hagrid’s help, the mirror was probably the only thing actually guarding the stone. I mean, three eleven-year-olds beat every other test. Really. Just put the mirror up and be done with it!

But! I still love this book, even if I’m shocked that Rowling earns a couple hundred dollars every minute off this franchise. And even if the movies are terrible.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge, My Year of Reading Dangerously)

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (10 July β€” 11 July)

So back in the day, I was a big nerd. “Just back in the day?”, I hear you saying, and you are right. But! Nonetheless. Big nerd. As part of my nerdiness, I did things like memorize state capitals and dichotomous keys (the latter has not stayed with me, sadly) found in my Childcraft encyclopedia/instructive books set. Did you have such a set? Because these books were awesome. And one of them, the one focused on math, included an excerpt from The Phantom Tollbooth, wherein Milo meets the Dodecahedron. I knew right away (at what, eight years old?) that I needed to find this book immediately. It’s been my favorite children’s book ever since.

For those of you who didn’t have Childcraft and/or were not interested in nerdy books as a child, The Phantom Tollbooth is the story of a kid called Milo who is just bored with life. I’ll let the author explain:

“When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he’d bothered. Nothing really interested himβ€”least of all the things that should have.”

One day Milo arrived home, bored, to discover a curious package in his living room. Again, let’s let Juster set the scene:

“Who could possibly have left such an enormous package and such a strange one? For, while it was not quite square, it was definitely not round, and for its size it was larger than almost any other big package of smaller dimension that he’d ever seen.”

And it goes on from there. The package is the titular tollbooth, and Milo drives his toy car past it and into a land where all of our idiomatic expressions are taken literally (e.g. Milo jumps to conclusions about his trip and finds himself jumping to an island called Conclusions from which he must swim back) and there is a bit of a feud between math and language. Milo, with his companions Tock the watchdog (a dog with a clock for a torso) and the Humbug (who has a predilection for the number seventeen that I’ve long since assimilated), finds himself volunteering to end this feud by way of a perilous journey to the Castle in the Air, where the princesses Rhyme and Reason have been imprisoned for far too long.

Basically, it’s an adventure book with a great message for kids (knowledge, all of it, is important) and sly references for the adults reading it to them. The illustrations are cute, too.

Rating: 9/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

Zoe’s Tale, by John Scalzi (5 July β€” 6 July)

I didn’t intend to re-read this book so soon… but as mentioned in my last post, I was on vacation and ran out of books! I had brought this book just for Scott to read, which he did and of course he loved it, but when our plane got held up in a taxi line in Atlanta, I “resigned” myself to reading it.

In case you don’t remember, I read this book in December and enjoyed it enough to go back to the beginning of the series and read the other three. Then, when I got to The Last Colony, I thought it might have been better to have read this one last. Well, now that I’ve read it both first and last, as it were, I would definitely say it’s better read last. It certainly stands alone and is awesome at it, but it makes infinitely more sense having read the first three books. Especially I would recommend reading The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale in quick succession, because the story is so much fuller that way.

Also, I cried again, at the same two points in the story, so either I have overactive tear ducts or Scalzi is a damn fine writer. Possibly both.

Rating: 8/10, again, because it’s still excellent!
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

Summer Lovin’ Challenge

I’m a week late on starting this, but that’s cool, right? The Summer Lovin’ Challenge asks participants to re-read some favorite novels over the summer (21 June β€” 21 September). Considering I haven’t re-read a book since… a long time ago, I think this is the perfect challenge for me. I’m going to try to re-read 10 books in the next three months out of the list below.

Book pool:
Harry Potter books 1-7, by J.K. Rowling
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
In the Woods, by Tana French
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy”, by Douglas Adams
Wicked and Son of a Witch, by Gregory Maguire

Actually read:
1. Zoe’s Tale, by John Scalzi (Review)
2. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (Review)
3. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (Review)
4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling (Review)
5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling (Review)
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling (Review)
7. The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket (Review)
8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (Review)
9. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger (Review)
10. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (Review)