The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (15 December — 18 December)

The Kite Runner is one of those books whose name I have been hearing since it came out, but which I have also managed to avoid reading or even knowing anything about. I’m just talented like that, I guess? So when I saw it on my Back to School Challenge list, I was like, “Eh, okay, I guess I can read this.”

Unfortunately, that’s sort of still how I feel. The cover blurbs promised adjectives like powerful, haunting, riveting, extraordinary, unexpected… I’m not convinced. I called most of the plot “twists” ages before they happened, and even though they weren’t really presented as twists, per se, they felt imbued with a sense of “Look at what I wrote! Isn’t it ironic and also incredibly clever of me?” whether Hosseini intended it or not.

The story was interesting, at least. It follows the life of our protagonist, Amir, from his childhood in Kabul through his emigration to America in the midst of Russian occupation and on to his return to Kabul to atone for past sins. These sins were against Hassan, the son of Amir’s father’s servant, who considered Amir his best friend and stood up for him against bullies but whose friendship was never quite reciprocated. When Amir witnesses an atrocity against Hassan, he takes the coward’s way out; running away from the scene and later running away from his guilt by getting Hassan and his father sent away. This event becomes a big old rock that weighs Amir down for the rest of his life, as we get to read!

I loved how Hosseini handled the friendship between Amir and Hassan — how they were friends by circumstance and how the power dynamic between them kept Amir from really accepting Hassan’s friendship. I thought all of the childhood scenes in Kabul were really well-written and believable. It was the rest of the book I was not so enamored with; the move to America and Amir’s marriage and difficulty having children took a long time to read but still seemed to be superficially written so that Hosseini could get his story back to Kabul, where Amir goes to find Hassan’s son and do that atoning thing. And then from there everything seemed to fall apart; it takes only a chapter or two for the son to be found, and then an entirely implausible scene occurs that gets the son into Amir’s hands, and then the process of getting the two of them back to America is meant to take forever but then is conveniently sped up, but then we have to keep reading to get to the kite running tie-in from the beginning of the novel.

Certainly the themes of the novel are good; friendship and betrayal and how our lives are so based on our childhoods. But I’ve seen these in other places and I found nothing unexpected or haunting or extraordinary about this treatment.

Rating: 6/10
(Back to School Challenge, My Year of Reading Dangerously, Countdown Challenge: 2003)

See also:
The Bluestocking Society
Blue Archipelago

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding (24 November — 1 December)

This book would have been better with cannibalism.

No, seriously. I was promised cannibalism, and there was none. Hinted potential cannibalism? Yes. Actual eating of humans? No. Totally unfair.

For this review I’m going to assume that a) you are unlike me and actually had to read this at some point in your schooling or b) you are like me and the book was spoiled for you by a person of the A persuasion. If neither of these are true, well, now you know there’s no cannibalism?

Tiny plot summary: a bunch of boys get stranded on a jungle island after some mysterious circumstances. They start off working toward rescue, but then some kids break off to have fun on the island or hunt the native pigs. The latter group gets bigger, the former group gets smaller. The hunters get all worked up in a tizzy one night and kill one of the other boys, who they thought was a beast at the time. Oops. Then they get worked up in a bigger tizzy about wanting to run the island and they on-purpose kill the fat kid with the asthma. Mmmm, dashed brains (and still no cannibalism!). Then. Then. -twitch- Then, right before they kill (and possibly eat? Cannibalism, please!) the last of the relatively sane people, they get frickin’ rescued. WHAT.

I mean, yeah, the book is old and British, and the writing is difficult to understand at times, and there is NO CANNIBALISM, but I was pretty much on board with the book the whole way through. I was intrigued by the slow descent into madness (well, faster for some) of the boys, especially the one who’s trying to keep everything together. I was horrified but admiring of the sow “rape” scene (no, there is no sex with pigs. Or cannibalism). But then, right when we’re about to find out just how deep into evil 12-year-olds can get… they get frickin’ rescued. Jeez. The one time they keep the fire lit. Especially after all of the stuff in the beginning about how maybe there was an atomic bomb and probably everyone else is dead and all, the rescue really seemed completely out of place. I get it — the kids are all crazy and stuff until a real voice of authority comes, at which point they become good little Brits again. But I think the drama, the horror, and the irony would have been just that much more delicious if Golding had at least waited until AFTER Ralph was dead for the rescuers to come. Seriously.

The other problem I had with this book is that while I liked specific scenes (the “rape”, Simon talking with the Lord of the Flies, the parachutist/Beast nodding in the breeze, any time Ralph says “sucks to your ass-mar”), I had a lot of trouble remembering any character that wasn’t on a page for a while. Jack, Ralph, Piggy, sure. But everyone else I had to flip back and re-learn who they were all the time. I don’t know if that was Golding’s intention (kids are interchangeable?), but it was really rather confusing.

But I did actually like this book, possibly because I didn’t have to read it for school. 🙂 Funny how that works.

Rating: 7/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously)

See also:
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger (21 November)


So… I never read this in school. Ever. Which is apparently some kind of sacrilege on the part of my school district, because it seems like everyone else has read this! Alas. And I think my teachers’ oversight has led to me not liking this book as much as the aforementioned “everyone else” seems to. I don’t know.

I think that an appropriate subtitle for this novel would be “Three Days in the Life of Holden Caulfield,” because (unless I miscounted the number of days, which is possible), that’s what this book is. Holden gets kicked out of school, decides not to wait until the semester break to come home and skips out early, stays in a hotel in his hometown of New York City to avoid his parents until the official expulsion letter comes, decides to run off to the West Coast, and then doesn’t.

I hope that didn’t spoil it for you, but it shouldn’t since the story is in the details. Example: Holden spends a lot of time at the beginning of the story describing just how ordinary (and lame) his school and his schoolmates are, including a very squick-inducing description of a boy with oozing acne lying down on Holden’s pillow. -twitch- That’s gross, dudes.

This book really reminded me of a compacted On the Road, with the general dissatisfaction with life and the grand plans that don’t really come to fruition. It didn’t quite resonate with me so much, though, which might be a function of being eight years older and wiser than Holden and thus having survived the crap that is high school. I don’t know. Opinions?

Rating: 7/10
(Reading Dangerously Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman (8 November — 14 November)

I have really got to stop watching movies based on books before I read the books themselves. Because really, the books are usually way better, and even so I still spend too much time comparing the book to what I remember of the movie.

Such is the case with The Golden Compass, the movie version of which I really don’t remember much from. But many times in the book I felt like something was “wrong” compared to the movie, and then I had to be all, “Self. Shut up and read.” So it took a while to get through.

But it was pretty good. The story is of Lyra Belacqua, an orphan in the care of Jordan College in Oxford. Of course, her Oxford is much different than ours, seeing as it’s in a whole other universe altogether, where people have daemons in animal form that follow them around and act as sorts of guardians of their humans. Lyra is getting along well at Jordan College until one day her uncle shows up and peeves off a bunch of Scholars, and then next thing Lyra knows she’s off to be personal assistant to someone who is kidnapping children. Fun? Lyra, of course, escapes, and then she finds out lots of truths (some from people, some from her “golden compass” that tells you the answer to anything you want to know) that she doesn’t really like, and then ADVENTURES happen. There are bears, and hot-air balloons, and witches, and oh my, it’s pretty darn exciting.

This is a banned book, because it paints the Church out to be pretty awful (which, in this other world, at least, it kinda is), but from all of the talk I thought it would be more anti-Church than it is… maybe it gets worse in the rest of the trilogy?

Nonetheless, I liked the world that Pullman put together (though I am so over prophecies these days, which is not his fault), and I thought that Lyra was true to a 12-year-old, which doesn’t happen often in books like these. She was kind of stupid sometimes, and kind of genius sometimes, and was generally willing to believe anything she heard (which is a little of both). I liked her. 🙂 But the story itself… eh. It was exciting and adventurous, as I’ve said, but I’m not itching to go out and find the next book. We’ll see, I guess.

Rating: 7/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

See also:
Just One More Page…
books i done read
Blogging for a Good Book
Back to Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier (1 October — 5 October)


This book took a little while to really get going for me, and then just as soon as it did, it ended! Sadness.

The Chocolate War is a story about power and conformity and how even when you win, you still lose. Depressing, right? So right. The chocolate part comes from a private high school’s chocolate sale (oh, memories) for which each student has to sell 50 boxes. The war part comes from Jerry Renault, who is assigned by the school’s secret society to refuse to sell the chocolates for ten days, you know, keep the teachers on their toes. He does this, but then after ten days, when he’s supposed to start selling again, he doesn’t, and some of the other students follow in his path. The teachers don’t like this, the secret society doesn’t like this… and bad things happen.

I wasn’t sure last night whether or not I liked this book, and… I’m still not sure. It was a very honest account of high school and how hard it is to navigate the social dynamics there, but I’m not really sold on the story itself. The story jumps back and forth between points of view and tries to use that to let you learn more about the characters, but I just never felt terribly involved in any of their lives. Perhaps I’ll ponder this some more.

Rating: 6/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

See also:
an adventure in reading

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (27 September — 1 October)


How did I manage not to read this book any time in the last ten years? Jeez, self. Get with it.

This is another book without a discernible plot, and another book without a discernible plot that I liked. Something is wrong with me. I need to go read some Grisham or Patterson or something (no! false!). This book is also a freakin’ epistolary novel, which would normally irk me but good but this book did not! Chbosky is a genius or something.

Um. Right. Topic: this book is about a kid called Charlie, who is entering high school and is a little worried about getting through freshman year okay. Charlie’s got some issues (a few more than the usual), but he’s working hard to make them okay and make some new friends. He totally nails that last part and starts hanging out with some senior kids who are really cool (but not the popular kind of cool) and help Charlie figure out who he is and what he wants from life.

I liked it. Charlie’s life is nothing like mine, but his emotions associated with going to school and doing well and “participating” and making friends are totally dead on to mine. When things went wrong in his life, especially where girls were involved, I was totally rooting for him all the way. Even when some really odd things happened (um, picking up guys in the park, anyone?), I was still totally on board with Charlie’s life being normal, which I think says something. 🙂

This is also one of them “banned books” the parents are talking about (still) these days, and I totally understand why. There’s sex, and pregnancy, and dudes liking dudes, and recreational drug use by a fourteen-year-old, and people going to college at Sarah Lawrence. No good can come of these things! And yet all of these things are good in some way or another throughout the novel, so whatever, book banners. I don’t know what high school you went to, but it was probably just like this one.

Rating: 8/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

(Also, this is the first book read for my personal Donors Choose Challenge! $2 for literacy!)

See also:
Thoughts of Joy
things mean a lot
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (11 September — 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. 🙂 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.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (30 July — 1 August)

Oh, Brave New World. I was all prepared to come here and write about how weird this book is and how I didn’t like it all that much, but then I got to this quote near the end of Chapter 17: “You can’t play Electro-magnetic Golf according to the rules of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy.”

And then I realized that, while this book is preachy and antiquated and kind of boring, well, so was The Handmaid’s Tale, in its own way. And so was The Stepford Wives. And definitely so was 1984, and I count that among my favorite books. So. One set of postulates it is.

Brave New World is a dystopian novel about a far-ish future wherein people are decanted rather than born and it is decided in the test tube whether each person will be an Alpha-plus intellectual or an Epsilon-minus one-of-ninety-six drone worker. Everyone is conditioned to like being at their own level and like being part of the greater society. This is all well and good, but some improperly decanted types, like Bernard Marx, feel that they could do something more with their lives than be happy.

Yeah, that’s kind of the whole novel. Huxley brings in a “savage” in the middle, a man actually born outside of this happy society, and he remarks on how ridiculous it all is for a while, and everyone else remarks on how ridiculous he is for a while.

There’s not really any sort of conflict in the novel, which I guess makes sense when everyone is happy, but it makes the going rather slow. And this future isn’t really terribly dystopian; even the people who don’t like the society get to have their own place to live in the end. I’m really lukewarm on this. If you’ve got more fiery comments to make about the book, please do so!

Rating: 6/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling (25 July — 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 — 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 — 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 — 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)