Library Haul

I finally went to the library!

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And look at all the lovely new books I got!  They are Fear by Michael Grant, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Cathrynne M. Valente, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, and The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence.

Now we’re going to play “Let’s see how many of these I can read and review by next Tuesday!

Wish me luck!

Potterview #3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is where these books start to get really good. It’s darker, it’s more interesting, and we’re starting to leave behind the simple mystery plots and enter into the more complicated ones.

One reason I really like this book is the introduction of Sirius.  I really love Sirius as a character.  To Harry, he is both a good friend and a role model.  Like Harry, Sirius is a rebellious Gryffindor with a love for danger and adventure.  I love how Harry can relate to Sirius because he sees himself in Sirius.

I also really like Lupin as a character.  I like his calm intelligence and his willingness to take Harry under his wing.  He is, of course, discriminated against for being a werewolf, which is a great, subtle way for Rowling to introduce the concept of discrimination in the wizard world.  Wizards, as we see time and again in the books, are very discriminatory and quick to condemn.  Even though it may be detrimental to their children’s educations, the wizard world will not allow a werewolf to teach at Hogwarts.

On the subject of Sirius, this book is where we really see the emphasis Harry puts on his father figures. While sweet, this trope is a bit misogynistic. Throughout the course of the book, Harry strongly prioritizes his male role models. He has several father figures, while the only mother figure I can think of is Molly Weasley. This is probably subconscious on Rowling’s part, since it’s common in our society to prioritize male role models.

Some very dark concepts are played with in this book. The idea of Azkaban is, obviously, terrifying. The dementors, who can suck out all happy feelings and memories, are fantastic antagonists. The fact that Sirius is innocent makes the time he spent there seem even worse. I felt terrible for Sirius for the entire book.

As I reread the series, I am finding that I like Ron a lot less. In this book, especially, he’s horrible to Hermione. Hermione, being very bookish, has probably not had very many friends besides Ron and Harry. Added to that, she’s under a lot of stress from her extra classes. Ron really had no right to turn on her.

Overall, the book was great. On to Goblet of Fire!

Wednesday Recommendations!

Hey, I’ve started doing these again!

Here, have a clever and succinct review of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2!

http://zanyzacreviews.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/the-twilight-saga-breaking-dawn-part-two/

Also, Halfway Decent Fanfiction has updated!  If any of you are reading my Gone Series fanfiction, Part 2 is up!

I’m reading The Mark of Athena right now, so I might try to write a review this weekend!

Plague: Why, Exactly, Does This Exist?

It's totally not related to race at all

Why is Astrid on the cover? Why is Dekka NOT on the cover? And who’s the other guy?

What happened to Edilio’s crush on Lana? What happened to Sam’s post-traumatic stress? What exactly is Astrid’s mutant power and why is it not making any appearances? Does the town council ever actually do anything? Does Astrid have a job? If she does, what is it? And most importantly, why exactly is this series so long? These questions and many others bounced across my mind several times as I read Plague by Michael Grant. Needless to say, I am very disappointed.

In Plague, the FAYZ is running low on water, so Albert sends Sam, Dekka, Computer Jack, and Taylor to try to find another lake. But while Sam and some of the town’s most powerful mutants are gone, all hell breaks loose as Drake escapes, a deadly plague breaks out, and flesh-eating bugs attack the town.

One thing I really liked in this book was the strength of the supporting characters. Grant has shown quite an aptitude for character development. Dahra, Dekka, Lana, Sanjit, and Orc were especial standouts in this book. He even managed to make Astrid somewhat interesting. In fact, the supporting characters are so strong, I would argue that the series is not Sam, Astrid, Caine, and Diana’s story anymore (although the covers are still trying to tell us it is). It is the story of the people in the FAYZ, specifically the dozen or so who narrate or figure prominently in the books. And that makes the story stronger, because we see everything through so many different perspectives and get to know so many great people along the way.

The book also brings up some very interesting themes. There’s been a lot of religious symbolism and discussion in these books (although it’s sometimes incorrect. For example, the Catholic church no longer considers suicide a mortal sin). I feel like this is the first book that actually did something with it. Astrid’s struggles to apply her faith to the desperate circumstances in which she lives are very compelling. Catholic moral philosophy states that the result of a wrong action never justifies that action, but the choices Astrid is forced to make show the flaws in that philosophy. Grant effectively makes the point that there are no true moral absolutes.

Britney’s transformation also makes a point about religion. Britney has a tendency to completely devote herself to certain people or causes. We saw this in her unwavering loyalty to Edilio in Hunger, and her belief that she is God’s messenger in Lies. In some ways, this complete loyalty was a very good thing. For example, in Hunger, she stayed and tried to defend the power plant when no one else would. But this book shows the reader how dangerous that fanaticism can be. Britney believes the gaiaphage is God, and this leads her to attack Astrid, Orc, Jack, and Little Pete with an army of flesh-eating bugs. Britney’s transformation points out the fine line between faith and fanaticism.

Grant also tries to make a point about fear and prejudice. In previous reviews, I mentioned how much I liked the Human Crew as villains. In this book, they return, but now, they aren’t only targeting the mutants. They’ve noticed that many of the people on the town council are people of color, and they feel that it is unfair that the “normal people” are not represented. In the FAYZ, there are no socioeconomic inequalities stopping people of certain races from succeeding, so it is possible to become successful simply by working hard. The people who are working hard happen to be people of color in this universe. However, racial biases are still present. The members of the (mostly white) Human Crew literally cannot accept a world in which white people are not dominant. This is a startling parallel to certain reactionary movements that are developing today as a response to feminist, anti-racist, and gay rights activism.

On that note, as has been the case for the entire series, the racial representation is very good (even though the publisher seems to be deliberately avoiding putting any characters of color on the covers). Yes, Howard, who is black, is a drug dealer. However, people of color are also portrayed as leaders, fire chiefs, doctors, sassy teleporters, happy-go-lucky helicopter pilots, nurses, bitter healers, pessimistic little brothers, and powerful, stoic mutants, which balances out the problematic portrayal of Howard. The female characters are also getting better. Astrid, Lana, Dahra, Dekka, Brianna, Diana, and Taylor all have agency in their stories. They use their particular talents to get what they want, make their own decisions and are generally not defined by their love interests. The only exception here is Lana, whose story in this book focuses more on her relationship with Sanjit than her personal healing process. Unfortunately, while Diana taking advantage of her sexuality to try to stop Caine from hurting people was interesting, she is now pregnant with what will probably be an evil mutant baby. Like most other Mystical Pregnancies, I’m sure this will reduce her to a be-wombed plot device.

Now, those are the parts of the book I enjoyed. But there were definitely parts that I did not enjoy. And the one that bothered me most was that Caine is now an important part of the plot again.

I hate Caine. He is probably one of my least favorite villains ever. The other characters I disliked in the first book have since grown on me because Grant developed them and gave them more depth. Sam’s responsibilities as a leader forced him to grow, Astrid’s struggle with her faith has been compelling, and Drake’s egregious evilness is justified now that he’s been possessed by the gaiaphage. Caine has no depth. His emotions are not realistic. We are told that he desperately wants power, but why? Why is this teenaged boy so obsessed with world domination? He is unrealistically creepy and analytical about his relationship with Diana. Whenever he makes a speech, he sounds corny, pompous, and cartoonish, and yet he somehow is able to win everyone in the FAYZ over. Caine is a terrible villain and he brings the quality of the series down.

Also, the continuity is becoming a bit weird. I mentioned some plot holes at the beginning of the review, but I’d like to focus on one which particularly bothered me. In the last book, Sam was struggling with post-traumatic stress from his encounter with Drake. I liked where Grant was going with that, and enjoyed reading about Sam’s healing process. But in this book, it was completely gone. I’m no expert, but I don’t think post-traumatic stress just goes away like that. This and other plot holes really threw me off.

I attribute the series’ plot holes to the length of the series, which brings me to my next point. This series is unnecessarily long. This book, in particular, seemed unnecessary. The overarching plot of the series is the characters finding out how to defeat the gaiaphage and escape the FAYZ. There was no forward motion in this plot at all. I still have no idea what the gaiaphage is or what its motivation is. I still have no idea what’s behind the FAYZ wall. I still have no idea how they’re going to escape. Sure, there was a battle with the gaiaphage, and Perdido Beach split into two separate towns, but neither of those things are going to make that much of a difference in the long run.

So, although I did enjoy reading this book, I found it completely unnecessary. I’m not happy about Caine’s return as a villain, and I’m not happy about Sam’s character regression. I’m ranking this Good, and I turn, with a heart heavy with dread, towards Fear.

Other Opinions:

http://cuddlebuggery.com/blog/2013/04/04/review-plague-by-michael-grant/

http://charlotteunsworth.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/review-hunger-lies-and-plague-by-michael-grant/

http://overflowingheartreviews.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/book-review-plague-michael-gran/

Hello, any readers I still have! Sorry for the looong hiatus!  There’s a brief lull in the homework right now, so I’ve managed to post my review of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, as you may have seen (if you haven’t, just scroll down!).  Here is some information about what I’ll be doing on here for the next couple of weeks.

1. I started a new blog!  This one is for fan fiction.  My first post will be fan fiction of the Gone series (everyone reading this blog should at least know what that is by now).  You can access it here)

2. I finished reading Plague!  Depending on how busy I am, I’m going to try to write the review this weekend.

3. My posts over the next couple of weeks will be rather sporadic.  Finals for me start on Wednesday and end next Tuesday.  I’ll be very busy studying, but I will try to make time to write my Plague and Beka Cooper reviews.

Announcements!

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven: A Brief Look at Some Poemish Prose

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I still don’t understand this cover

 The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a book of short stories by Sherman Alexie. The stories detail life on a Spokane Indian reservation, and the quiet struggles of those who live there.

It took a long time for me to write my review of this book, mostly because I couldn’t figure out how I felt, or what it meant. The stories explored many complicated themes, and expressed the author’s great understanding of the human condition. But there were certain stories where I couldn’t connect to the characters, or had no clue what point the author was trying to make.

The writing was beautiful, of course. Alexie is a lovely and poetic author. His metaphors and similes are intelligent and relatable. It is easy for the reader to see that he had only previously published a book of poems. Many of the stories were very good. Each one was a brief snapshot of someone on the reservation’s life.  Some of them, though, were hard to comprehend, or were not very interesting.

I especially liked “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore.” This story was about two friends discussing a talented young basketball player named Julian. They express their hope that he will escape the reservation’s cycle of poverty. The story then jumps forward to a year later. The two men are discussing Julian again, but now, he is an alcoholic and has lost most of his talent. The story captured the vicious cycle of alcoholism and how dispiriting it is to the people on the reservation.

This is a much shorter review than normal, because I have far less to say. I rank this book somewhere between a Good and Very Good. It was beautiful, but not consistently.