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House of Leaves

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski was a strange book. A very strange book. It’s been on my list, so I checked the library and it was out. Placed a hold, and two weeks later it came it. While waiting, I read another book by MZD, so I was expecting something strange. And it fulfilled my expectations.

I can’t find the cover blurb because of the massive cult following this book has, and I don’t feel like typing it in.

Let me try to explain what this book is about.

Will Navidson, Karen Green, and their two children buy and move into a house in Virginia. Because Will is a world-renown photojournalist, he’s been away a lot, but has agreed to settle down. In fact, he’s going to film their settling down. These films are eventually compiled into The Navidson Record, a documentary about the house. More on that later. Then, this guy named Zampano begins to write a book examining the meaning of the documentary and the quality of the shots and the relationships of the characters, etc. Zampano is never in the actual book, just the book he was writing about the movie. Then this other guy named Johnny Truant ends up with the (unfinished) manuscript and starts compiling it. To quote TvTropes, “It’s a book about a book about a film about a house that is a labyrinth.”

The actual physical copy of the book that you or I read is composed of Zampano’s book with copious amounts of footnotes. Many of those footnotes are Johnny’s comments and eventually, his journal. Also interspersed, but still officially part of Zampano’s manuscript, are transcripts of parts of the movie. Half or more of the books Zampano references don’t exist. Another large chunk of footnotes is devoted to translating all the bits of French, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, I don’t even know what else, that is throughout the text.

Later in the book, the shape of the text begins to reflect what the words are describing. Dripping across the page. Being mirrored. Sideways. Struckout. Upside down. The word ‘house‘ is always blue and often sub-scripted just a bit.

The quote earlier mentioned a labyrinth. I’m going to go back and try to tell the story of The Navidson Record first to explain that. Will and Karen buy a house. A while later, they take the kids to go visit grandma. When they return, there’s a sort of closet-like space between the master bedroom and the kids’ room where before there had only been a wall. Additionally, and far more importantly, there is now a door in the middle of the living room wall that opens onto a cold (nearly freezing temperatures), dark hallway to nowhere. The two windows on either side of the door open onto the back yard and it is indeed possible to walk out one window and in the other, crossing where the dark hallway SHOULD be. But it’s not. Then, Will measures the house. And it’s 1/4 inch bigger on the inside than on the outside. Repeatedly. This definitely made me think of the Tardis from Doctor Who, but I haven’t seen that comment anywhere else. The rest of the movie documents, though wall mounted cameras, hand-held cameras, and voice recorders, the 6 ‘expeditions’ into that hallway as well as the reactions of those involved. To not give anything away, I’m going to stop there.

So, we have Johnny writing about his life and a book by Zampano that was written about a movie by Navidson about a house. And that doesn’t even bring the appendixes into it! There are 3? but they’re mostly incomplete. And there’s an index. That’s also incomplete. Or completely wrong in several cases.

My reaction? I’ve seen places where it took people a long time to read it because of the page number (709). But that’s garbage, because a good many pages have less words than this paragraph.

I read it in a day. Of course, I was at the doctor’s office all day, waiting for 90 minutes at a time, 5 times.

I really liked it. My favorite character was Tom Navidson, Will’s twin brother. Zampano discussed the Jacob and Esau story and which Navidson brother was which. I’d have to say Tom was Esau because Jacob/Will was the deceiver, and Esau got the raw end of the deal. I also really liked the character of Johnny Truant. He’s on all kinds of drugs and drinks all the time and parties out the wazoo (That word was in the dictionary!), but he’s also simply a product of his upbringing. And he’s unexpectedly educated.  Some letters from his mother who’s in an asylum show that he got into some nice private schools on scholarship. Despite his random drug-induced hallucinations, he’s able to make intelligent literary references. Made me happy.

I don’t see how it’s a love story at all, though. Horror, definitely. Coming of age, possibly. But not love.

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Filed under Fantasy, Menu, Mystery, Nonfiction, Other

Johnny and the Bomb

The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy by Terry Pratchett consists of three books: Only You Can Save Mankind, which I’ve never read; Johnny and the Dead, which I enjoyed; and Johnny and the Bomb, which almost made my head hurt.

“Twelve-year-old Johnny Maxwell has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This has never been more true than when he finds himself in his hometown on May 21, 1941, over forty years before his birth!

An accidental time traveler, Johnny knows his history. He knows England is at war, and he knows that on this day German bombs will fall on the town. It happened. It’s history. And as Johnny and his friends quickly discover, tampering with history can have unpredictable–and drastic–effects on the future.

But letting history take its course means letting people die. What if Johnny warns someone and changes history? What will happen to the future? If Johnny uses his knowledge to save innocent lives by being in the right place at the right time, is he doing the right thing?

Mixing nail-biting suspense with outrageous humor, Terry Pratchett explores a classic time-travel paradox in Johnny Maxwell’s third adventure.”

This isn’t one of the Discworld novels, so I wasn’t as much of a fan of it as usual with Terry Pratchett’s books but it was still good. I enjoyed the characters. It was strange because they seemed younger than I expected. I guess that I don’t read many books with 13-16 year-olds as the main characters. It was strange because it’s more English than most of his other books, but still accessible to us lowly Americans.

The time travel portion of the book bothered me. Not the actual time travel, but the discussion of consequences and effects and methods. It wasn’t technical or anything, but any discussion of time travel gets into the complicated region. It requires thinking about things sideways.

Because it involved life or death situations, Johnny and the Bomb was a lot more serious than his other books, and even than the other Johnny Maxwell books. Ending gasp factor is a 3/10 because it’s not suspenseful at all, and isn’t supposed to be.

245 pages.

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Filed under Fantasy, Young Adult

The Wayfarer Redemption

The Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass is one of my favorite books. I originally picked it up to read it because of the author’s name. It’s rare to see ‘Sarah’ spelled ‘Sara’. It is the first book of a six-book series, or the first of a three book series that is followed by another three book series, depending on whether you are from America or Australia. Douglass is Australian. In Australia, the book is actually called something different, BattleAxe, I believe.

“A millennia-old prophecy was given when the Forbidden Ones were driven from Achar. And now, the Acharites witness its manifestation: Achar is under attack by an evil lord from the North, Gorgreal-his ice demons strike from the sky and kill hundreds of brave warriors in the blink of an eye.

All Acharites believe the end is near.

One young woman, Faraday, betrothed of Duke Borneheld, learns that all she has been told about her people’s history is untrue. While fleeing to safety from the dangerous land, Faraday rides with Axis, legendary leader of the Axe-Wielders and hated half-brother of Borneheld-and a man Faraday secretly loves although it would be death to admit it.

This grand and heroic story tells the tale of one woman’s plight to learn the truth of her people and change their hearts and their minds forever. She fights against oppressive forces to share this reality and will not desist until everyone knows. . . . . The truth of the Star Gate”

Does that sound like Faraday is the main character? I’ve read the book twice, a long time ago and yesterday, and she never seems the main character. Maybe it’s because I just so prefer Axis.

Basically, there’s this Prophecy. The StarMan will be born at some point and he will be the half-brother of Gorgreal who will be half Avar and half Icarii. Those are the names of the two races of Forbidden. Gorgreal will seek to destroy the world, in typical evil villain fashion (he had a bad upbringing) while the StarMan tries to stop him. The only problem is, no one knows who the StarMan is.

The reader finds this out as Axis, BattleAxe of the Axe-Wielders, does. The Axe-Wielders are the military arm of the big religious body of the country. He travels around part of the country in the beginning of the book discovering the prophecy and with him travels Faraday. Faraday is betrothed to Axis’s half-brother Borneheld (they shared a mother who died birthing Axis). The brothers hate each other, understandable. Then, Faraday ends up with a role in the prophecy! Then, this other girl named Azhure gets involved unwillingly, but she isn’t part of the prophecy, I don’t think.

I’m trying not to give things away, but it’s difficult.

There are basically three story lines happening at once: Axis’s quest north to help Borneheld not die; Faraday’s task of not letting Borneheld kill Axis; and Azhure’s journey to figure out what the heck is going on.

I recommend this book because, though it gets bad reviews sometimes, it’s entertaining and original. People complain because some names are taken from classical myths. Well, names have to come from somewhere. You definitely have to read the second and third because the story doesn’t end at all. It was nice to read it because I’d forgotten all the plot twists, but the bits I did remember apparently happened in the second book.

The gasp factor would be around a 6/10 because of events shortly before the end. Actually, I mentioned how it shows several people’s story lines, at one point near the end, each group throws a torch in the air at the same time. It was cool to read and notice that.

Madalyn has this book now, and I hope she’ll review it. Then we can have a different perspective on the plot. 433 pages.

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Terrier

This book is a usual girl-power book by Tamora Pierce, but I loved it! My favorite series is the Wild Magic Series, but this one is very excellent as well (they all are, I mean, it’s Tamora Pierce). It is the first series, chronologically, but if you read the Alanna books (Song of the Lioness, technically) first, some stuff is ironically funny. (Like, you find out the origin of the Court of the Rouge name and such). I loved it! Yay!

“Sixteen-year-old Beka Cooper lives far removed from knights, palaces, and the nobility. Her world revolves around thieves, beggars, taverns, and the lowest of the low. She’s a trainee for the Provost’s Guard (Dogs, as they’re called, which makes Beka a Puppy); a rookie cop assigned to police the city’s worst slum.

Beka has always wanted to be a Dog, but she has one problem – she’s shy. Painfully shy. Not the best way to make a first impression or command the respect of the public. But she also has talent, and a strange kind of magic that allows her to hear the voices of the dead – and they have plenty to say. Soon she hears whispers of two vicious sets of crimes and Puppy or no, once Beka gets a case in her teeth, she doesn’t let go.”

This book is in the form of Beka’s diary, and the first entry is her first day in training. Since the guards are “Dogs,” all the trainees are called “Puppies.” I think it’s cute. She’s paired with Clara “Clary” Goodwin, and Matthis “Mattes” Tunstall. Neither of them really want a Puppy, but they take her and go. Her education in the process of keeping the peace is really fun to read, even going back several times to read it again. Sometimes the whole diary thing doesn’t go well, but this is really good and easy to read. I love the first person, and since it’s a diary, we hear everything about Beka’s day like we were there with her.

Beka’s siblings are all trying to rise up in the world, and they all look down on her for choosing to become a Dog. Kind of sad, actually. Who protects them when their on the streets? Certainly not stablehands, messengers, maids, or seamstresses, that’s for sure. Her family doing that to her ALMOST made me cry. I have siblings, and I can’t image all of them looking at me like I was dirt like that! The way the whole story just works together is really good. I thought there might be some boring parts in the middle, because how interesting can a Puppy’s life be, even with murders? It was so good, though! There was a wonderful mix of training, murder solving, friend having, and the barest (and I mean barest) dash of romance. Excellent!

Now, I love feminist empowerment books, so this was great! Beka is George’s (from the Song of the Lioness series) ancestor from 200 years ago. Kind of funny how Beka, a very loyal Provost Dog, would end up eventually begetting an excellent thief and the country’s spymaster… Anyway! Beka is an amazing character, and I love her sooooooo much! But you know how all characters have to have flaws of they’re just annoying? Beka’s only flaw (that I thought worth noting) was kind of obviously her flaw. Shyness, obviously, you can tell by the synopsis. That’s my one beef.

In the book, Beka is only vain about one thing: her gorgeous, long, red hair. I love that, because I’m also kind of vain about my hair. I used to wish it was red, and then I realized how stupid I would look with red hair (I’m too tan for it).

On to my favorite part of books: romance! This novel is SORELY lacking in romance, though there is some. Rosto, a skilled rouge from Scanra, comes down to take over the Court of the Rouge! The current king is old and not doing his job and he’s a jerk! Rosto is tall, muscular, pale (he IS from Scanra), has beautiful dark eyes, and white blond hair. Gorgeous, right? Well, Beka can’t get over the fact that he’s a criminal. Yes, that would indeed interfere with her work, but to sacrifice love for your job? I think not! Then again, she does love the Lord Provost, so I guess it’s kinda the same thing… (Loves him in a way that a child loves her father, by the way. Nothing funny.)

Still, Rosto is my favorite character besides Pounce! (Pounce is a black, purple eyed cat that befriends Beka in her childhood and follows her everywhere. And she can speak telepathically. Can we say goddess-possessed cat? Song of the Lioness anyone?) He’s funny, and the Love Interest, so of course I love him! Any author worth her salt can make me fall in love with their male lead. (I’m kind of a Hopeless Romantic. We need an Anonymous club for us…) Anyway! Beka is great and all, but she is kind of annoying sometimes about Rosto and Pounce.

End really didn’t have a Gasp Factor. A 0/10. Maybe a 1/10 because of a certain event I will not disclose. It really ended, though there was room open for another book. Which did happen, by the way! Bloodhound came out in 2009, and the third book (supposedly the last one), Mastiff, comes out this year! Yay! More Rosto, please!

Page Count: 592 (Long, but interesting all the way through.)

Until next time,

Madalyn

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Matched

Matched by Ally Condie was better than I had expected. It came out in 2010, and Madalyn grabbed it because the cover was so interesting. It’s of a girl in a green dress in a bubble. The dress being green does actually function in the story as a minor plot device, and it was nice to see the cover make some sort of sense.

“In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one… until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow — between perfection and passion.”

The premise of the story is that society became the Society, around 70 years ago. Daily life was restructured, food became regulated, people were only taught exactly what they needed to force everyone to work together. Additionally, the Officials decided that life was too cluttered, so committees were formed to pick the Hundred Poems, Paintings, Songs, History Lessons, etc. Anything not included in the Hundred was destroyed. Cassia’s grandmother was on the committee that chose the Hundred Poems.

Sometime in everyone’s 17th year, they are called to the Match Banquet at City Hall. Each girl gets to pick her dress for the banquet-Cassia picks the green one and is the only one to do so. At the Banquet, each girl is called alphabetically by last name, stands, and watches a big black screen. In many (hundreds?) of other cities across the Society, similar banquets are happening. When each girl’s name is called, the Match, the person they will marry, appears in a live feed on screen. But no boy appears on screen for Cassia. That means the statistical improbability of her already knowing her Match has happened. It turns out to be her best friend since childhood, Xander.

Obviously in books like these, and especially since Madalyn liked it, there has to be issues. Condie works the second Love Interest into the story in a sensical manner and shows the dwindling of Cassia’s faith in the Society in a believable manner.

I’m pretty sure I prefer Xander over the other boy, Ky. Ky seemed a bad influence on Cassia, whereas Xander was familiar and steady. But this is the big argument around the books that even the author won’t weigh in on.

The ending was rather odd. It’s obvious that there is going to be another book (Crossed, coming out in October 2011), but it ends slowly. The gasp factor would be around a 2/10, because the real climax of the story happens earlier and it gets around a 6.5/10. Maybe it was because I was expecting around 90% of plot twists, thanks to Madalyn. I don’t mind. It made the parts she left out so much better. I actually cried at one point, which doesn’t happen often.

366 pages, and I read it in under 2 hours.

http://www.allysoncondie.com/

~Sara

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Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose. This book was amazing. I’ve never seen the miniseries, but the book was magnificent. It follows Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army from training camp to the end of the war and beyond. I don’t really know what to say about this book. I can’t talk about characters because it’s about real people. I can’t talk about plot because Ambrose wrote it directly from interviews with the soldiers and letters and journals. I can say that Band of Brothers is the story of a group of heroes that is expertly crafted.

The thing about having never seen the tv version is that I had no clue, while reading the book, which soldiers survived the war. I could tell occasionally, when there would be direct quotes but it was an eyeopener. My favorite chapter, for some reason, was the “They’ve got us surrounded-the Poor Bastards”; Bastogne from December 19-31, 1944. In history, we spent three days of World War 2, but he talked about Bastogne.

Best map I could find. Germany is the orange, Allies are the light yellow. But Bastogne should also be light yellow, because the group followed in Band of Brothers was there and didn’t give in.

I also really liked in the end, once the troops got to the Eagle’s Nest, how they dealt with all Hitler’s stuff. He had some really nice cars, alcohol, etc, and once the higher-ups got there, the lowly soldiers had to turn the loot over. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t test the bullet resistance of the glass of the windshields first.

It’s strange, when I read this book, to remember that the people portrayed in it were born in the 1910s and 20s.

Anyways, I highly recommend  this book to anyone who likes history or just a good read. It’s quick, it’s 312 pages, and it’s so good.

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Fullmetal Alchemist 1

Fullmetal Alchemist is a series of manga by Hiromu Arakawa. I recently read the first one (I think 25 or so have come out in America in English) based on a recommendation by a friend. Okay, so it’s manga. I’ve read manga before, Fruitsbasket, D. Grey Man, some InuYasha, and Blackbird, but for some reason I’ve always avoided Fullmetal Alchemist. I guess because of how closely it’s associated with the anime. Yeah, the others have anime made of them, but FMA was more well known. I’m not a fan of anime. Too much Japanese.

Anyways, Vol. 1 is four chapters, each, I assume, separately published in magazines in Japan before being put together, and eventually translated. The story follows two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric who, after using alchemy to try to revive the dead, had to pay the consequences. Now the elder brother is missing an arm and a leg, and the the younger brother is nothing more than a soul in a metal suit. The elder brother, Edward, is the state alchemist-incredibly powerful, both alchemy-wise and politically. Both brothers are after the one thing that might be able to restore them to their original bodies, the Philosopher’s Stone. Fans of Harry Potter should recognize that, but the concept is different in this series. The stone lets alchemists transmute matter without paying attention to the unwritten laws of conservation and consequences. The Elric brothers need that to succeed in their quest.

So, the author said that she was sorta inspired by B-rate movies. She tried to bring the over-the-top aspect into the manga. I think she succeeded. It jumps right into action, cleverly weaving in flaskbacks to fill in backstory. The plot seems well developed, with unanswered questions requiring the reader to get more volumes. If the library has Vol. 2, I’ll read it.

180 pages.

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