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“If a body catch a body coming through the rye”

J.D. Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye offered something to me that had never happened before in the entirety of my reading life. Well, actually, it offered several things along those lines, but one stood out to me particularly. After reading only the first three or four chapters, I decided it was one of my favorite books.

I didn’t care how the plot turned out; I didn’t care how Holden Caulfield’s character developed. I didn’t care whether Holden stayed in New York City or went home or ran off to join the circus. I immediately fell in love with the narrative style, the vivid supporting characters, the vintage-yet-timeless atmosphere of the setting, and above all, Holden himself and all that he symbolizes. The fact that this was a classic I was being forced to read for school completely fell by the wayside. I read it as an extraordinary social commentary–not to mention an enjoyable, if somewhat depressing, story.

What is it about The Catcher in the Rye that appeals to me so much, besides the aforementioned basics? What launches it from simply an excellent book to an absolute favorite? As I’ve said to many, “Holden Caulfield is my spirit animal.” He and I see eye to eye on a lot. Given, we have vastly different outer selves–I doubt Holden would associate himself with such a nerd–but I saw many reflections. I’ll admit that The Catcher in the Rye‘s frequenting of banned books lists caters to my rebellious side. I love the idea that such a controversial book could attain such towering literary status.

Finally, I’m fascinated by the book’s central theme of death and how our society in general views it. I’m interested in the way these views effect those in mourning. What I take away from The Catcher and the Rye, at the heart of all the other commentary, is that the way we try to act as if death does not exist makes it impossible to properly grieve and move on, and that this is essentially what caused Holden’s depression and descent into mental instability. “If a body catch a body coming through the rye”: Holden wants to be able to save all the children from going over the cliff. After the deaths of his brother Allie and his classmate James Castle were swept aside, Holden was unable to move on and accept death for what it is. His is an eternal sort of character: stuck on a worn-down carousel of a life, read over and over again.

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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in Book Rambles

 

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Review: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini (Inheritance Cycle #4)

November 2011, Random House Children’s Books

Young Adult fantasy

Not so very long ago, Eragon—Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider—was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.

Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chances.

The Rider and his dragon have come further than anyone dared to hope. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaësia? And if so, at what cost?

This is the much-anticipated, astonishing conclusion to the worldwide bestselling Inheritance cycle.

What a long journey the Inheritance Cycle has been! From the first book about a poor 15-year-old farm boy to this final volume about a mighty Dragon Rider, the series has undeniably developed and matured along with its protagonist. I’ve been reading this series since I was about eleven years old, and I felt an acute sense of nostalgia as old characters and locations were revisited. The nostalgia wasn’t always entirely welcome, however: the long, arduous descriptions found throughout the series haven’t lessened in Inheritance, and neither have the meticulous political arrangements that are unlikely to fascinate the average reader.

Christopher Paolini is an excellent writer. For the majority of the book, though, I felt this talent was a bit overused. For the first six hundred pages or so, the vivid descriptions of people, landscapes, mental states, weather conditions, and nearly everything else were an inescapable impediment to the action and flow of the story. This, in turn, made me a thoroughly disengaged reader for the majority of the book, and was in part why it took me several months to plow my way through the novel. The overuse of description and slightly heavy-handed plot set-up are my only real complaints about Inheritance.

Once the action really gets going, as the plot nears its climax, Inheritance improves immensely. The heart-pounding action and suspense really kept the pages turning for me as the final confrontation grew near. Paolini’s characters are, as always, delightfully varied and skillfully painted, from the haunting witch child Elva to the despicable King Galbatorix himself. The world of Alagaësia is enthralling, and it’s clear that Paolini put much time and effort into its development. It’s world-building at its best, and the sort that I aspire to.

Most fans of the Inheritance Cycle have probably already readInheritance and are “tsk-tsk”-ing behind their computer screens at my slowness. Fans of high fantasy who haven’t started this series yet should definitely try it. It’s a difficult-at-times but rewarding reading experience.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Books Waiting in the Wings

One of the worst parts of slogging through a long, somewhat boring text (coughInheritancecough) for me is looking at all the books you have around that I have yet to read. Here are some of the books that I’ll be reading after Inheritance.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

Even if this book weren’t an international bestseller and Book of the Year, the premise would be enough to get me interested in reading. I’m starting to venture into the realm of “regular” (i.e., adult) fiction, and this looks like a good book to start off with.

Escape from Verona by David Gray

This one was a gift from a friend. I love Romeo and Juliet and tear up every time I see an adaptation on stage or screen. Mercutio’s death really gets me. Anyway–I admit the premise is of this book is somewhat cheesy (Romeo and Juliet faking their deaths in the tomb and escaping), but I’m willing to overlook it.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Jane Austen plus zombies is an instant win for me. What more can I say? I can’t wait to read this one.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I’ve heard nothing but good about this book, from book blogs, professional reviews, and friends. The story sounds quite original and just the sort of thing I’d like. I highly look forward to reading this one, as well.

Have you read any of my books waiting in the wings? What did you think? What do you think I should read first? Tell me in the comments!

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Book Rambles

 

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Inheritance: A Progress Report

My current reading situation is one that I am entirely new to. Going back into my January archives, you’ll find references to my failed attempts to read Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance at a somewhat decent pace. Any reasonable person would assume that by now I have either given up or finished and forgotten to write a review.

I am still reading it, and just approaching the halfway point. This may well be considered an abomination to reader-kind, an act of blasphemy against the reputation of a bibliophile. I must assure you that I have conquered books just as formidable as Paolini’s work in a much shorter time. What is it about Inheritance that is making it so difficult to read?

My first theory is that it has been such a long time since I read the first three books in the Inheritance Cycle that I have ceased to care about the characters or the story. Correct me if I’m wrong–actually, don’t, because even as slow as this reading process is going, I don’t want spoilers–but I have a sneaking suspicion that our hero, Eragon, will triumph, and I’m just following him on his arduous journey to success. As I continue reading, though, I’m getting more and more intrigued as to how this is all going to turn out. Nevertheless, I don’t have the deeply personal interest in the characters’ well-being as I did a few years ago.

Secondly, the plot has taken a good deal of time in building and laying out a framework for how the rest of the novel is going to go. The action is really starting to take off now and I find myself reading more and more every day. Maybe this long, foot-dragging reading experience will end now and I can finish off Inheritance within the week.

Either way, my preliminary assessment of the book so far is overall good–not fantastic, but good. Readers looking for a rollicking thriller from page one may want to avoid it. There have been lots of plot elements left hanging that need to be finalized, and I’m curious to see how Paolini does it.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Book Rambles

 

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A Reader Torn

“So many books, so little time.” –Frank Zappa

Never has this little nugget of wisdom rang truer with me than now. Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance is sitting less than a quarter read on my bedside table nearly a month after I started it–school and other commitments have only left room for about a chapter a night. No less than eight books are sitting on my shelves waiting to be read. I’m in the midst of reading The Mortal Instruments series and the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. And every day I get loads of book reviews delivered to my inbox so I can add another book to the ever-expanding list of volumes To-Be-Read.

It’s somewhat masochistic.

I spend a good amount of time trying to organize my reading life. What would be the benefits of reading this book before that one? Should I put aside the books already in my possession to pick up a newer, shinier release? Should I spend by extra time reading (“honing my craft” is my excuse) or actually writing? To top it off, I’ve started experiencing something I call Reader’s Guilt. It comes to me in under various guises:

  • Haven’t-Read-That Guilt. This is experiencing guilt over having not read classics like, in my case, Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia, Don Quixote, or anything by H.G. Wells. I feel I should take a break from keeping up with the new stuff and try to build up my reader’s repertoire a bit more.
  • Leaving-a-Series Guilt. I’m experiencing this version of Reader’s Guilt at the moment with the Heroes of Olympus series, one of the various derivatives of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.I haven’t read The Son of Neptune and don’t intend to. This type of guilt can also be associated with leaving a once-beloved author; for example, I haven’t read anything by Brandon Mull since his Fablehaven series concluded.
  • Why-Did-I-Buy-It Guilt. Have you ever bought a book and just let it sit there for more than six months? Yup. That pretty much sums up this one. One feels that if a book has been purchased, one is obligated to read it at some point.
  • And, finally– Not-Reading-Enough Guilt. Maybe if I just didn’t check my email in the morning, or spent less time making lunch, I could fit in ten minutes of reading in the morning? Or maybe I could bring my book to school and read in between classes…this is that feeling that tries to guilt-trip you into spending more time reading when you’re already bending your schedule to fit in that daily half-hour.

What about you, readers–how do handle your extensive reading lists? Do you experience any forms of Reader’s Guilt, or am I alone in my suffering?

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Book Rambles

 

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Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (Gemma Doyle Trilogy #1)

December 2003, Random House Children’s Books

Young Adult fantasy

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

I adored Libba Bray’s most recent novel, Beauty Queens, so it’s a wonder I haven’t read the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, for which Bray is better known, before now. I’m sorry I’ve waited so long. This book is, simply put, utterly flawless.

A Great and Terrible Beauty starts off with a scene the majority of the readership will be able to relate to: a mother-daughter dispute. From there the story takes off and refuses to slow. Bray sets the scene vividly and shows sharp contrast between the three main settings, India, England, and the spiritual realms. Most of the characters started off as simple, but as I got to know them better through Gemma’s eyes, new layers of complexity were added and I found myself deeply invested.

Bray is known for confronting issues prevalent in her adolescent audience head-on in her writings, and this book is no exception. Things as light as high-school politics to as heavy as self-mutilation are seamlessly touched on, but I especially noticed Bray’s inclusion of girls’ budding sexualities in a society where showing one’s ankles is considered scandalous. Readers will undoubtably see portions of themselves reflected in the characters and perhaps even find comfort.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is dark, adventurous, romantic, fantastical–there’s something for everyone here. It’s consistently well-written and believable; it’s not particularly difficult to read–the thoroughly engaging plot forbids that–yet is anything but mind candy. I can’t wait to get on with this series, and, as an added bonus, there seems to be a movie planned for 2015 release. This book is a must-read.

Rating: 5 stars

 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce (The Beka Cooper Trilogy, #3)

October 2011, Random House Children’s Books

Young Adult fantasy

Three years have passed since Beka Cooper almost died in the sewers of Port Caynn, and she is now a respected member of the Provost’s Guard. But her life takes an unexpected turn when her fiancé is killed on a slave raid. Beka is faced with a mixture of emotions as, unbeknownst to many, she was about to call the engagement off.

It is as Beka is facing these feelings that Lord Gershom appears at her door. Within hours, Beka; her partner, Tunstall; her scent hound, Achoo; and an unusual but powerful mage are working on an extremely secretive case that threatens the future of the Tortallan royal family, and therefore the entire Tortallan government. As Beka delves deeper into the motivations of the criminals she now Hunts, she learns of deep-seated political dissatisfaction, betrayal, and corruption. These are people with power, money, and influence. They are able to hire the most skilled of mages, well versed in the darkest forms of magic. And they are nearly impossible to identify.

This case–a Hunt that will take her to places she’s never been–will challenge Beka’s tracking skills beyond the city walls, as well as her ability to judge exactly whom she can trust with her life and her country’s future.

 Let me start off by saying that Book One of this series, Terrier, is one of my all-time favorites. It was exemplary in characters, action, and plot. Beka was ineffably believable in this volume, along with the rest of the cast. Things only went downhill a little in Bloodhound, as the plot got a bit less intriguing, but it was still an excellent book. In Mastiff, most of all the wonderful things about Terrier are lost. Beka seems an entirely different person, changed so much over three years that she is not at all recognizable as the shy but street-smart Lower City trainee of the first book.

The plot is well laid in Mastiff, and once all the pieces are put together, the horrible truth does make sense. However, the story is grandiose to the point of being obnoxious: instead of tracking down kidnappers and counterfeiters in cases staying within city walls, Beka gallops across the realm, dealing with various noble houses and overall getting involved in things much bigger than she is. This sort of story may appeal to many, but it’s jarringly different from the first two books of the series. It might have been more tolerable for me if it had moved along a bit faster–it wasn’t until the final hundred pages or so that I began reading at more than a snail’s pace.

Beka wasn’t the only character who changed in this book. Favorites from prior volumes, such as the classic trio of “rushers,” Aniki, Kora, and Rosto, were all but nonexistent in Mastiff. As Beka expands her horizons, the wonderful world of the Lower City created in Terrier disappears in readers’ sights. It was, frankly, depressing, and the final pages left me discontented and disappointed.

Tamora Pierce, however, continues using her well-earned trademarks of strong female protagonists, intricate plots, and scrupulous description in Mastiff. Glimpses of Beka’s former life are breaths of fresh air throughout the story. Call me an old softy, but Pierce could have done better to stick with the Corus area and her fantastic older characters throughout this otherwise wonderful series.

Rating: 3 stars

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

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