Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant

Title: The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant
Author: Douglass Wallop

What it's about: Joe Boyd, a middle-aged fan of the Washington Senators baseball team, is depressed because his life has never amounted to anything much. All he has is his wife, his job as a real estate salesman, and his devotion to his baseball team - a team that's notorious for losing. One night, Joe is approached by a fellow who calls himself Applegate and who offers Joe a chance to save the Senators and help them win the pennant from the Yankees by becoming young again and playing for the team himself. Joe agrees, but with a condition. He wants an escape clause built into his contract with the devil. Only if Joe renounces the contract at a certain time will he be able to return to his old life. Joe becomes Joe Hardy, a young, talented ballplayer, and at first everything seems to be swell, but as anyone familiar with Faustian tales like this one knows, an infernal deal always has its downsides, and soon Joe has to face them.

What I thought: This here is the novel that the musical Damn Yankees is based on, and since I've been researching musicals again lately, I thought I'd give it a read. Despite being an older book, this is a solid story. Joe is an everyman sort of protagonist, the kind of normal fellow anyone can identify with, but he's not pathetic, not a Homer Simpson type. Joe's good enough at what he does, and he and his wife have a good life - things are just stuck in a rut. And you can see Joe's good qualities throughout the course of the novel, which makes him a likable fellow. Applegate is our antagonist, and he's everything a devil should be, very smooth and ruthless, with other quirks besides, like his gluttony (although I suppose that since gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, it shouldn't be so surprising). Lola was a character who seemed to have a good amount of depth and importance, but, and this could have been my fault in the reading, she didn't seem to get the development she needed. Or, well, she got what she needed, but I still thought she could have had more... Just, I thought more could have been done with her. But, you know, this is a fun book, and now I'm curious to see how the musical adaptation looks. I've got the cast recording, the libretto, and the motion picture version all on order from my library.

Overall: A light, easy read that'll keep you entertained for an hour or two.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Year of Secret Assignments

Title: The Year of Secret Assignments
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

What it's about: Lydia, Emily, and Cassie are three best friends in high school. For an English class assignment, they're assigned pen pals at Brookfield High, a rival school. Initially the project is just a silly diversion for the girls, but as they start to connect with their pen pals, complications crop up.

What I thought: This was one of those books that I picked up with a healthy dose of skepticism. Surely, thought I, a book with a goofy-looking cover that is told in epistolary form with all sorts of cutesy fonts and a focus on the adventures of a group of teenage girls, surely this is going to be like something off of the Disney Channel, with cliched, dramatic plotlines and cardboard characterization. But no. I was oh so pleasantly surprised, right from the very first page. Lydia's quirky writing style had me hooked and interested. And as the other two girls were introduced, I couldn't help liking Emily for her innocently self-centered outlook and Cassie's flippant sarcasm. Of course, I'm doing the girls injustice with those descriptions; they're deep, well-developed character who can't be described fully in anything less than the course of, well, the novel. And that's what happens, because this book is really all about the character development of the girls and their Brookfield pen pals. I found the relationship between Emily and Charlie to be cute, and I was of course moved by the result of Cassie's correspondence. My main beef was that while the climax of the story was certainly exciting and dramatic, it seemed just a little too... pat. Rushed? Mm. It still worked and wasn't enough to make the book bad, it was just not quite as awesome as I would have thought it could be. Still, don't let that dissuade you from reading The Year of Secret Assignments.

Overall: A highly engaging piece of teen fiction.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shadowed Summer

Title: Shadowed Summer
Author: Saundra Mitchell

What it's about: So, it's summer, and fourteen year old Iris and her best friend Colette are prepared to spend it up to their usual tricks of make-believe and such. Two things promise to make that hard: Colette's budding attraction to neighbor boy Ben, and the fact that Iris is seeing the ghost of a young man who died many years ago. The ghost is Elijah, a guy whose disappearance was never solved. He's the town's big mystery. And so Iris, Colette, and Ben decide to solve it. However, there are those who don't want the mystery to be solved, and all the while Elijah's ghost is pestering Iris.

What I thought: Two things I especially liked about this book. First off, the characters acted like actual kids. Not that pseud0-mature Disney Channel behavior, but like actual kids. And second, the inclusion of some actual supernatural elements, particularly at the end, really ramped up the suspense. I also liked what the actual resolution to the mystery was. Pretty clever and tragic. The writing style was enjoyable, too. Very much got across the small town feel. Reminded me a bit of To Kill A Mockingbird. Er, you know, with the narrator who's somewhat precocious but still definitely a kid in her essence, as well as in how it depicted the slower, close-knit feel of the community.

Overall: A very solid story that's worth checking out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Scrapped Princess

Title: Scrapped Princess

What it's about: Pacifica Casull is a fifteen-year-old girl who just happens to be the Scrapped Princess, the girl whose very existence will poison the world when she hits her sixteenth birthday. Everyone, seriously, everyone is out to kill this girl, the daughter of the royal family who was supposed to be killed when she was born. Only she survived, and now her foster siblings, Shannon and Raquel, are keeping her safe. As they journey to find a safe haven, they encounter many friends and foes and even some unlikely allies. And before the journey's done, Pacifica and those close to her will learn the shocking truth about their world.

What I thought: I am posting this as a public service announcement, y'all! Scrapped Princess is an amazing anime, and even though it's not a book, if you're a fan of well done stories, you can't pass this up! This series has great music and animation, very deep themes, well-developed characters, and an exciting plot that'll move you and keep you guessing until the end. It's heavy on the character development and on illustrating bonds of family and friendship. And the main characters are all great. Pacifica is not your typical heroine, but it's impossible not to like her for her plucky attitude and slightly spoiled nature. Plus, the series has a great sense of humor. It's not a humorous series, but it understands that just because you're fighting for your own survival while the entire world desires your death, that doesn't mean that life doesn't go on in its own mundane way and that funny things don't happen. That's the beauty of this series. There are so few books, movies, anime series, or fictional series in general that hit the balance of grim, deep, seriousness and the genuine goodness and happiness of life, and Scrapped Princess is one of them. So, seriously guys, check it out. Only 24 episodes, and the plot of the series is overall so well-structured that it just flies by.

Overall: Go. Watch. Now.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Good news, everyone!

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Well, I have now ordered Sense and Sensibility from the library, so that I can become familiar with the original story before reading this new book. Check out the article; there's even a video trailer for this book. Lulz. And apparently there's going to be a film of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Do want.

And for those of you who want more book reviews, I think I'll try to review Shadowed Summer next. I read it a couple weeks back, but it was very good and deserves a review. I just can't remember if I took it back to the library or not. This is why I hate it when my room's a mess. In any case, the past couple reviews were backlog books. I've been playing video games and rereading old favorites lately, not much new stuff. One book that I do have checked out that looks interesting is The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty. If I can drag myself away from TV Tropes and other distractions, I'll probably finish that some time this week.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Title: Shift
Author: Jennifer Bradbury

What it's about: Chris and his best friend Win decide to go on a bike trip across the United States in the summer after their senior year of high school. However, when the trip ends and college begins, something's wrong. Win hasn't returned home, and the FBI wants Chris to explain why.

What I thought: So I originally thought this was going to be, like, a thriller novel. Instead, it's a very deep story about friendship and growing as a person. The story is told by flashbacks of the bike trip interspersed with events from the story's present and the search for Win. What I liked the best was the realistic and complex characters, and the effective use of humor. Also, this book is just a really good example of a story about friendship, not something you see all that often. I was pulled into this book slowly at first, but by the time I hit the halfway point, there was no way I could put it down until I'd finished.

Overall: This review sadly doesn't do the book justice. I highly recommend it.

Night Watch

Title: Night Watch
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: In this installment of the Discworld's City Watch arc, His Grace Sir Samuel Vimes, Commander of Ankh-Morpork's City Watch, is anxiously awaiting the birth of his child when he's called away to deal with a persistent serial killer. Carcer Dunn is a deadly psychopath, but Vimes and his watchmen have him cornered atop one of the buildings of Unseen University when a freak accident sends Vimes and Carcer hurtling back thirty years through time, to a period of significant importance to both him and to the city itself. Now Vimes has to pursue his man in the Ankh-Morpork of the past, as well as navigate the old Watch through a time of coming crisis. If he's lucky, he'll come through this all alive, and so will one of the old Watch's newest recruits, a young lance constable named Sam Vimes.

What I thought: While rife with Pratchett's trademark wit and black humor, this is a book that's actually very deep, serious, and full of emotion. Vimes has to relive events that shaped him into the man he is in the present, and he has to struggle with changing and doing what he can and knowing his limits. The allusions to the People's Republic of Treacle Mine Road and its fate in the framing sections taking place in the present help to up the emotional impact when we see the republic take shape and start to grow. The Ankh-Morpork of the past is a dim, gritty place that we only even saw a shadow of in Guards! Guards!; after all, by that point, at least, Vetinari was in power and making the city run more efficiently and peacefully. So this view of the city's past is interesting, as are all the cameos of characters we know from the rest of the series, like Vetinari and young Nobby. We also quickly come to care for characters who've never been seen before and will never be seen again, just because of Pratchett's dynamic writing style that quickly develops and creates empathy for even the more minor characters through small details and observations that make these characters seem like real people, not just names with quirks. A lot of people name this as Pratchett's best, and I think they may very well be on to something.

Overall: A poignant addition to the Discworld series.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Only You Can Save Mankind

Title: Only You Can Save Mankind
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: Johnny Maxwell is a normal English boy who enjoys playing the occasional computer game. Fighting aliens is fun - until the aliens ask to surrender. A confused Johnny agrees to accept the surrender and to help the aliens reach safety, but upholding the bargain is harder than he thought it would be when plenty of other gamers are ready to fight aliens. Johnny has to rely on old friends and new if he wants to keep the ScreeWee safe.

What I thought: Very much a good read, with a lot of themes recognizable from the Discworld books. A good helping of What Measure Is A NonHuman? and just some general philosophizing about the nature of war, reality, and decency. The usual fare, and not too heavy-handed. Quite a lot of good humor. Quick read, though. Got through it in maybe three hours of on-and-off reading.

Overall: A good, solid book from the master.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Chronicles of Prydain

Title: The Chronicles of Prydain
Author: Lloyd Alexander

What it's about: Yes, I'm cheating and putting the five book series into one entry. But anyway, it's the story of a young man named Taran who lives in a land based on Wales that's being menaced by this evil guy named Arawn. Taran gets roped up into adventures, and despite being a bit of an idiot, his resolve and good heart serve him well in befriending new companions and learning about himself and what it means to be a hero, as well as in saving Prydain. The series is made up of five books: The Book of Three, wherein we're introduced to Taran, Eilonwy, Gurgi, and Fflewddur Fflam, among others. The Black Cauldron, which is probably the most well-known of the five, since Disney made an animated feature based on it, has the companions reuniting to find and destroy the titular artifact so it can't be used to make undead soldiers. The Castle of Llyr comes next, and it deals with saving Eilonwy and also starts to emphasize the feelings between her and Taran. In Taran Wanderer, the plot a bit different, with Taran looking to learn about his heritage instead of going off to defeat some evil guy, but book five, The High King, returns to that formula for a very epic conclusion to the saga. Full of allies coming together, battles with high stakes and the first instances in the entire series of characters other than Taran having viewpoint sections, and highlighting the growth of Taran and the other characters, this book presents an exciting, satisfying conclusion to a wonderful fantasy series.

What I thought: Much better than I'd dared to hope it would be, this series charmed me from the beginning and then grew on me from there. Taran starts out as your typical impulsive idiot hero, but he's got his moments of clarity, and you can see how he makes up for his lack of common sense with plenty of heart and determination. Eilonwy is an interesting character as well, an action girl who's also a bit of... well, airhead and ditz seem a little strong, but she's definitely a chatterbox, and while most of the time she's the voice of reason for Taran, she has her moments. But that all just serves to make her more unique and likable. Gurgi and Fflewddur both took a little longer to grow on me, but both the loyal forest creature and the garrulous bard found places in my heart as the books passed. I liked how the series progressed, with the first two books establishing characters and conflicts, and then the next one developing side conflicts and showing character growth in an alternate environment. And then the fourth book was quite different from the previous three, focusing more on Taran's spiritual journey than anything else, but it still managed to be entertaining. And the final book was a perfect, gripping conclusion to this series, with plenty of excitement and emotion. I'm already looking forward to when these books aren't so fresh in my head so I can read them all again.

Overall: Wonderful classics.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Author: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

What it's about: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." And with that we have the striking first line of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a unique adaptation of Jane Austen's classic work. While preserving most of the original text and the story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, this version also adds in a zombie subplot. A plague has beset England, causing zombies to walk the earth, and the five Bennet sisters are trained warriors who keep their part of the countryside safe. Elizabeth must deal with the conflicts of her proud warrior's nature with the desires of her heart.

What I thought: While I had feared this book would be gimmicky, it actually stands up pretty well. It helped that I was familiar with Pride and Prejudice, I think. The zombie scenes are pretty well integrated into the flow of the story, and there's a lot of new background given to various characters. For instance, it's established that Elizabeth and her sisters trained in the deadly arts under a Shaolin master in China. Elizabeth also has more of a violent streak than in the original story. The language is always kept close to Austen's original style. And the drawings in this edition are pretty much the cherry on top.

Overall: If you like Pride and Prejudice and silly zombie stuff, this will be heaven.