Tuesday, November 24, 2009

700 Sundays, by Billy Crystal

This was a wonderful book that my sister recommended to me. It's funny how over the years my twin and I developed quite different reading interests, but we still have a somewhat similar taste. This was a brief kind of autobiography of the great comedian Billy Crystal. The story was actually a play before it became a book. Must have been quite a funny play. ^_^

Billy sure had an amazing childhood. But he also had a sad one, because his father died when he was only 15. ~,~ He was born on a Sunday, and his dad died on a Sunday, so he calculated that he'd only shared 700 Sundays with his old man. Not very many, when you think about it.

The way the book is written is very engaging. Billy Crystal's life was just as interesting as a fictional character, only it felt a lot more real, because... well, he's a real guy, ain't he? =P But this is really an awesome book to read. I know Billy Crystal as a really funny guy from a bunch of movies and stuff, but this shows a whole other side of him.

Storyteller, by Edward Myers

This was a wonderful read that I found when I was in the library the other day. I'd just recently discovered that we had a Young Adult section! Can you believe that I didn't know my own library as well as I thought I did? Anyway, I searched the shelves for something that would interest me, and this book caught my eyes at once. "Storyteller?" How fascinating! I mean, wouldn't you agree, with that cover?

I was quite well rewarded for picking this book up. It reminded me so much of the Marigold books that I'd enjoyed so thoroughly. The story takes place in the Realm of Sundar, a medieval kingdom right out of a fairy tale. The main character is a young man named Jack (a pretty popular name among young men in stories, isn't it? =P), who from a very young age has loved to tell stories. And he's good at it too. So when he's ready to go out and seek his fortune, Jack has quite the interesting adventure.

All the characters are quite well developed, and I loved the writing style very much. Immediately I'm reminded of reading a fairy tale, or of having someone tell a story out loud to me. It's a wonderful tale that teaches about the power of love, staying true to yourself, and what lies in the heart of someone whose deepest wish is to tell stories to the people. Stories that will make their listeners laugh, cry... even sneeze. =P (No, really. He does make someone sneeze at one of his stories!)

I really liked this book, and it would have made my top favorites list, only the end part was a little bit so-so. Like, Jack is somehow corrupted by the royal politics, and he turns into little more than a puppet for the antagonists. (No, he wasn't literally a puppet. He just did whatever they told him without question for a while.) But somehow he gets his head back on straight and plays for the right side again. Still, it wasn't nice to see how the main character you grew to like could so easily be corrupted... And in the end there's a fascinating plot-twist that you never saw coming!

Anyway, besides that, I think this is a great book to read, especially for wannabe authors like myself. ^_^ Even though it's set in an old, fictional time, the principles of telling a good story seem to be the same. I know this book was a decent one, because when I read the very last page, I remember smiling, somewhat in appreciation of the story that was told to me.

This is now a book that my brother picked up. He seems to like it a lot. He's reading most of it, but Adam likes it when I read a couple chapters aloud to him. If there's anything I like better than reading books, it's reading them out loud to my younger brother. ^_^ I highly recommend this book, and this activity.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A couple of short non-fiction books.

Taking a tiny break from fiction novels, I picked up a couple of thin non-fiction books that were quite interesting to read. One of these was a book all about the subject of irony, "The Big Book of Irony". (The book all by itself is ironic, because it's not even that big! ^_~) I love irony. I really liked all the ironic quotes and stories mentioned in this book. Just like a sense of humor, I believe a sense of irony is a wonderful thing to have. Of course, a lot of the ironic examples mentioned in the book are pretty morbid, for example: Say a guy is in the mood for a Coke, so he hops on a bike to go to a nearby gas station or something. Suddenly a truck runs over the guy and kills him. What was the truck delivering? Coke! Ooh, the irony. =P A less gruesome example is if a thief with no teeth in his mouth is caught and arrested for stealing toothbrushes. You probably get the idea by now. So basically, this was a good book that explored irony and it's history, definitions and many uses. (Doesn't the irony of the cover just take the cake or what?)

The other book I read that I finished more recently was of a very different tone altogether. It's kind of the memoirs of a prolific author that I've never heard about, but who used to be a teacher and got a lot of his ideas from his experiences and the letters students wrote him when he visited schools. It's called "Invitations to the World". When I randomly picked it out from the library, I thought the subtitle "Teaching and Writing for the Young" meant it would teach me a little about writing. It didn't exactly do that, but it was still a good book anyway. It included excerpts from the guy, Richard Peck's, numerous books, and a couple poems that I believe he wrote. One of these poems in particular stood out for me, the last thing he writes in the book:
A story is a doorway that opens on a wider place.
A story is a mirror to reflect the reader's face.

A story is a question you hadn't thought to ponder.
A story is a pathway inviting you to wander.

A story is a window, a story is a key,
a story is a lighthouse, beaming out to sea.

A story's a beginning, a story is an end.
And in the story's middle, you might just make a friend. ^_^
I don't know how much I would enjoy Richard Peck's novels, since he doesn't exactly write sci-fi or fantasy fiction, but his name could be something for me to remember.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gone, by Michael Grant

This book was another recommendation by the Lateiners. These guys are a really great site if you're looking for some cool new reads, I got to tell ya. ^_~ Anyway, I think this book was pretty neat and I wanted to tell you a bit about it and why I liked it. So...

Well, to tell you the truth, it kind of reminded me of Maze Runner. Where kids have to act like grown-ups and survive in a new society. The difference is that it's in the "real world" where everyone knows how the world is supposed to work, as opposed to the Gladers in Maze, who all forget their former lives.

It all starts when all the adults and anyone over the age of 15 disappears off the face of the Earth. Or just off the face of Perdido Beach in California. No explanation or fireworks. Everyone just disappears and only the little kids and young teenagers are left to fend for themselves. And when you turn 15 years old, you'll vanish as well! Not only that, the Internet, cellphones and all televisions stop working, so they're cut off from the rest of the world. And there's a strange, impenetrable barrier that wraps around the city limits, so they can't even escape. Oh, and add to all of these scary facts that some kids have started to discover superpowers, and some animals are mutating in very weird ways? I think you've got yourself a very interesting story here.

I liked all the characters in the book. Nearly everyone gets a little bit of the story to tell, so you get inside their head a little bit. The personality of the main guy, Sam, kind of reminded me of Harry Potter, in that he's kind of the reluctant hero, but he's noble and shows natural leadership and tries to do the right thing. Characters like Albert and Mary are also neat, because these teens are selfless and only think about the needs of others. Albert runs the local McDonalds and feeds everyone Big Macs, while Mary runs the day care center and looks after all the children who aren't able to take care of themselves, like babies and preschoolers. These people are big heroes to me.

Some parts were... okay. Like the fact that there were a lot of mean bullies out there. And not that the bullies caused all of it, but there was a lot of blood and gore and pain in this story. There was a very interesting sub-plot about this girl Lana, who at the time of every adult's disappearance was with her Grandpa in a car on the highway in the desert, and with Gramps gone she gets into a major car-crash and nearly dies! Luckily, she discovers she has the power to heal herself, but only after a long, long time. It tortured me to read about how much pain she had to endure. Sheesh!

The end of the book was very open-ended. I knew ahead of time that this was a series, so I know there's more to the story here. Still, I think it was a good place to end this part of the tale. I don't know how long it'll take me to want to read the sequel. Hunger, is it called? Well anyway, I think I'll take a little break from the series. I'm not that crazy about it. But it's good enough that I can recommend it to you.

The Tomorrow Code, by Brian Falkner

This book I reserved and picked up from the library, because I remembered being interested in it after the Lateiner Gang did their own review on it a couple months ago. I was really glad I read this book. The writing style is very intriguing and sucks you right into the story. I liked how the kids in here are really smart, thinking about time travel and all. Plus, I didn't know this when I first started reading it, and it took a while for me to realize it, but I found out that this is a book that takes place in present day New Zealand. I don't know much about New Zealand, but the people there don't really seem that different from Americans. Go figure.

So I really liked this book, because it's got a little bit of romance, thrown in with the anticipation of the end of the world, and a lot of speculative science. First of all, the question is asked, is time travel practically possible? The answer is unfortunately no. Not in this book's universe it's not, anyway. But communication through time? Hmm... now there's a fascinating possibility. Of course, you can only send messages to the past, because it's impossible to skip over time. But if you're going to send messages at all, there needs to be a way for one to receive the messages in the first place. So these brainy kids writes some sort of program... something to do with looking for patterns in gamma rays or something... and eventually they actually get these messages from the future.

Of course, in the beginning it's all just 1s and 0s, as in binary code, but soon they are interpreted and these kids discover that they will become very rich, but also that the fate of the world rests in their hands. And if they can't save the world, then they'll just have to be prepared for it...

The writing was fantastic. My only quip is that the last several chapters got a little confusing for me. There are these fighting scenes with the military involved, see, and really, hardly anything made any sense. Perhaps that was the point... but still, I felt most comfortable and back on track when the view point was brought back to the main characters. Plus the ending was a little funky. Something happened that I felt was highly unlikely, and not quite resolved, but it ended anyway. I can't really tell if this book will become a series or not, but my guess is that this is the end of the story. I'm kind of glad about that. Despite this bump in the road in the final part, the book kept me engaged and my overall reading experience was a good one. So I recommend it.

Another thing I liked was that a couple of the book's characters were chimpanzees. They're originally used for experimentation, since DNA-wise they're near identical to humans (it's still cruel, though >,<), but the kids free one of them and take her along on the adventure. I wish I could meet a chimpanzee. I've not been to many zoos in my life. But I don't just want to be on the other side of a partition. I'd like to say hello and offer him a banana. ^_^ Just one of my fantasies.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Planet Simpson, by Chris Turner

Yesterday I finally was able to finish reading this huge book that is all about my newest obsession (for want of a better word), The Simpsons. It's just incredible. This cartoon show has been on T.V. for 21 Seasons (and counting!) and I never knew how good it really was, until quite recently.

I'd never really seen the Simpsons before, so I used to think that this show belonged in the same category as Family Guy, or South Park. Stupid, bad animation, crude humor, rotten characters, and not funny AT ALL! (Incidentally, I've never watched Family Guy. I saw a tiny bit of South Park long ago, and I know I hated that show. Never watched it since then.) Well, let me tell you, after watching the Simpsons as much as I have by now, my opinion for them has done a total 360. ^_^ I should have known there was a reason behind this show being the longest running cartoon ever.

This book explains the universe of the Simpsons incredibly well. There's a whole chapter devoted to each member of the Simpson family (well, except Maggie, I guess), Mr. Burns and all the other important characters. The book also talks a lot about the show's history and it's huge effect on America and the rest of the free world, so it's all really fascinating. I don't think any good Simpsons fan would forgive themselves if they didn't read this book.

I'm really glad that I'm a Simpsons fan now. Through watching the show, I've discovered that their brand of humor is very good natured and satirical, and that Springfield is a smart and accurate reflection of the real world, which is what makes the show so funny. I've also learned that the Simpsons aren't the most rotten, most dysfunctional family ever depicted on T.V. Despite all their differences in personalities and not being able to stand each other in one way or another most of the time, they are a family who loves each other.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

Aw, darn it! I finished this book more than a week ago, and I made a draft for it in advance, but I completely forgot to write what I thought about it! How weird. That doesn't usually happen...

Well, I'm really sorry about this. I'm not sure what to say about The Lost Symbol now. It's been so long since I finished reading it, though I did really, really like it. So since I'm feeling lazy this particular post, I'll just link to the review my friend Graham Chops did on the same book. I pretty much agree with his opinion, especially the part about loving to hate this book's villain, and how this will probably make the best movie out of Dan Brown's 3 "Robert Langdon" novels. (Incidentally, Wikipedia says they'll make a film version in 2012.) Plus I agree that Mr. Brown used way too many proper nouns, and not enough pronouns. =P

Again, sorry that this post had to be so abnormally short. But I've got another book review to write today.