Mini-Reviews: Part 2

A continuation of the mini-reviews of my January reading.  Part one is here.

The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman

You know how Homocide is like a gritty Law and Order?  I was told that The Magicians was a gritty Harry Potter.  Gritty?  Yes.  Harry Potter?  Vaguely.  The story is about Quentin, an incredibly intelligent young man who gets accepted into a secret magic college.  He learns some magic and then graduates and is left, like many young adults, wandering drunk and aimlessly into adulthood.  He and his magician buddies experiment in inter-world travel and end up in the magical, Narnia-esque land of Fillory.  Adventures of a gritty and not-so-heroic and not-so-happily-ever-after nature ensue.  When I started The Magicians, I complained to my husband that it was paced too slowly and that I wasn’t really into it.  And then immediately after I got so absorbed by the book that I could not put it down, finished it quickly, and decided to go get the next book from the library.  The Magician King was also paced slowly, but was really absorbing.  Wait these out, they are so worth it.  If you like fantasy, but also intelligent and funny, books, read these.  Grossman has a way with words that is just delightful and amusing… I wish I had saved some of my favorite quotes to illustrate why I kept laughing out loud while reading.  Also, I read a little of his blog (google it, if you need a sampling of his humor).  The dude can write.  Anyways, I am eagerly awaiting the next installment and the TV series that might come out of this, too.  And, by the by, these books have inspired me to actually read the Narnia books, since I seemed to have missed them as a child.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

I read The Hunger Games series over Christmas and had read that this trilogy was of a similar genre.  Ness’s series is really wonderful (and I would say it is even better thanThe Hunger Games)– intense and heartbreaking.  The premise of the books is that a boy, Todd, lives in a world of all males where everyone can hear one another’s thoughts, which are called “Noise.”  One day Todd comes across some strange things, silence and a girl.  The girl, Viola, and Todd go on to become major players in a war that threatens to destroy their entire planet.  There is a lot of meat on this bone.  Issues of maturity/coming of age, gender roles/equality, racial (well, interspecies) conflicts/equality, power, and violence/warfare all come into the story.  Perhaps the most important issue Ness brings up is the power of information or the Noise- how it unites people, divides people, and controls people.  If YA dystopia appeals to you, this is a must-read series.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I had seen good things about this book everywhere and enjoyed what little I had read of Rubin’s blog, so I decided to check out the book (after a loooong wait on the hold list at the library).  I have been thinking a lot in the last six months or so about ways in which to improve my quality of life, so I enjoyed that this book offered concrete examples of simple and straight-forward ways in which the author increased her own happiness without making any major life changes (no divorce, moving to India, religious conversion, or the like).  This book has inspired me to be a little more active in trying to make my own happiness, especially in the areas of physical health and also in organizing my clutter.  Her tip to tidy up 15 minutes every evening really helps smooth my mornings out… although I haven’t been perfect in following through with it.  The unhappiness in my life right now is largely career-related and Rubin was already so settled and happy in her career that her advice in that area wasn’t that helpful to me.  An interesting read for sure, but perhaps a bit overrated.  It may just be that I am not totally into self-help, but this was not as life-changing as I was led to believe it would be.

Mini-Reviews: Part One

Because I had not decided to blog until February, I did not post reviews of my January reads.  So in an effort to remember what I actually read this year, here are mini-reviews of some of January reads.

Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah

I picked this up because it was about the sister relationship.  I have two sisters and usually love books dealing with sisterhood.  This book wasn’t bad.  I am pretty sure I read it in two days.  It was, however, cheesy and the sister story wasn’t anything special.  There was estrangement, bad childhoods, improbable romance, cancer, single moms… cliched for sure.  Sometimes, however, cheesy hits the spot and in the few days of rest I got between holiday family time and going back to work, this was what I wanted.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I’d heard many good things about John Green and decided to start with this book, as the premise sounded interesting.  Also, the library cover of this book was really cool, a hologram or something.  The book is written with the two authors alternating chapters in the first person.  Each author writes from the point of view of a boy named Will Grayson.  Green’s Will Grayson lives by the rule of keeping his mouth shut, thereby isolating himself, and is often in the shadow of his larger-than-life gay best friend, Tiny Cooper.  Levithan’s Will Grayson is depressed, gay, and is also pretty isolated.  The two Wills meet randomly and the boys come into the own as a result of the chain of events that follow this meeting.  The best part of this book is the characters.  Both Wills are funny and easy to relate to.  Tiny Cooper is a really interesting and funny character, too.  My least favorite part of the book was the ending, which felt a bit silly and contrived.  Although, the characters were so fun, I will definitely try other books by these authors.  (In fact I am in the middle of another John Green book right now!)

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

For some reason, I decided I really wanted to read something about the genocide in Cambodia.  I was craving something serious and historical.  This book is the memoir of a woman who was a small child during the civil war/genocide/Pol Pot years in Cambodia.  The story was told from the perspective of a child living through extremely distressing situations, which made for some moving scenes.  For example, the descriptions of starvation and fear and social withdrawal and loss were quite well done.  I left this book having learned something and would like to know even more about Cambodia.  I’d say that is a successful memoir.