"'what is the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversations?'"

2005-07-24 / 1:19 p.m.

Listening:: shh...reading
Playing:: no time!--I'm reading
Reading:: anything I can get my hands on

This is my official book review page…not official in that it is endorsed in anyway by anyone (unless you would like to endorse me, which in that case feel free to contact me) but that it is book reviews and they are by me alone. Ratings are done on a 5 point scale. This is purely arbitrary and I don’t know why I came up with it. It’s probably a rip off of the newspapers movie rating scheme. If you don’t like the ratings remember they are mine alone and are only suggestions…albeit smart and informed suggestions but feel free to ignore them and read something I didn’t like or to hate something I did. I just hope you read. That’s the ultimate goal here: to get more people interested in reading. I try to read a variety of things so maybe something on here will spark an interest.

Be Ever Hopeful, Hannalee--Patricia Beatty

Aww the wonderful sequel to Turn Homeward Hannalee. It seems to be a trend that the sequels to books I loved have been depressingly disapointing in their ability to live up to the original. Thankfully this book has reversed that trend. It picks up right where the original left off, and everyone behaves as expected. The Reed family travels to Atlanta to try and survive after the civil war. Everyone must work to help the family yet Davey, Hannalee's big brother, has problems finding work since he lost his arm in the war. Sinking into depression he is accused of killing a Yankee soldier and is going to be hung for the crime. Hannalee's new found black friend, Delie, witnesses the shooting and leaves a message of his innocence before fleeing in fear. Now Hannalee must rely on her Yankee friends to help her find Delie before her brother is killed. Of course this story has a lesson like most young adult fiction. Its difficult for Hannalee to befriend the kind Yankees she works for and to give her trust to a people she still sees as the enemy. This is reflected in Delie's difficult time in trusting Hannalee, since she is a former slave and Hannalee is a confederate. Without feeling preachy or in anyway forced, all of the players come to realize there is good and bad in every group of people. The one complaint I have is that the action and real story of this book doesnt get started for quite some time. Really its only the later chapters that start dealing with the murder. Although I find it interesting to read about the difficult task of finding work the newly poor Southerners faced I dont know how others feel about that. Otherwise it is a truly engaging story that will keep you reading, if only to find out in the end who really killed the Yankee soldier.

Overall Rating:4.5
Kissing Doorknobs--Terry Spencer Hesser

This book is a fictional, yet slightly autobiographical, look at a young girls struggle with the horrible disease of obsessive compulsive disorder. One day Tara cannot function with out counting and avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. Unsure as to why this is happening she only knows she must do this. Her compulsions change from counting, to praying, to arranging, and finally to kissing doorknobs. The disease puts a strain on her family, causes her to loose friends, and basically makes it hard for her to even function normally in the outside world. Many misdiagnosis occur which lead to even more frustration for her family, finally at the breaking point a family friend notices what she is doing and introduces her to a boy who has the same problems, and Tara finally gets the help she desperately needs. This book doesnt gloss over the problems faced by suffers of this illness, it portrays a true and painful picture of the torment these poor souls go through. As a mild sufferer myself (extremely mild compared to poor Tara) I have always been naturally curious about this topic. I highly recomend it even if it is a bit short and the treatment sections at the end really dont give much information. Its definitely made me want to read more on this subject.

Overall Rating:4.0
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince---JK Rowling

This is the first one I actually had trouble reading. I found myself able to put it down and walk away, which is a first for this series. There just seemed to be big chunks where nothing was happening of any importance. It starts off wonderfully; with a new minister of magic, Snape finally becoming the DADA teacher, Harry receiving a mysterious potions textbook full of sinister help...yet it dissolves into nothing. We get very little insight into Snape as a DADA teacher which was something I was looking forward to since he hates Harry so much yet this is Harry’s best subject. A lot of things get explained in this book and that is the best I can say about it. Dumbledore and his pensive is a welcome reprieve from “Won-Won” and all the sappy teenage romance thrown in around actual plot. The search for the hor-cruxs and the visions of the Gaunts make this worth reading. Don’t get me wrong, a little romance doesn’t bother me, but come on, I don’t need a sub plot of Ron learning how to make out with Lavender Brown while Hermoine stews jealously in the corner. It takes up far too much space that could have been used for things actually relating to the plot such as what Lupin was learning while underground, or just what those death eater meeting were about, and how Draco was doing with his new found position. Alas we get none of this. Of course everyone knows that a major character dies. I won’t pretend I didn’t bawl my way through the end of the book, or curse Rowling’s name several times. Not for the killing you see, but for the way it happened…lets please not ruin my favorite character. I won’t say this book didn’t spark many water cooler debates and discussions because it did. It’s still good, it’s just not what I have come to expect. I have become accustomed to non-stop suspense and tension. Next time lets hope she leaves out the fluff and either makes it shorter or fills it in with actual plot.

Overall Rating:4.0
Harry Potter and the Order of the Poenix---JK Rowling

Another book packed full of action and plot to the point where it could be a deadly weapon it is so long. Harry goes on trial, there is a secret society fighting Voldemort that is run from Sirius Black’s house, Dumbledore is removed as headmaster and replaced by an evil ministry stooge, and Harry looses the most important thing in the world of all for him.
I have so many mixed emotions when it comes to this book. I want to love it for many reasons; I love that Harry is finally showing real emotion, he is frustrated and lashing out at people just like any other teenager would. I love the glimpse into wizarding government with the trial of Harry and the mystery surrounding the, what else, department of mysteries. Even some of the things I hated were obviously there for good reasons and did make the plot more interesting. As much as I hated Dolores Umbridge, nothing made me smile more than Fred and George flying away from the school with a “give her hell Peeves” in a fit of mischievous glory. Though death of a dear character occurs it finally means that Harry will learn the truth about why he is hunted…the prophecy explains it all with a little help from Dumbledore.
Some things still bother me though, such as the battle with Voldemort; it all seemed a little to anticlimactic to me. It just wasn’t as intense as the other books in that respect. Also Umbridge: I find it odd that ministry stooge or not she would have been allowed to permanently scar children as a punishment. Finally the perennial problem of Snape rears its head again. While he did seem a bit more like I wanted in this book, his lessons with Harry seemed almost too harsh for someone supposed to be helping as a fellow member of the order. Still a page turner but part of me longed for the old days of homework problems and chocolate frogs for the kids instead of so much trouble and pain.

Overall Rating:4.75
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire---J.K. Rowling

The first official dark book of the series. The plot deepens, charcters die, and Voldemort is a constant threat growing more powerful as time passes. Exciting from the very beginning, this book starts with an innocent enough world quiditch match only to have the event interrupted by death eaters and chaos reigns. On to school where a tournament of magic is being held for the 3 international schools of magic hosted by Hogwarts. Too young to enter, Harry is mysteriously thrown into the competition and it is surely for his detriment. Helped along by the new DADA teacher and others Harry must decide who is trying to help him or who is behind the plot to get him killed. Proving once again that he is a powerful wizard despite his age Harry makes it though the tournament only to be confronted with the true horror just when he believes it over. A heart thumping battle at the end makes for a surprising and chilling ending. This book sees the kids grow up in more ways then one. The now teenagers have hormones and feelings to contend with in addition to Voldemort this year. Hermoine gets a boyfriend, much to the surprised dismay of Ron and Harry gets his first lesson in love. Too much happens in this book to cover it all, but the best (or worst) is the full return of Voldemort to power, complete with body and loyal followers alike. Gripping to the end, this book ties up a few loose ends, only to make more mysteries for the next in the series.

Overall Rating:5.0
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban---J.K. Rowling

This one is my favorite of the entire series. From the moment the book starts with Harry hiding under his blanket reading his magic text book I was hooked. This is the first book to really give a glimpse of Harry’s parents and of a time past which is so integral to the overall plot of Voldemort and his destruction. Also it is the first book in the series that does not have Harry facing Voldemort, a wise decision in my opinion, since how likely is it that at the end of every year he would appear and try to kill Harry? That is not to say that the time spent at Hogwarts is easy or that Voldemort is out of the picture; far from it. Sub-plots of the other major characters seem to play a more important role in this book, such as the mystery of Hermoine and all her classes.
Azkaban introduces tons of new characters, from the charlatan divinations teacher(or is she?) to the convicted murderer Sirius Black, yet they all manage to be richly portrayed and do not suffer from a lack of familiarity. In fact one character in particular managed to become one of my favorites of the whole series. The new defense against the dark arts teacher is an old friend of the Potters and perhaps the greatest DADA teacher Hogwarts has had in sometime. Its just a shame his dark secret is revealed forcing him to leave the school at a time when Harry probably needed him the most. I’ve never been quite sure why I loved the character of Lupin so much since he is so different from my other favorite character; Professor Snape.
That brings me to the only problem I have with the entire book: Snape. Yes we all know he hates Harry unreasonably because of his father, but Snape has never been unintelligent yet it seems to me in the last chapters while the truth is unfolding he is unbending and irrational when it comes to his former class mates and lets his hatred get in the way of what he knows is the truth. Not a feature I enjoy seeing in my favorite character. Perhaps I have just read too much fan fiction though and I have confused the real Snape with the Snape of others invention.

Overall Rating:5.0!
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets---J. K. Rowling

While this is an excellent book and still one of my favorites, in comparison with the rest of the series this is the weakest in my opinion. The book takes a darker turn than the first which is good, people are getting injured and the threat of death is around every corner. With a mysterious creature loose in Hogwarts hunting the muggle-borns it’s up to Harry, Ron and Hermoine to solve the puzzle once again. We are given a deeper view of wizarding life in this novel, with a glimpse of the Weasley house and the dark and foreboding Knockturn Alley. Once again Harry is forced to confront his enemy Voldemort in a show down full of suspense deep in the heart of a hidden chamber located in the school, all of Harry’s doubts come back to haunt him in this book: was he sorted right and is he unable to fit even in wizarding society with his parseltongue abilities?
The complaints I have are those that come to being to big a fan of the series, to not just accept things. How does Dumbledore allow such an incompetent teacher in Hogwarts such as Gilderoy Lockhart? Yes the job is hard to fill, but I highly doubt that he would let someone as dangerous as that teach children. Then there is Dobby the house-elf. Maybe its just me but hes a little too Jar-Jar Binks for my taste. But once again minor complaints in an overall fascinating and intense read.

Overall Rating:4.5
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone---J. K. Rowling

I have reached the point in my book case of reviewing the Harry Potter series. First off I would just like to say that I give the whole series a 6 on my 5 point rating scale since hardly any other series has managed to capture my imagination and attention quite like these have. Few books can inspire people to sit around and discuss theories on the new developments for hours yet this one has done that and more…
I will never forget finally giving in and reading the first Harry Potter book, well after the entire craze had started. I was a too smart for children’s literature Walden’s employee who thought that anything that popular couldn’t be good. Finally determined to find out what the big deal was I bought the first book and read it in an afternoon, headed back to the bookstore that evening and bought books 2 through 4. What is it about this first book that grabs readers so? Rowling gives us a world full of magic and an escape from the mundane, Harry is like every other child, alienated and feeling alone when he discovers there is a reason for it all, he is a wizard, and not just any wizard; one whose name is known through out the world. Its every child’s (or adults for that matter) dream to be special. Rowling taps into this with a finesse not seen in a long time. That alone does not make a great story however. It’s in the details and that is something that is understatement in this book. I’ve heard people complain that the action in this first book of the series isn’t as great as the others. Yet in this book Harry manages to meet his nemesis Voldemort and live to tell the tale, while the entire world of Harry Potter is set into place. This one small book manages to create an image for us of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley and all the other places that witches and wizards inhabit and still have a story. Never again will one ask what a muggle is or how to play quidditch, all because of this first book that captured the hearts and imaginations of an entire generation of people, young and old.

Overall Rating:5.0
The Island of the Blue Dolphins---Scott O'Dell

Another favorite from childhood, the only difference being I read this one so much I actually wore my paperback copy out and had to get hard back years ago. I cant say enough good things about this book. Its a Robinson Crusoe type story set on an island off the coast of California, with a girl as the protagonist. As a member of a tribe of indians nearly wiped out by the white man, Karana and the rest of her village are leaving their home when she discovers that her brother was left behind, she jumps ship and goes to save him since he is to young to survive on his own, thinking that the ship she is on will return for them later: it never does. Her brother is soon killed by the pack of wild dogs roaming the island and the story is about that and other hardships she has to endure alone on the island. Soon she has plenty of friends to occupy her with all the birds and other wild life that live on the island. This story is powerful and moving mainly due to the skill that O'dell shows with regards to detail. Karana has to survive, she has to kill to get what she needs and he does not gloss over this. whether she is hunting the dogs that killed her brother or trying to get teeth to make spear heads with from sea elephants, the story is recounted with no apologies and no gruesomeness. This is a book I still reread often to this day, and a classic that should be on everyones bookshelf.

Overall Rating:5.0
Charlie nad the Chocolate Factory/Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator---Roald Dahl

I happened to pick up a hard bound "two in one" copy of these the other day at Barnes and Noble. I had just seen the new movie and while I vaguely remembered the book from my childhood I decided to purchase it, since I recalled liking it as a child. Sigh, I would have been better off buying a single copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The first book is good, really good. Full of nonsense and rhymes, Willie Wonka practically leaps off the page with his top hat and purple jacket. A cute story that I rightly remembered enjoying and a classic for all ages... Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator is another story. Everything Dahl does right in the first one seems to be wrong in the second. Willie is taken to a nonsensical extreme (which honestly I didnt know was even possible) Lets just say that taking characters into space doesn't just ruin the Jason movies...My imagination will let me believe in a magical candy factory filled with wonderful chocolate rivers and eatable grass, and small scary men that work there form some jungle, but it will not let me believe that the president of the United States has his NANNY as vice president and that Willie and his elevator can reach an international space hotel. The problem for me is that as fantastical as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is, it's set in the real world. Charlie is an ordinary boy. The world goes on around the factory like normal, it is a magical place, yet in the Glass Elevator, everything is portrayed as off-kilter and wacky, which is somehow just a bit too much.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Overall Rating:4.0
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator Overall Rating:1.5
The Annotated Alice-the definitive edition---Martin Gardner

It will come to no ones surprise if you are reading this(provided you know what the cabbages and Kings layout is from) that I love Lewis Carroll. I think there was no greater story ever told than the story of Alice. Children enjoy it for its fun nonsense, adults enjoy it for the numerous puns and logic-filled puzzles buried deep within. While I have always felt that no one would ever find all the hidden things in the text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Gardner has come as close as possible in my opinion. Filled with interesting facts about Carroll, the real Alice, and of course all the amazing hidden references to mathematical and logic problems all explained in the handy margin notes. Also the never-ending joy of Tenniel's illistrations make this a must have for fans of Alice or of literature's hidden stories alike. Perhaps the most valuable chapter in this book is the preveiously undiscovered and unpublished episode from Through the Looking Glass "Wasp in a Wig" which was removed at Tenniel's suggestion form the final book and was thought lost forever. Reading this has made me want to reread the original stories again for pure enjoyment. The only complaint I have is that sometimes the notes ramble a bit with a little useless information, but thats a small pirce to pay for such an informative and enjoyable read.

*please note that the rating does NOT apply to Carroll's text...only to the notes and organization of Martin Gardner.*
Overall Rating-4.75
Turn Homeward Hannalee--Patricia Beatty

Another favorite from my childhood. Civl War tales have always interested me, deep down I am a Southern Belle at heart, so tales of the South are my secret shame. This is a very good historical novel, young adult or not, and it delves into the little thought of world of the poor southern mill worker. Most civil war stoies are plantation filled fantasies of Southern culture not unlike Gone With the Wind. While I do love these as well, this is a refreshing change from the rich world that so few Southerners actually inhabited. Hannalee is a young Georgian mill worker who is gathered up by the Yankee army along with her brother and forced to relocate to Indiana since they are traitors to the Union for making Confederate cloth. This is a known fact that Southern mill workers were indeed shipped off to work as servants or mill workers in the north. After that it is a fictional account of Hannalee's struggle to get herself and her brother safely home to their widowed mother. No one knows for sure what ever happened to those mill workers but I'd like to think that some of them returned home as Ms. Beatty's managed to do. It left such a lasting impression i still remember buying at the school book fair in 4th grade.

Overall Rating:4.5
The Eleventh Hour--Graeme Base

Perhaps one of the greatest picture books of all time, in my opinion, this book has everything. Full of beautiful illustrations, a cute rhyming story, and a mystery so full of unique puzzles to find you may never unravel them all. I got the book when I was a small child and I still love trying to decode all the clues to this day at age 23.
Horace the elephant plans a birthday feast and invites his friends over to join him. Unfortunately someone at the party steals the feast. Each illustration of the party and the occompanying games holds clues to the identity of the thief. They range from simple around the border clues to decoding muscal scores. The end of the book has a sealed section that reviews all the hidden clues and the identity of the thief. Its interesting in itself just to see all the things you missed and where some of his inspirations for the beautiful drawings come from. A must have book young or old!

Overall Rating: 5.0

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle---Avi

This was one of my favorites as a child. I bought it in hardcover recently, to have just on the off chance that I ever have kids of my own so that I could pass along this wonderful story. Don’t get me wrong, being an adult has not diminished the joys of reading this book again for me and I recommend it to adults as well; I just realize I might be a bit biased since this book brings back some fond memories of my childhood. Charlotte Doyle, a rich, well to do girl in the early 1800’s is forced to sail to America alone to join her family and gets embroiled in a plot of revenge against an evil captain whom she has the misfortune to be sailing under. The mutinous crew accepts her and by the end she is a full fledged member of their rank, not able to return to her upper class world due to the changes she has made brought on by her experiences.
The plot is a little hokey…but the author does a wonderful job conveying Charlotte’s horror at the things she discovers about class, race and relationships and how they intertwine over the course of the novel. While it could have been set anywhere great detail is put into the language and description of the sailing ship and time period, down to the bell system used by sailors of the era. The story isn’t as fleshed-out as I would have liked it to be or as I remembered, but it is a children’s book and perhaps I am just spoiled to all the details in such children’s literature as Harry Potter. Still a pleasant afternoon read.

Overall Rating: 3.5

Portrait of a Killer Jack the Ripper Case Closed---Patricia Cornwell

Another Jack the Ripper book. Yet again someone has decided that they have solved the biggest mystery of all except this time it’s a bestselling crime author. Having Cornwell as the author does make for a much more interesting book to read. I’ve always loved her books and this is no exception. She makes several interesting points for her suspect, artist Walter Sickert, which makes her idea plausible. She sites numerous examples of his art being violent, his odd behavior and his proximity during the murders. But beyond that it is a fun read. It’s a storyteller writing nonfiction. Instead of the normal dry crime writing you get sucked into each attack by her obvious skill with language.

Sometimes it’s too much. Too often for my taste Cornwell brings the case to the present, stating what would be investigated now and the tools that would be used today. She seems more comfortable in this time frame which is understandable; she normally writes crime dramas set in today’s society not the London of over 100 years ago. It just seems like sometimes she is showing off her knowledge of present day techniques in an attempt to appear credible for writing this book. It wasn’t needed. Cornwell often takes great leaps in logic as well. A lot of her assumptions about Sickert are based on the Ripper letters and even if he had written the letters there is no evidence that they were written by the killer.

Once again this case isn’t solved but I do have to say that her view is one of the first that I could see as a real possibility. She did her homework and tried every way conceivable to prove her case, including DNA. This is never going to be solved, but I highly recommend this book. If you are interested in this case it will keep your attention and might make you rethink some of your own ideas about the murderer.

Overall Rating: 4.0

03-07-05--Jack the Ripper’s Black Magic Rituals by Ivor Edwards

This books purpose is to set forth one more suspect in the greatest murder mystery of all time, the whitechapel killer jack the ripper, and to try to give the whole thing a new perspective. I give Mr. Edwards credit: he did his home work. His theory is based off of the idea of looking for why the killer committed the crimes and it will lead to the killer. He has plotted out points on the map, studied sacred geometry and walked these sites hundreds of times. His suspect is believable. Occult ritual is a great new take on the subject instead of the usual hating women, or just plain crazy. I have always been on the side of James Maybrick as killer, but Edwards almost convinces me due to the strength of his conviction and the obvious time he has put into this.

Its just a shame he’s not the best writer. Edwards jumps around the murder scenes taking for granted that the reader knows who all the major players are in the case. If I hadn’t read anything on Jack the Ripper before I probably would have thrown the book down and never looked at it again after the first few chapters. There is also an assumption that you know London; having never been there his maps and conclusions where a little hard to follow. Plus he acts like all the other suspects put forth are ridiculous and show the unintelligence of those who believe one of them to be the killer. This is sad, since no one will ever know for sure who the Ripper was, his theory could be construed as just as unintelligent. Worth a look if you love the ripper story, not for someone just getting started in it.

Overall Rating: 2.5

02-27-05----Arcade Fever by John Sellers

I wanted to love this book. The writing was funny, the subject was interesting and it was filled with full color pictures of screenshots and cabinet art. Sellers does many things right; I love the yearly updates on the world in general, the interviews with some of the industries most influential people and its witty sense of humor. That being said it also gets a few things wrong. The whole book is infuriatingly opinionated. Everyone who has ever played these games has strong opinions about them and this book fails to mention that it is simply the author’s feelings rather then a catalog of some of the greatest arcade treasures of the early days of the arcade. I would be ok with that if this were a biography of John Sellers days in the local arcade but its not. It also left me wanting more information on the games he chose and less asides that made little sense such as Ms. Pac-Man's video game fashion review.

Despite its short comings I found myself inexplicably drawn to this book even after I'd finished it just to flip through and admire the pictures. It was fun to take to work and look at with friends each one telling a story of a game they recognized and the memories they had of it. So check it out, just don’t expect a great deal of information, but please enjoy the memories it provokes.

Overall Rating: 4.0

02-22-05----The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven L. Kent

This is by far the most comprehensive book on video games and their origins that I have ever seen, read, flipped through, or even heard off. Everything you could ever want to know about the entertainment medium referred to or associated with video games can be found in this book, things one might not even expect to read about in a history of video games such as the rise of pinball out of a seedy gambling and organized crime background, all the rumors of Atari’s laid back style (i.e. pot parties, hot tub meetings, etc.), and the management organization of all the major game corporations. This along with all the information on game inspiration, console wars, and the most famous development triumphs and failures makes this the definitive read for anyone interested in what goes into video games, not just in playing them.
The only flaw I can find with this is the sheer amount of information the book tries to get across. Towards the end as the industry grows and more and more names get thrown into the mix, all the jumping of companies by key players can become confusing. I’m still not sure who all Steve Race ended up working for although I’m fairly certain he started at Atari and ended up at Sony with a stop at Sega in between and quite possibly a few more places I didn’t pick up on. Still for such a mammoth undertaking it is done well and manages to be informative and entertaining throughout. I highly recommend this book for video game lovers and lovers of pop culture history alike.

Over all Rating: 4.5


cabbages and kings