Sunday, November 22, 2009
Title: Uglies, Pretties
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Post-apocalyptic YA Sci-fi
Rating: 5 stars
Well, Westerfeld is pretty much a bad@$$, what can I say. I mean, I read Uglies before I read Leviathan, which was made of pure awesome. I was hooked on Uglies after the first few chapters.
It's set in a future (year is never said, nor location) where most of humanity was wiped out after a biological plague turned out fossil fuels into self-destructing explosives. Now the only humans live in hippie-dream cities made of recyclable materials, and vanity is the only god they worship. Everyone before the age of 16 is known as an "ugly", and they're conditioned to think that the only way they can become "pretty" is through an operation they get for free at age 16.
Enter Tally Youngblood, who wants nothing more to be pretty. Her best friend Peris became pretty a few months ago, so he no longer lives in her town; he lives in a new, hi-tech city where all he does is party from dawn til dusk.
Tally meets Shay, another ugly who isn't completely sold on the idea of becoming pretty. She says she's fleeing the city and going out to live in the "Smoke", where other escaped uglies live. Tally won't go with her, since she's just a few days away from getting the pretty operation.
Then the unthinkable happens: Shay escapes, and the Specials (basically the CIA) tell Tally that they won't give her the operation unless she follows Shay's instructions, locates the Smoke, and tells the Specials where the renegade uglies are hiding. If she doesn't comply, Tally will remain ugly...forever.
So what does she do? Serve herself and betray hundreds of free people? Or deny herself what she wants most just so others can stay ugly too? Can being pretty really be so bad for everyone?
Maybe it can...if the operation does more to you than just make you pretty...
Both of the first books in this series have splendid cliffhangers. Though told in third person, they're still written from within the head of the character they focus on. The technology is quickly described and well-thought out--think hoverboards and super computers and stuff. Many of the ideas in these novels will blow you away. Plus, Westerfeld is a master of minimalist writing--he doesn't linger with his descriptions. Hit it, quit it, lay waste, make haste. He gives you his ideas in the least amount of words possible, then plows ahead with the story like a steamroller on jet fuel.
I'm stoked to read Specials and see how the trilogy ends. There's a fourth book, Extras, which as I understand doesn't pertain a whole lot to the trilogy, nor does it feature most of the original characters, so I'm ambivalent on that. For now, we'll see. But I highly recommend these ones. Westerfeld is a very talented writer.
Title: Christmas on Mill Street
Author: Joseph Walker
Genre: Christmas novel
Rating: 3-4 stars
I don't have much to say about this book, but it was good. It's like a small novel version of A Christmas Story, only it's about a sled, not a rifle. There's a good moral lesson about kindness and humility, as well as love of family.
It's about a family that moves to Utah from Arizona. The youngest son sees snow for the first time and wants to get the awesomest sled that he can, so all the kids at his new school will like him and think he's neat-o (elementary school politics). He still teeters on whether or not he believes in Santa Claus, and his evil older sister plays against that belief. She makes a deal that if he can get that sled from Santa without telling his parents about it, she'll do the dishes for a few months, etc etc.
It's a quick read and a heartwarming tale, and it fits the bill of its setting (early 1960s). It has its humor and meaning, and I think the author did a good job with the first-person voice. Worth your time while it's in season.
Title: Tuesdays with Morrie
Author: Mitch Albom
Genre: Non-fiction memoir
Rating: 4-5 stars
This one's a classic. Mitch Albom tells the tale of his favorite professor from college as he died of Lou Gherig's disease, a sickness that slowly destroys the connection between brain and body. His name was Morrie, and he was a notorious peacemaker, a free spirit and a relentlessly kindhearted man.
Albom (a real guy--this book is semi-memoir) is brutally honest in this book...about himself, and the kind of person he was, and how Morrie helped him to become so much better. He and Morrie were close in college, and then later Albom became a freelance writer and started making all kinds of money. He put a price tag on success and put important things aside. Then he managed to see Morrie on the news one night and found out he was dying. This was 12 years after Albom graduated.
He went back to see Morrie every Tuesday for the rest of Morrie's life (a few months) and re-learned all of the important personal and spiritual lessons he'd set aside after college. Those lessons are the "Tuesdays with Morrie." To see what the lessons are, read the book...and prepare to take notes. Better yet, prepare to do a brutal (but probably necessary) self-evaluation and see how you can make the most of your life, for yourself and for others.
It's a real eye-opener.
Title: Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow
Author: David Gemmell
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
I don't care if this is the first in a trilogy. It's getting Chopped, 'cause I'm way behind and I don't have time for this crap.
This is the first book I've read from David Gemmell, per Porter's request. And if you haven't started following Porter's blog, get with it. He's one of my best friends and my fellow Rough Writer. Anyway, Gemmell wrote a lot of fantasy and historical fiction--mostly the latter from what I understand--and the Troy trilogy was his swansong. Lord of the Silver Bow is the first in that trilogy.
Basically Gemmell takes the tale of Homer's Odyssey and makes a smashing good novel out of it. He knows his history very well, and it shows in the quality of the story he tells, what with knowing the background of Greece and the Mediterranean area several thousand years ago. There's probably some making-stuff-uppery in it, and if you have questions about that, ask Porter. He's the history buff. (I'm just buff.) But I digress.
The story starts with Gershom, survivor of a shipwreck, hanging out in the middle of the sea during a storm. Next chapter you meet Agamemnon, the Mykene king; he hears a prophecy from his holy men saying "beware of the horse." Since the black horse is the symbol of the warrior prince Helikaon, Agamemnon puts out a HUGE bounty on him. Next chapter you meet Helikaon, and he's pretty much a pimp. I don't think he wears a shirt more than twice in the whole story, and never when he's kicking someone's ace. Which is often. Like, a lot often.
From there the onslaught of new and wonderful characters never ceases: Argurios, the honor-bound Mykene warrior; Odysseus, the tale-spinning ugly man and friend of Helikaon; Andromache, goddess-princess betrothed the Hektor but in love with Helikaon; Hektor, who's dead; I mean the list goes on and on. Helikaon spends the whole book saving himself while trying to come to terms with the fact that he's falling in love with Andromache--an emotion he never thought he'd feel after seeing his mother dead when he was younger.
Despite it's being 500 pages long, it's a real barn-burner and a great start to a trilogy. I'll read the others and Chop them one by one. I know my rule is to do series books after two, but then, I made the rule, I can break it, and MWAHAHAHAHAHA you'll still read my Chops anyway. I hope.
Thanks and keep reading!
Friday, November 6, 2009
Title: Freakonomics, Superfreakonomics
Authors: Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
Rating: 4-5 stars
These two books are real winners--I didn't realize there was going to be a second one until about two weeks ago. I immediately got it off of Audible, the medium I'd used to absorb the first book.
I listened to Freakonomics in the summer of 2008, after I'd pillaged my mom's audible library for books I thought I'd enjoy. This one turned out to be a hit. The basic idea centers around an economist--Levitt--and his unique approach to understanding the world through measurable standards. He's a straight-up economist, but as the header of the book says, he's a "rogue economist". That is, he applies his skill with statistics to the world around him in ways other people wouldn't normally consider, and he comes up with some pretty startling--yet mathematically defensible--results.
For example, in book one they analyze a crack-cocaine drug ring and compare it to the layout of McDonald's, showing why drug dealers (who make SO much money) still live with their moms in the inner-city. Or how the Roe v. Wade decision probably affected the crime rate in our generation. Or how Superman in the comics defeated the KKK in real life decades ago.
The first book deals with a limited range of topics, and analyzes them in extensive detail. It's a lot more entertaining than it sounds--the narrative is quick and easy to digest, and the writing still has an entertaining voice to it.
The second book, Superfreakonomics, takes the same principles from the first book and applies them to a broader range of subjects, showing how carseats for children are less safe than seatbelts, terrorists can be caught preemptively with bank software, altruism is always motivated by incentives (like everything else), and how global warming can be cheaply, easily and effectively solved within a matter of years. There's even a comparison between the modern-day prostitution industry and the brothel business of a hundred years ago, complete with economic and social data on why it's changed the way it has. Oh! And an analysis of the human-organ-harvesting industry in America and Iran!
There's a little bit of language in the first book--F-bombs, and the like--but it's all quotes taken from interviews with gang members that haven't been edited. In the second book there was only one F-bomb, but again it was a direct quote from someone. Other than that, all is well.
Fun, informative, and totally able to break paradigms. Well worth the time to read.