Tuesday, July 26, 2005

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2005.

So, I'm slow at getting to blog these days. I read the latest Harry last Monday, the 18th (and finished the last 10 pages last Tuesday), and only now am blogging about it. Be forewarned, this blog post contains SPOILERS.

DO NOT READ these thoughts unless you're unconcerned about knowing plot details and how things end.

It was the best of this series since the first. It's not high art, but it's thoroughly enjoyable pulp. Kind of like the Hardy Boys.

I liked what the Globe reviewer (André Alexis) had to say: "The writing is adequate. It does what it needs to, to create Hogwarts and the world of magin. Rowling has a fine [...] sense of humour, but where the work falls down hardest is in characterizations. Unlike the worlds created by Philip Pullman, Rowling's universe is morally simplistic, black and white." A bit later in his review, Alexis writes "If Rowling had been better at characterization, the death (or possible death) of Dumbledore might have been more moving. It should have been." I'm inclined to agree. I have no real desire to return to these books, having read each once, principally because the characters aren't people I'm interested in.

I had a nice MSN chat with R-- the other night about the book. He also quite enjoyed it--more than I did, I think--and he had some interesting theories about what might come next. For the next two or so years, he's going to have a fair bit of company playing the speculation game. As long as people are reading, I'm happy regardless of the outcome.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

John Bierman, The Secret Life of Laszlo Almasy: The Real English Patient, 2004.

I was in love with Ondaatje's The English Patient for quite a long time, after I first read it in grade 11. It made me read a good chunk of Herodotus.

I saw the review for this one--I can't remember where now--and placed a hold on it, quite some time ago now. At any rate, it finally showed up, and it's quite a good book. The Almasy of Ondaatje is based on the historical Almasy--and one of the things that surprised me was how the historical Almasy was as interesting as Ondaatje's character.

The biography is mostly the story of the early explorations of the Sahara, and Almasy's contributions to it. Bierman paints a vivid picture of the difficulties of the explorations, and the impressiveness of Almasy's contributions.

His work for the Abwehr during the war, and the nervous regard in which he was held by both sides make for a fascinating story--all the more so because there's just not enough information to make up one's mind about Almasy's actions and motivations.

It's a quick read, but an excellent one.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Fred Rogers, Life's Journeys According to Mr. Rogers: Things to Remember Along the Way, 2005.

A nice collection of thoughts that were important to Mister Rogers, after a charming introduction by his wife. It's much like the one I reviewed shortly after I started this blog, and my thoughts about this one are much the same now as they were then.

A couple of the aphorisms that struck me:

I need thinking time when someone asks me
a searching question. I wonder why it seems
to be so uncomfortable for many people to
wait through the silence. People of all ages
have deep feelings, and if we have the
patience to wait through the silence, it's
often astounding what people will tell us. (45)

As a relationship matures, you start to see
that just being there for each other is
the most important thing you can do, just being
there to listen and be sorry with them, to be
happy with them, to share all that there is
to share. (68)

How our words are understood doesn't
depend just on how we express our ideas.
It also depends on how someone receives
what we're saying. I think the most
important part about communicating is the
listening we do beforehand. When we can
truly respect what someone brings to what
we're offering, it makes the communication
all the more meaningful. (78)

Where would any of us be without teachers--
without people who have passion for their
art or their science or their craft and love it
right in front of us? What would anf of us
do without teachers passing on to us what
they know is essential about life? (94)

The most important moments are rarely in
the bright lights with the cameras rolling and
mikes recording. The most important
moments are rarely center stage; the most
often happen "in the wings."
Have you found that to be true, too? That
what you expected to be the big occasion or
the main event turned out to be merely an
excurse for you to be somewhere in order to
be touched by something you might have
otherwise considered of little importance? (137)

Mister Rogers exemplifies a lot of what I think I'd like to be, as a person. And though I often find this sort of collection to be a touch trite, this one never slips into that trap. It's worth a read.
Diana Wynne Jones, Conrad’s Fate, 2005.
375 pages.
My mom asked me to review this one for her, because I was a big Jones fan when I was younger. Charmed Life and Witch Week and The Lives of Christopher Chant were books I loved, and still reread when I need a good grin. Like the other books, this one is aimed roughly at those in grade five and up.
Jones’ latest, Conrad’s Fate, is entirely in that vein: funny, clean fantasy about a young boy, pulled and manipulated by people he feels he should trust. Born into a seemingly impoverished family, Conrad is forced to leave school and take a job before he wants to. Sent to work as a footman at the mysterious Stallery Mansion by his uncle, Conrad tries to escape the bad karma he’s been struggling with for many years. With the help of his new friend Christopher, who is far from being who he seems, Conrad tries to untangle the mysteries of Stallery Mansion and the weird changes that threaten the fate of the whole world—and of the worlds connected to it.
The book isn’t as good as her earlier novels in the Chrestomanci series: it feels formulaic, and is perhaps too predictable at times, particularly for those people who know the recurring characters. The ending wraps things up far too quickly, and feels far from satisfying. Fans of Harry Potter will feel that this is inferior—-and will feel that unfairly, given that the earlier books are much more enjoyable and clever. This book, though, has an irrepressible sense of humour that, combined with the fact that all readers will empathize with Conrad, will let the reader get lost in the English Alps with Conrad and Christopher for an enjoyable space of time.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Max Allan Collins, Cold Burn, 2003.

A CSI book. It's not great--the writing's a bit sloppy, and the characters don't entirely hold true to what one would expect, from the show. But all in all, a quiet little bit of ok pulp for a holiday weekend.