Monday, December 31, 2012

Book 52: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The first paragraph of this review has nine-year-old spoilers for Angel.  I don’t know if anyone cares, but you have been warned.

I recently finished re-watching the series Angel and have discovered that I still get upset watching Fred’s final scenes.  I realized that it had been quite a while since I reread this book, which Wesley read to Fred before her death, and that this was an oversight on my part.  I have liked this book since I was a little kid and am hoping that it puts me in a good mood for next year. 

Sara Crewe was raised in India by her wealthy father and wanted for nothing in the world.  While this kind of treatment would have turned most kids into rotten little brats, Sara was a kind, old-souled young lady who appreciated everything that she had.  When she is seven, she is sent to school in London and has to be separated from her father who remains in India.  They both take this hard but struggle through without each other for the next few years, as Sara becomes the star pupil at Miss Minchin’s boarding school.  But on Sara’s eleventh birthday, Miss Minchin receives word that Captain Crewe has died and left Sara without a penny to her name.  Without so much as a comforting phrase, Sara is put to work at the school and treated despicably.  Her determination to act bravely in the face of hostility and retain her imaginative nature drives the novel to its happy conclusion.

This much beloved classic never gets old for me, although I’m sure that I was supposed to outgrow it by now.  Burnett does not talk down to anyone and even though Sara might be a little too perfect to be realistic, her writing and characters stand out.  I know that unless I die really young, that I will read this again and I would hope that more people would revisit it as well.

Book 51: Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

I actually got this book for my mother because she loves Simon Pegg.  A lot.  I think she has seen Hot Fuzz more than I have, which is odd considering that this is the woman who wouldn’t let me watch the Simpsons because she thought it was too violent.  Anyway, after she tore through all of his movies, available TV shows, and assorted commentaries, I figured that the only thing left was his autobiography.  Of course I had to read it after she was done…

Pegg doesn’t really want to talk about his personal life.  Anytime that he gets a personal question, he tends to deflect it.  So unlike most autobiographies, there isn’t really much in the book that I would count as over-sharing.  He sticks mostly with his life in terms of his childhood and creative influences.  He also puts intersperses a short story about the superspy version of himself and his much smarter robotic butler.  Apparently some people didn’t like this, but I thought it was pretty funny and seemed about right for him. 

I enjoyed this overall; it was funny and relaxed.  My favorite part has to be his chapter about the disappointment he felt with the Star Wars prequels.  Even though I have never been a huge Star Wars fan, it has been an unintentionally large influence on my life (I have very geeky parents) and I remember the frustration I felt with the prequels.  I am still frustrated to be honest, and Pegg’s little scenario at the book’s appendix to explain some of the stupider decisions made by the characters honestly entertained me more than the last three movies combined.  I hope that in the future Pegg choses to write another book, I’m sure it would be entertaining.

Book 50: The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy by Maya Slater

This is the last of the books that I borrowed from my sister, who suggested that I read this after The Casual Vacancy to cheer myself up.  And she was right; I did need to read something happy, unfortunately this book didn’t do it for me.

As you would expect from the title, this book gives Mr. Darcy’s perspective of the events in Pride and Prejudice.  In the beginning he is unhappy to be stuck in the country, when he would rather be in London or at home with his sister.  He meets the Bennets and is decidedly unimpressed.  Upon learning that his friend Bingley wants to marry Jane Bennet, of whom he has heard some pretty horrible tales, he plots to detach his friend from this unfortunate entanglement.  At the same time he finds himself falling for Jane’s sister Elizabeth and no matter what he does he can’t stop thinking about her.

When it stuck to characters from the original book, I enjoyed the story.  But when Slater started elaborating his story to include debaucheries with Lord Byron, I got incredibly bored.  I’m sure it was meant to scandalize me, but it was pretty poorly conceived.  However, I did enjoy the rest of the book and would be open to other stories from Slater in the future.

Book 49: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I have avoided a lot of reviews for this book specifically to keep from building up any unrealistic expectations.  All I knew was to expect a more adult book and definitely no magic or unicorns.  Since I happen to enjoy stories about small village life, I figured that I wouldn’t hate it, and I didn’t.

Centered in the small town of Pagford, the novel begins with the sudden death of beloved (by most) local councilor, Barry Fairbrother.  While his friends and family are in a state of shock throughout the subsequent events, there is the need to fill his vacant seat on the council before a crucial vote to keep or redistrict the area’s government housing.  Rowling uses several characters from a variety of backgrounds to paint a picture of life in this town.  While most are typical middle class, there are also those in government housing like Krystal Weedon, whose lives are on the brink of becoming even more desperate, depending on how the upcoming vote goes.

I’m really not going to get into it further than that, there is simply too much to say and too many characters, and I don’t want to give a lot away.  I’ll be honest, I did cry even though I could see a lot of the terrible things coming from miles away.  It was a good book, but probably not one that I will read again anytime soon.  It was a little too sad for me right now.

Book 48: How to Mellify a Corpse Vicki Leon

I love ancient Greek and Roman history, so when I came across this book I just had to pick it up.  I needed to know what mellifying was, although now I feel that must have heard this term before when I was reading about Alexander the Great.  I swear I think school is exhausting me so much that I’m getting dumber.

Simply put, this book details some of the scientific and philosophical beliefs in the ancient western world.  Of course at the time philosophy and science were one and the same, so you really can’t talk about one without the other.  There are also stories just about the superstitions and the just plain crazy shit that these people did or claimed to have done. 

Leon divides the book into geographical sections and provides these stories and beliefs with much needed humor.  This is a book that isn’t dry at all, unlike so many other histories, and I blew right through it.  It was an odd little book, but one that I enjoyed quite a bit; I might even read it again.

Book 47: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

When we went to the National Book Festival this year, my sister and I wandered into a tent where Telgemeier was speaking.  I knew that she did comics, but that was about it.  Her talk ended up being the highlight of the festival for us.  She was funny and affable, and I resolved to read her book as soon as I could. 

Smile is the story of Telgemeier’s dental trauma that occurs after she falls on her face in the sixth grade.  She endures five years of painful surgeries, implants, and braces to try and correct the damage done to her teeth.  Of course she also has the normal teenage awkwardness to reckon with on top of her embarrassment over her odd teeth. 

This was a fun read; I can see why it has hit a chord with a lot of young women.  I actually related to this story a lot because I had a very similar experience with my teeth when I was in third grade and had to spend almost as much time with dentists, orthodontists, and oral surgeons as Telgemeier did.  This is a great book for preteens, or anyone else really—it’s very cute and funny.