Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Was this review helpful to you?

When I review books on Amazon, I try to be helpful. I try to say more than, "This was the best book I've ever read!" or "This book was so bad, it would only be good for toilet paper!" Goodness knows I could have used some more helpful reviews before reading some of the really awful books I've read in the past couple of years. But the numbers on Amazon really don't mean anything. The number of helpful votes have little to do with how helpful the review actually was, and more to do with whether or not people agree with what you've said.

Some books (and book series) tend to polarize people, and it shows in the reviews on Amazon. There are quite a few reviews for books like Breaking Dawn (which people either loved or hated) that have little to do with the book itself and are just rants about the stupidity of people who had a different opinion. And those kind of "reviews" get rated as helpful! I fail to see how calling someone a "peabrain", a "moron", or a "pervert" (actual quotes) because they have a different opinion will help readers decide whether they want to read a certain book.

Are helpful ratings that big of a deal? Perhaps they are for some people (especially if they're trying to increase their reviewer rank on Amazon). I do tend to look at the ratings, especially because they often indicate problems with the book that have been noticed by many. If a reviewer gives a book one star, provides good reasons for doing so, and a majority of people found the review helpful (or agree with the review), then I might be hesitant to purchase... because there's obviously something not quite right with the book.

So what should Amazon do? Keep the helpful votes system? Change it to "Do you agree?" votes? Have a two sets of voting buttons ("Was this review helpful?" and "If you've read this book, do you agree?")? Or something else?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Series Nostalgia

I've always been a voracious reader. I remember when I was seven or eight, I stayed up until midnight reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I finished it, and I'd only gotten it that afternoon!

When I was about ten, I started to get interested in series books. I never actually read all the books in any one series (they tended to be released long after I'd lost interest), but I did read quite a few of them. I can remember begging (and bugging) my mom for the next book in whatever series I was reading at the time. Back then, these books usually cost less than $3 each (a bargain by today's standards... I paid almost $13 for the most recent YA paperback I bought!), but when a new one comes out every month or so, that cost can quickly add up.

So what was I reading? Well, The Baby-Sitters Club, of course! Pretty much every girl my age was reading these books back in the mid-to-late 1980s. And, of course, we all wanted to be baby-sitters. The books made it seem like a fun job... more fun than it actually turned out to be, really. But at least reading about the girls' adventures was entertaining.

I think I read about 30 of the regular series, plus a handful of the Super Specials. There ended up being over 130 books in the series, but since I was in my 20s by that time, I wasn't reading them when the final ones were published.

At around the same time, I started reading the Sleepover Friends series. I don't think they were as popular as The Baby-Sitters Club books, but I liked them. They were about four friends who had weekly sleepovers. After reading the first book, I wished for my own sparkly purple hair gel.

A little while after that, I was given a number of Trixie Belden books. I'd never heard of Trixie Belden, but my mom had. You see, Trixie Belden is old. Her first adventures were published in 1948 (though the series did run until 1986... at which point Trixie should have been in her 50s, but hey... it's fiction, right?). I didn't read that many of the Trixie Belden books, but I did enjoy the ones I did read. I guess they're probably similar to the Nancy Drew books (but I can't say for sure, never having read any of those).

When I was eleven (I think), I was given the first book in The Secret of the Unicorn Queen series. I was never really crazy about unicorns, but I loved the fantasy aspects of the books. Only six titles were published, and I never managed to get my hands on the last three (the bookstores just didn't carry them). Maybe one day I'll track them down and read them all.

What were some of your favourite book series when you were a kid?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Review - Blue Moon

Blue Moon (The Immortals #2)
by Alyson Noël
Date: 2009
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 284
Format: paperback
Source: Indigo

Just as Ever is learning everything she can about her new abilities as an immortal, initiated into the dark, seductive world by her beloved Damen, something terrible is happening to him. As Ever's powers are increasing, Damen's begin to fade after he is stricken by a mysterious illness that threatens his memory, his identity, his life.

Desperate to save him, Ever travels to the mystical dimension of Summerland, where she uncovers not only the secrets of Damen's past - the brutal, tortured history he hoped to keep hidden - but also an ancient text revealing the workings of time. With the approaching blue moon heralding her only window for travel, Ever is forced to decide between turning back the clock and saving her family from the accident that claimed them - or staying in the present and saving Damen, who grows weaker each day....

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I thought this book would never end. I really didn't enjoy it, for a number of reasons.
First of all, the similarities between this series and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series are just too conspicuous. Let's set aside for the moment that the titles of both of the second books are almost identical. But when Damen disappeared early on in the novel, I thought we were in for a repeat of New Moon. The plot did end up going in a different direction, though... until I realized that Blue Moon actually has some major plot similarities with Eclipse. And then I just wanted to throw the book out the window.

My second major issue was with the writing. I don't recall having as much of a problem with the writing in the first book (though I was not impressed with it, by any means). Here, though, the author seems to have forgotten the basic rules of grammar and composition. The sentence fragments had me wanting to scream. The author needed to join her clauses with a comma... not add a period and start a new sentence with an -ing verb. Maybe she was trying to establish a voice for the character, but for me, it didn't work. Every time I ran into this horrendous bit of writing, I'd get tripped up. And since Ever uses these fragments throughout the whole darn book, I was getting tripped up a lot. Maybe that's why it took so long for me to finish it. There was no flow. How can there be, when you're trying to figure out what the character's trying to say in every second sentence?

Another issue with the writing was more amusing than anything else. Alyson, the word you're looking for is "gaze"... not "eyes". When I see eyes grazing, raking, resting, and roaming, my mind conjures up strange images of freed eyeballs doing all kinds of things they really shouldn't be doing. How exactly do eyes rake something, anyway? That sounds painful.

My third issue was with the characters. I still can't figure out why Ever and Damen are in love. The minor characters are still stereotyped and flat. Ava is a walking contradiction (she was introduced as a sort of mentor, and then turns into a vapid, materialistic child in Summerland... and then she's forgotten about at the end of the book!). And Roman was just too melodramatic to be taken seriously. He really needed a moustache to twirl while he expounded on his plans during the climax.

I hated Evermore, but I'd read so many gushing reviews of Blue Moon that I thought I'd give it a shot. I hoped it would be better. Sadly, it was worse. I think I'll be skipping the next three books in this series; I'm not that much of a masochist.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 1/5
Writing: 0/5
Originality: 2/5

Overall: 1.4 out of 5

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I'm not as fast a reader as I once was (for reasons I don't want to get into here). I've got some reviews coming, if I ever finish the books in question! I'm trying to get through Blue Moon at the moment, and I'm having a rough time. I'm not enjoying myself. But a bad book often makes for a fun review...

I've actually got two books going at the moment. I'm reading Pride and Prejudice as well. It's telling that a book published in 1813 is easier to read than one published in 2009. Either I'm living in the wrong century, or literature (or, more specifically, written English) has gone downhill. I don't think Jane Austen could've gotten away with any of her characters repeatedly saying "O. Migawd!" There are some things authors should be laughed out of the industry for.

Anyway, reviews will be posted here. If I ever get through this dreck.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Twisting the Meme

There's a YA book meme going around now (well, I've seen it twice just today... I'm sure it'll continue to pop up) with a list of 100 books that you're supposed to check off if you've read, liked, or want to read them. I must be fairly out of the loop, because I set out to fill in my own answers and found that I'd only read a small percentage of the books on the list (and they were mostly older ones like Ender's Game or The Stranger). In her related blog post, Melissa Marr suggested that we add our own suggestions to the list. I thought I'd do that instead... since the number of my X's on the actual meme list would be rather pathetic. So here's a list of YA books (or books suitable for young adults) that I would recommend if you wanted to stock a nice, readable bookshelf for a teenage girl:

1. The Witches of Willowmere by Alison Baird
2. The Warding of Willowmere by Alison Baird
3. The Wyrd of Willowmere by Alison Baird

These books were written by a Canadian author and published a few years ago. Fans of Twilight, Wicked Lovely, or Evermore would probably like these books about a girl who learns about witchcraft while trying to uncover the secrets of her past.

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I had to read this in my first-year university English course. After I'd read it, I wished I'd done so years earlier! I was struck by its readability, after years of slogging through old novels in high school that made you want to say "Huh?"; Jane's voice is the perfect guide through what is, ultimately, a love story.

5. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

This entertaining historical novel is probably more of a middle-grade level book than "young adult", but I read it as an older teen and still enjoyed it.

6. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

It's a classic. It's been years since I read it, and I don't remember too much about it, but I do remember that I liked it.

7. The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint is a somewhat underappreciated Canadian author who specializes in urban fantasy. Some of his books for younger readers have been hit-or-miss, but The Blue Girl is one of his best.

8. Momo by Michael Ende

I read this mind-bending story years ago. I remember something about a little girl following a tortoise, and the slower she walked, the faster she went. I'd love to read it again (as I've forgotten much of the plot), but I do remember that I loved it when I read it.

9. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Like most kids who grew up in the 1980s, I saw the movie many times. I didn't read the book until years later. I loved it. The movie is good, but the book is so much better. Plus, I read the edition that had alternating green and red type (to differentiate between Bastian's world and the story in the book)... which was just plain awesome.

10. A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

I don't usually read books like this, about a girl in Africa on the run from an arranged marriage. But it was quite well done, and I enjoyed it a lot.

11. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

After reading A Girl Named Disaster, I sought out some more Nancy Farmer books. This one is pretty different... a science fiction tale about three supernaturally gifted detectives in 22nd-century Zimbabwe. How could that not be interesting?

12. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

This is probably my favourite of Nancy Farmer's books. The story and writing were so strong that I found myself thinking about the book, the setting, and the characters long after I'd finished.

13. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Who could forget the Other Mother? This deliciously creepy tale is now a movie... but the book is still worth reading.

14. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Another movie that eclipsed the book. But readers don't know what they're missing! If you liked the movie, you'll definitely like the book.

15. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Like many of Diana Wynne Jones's books, this one was based on an older story; in this case, it was the ballad of Tam Lin. It was one of the first DWJ books I ever read... and it's my favourite.

16. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

More like a modern fairy tale than an anti-war commentary (or whatever it was the movie turned it into), Howl's Moving Castle is just plain fun. Spells, magical creatures, witches, and romance... what more could you want?

17. The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan

This book about prejudice and ignorance made a big impression on me when I read it years ago. The characters were compelling and I found myself truly caring about them.

18. The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

I bought this book in a set (along with Ella Enchanted and Fairest), but this book ended up being my favourite out of the three. It's a classic fairy-tale type of story, with a strong, memorable heroine.

19. The Giver by Lois Lowry

What can you say about The Giver without giving too much away? Basically, if you like dystopian fiction, you'll probably like this book.

20. Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery
21. Emily Climbs by Lucy Maud Montgomery
22. Emily's Quest by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Ahh... Prince Edward Island. And a dreamy little girl who aspires to become a writer. These are some of my favourite L. M. Montgomery books (some others being Jane of Lantern Hill and Pat of Silver Bush). Oh, and of course there's always Anne of Green Gables (but since I read that when I was 7 or 8, I really don't remember enough to recommend it!).

23. Sabriel by Garth Nix

Awesome fantasy! I gobbled Sabriel up when I read it. But I couldn't get into the second book (so I didn't even bother with the third). This first volume can stand on its own, though.

24. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I loved this book when I first read it. I liked the second book, too. But there was such a gap between the release of the second and third books that by the time I got my hands on The Amber Spyglass, I'd forgotten most of what had come before and was completely lost. The first book is definitely worth a read (the others may be, too, now that they can be read in quick succession).

25. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

If this play was in the high school curriculum, kids might not hate Shakespeare so much. I actually read this of my own volition, after seeing the movie. It's too funny (who doesn't love a good Shakespearean insult?).

26. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

One of my all-time favourite books. I identified so much with the main character. It's one of those books that's underrated... but definitely worth reading.

27. Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr

As mentioned in this post, this is a creepy little story that fans of Coraline would probably enjoy.

28. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Another one of my favourites. I absolutely hated the second book in the series, though. But The Thief is great. If you like adventures, this might be right up your alley.

29. A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

A fairly recent read for me. I was captivated by the writing from the very first page... and the story wasn't too shabby, either. Body-snatching ghosts, love, forgiveness... It's a great read.

I feel like I'm forgetting some (and I probably am), but this list has gotten long enough for now. Hopefully, I've given you some ideas for some different books to read. Some of them are older (and therefore harder to find). But they're worth it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oldie But Goodie - Marianne Dreams

Marianne Dreams
by Catherine Storr

I read this book a few years ago (2002? 2003?), but it's been around longer than that. In fact, it was first published in 1958. I learned about it through a newspaper article on the author's death. Marianne Dreams was supposedly a classic, and yet I'd never heard of it!

I read it shortly after reading Neil Gaiman's wonderful Coraline. There was a certain similarity between the two books. Both feature young girls who end up in imaginary worlds that seem sort of like the real world, but really aren't. And while Coraline kept me entertained, Marianne Dreams had me shivering; maybe I just scare easily, but one of the scenes near the end was pretty creepy.

For whatever reason, this book is hard to find in North America. The library didn't have it, and none of the bookstores carried it. I had to order my copy from the UK (Amazon.co.uk keeps it in stock). It's definitely a book I would recommend, either to readers who liked Coraline, or to anyone who enjoys stories with a fantasy twist.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Oldie But Goodie - Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman

My first exposure to this entertaining (if not entirely historically accurate) novel was actually in the delightful audio book version, narrated by Kate Maberly (the young girl who played Mary Lennox in the 1993 version of The Secret Garden). I was so enchanted by the abridged version of the story that I had to read the book for myself. I wasn't disappointed.

The story takes place in the 13th century. Birdy is a 14-year-old girl who has to face a unique problem (by today's standards, anyway): her father wants to marry her off... and the suitors are not exactly to her liking. One, a much older man she refers to as Shaggy Beard, is particularly unappealing. But Birdy is a headstrong sort of girl who isn't going to accept her fate without a fight.

I loved the voice of the narrator, and the descriptions of life in 1290 England were interesting (although they made me realize I wouldn't want to live in that time period, especially as a woman).

If you didn't read Catherine, Called Birdy when it first came out in 1994, maybe now's the time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review - The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel
by Diane Setterfield

And you thought your family was dysfunctional! I think I can honestly say I've never read anything like this. The characters, the plot... well, the plot does have some similarities with certain classics like Jane Eyre. But I thought, overall, that the whole thing was done very well.

Most of the fiction I read is from the YA genre. Though I did buy this book at a children's bookstore, it's not a book for younger readers. There are instances of incest, rape, murder, and child abuse. Older teens could probably handle the book, though, as none of these are explicitly graphic.

Though I ultimately ended up liking the book, it did take me a while to get through it. It is not a fast-paced story, by any means. The narrative ambles along, from one strange incident to the next, leaving the reader wondering if anything is ever going to make sense. The payoff comes in the last few pages, so I'm glad I didn't give up earlier!

As I was reading the book, I had some issues with certain characters. I didn't understand why they were doing what they were doing. However, these things ended up being explained quite well; I have to give the author credit there. Not all novels are internally consistent... especially ones with as many threads and twists as this one.

All in all, it was a good read. If anything, I wish the pace had been a little faster. But the conclusion is ultimately satisfying, so the journey was worthwhile.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Overall: 3.4 out of 5