Monday, September 29, 2008

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

Amazon page: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

Wow. So this is quite the jump. In some ways this was a refreshing counter-part to the Raymond Feist book I finished at about the same time, as this is probably at the lower end of the reading level I am interested in. In fact I went back and forth as to whether or not I should count it, but in the end I decided to draw the line at 100 pages, and this was over that line, so it is in. Here are some thoughts on this classic childrens book:

Pros: So I picked this up on a recent library excursion partly out of nostalgia and partly for my kids. I remember loving the book because the lady in it seemed so silly, and that was about all I remembered of it. Lately, I have been wanting to read to my kids more often, and so this was the perfect target. All in all, this book satisfied both requirements. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is still too silly, and my kids really enjoyed the reading time. Even though it is a classic, it still did a great job of holding their attention (ages 5,6,9).

Cons: I didn't realize how old-fashioned this book was. Similar to other older books I have read (Gom on Windy Mountain, Wizard of Oz, etc.) this book was written at a time when the pace of every day life was a few notches slower, which can make it hard to relate to the characters. The language is outdated as well, although that isn't as much of a con since I think it is good for the boys to recognize that generations of kids before them grew up and flourished without playing computer games and watching movies every waking minute.

Overall, it was an OK read, although not nearly as good as Junie B. Jones for a similar age group (almost). [I need to read some of those just so I can write about them here. I highly recommend them.]

Date Completed:9/27/08

Rise of a Merchant Prince by Raymond Feist

Amazon summary: Rise of a Merchant Prince (Serpentwar Saga)

So first let me say that this is not a kids book by any means. I don't think I have many (or any) readers, but if you have stumbled onto this blog and are under the age of 16, you can just stop reading now because Raymond Feist is an Adult author. Thanks.

OK, so now that the young'uns have left, let me say that this was the most disappointing book for me. In the past I have wondered if we were going to be stuck in repetitive plots over and over again, and I think that Feist's readers or editors must have voiced similar concerns, because in this book he drastically changes his strategy. Instead of the same action-packed fantasy/adventure story, we now get a poor attempt at a medieval Wall Street drama with a mistress around every corner. While I applaud the attempt at something different, this was not a success. More than half a dozen books by this author in this world, and I find myself having trouble staying interested. That is crazy.

What I think is even worse is that he has a REAL story going on in the background as a sub-plot, and that should have been the real story. Yes, that was a carbon copy of the 3 or 4 previous books, but repetitive or not, at least I enjoyed those books. I can't tell if he was trying to add the story line for interest, or if it was supposed to be competing for the main plot line. If it was the latter, it lost, unfortunately.

Oh, and while I am ranting, the moral depravity increased another notch in this book. Not so much that I won't read the next one, but enough that I find it sad. Thus the warning for young readers.

Date Completed: 9/25/08
Rating: 2.9

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lady Friday by Garth Nix

Link to Amazon Description: Lady Friday (Keys to the Kingdom, Book 5)

I'm just going to skip straight to the pros and cons, or cons and pros in this case:

Cons: I have a simple criticism of this series. Nix has done a great job with the characters and the plot in general. The setting works as well. What gets me is that there is a lot of buildup to a single scene in every book where Arthur, the hero, confronts the antagonist of the book. We are expecting some sort of fireworks by that point, or at least a really good fight scene, which we were treated with in book one. In every book since the bad guys have been giving up easier and easier in each one. Lady Friday was the worst offender yet. The conflict builds and Lady Friday is about to commit unthinkable evil. Arthur and his crew show up in the nick of time, but instead of a massive struggle it is over in less than half a page. He shows up, says a few things, and Lady Friday actually says something to the affect of "Yeah, I know I am beat." What kind of resolution is that? Every other character was scared of Friday, but our hero shows up and there aren't any fireworks. It is a bit of a let-down.

Pros: While the resolution is a bit weak, the rest of the plot is not. The world that is the setting is proving to continue to grow while not contradicting itself, framing the story nicely. There are now three factions vying for power, including the good guy, and in each installation we learn more about the threats each contender poses to the protagonist. The threats grow, the stakes grow, and we progress towards the final conflict with each book. In short, the author is doing his job beautifully overall. I look forward to Superior Saturday, which I had to reserve at the local library due to the well deserved waiting list.

Date Completed: 9/12/2008
Rating: 3.9

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Shadow of a Dark Queen by Raymond E. Feist

Link to Amazon synopsis: Shadow of a Dark Queen (The Serpentwar Saga, Book 1)

Feist has started another winning series in my mind. I actually don't have much to say about it. It is another intriguing Fantasy series, born out of the setting and characters of the previous Riftwar series. My only concern is that while the plot is different, the strategy is not. Here is his formula: War happens, there is a little-known magical undertone to the battle which means that if the bad guys win it will be the end of the world, not just the war. There is the classic "quest" and at the end the questors are reduced to a few barely living heroes who get saved by a master magician who until that point in time couldn't get involved for one reason or another. This was the formula for the Riftwar series, as well as some of its individual books, and also the basis for the two intermediate books, The King's Buccaneer and Prince of the Blood. Again, he leverages his formula very well, but I hope to be a little more surprised in the next book. Obviously, Feist is talented enough that I will be reading the next book.

Date Completed: 9/5/2008
Rating: 4.0

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Should I Do What I Love?: Or Do What I Do - So I Can Do What I Love on the Side? by Katy McColl

Synopsis on Amazon: Should I Do What I Love?: Or Do What I Do - So I Can Do What I Love on the Side?

This book addresses the age old question of "what should I do with my life." OK, it's not an age-old question really. Not too many generations ago people were just hoping to have something to do to earn a living, and were not so preoccupied with their personal happiness. In fact, a conversation with my brother-in-law several years ago revealed that he had the same opinion. "I don't really enjoy what I do, but it doesn't matter. My job provides a living for my family."

Yet, I can't help but ask the question still, and I am not alone in my generation. Money is out there, and for those who don't have money there is credit (for a while anyway). We are more concerned with creating a path for life-long personal happiness, and part of that happiness involves our profession in life. Now the question is whether that profession should just earn the money with which to seek happiness, or that profession should provide happiness, contentment, etc.

I am surprised that I actually finished this book. For one, I was not in the target audience of 20-something feminine individuals who wanted to pursue careers in the arts, but were concerned about the lack of earning potential/opportunity in their field of interest. Katy McColl was in this demographic, and wrote with an artistic lack of professionalism that I generally don't enjoy. And yet the question was posed well, and from my position of personal interest I couldn't put it down.

I generally don't like to give a synopsis, and I never give away the ending, except for this time. In the end the message I got was that if your situation permits it (you can live relatively cheaply) chase your true dream. Do what will make you happy. If you can't live on peanut butter for a while, then it is OK to do what you do just for the money, as long as you put your energy after-hours into what you love so you don't lose your dream and burn out. I feel OK about putting this out there because I am guessing that this book is one of those where 10 people could read it and give 10 different opinions about the intended theme.

Date Completed: 8/26/08
Rating: 3.5