Category Archives: C


Pic courtesy of

M.E. Kerr -1978

What happens to all of those moderately successful short fiction books from decades past? I can tell that some of the titles one sees at Borders or on the library shelf will not live on past their first printing, but where do these stories go? Are they stored away in giant publishers’ archives or are they gathering dust on shelves of no-longer children or filling up boxes at thrift stores and rummage sales? Surprising that fiction could follow the way of fashion, trends ruling the tides of the market. A story seems less ephemeral than a cut of fabric to me.

Pretty good, I liked this book. One strength is how the author approaches her “imparted morals” on what makes a good or bad person and how to grow up and get your act together. I especially like the parallel drawn between the assumption that a German in Germany was responsible at least passively for the conflict and the feeling in the US during Vietnam that we should “support our own” and that any fight that our country enters must be a good one. Her novel implicitly raises the debate over the prosecution of someone for a past crime even though they may have changed into a different person.  Otherwise it is fairly short and simple; I wanted more in the way of development and complexity. Continue reading

What Would MacGyver Do?

True Stories of Improvised Genius in Everyday Life

Brendan Vaughan

Oh how I love MacGyver movies.  This petite book contains anecdotes by laymen and journalists alike about their solutions to diverse problems.  Almost Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul-esque, you can read in short doses about predicaments strange and silly, solutions genius and obvious.  I think my two favorites are the guy who fixed the clutch mechanism with a knitting needle on an 8-hour drive and the guy who forgot his anniversary and pulled a present out of thin air that was better than most guys do with a month and 100 bucks.  Or the handy guy whose name is pronounced… MacGyver.

This is quick read, great to pick up for a laugh.

Cirque du Freak

by Darren Shan

Part of the “Vampire Blood Trilogy”, which comprises the first three of the 12 book saga.  This is a very quick read but I found it very creepy and violent yet juvenile.

On the good side, the description of the freak show was intense and well constructed.  Good writing through most of the book even though it’s in a jejune light.  I would not recommend it.

{From “Darren Shan was fascinated by spiders from an early age. His best friend, Steve “Leopard” Leonard grew up reading horror comics and stories of the Wolfman and vampires.

One day, their friend comes across a flyer advertising the “Cirque Du Freak.”  Darren and Steve are mesmerized by the fantastic and disturbing show, especially by the act of the mysterious Mr. Crepsley and his giant spider Madam Octa. After the show, Steve declares that he knows that Crepsley is a vampire, and Darren sets his sight on Madam Octa, planning to steal her and use his knowledge of Crepsley’s true nature to his advantage as a sort of blackmail.

Continue reading

Gathering of Pearls

by Sook Nyul Choi

I could personally relate to this short novelette about a girl entering a new world and adapting to college.  A good view of one Korean immigrant’s perspective.  Otherwise very short and moderate.  I think it is best to read the whole series:

{From an anonymous reviewer on Amazon: This book is a sequel to Year of impossible Goodbyes and Echoes of the White Giraffe. Year of Impossible Goodbyes won a Judy Lopez Award and was chosen as an American Library Association Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults. The author of these books, Sook Nyul Choi, also made a picture book titled Halmoni and the Picnic.

This book is mainly about a girl named Sookan who is a foreign exchange student from Korea. She goes to a college in New York City, and finds out how different life in the United States is from Korean life. Sookan struggles with an internal and external conflict. She doesn’t know if she should act Korean and keep Korea’s ways or give up all of that and act like Americans. She is afraid that of she becomes to American-like her family will be dissatisfied with how she has become. Sookan finds that she is becoming more American-like and scolds herself for not following the Korean ways enough. Her external conflict is that she overworks herself with all of her subjects and gets a serious lack of sleep since she studies so much. She would stay up many hours into the night and study, sleep a few hours, and wake up early to study more. It’s very interesting how she fights through all of her difficulties, so I would definitely recommend this book to teenagers interested in college and/or becoming a foreign exchange student in the future.}

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

by Avi

A good book.  “While written for a young audience, the book is well liked by many adults as well.”

“In this fast-paced and suspense-filled novel, 13-year-old Charlotte Doyle describes a remarkable sea voyage that changes her life forever. In 1832, Charlotte crosses the Atlantic aboard the Seahawk, departing from England to join her family in Rhode Island.  Raised to be a proper young lady, she is surprised to learn that she is the only passenger and only female aboard the ship. Frightened by a mysterious crew, at first she trusts only Jaggery, the captain, but soon discovers that he is cruel and slightly mad. She then joins ranks with the mutinous crew but must convince them of her loyalty by tackling death-defying feats unfamiliar to most females of her era. Charlotte is befriended along the way by the old black cook, Zachariah, who eventually helps save her life. When the vengeful captain accuses her of murder, Charlotte is tried and found guilty. She escapes punishment in a life-and-death struggle with Jaggery and is finally reunited with her family. Charlotte misses the Seahawk, however, and, in an unusual twist of the plot, casts aside the comforts of home for the life of a seafarer.” (Summary from McDougal Littell Classzone)

Avi has written a lot of books.  According to his website, Avi got the idea for this one from writing The Man Who Was Poe.  It’s working title was The Seahawk, “but as I [Avi] worked on the story I came to care more and more about Charlotte–and who she was–so that it became her book.”

Just Ella

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Pretty good, but not my favorite.  Enjoyable, but not satisfying.

A good plot summary and character write-ups from Wikipedia:  “This story is a retelling of Cinderella with a feminist twist and is a different version of happily ever after.”

Haddix has a lot of good ideas and topics in the story, like her new conjectures about the myth, Ella’s time in the dungeon, and statements about happiness:  “Happiness was like beauty–in the eye of the beholder.”  I also liked how Ella had a can-do attitude and did not limit herself in her options.  When she was still at her stepmother’s house she planned to run away and become a tutor, a smart solution.

But I found some parts of the book underdeveloped, such as the relationships between the characters, the conflicts in and outside of the castle, and the day-to-day actions of life for Ella.  It didn’t seem like a true portrayal of castle life.  Maybe I’m being too harsh, it is after all a fairy tale and thus the details are up to interpretation. Continue reading

Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver and the Lilliputian army

Gulliver and the Lilliputian army

by Jonathan Swift

This book is interesting but not high on my list.  In fact it’s pretty low.  I think my understanding and hence appreciation of this novel would be tremendously more great if I lived back then and knew all of the social intrigue of court and the happenings and personages of the political arena.

From Orwell Today (where I also found the illustration):

“It is considered one of the greatest pieces of satire ever written, comparable even to some of William Shakespeare’s works. George Orwell was so impressed with Jonathan Swift’s writings – especially Gulliver’s Travels – that he used them as models for his own writing. Animal Farm and 1984 are Orwell’s attempts to be as clear and creative as his literary hero.”

It is important to be familiar with this novel because of the references to it you encounter in every day life.  ‘Yahoo’ is one word straight from Gulliver’s Travels.

As Swift is writing this story his mental health is steadily declining.  One can see parts where Swift is a little “off.”  One may or may not agree with some of his philosophical points.


Jerry Spinelli

Pretty good, liked it a lot better than Eggs. The whole time I wanted to slap Misha and say, “Rewire your brain, you idiot! You don’t think like a normal human being! Snap out of it!” but I guess that isn’t really possible. >_<

And also, I love milkweed plants. I have this obsession, everyone thinks of them as weeds (for some odd reason, even though they are sold in fancy garden stores) but I got wild seeds and plant them all over (i.e. my mom’s flower beds). It made me a little upset that this book wasn’t actually about milkweeds at all, but about some little alien’s experience in the ghetto. Whatever.


Jerry Spinelli

Not really about eggs, even though the cover art is quite cool. I liked this book okay, but I’m not one for Spinelli’s wishy-washy style.  It’s one of those “little kids find themselves but my don’t they have a strange view of the world and there’s probably some really deep message in this but I can’t tell if the author is trying to show me that or just writing random words about crazy people” books.

The Chocolate War

The Chocolate War
by: Robert Cormier

A Well-Timed Enchantment

A Well-Timed Enchantment
by: Vivian Vande Velde

(Amazing pen name, btw. I think I’ll name my first child Vivian Vande Velde.)
I also read her book “Dragon’s Bait” which was more geered towards an older audience, which I also liked.

Even though this book is meant for under 14 year olds I liked it. It has good ideas and a good ending, but the details aren’t as fully developped as I would have liked. (But of course if I had my way all books would be about twice as long!) The ending comes too soon.
There are some pretty silly puns laced in and the main character doesn’t grow a backbone until the end of the book.

It is very quirky and light-hearted, fast-paced, enjoyable.