creative [kree-ey-tiv]: adjective. Synonyms: clever, cool, innovative, inspired, prolific, stimulating.

criticism [krit-uh-siz-uhm]: noun. The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

31 Dec 2010

The Ring of Solomon - Jonathan Stroud

This Bartimaeus Novel (as is clearly written on the top of the cover - come on people, open your eyes! And seeeeee!) has two main protagonists. One is Asmira, one of the best guards of the Queen of Sheba (and by the way, did you know that all of her personal guards are (1) born into the role and (2) women? But hey, that's slavery and a matrilineal society for you!); she has a two-week deadline to travel all across the Arabian peninsula to Jerusalem, where she must kill the king Solomon and take his ring of legendary magical power. All under the orders of her queen, and kicking ass and taking names all quest long.
I'll let you guess who our second protagonist is. Come on, don't be shy, I'll give you some hints: he's just the most conceited, cheekiest and wittiest djinn whose first-person narration I've had the pleasure of reading this past year.
In any case, this novel takes place far to the southeast and far before the events of Bartimaeus's Trilogy; in fact, it takes place before Bartimaeus even met Ptolemy. So that was a long time ago indeed.
As far as the prose goes, it's a bit more stately paced and not quite as crackling as the narration of the Trilogy went; but that actually really helps to remind the reader that the events took place a LONG time ago. Because old literature is always at a glacial pace and full of descriptions, you know? This novel at least doesn't take it to the same level as that, though, and it's a very fun read indeed.

Oh, and guys? I lifted the cover picture from this, which is a much better review of this book. It even uses a "something on/out of something else" rating system, which is slightly more straightforward than my system of "enjoyable, boring, annoying, okay, twist, unfinished and wtf", no?

30 Dec 2010

Annabel - Kathleen Winter

This novel is truly a thing of beauty.
It follows the birth and life of Wayne/Annabel, who was born a true hermaphrodite; he was however raised as a boy (because that's what his father wanted, mostly), thanks to surgeries and hormone treatments. Wayne was never entirely comfortable as a boy, though, and when he finally learned that he was born both a boy and a girl, character development and personal drama/evolution (dravolution?) ensues.
The prose to describe it all is downright beautiful, with its vivid depictions of the Labrador backdrop of Wayne/Annabel's youth; it also gives some crystalline insights into several characters' thoughts and motivations in frozen droplets of time. It also makes me write somewhat poetically, but my writing's far more mediocre.
Anyways, I enjoyed this novel very much.

23 Dec 2010

City of Ashes - Cassandra Clare

This second installment of the Mortal Instruments series (there's going to be six books, apparently? Yay!) picks up right where City of Bones left off.
(And now, spoilers for CoB:)
Clary (the red-headed girl on the cover) is still very much attracted to Jace, and Jace to her - but now that they've found out that they're siblings (and that their father's the evil antagonist Valentine), things get awkward. Personally, I like that the author's dealing with that can of worms, instead of making her characters magically not attracted to each other anymore once they learn that they're related (I'm looking at you, Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory.).
Also, Clary and Simon's relationship goes to the next level (Level 1 was "they're friends", level 2 was "they're the best friends" (see City of Bones), and Level 3 is "kissing time!"). Also, Simon gets an upgrade - I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say that there's plenty of foreshadowing.
Plus, Clary's mother is in the same condition as she was when City of Bones ended.
Oh, and the war that pits our antagonist Valentine against, well, everyone is going swimmingly. It looms ever closer, and to be honest I'm really looking forward to reading the third installment of this series - if the next book's climax/final battle/chaosfest is to top this one, it should be pretty epic.

13 Dec 2010

Kraken - China Miéville

This is a

  • horror
  • fantasy
  • mystery
  • science-fiction
  • dystopian
  • "let's mess with time!"
  • cult (about)
  • apocalyptic
  • London
  • quirky
  • very well written
  • weird
  • full of Lovecraftian allusions
  • and also of more mainstream references
Seriously, I liked it. 

12 Dec 2010

Legacies - Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill

Look, a new teen series by Mercedes Lackey! And Rosemary Edghill, too.
With a kind of weird cover that I'm not a fan of, but I didn't really contemplate the cover, I just read the book.
Essentially, this novel is what you get if you combine Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series, minus the Companions, plus some Harry Potter-esque elements and make everything happen to Tragic Orphans.
I enjoyed it, honestly - it's a fun plunge into fantasy teen fiction, filled with angst and magic and mysteries that will presumably be solved in the next installments of this Shadow Grail series. So yeah, I'll keep an eye out for the next installments but I probably won't buy them all.

7 Dec 2010

The Battle of the Labyrinth - Rick Riordan

Book four of the Percy Jackson series!
In this novel, Percy and his friends must continue their quest against the evil Titan Kronos - whose army is ready for the war against Olympus, and whose earthly form is practically fully formed. Also, the Titan's forces are ready to march on Camp Half-Blood and destroy it, but all they're missing is one little thing, a way to navigate the Labyrinth. Yes, Daedalus's Labyrinth still exists (or rather, lives), and like everything else associated with Hellenic gods it has moved to the U.S., where it's become a handy (if confusing and often lethally dangerous) way of moving about quickly.
Daedalus, his son Icarus, the (somewhat evil) king Minos, and their story are all involved in this story; and as the next war between the gods and the Titans approaches, our main characters (Percy, Annabeth, Grover, Tyson, etc.) keep growing, gain allies, and lose friends. Plus, is that the lost god of the wild, Pan, that the satyrs (including Grover) have been searching for for two thousand years? (Warning: this particular quest will feature a famous Thus Spake Zarathustra line.)
As with all the other novels in this excellent series, the tone and pace of this story makes it a joy to read, and the way the author plays with themes and elements of Greek mythology makes my inner mythology geek very happy indeed. Seriously, I'll start gushing about the sheer awesomeness of this series if I don't end this post now.

5 Dec 2010

The World in Six Songs - Daniel J. Levitin

This book was written by Daniel J. Levitin, the author of This is Your Brain on Music and the dude who runs the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University (that's in Canada!). Impressed yet?
Anyways, this book is all about the whys of songs. It explores the six major "types" of songs that exist (Friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion and love songs), with plenty of examples and explanations of their significance.
There's a bit of a name-dropping feel at times - Sting's name pops up everywhere, and at one point the phrase "While I was dining with Joni Mitchell at an outdoor restaurant once," shows up, I shit you not (see page 132) (There's also a very handy index at the back, to track all the famous names peppered through the 289 pages of this book). Also, there's plenty of anecdotes about the author's life experiences that relate to the content of the book, which made for an even more interesting read. 
I also spotted quite a few references to Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, most notably in the Religion Songs chapter, where Levitin writes "that religion is more than a meme [...] and may have an evolutionary basis."
All and all, a good book, a 781 on the Dewey system, which means that it's a book about Arts, more specifically Music's General Principles and musical forms. Um, I'm not sure it's been labeled quite right?

25 Nov 2010

Pourquoi rêvons-nous? Pourquoi dormons-nous? - Michel Jouvet

This slim (only 120 pages long!) book answers all the basic questions of sleep, the Where? When? and How? of all the kinds of sleep that exist (deep sleep! Rapid Eye Movement sleep - or "sommeil paradoxal", as they say in French!) and related phenomena (circadian cycles!). It also points out some interesting hypotheses about the Why? of sleep - but, as it states repeatedly, nothing's proven yet.
Honestly, it was an interesting book about the physiology of sleep (physiology! neuroscience!), and it was a very accessible read; it follows a kind of question-and-answer format, where the questions were asked by a teenager and the answers were tailored in accordance.
Also, it's pretty obvious that it was written by a physiologist: there's numerous references to physiology as "the queen of all sciences", and the author doesn't shy away from being highly skeptical about the importance of genetic research. Intra-biological sciences rivalries: love it!
Yay, sleep!
Oh, and for those who care about such things: the Dewey numbah is 612, so it's a book about Technology, more specifically the Medical Sciences, or to be even more precise, about Human physiology. Yay, physiology!

8 Nov 2010

Heroes of the Valley - Jonathan Stroud

This book was pretty good! Even if the cover art is a bit meh.
Legends of the past heroes of the valley and their grand deeds, tradition, superstition, humour, revenge and a definite sense of adventure all come together in this novel by Jonathan Stroud.
 It has pretty much everything you'd want in a novel: some strong characters, a lot of action scenes, even some slapstick, a lot of humour (and irony) and some genuinely scary parts. Also, it explores how a society's tales and legends can have a great impact on the lives of its inhabitants.
I liked it.

7 Nov 2010

10 Things I Hate About You - That 1999 movie

Heath Ledger (as the male lead/love interest).
Julia Stiles (as the awesome lead female character, the "shrew" if you will).
A young Joseph Gordon-Levitt (!).
A Shakespearean teen romantic comedy - an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew.
Also, some 90's fashion and music and cultural references.
I liked it.

Consider the Lobster - David Foster Wallace

And Other Essays.
This compilation of essays was very good, but that's probably because it shows how David Foster Wallace was an excellent writer. The essays covered quite a range of subjects: from the 1998 Adult Video News Awards to Kaftka's funniness to that campaign where John McCain ran against George W. Bush to become the presidential candidate (as seen from the McCain campaign's perspective) to the Maine Lobster festival (hence the book's title).
I enjoyed the sometimes excessive use of footnotes.
So, according to the numbers on the spine this is a 814 on the Dewey scale; a book on literature, more specifically of American literature, or rather American essays.

4 Nov 2010

The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins

This book was pretty good, actually.
Now, it's true that I might be biased about this - I'm in a biology- and biochemistry-related program, but still, even if you have no idea what DNA is made of (or if you don't know anything about genes and how they work), you'll be able to easily follow and understand this book. The style is concise, precise, easily readable and sometimes rather amusing: in the last chapter of the original edition, Dawkins coined the term "meme" (I liked his idea that religions are memes), and in this 30th anniversary edition an endnote for this chapter has been added that can essentially be summarized as "look, hackers, my computer's been infected with some viruses and it's not funny. Stop it." I was amused, at any rate.
So yeah. An enjoyable, interesting and informative read.  With a Dewey classification number of 576.5, this book is about Science; more specifically, about the life sciences; and even more specifically, about genetics and evolution.

31 Oct 2010

The Titan's Curse - Rick Riordan

In this third installment of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, the plot thickens. New demigods are introduced, and some of them leave; the war against Olympus gains momentum, and our heroes must cross the continent once again.
Also, part of Hercules' mythology and some key elements of the Titan war take center stage, as our heroes meet and need to work with Artemis and her Hunters. Oh, and did I mention we finally get to meet Artemis and Apollo?
As always, a fun read full of action, adventure and almost deadly hijinks.

25 Oct 2010

How To Train Your Dragon - That 2010 Movie

There's dragons! And Vikings! And passing references to viking mythology! And a super cute dragon named Toothless! And also, an epic final battle.
I want to watch it again!

23 Oct 2010

The Affinity Bridge - George Mann

This novel combines all the usual trappings of the steampunk genre (Victorian-era setting, in London; things with gears and electricity; dirigibles; technology far more advanced than it was; tea) with a zombie invasion. Or at least, the beginning stages of a zombie infection.
It was an okay read; the dynamic between the hero of the story (he's a bit of a proto-Indiana Jones, and frankly he's just unkillable) and his lady assistant (slash love interest, I know, CLICHÉ) was really annoying, and the descriptions tended to be a bit overlong. However, I really liked the whole (BIG SPOILER HERE, although I figured it out about halfway through the novel) zombie robot idea. (/END SPOILER HERE, but seriously who cares.)
It's 330 pages long; read it if you want, but I don't think you really have to. If you don't like the steampunk genre, and have a low tolerance level for the Victorian era's patronizing attitude towards people with uteruses, you should really avoid it. Otherwise, shmeh.

18 Oct 2010

Fire - Kristin Cashore

This book is considered to be a "companion" to Kristin Cashore's debut novel, Graceling. It takes place years before Graceling's events, and we learn about the childhood (and childhood sociopathic tendencies) of Graceling's main antagonist, Leck.
However, for the most part it doesn't concern Leck; it concerns Fire, a girl with psychic powers and RED! hair. By "RED!", I mean unnaturally red; her hair would come out of several bottles of dye in this world, while it that world it marks her as a "monster". Monsters are creatures with unnatural colouring and psychic powers, who live in a place east of Graceling's seven kingdoms called the Dells (the Dells and the seven kingdoms are separated by a range of mountains), which is the setting of this story. Now, from what this novel tells us the monster phenotype is dominant, and also contains an aggression component: all monsters want to eat other monsters of other species.
Ok, I'm not going to explain the entire novel here (that's what Wikipedia is for), but essentially I found that it dealt with typical fantasy tropes (almost nobody has a living mother, there's eeevil fathers and good fathers and good children and eeevil children and the distinctions are pretty clear, psychic powers, again with the theme of prejudice), while keeping elements that typical fantasy novels usually forget (contraception exists! And so does menstruation; when Fire's bleeding, monsters smell her monster blood and want to attack, and the particular type of blood involved doesn't matter. Also, PMS (as in cramps, mostly), exists and is acknowledged.).
I liked it better than Graceling, to be honest.
I think I'll keep an eye out for this author's next novels.

15 Oct 2010

The Sleeping Beauty - Mercedes Lackey

EAUGH, THE PINKNESS! IT BURNS! Not really, but still, who's the over-'shopped girl on the cover?? The main character (a princess called Rosamund) is actually blonde. Cover art FAIL.
This is a novel from the 500 Kingdoms series - in which the magical Tradition makes fairy tales happen for real to various characters, by pushing their lives more or less along the paths that are pre-ordained by folk tales and traditions.
As the cover might lure you into thinking (rightly), this is complete and utter fluff reading. Which is good, sometimes! (Hey, even I need a break from orgo chem once in a while; electrophilic aromatic reactions aren't endlessly fascinating)
This fluffy fantasy novel combines elements from the Sleeping Beauty tale, the Snow White storyline, some Viking legends or sagas or mythology (yaaay, mytholgy!), as well as the classic "hundreds of princes must successfully complete these weird trials to marry the princess" story going on, and some other stuff. It's entertaining, if predictable.

11 Oct 2010

Ancestor - Scott Sigler

This novel is great!

Now, let's cut the whole mini synopsis thing and go to what really interests me: how this novel compares to Jurassic Park. Because let's face it, everything that has to do with genetic engineering gone lethally out of control will be compared to Jurassic Park.

Let's see:

  • Setting: an isolated island. Check.
  • Limited number of people on the island. Check. Most of them die; double check. All the designated bad guys die; triple check.
  • There's a hurricane-level (or rather, blizzard-level) storm at some point. Check.
  • There's genetic engineering going on. Check.
    • HOWEVER, while JP's geneticists made dinosaurs from preserved DNA, the ancestors were actually made from scratch and from genetic projections... the book explains it better
    • Also: the genetic engineering going on is financed by a company, and there's some trouble on the company's financial horizon. While industrial espionage and running from the international hand of the law aren't quite in the same league, CHECK.
  • Everything would have gone well if someone hadn't fucked up repeatedly. Check.
    • Mind you, in JP Nedry's the sole responsible person for the disaster (in my opinion), whereas in Ancestor... Person A messed up with the design, person B messed up by enabling the monsters to live, person C is sociopathic, person D is an all-around asshole - the list goes on.
  • Sex! Actually, JP didn't have any sexing up going on (except for the dinos, but that was behind the... foliage). Nevermind.
  • Sort of ominous and open-ended story: check.
Final verdict: Ancestor is better than Jurassic Park. The science is better, there's a bunch of current references that amused me (including a jab at H1N1 and a recurring gag involving porn-y vampire romance novels), it's very fast-paced and gory, and quoth the Advance Praise on the back of the book:
"Michael Crichton has a worthy successor in Scott Sigler.... Ancestor takes thriller and science fiction conventions and slams them together to make something new and fascinating [...]" - Simon R. Green

3 Oct 2010

Ptolemy's Gate - Jonathan Stroud

This third and final installment of The Bartimaeus Trilogy is epic.
It takes place three years after the events of The Golem's Eye - Nathaniel is the seventeen-year-old Minister of Information (or some such thing) now, and in the past years he's grown even colder and imperious and paranoid. In other words, he's become a typical (if brilliant and talented) magician. His career is precariously perched on the barely not-collapsing shoulders of the British Empire, and for the first part of the novel he thinks of himself as John Mandrake. You'll see what I mean when you read the book.
Our other human protagonist, Kitty Jones, is living the underground and illegal life; she had been officially declared dead at the end of The Golem's Eye, and she is now living two lives under false identities; by night she works in a bar where commoners often gather to talk about what they can do to change their situation and overthrow the government, and by day she's a magician's assistant (to an old magician who doesn't see eye-to-eye with the government), with the hopes of summoning and asking the assistance of one particular djinni.
Yes, she wants to summon Bartimaeus. They had an interesting conversation three years prior, but little does Kitty know that Bartimaeus isn't in good shape. At all. Everyone's favorite djinni and first-person character had been continuously summoned to Earth for about two years, and as a result, he's crankier and weaker and cheekier than ever. In this book, though, we finally start to learn about his past with Ptolemy (yes, the same one whose Gate is in the title), so that's fun.
Anyways, this is a very very good end to the trilogy; I swear, half the book is about the epic! showdown! at the end (also known as the "climax" of the trilogy). It's fun!
Oh, and I took the cover art from this blogpost. Yes, this ten-year-old can write reviews of comparable caliber to mine. (I kid! But it's cute.)

2 Oct 2010

Putain - Nelly Arcan

This short (186 pages long) debut novel is a first-person narrative told by an escort (yes, a prostitute) in Montreal who studies literature and jots down her thoughts in between clients.
Seriously, the narrator has a shitload of issues - she's had to deal with anorexia, she's rather misogynistic (and is aware of it), she despises and is disgusted by her mother (while being aware that she's turning into her mother), she's suicidal, and has a very weird unconsummated incestuous thing with her father. It was a bit of a disturbing read, but a well-written one at least, with a very distinctive writing style; the sentences were long and ran on for pages, very much as if we were in the narrator's head.
Did I like it? I don't know. Would I recommend reading it? Hell yes.

The Princess and the frog - That 2009 Disney movie

I am such a kid.
It's a good movie, although I did find parts of dialogue hard to understand because of the characters' accents and because I am REALLY TIRED and I have trouble with accents (and run-on sentences) when I am tired.
The character design was very Disney princess style, and the animation mostly hearkened back to the days of The Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan and such. With the notable exception of the main antagonist, the evil Voodoo Doctor Facilier - by the way, I think he's my favorite Disney villain so far, and I'm quite disappointed that he didn't have more scenes. Anyways, the overall look of the movie should be familiar to anyone who's grown up with Disney movies, with some interesting (but brief) forays into different (and sometimes REALLY TRIPPY) styles. I liked it!
And like any self-respecting Disney movie, there are songs! My favorite being Doctor Facilier's Friends On The Other Side. And my second favorite being Tiana's Almost There (the change in animation style is fun!). Fun stuff!

30 Sep 2010

Dinosaur in a Haystack - Stephen Jay Gould

Reflections in natural history!
The dinosaur on the cover makes me laugh every time; its arms are so puny that it must try to scratch its hanging neck-skin with its toes! And its face - oh MAN have you seen its face?!
So this book is a compilation of 34 essays, divided into 8 sections. Now, I only got up to essay #26, but I think I can safely assert that it's just an okay book.
Honestly, I'm not convinced that Stephen Jay Gould is the best essayist ever - or even the best science essayist ever. I found his style to be acceptably flowy, but a bit too clunky; he inserts a lot of literary references in the opening and closing paragraphs of his essays, and since I wasn't very familiar with the quotations in question (or their context), I didn't really appreciate them and found that they slowed down the essays too much.
I'm not all complaints and no compliments, though: there's an essay on Jurassic Park, which I found very interesting indeed. But that was probably because Jurassic Park is one of my favorite books/movies ever. So that was nice.
Eh, that's it really... Except for one funny little fact: according to the Dewey decimal system, this book (at code 575) is a book about science! - more specifically, about the life sciences. And to be really precise, it's about... the physiological systems of plants? Random, but that's the decimal classification for you.

20 Sep 2010

City of Bones - Cassandra Clare

In this first installment of the Mortal Instruments trilogy, we meet Clary, a fifteen-year-old girl from New York whose life completely changes when she sees three other teenagers kill a demon inside an "all-ages" club.
Afterwards, her mother gets kidnapped, she learns about her own powers, she also learns about her own people and the conspiracy that almost got them destroyed, and she of courses kisses Jace, the hot blond-haired boy whose shirtless torso is - I presume - on the cover.
There's some witty, sarcastic dialogue, some fairly obvious drama! and family drama!, a bunch of fights against the forces of darkness, and the writing is good. Which shouldn't surprise me, since it was written by the author of the hilarious Very Secret Diaries of LoTR characters (click here if you've missed the phenomenon when it first came out. I love these things!).
A good debut; I'm intrigued about what will follow!

17 Sep 2010

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

This book is really awesome - I read it in a single day (two sittings). Loved it!
It takes place in a dystopian future (yay, dystopia!), in Panem, which was built on the ruins of North America. One city, the Capitol (set in the Rockies) rules over the twelve remaining Districts - and every year, to remind them of its dominance, it requires two tributes, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, who will compete in the Hunger Games.
These games are televised, and it is mandatory for everyone to watch them - to watch as the tributes fight the environment of the arena, as they fight the traps that the game masters have put to make everything more exciting, and as they fight each other. Of the 24 tributes, only one will survive, and they'll have a life of luxury and fame afterwards.
Now, our protagonist, Katniss, is a sixteen-year-old from the poorer part of District 12; and when her twelve-year-old sister (who she loves very much) is picked as the district's tribune, she takes her (the sister's) place and must compete in the very lethal Hunger Games. There's also a love interest somewhere; it's not very subtle, but it's there. You'll see.
The writing was excellent, really; some scenes felt as though I was seeing an action movie rather than reading a book, and now I just can't wait to read the sequel.

15 Sep 2010

The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak

This book is set in Nazi Germany, is narrated by Death himself, and follows the story of Liesel, a girl whose father is a communist (and thus is persecuted), whose mother just can't take care of her (due to poverty and the persecution), and whose little brother just died.
Liesel grows up with her foster parents, with the other children on the street, and with other very interesting characters (a Jewish man hides in her basement for almost two years, anyone?). However, war happens. More specifically, war of the worldwide-for-the-second-time kind. It gets sad.
It was good, honestly, and for once I find that this book is worthy of the prestige a "New York Times #1 Bestseller" thing shows. It's good, people!

12 Sep 2010

The Golem's Eye - Jonathan Stroud

In this second installment of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, we return to magician-controlled London, two years after the events of the first novel. There, we once again follow Nathaniel (officially called John Mandrake), who now works for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and is in charge of tracking down and ultimately stopping a group of homegrown commoner terrorists, the Resistance.
At the heart of this Resistance is our new protagonist, Kitty Jones. She's a year older than Nat, and far more streetwise and mature than he. She has an innate resilience to magic and, along with ten similarly (and sometimes more) gifted individuals led by the elderly Mr Pennyfeather, she strives to end the magicians' rule of the Empire. Also, we finally get to learn her backstory.
Of course, no book in this trilogy would be complete without Bartimaeus - and after 110 pages, his distinctive narration finally joins us again. True, he also narrated the prologue (set in Prague during Gladstone's conquest, which marked the end of the Czech dominion over the world and the beginning of the British Empire's), but still. I had missed him. Thankfully, this is a 562 pages long novel, and before it ends we have plenty of time to enjoy his ever clever voice.
Once again, this novel's themes range from oppression to class issues, passing by explorations of what is free will. Also, the different interpretations of historical events (such as the fall of the Roman Empire), as would happen in this novel's world of demons and magicians, would be of particular interest to history nerds.

30 Aug 2010

The Sea of Monsters - Rick Riordan

The second novel in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is, like the first, very very good.
This time, the thirteen year-old Percy Jackson is accompanied by Annabeth (again) and Tyson - a very tall and ugly and socially rejected kid that attended school with Percy this year - and once again a quest! appears. Yes, it involves Grover. This new quest more or less follows Odysseus' odyssey, and by the end of the book the plot surrounding the eeeeevil titan Kronos thickens.
Now, I have to draw the inevitable parallels between Percy Jackson's series and Harry Potter's: in both cases we have a heroic but not perfect hero (Percy), who has an extremely smart female friend (Annabeth), a bit of a comic relief of a best friend (Grover), whose adventures take place at a specific time of year (during the summer), feature a magical location away from his parent(s) (Half-Blood camp), and... It doesn't matter. Because these resemblances in no way detract from the story's enjoyability.

29 Aug 2010

Much Fall of Blood - Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint & Dave Freer

Once again, this story concerns a certain Prince Manfred of Brittany and a certain Erik something-or-other from Iceland. This time, though, their story takes place in lands held by the Golden Horde, the Mongols. And we have a very strong female protagonist, the princess of the Hawk clan, Bortai, who is actually likable.
So first things first: the cover. It pretty much screams "FANTASY FICTION!" with its typeface and colour of typeface, and with its shiny cover art. That's all I have to say about it, really.
One thing that I appreciated very much about this novel was that the chapters were short, to the point, and they switched between the different characters' points of view. Also, since this 594-page book is divided into nine parts and 85 chapters (a lot, I KNOW), you get an average chapter-length of 6.98 pages. So if you read so much of this novel in one sitting that you get sick of it, it's your own damn fault.
Now, to be honest, the beginning of the story was slow. A bit boring, too - I'm not a huge fan of fictional political intrigue, and it's been a while since I read This Rough Magic, the immediate prequel. Thankfully, the pace picked up once elements of fantasy fiction (werewolf-ish gypsy-ish people! A dude who is almost a reincarnation of his legendary mad grandfather!) and ass-kickery were introduced, to make for an overall okay read. I don't regret reading it, but I won't re-read it either.

28 Aug 2010

(500) Days of Summer - That 2009 movie

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Zooey Deschanel. What's not to love?
I liked it - except maybe for the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me ending and the fact that Summer's storyline is a bit um... Nonsensical. Out of character.
But apart from that, I really liked this movie; it's a non-linear story with little bouts of interesting cinematography in-between the major plot points. It's enjoyable, even when you want to tell some characters that they're being real douchefaces.

26 Aug 2010

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

This is just so good!
You've probably heard about the film, but this is about the novel. The graphic novel, to be precise. And it is just SO good!
It's a bit of a memoir of Marjane Satrapi's life growing up in Iran between 1979 and 1984 - from when she was nine to when she was fourteen. It spans from the Iranian revolution to the institution of the Islamic theocracy, up until when her parents sent her to Austria to continue her education in a social environment where she'd be happier.
It's touching, heartwarming, heartbreaking and even funny at times - it puts the universal experience of growing up in a setting which I really was not familiar at all. Plus, it does all that in a sequential art format. It's great, really!

The Winter Oak - James A. Hetley

Apparently this is a sequel to The Summer Country (by the same author), but oh well.
To be absolutely honest, the only reason I picked up this book was because, as the blurb on the back tells us, there's a dragon called Khe'sha. I giggled a little bit (I mean, who wouldn't?), and decided that what the heck, this 295-page-long fantasy novel (magic! People with the Old Blood can wield Power! And Important Words are always Capitalized!), with a partial setting in the real world and a partial setting in a Celtic fantasy world, and several nods to Arthurian legend.
It was okay - at times I felt like I missed something that would explain some of the characters' motives (as in, why does Jo suddenly decide to, um, try to convince policepeople that she had killed her father? What? I don't get it!), and I got a few "um, what? Why?" moments, but it's all right. I was still reasonably entertained.

Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace

This book is HUGE, and challenging, and I'll have to pay some overdue-book library fines for it. Oh well.
Let me put it into hard data for you: the story is 981 pages long, and we're talking about some standard-size, 43-lines long, size 12 text here. And then you have 98 pages' worth of endnotes (388 endnotes total). Which makes for a 23.5 cm (9.5") long, 15 cm (6") wide, and 5 cm (2") thick brick - and that's with a soft cover.
Now, about the story itself: it's a nonlinear narration that follows a bunch of characters. These include a competitive-junior-tennis player and total pothead who attends this tennis academy his parents have founded, his older brother, his older brother's super pretty ex-girlfriend, an ex-Demerol addict dude with a huge head who now works at a halfway house down the hill from the tennis academy, and a superviolent Québec separatist terrorist cell descriptively named Les Assassins en Fauteuils Roulants (The Wheelchaired Assassins). Plus a bunch of other characters. Who are all, in twisted and non-obvious and often surprising ways, interconnected.
This novel (published in 1996, hey look at that right after the last Québec Referendum; this might explain why Québec Separatism is such a huge thing in this book) takes place in the future - that is, at about this point in time. However, I don't know that for sure since a new time-naming system has been conceived to help keep the North American economy strong; years are sponsored by different products. So you get the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar. Or the Year of the Whopper. Or the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (which is the year of the story). Which is rather confusing until, after a few hundred pages or so, a convenient list of the years' chronological order just appears.
Ok, so what else... A huge northeastern chunk of the United States and of eastern Canada (bye-bye New Brunswick and southeastern Québec!) is called the great Concavity. You see, instead of filling up landfills everywhere in north america, the O.N.A.N. just launches its garbage (on prime numbered days only!) into that region, the Concavity. Which is the site of so-called "annular fission", a weird thing that removes toxic waste from the environment to provide literally clean energy to the ONANite countries. So essentially what happens is that in the early part of the month the Concavity is this teratogenic, carcinogenic, toxic wasteland, and in the late part of the month it becomes this super lush and overgrown jungle full of feral hamsters and "insects of Volkswagen size". You know what? I think this means it's a dystopian novel. Because seriously, wtf?
The thing about this novel, though, is that the entire story feels like a giant foreshadowing of this dark, looming and terribly awful thing that's going to happen - and after the first chapter you know something really messed up happened - and yet it never tells you what happened. Or really, what will happen; the novel ends on a completely unresolved note (um, spoiler alert I guess?). It's a great read, though; a challenging one, but even without resolution I think it's worth it.
On a final note: although it didn't take me 100 years to read Infinite Jest (yes, I'm bragging right now), it did take me almost two weeks. I wasn't reading anything else. IT'S JUST SO HUGE!

13 Aug 2010

The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan

The first novel of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is very very good. No, really - I read it in two sittings, it's that good. (Yes, I enjoyed it very much)
If you've seen the movie, you'll easily recognize the first chapters of the book - except that you should visualize Percy as a twelve-year-old sixth-grader, and not the seventeen-year-old high schooler who took the lead role in the movie. Be warned, though: starting from Percy's arrival at Camp Half-Blood, all the details change, and a slightly different (but essentially the same) story is told from then on.
Apart from that, what is there to say? The story is a lot of fun to read, full of action and adventure and Greek mythology (wooot!). I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel!

12 Aug 2010

Shambling Towards Hiroshima - James Morrow

This novel takes place in 1945, before the end of WWII on the Japanese front, and the US has two options to end the war: 1. they could use the result of Project Manhattan and drop an A-bomb on the Japanese, or 2. they could use the results of the top secret Knickerbocker project and release a behemoth of unsurpassed deadliness, a gigantic biological weapon that's essentially a ginormous fire-breathing super-aggressive iguana, who would wreck havoc and destruction upon any Japanese city. The thing is, they don't want to release any Godzilla if they can avoid it, so they want to make a mini-demonstration of its destructive powers to a handful of Japanese emissaries. And that's where our first-person narrator comes in.
Syms Thorley is a B-list horror movie actor, who specializes in playing The Monster in various 1930s and 1940s horror movies. Mummies, Frankensteinian monsters, and other prosthetics-and-makeup-heavy characters are his specialty - and he has the shamble, the limping walk down pat for every character. If you haven't guessed his role in the story yet, look closely at the cover art. That's it.
This was a somewhat short, very witty, and quite entertaining read. It reminded me a bit of Kurt Vonnegut's writing style, except less ADHD-like, a more focused narrative that skipped from flashback (in 1945) to present-tense and -time narration (pretty much every chapter begins with our narrator telling us what distraction occurred when he wrote the previous chapter).
(And by the way, I lifted the picture from this thing, which is a far more detailed review-like-thing with a much better exploration of this book's themes. Click on the link!)

11 Aug 2010

À Ciel Ouvert - Nelly Arcan

In this 270-page-long novel, Nelly Arcan explored themes ranging from the obsession with beauty to the obsession with love, while touching on mental, physical, sexual and emotional health issues.
Because let's face it, all of the main characters have issues. First you have Rose, a stylist who is addicted to plastic surgery (or so I saw it), and is obsessively in love with her boyfriend-then-ex, Charles, with whom she incidentally works with. She's also pretty misogynistic and has some issues about women being her competition in love, which stems from her childhood.
Then you have Julie, a documentary writer who has to deal with her own alcoholism and her drug issues, as well as her zombie-like state of existence following her last breakup, years ago, which only gets broken once she "steals" Charles from Rose. She's also very driven when it comes to maintaining her appearance, with frequent harmful effects (burning in the sunlight, badly injuring her shoulder while working out, scarring, that kind of thing).
And then you have Charles, the photographer with the traumatic childhood, the sexuality issues, and the mental health issues which pop up later in the novel and swell from there on.
The content was depressing, but this novel was also very well presented; Arcan's prose is fluid, and while some of her sentences might seem a little run-on and superfluous, they do manage to successfully dictate the pace and ambiance of the story. An okay read.

8 Aug 2010

Inception - That 2010 movie

Oh where to begin?
I liked this movie. It wasn't really confusing (or at least, a lot more simple than the reviews I'd read made it seem), and it was a very interesting concept to begin with: how do you plant an idea into someone? People can trace back the genesis of their ideas, so you want to make them think that they thought of it first. And since there's some convenient dream-invasion technology available, guess how our protagonists do what they have to do?
Anyways. You have Leonardo Dicaprio, Ellen Page, and a guy named Joseph Gordon-Levitt whom I had never heard of before this movie, and who looks a lot like a skinnier (and more alive) Heath Ledger. The whole concept of layers of dreams reminded me of the layers of the Twilight in the Night Watch series of novels. (Yes, I had to bring a book in somewhere!) And... well, it's a very entertaining movie, that I might even watch again someday. Maybe.

7 Aug 2010

The Amulet of Samarkand - Jonathan Stroud

This first installment of the Bartimaeus Trilogy has two protagonists. There's Nathaniel (shh, that's his birth name! And names have power!), later called John Mandrake (his official magician's name), an eleven-year-old magician's apprentice. He's apprenticed to a weak, abusive magician who takes out his frustration about his stagnant political career on Nat. In this world (set in contemporary time), magic is real and magicians are the (educated) ruling class; they control the British government, and by extension the rest of the Empire. Whose entire power comes from their mastery of demons, from the weak imps and foliots to the common djinns to the powerful afrits to the so-powerful-at-least-two-magicians-are-needed-to-summon-and-control madrits, to even more powerful (but fortunately uncommon) beings.
Speaking of the supernatural, our second protagonist is Bartimaeus. He's a medium-power djinn who shapeshifts a lot, and has a quick wit, plenty of sass, snark and sarcasm, an over 5000-year-long backstory (barely hinted at in this book), and an oversized ego. The chapters told from his (first-person) perspective are also a much more fun read than those from Nathaniel's (third person narration), not only because of Bartimaeus' wit but also because of his liberal use of footnotes. This makes sense if you've read the book.
I particularly liked how the vocabulary and themes were beyond what is expected of a YA novel: Bartimaeus is a very articulate djinn indeed, and this novel doesn't shy from tackling prejudice, social injustice, oppression, and other interesting stuff. It's a really good novel! Read it now!

6 Aug 2010

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

It's a fantasy novel. Some people have extraordinary skills - called Graces - and you can spot them by looking at their eyes: they will have different colours. Like one blue eye and one green eye. Or one grey eye and one blue eye. Or one silver eye and one gold eye (why limit yourself to the range of natural human eye colours?!). In most of the world (in six of the seven kingdoms, basically), though, Gracelings are feared and shunned. So unless if you have an awesome or useful (for your king) Grace, your life will suck.
Anyways, this story is Katsa's. She is the niece to a bullying king, who has used her Grace to his gain by making her his right-hand woman as it is, the lady he can send to kill anyone, who'll do it effortlessly and that thus terrifies all of his underlords. But Katsa's obviously unhappy with this life, and then A WILD PLOT APPEARS.
KATSA USES RAGE (for all of the first part)
471 pages, 39 chapters, three distinctive sections later: I still think Katsa's Grace is very... convenient.
It was an okay read - not extraordinary, but not bad either - which is pretty normal considering it's Kristin Cashore's first novel. It dealt with issues ranging from dealing with prejudice, what it means to be independant, and understanding your limitations (even if you're a seemingly invincible character like the protagonist, Katsa). I would definitely reccomend it to any teen who likes fantasy fiction.

4 Aug 2010

Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay

This is a novel of epic proportions.
I am not only referring to Kay's usual wordy and never-ending prose (or so it seems at times when you read it); I am also not simply alluding to the fact that the story is, as usual for Kay, epic (seriously, it's about how an entire peninsula and even two faraway kingdoms/empires are affected by the twenty-year toils of a few dedicated, passionate men who seek revenge over the tyrant who not only conquered their kingdom, but also bespelled it so that its true name, Tigana, could not be heard, written or in any way imparted to anyone who was not born there, so that its entire culture would be erased by the passage of time - ok I'll stop now.). I am also not just making a little joke about its 688-page (hardcover) length, or about the fact that the summary at the back literally refers to it as an "epic narrative that will change forever the boundaries of fantasy fiction."
I mean it literally: its proportions are impressive. This book is 13.5 cm (5.25 inches) wide, 22 cm (8.75") long, and an impressive 6 cm (2.25") thick. It is a real brick.
It was also a bit sluggish. And although I appreciated that there was a reference to Fionavar (the "original world" in Kay's mythology) in the legend of Finavir, it was just another detail amongst many others that could have been left out without losing anything of importance in the story.
A very long novel, great for when you have several months of vacation-time. Although I guess that if you only read one book at a time, this once could last for only two, maybe three weeks... An okay read.

3 Aug 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 - That Wii Game

The wonky gravity, the dubious physics, the space that's seemingly full of air (and thus pressure, which eliminates the need for a spacesuit in this Mario-world), the diminutive plumber, his abducted princess and the almighty Bowser (who nevertheless gets pwned by a diminutive plumber, once again) all come back in this second Super Mario game in space.
Now this game is great, and not-so-great all at the same time. Let me explain:
It is an AWESOME game because

  • The platform levels are all the more fun with weird gravity pits that twist your mind
  • The music! It's great!
  • If you've played the first Mario Galaxy, you can pick up the controller and understand this game immediately
  • Yoshi is there, and everybody loves Yoshi!
  • There is a LOT stuff to do; I haven't completed this game yet, but it takes you about 60 stars to get to the Final Bowser Fight, 120 stars to "finish all the levels", and then 240 stars to get to the last world. I shit you not.
  • It gives several shout-outs to the first Mario Galaxy (right after the Final Bowser Fight, you'll see what I mean, plus there's a world where all you do is fight Galaxy 1's first bosses), which is fun for those who've played it.
  • It also gives some shout-outs to Super Mario Sunshine (another of my favorite Mario games): one level in particular is lifted straight from Sunshine (from one of the "Hotel Something Secret" levels. You know what I mean)
It is a not-so-great game, though, for a few reasons:
  • Most levels are too easy. Especially if you've played Galaxy 1 and are already familiar with the controls; the first four worlds (they include 6 galaxies each) especially.
  • Just like in Galaxy 1, the Bowser fights are repetitive. It's essentially the same fight each time, which is, frankly, boring.
  • Personal pet peeve: you can't keep all the extra lives you earn, you have to start every game-play with a set number of Marios. Which is annoying when you get a BUNCH of them, stop the game and lose them all, and then get one of the really challenging levels the next time you play.
I had fun, though.

31 Jul 2010

Mean Girls - That 2004 movie.

The first time I saw this movie (sometime in 2004/2005, probably), I didn't appreciate it very much. This time around, though, I think I fell in love. It's just so amazinglygoodandentertaining-andenjoyableandOHMYthisisthe-bestteenmovieI'veeverseeninmylife!
Seriously, the screenplay writers have done a great job - the many gags and jokes and snide side comments are what makes this movie great (apart from the excellent acting and the, you know, actual character growth that goes on). And look at that - Tina Fey wrote the screenplay. AND she was great as the math teacher (look, a secondary character that shows... well, character!). It's decided - I like Tina Fey! Not the least because of this gem:
You've got to stop calling each other sluts and whores - it just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.
I must admit, Lindsay Lohan did a very good job of her role, too. There was one scene, though, that I found very funny of unintended reasons: the "drunk at the party and pukes on love interest's lap" scene. That was not "drunk". "Drunk" involves slurred words. (This particular kind of not-good acting amuses me) In any case, props to the people in charge of the visual aspects of her character for the correlation between the level of styling of her hair/her attire and her inner emotional turmoil/shallowness/peace with herself.
Well, I could go on and on about Rachel McAdams' amazingness in this movie, but this thing is getting pretty long already. Let me just say that

  1. gotta love how the "BURN BOOK" looks about twenty pages long, and yet "every girl in school except for 3" are in it.
  2. the fact that "sexually active band geeks" counts as a clique amuses me to no end.
Oh, and on a last, math-related note: did I spot a mistake in the Mathletes' Sudden Death Round? They have to find the limit where x -> 0, for ln(1-x)*sin(x)/(1-cos^2(x)). Now, the movie said that "the limit does not exist", BUT if I remember my calculus correctly, it should be
  • lim[x->0] for ln(1-x)*sin(x)/(1-cos^2(x))
  • lim[x->0] for ln(1-x)*sin(x)/sin^2(x)
  • lim[x->0] for ln(1-x)/sin(x)
Using l'Hôpital's rule, we then get
  • lim[x->0] for (1/1-x)/cos(x)
  • lim[x->0] for 1/(1-x)*cos(x)
  • which equals 1/(1-0)*cos(0)
  • = 1/(1)*(1)
  • = 1
Oh well. I only learned that rule in first year of uni - if we're talking about a high school-level math competition, they might not expect the competitors to know that rule. But still.
(Longest post so far? I think so. Wheee!)

30 Jul 2010

Changeless- Gail Carriger

This novel picks up almost right where the first installment left off; Alexia is now Lady Maccon, she has lots of sexytimes with lycanthropic Lord Maccon (who is called a "sexy beast" at one point), and stuff happens. Namely, every supernatural being in a certain area of London suddenly cease to be supernatural. And then everything goes back to normal - but what happened exactly?
In this novel, romantic drama is mostly a thing for secondary characters - and I must admit, this novel had a lot less steamy scenes than Soulless did. However, there is far more homoerotic stuff going on. Which makes sense. After all, the Victorian era is also Oscar Wilde's era. But I digress.
Once again, the writing is very entertaining, the story is perfectly paced and obvious enough to make it a I'll-read-this-in-the-bus book, and steampunk tradition is perpetuated through the introduction of Ancient Egyptian plot elements. I found this a very enjoyable read indeed - and I can't wait for the sequel, due this September!

27 Jul 2010

The Carbon Diaries 2017 - Saci Lloyd

This is a sequel. And it's a good one.
This time, instead of focusing on the carbon rationing system (hey, it's been there for two years, people take it for granted now), the story focuses on the civil unrest that occurs pretty much everywhere. From the rise of the rightists in London, to the neo-Nazis and the ultra-rightwing party that wins an election in France, to the people smuggling situation in Sicily and Italy, to the detainment of protestors all across Europe, to the total shitstorm in London, the protagonist (Laura Brown, remember?) goes through a lot of stuff.
All this, plus the usual DRAMA! that you'd expect when you have a bunch of strong-willed 18-year-olds stuck together for a year. It's an enjoyable read indeed.

25 Jul 2010

Gwenhwyfar - Mercedes Lackey

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit. An Arthurian Novel.
And the cover art shows a sword and a shield.
A few more hints: Gwenhwyfar is more commonly called "Guinevere".
That's right: this story follows Gwen, a warrior-princess who later becomes the High King's third wife (somewhat unwillingly). In this novel, there are plenty of swordfights, plenty of magic, a shitload of horses, elements of typical Arthurian legend, and a strong (female) lead character.
A fun read indeed.
(The picture on the left was totally lifted from this, because the other images of the cover Google showed me weren't identical to the cover of my library's copy. And I suddenly decided to care.)

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld

This alternate history novel takes place during the first world war. You know, the one that started when an Austrian archduke called Franz Ferdinand was killed, followed by the biggest freak-out over an assassination that the world had ever known.
In this particular alternate history novel, the archduke has a son, Alek, who escapes after his parents' assassination with a few loyal people in a Stormwalker. A Stormwalker is a specific model of machine, fitted with cannons and guns, that walks. I imagine it as a non-intelligent robot, and it is one of the many constructs the Clanker alliance uses. Because, by the way, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman empire are all allied, and they are very partial to mechanical technology.
The other side in the war, the Darwinists (Includes Britain, France, Serbia, Russia, etc), are more partial to genetically modified technology. Yes, Darwin managed to discover DNA, and to find ways to design creatures by genetically modifying them. One such creature is a HUGE modified whale called Leviathan with hydrogen bladders, symbiotic hydrogen-emitting bees, and a plethora of other species on which its survival depends. This modified whale is the biological response to the Clanker zeppelins, and it is used for essentially the same functions.
Okay, I'll stop now or else I'd be summarizing the whole story. Let's just say that it was a fun, easy read, with nice illustrations, kickass cover art, and that I'm looking forward to the sequel. It's steampunk that doesn't fall into the tired clichés of the genre.

24 Jul 2010

Under Heaven - Guy Gavriel Kay

This very well cover-arted (IT'S A VERB NOW) novel, which is about 567 pages long, is slightly epic. And, since it is a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, it doesn't limit itself to one character's perspective and journey; it weaves a story through the points of view of several of them, which range from the principal protagonist to his exiled sister to the concubine he used to be in love with to random characters who barely make an appearance but whose thoughts and actions still take the stage, if only for a few pages.
Well, look at that: the author's wordy prose is contagious. And I'm infected.
All kidding aside, I liked this novel. I know woefully too little about non-European-centric history, and although this is no substitute for a real history book, historical fiction is still good to give a very sketchy general idea of what the world was. ish.
(I took the cover picture from this site, whose "well, here's what I think of this cover art" I happen to agree with. Go. Read.)

23 Jul 2010

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - That French movie

This was a really good movie. The story - based on the novel of the same name - was heartbreaking, the acting was very very good (so good that you forgot it was acting), but the best part was that it was cinematographically innovating. The camera angles were interesting, and the first-person perspective it offered (except in moments of flashbacks) was very interesting indeed.
So yes, I liked this movie. And I can see why the director won a Palme d'or at the Cannes movie festival; he has an excellent, innovative vision.
A little warning, though: at one point, the guy's eyelids have to be sown shut, and since it happens during a first-person perspective moment, people who are squeamish about such things will definitely be uncomfortable.

19 Jul 2010

The Second Sex: Part 1 - Simone de Beauvoir

274 pages. That's the length of the first volume of Simone de Beauvoir's massive most famous work.
It begins with a chapter on biology (whee, science!), followed by one on psychoanalysis (which is very confusing), followed by stuff about economics and history (which were sort of interesting, but not that fascinating to me personally), and ending with a section on myths (which includes a very good semi-lengthy takedown of Montherlant's hypocrisy. And I had no idea who the dude was!). All of which were concerned with one particular subject: Woman. Why is she perceived as she is? Why does she hold the role in society that she holds? Why is male considered the default and female, the deviation from the default?
All of this told in a very particular style, using plenty of semi-colons, a lot of page-long paragraphs, and a plethora of literary and cultural references that flew right over my head.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to read the second volume (included in the same hardcover book as the first one) YET, so that'll have to wait for another half-assed post.

13 Jul 2010

Bogus to Bubbly - Scott Westerfeld

An Insider's Guide to the World of Uglies.
Or, in other words, THIS IS A RATHER SPOILERIFFIC BOOK; DON'T READ IT IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE Uglies-Pretties-Specials-Extras SERIES YET. If you have no intention of EVER reading the series, though, you can go ahead and read this book; it's interesting even if you don't know the literary context.
It provides background information on the technology, the science, the history and the societal structure of the world of the Uglies/Pretties/Specials/Extras. AND includes maps. Which is nice, since it helps clarify and explain the (future) world in which the series took place, which wasn't clearly done in the series.
It is written for a teenaged reader's reading level, which makes sense considering the Uglies series is YA fiction; I found it rather vague on details in the chapters dealing with science, but that's okay.
According to my library, this book is a 813.6 on the Dewey Decimal Classification; it is a non-fiction book on American literature in English, about fiction. Well look at that.

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut

So this is American Literature, eh?
I must admit, I rather enjoyed it. Its many-chaptered 302 pages long flew by acceptably fast.
The plot is secondary to the effects in this story. Which is fine, because the effects (the felt-pen simple drawings, the random explanations of basic concepts, the penile sizes of all the male characters/the hip-waist-bust sizes of the female characters, and the frequent forays into reminiscence and flashbacks) are rather entertaining.
All and all, I partially agree with what the blurb on the back cover says about this book:
[...] aging writer Kilgore Trout finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. The result is murderously funny satire as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America [...]
I didn't find it "murderously funny", but rather simply entertaining. But I have to agree: oh MAN is there a lot of racism in this book!