December 2018 Books

Around the beginning of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!

As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile.

Books read in December: 16

This month, I officially finished my 2018 Reading Challenge! I read a total of 220 books in 2018. My goal was only 160, so technically I suppose I didn’t “finish” the challenge this month. For 2019, my new goal is 175 books. I hope to finish the Newbery Medal books and the Dear America books this year.

Check out my year in books!

Reading Goals

        

Newbery Medal Winners: 2 (76/96 total)

Dear America: 1

Other Reading Stats:

*These stats are separate from goals (so, for example, even though Newbery Medal winners count as children’s books, I do not include them in my children’s stats) and from each category (rereads will not count in their respective genres)

Non-fiction: 1

   

Adult fantasy: 2 (I am counting the volume as 1 book, despite the fact that it contained 3 books)

Adult fiction: 0

Rereads: 5

Children’s: 1

Middle Grade: 1

Young Adult: 3

Publisher Copies (or Christian fiction): 0

Favorites:

   

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November 2018 Books

Around the beginning of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!

As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile. There you can also check out the progress of my 2018 Reading Challenge.

Books read in November: 18

What I find the most interesting from doing these statistics is the number of YA books I continually read. Consistently the number is equal or just below the number of children’s and middle grade. I thought I had cut back on YA, but apparently not as much as I thought!

Reading Goals

         

Newbery Medal Winners: 2 (74/96 total)

Dear America: 1

Reading Stats:

*These stats are separate from goals (so, for example, even though Newbery Medal winners count as children’s books, I do not include them in my children’s stats) and from each category (rereads will not count in their respective genres)

Non-fiction: 1

   

Adult fantasy: 2 (I am counting the volumes as 1 book each, despite the fact that the series is 5 books)

Adult fiction: 1

Rereads: 5

Children’s: 1

Middle Grade: 1

Young Adult: 3

Publisher Copies (or Christian fiction): 1

Favorites:

October 2018 Books

Around the beginning of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!

As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile. There you can also check out the progress of my 2018 Reading Challenge.

Books read in October: 17

I hit a bit of a slow crawl towards the end of October.

Reading Goals

                  

Newbery Medal Winners: 3 (72/96 total)

Dear America: 1

Reading Stats:

*These stats are separate from goals (so, for example, even though Newbery Medal winners count as children’s books, I do not include them in my children’s stats) and from each category (rereads will not count in their respective genres)

      

Non-fiction: 2

Adult fantasy: 0

Rereads: 2

Children’s: 0

Middle Grade: 2

Young Adult: 7

Publisher Copies (or Christian fiction): 0

Favorites:

September 2018 Books

Around the beginning of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!

As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile. There you can also check out the progress of my 2018 Reading Challenge.

Books read in September: 22

Seems like reading every night and morning is working out for me in terms of book completion.

Reading Goals

Newbery Medal Winners: 0 (69/96 total)

Dear America: 1

Reading Stats:

*These stats are separate from goals (so, for example, even though Newbery Medal winners count as children’s books, I do not include them in my children’s stats) and from each category (rereads will not count in their respective genres)

            

Non-fiction: 2

Adult fantasy: 1

Rereads: 4

Children’s: 1

Middle Grade: 4

Young Adult: 7

Publisher Copies (or Christian fiction): 2

Favorites:

           

August 2018 Books

Around the beginning of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!

As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile. There you can also check out the progress of my 2018 Reading Challenge.

Books read in August: 19

With the start of school, my reading pace has surprisingly not slowed down at all.

Reading Goals

                         

Newbery Medal Winners: 5 (69/96 total)

       

Dear America: 2

Reading Stats:

*These stats are separate from goals (so, for example, even though Newbery Medal winners count as children’s books, I do not include them in my children’s stats)

Non-fiction: 0

      

Adult fantasy: 2

Rereads: 2

Children’s: 0

Middle Grade: 3

Young Adult: 4

Publisher Copies (or Christian fiction): 1

Favorites:

                          

Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain Is Back

The Great Brain is Back, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1995 by Dial.

Tom D. Fitzgerald—better known as The Great Brain—has turned thirteen, and pretty Polly Reagan has put a spell on him. But when it comes to swindling his younger brother J. D. and all the other kids in Adenville, Utah, Tom hasn’t changed a bit. From thinking up the slippery soap deal and the numbers game to outwitting a band of murderous outlaws, The Great Brain is at the top of his form. And one thing’s for sure: life is more exciting when he’s around!

Rating: 2/5

The Great Brain is Back was published posthumously, cobbled together from the late Fitzgerald’s writings. It is the last Great Brain book (obviously) and ends fairly well for being so—Tom goes off to high school in Pennsylvania, leaving John and Frankie bemoaning how boring it will be with him gone. It’s a good end, though in my opinion, the series ended best after book 5, when Tom reforms. The last three books weren’t anything special.

This book starts with perhaps the meanest trick Tom has ever pulled on his brother. John is occasionally at fault for falling for Tom’s cons, but the first chapter of the book details Tom maliciously and purposefully undermining his own brother. I became so irritated that I almost stopped reading, to be honest. It ends with Tom getting his just desserts, though, so that at least makes up for it, but the ending pales in comparison to the trial at the end of The Great Brain Reforms, mostly because there’s no indication that Tom will actually change.

Perhaps it’s because this was published after the author died, or perhaps it’s because even Fitzgerald was getting tired of these books, but this book (and the two before it) most prominently displays how quickly this series fell apart after having to explain away Tom’s reform. There’s no longer any lessons, no development—just story after story of Tom swindling people and mostly getting away with it. It’s always clever, occasionally heroic, and sometimes amusing, but there’s nothing connecting the stories to each other anymore. Tom has become a villain in his own series, in a way, because all the good things he does pales in comparison to the heartlessness he shows his friends and brothers.

I’ m glad I revisited this series, but now I’m glad it’s over. Tom was becoming too annoying for me to enjoy the books, and all of the lovely learning and development was tossed aside for more of the frustrating shenanigans. I would recommend to stop reading the series after book 5.

Series Rating: 3/5

Ranking (best to worst, or most favorite to least):

1. Me and My Little Brain

2. The Great Brain Reforms

3. More Adventures of the Great Brain

The Great Brain at the Academy

5. The Great Brain

6. The Great Brain Does it Again

7. The Return of the Great Brain

The Great Brain is Back

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2Ba3Jah

July 2018 Books

Around the beginning of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!

As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile. There you can also check out the progress of my 2018 Reading Challenge.

Books read in July: 18

I’m pleasantly surprised I managed to read that many books in July, as it was quite a busy month for me.

Reading Goals

           

Newbery Medal Winners: 2 (64/96 total)

Dear America: 1

Reading Stats:

                            

Non-fiction: 2

Adult fantasy: 1

Rereads: 2

Children’s: 2

Middle Grade: 2

Young Adult: 2

Publisher Copies (or Christian fiction): 4

Favorites:

                                            

 

June 2018 Books

I’m introducing a new feature on my blog: around the first of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!

As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile. You can also check out the progress of my 2018 Reading Challenge (I’ve set a goal of 160 books and am almost 3/4 of the way done).

Books read in June: 26

June was a big reading month for me: school’s out and I’m not doing much work. This will probably be my biggest reading month of the year, as most months I’m lucky if I get half that number.

Reading Goals:

                                                                   

Newbery Medal Winners: 3 (62/96 total)

Dear America: 1 (17/43 total)

Reading Stats:

            

Non-fiction: 2

                                           

Adult fantasy: 3

Rereads: 6 (lots of rereads this month; four of which were the first four Penderwick novels, which I read in preparation for the fifth)

Children’s: 9

Middle Grade: 2

Young Adult: 3

Publisher Copies (i.e. Christian fiction): 1

Favorites:

                                       

 

 

Ranking The Hunger Games Movie Series

Right around the time the Catching Fire movie came out, I reviewed all three of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games books. Now, after Mockingjay Part 2 has been released, it’s time for me to talk about the movies! All three book reviews can be found on this blog, but I’ll link to them below for ease of access.

Spoilers for all three books and all four movies.

I’ll start out by ranking the books, since I never did that when I reviewed them.

1.) The Hunger Games

2.) Mockingjay

3.) Catching Fire

A lot of people do not like Mockingjay, but I happen to be one of the few who love it. You can read my reviews of the books to find more of my thoughts (linked above). I did notice something interesting, though, while I was thinking about not only my ranking of the books but also my ranking of the movies: my actual, technical ranking of the books very closely matches my ranking of the movies. So, let’s rank the books again, this time taking specific scenes and events in consideration rather than just having an average ranking:

1.) The second half of Catching Fire

2.) The second half of The Hunger Games

3.) The first half of The Hunger Games

3.) The second half of Mockingjay

4.) The first half of Mockingjay

5.) The first half of Catching Fire

By breaking it up into “halves,” roughly, there’s a lot more variance in this ranking. Catching Fire is now both first and last, while the other two books make up the middle.

Before I rank the movies, I’d like to quickly say that I think the movies are some of the best film adaptations of books I’ve ever seen, and some of the most faithful as well. They included mostly everything important and most of what they put in that wasn’t in the book only added to the world. More about that when I talk about each film.

Now, let’s take a look at how I rank the movies and see if you can catch the similarity with the list above. I’ll be giving them their full title to avoid confusion with the books:

1.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

2.) The Hunger Games

3.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

4.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Let’s talk about each movie in turn, in the order I ranked them.

1.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Why is this my favorite movie of the bunch? Well, let me point out my book ranking. It’s my least favorite overall, but the second half of it is my favorite when dividing the books up into halves/sections. And the first half of the book is precisely why it’s my least favorite overall, because I absolutely despise the first half. It’s boring, it drags on and on, and it makes the pace choppy. I can’t stand rereading Catching Fire precisely because I know I have to get through that awful first half to get to the better second half, and I’m not the type of person to only read the last half of a book.

So, let’s go back to the movie now. And what the movie does that makes it not only such a great book adaptation, but also probably the best “movie” out of all of them, is that it almost completely cuts out the first half of the book. Gone are the two kids in the woods, gone is the electrified fence dilemma, gone is the interesting but tedious back-and-forth with Katniss and the Distract 12 residents. What’s kept in is minimal: Snow’s visit, Gale’s whipping, and whatever else is needed to carry the plot. What it adds is great: the intrigue behind the scenes, visual depictions of Katniss’s PTSD, more of Plutarch, who is given a life and dimensionality in the movies that is not seen in the books, and small conversations and interactions. And that’s why it’s my favorite movie, because it cuts out all the boring parts and adds important things to other scenes to keep that information in there.

Yes, the movie has its flaws. The transition from a first-person book to a third-person film means that some things are lost in translation: a truncation of the tributes’ plot, confusion over why the morphling saved Peeta (it’s never fully described how all the tributes, beyond the ones in the arena with Katniss, are in on the rebellion plot), and some other things that are best done in a book rather than in a movie. But that’s something to be expected and does not, in my opinion, cast a very large shadow over the other parts of the movie that are phenomenal.

2.) The Hunger Games

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It’s the first movie and it’s incredibly faithful to the source material–perhaps the most faithful of all of them. It leaves almost everything in and the things it cuts is minimal. And it adds scenes with Snow and Caesar Flickerman that add to the world of Panem. It’s visually lush and beautiful, the music is great (as it is in all the movies), and the suspense is carried throughout the movie well. The shaky cam is irritating, but understandable in a movie targeted for teenagers that’s incredibly violent at heart.

My main quibble with this movie is that the transition from a first-person narrative to a third-person film completely distorts Katniss’s motives. My friend recently read the books for the first time, after seeing the movies, and told me that everything was so different when reading solely from Katniss’s perspective. It’s not just her voice that’s lost in translation, but her motivations and thus a part of her character. I’m not sure how many people understood, just from watching the movies without having read the books, that Katniss was faking her relationship with Peeta in order to get help for him, that she was playing to the audience. A vital side to Katniss’s character development is distorted, and so in a way Movie-Katniss is different from Book-Katniss. They’re not the same Katniss. And that’s okay, but it still is prominent in my mind when I watch the movie, thus spoiling my pleasure of it slightly.

3.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

This is the most brutal of all the movies; appropriately so, since Mockingjay is the most brutal of the books. Once again, the movie leaves out some things from the books, but I didn’t mind: the movies have already communicated Katniss’s PTSD well enough without having to show her descent into drug addiction. Most of what they added I also enjoyed, such as the conversation between Gale and Katniss after Prim’s death, something that was much needed in the book. Gale’s character is much more sympathetic in the movies than in the books, in my opinion, but that conversation did a lot to make viewers not necessarily feel sorry for Gale, but to feel sad at the destruction of a lifelong relationship. “I was supposed to protect your family, Katniss. I’m sorry.” Those words do a lot to make me feel more for Gale as a character than I ever did in the books (and in the first three movies, for that matter).

Other things I enjoyed from the movie: the musical cues (especially right after Coin’s death), Jennifer Lawrence’s facial acting during the scene when Coin is getting them to vote on a Capitol children Hunger Games and you can see Katniss’s realization that this woman has to go, the trust shown between Haymitch and Katniss when he agrees because he trusts her, the truncating of the epilogue (though it wasn’t really necessary; the movie could have ended on “You love me; real or not real?” “Real” and it would have been a fine ending. Movie-Katniss didn’t need the epilogue as Book-Katniss did), and the overall effect of the movie. It’s grim and brutal and it punches you in the stomach at every chance, but you are feeling what Katniss is feeling and that is immersion.

This movie’s not ranked higher because it came after the disappointing Mockingjay Part 1 and it’s simply too brutal and grim to really be a stand-out, or stand-alone, film. I would watch Catching Fire by itself; I could not watch Mockingjay Part 2 by itself without watching the first three again.

4.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The movie makers must not have realized what a fantastic thing they did by cutting most of the first half of Catching Fire out because they decided to make the first half of Mockingjay its own movie. And unfortunately, they only highlighted the weaknesses of the first half of Mockingjay. Almost nothing suspenseful happens in the first half of Mockingjay, to the point where the film had to create its own action (by showing the rescue of Peeta) to get some conflict going. But showing the rescue of Peeta led to a completely made-up scene between Katniss and Snow, which made an already long movie drag on forever.

Speaking of “long movie,” when I saw this movie I could have sworn it was 2 1/2 hours long. I walked out of the theater and realized that it had only been about 2 hours long. That is not a good thing when a move feels half-an-hour longer than it actually is.

I did like some aspects of the movie: the cheekiness of the propaganda movies, the inclusion of the Hanging Tree song, and the shock of Peeta attacking Katniss (which is where the movie should have ended, in my opinion). But most of the movie dragged on, stretching out the little conflict there was and trying to generate more through a rescue attempt that simply made me more irritated at how Gale was being portrayed. Mockingjay Part 1 is definitely the weakest link of the film series, which is a shame because it also drags Mockingjay Part 2 down with it.

So there you have it! Those are my thoughts about the Hunger Games movies. Again, like I said at the beginning, problems aside I do think these are some of the best and most faithful film adaptations of a book/book series made today. I’m sad that they’re over, but excited that I can relive the world over and over again through both the books and the movies’ vision of the world of the books.

Series Week VII: Wrap-Up Of The Dark Is Rising Sequence

Series Rating: 4/5

Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence is beautifully mythical, with a dash of British adventure that reminds me of C. S. Lewis and E. Nesbit. Cooper strikes a nice balance between the mythical aspect of the series and the more “natural” aspect so that they flow smoothly from one to another, although at times things can get a little strange.

One thing that puzzled me throughout the series was Cooper’s attempts to distance her symbolism from its obvious place in Christianity. She does this by brushing aside the significance of the crosses in the Signs, by having Merriman state that there’s no “second coming,” and by making everything centered on the importance of man and the charity and good that stems from man, rather than from the Light. What was so puzzling to me is that she ultimately fails to distance the two, even with her not-so-subtle attempts: she has a line in Silver on the Tree which talks about hope not lying dead in a tomb and has blatant symbolism lying in the Signs that can drive back the Dark and in the entire concept of the Light versus the Dark, good versus evil–with good ultimately winning and completely driving back evil. If the series was a person, it would be basically saying, “No, no, don’t read too much into this. Crosses don’t mean Christianity. Look, this is how the Light and the Dark actually work,” but while saying that, it’s wearing a T-shirt that reads “Look at all the symbolism that’s rooted in reality and Christianity!”

Puzzlement (and quibbles about the representation of the Light and the Dark) aside, I do really enjoy this series. I would probably enjoy it even if it didn’t have that odd back-and-forth between “this is Christian symbolism” and “no, this isn’t Christian symbolism.” The books are beautiful fantasies that, yes, are slightly odd at times, but have a nice grounding with the presence of Simon, Jane and Barney. And although they all read a little similarly and Will and Bran sound much older than they are, the books stand out as unique, classic fantasy for their audience.

As always, my favorites, ranked from most to least:

1.) The Grey King

2.) Silver on the Tree

3.) Greenwitch

4.) The Dark is Rising

5.) Over Sea, Under Stone

Next week I’m back to my normal schedule of Tuesday and Thursday, with fairy tales on Friday!