Monday, January 16, 2012

Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson

Browsing the juvenile fiction section of the local library, I came across this book. I brought it home for my daughter to read, and in researching what exactly it was, I found out it wasn't the first book of the series. We returned it and checked out Comet in Moominland, which my daughter avoided because she didn't know what it was. I showed her some of the things I found online about Moominland and Tove Jansson, and she became very excited about the idea of visiting the Moominland amusement park in Finland (which will probably never happen). Once she was on board, I read Comet in Moominland aloud to our kids and they really enjoyed it. We then re-checked out this book to read together.

I think I liked this book better. It was a series of summer adventures with a common element of a found hat with magical properties. My kids enjoyed the stories, and the book's "villain" turned out to not be mean at all, which my kids greatly appreciated.

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming

I have two opposing reading trends emerging in my life right now. On the one hand, my eclectic non-fiction selection is becoming more focused on economics (as it should have been for over four years now). On the other hand, I am adding more fiction for relaxation, and the type of fiction is more entertaining than bettering. I've basically shelved my plan to read all the major works of the Victorian period (at least for now). In its place I've been working my way through the works of P.G. Wodehouse. And with this book, I add the James Bond novels to my relaxation fiction.

Of course, I've seen the film version of this book from a few years back. That dulled a few of the surprises, but not all, since there are substantial differences between the book and movie. Like the movie, Bond is a relatively-recently-minted Double-O agent given the assignment to bankrupt a baddie in a gambling game. Unlike the movie, the casino is in northern France, the baddie is a Soviet agent, and the game is baccarat. Bond does desire to leave the spy world and settle down with Vesper Lynd (whose name, according to Wikipedia, is a pun on a German-accented pronunciation of "West Berlin"), but those plans are complicated by the work of SMERSH, the enforcer organization controlling Soviet spies. Bond ends the novel with a desire to destroy SMERSH, setting up subsequent novels.

Two particular quotes proved interesting to me. One is when Bond says, "Today we fight Communism. Okay. If I'd been alive fifty years ago, the brand of Conservatism we have today would have been damn near called Communism and we should have been told to go and fight that" (p. 135). The second is something Mathis says later in the same conversation: "Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles" (p. 139).

All in all, I enjoyed it. With the launch of the Daniel Craig movies, there has been a lot of talk about how different the Bond character is. Well, the Craig Bond is very similar to the novel Bond. Instead of a break with tradition, it's more of a return to form. If you enjoy the more-nuanced Bond character, you'll enjoy the Bond of the novels.

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

Sometimes I plan to read a book. This was not one of those times.

I periodically stop by the used book store to look for a few particular titles (The Buried Biscuits, the Grolier's World's Greatest Classics edition of A Tale of Two Cities and Faust, and the movies Gentleman Broncos and Star Wars: The Clone Wars). Outside the store they have a free bin, where they put the books that are in too bad of shape to sell, or that they already have too many of. Lately the free bin has been overrun with professional scavengers with bar-code scanners, elbowing all others aside like they're in the Kaufmann's bargain basement.

The week after Christmas was no exception. An enormous guy smoking a cigar was protecting two-thirds of the free bin. I managed to find a particularly worn copy of The Lightning Thief, and in keeping with my goal of making my daughter an expert on Greek mythology, and at long-suffering blog-reader Erin's recommendation, I squirreled it away and sprinted back to the car. When I got home, I set the book on the living room table.

We left town for New Year's. When we arrived back home, I had to poop. (I told you this blog was hardcore.) I absolutely hate pooping without something to do--it's such a waste of time. All the books I was currently reading were still in the car with the rest of the luggage. With my pooping event horizon fast approaching, I grabbed the closest book, which happened to be The Lightning Thief. I'm sure Rick Riordan is very proud to gather readers in this way.

I'm of two minds about this book. There are things to really like about it, and things that I really didn't like at all. I think I will start with the negatives, so everyone goes away happy at the end.

I didn't particularly like the character of Percy. Not that he wasn't well crafted; in fact, given that I don't particularly like most 12-year-old boys, it's possible the character was too well crafted. Percy seems like the type of kid who runs to the dessert table at a church dinner and asks for fifths before anyone else has had firsts, and then when his request is denied he calls out, "This is bogus" (or the modern-kid-speak equivalent). I hate kids like that. And for a kid who thinks he didn't pay much attention in his classical antiquities class, he certainly remembers a whole lot of details about obscure Greek myths, and says them out loud for the reader's benefit.

Story-wise, it's exciting and engaging. Reading with an eye for "is this book appropriate for my nine-year-old daughter," I think Riordan did a great job toning down the PG-13 elements of mythology just enough. This was definitely not a "sexy, sweeping tale." The comic scenes seem like the kind the target audience will enjoy, and the barely-cognizant romantic element seems age-appropriate for a 12-year-old main character. Like how the climactic scene in Max Keeble's Big Move is holding hands.

This the the first book in a series, and the set-up seems favorable for my continued reading. The most annoying element of the book to me was Percy's relationship with his stepfather, which consisted mainly of wanting to punch him, but that relationship won't be in the subsequent books. I think I'll like the rest of the series even more.

Rating: five out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.