How to avoid getting a math headache

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.

After watching countless hours of Vlog Brothers and Crash Course I decided to actually read a book by John Green, and rather arbitrarily selected this one. Unfortunately my local library, much to my frustration, had bought a digital audiobook and several digital copies and I, not the proud owner of an ereader, was unable to get a copy from them. Unless I wanted to read them on my laptop, which is probably the least portable way to read a novel EVER.

Fortunately I have friends in other places who have libraries that consider this eventuality so I managed to acquire a copy.

So An Abundance of Katherines is the story of Colin Singleton, child prodigy, wanna-be genius and Dumpee. After the end of his relationship with Katherine XIX (the nineteenth Katherine he’s dated) his best/only friend Hassan drags Colin on a road trip. Thus begins a general coming of age story in a not-quite-as-American-as-it-sounds kind of way.

This book is awesome for a lot of reasons. The wacky yet almost possible story is engaging and exciting. Colin and Hassan, Lindsay and Hollis, even TOC and SOCT who don’t get full names are remarkably developed and very love/hate-able. The story is full of anagrams and math graphs (which I didn’t look at because I never understand a damn thing about math).

The Eureka moment was probably, while a truly fantastic realization to have, maybe a little too after school special for me but the second time when I flipped through it, I felt like it was shorter than I remembered and I liked it a lot more. I would totally, emphatically recommend this book (and have already done so) and look forward to reading more John Green books if my holds ever come in.

Last movie I watched: Persuasion – this is my favourite Jane Austin and a lovely version of it done by the BBC of course.

Last TV show I watched: Spooks/MI 5. Still awesome!

This is a rather short and lazy post today but I have an excuse. I’m not longer an unemployed librarian! So that’s exciting. Instead of spending the time necessary to really do this book a worthy blog post I was car shopping because I need a new car to go with my new job (no seriously, I actually do –  I will need to be able to get to all the branches in the system). While this may sound really exciting and fun I’m not actually enjoying it that much. One, I’m not that into cars. Two, my budget isn’t big enough to really bask in the car related potential. Apparently this is part of being an adult.

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Almost as sweet as a life sized gingerbread house

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Okay, so I’m not going to lie. I did mostly pick this book because Glee used to be really awesome and Chris Colfer’s character is one of the few characters that are still worth watching. I mean, if he’d written a trashy romance or a nonfiction piece about fairy tales I probably wouldn’t have. But he didn’t, he wrote a kid’s book.

A really cute, sweet, adorable kid’s book.

First, let me get one thing out of the way – this is his first book and it kind of suffers from first book syndrome. I don’t know if that’s a thing or not, but it should be. By first book syndrome I mean that his voice isn’t quite there yet. It’s good but there’s the occasional strange clash of language or a bit too much tell and not enough show (occasionally there are both, one sentence after the other) and just a touch of didactic-ness which I tend to dislike (the teacher bemoaning the watering down of fairy tales for example).

That particularly message (the watering down of fairy tales), which I found very heavy handed in the first few chapters was quite undercut by the story. This book is adorable and, although the main characters do seem to spend a lot of time almost getting eaten, there’s very little of the darkness that tends to come with “original” fairy tales. Also, while listing the famous fairy tale authors I noticed that Perrault was left out, which makes me think that Chris Colfer didn’t do his research into the history of fairy tales very well since I was under the impression that the Brothers Grimm borrowed heavily from Perrault. We just don’t know it ’cause he was French and English is clearly more important. (Mind you, the Brothers Grimm were German…). Whatever. Details that most kids would probably overlook unless they’d taken a university course on children’s lit, or at least done the work for one. I am jealous of those kids for being so smart.

However, the story is so lovely, so cute, so charming, so, to quote one of my university professors, “So sweet it makes your teeth hurt”. She used that as a criticism of course but apparently I don’t mind a little tooth rot. The idea of two kids (twins! shockingly) falling through a book into a world of fairy tales is hardly new  (used in a self aware manner in this book) but the world they fall into is just lovely. Cinderella is pregnant with her first child,  Snow White is trying to grapple with what her stepmother did to her, Red Riding Hood is struggling with the responsibilities of being the only elected Queen in the land as well as her own heart and Sleeping Beauty is dealing with the reality that because she lived her entire kingdom lost 100 years of their lives. Goldilocks is on the run from the law, Jack is heart broken and there’s a Prince Charming missing. Although each of the princesses (Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) are too kind to be believable, their struggles are interesting.

And through this semi-dangerous land Alex and Connor have to quest for a series of objects that will get them home. (Not a spoiler – it says this on the back of the book).

Of course I do very much want to spoil the big reveals at the end (some of which I guessed and a few that I didn’t) but I won’t right now. I’ll spoil it when the second book comes out because of course, it’s set up to have a sequel. At least one.

Which I will look forward to. Because that was adorable, and clever in places and, yes the writing could be a little more refined but I forgot about it for huge stretches at a time so it can’t be that bad. A fairy tale about fairy tales. Lovely.

Last movie I watched: Taken. ‘Cause Liam Nesson is awesome. Good action movie, maybe I’ll see the sequel in a year when it’s in the library

Last TV episode I watched: MI5/Spooks. Which is awesome. I mean, I’m not sure I’ve actually watched that many serious spy TV shows but I’m sure that this is one of the best ones EVER. Also, everyone can die. Everyone does die. But it’s still awesome.

My favourite Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

This book, in case you forgot to read the title of this blog post, is my favourite Harry Potter book. This blog post will discuss why that is and maybe some other stuff if I can think of anything else as important as how fantastic this one is.

There are many reasons why this is my favourite. One of the most important is that it is the only Harry Potter that has all my favourite characters and doesn’t feature one of them dying. For anyone who doesn’t want to draw up a quick diagram to work out which three I am referring to they are Dumbledore, Remus and Sirius. I know, I know, I seem to have a problem with loving characters who die. Whatever.

Another reason that this book is quite different from Chamber of Secrets and Philosopher’s Stone is the ending. In the first two books Harry, Ron and Hermione more or less know what they’re doing when it comes to the last few chapters – they knew they had to find the Stone, they knew they had to go into the Chamber of Secrets. Sure there were twists (Quirrel/Lord Voldemort?! Ginny/Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort!?) but in Prisoner of Azkaban they have no such plan. It’s all kind of a horrible accident. Sure Hermione uses her cleverness and skill to work things out, Harry uses his courage and compassion to protect the people he loves and Ron’s loyalty and stubbornness get things done but really not one of them had a clue what they were doing. They didn’t get themselves as far as they could and then waited for help from the adults (read Dumbledore). Everyone, including the adults (excluding Dumbledore) just kind of blundered around, doing the best they could. Which I kind of liked.

At the same time, the story had the same subtle, sneaky hints about what was going to happen all the way through just waiting to be noticed by a super observant reader or a reasonably observant re-reader.

Again this time through I noticed things like the introduction of Cho Chang and Cedric Diggory and the number of real prophecies that Professor Trelawny has given.

One problem that has occurred to me is this: I understand why Lupin didn’t tell anyone about Sirius being an Animagus or the Map but when he saw Sirius Black’s dot on the map meeting Harry, Ron and Hermione, as well as Peter Pettigrew why didn’t he let Dumbledore know that a crazy murderer was being left unattended with three students. I mean, I know he was in a hurry, but he’s also a wizard. There’s no spell to send an S.O.S. message to your Headmaster if your school has had two break ins in the last year?

Of course, my last favourite thing (because I want to end this blog on a high point) is the Sirius, Remus, James awesomeness. ‘Cause if there’s one thing that I love, it’s awesome homosocial relationships. Which is exactly what that is!

In conclusion: This is the best Harry Potter ever.

The last movie I watched: Terminator Salvation. I don’t think I paid much attention to it somehow but it seemed to me to be a bad Battlestar Galactica knock off. I might watch it again to confirm that.

The last TV show I watched: Crash Course World History!! (The French Revolution). But I also watched some cartoons too – something called Jimmy Twoshoes. I’m not sure it’s my most favourite cartoon ever but it was pretty neat. The boy I was watching it with seemed to enjoy it.

Substance abuse, bad Frenchmen and philosophy – but now I know why I’m reading them

Ranger’s Apprentice Book Three: The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

All right, out of necessity this blog post is going to be full of spoilers ’cause I can’t talk about anything interesting that happened in this book without you know, talking about what happened in this book. So if you’re inspired to read this series and don’t want to know what happens in the third book you should probably go find something else to do with the next ten  minutes of your life.

For anyone else who’s left, let’s continue.

So the Icebound Land picks up where Burning Bridge ended. Will and Evelyn/Cassandra are being kidnapped by Skandian mercenaries (read Vikings)and looking forward to an exciting life of slavery. Halt and Horace are pursuing them through Gallica (read France). Halt is struggling with his oath as a Ranger since it’s stopping him from questing after his apprentice. Horace doesn’t have these problems.

This book started on a high note, which was Halt getting drunk, committing treason and starting a bar fight so he could get exiled and thus be free to go after Will. Unfortunately the story kind of slips downhill after that. Nothing clever happens. Will and Evelyn have a few lame attempts to escape. Halt and Horace follow a very traditional, riding, challenging knights, sleeping at inns, getting sidetracked by people who need help kind of quest and then at the end a satisfying meeting of Halt and Will doesn’t even happen. This meeting is pretty much the reason I’m going to read the fourth one. For all the lack of character depth I am looking forward to it.

‘Cause everyone loves the moment when their favourite character finally catches up with the person they love most in the world. At least, I think they do. Well, I do anyway.

So there are four things that I think I’ll muse on about this book.

Number one: Drugs!

Drugs are complicated. As I understand it, people do them for a variety of reasons, they are rarely particularly good for the people who are doing them and it’s often pretty challenging to stop doing them. Unfortunately this book features Will getting addicted to something called warmweed. His slave masters give it to him on purpose because it makes people easier to control. And by easier to control I mean it makes them into zombies. It’s highly addictive and Will has to go through a long, painful withdrawal process to get control of his life back, not that he cares because he’s a zombie. And there in lies the problem for me. It is a kids book, but there are loads of kids who are affected by drugs and loads of children will grow into teenagers and adults who may have to make decisions about drugs. So I kind of figure if you’re going to have your main character addicted to drugs the least you can do is make it a little more, well, three dimensional than “and someone tricked/forced him into using this drug and it turned him into a complete zombie who wouldn’t raise a hand to help himself if you set his feet on fire until someone slowly, loving, patiently weened him off of it and he became fine again.”  Again, drugs generally cause problems but I’m pretty sure very few of them, if any at all work in such a simplistic, good or bad, no choice kind of way. That’s all I’m saying.

Number two: Bad Frenchmen

Okay, so Halt or Horace are trekking through a neighbouring country where the people speak French, say “ma sewers” and eat long, thin, crusty bread. Maybe I’m reading between the lines but I think it’s France. Which is cool, I like France – visited a few times, enjoyed their long, thin crusty bread, managed to maintain the odd conversation in French about when my train was leaving or what I like on my pizza and went swimming in the Mediterranean sea. But this book is full, I cannot emphasis how full, of comments about how the men in this country have no regard for honour, how they are cowardly, how they are incompetent, how they rule by fear, how they are generally useless and I can’t help but wonder what on earth does John Flanagan have against French people?

He’s also not very flattering towards Vikings.

Number three: Word use.

At least twice in this book someone “accepts their fate philosophically”. I am of the opinion that good writing shouldn’t draw attention to itself but somehow I noticed every time “philosophically” came  up, which makes me think it wasn’t a good word choice. Also, in a book that uses words like “cowl”, “foolhardy” and “composites” having Halt roll his eyes and say “puh-lease” just seemed… ridiculous

Number four: How much I want a magical Ranger pony

There is a lovely scene in which Halt’s Ranger ponies warn him that he’s being followed by someone in the bushes (Horace). The horse indicated that there was someone in the bushes pretty much the way my horse indicates that she thinks there might be something in the bushes. Only when my mare does it, there’s never anything in the bushes and instead of warning me by snorting or tossing her head she jumps ten feet in the other direction and tries to run away. I love my pony dearly and wouldn’t trade her for the world but you know, sometimes I can’t help thinking … Ranger pony, kind of awesome.

And that brings me to the end of this blog. I’m still not a nine year old boy, so it’s possible I’m not getting something out of this book that I could be.  But there are better books for boys.

And I’m probably going to read the next one.

Last movie I watched: Sherlock! Although that might count as a TV show, I’m not sure. Anyway, Sherlock – a BBC production starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I can’t even explain how awesome it is. Everyone should watch it. EVERYONE.

Last TV show I watched: An episode of Merlin. I love this show!! And this episode had one of the most adorable Merlin Arthur moments – “It’s not wisdom” anyone? Delightful. If we’re being totally honest the excellent Merlin Arthur dynamic is the only reason that show keeps getting renewed.