"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Way of Kings

by Brandon Sanderson

I am really obsessed with this author right now, as you might notice from the many books I've read of his lately.  It has been so long since I've really found a good set of fantasy books, and Mistborn fulfilled that longing.  Then I voraciously read a few of his other single books like Elantris and Warbreaker and like them, though not on the epic scale of the others.  Then I discovered a 10 book series called the Stormlight Archive, the first book of which is The Way of Kings and I quickly ordered it from the library.  A large volume, in both a physical and a written way, but well worth the time.  Then I excitedly went to order the 2nd book, only to find it was not available.  Why?  Because it hasn't been published yet!  I didn't realize that this is a "projected" 10 book series, meaning that Sanderson has only finished and published the first one, and now I have to wait for 9 more books, which will probably mean the next 10 years of my life will be spent waiting to know what happens at the end!  But if the first book shows anything of that ending, it will be well worth the wait.

So, as I read The Way of Kings I felt like the book did two things.  It told a great story.  Actually it tells a number of great stories about great characters.  But it also felt like a huge introduction to the even larger series.  What I'm saying is, it covers a lot of territory, sets up a lot of stuff for future reference, and leaves a lot of parts hanging with no definite answers, because there are many more stories to come that will flesh it all out.  As long as I go into the book understanding this, I love it because it builds and builds the suspense.  And yet, it is amazing to me that an author can do all that, yet still work in some really amazing stories and characters as well.

And as you can imagine, its not easy to really sum up.  This first book tells the beginning stories of a few different characters.  First, a man who goes from healer, to soldier, to slave, to leader.  The details of his slavery on the "bridge crew" are fabulous and the setting and characters are well thought out and presented.  Another character is a mysterious assassin, one who loathes his job but is for some reason compelled into it.  There is also a female character who becomes the apprentice of a wise woman, only in hopes of stealing her most precious possession, but instead finds herself learning more than she thought.  And finally, another character is a chivalrous military leader who is turning away from way and trying to find the way of peace.  All these characters are set amid a world that is plagued by great storms, so much that the world has adapted, with descriptions of plants and animals and people that are suited for weathering great tempests. A truly epic landscape and story.

And just like another great series, The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, its killing me to have to wait for the next installment!  Its going to be a long 10+ years.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary Roach

In honor of Halloween just having finished, I thought a review of this book would be appropriate.  Though it sounds rather gruesome, it is very interesting and quite hysterical.  The author's side notes are almost better than the actual text, because this is where all her random and bizarre comments are made.  A word to the wise however.  I am not a squeamish person in any sense of the word.  Lots of time in the hospital probably got that out of me years ago.  However, this book definitely went into some details that were best left for non-meal time.  But by no means should you avoid it for this reason, just choose your reading time wisely.

I was introduced to this author by the book Packing for Mars, and found it just as entertaining. Whereas that book deals with the very real human details of what it takes to get a person into space (the food, the sanitation, etc.), this book literally details with very human details, as in the remains of a person and what is done with a body after physical death occurs.  Experiments, embalming, burial, investigation, and decay are all covered, but in a way that allows for humor and respect to both have a part of the story.

The ways in which human cadavers have contributed to science is innumerable and amazing.  Medical testing, crash tests, CSI studies, organ transplants, etc. have all led to very real and very important contributions to our way of life.  And cadavers have been a part of all of that.  Of course, many of the ethical questions come into play as well, and Roach discusses many of these, including religious beliefs, grave robbing, etc.

Overall, though it sounds a little disturbing and somewhat gruesome, this book actually gives you a great respect for the human body and its complex design, for science and its discoveries, for those who donate their bodies to science, and to the families that respect these wishes.  Instead of avoiding this topic and feeling it taboo, I love that Roach unveils a stunning landscape of something that is all around us, and just below the skin.  As much as this book is centered around death, it is actually very much about the wonder of life.

Jump! (and Halloween books)

by Scott M. Fischer

This is a fun children's book that my son actually discovered at the library.  Each page is about an animal that gets scared by a bigger animal, which makes it JUMP!  The book has great rhymes, good rhythm, and kids love to "help" read the story when its time to turn the page and JUMP!  And the artwork is fun, nothing fabulously amazing but not cheesy either.  My son picked this book to share with his Kindergarten class on his Superstar Day, and it was very popular.  The teacher commented that it was a very good choice for that age.  I love finding new books for the kids, and I enjoy them myself.

On a side note, I was invited to read at my nieces' school for their Halloween party.  My mother often reads there and she is quite popular but she was going to be out of town and recommended they ask me.  I was happy to fill in.  It was to be arranged thus: 15 kids at a time from ages K-7th grade, for 15 minutes each, and I would do this 5 times in a row.  I bit daunting but it was also exciting.  I love sharing my love of books with anyone and everyone.  I tried to think outside the box and pick some different books that the kids may not have read before.  And it was difficult to think of how to appeal to all the different age groups.  Luckily, the kids seems to enjoy it and were very respectful and well-behaved.

I had four different things to read, though I found I had to shorten my time and finally had to cut one out.  However, I'll include them all because they went well together.

1) I started out with reading/singing a poem called "Three Little Witches" by Marjorie Barrows.  My mom used to sing this to me when I was a kid, and it has a good rhythm and is fun.  A good way to get them interested and paying attention.

2) For the younger children, I chose a book called "Little Goblins Ten" which is kind of a Halloween version of the poem/song "Over in the Meadow".  Its a counting book, but its also got a good rhythm, and with this one I had the kids participate.  When I would say a word they had to respond back.  So it would go, "Haunt! said the daddy" and the kids would have to say back, "Haunt! said the two" and they would have to do it the way I did, so I tried to really ham it up and make scary Halloween noises

3) "The Witches" by Roald Dahl is a favorite of mine and so I used them for the older children, some of whom had read it.  I started by summarizing what Dahl says are the characteristics of a "real" witch, things like that they are bald, have no toes, etc.  The kids got a kick out of this part.  I then read an excerpt, the chant that the Grand High Witch says about their evil plan to turn all the children into mice.  This is the one I finally had to cut out of the last couple because I didn't really have enough time and I had to summarize the book a lot, but it was a good choice and a high recommendation from me.

4) I finished with Chris Van Allsburg's "The Witch's Broom".  It has the most wonderful haunting illustrations, as all his works do (Polar Express, Jumanji, Harris Burdick) and though its about a witch's broom, really its not too scary at all, just clever and quite a funny turn at the end.  It has a lot of deeper meaning which I thought maybe some of the older kids might pick up on as well, but most of the kids really were quite mesmerized with it.

So, all in all, it was a lot of fun and I hope the kids enjoyed the reading.  I certainly did, and I loved being able to visit the school and teachers, since I actually attended there way back in 4th grade.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that since a few of my books were about witches, I decided to dress the part, complete with a homemade broom, black teeth (braces are handy for this), and a big ugly wart on my nose.  It was fun!