“The Fires of Heaven” by Robert Jordan

Original cover of The Fires of Heaven
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One more Wheel of Time book read and nine more to go. My reading relationship with this series has become bitter-sweet: I love the story but sometimes hate the execution (more on that later).

Quick summary:

This installment of the series places us in the Aiel Waste with Rand, Mat, Egwene, Moiraine, and Lan; and in the southern countries, where Elayne and Nynaeve are located with Thom and Juilin in tow. Sometimes we pop in on Min, Siuan, and Leane as they race across the land in search of a safe haven after their escape from the White Tower; or we visit Morgase in Camelyn to observe as she unwittingly abdicates her throne to a Forsaken.

Min, Siuan, Leane, and Logain

After a prologue in which we see Elaida Sedai, current Amrylin Seat, succumb to her ego and control issues and watch the Forsakens plot to take down Rand, the story begins with Min, Siuan, and Leane on the run with Logain. They had escaped from the White Tower—right under Elaida’s nose— after Siuan and Leane had been stilled. Now that the Power is gone, Siuan and Leane grab at the promise of revenge to prevent themselves from going mad and losing their will to live due to the Powers’ absence. They promise the same for Logain.

Continue reading ““The Fires of Heaven” by Robert Jordan”

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Sharing My Instagram Pics: Winter Snapshots

A Moment in Time

What was the last picture you took? Tell us the story behind it. (No story behind the photo? Make one up, or choose the last picture you took that had one.)

I hate winter. I abhor the cold, the sniffles, and that tingly feeling I get in my fingers and toes when they’re numb. I loathe the fall in temperature and the rise in wind. And the burning sensation I get in my nose whenever I step outside that makes me want to sneeze. I dislike the ice, that slippery ice that I slide on, glide, as I fall while running for the bus. I hate winter.

The last pictures I took were three quick snapshots of snowy branches. I was waiting for the bus and was bored and agitated. Bored because I wanted to get back to reading The Fires of Heaven and agitated because a girl was smoking and spitting all over the sidewalk where I would have to walk when the bus arrives.

I was also upset with the weather—snow. Snow means ice and I hate both. I was huffing and puffing to myself as I tried to think of warmer moments in my life when I saw a man and his wife taking photos of the trees with their phones. It was then that I noticed the beauty around me. The trees were all spectacular with their bare branches, some dripping with icicles while others were simply decorated with snow. It wasn’t heavy snow but just enough to give the impression that the trees had somehow sprouted snowy leaves. With the light of the lamp posts shining behind a few, the branches would glitter as if decorated with crystals.

Continue reading “Sharing My Instagram Pics: Winter Snapshots”

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner coverIt’s no secret that the events of our childhood greatly affect us. For some people, certain events leave such a deep scar that they carry the burden into adulthood. Others discard the burden along way. In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, the protagonist Amir carries the burden of his childhood regrets throughout much of his life. It’s not until mid-adulthood, when he receives a call from an old friend, that he begins to let go of the burden.

Quick summary:

The story opens with an adult Amir considering the call he had received. It then jumps to the beginning, to Amir’s childhood and to a peaceful Afghanistan of kite-flying winters and summer afternoons spent with friends. The tale, relayed by the adult Amir, follows his development while hinting at the unrest brewing beneath the surface of Afghanistan.

Amir is born into an affluent family. His father is a merchant in Kabul and belongs to the ethnic majority, the Pashtuns. Amir greatly admires his father and tries hard to please him. Unfortunately, his efforts go unnoticed. As such, he has a strained relationship with his father. Though his father provides for him, Amir wishes he had more of his attention. It’s just the two of them—Amir’s mother died during childbirth—and the house servants.

Continue reading ““The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini”

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth

The cover does make me think Hunger Games.
The cover makes me think of Hunger Games.

As with Vampire Academy and Beautiful Creatures, it’s the movie that sparked my interest in this book. I enjoyed watching the protagonist, Beatrice “Tris” Prior, develop from a shy, reserved girl into a confident, fearless young woman. I was drawn to the slow progression of her relationship with Four and, of course, I loved it when Four (played by actor Theo James) ripped his shirt off to show Tris his tattoo (…well, he didn’t exactly rip his shirt off but in my mind he did). Wanting to know how similar the novel is to the movie, I decided to purchase the book to find out.

Quick summary (spoilers):

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, where all that remains are structural skeletons of our present society. The city is surrounded by a huge, electric fence that’s guarded by a security patrol. Something beyond the city threatens it and citizens are warned not to venture far beyond its limits.

Within this barricade is a society organized into five factions—Dauntless, for the brave; Erudite, for the intelligent; Candor, for the honest; Amity, for the harmonious; and Abnegation, for the selfless. Tris’ family belongs to Abnegation but Tris yearns to break from the restrictions of her faction. She doesn’t feel as if she fits in. Instead, she is attracted to the Dauntless and often wishes to run free with them but her loyalty to her family leaves her ashamed of such thoughts.

Continue reading ““Divergent” by Veronica Roth”

Favorite Harry Potter Book Covers

While laying in bed this morning contemplating what to write, the idea popped into my head to do a post on my favorite Harry Potter book covers. Yes, this is just an excuse to indulge in my Harry Potter fanaticism. I guess I will be rereading the seventh book soon as well. It’s about time too. The Harry Potter bug usually bites me once a year and infects me with a need to reread a Harry Potter novel, usually the first book. But for now I’ll focus on the covers.

Back in July, Bloomsbury announced that it will publish new covers for the UK edition of the Harry Potter books this September. Last year, Scholastic released new covers for the US edition of the books for its fifteenth anniversary. Here, I will compare the covers (the original vs. the most recent US and UK covers). I will highlight my favorites and will list the covers I like that were published in other countries.

When placed together, it’s easy to see the different elements the illustrators chose to emphasize. Kazu Kibuishi, who illustrated Scholastic’s 2013 covers (The illustration of Hogsmeade above is by Kibuishi.), always tries to place the focus on Harry, which makes sense because the story is about him. So Harry is always placed in the foreground sometimes as larger than the other characters or with a spotlight (glowing glasses). Jonny Duddle, the UK illustrator of Bloomsbury’s September 2014 books, emphasizes the obstacles Harry faces. Harry is usually drawn as a smaller figure in comparison to the other images in the scene to portray the enormity of the events he faces.

Mary Granpré, who designed the original US covers, maintains a cheerful/innocent tone that was probably perceived as more appealing to younger kids. Even as the book became more serious the covers still maintained a sense of innocence. The same goes for the original UK covers, which were designed by Thomas Taylor, Cliff Wright, Giles Greenfield, and Jason Cockcroft. Children’s literature has evolved much since the Harry Potter novels were first published and the evolution of the covers certainly show that. These days, it’s not surprising to see more serious, scary images on children’s book covers. So, without further ado…

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Scholastic’s August 2013 cover by Kazu Kibuishi.

I feel guilty for liking Kibuishi’s cover more than Mary Grandpré’s original. I get a bit sentimental over books and hate seeing the covers change sometimes but I do find this cover more appealing than the first. I like that it features Diagon Alley because it’s the presence of Diagon Alley that convinces us that a secret, magical world is waiting to be explored. I also like that the illustration consists mostly of blue, which gives it a mystical feel, and that Harry is placed in a spotlight, which is formed by Hagrid’s size. Hagrid is so big that, along with the crowd of people, even the buildings seem to shuffle around to give him space. Plus, the color around Harry and Hagrid is lighter, like a halo. Hedwig, perched on Harry’s shoulder, also helps.

The original UK cover by Thomas Taylor.
The original US cover by Mary Grandpré.

Harry’s face seems to have the same expression on both the original US and UK covers. This cover will always be a favorite simply because it is the first.

Bloomsbury’s September 2014 cover by Jonny Duddle.

This is my second choice because of Harry’s expression. He looks a bit puckish here. (Click the newer versions for a larger image.) Continue reading “Favorite Harry Potter Book Covers”

“A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin

I've always liked this cover best.
I’ve always liked this cover best.

Reading a book for the first time is filled with moments of wonder. If the story is gripping, you spend most of the time wide-eyed, reading quickly, as if the words already set in the book could somehow escape you. Approaching that book a second time does not dim the wonder but neither does the wonder consume you as on the first read. Things you glazed over in your excitement to know what happens next begin to emerge.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I read A Game of Thrones a second time. I was surprised at myself that I missed the blatant foreshadowing at the beginning of the story—the direwolf dead with the horn of a stag broken in its throat. Martin even referred back to that scene a few times thereafter and still I failed to notice it. I was too mesmerized then. Too curious and reading too quickly to pay much attention to details.

This isn’t surprising to anyone who has read the books in George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, or watched the television show on HBO. The story centers on various characters spread across the kingdoms of Westeros and its neighboring lands. It is filled with twists and numerous cliff-hangers that will keep you both hooked and frustrated with GRRM since the character perspectives tend to switch from chapter to chapter.

Although I knew the ending and what would happen to the characters later in the series, I still anticipated the turn of every page. Again, I found myself staying up late, wide awake, and reading quickly to satiate my curiosity and desire for a happy ending though I knew better. I did not expect this of myself. I thought my second time through would be much calmer, as it usually is, but I was wrong.

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Sharing My Instagram Pics: The “Newspaper Reader”

It's easy to mistake him for someone real. Princeton, NJ
It’s easy to mistake him for someone real.
Princeton, NJ

A friend of mine invited me to Princeton back in March and I was amazed at how quaint the area around the university is. I was expecting a bustling town but instead I found a sleepy one. Well, according to my standards. It was pretty quiet there. While touring the campus, we happened upon this gentleman taking a break from his day to read the daily news. He was quiet stiff. Upon closer look, I realized that he had forgotten his glasses at home and was straining his eyes to read.

So went my thoughts when I saw this 1975 sculpture by J. Seward Johnson Jr. called the “Newspaper Reader.” The man is reading The New York Times. I admire the details in this sculpture—the stitching in his shoes, the lines of his pants, the wrinkles around his eyes. It’s great. I thought it was a real guy before realizing that the newspapers’ pages weren’t moving.

According to Wikipedia, J. Seward Johnson Jr. “is an American artist known for his trompe l’oeil painted bronze statues. He is a grandson of Robert Wood Johnson I (co-founder of Johnson & Johnson) and Colonel Thomas Melville Dill of Bermuda.”

The following links provide more information on the sculpture.

Bookish Pet Peeves

So I’m sitting in my room lost in a daydream when I see an insect scamper across the wall. Shocked, I immediately jump out of bed and hunt him down. I had never seen an insect like that before and it prompted me to run a Google search. The more I discovered, the more pissed I became which led me to do this post on my bookish pet peeves.

  1. Bending the pages
    • I HATE when people do this to my books. I can hardly tolerate it when they do it to their own or to library books. Treat the books with some respect! Though, there is something charming about a well-worn book that is all bended, folded, scraped, and torn. A book that has been held in many hands and read in myriad places.from frabz
  2. Asking to borrow my books
    • Yes, I am one of those snobbish bibliophiles who hate to loan a book. I’ll even go so far as to purchase the book for you so you’ll leave mine alone (family members and close friends only). It’s selfish and silly but loaning books lead to bended covers, torn pages, and possible loss of the book since borrowers never seem to remember to RETURN what they borrow….speaking from experience on that last one. I refrain from borrowing books. I have a library card. I hardly use it. I’m one of those people who usually have an unnecessarily high library debt. Why? Because I forget. I can’t help it. It’s not intentional, I just do.
  3. Silverfish….and other book-eating bugs
    • The reason for this post. Unfortunately in this world there are insects who love to eat books and even more unfortunate is that my house is plagued with them. Where are they coming from? I don’t know. We recently moved and I guess they were here awaiting our arrival. I’ve seen them a few times at night, lurking in corners, crawling on walls, waiting for me to turn off the lights and go to sleep so they can attack my precious. These bugs are quick, little scampers. They are silvery-grey and have too many legs. They like warm, humid climes and love to feed on starch. They do not bite or spread any diseases and it seems that one could live peaceably with them if one does not mind many-legged insects crawling about the house but I’m not such a person. The mere sight of them is enough to rile me and have me running for the insect spray. So I’ve declared war on them. Prepare to be eliminated little fuckers!
  4. Soggy books
    • I had the misfortune of being caught in a deluge the other day. I was returning from a trip to New York and the sky was bright and sunny. No need to worry about a thunderstorm, I thought. A few minutes walking down the road proved me wrong. The sky quickly grayed and it suddenly began to rain as if the clouds were unable to hold their water once they appeared. Luckily, I had an umbrella but it was of little use! I was soaked within minutes. My suitcase was as well. I was dragging it behind me and it was filled with paperbacks given to me by my aunt. Once I got home and started to unpack, I saw that my books were all crinkled and soggy, the pages sticking together. I almost cried. They were new books. I just hate it when my books are ruined before I’ve had the chance to read them.book overload
  5. Unnecessary tomes
    • I’m thinking of Robert Jordan’s 13-book series (which I am nowhere near finishing). It’s too damn long for no good reason. I am on book five of the Wheel of Time series and I wonder if I will ever finish the books in this lifetime. I am not daunted by large books or long series. What turns me off is when a book is large because the author is stalling, or when chapters are filled with pointless internal dialogue or an overkill on landscape descriptions (all of which Jordan does). I am sure the books could have been condensed to a series that is half of its current amount.

Well, that’s it for my tirade. What are your bookish pet peeves?

Note on the featured image because it’s so cool. It’s a photograph taken by Cara Barer, a photographer based in Houston, Tex. She transforms damaged books into art and also does book-sculpting. I’m in love with her work. I guess it’s the only way I can tolerate a damaged book.

“New Spring” by Robert Jordan

Cover of New Spring novel
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Spring, the prequel of The Wheel of Time series, seems to be the shortest book in the pack but that doesn’t mean it’s quick reading. Shortly after completing The Shadow Rising, I rushed to the bookstore to pick up New Spring. I was too curious about the history in the series to wait until later or until I completed the series to read the prequel. So much had occurred prior to the first four books and I wanted the details on those events. What were Moiraine and Lan up to before finding the boys in Two Rivers? What was going on with the Seanchans and were the Forsaken loose and prowling about then too? What was Padan Fain doing before he became a peddler in Two Rivers? The Aes Sedais mentioned something of Padan Fain’s past in The Eye of the World but I want more details.

I thought the prequel would provide a broad view of key characters, noting their activities prior to book one but such was not the case. Instead, the prequel focused on Moiraine and Lan, mostly Moiraine; however, it is Lan who begins the story. The Aiel Wars are winding down and ends when the Aiel oddly retreat. Lan is relieved of his duties as commander of his unit and has plans to return north but his plans are upset with he learns that his carneira, some old lady he banged back in the day, wants to raise support and crown him as king of Malkier. So he travels to Chochin to face her. Really, Lan’s story didn’t do much except to give us a smidgen of the Aiel War and to remind us who Lan is, the last of the Malkier kings, and how he is, grave, loyal, honorable.

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“The Shadow Rising” by Robert Jordan

Cover of "The Shadow Rising (The Wheel of...
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. (Cover via Amazon)

The Shadow Rising was too damn long. Although it is a good read, the length turned me off and soured my enjoyment of the story. This might seem like unnecessary ranting since I’ve completed the first three books in the series, which are all hefty, and read the prequel of the series shortly after completing The Shadow Rising. But for some silly reason I thought (or convinced myself) that by the fourth book Jordan would realize how unnecessary it is to make his books so long for no reason. I should have known better. The length of the series should have been an indicator that Jordan never realized that he was going overboard with length.

Despite that, this installment of the Wheel of Time series was great in that we learn more about this fantasy world as we see it begin to change. We see a bit more of the Aiel and learn their history; we realize how corrupt the White Tower is, or rather, how divided it is; and we see Perrin become the leader he is destined to be. We pick up with everyone (Rand, Perrin, Mat, Moiraine, Lan, Nynaeve, Elayne, Egwene, Faile, Loial, Thom) in Tear. Rand has Callandor and is trying to control his power while staving off Moiraine’s influence, rule Tear, and keep some of the Forsaken at bay. Mat wants to leave Tear but can’t because of Rand’s pull as a ta’veren. Perrin wants to return to Two Rivers to help his people, who are being attacked by White Cloaks and trollocs, but wants to protect Faile as well. So, for the while, they dawdle.

Continue reading ““The Shadow Rising” by Robert Jordan”