Friday, January 2, 2015

Books of 2014

This is the list of the books I read in 2014, in order of most enjoyed to least enjoyed. I liked more books than I hated, which is always excellent. I should point out that I actually read a couple of books of Haikyuu!!, but I clumped them into one because I couldn't remember what even happened in which book.
So here's the list!
  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saez
  5. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 
  7. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
  8. Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
  9. The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  11. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  12. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  13. Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
  14. Messenger by Lois Lowry
  15. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
  16. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  17. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
  18. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
  19. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
  20. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  21. Haikyuu by Haruichi Furudate
  22. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  23. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
  24. Just Don’t Fall by Josh Sundquist
  25. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  26. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  27. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  28. Let it Snow by John Green, Lauren Myracle, and Maureen Johnson
  29. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  30. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  31. Hamlet by Shakespeare
  32. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
  33. Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintire
  34. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  35. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly 
  36. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
  37. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson 
  38. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
  39. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  40. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  41. Nine Horses by Billy Collins
  42. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
  43. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
  44. Julius Caesar by Shakespeare
  45. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  46. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
  47. Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian 
  48. I am J by Cris Beam 
  49. The Knock at the Door by Margaret Anhert 
  50. Beneath the Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson
And here's to another year filled with good books!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Best Books of the Year: Ready Player One

Since I haven't been active in the last year or so, I thought I'd share with you a couple books that I read in 2014 that I really really enjoyed. I think this will be a series, focusing on one book at a time because I can go on about my favorite books forever.
The book that I most enjoyed reading is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The story is set twenty years in the future, where everything takes place on an online platform called the Oasis. When I say everything, I really mean everything. Business meetings, vacations, school, it all happens online. One day, the creator of the Oasis, James Halliday, dies. Instead of leaving a will, it is announced that whoever can solve his game within the Oasis and finds the easter egg will inherit everything that Halliday owned. So this is the story of Wade and his group of friends who go on the quest to find the egg.
I actually listened to this audiobook. It's narrated by Will Wheaton, and it is quite possibly one of the best audiobooks that I have ever listened to. Will Wheaton did an excellent job of embodying the voice of Wade. This book had a lot of description in it—it had to, in order to describe what the Oasis was like—and he narrated it in a way that it didn't get boring.
The descriptions in this book was actually one of the reasons that I loved it so much. Since this book was a quest, the characters hopped from planet to planet, and these planets ranged from Earth-like to completely weird yet awesome, and each time, I got a clear sense of what was going on.
Another thing that I loved was all of the background information. There's a lot of 80's references in this book because James Halliday grew up in the 80's, and his quest revolves around his favorite childhood memories. The 80's is relatively recent (only 30 years ago), but this book treats it like history, which I think made it really interesting. There is also a lot of background information on how the Oasis came to be; how Halliday and his business partner Ogden Morrow created it, their falling out, and what happened after his death, when the Oasis starts falling to the big business: IOI.
The characters are also fantastic. Wade is a strong lead, who makes a lot of discoveries about the differences in relationships online and offline. My other favorite was Ogden Morrow, who, though he didn't appear much, kind of reminded me of a more eccentric version of Dumbledore. Both of Wade's closest friends Art3mis and Aech are wonderful and smart, and my favorite, and I loved the fact that even though Wade is competing against them, they are his greatest asset.
As I have previously mentioned, I love this book. Writing about it like this has made me want to go pick it back up. I think this book is also really good for people who aren't that into science fiction. Even though I believe that it technically is science fiction, it also has a lot of fantasy, quest elements in it that people might enjoy.
5/5 stars (obviously).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dui Bu Qi

I have had a song stuck in my head for the past two weeks.
This song is titled "Dui Bu Qi," and it is sung by an English band called Transition. They sing it in Mandarin. The main lyrics go "dui bu qi, wo de zhong wen bu hao," which means "I'm sorry, my Chinese is not very good."
My Chinese teacher first introduced it to us a couple of weeks ago. There are a couple of phrases in the song that would come in handy in China. Unfortunately, the song is very catchy.
The weekend after my Chinese teacher introduced it to us, I could not get it out of my head. But that is normal for me. I have had songs stuck in my head before (Lorde's song 'Royals' had a particularly long run), and I figured that some other song would come and replace it. But that's not what happened. We sang it again on Monday, and then I noticed some of my classmates who are in other sections of Chinese start to sing it. Now it's gotten to the point that even if it has been out of my head for a day or so, once I enter the Chinese classroom, I immediately think of the song and then the cycle starts all over again.
Anyway, I encourage you to go listen to that song. If anything else, I guarantee you that by the end of it, you will know how to say "I'm sorry, my Chinese is not very good."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Orphan Train

I know that it's been a while, and I decided that I want to get this blogging ball rolling again, so I thought I would start out with a book review.
I've read 48 books so far this year (which is just two away from my goal, yay!), and I've read a lot of fantastic books. I thought though, that I would start out with the book that I most recently finished: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.
Orphan Train is a novel set both in 1929, and the modern day. The 1929 narrative follows a young girl named Niamh, who, after both her parents die in a fire in New York, is sent on an orphan train to hopefully be adopted by a nice family. Of course, that doesn't happen. The modern day story line follows Molly, a foster girl who is seventeen and almost out of the system, when she is caught stealing something and is forced to do community service, helping out an old woman clean out her attic.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I picked it up because I didn't really know anything about orphan trains. I thought that they were more of a 19th century thing, but apparently they were around until 1929. The book really reminded me of Out of the Dust, a novel about the dust bowl. Perhaps it was because it was a similar midwest setting and because the character of Billie Jo is similar to that of Niamh.
The thing that kept me reading this novel was Kline's writing style. I loved it. It portrayed complex ideas very simply, and the whole novel made perfect sense.  I could understand the characters and their ways of thinking very clearly. She painted a very understandable picture of the 1930s with everything from clothing style to the socially accepted ideas of the time.
I loved Niamh's story from beginning to end. She was likable from the start to the very end, and you could see her development throughout the novel. Her story is a roller coaster ride from beginning to end, with a sideshow of people with both good and bad intentions.
With that said, was a little skeptical with Molly's timeline. She was a very angsty, bitter, and misunderstood, and I didn't particularly care for the way in which the foster parents were portrayed. They were racist and only in it for the money, and the mother was really mean while the father had a soft spot for Molly, and it all just seemed very cliche. However, I did really enjoy the bits of Native-American history that were tied in with Molly and her history. I really liked the way in which she started to open up to Vivian, the old woman, and I thought it showed how truly important it is to be able to talk about your own history.
I gave this novel 4/5 stars.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Ender's Game: A Movie Review from a Die-Hard Fan of the Book

Warning: If you want to see the movie, don't read this post.

As the title of this blog post has established, I absolutely LOVE the book Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.  I read it in 6th grade and it has been one of my favorite books ever since.
The movie came out last week, and since my friend Jacob had just finished reading the book (after I had been telling him to read it for about four or five years), we decided to go see it. Let me just say that the movie made me really angry.
I understand that movies have to take some liberties in comparison with the book. Obviously, you have to cut some stuff out, and I don't think it's a horrible thing to add a couple of meaningful and necessary scenes. The thing that irritated me most about this movie is the fact that it lost the whole tone and feel of the book.
There was no character development at all. You don't feel Ender's personality. You don't understand his internal conflict about becoming another version of his brother, Peter (Peter only showed up in one scene and that wasn't enough to establish his ferocity and ruthlessness), and thus it's harder to understand what is actually going through his head. When he starts to play the Giant's Drink game, the game takes so much mental capacity and is so psychological that it's hard to establish that in a movie setting. Also, you don't feel Ender's isolation in the movie at all. It seems as if he is a brilliant Launchee that people don't like just because he's Graff's favorite. That's not the case. The script doesn't take time to establish the sheer size of the battle school in order to point out that Ender is isolated. You don't feel Ender's personality at all, which was such a shame. As for the other characters, they didn't get enough time in the movie to establish their personalities. They seemed to happy. Why were they smiling? I'm pretty sure that if I was going through battle school, I wouldn't be smiling. I would be stressed 24/7.
Another major problem that I had with the movie was that it wasn't tactical. There were only two battle room scenes, which really upset me. I think the battle room set was really well done. It looked amazing and it was such a shame that only two battles took place. There was no buildup. There was no drama surrounding the success of the Dragon army. There was no discussion of strategy. These are all MAJOR parts in the book that should have been in the movie. Instead, the battle scenes were too short and made it seem like success was simple. I didn't like that.
Let's talk Mazer Rackham. WHAT WAS WITH HIM  BEING A SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. It is not okay. Ender is the original Speaker for the Dead. He wrote The Hive Queen and the Hegemon and then started going about the other planets and speaking for other people. Why was Mazer Rackham established as a Speaker for the Dead? That's just not necessary and it didn't even have to do with anything in the plot of the movie.
Also, Ender and Petra. This was a thing that I suspected would happen. Let's not forget that in the book, the characters start at battle school when they are about five and Ender goes to command school when he is 10. They're too young to like each other!!! From the moment Petra came into the movie I was extremely upset. It was just so unnecessary. There was no point to it. It was an unnecessary romantic subplot that shouldn't have happened.
Something that I wish had been in the book was Locke and Demosthenes. I think this part of the book was extremely interesting. When I read it in 6th grade, I think I was a little young to really understand how political it was, but it was so fascinating when I reread it because it shows how smart Valentine and Peter really are. I really think that Ender's siblings needed to play a larger part in the movie not only to bring out Ender's fear of Peter, but to open discussion about the state of the Earth at that time.
Also something that really annoyed me was the fact that everyone called the buggers the "formics," which after looking it up, is apparently the more technical term for buggers. But in the book they called it buggers and everyone in the Enderverse calls them buggers so WHY NOT call them buggers? It's little changes like that that don't add anything to the movie that really bother me.
One thing that I did like were the special effects. I think that the graphics for the Giant's Drink were really well done and the battle room was pretty good as well.
So, I think you've gotten the vibe that I didn't like this movie. I knew that I was going to be disappointed in it and I gave it a chance. But it failed. I'm really disappointed too because I love the book. I love Ender's Shadow and Speaker for the Dead. But the movie lost the whole tone of the books, and I think (at least if I were the author of a book that was being turned into a movie), the tone is something that should be the first thing to be preserved.
I hope I don't sound to angry in this post. I personally don't think you should see this movie. Unless you want to be in a bad mood, then you should immediately rush to the movie theater and watch it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dalek Pumpkin

My family and I decided to conform to societal conventions and carve pumpkins last night. Now I'm really not very experienced in this art. I think it's mostly because the opportunity to carve a pumpkin when it is socially acceptable comes only once a year.
Last Friday, Hank Green posted a video on YouTube and at the end, he showed some pictures of awesome nerd pumpkins. One of the pictures was of a pumpkin carved in the shape of a Dalek (Daleks are some of the bad guys in Doctor Who, and I won't spoil why they're bad or what they do because you should watch the show) and I saw that picture and decided that my pumpkin this year was going to be a Dalek. So that's exactly what I did. I think I bent the saw that I used because my pumpkin was so thick.
But this is what it turned out to look like:

I'm particularly proud of it. I didn't really have anything that would emit a light out of its head so I had to use The Doctor's sonic screwdriver, and I don't know what hardcore Doctor Who fans will think of that but who cares?
My dad's pumpkin is also very cool. I think he debated over what to carve for at least half an hour. At one point, he wanted to carve the Firefly logo and the white tree, the elvish that's on the One Ring, and Mike Wazowski. He also seriously considered carving the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. logo, but that show isn't very good so he decided against it. In the end, he decided on the Avengers icon, and it turned out really cool. Needless to say, we're a nerd family.

I don't know if the neighbors will understand, but those who do are truly awesome. Also, anyone who comes to our house in either Doctor Who or Avengers/superhero attire will get extra candy. Just no Reese's, because those are my favorite. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Time Machine

I'm going to tell you a story.
Yesterday, I was at the museum, as it seems that I usually am on Saturdays. Though this Saturday was different because the docent headquarters had changed places. It had changed from a bright room covered with stickers on the third floor of the museum, to a room that I could only really describe as a dungeon. The room, it turns out, is in the basement, with pipes running along the ceiling. Also, it turns out that whoever painted the entire basement was an avid fan of the color grey. Grey walls, grey floor, grey handrails, everything is grey and has no personality whatsoever.
So it was lunchtime, and I was eating lunch with some of my friends. One boy was running around with a broomstick that he had found, pretending that it was a combination of a Firebolt, a Nimbus 2000, Cleansweep, and a Comet 360. Apparently this broomstick could choose which type of broomstick it wanted to be, so you could transform it from a Firebolt to a Cleansweep whenever you wanted to (though I personally don't know why anyone would want to use a Cleansweep when you could have a Firebolt). Some other kids were looking around the room to see what cool things that there were (nothing), and we were all commenting on how we should have the people from Extreme Home Makeover come and do an Extreme Office Makeover episode to spruce up the office, when someone noticed a can sitting on top of the wall. This room's wall didn't reach the ceiling, so there was about a foot long gap between the pipes covering the ceiling and the wall, and on top of that wall, sat a tin can.
Nick got on a chair and brought it down for all of us to see, and we discovered, to our great delight, that the can had the words "time machine" and "open in 2013" written on it in sharpie.
Well, naturally, we were all very curious. I think we all were remembering the time machines that we buried in our backyard or in my case the time machines that I wanted to make to bury in my backyard. Since the year is currently 2013, we felt we had a right to open this time machine and find out what was inside.
We didn't have a can opener, nor any means to get one, so the boy with the broomstick offered it up and stabbed the can lid with the stick portion of the broom. Well that turned out not to be a very good idea. We all let out a little gasp of surprise as quite a lot of a goopy, yellowish substance sprayed the floor and the table.
It was apple pie filling.
Who would put apple pie filling in a can and label it "time machine?"Whoever did that was a genius. We were all a bit disappointed, but laughed, as it was kind of funny, and proceeded to clean the place up. At least we weren't sprayed with lots of dead spiders or something.