Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

I haven’t read a memoir in a while, but something about this book caught my attention. Maybe it’s just that I’ve always liked Portia de Rossi (and by always I mean she was great in Better Off Ted and also enjoyable in Arrested Development–I didn’t watch Ally Mcbeal so I can’t comment on that one). I’ve always wondered how anyone could be anorexic (don’t they get hungry!?!?) so having a chance to read de Rossi’s account of her eating disorder (which involved both anorexia and binging and purging) was a welcome opportunity.

De Rossi begins her story around age twelve when she starts working as a model. It’s fascinating how internal her struggle was. In many ways, it was as much if not more so her own pushing that led to her extreme body image issues. Her mother didn’t help and seemed to be more negligent than actually pushy in the matter. Shortly after passing out on a movie set, she went from 82 pounds to 168 in a short span of time.

For the first time I had an idea of how someone could become anorexic and live that way (the answer is yes, they do get hungry). Portia de Rossi holds nothing back. I found myself unable to stop reading. (Only the very end got a little slow, when she was summing up what she had learned and how she resolved things, but even that was interesting because she talked about meeting Ellen and their relationship together.)

This book is a really intense but extremely fascinating look at the pressures of Hollywood, body image, and homophobia. It’s definitely a book worth reading if you’re interested in any of these topics.

Spy High: Mission One by AJ Butcher

When Jake, Ben, Lori, Eddie, Cally, and Jennifer are invited to the illustrious and exclusive Devereaux Academy, they don’t know what they’re signing up for. The Academy is a cover for a covert training facility, affectionately known as Spy High where young “students” are trained to be spies. The six are assigned to the Bond Team, but where the other teams seems to be coming together, Bond Team has some difficulty working as a team. Ben is too concerned with being a hero, Lori can’t seem to say no to Ben (yeah, she’s the lamest of the characters), Jennifer is too ready to jump into a fight, Jake is resentful of Ben’s snobbery, Cally has no faith in herself, and Eddie can’t take things seriously. In an attempt to get them to click, they are sent on a camping trip. The camping trip turns out to be anything but singing songs around a fire and they must use all their wits and training to survive.

Surprisingly, despite there being so many characters to follow, we get a pretty good idea of who everyone is. Not everyone gets quite the same amount of attention (Lori, Eddie, and Jennifer get the least while Ben, Jake, and Cally get the most), but even so we get to know each of them. It is most unfortunate that we don’t get to know more about Jennifer, since she apparently has some sort of secret and seems interesting. Anyone hopping for a fight must have some interesting backstory, right?

Book one did a good job of setting up a larger story (specifically an organization called CHAOS) while establishing the different kids. I would have liked Lori to be more complex (right now she seems to just be the pretty face she doesn’t want to be with no specific skills to contribute to the team) and I am surprised that before they voted for team leader they weren’t given a speech about how scores aren’t everything when it comes to leadership.

I would also like to know how things work when they graduate. For example, do you work with the teams you train with? Does the bigger spy organization have a name? How does Devereaux get his intel? Some or all of these things may be revealed later in the series, so it is hard to complain about it just yet.

Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

Book 3, the final book of the series, steps up the action and the stakes. Once again the focus shifts from the main characters of the previous books, to follow someone different (though not new). This time, it is Madison Moss and Jason Haley who get the most attention.

With the conclusion of the last book, the guilds are left in chaos. Fighting has broken out everywhere and an influx of refugees is coming into the sanctuary. With Seph, Jack, and Ellen working to maintain the safety of the sanctuary, Jason is desperate for a way to help. Madison, meanwhile, wants no part in the wizard war, but she may not have a choice; her unique abilities make her a valuable asset. I found Madison’s character annoying and frustrating. Her insistence to stay out of things despite the lives at stake (and despite the fact that the other side would never leave her alone), while believable, was irritating. I appreciated and more easily related to Jason’s inability to sit still and desire to be more involved, even when it had disastrous results.

I have a few small complaints about this book. The first is that Seph is something of an all powerful wizard. I appreciate that he is strong and that he uses a drug to enhance his abilities, but I still find it hard to believe that he’s the only strong wizard and that his strength is greater than that of all the other, much more experienced wizards combined. (I am somewhat disappointed that despite all discussion about the downside of using the drug, we never actually see anything negative occur because of it.)

My other main complaint is that the entire mythology that was developed through the first two books is basically destroyed in the last book. Granted, it is explained and makes sense, but I was really hoping for a real dragon and some sort of manifestation of that legend, even if it wasn’t quite the way people expected.

Even with these complaints, I enjoyed the book. Chima is working on a new series, the Seven Realms, which I look forward to starting soon.

Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

Perhaps Chima’s writing improved after the Warrior Heir or perhaps the characters for book two, the Wizard Heir, are simply more interesting, but for whatever the reason, I found myself enjoying this book much more than its predecessor.

Seph McCauley is a wizard without training, leading to a great number of accidents. Those accidents, in turn, get him into trouble. His guardian (he knows nothing of his family and what little information he knows about his magic comes from his sorceress foster mother) doesn’t know what to do with him and decides to send him to the Havens, an all boys school meant just for troubled boys like him. The Havens has a high success rate for rehabilitating its students, but that is only a surface purpose for the school. The real purpose is much more dangerous and sinister and could end up enslaving the magical guilds after the freedom they have just, tenuously won, thanks to Jack Swift. Seph has only one ally, Jason Haley, another student at the Havens who is desperate for escape and revenge.

I definitely find Seph’s story somewhat more compelling than Jack’s. Maybe it’s just that Jack came from a more or less perfect life until his magic acted up, while Seph is more of a mystery. I have also always been a sucker for school-related fantasy, so the Havens storyline certainly doesn’t hurt.

For anyone who has read the Percy Jackson books and then the Lost Hero, they know how some of the pleasure of the book comes from seeing those familiar characters while also meeting new ones. The Wizard Heir brought the same type of pleasure–Linda Downey, Leander Hastings, Jack Swift, and Ellen Stephenson among others. Best of all, we get new insight into Linda and Leander’s past relationship.

The Last Apprentice: Night of the Soul Stealer (Book 3) by Joseph Delaney

This book takes a bit of a turn (an interesting one). We finally get more than a peak at the Spook’s life before Tom’s arrival and it is this past that helps move the story.

As the days get colder, it approaches time to move to the Spook’s winter home in Anglezarke. Tom doesn’t really want to go. He is comfortable in Chippenden, it’s warmer there, Anglezarke is more overrun by the dark, and Alice will be leaving them. A letter from Morgan, one of the Spook’s old apprentices prompts an earlier departure than expected. Once in Anglezarke, things get moving quickly. Meg (a witch and the Spook’s love) lives in the house but she is kept drugged to keep her memory from returning. There is dangerous stone-chucker boggart on the loose, and that is the least of their worries. There is something Morgan wants from the Spook and he will stop at nothing to get it.

Definitely driving this book is the Spook’s back story and, to a lesser degree, Tom’s family drama. The Spook, it turns out, is a much more complex character than he first appears. And he isn’t nearly as harsh and uncaring as he seems to want to appear either. This book employs the typical mentor not telling his mentee everything he needs to know device (though at least in this case it is because it is too personal, not because he thinks Tom “isn’t ready”), which is always frustrating because of the number of issues that could be prevented had he simply told him everything.

The strangest thing about the book is that we know Tom has six brothers, but because we never actually see anyone but his oldest brother Jack, it is hard to really imagine him having other brothers. Do we even get their names? It would be interesting to see Tom and Jack’s relationship develop beyond Jack being uncomfortable with him as a Spook. I’m also hoping we see Tom’s mother again, and I imagine we will eventually, but I am more curious to see what is in her room and learn more about her.

Alice and Tom’s relationship remains the most intriguing aspect of the book in many ways, but in this book Tom seemed to look at her as though they had something more than friendship between them. While I don’t doubt that sometime in the future this may be the case (even if only for a little while), it seemed a little early for it.

My one issue with the book is the Spook’s resolution for Meg seems more like he just fostered a dangerous issue on someone else who is unsuspecting of it.

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

The moment I read the description of this book, I knew I would have to read it: girl pretends to be a boy in order to have her chance to be part of a magical order otherwise forbidden for her. I loved it when I read Tamora Pierce’s Alanna (and on the front cover of this book is Pierce’s endorsement), so I hoped I would like this one just as much.

I didn’t expect the book to give me quite as much as it did, dealing with Asian (Japanese?) culture, superstition (revolving around cripples, transgendered people, eunuchs, lost culture, and more). Because there was so much going on, the beginning of the book was on the slow side. It really felt like things were dragging along for a while before the plot finally hit the important parts. For a while, Eon/a’s hidden identity felt almost irrelevant to the actual story though ultimately it does play a bigger role.

Eona has been living as a boy, Eon, for years, training to become an apprentice dragoneye. Dragon magic is considered only appropriate for males, automatically making her unqualified for the role. But her master recognizes her unique skill of being able to see eleven dragons of the twelve dragons at will (the twelfth dragon has been missing for five hundred years), which is a nearly unheard of skill. For this reason he goes through the trouble of training her and keeping her identity a secret.

A part of me is disappointed that Eon/a’s identity was revealed so early on in the series (though I’m not sure there’s supposed to be more than two books so I guess it wouldn’t be a big deal). I think what I kind of wished for was to see Eon/a’s story before she was chosen as a Dragoneye so we could see how she got to be the person she was. Even without that, there were a lot of interesting characters and I’m particularly excited to see how Eona’s relationship with the Prince turned Emperor turns out.

While the opening was slow, the story found itself about halfway through. I’m hoping that book two will be exciting and engaging from the start now that all of the introduction is out of the way. So while this book is anything but a favorite, it is good enough to keep reading. I will say, that in a way, it felt like reading about Mulan.

The Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero (Book 1) by Rick Riordan

Much as I enjoyed Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid, I am sure I’m not the only one to be happy for the return to the Greek (and apparently Roman) Gods. Unlike the Percy Jackson series, where we only follow Percy, this series allows us to follow three characters: Jason, Piper, and Leo. Like the Red Pyramid, this book shows how Riordan has grown in his writing skills and characterization, as these characters each come out interesting and more complex than, say Grover of Percy’s series.

Jason has no memories before waking up beside Piper and Leo but he has a surprising amount of knowledge of the Roman Gods. Piper’s father has been missing for three days and she knows that to get him back, she may have to betray the people she’s closest to. Leo, has always had a skill with machines and metal, and most especially, fire.

Annabeth has been searching for Percy, who has gone missing without a trace. Her search leads her to Jason, Piper, and Leo, who she brings back to Camp Half-Blood where they get their first quest and discover some important truths about themselves.

Most importantly, while they thought that Kronus was bad, there is something much worse in store. The prophecy at the end of the Percy Jackson series has come to pass, much sooner than anyone expected and the seven heroes begin to be gathered.

Each character has their own mysterious past to contend with and only by dealing with those pasts can they be the heroes they need to be in order to save the world.

Among the other things I really liked about this series was the way the characters we came to know in the Percy Jackson series (as well as in the Demi-God Files) were integrated into this series. We got to see Annabeth most of all, but also Thalia (who played a much bigger role than initially expected), Chiron, and others. Percy was absent, but his absence was an important part of the story and was felt appropriately, so I wasn’t upset about it.

This might be Riordan’s best book yet and my final thought coming out of it was: Why is Rick Riordan so awesome?

The Healing Wars: Blue Fire (Book 2) by Janice Hardy

Whereas the Warrior Heir might not fall into my top ten list, the Healing Wars just might. Shifter, the first book in the series, was one of the first children’s books I read last year and I liked it immediately. I’ve always been a sucker for the scrappy, raised from humble beginnings type story (loved the Hunger Games!) so this one had a lot going for it right from the start and it did not disappoint.

In book 2, Nya is on the run after blowing up the healer’s quarters where healers were being abused and experimented on. She, along with her sister and some friends, have taken to helping their fellow healers escape capture. There are bigger things to worry about though, as Nya’s unique abilities make her particularly valuable for a much bigger plot that she doesn’t understand.

There is a lot of solid writing in this book. The description is right on and the characters are easy to relate to. Hardy does an excellent job of creating a fully realized world, where she deals with the complexities of greed, power, and hatred.

The best of the book comes out in the relationship between Tali and Nya. Much like Katniss and Prim in the Hunger Games trilogy, their relationship is what drives much of the book. It is what usually spurs Nya to action, the need to protect her sister. What I like about Tali versus Prim, is that we get to see Tali grow into her own. Yes, Prim isn’t a complete pushover by the end of the series, but she never quite gets to step out of her sister’s shadow. Tali, on the other hand is as much hero as victim. While Nya may see her sister and someone who needs to be protected, Tali is not satisfied in this role and others see that about her as well.

Best of all, by the end of the book, it feels like we have only just begun. There are clearly more mysteries and horrors to be revealed. Though I know it won’t be for a while, I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

Jake was about as extraordinary as a toothbrush, so far as he could tell. The things he was most concerned about in life were making the soccer team, getting Ellen to like him, and not getting beaten up by Lobeck. The only ways he was different from his fellow classmates was that he 1) had to take medication every day because he’d had heart problems as a baby and 2) had an aunt who came and go as she pleased, couldn’t be denied, and had a job that he couldn’t quite figure out. That is, until he’s sixteen and learns that not everyone is as they seem in his life.

It turns out, his doctor is a wizard, his aunt is an enchanter, his neighbors are all part of the magical world, and he is something of a mix between a wizard and a warrior. He was born meant to be a wizard, but was inexplicably born without the stone needed for his magic and needed to stay alive. Desperate, his aunt called the only person she knew of who could save him, Dr. Longbranch. And save him, she did, only not in the way Linda expected. Rather than provide him with a wizard stone, she gave him a warrior stone, with the intent of forcing him into a tournament for her when he was old enough. What Jake learns is that the wizards have oppressed the other magical people and their hopes rest on him.

The writing in this book doesn’t quite flow the way I like. It’s one of those things where I can’t quite identify what bothers me, but I know there’s something. I think it’s just that the writing is slightly stiff, the descriptions not quite vivid enough. The characters themselves aren’t the most complex or interesting either and I don’t feel as connected to them as I’d like.

Even with these issues, I still enjoyed the book. It certainly won’t be going into my top ten favorite series list (maybe I should actually make that list) but it is fun. And it has some great moments. Particularly in the finally battle between Jake and the other Warrior (whose name I will not reveal so as not to ruin anything), as well as in the warriors of the past.

The final lesson to take out of this: Trust no one. (At least not completely.)

Glee: The Beginning

If you’re anything like me, the two thoughts you had upon learning that Glee had a novel coming out. The first was something like “really? must they go over the top with this?” and the second was something like “what’s the good of a book anyway? the whole fun of the show is in the music!” So my immediate thought when I heard about it was that there was no chance I’d want to read it. Curiosity got the better of me though I decided to skim the first page (rather than judge a book by its cover, I usually judge it by the first page) and what I read was surprisingly interesting.

Not compelling in a “this a great emotional novel” sort of way, just interesting. The writer, Sophia Lowell (her name is hidden in the inside of the book and absent on the cover), did a good job in particular of capturing Rachel’s bizarre personality. Rachel is so inexplicable in attitude and behavior, that I think it takes a good deal of skill to balance them in a way that makes her believable. Lowell managed it.

We had an opportunity to see how the Finn-Puck-Quinn relationship came about which was a little disappointing only in so far as Quinn is a decently deep character on the show but had little depth at all in the book. Mercedes also had surprisingly bland motives when it came to her story (basically she had a crush on Kurt because he didn’t ignore her).

Most interesting was Tina, Kurt (and by that extension Mercedes), and Rachel. Basically, Tina, Kurt, Mercedes, and Artie were the sole remaining members of the Glee club and they were in trouble. Basically, though not untalented, they lacked the leadership of someone who knew arrangement not just how to sing. (They also lacked a teacher to give them guidance.) This is where Rachel came in. Kurt, realizing that Rachel could sing, invited her to join the club without consulting the others. Mercedes was upset about her loss of spotlight (and Kurt’s lack of faith in her), but this did provide Tina with the kick she needed to overcome her low self esteem.

Ultimately, the book serves as just a small view of how the club and plot lines began and though it would definitely be more interesting as an episode than written out, it was still fun enough to make the read enjoyable. (Perhaps it was just being able to imagine exactly how they would speak and act in the situations provided.)