Sunday, July 27, 2014

The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani

"In the epic sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel, The School for Good and Evil, Sophie and Agatha are home, living out their Ever After. But life isn’t quite the fairy tale they expected. 

When Agatha secretly wishes she’d chosen a different happy ending, she reopens the gates to the School for Good and Evil. But the world she and Sophie once knew has changed.

Witches and princesses, warlocks and princes are no longer enemies. New bonds are forming; old bonds are being shattered. But underneath this uneasy arrangement, a war is brewing and a dangerous enemy rises. As Agatha and Sophie battle to restore peace, an unexpected threat could destroy everything, and everyone, they love—and this time, it comes from within."

Wow. Seriously, this was better than the first one. This went into topics that I've never seen handled in this setting, and it was brilliant. Just like how the first book poked fun at the idiotic fairy-tale "good/evil" tropes--animal conversation class for the Evers, uglification for the Nevers--the second one went even further, exploring the balance between the genders and all possible imbalances that have or could occur. It was fantastic, honestly. I felt like the plot was intricate and there weren't really any blah, flat plot devices. Everything fit in, everything made sense, and the plot twists were unexpected but fit perfectly in with everything. I loved the way the characters were handled, too: there were insane levels of complexity without really making me feel like anything was out-of-character. Each one was put through different circumstances and had to deal with them, some characters were pitted against one another by manipulation but still had their own struggles, and all of them were allowed to show more of their character than the first book. The ending made me start desperately needing to read the third one, which is a shame since it's not out yet. I think this series is highly enjoyable and well worth the read. I recommend it really highly. 4.5 to 5 stars. There's not a copy at the libraries yet, but you should try and find it if you can.

Monday, July 21, 2014

SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

"Four years in the making, SuperFreakonomics asks not only the tough questions, but the unexpected ones: What's more dangerous, driving drunk or walking drunk? Why is chemotherapy prescribed so often if it's so ineffective? Can a sex change boost your salary?

SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything with such questions as:

How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?
How much good do car seats do?
What's the best way to catch a terrorist?
Did TV cause a rise in crime?
What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?
Are people hard-wired for altruism or selfishness?
Can eating kangaroo save the planet?
Which adds more value: a pimp or a Realtor?

Levitt and Dubner mix smart thinking and great storytelling like no one else, whether investigating a solution to global warming or explaining why the price of oral sex has fallen so drastically. By examining how people respond to incentives, they show the world for what it really is – good, bad, ugly, and, in the final analysis, super freaky.

Freakonomics has been imitated many times over – but only now, with SuperFreakonomics, has it met its match."

I couldn't resist reading the sequel to Freakonomics, and this doesn't need you to read the first one because both are a completely jumbled analysis of random things. I don't feel like this one was quite as good as the first one--a little more random, a little less organized, a tiny bit more out there. I feel like it could have benefitted even from more broken-down chapters or headers; as is, the random interjections were just a bit hard to keep track of. And don't get me wrong, there was still a lot of really interesting stuff in there, but there were also a couple parts that had me skeptical. I get that most of their job is essentially turning conventional knowledge on its head, but a few cases--notably the global warming and chemo chapters--had me really wanting to get some second opinions and extra sources. For the most part, though, the subjects were as entertaining and thought-provoking as ever. I'd probably recommend reading it, and even if you don't want to read the whole thing, read the epilogue. It's one of the truly greatest things about the book. I'm serious: cappuccian capitalism. It's worth it, dude. Anyway, the book's at Kettleson but you'll have to pick it up in a month when they reopen. Ah well. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that. Ciao!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

'The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.
This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.
But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?
The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one."

I've been wanting to read this book forever, ever since I saw the advance copy and somebody else got to it first. They finally lent it to me, so I promptly finished all five hundred pages in about two days. I think my opinion of each character changed quite a bit over the course of the book, because there was a lot of character development and change. A few of the more major and general points were pretty easily anticipated, but there was a lot going on in the plot that was unexpected or interesting. Though talking about the character evolution, at times I didn't really feel like investing or believing quite so heavily in the redemption path that some took. In other words, there were a couple characters that acted so rampantly... uhhh... self-centered or nasty or shallow (to use the polite phrases) that by the end when they'd stepped into their "new light," I still had a little dislike and skepticism nagging at the back of my mind. But that was just a few cases. For the most part I loved the changes and twists that essentially all the characters went through, working with the central questioning of the black-and-white categories of Good and Evil. And what had hooked me in was the premise, something really interesting that I don't think I've ever seen before. It was a really cool story to read, and I think overall it was done justice. The plot got really surprisingly complicated, in ways I didn't expect. It was a nice surprise to see more layers to it. I definitely enjoyed it a lot, and I know a lot of others have too. I'd very much recommend this if you're into fairy tales, or even any kind of fantasy. Four and a half stars. There's a copy at Blatchley.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

"Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?
These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head.
Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: freakonomics.
Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives—how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they explore the hidden side of . . . well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Klu Klux Klan.
What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a great deal of complexity and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and—if the right questions are asked—is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.
Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world."

So, it may look a little daunting and non-fiction-y, but this one's honestly pretty short (like 200 pages) and very quick to get through. The topics are, as professed, a bit random, but all of the information was hugely interesting to hear about. I really liked in particular the analysis of factors determining success/change in children, versus the surprisingly ineffective factors. It gave me a lot of new information and opened up a lot of questions in my mind, which is exactly what I think the authors were going for. I got a lot out of reading it, and in my opinion it was really, really good. It was on the same level as the Bill Bryson book I reviewed last week or so. I think it's extremely worth reading. I'm gonna end it there because I caught the SFAC sickness and feel not-so-great at the moment, but rest assured that I give this 4.5 stars. There are copies at Kettleson, Sitka High, and MEHS.